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La Sportiva Otaki

Dave Alie reviews the La Sportiva Otaki for Blister Gear Review

La Sportiva Otaki

La Sportiva Otaki

Stated Features:

  • Microfiber upper with a TXT-treated cotton lining provides a snug fit with minimal stretch
  • Dual hook-and-loop straps provide a secure closure and easy on and off
  • 2D PLT 10 midsole provides an ideal blend of stiffness and sensitivity for performance on a wide range of angles and features
  • Asymmetric last and a moderate downturn allow the shoe to perform on everything from technical face climbs to steep boulders
  • Vibram XS Grip rubber allows you to smear, edge, and heel-hook with confidence

Stated Weight Per Shoe: 7.7 oz

MSRP: $175

Size Tested: 46

Days Tested: 25

Test Locations: Indian Creek & Castle Valley, UT; Unaweep Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, Eldorado Canyon, Clear Creek Canyon, & South Platte, CO; Wild Iris & Vedauwoo, WY; Squamish, B.C.

Intro

The Otaki is a recent addition to La Sportiva’s lineup that is closely related to their extremely popular Katana Lace. And like the Katana Lace, the Otaki is designed to be a high-end, all-around performer.

When sized properly, the Katana Lace is an extremely competent crack climbing shoe, yet still retains some edging capability. And while it’s not great on steep overhangs, it’s still one of the most versatile shoes around.

(Note: it is important to be clear that we are talking about the Katana Lace, and not the velcro version of the Katana. Despite sharing the “Katana” heading, the lace up and velcro versions of the Katana are dramatically different shoes beyond just the closure system (see my Katana Lace review for a deeper dive on this).

So if the Otaki is another all-rounder from Sportiva, how is it different from the Katana Lace, and how is it similar? What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of the Otaki? And who should choose it over the Katana Lace or other shoes in the “all-rounder” category?

I climbed with the Otaki for most of this summer season with this in mind, and I’ll try to answer these questions.

Dave Alie reviews the La Sportiva Otaki for Blister Gear Review

Dave Alie in the La Sportiva Otaki

Features and Closure System

La Sportiva has added a rigid band of sticky rubber to the inside edge of the Otaki’s heel for stability while hooking.

Dave Alie reviews the La Sportiva Otaki for Blister Gear Review

Heel of the La Sportiva Otaki

Not only is the rubber intended to increase purchase on the rock, the strip is located and formed so as to increase the rigidity of the inside heel material and prevent you from rolling off of a heel hook because the leather upper deformed or folded under load.

The Otaki’s two velcro straps are positioned well to allow you to adjust the fit across both the heel and the middle of the shoe, yet still get them on and off quickly.

Dave Alie reviews the La Sportiva Otaki for Blister Gear Review

Toe of the La Sportiva Otaki.

This works well with the Otaki’s larger volume toe box, and the combination makes for a comfortable and easy on-and-off process.

So How Similar is the Otaki to the Katana Lace?

I was initially quite skeptical of the claim of similarity to the Katana Lace, in no small part because La Sportiva lists the Otaki as being built on their PD 75 last. This is the same last that underpins the Futura and Solution.

(Note: Sportiva’s naming scheme is based on how aggressive the geometry of the shoe is — the “PD” stands for Power/Downturn, and the higher the number, the greater the downturn and asymmetry of the shoe. Of course, many factors other than the last inform the way a shoe feels and performs, but this PD number is still a useful data point.)

The Katana Lace, by contrast, is built on the PD 55 last, the same as the Sportiva TC Pro. While the PD 75 isn’t Sportiva’s most aggressive last (the Genius and Testarossa are built on the more technically-oriented PD 85), I don’t think that there’s much cross-talk between say, the Solution and TC Pro.

So why reach across to the Katana Lace as the most helpful indicator of what the Otaki has to offer?

The answer is because the Otaki, while built on the same last as the Futura and Solution, is definitely tilted more toward the do-it-all type of shoe, while the Futura and Solution are situated firmly on the high-performance, hard, gnarly, sport and bouldering end of the spectrum. This has much to do with the additional factors beyond their last that I alluded to previously, such as the composition of their uppers, their closure systems, the molding of the heel and rand, etc.

Furthermore, the Otaki incorporates La Sportiva’s P3 system underneath the toe box, which is a molded piece of plastic that La Sportiva includes in some of their shoes to create a shallow, downturned cavity under the front of the shoe to enhance edging power on the inside of the toe box, as well as to ensure that the shoes maintain their downturn over their lifetime.

Fit

The Katana Lace is built on the P3 platform (as is the TC Pro, Solution, Miura VS, and Futura), which conjures some similarity to the Otaki in terms of the shape of the toe box, though many other Sportiva shoes have this in common. But the biggest reason to draw the Katana Lace / Otaki comparison is that, like the Katana Lace, the Otaki is higher volume through the front of the shoe. Strictly in terms of spaciousness, the Otaki feels much like the Boreal Mutant or Five Ten Hiangle (though the Otaki is quite different from the Hiangle in many other regards). And this is why the Otaki, though built on a more aggressive last, can still feel similar to a versatile all-around shoe like the Katana Lace. Because the Otaki is not as narrow as many other La Sportiva shoes, it allows your foot to sit more naturally in the shoe despite the more aggressive shape. It is also not terribly stiff through the midsole, which makes the Otaki feel a little more like an all-around shoe than you might initially expect from its geometry.

Dave Alie reviews the La Sportiva Otaki for Blister Gear Review

Dave Alie in the La Sportiva Otaki.

Performance

On the one hand, the Otaki’s construction is a really nifty compromise: it allows you to don a shoe with an aggressive last, conferring a high degree of precision, yet permits the sort of reasonable foot position you’d need to wear them for multiple pitches in a row. In some regards, this is a very successful strategy: the Otaki is a powerful face-climbing shoe that can also be used for jamming cracks, something that you probably wouldn’t say about the Solution.

But there are some limitations to the Otaki design. The Katana Lace is La Sportiva’s best shoe for straight-in crack climbing. For long routes that involve edging and slab as well as some cracks, the TC Pro probably wins out, but for pure cracks (particularly of the desert variety) the Katana Lace takes it, in my opinion. Central to this is the fact that the Katana Lace is much better at off-fingers sizes due to its slightly-lower-profile toe box relative to the TC Pro and Otaki. The slightly more aggressive shape of the Otaki bargains away some of its thin crack prowess as the increased asymmetry and downturn require more deliberate maneuvering and effort to get the right part of the toe and outside rand engaged with the rock. Admittedly, hard finger crack pitches are often climbed with high-precision shoes like the Solution (see: this clip of Will Mayo climbing Optimator in Indian Creek, or this video of Alex Honnold Climbing No Way Jose) when you can’t really get much in the crack itself, you’re left to work what you can from the crack edges or whatever little chips dot the surrounding face. This, however, is a niche application at an elite level, rather than a general crack jamming practice.

I wore the Otaki on several pitches of straight-in cracks spanning multiple sizes in Squamish, such as the classic finger crack Crime of the Century. While the shoe has the sort of precision you need to work the small variations in the crack as well as occasional outside features, getting the sort of contact I wanted out of a rand-smear required more effort that I would have liked.

On the flip side of things, the Otaki clearly has increased capability when it comes to steep face climbing and pockets relative to the Katana Lace. I wore both shoes on consecutive trips up Ten Digit Dialing, a well-known local sport pitch, and the Otaki clearly has the upper hand in generating power off of the smaller holds that comprise the entry moves to the crux boulder problem.

Because of this, it gets you much closer to the real climbing experience to think of the Otaki as a hybrid of the Katana and Solution, rather than strictly a punched-up version of the Katana Lace.

Other Comparisons to the Otaki

For those who don’t usually climb in La Sportiva shoes, I think the Otaki is probably most closely related to the Boreal Mutant and the SCARPA Vapor in terms of shape and overall climbing performance, though the Mutant is a little bit softer and more sensitive at the front of the shoe. All three of those shoes have different upper constructions and closure systems, so take the comparison with a grain of salt. And perhaps the simplest way to put it is that these shoes share similar strengths and weaknesses, and could be good stand-ins for each other.

Who’s It For?

The Otaki makes the most sense for climbers who want to own a single shoe both for days clipping bolts at the crag, but also jamming cracks here and there. And really, there aren’t many shoes out there that perform better at this sort of crossover.

On the other hand, climbers who focus on steep sport routes and boulder problems may prefer to abandon the crack-climbing potential of the Otaki in favor of a shoe with a smaller power point near the toe and better heel/toe hooking, such as the Sportiva Solution, Five Ten’s Hiangle, or SCARPA’s Instinct.

Bottom Line

The La Sportiva Otaki works really well as a single shoe to use both for technical face climbing and the occasional crack. It’s comfortable enough to wear when belaying and on moderate crack climbs, making it a pretty strong one-shoe-quiver contender, though hard core crack climbers might want something with a little less downturn and asymmetry.

Another way to think about this is that the Otaki is ideally suited for the hard, cryptic combination of face and crack holds on vertical rock that typify the climbing in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. But if your goal is to spend the weekend swimming up hand cracks in Indian Creek or embarking on long, moderate alpine routes, you might find the Otaki to be a bit too aggressive.

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