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La Sportiva Katana Lace Review

This stiff shoe is an all-day crack climbing workhorse that also performs well on edges and slabs
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $195 List | $146.10 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Versatile, durable, comfortable
Cons:  Expensive
Manufacturer:   La Sportiva
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 11, 2020
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86
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 32
  • Edging - 20% 9
  • Cracks - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Pockets - 20% 8
  • Sensitivity - 20% 8

Our Verdict

There's a reason the Katana Lace is a stalwart at crags across America. Or rather, there are many reasons. The slightly downturned toe and subtle asymmetry ensures you can hook into pockets or exploit the tiniest edges. Despite the downturn, this shoe keeps your foot in a relatively flat position, which is great for cracks and all-day comfort. The heel is snug and combined with the moderately stiff P3 midsole, it feels like the weight of your entire body is being focused precisely through the toe. In the world of rubber snobbery, it's 4 mm of Vibram XS Edge holds its own, and onto pretty much anything it touches.

The Katana Lace is a workhorse, not a show horse. It doesn't have radical styling or the complicated velcro closures of other flashier models. What it does have, however, is a solid balance of performance that's unrivaled across a wide variety of climbing styles. That's why it takes home our top prize as the Editors' Choice Award winner.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Climbing shoes are supposed to hurt, right? When we first slipped the La Sportiva Katana Lace on, we were convinced they were sized wrong. They just seemed too comfortable to be climbing anywhere other than out of bed. After a few laps, we were reluctant to tell anyone else about them, afraid we'd lose the advantage of our new secret weapon.

Disguised in an outer that looks like Charlie Brown's sweater, this is one of the most versatile shoes we tested. Although they lack any bells-and-whistles, the Katana quietly cruised up everything we tested it on.

Performance Comparison


Sporting the ubiquitous Sportiva black and yellow  these kicks are ready for everything from slabs to splitters.
Sporting the ubiquitous Sportiva black and yellow, these kicks are ready for everything from slabs to splitters.

Edging


The Katana shares the same P3 midsole and Vibram XS Edge rubber that's found in other premium La Sportiva models, and they're the principal reasons why it's an absolute edging machine. Complimented with a slightly downturned toe and a semi-asymmetric fit, this shoe locks your foot in a powerful, modestly curled position. This position simultaneously allows for hooks on the steeps, but without compromise performance on techy vertical terrain.

The stiffness in the forefoot is comparable to the time-tested TC Pro, and it shares the same right-angle edges, rather than the No Edge technology that's been introduced on some La Sportiva models. Some you can expect the same spectacular edging performance without the need to adapt your footwork to factory rounded edges. The additional features of the Katana, however, combined with and greater flexibility in the midsole mean that it performs well on a much wider range of rock types than the TC Pro.

Cracks can offer torquing jams or regular face holds. No shoe performs better on both than the Katanas.
Cracks can offer torquing jams or regular face holds. No shoe performs better on both than the Katanas.

Crack Climbing


The following statement might be considered something close to heresy: The Katana Lace climbs cracks just as well as the La Sportiva TC Pro. Why? Regarding construction, it is a very similar shoe, lacking only the thin ankle padding of the TC Pro, and it has a slightly more aggressive shape. The modestly more aggressive design pays off while trad climbing, allowing you to squeeze into tiny cracks where the bulkier TC Pro is known to have trouble.

Although many high-top shoes do perform better in wider cracks, we found ourselves reaching for the Katana just as often when heading out on an all day muti-pitch climb. The decision usually came down to the style and size of the crux cracks. On techier routes or thinner cracks, the downturn and low-profile toe make the Katana an easy choice. On anything wider than thin hands, we usually opt for a high-top with a flatter sole. For difficult granite climbs where crack jamming is often interrupted by technical face climbing or boulder problems, the Katana is our clear favorite.

Lindsay in the Katana Lace in Index  WA.
Lindsay in the Katana Lace in Index, WA.

Pockets


When flatter shoes start slipping off edges and out of pockets, the Katana Lace will keep you holding on. The tech fit and medium asymmetry are just enough to increase its holding power on overhanging terrain. On vertical to less-than-vertical pocketed climbs, the Katana floats. This shoe has a noticeably slim vertical toe profile for squeaking into narrow slots. Horizontally, the toe is pretty pointy which ensures you can exploit one or two-finger pockets.

It falls a little short when compared to the most specialized shoes in the steepest caves where an ultra-aggressive downturn supplies tangible benefits. There also is limited rubber on the top of the foot for marginal toe hooks. For most ordinary crags and climbers, however, the Katana suffices and provides above-average pocket performance.

We were pretty surprised when we tried to bend a Katana by just how stiff it actually was. Fortunately  it doesn't seem to compromise its sensitivity.
We were pretty surprised when we tried to bend a Katana by just how stiff it actually was. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to compromise its sensitivity.

Sensitivity


Although it has a medium-stiff sole, this shoe feels surprisingly sensitive. Somehow the Katana is able to achieve the same outstanding edging performance as the TC Pro, but without the clunky feel that dissuades so many climbers using that shoe. You shouldn't expect to be able to feel every rugosity of the rock like you might with an ultra-soft bouldering slipper. However, most feet aren't strong enough to climb in an ultra-soft shoe all day long. Up against comparable all-around, rope climbing shoes, the Katana provides exceptional sensitivity.

With the Katana, you definitely have enough support to last all day, while still experiencing an impressive level of sensation and connection to the rock. The one exception might be the hard spine of heal, which provides sup-par sensitivity when heel hooking. We don't feel like this issue is enough to reduce its sensitivity score.

When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust your shoes. That's easy to do on marginal edges with the La Sportiva Katana.
When things get frightening you need to be able to trust your trust your shoes. That's easy to do on marginal edges with the La Sportiva Katana.

Comfort


By all standards, the Katana Lace is comfortable and surprisingly so for a techy performance shoe. Being protected from the rock while climbing is paramount. The leather upper keeps your toes from getting beaten up in cracks while jamming and the sole supplies enough rigidity that you don't feel like you are on your metatarsals while standing flat.

This shoe won't win any awards based purely on comfort, but it's certainly no torture device. It's a performance shoe that manages to keep your comfort at a maximum on the huge days. Maybe that's why it's the shoe we most often see pros and weekend warriors using on ultra-classic climbs, grade IV and longer.

This model does take a while to wear in. It also stretches only a little with use. We sized ours a full size down, and have been happy with their fit after a two-week wear-in period.

Value


In the race to create the perfect all-around shoe, La Sportiva has produced a clear frontrunner with the Katana Lace. The incredible versatility of this shoe means you don't have to fill your closet or backpack with a bunch of shoes you rarely use. With this money you will save by shrinking your shoe quiver, you can go to exotic climbing locations around the world and dazzle the locals with your incredible technique on their rock, all in the same shoe. This shoe is easy and affordable to resole, and we think the rather high front-end price is worth it in the long run.

Lyra on Airy Interlude in the La Sportiva Katana Lace  Needles  CA.
Lyra on Airy Interlude in the La Sportiva Katana Lace, Needles, CA.

Conclusion


This shoe is stiff enough to prevent your foot from fatiguing on the big days and takes to cracks better than many specialized shoes. From the volcanic tuff of Smith Rock to granite splitters of the Sierra, the Katana can handle any route you throw it on. If you're looking for a high-end bouldering shoe, it may fall a little short for you. For everything else, this shoe can do the job, which is why it wins our Editors' Choice Award as the best overall climbing shoe.

Matt Bento