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The La Sportiva Kataki: A great shoe for vertical to moderately overhanging rock climbs
Posted on: July 20, 2017
La Sportiva introduced the Kataki rock shoes this spring, and the first words I heard about them were not positive. My friend Chris was lacing up a pair to climb an overhanging sport route in Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado, and his partner lobbed sarcastic disparagement at the new shoes between swigs of beer.
"Those shoes suck, why would you wear those?" his partner argued.
"I like 'em," was all Chris said with a grin.
So, one week later, when I was asked to test a pair, I was very curious.
As for me? I like 'em, and have no problem recommending the Katakis for their intended purpose: vertical to moderately overhanging routes with "small, small footholds," as a company representative described in this video about the shoes. (The video also mentions that La Sportiva makes a women's version of the shoe "that is the same volume but softer" to allow more sensitivity for "lighter climbers.")
After using the Katakis, I've realized some things about the shape of my feet that I wasn't aware of before.
With the exception of desert cracks and holdless, friction slabs, in the last 10 years I've done most of my hardest climbs in La Sportiva's time-tested Miuras—the early generation patriarch of the Katakis. They have served me well as an all-around performance shoe for trad and sport, ranging from 5.13+ clip-ups in Rifle that overhang more than Fat Albert's belt-line, to multi-pitch 5.12 routes in the Black Canyon and Yosemite that involve everything from steep cracks to delicate face climbing.
The La Sportiva Kataki shoes were made for routes like Scene of the Crime (5.12d) on Independence Pass, Colorado. [Photo] Mandi Franz
With a moderately downturned shape and "high asymmetry," Miuras are billed as a performance shoe that fits narrow feet. The design eventually led to the Katana Lace, which is a flatter, less-downturned shoe with "medium asymmetry" that accommodates wider feet more comfortably, and is also a good option for vertical to slabby terrain commonly found on trad climbs. The Kataki incorporates the Miura's downturned, performance design with a more adjustable, wider fit, among other things that I will cover later.
Now, all these years, I knew that my feet aren't exactly narrow, but I wouldn't define them as wide, either. The Miuras obviously fit comfortably enough for me to keep wearing them for so long, but my foot feels noticeably scrunched from side-to-side when I compare the fit to the Katakis.
If you're already a fan of the Miura but feel a little squeezed in the shoe, the Kataki is probably a safe bet.
I will keep my Miuras in the quiver, however, because the Kataki design makes the shoe more specialized for steeper terrain where uber-precise footwork is required. Right out of the box, I could feel a pronounced difference in the Kataki's aggressive, downturned toe—the shoe shaped my foot into a curled talon more so than any pair of Miuras ever did. This talon shape is what makes the Kataki shine when you need to toe-in on a thin edge to keep your body close to the rock, or focus all your weight precisely onto a tiny crystal that's so small you can hardly see it.
I've worn Miuras in a range of sizes, from Euro size 40.5 to 41.5—the latter size feels quite large and comfortable after the break-in period. To be safe, I ordered the Katakis in a 41.5 and I'm glad I did because I could barely put them on at first. The shoes have since broken in and now fit more comfortably, though they are still very tight. Per their design, I suspect the suede-and-microfiber Katakis will not stretch as much over time as the full-leather Miuras will.
For example, the Miura loses some of its downturn after it is well-broken in, at which point I like to start using them for climbs that are more vertical or slabby. The Kataki, on the other hand, is designed to maintain its downturn, thanks to a "P3" or "Permanent Power Platform," which is the yellow band you see going around the top of the heel and the arch of the shoe. The sporty features continue with the "S-Heel," or "stability heel system," which entails a stiff rib of rubber on the inside of the heel to maintain its shape and tight fit, while the outside of the heel is softer to make it better for heel-hooking. I've often had trouble with my heels slipping out of shoes during aggressive heel-hooking, and I do not feel like this will be a problem with the Katakis.
Another feature I like about the Kataki is the padded, sewn-in tongue/upper that is akin to a comfy built-in sock, providing a more seamless fit around my entire foot.
Considering all these design elements, it's no wonder I feel like I'm buckling myself into the seat of a sports car whenever I slip into the Katakis. In my view, that's kind of what they are—a piece of equipment built for a fairly specific type of terrain.
I wore them on a variety of climbs to test their limits, from easy, low-angled climbs to routes that were very overhanging, on both limestone and granite. The Katakis were definitely not the shoe for low-angled granite where maximum friction was required, as the downturn shape prevented the shoe from smearing well. On the severely overhung routes—where you're not standing on your feet so much as using them like a second set of hands to grab, hook and pull—the shoes didn't have the sensitivity I desired. But whenever I need to stand on tiny little nothings, I'll reach for the Katakis.
Derek Franz is the digital editor for Alpinist. He started climbing in a pair of old-school, hand-me-down EB rock shoes at 11 years old.
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