I’ve already mentioned the miserable break-in period, but the Katana does have a few other drawbacks. For one, these shoes really were not built for overhanging climbing. They’ll give you an honest effort, but if you’re exclusively pulling through deep caves, I’d grab another shoe, like the La Sportiva Solutions or 5.10 Blackwings. The Katanas’ toe is more rounded than these aggressive shoes, and it focuses the weight a bit more underneath your toes than right at their tip. This allows the shoe to perform like a champ when edging, smearing, and using tiny, rounded foot nubs, but really doesn’t do much for toeing in on overhanging walls.
Furthermore, the shoe’s platform layer of rubber is neither paper-thin, like the Blackwing, nor is it as stiff as some beloved trad shoes, like La Sportiva’s TC Pro. In this arena, the Katana can’t perform well in both camps, and therefore has played directly to the middle. The Katanas also do not provide a perfect heel hook. I’ve heard a few other climbers complain of slippage during intense heel hooking. I think that this is the case primarily for women, due to our smaller heels.
And lastly (although this may be a minor detail), there is a small tab under the Velcro closures that is much smaller in the women’s Katanas than in the men’s version. I find that this piece of the shoe often gets uncomfortably bunched when cinching down the straps.
The Katana is a fantastic all-around shoe. It performs exceptionally well under such a wide variety of conditions, that you can buy this one shoe instead of three other specialty shoes and achieve close to the same performance.
Furthermore, they really last. Sure, my shoes are looking a little worse for wear, but they’ve held up for years without sacrificing performance. I will say that the Velcro gives out at about year four, but that’s an easy fix. I also suspect that in a year or two from now, once they’ve seen a lot more abuse, I’ll need to resole them again, something that I’ve already done twice. (In my experience, the shoes last through about one to two years of heavy climbing before wearing out near the big toe just below the rand.) My shoes are also showing some heavy wear in the bends of the Velcro straps, but nothing like the frequent snapping that happens with the Solutions’ straps.
If you can make it through the break-in process, this shoe will take you just about wherever you want to go. It functions equally well as an intermediate and advanced technical shoe. If you’re looking for a shoe that will give you every last drop of performance on tough boulders, sustained pocket-pulling, or the next American 5.14, I might suggest pulling on something much more aggressive. But if you’re looking for a shoe to do anything more varied than that, the Katanas are a great choice.
Whether you’re on granite, or limestone, or slabby sandstone, or cracks, the Katanas are at home. Often our advances in technology create undeniable improvements, but sometimes the tried-and-true is just that, and these shoes most definitely fall into that category.