The Katana Lace, La Sportiva’s flagship technical/edging/high-end all-around shoe, has been redesigned for 2022 to feature a narrower heel and updated heel pattern made with recycled rubber. The revised uppers are a mix of leather (forefoot) and screen-printed microfiber (back two-thirds), while the tongue is a breathable, perforated mesh. The shoes remain mildly downturned and mildly asymmetrical. The stiffer, “men’s” version has a full-length 4 mm XS Edge outsole, while the softer “women’s” version has a split sole and a 4 mm XS Grip 2 outsole.
Incredible edging and micro-edging, with consistent stability and lateral and transversal support, even on tiny holds // Pointy toe is excellent in seams, thin cracks/pods, dishes, and pockets // Very precise // Solid build and stiff 1.1 mm full-length LaspoFlex midsole point toward improved longevity and resole-ability // Redesigned heel is form fitting and responsive in hooks and heel-toe cams // Burly laces have held up well to abrasion in cracks
The shoe is stiff—expect reduced sensitivity, a long break-in, and middling smearing // The long, pointy toe may not be for everyone, especially those who like “grabbing”—one tester felt like the shoe put him on his outside edge/pinky-toe side to an occasionally distracting degree // Sizing seems to have changed slightly: Perhaps come down ~ half size for a precision fit, unless your intended use is multi-pitch/all-day trad
The new Katana Lace is an edging and micro-edging beast that is notably stiffer and pointier than its predecessor (it will especially suit climbers with long, narrow feet), and that is killer for pockets, pods, and thin cracks. Its construction feels beefed up, pointing to the shoe holding its precision and withstanding resoles longer than the old version. This is a high-end, niche shoe for thin face climbing, technical slabs with micro holds (not smeary slabs), cracks up to hands or fists, and all-day trad/multi-pitch. Even if you size big for comfort, the Katana Lace will still be stiff enough to offer traction on small face holds. This is not an ideal bouldering or gym shoe.
17.4 oz/pair (M’s size 9)
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A History with the Katana
I’m a big fan of semi-stiff shoes, i.e., 6/7-out-of-10 edging support but with 8/9-out-of-10 sensitivity. It’s important for the way I climb (short) to feel the holds: I like digging, grabbing, and aggressive, big-toe-powered rockovers. The original Velcro Katanas were among my favorites for this niche, and I owned pair after pair until La Sportiva stopped making them.
In 2010, La Sportiva came out with the Katana Lace, a stiffened-up Katana with the same sharp toe and mild downturn. I loved the shoes—at first. They had all the performance attributes I valued, but with improved precision and support for long pitches, like the 40-meter Snakewatching, an unending vertical edge-fest I tested them on in the Flatirons, Colorado. But then something happened: Only halfway through the original sole, the shoes got a little too comfy and soft; to me, it felt like the midsole had degraded. They mostly sat in my gear closet after that.
Redesigned Katana Lace, 2022
I was thus curious about the redesign—what had changed, and would the new Katana Lace hold its form and precision longer?
On paper, per Sportiva’s literature, there are only a few differences: an “updated heel pattern” with greater coverage, made from recycled rubber; a narrower outsole (the heel strip wrapping up the Achilles) to improve “heel hooking precision”; and redesigned uppers, blending leather in the front with screen-printed synthetic leather (microfiber) in the back two-thirds. I also caught a video in which the legendary Italian climber and La Sportiva shoe designer Pietro dal Prà mentioned, “We [made] the toe simply more precise, with the small, small details in the construction so it’s even more precise than the old one.”
Also of major note is the new, “women’s” version: the exact same shoe but with a split sole comprising the softer XS Grip 2 rubber versus XS Edge, the idea being to offer a softer version for lighter climbers and steeper terrain. For this review, my co-tester Anthony Walsh and I both tested the men’s version.
Anthony mainly tested in Squamish (on thin cracks/seams, a roof hand crack, brief offwidth, steep slabs, and stem corners), three days of vertical gneiss face climbing, and two days of overhanging quartzite face climbing. I tested in the gym at first—for me, these new, noticeably stiffer Katanas needed more break-in—then mostly on Colorado Front Range granite, from overhanging to slabby.
Our highest marks were for edging. Anthony gave the Katana Lace 10/10 here. “Stiff, downturned, and slightly asymmetric are the ideal ingredients for vertical and overhanging edging IMO,” he noted. “As I stood higher and higher on dime edges, the stiff platform kept the power in my foot and allowed me to exploit the edge for much longer than with a softer shoe.”
I would second this. For climbers who like to push hard down into little footholds, the Katana Lace nails it, as I found on the very first route I tested them on, a gently overhanging granite 5.12a with big, inset crimps for hands but sharp little potato chips for feet. Very few shoes can withstand this sort of pressure—they usually either buckle or transfer the work into your fatigue-prone calf muscles. But, in the Katana Lace, you can just stand and stand and stand: The full-length 1.1 mm Laspo Flex midsole locks you in place and keeps your heel elevated so you can power down through your toes to stretch tall. And, as a counterpoint to the older model, the shoes have held that shape and support even after days of sweaty summer testing; they have not gone soft, marking a major improvement in last-coherence and longevity. The one downside here—as with any stiff shoe, really—is a lack of sensitivity; 4mm of XS Edge rubber doesn’t give much opportunity to “feel” the holds, especially rounded, shallow dimples. “But, if you are truly micro-edging, is there much rock to feel anyway?” wondered Anthony. “Personally, I don’t think so.”
The shoes are also incredibly precise, with a pointy toe (it seems much pointier than the old model—perhaps one of the “small, small” details Dal Prà mentioned) that digs into nubbins and micro-edges, and that we both found super useful in pockets, thin foot jams, and crack-pods. Yet this toe may not work for everyone; as a climber with wide, high-volume feet, I felt like at the size I could reasonably fit into, there was just a bit too much toebox poking out, which led to some consternation. My foot never slipped, but I had to be more visual than tactile in my foot placements, an unfamiliar style. The shape of the toebox also put me on my outside edge/pinky toe more than I’m used to, which made for powerful step-throughs and outside edging but ran counterintuitive to my usual frogged-out style. Something tells me, though, that long, narrow feet will fill the shoe much better than my Hobbit paws.
Cracks, Smears, and Everything Else
Overall crack performance rated a big 9/10 from Anthony. “To me, the KL really shone in thin cracks where its thin toe profile was able to sneak into the occasional pod and get significantly more weight on my feet instead of smearing on the outside,” he noted, taking just the one point off for offwidth climbing, where ankle coverage is lacking. I used the Katana Lace in hand cracks and flaring pods, and they were great—just as good as the old model, and retaining their shape nicely even after being torqued. The laces, made from recycled plastic, have been durable as well.
Sportiva has been doing great things with heels for some time (Solution Comp, Otaki), engineering sticky, stable heelcups without slippage issues. The Katana Lace falls nicely into this category, with a deep heelcup that is now fully covered in rubber vs. on either side of the Achilles, as with the previous model. The two-piece heel, which wraps the outsole up over the Achilles in a long strip, locked us both in on technical arêtes and on off-balance, barndoory clips—no complaints. The shoe is plenty stiff for heel-toe cams, too, though the toe rand’s smaller coverage over the upper doesn’t give you a lot of real estate for toe scums.
Smearing was middling for both of us, but not that I expected it to be otherwise; I would not single out the Katana Lace. Basically, you’re going to need to scuff up the sole and put in your time breaking in these stiff puppies—don’t take them on your 5.12 slab project on day one, unless the route has micro-edges and crystals. But you will eventually get fair-to-middling smearing, which is “good enough” for all-around and multi-pitch climbing, where a powerful edging platform is typically more important anyway.