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Tenaya RA Climbing Shoe

Dave Alie reviews the Tenaya RA for Blister Review.

Tenaya RA

Tenaya RA

Size Tested: 13.5

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 down turn allow the shoe to perform on everything form technical face climbs to steep boulders
  • Vibram XS Grip rubber allows you to smear, edge, and heel-hook with confidence

Stated Weight Per Shoe: 6 oz

MSRP: $139.95

Days Tested: 40

Test Locations: Vedauwoo, WY; Eldorado Canyon, Shelf Road, CO; Yosemite, Joshua Tree, CA; Indian Creek, Castle Valley, UT

European climbing shoemaker, Tenaya, bills the RA as being their most versatile shoe, capable of everything from “winning World Championships with Ramon Julian, to dime-edging up the steepest slabs.” While product page copy often has a tendency to make all shoes seem limitlessly capable at all disciplines of climbing, the RA does seem to sincerely try for the all-around category rather than zeroing in on a specific niche.

Having said that, “all-around performer” is still a category of its own, and sacrifices must be made toward that end. I was intrigued to find out how well the RA does as a universal shoe, and also to learn where the shoe makes some compromises.

Fit

When someone tells you a shoe is built to do everything, how do you approach sizing? Shoes that are extremely aggressive or, by contrast, shoes that are meant for climbing straight-in cracks at least offer some guidance by their obvious design intentions.

I tend towards more comfortable fits when a shoe leaves the choice to me, and the RA was no different. I wore the RA in a 13.5, which is about a half size up from my street shoe. This is a comfortable fit but not sloppy. I can definitely climb for extended periods in them, and I’m not in a rush to get them off as I’m being lowered off a sport route, but at the same time I don’t have much dead space in the shoe and really long routes do start to get uncomfortable, prompting me to step my heels out every few pitches at the belay.

Dave Alie reviews the Tenaya RA for Blister Review.

Dave Alie in the Tenaya RA.

Based on my experience, I would say this is the way to get the most out of the shoe. Sure, you might get more off an edge by going a half size down, but the amount of comfort and performance lost jamming thinner cracks isn’t even close to worth the extra toe power.

If you’re going to size tight to get every ounce of power you can from the toe box, you should probably be looking outside the all-around category. Find a shoe that excels at edging and doesn’t bother paying lip service to the “you can also climb cracks!” idea. Good examples include the Five Ten Dragon and Team, La Sportiva Solution or Miura VS, and SCARPA Instinct or Boostic. For the RA, aim to size them snugly but still loose enough that you don’t get nauseous thinking about thin hand cracks, otherwise you’re leaving performance on the table.

Beyond the length-sizing of the shoe, the RA is relatively narrow, lower volume shoe. By way of comparison, the RA that I have in 13.5 is visibly narrower from mid-foot forward than is the La Sportiva Katana (which I wear in a 46/13US) and Sportiva is not known for making hopelessly large shoes. If you’ve got wide feet, this is worth noting and I strongly encourage you to try these on before buying.

With that said, I’ve got average volume feet for their size, and I love the way the RA fits. It’s a very comfortable last that doesn’t leave much dead space. While sizing expensive modern climbing shoes perfectly is often stressful, it is nice to keep in mind that the RA has a cotton interior lining on an otherwise synthetic upper so the stretch is kept to a minimum.

Last and Shape

The RA has some slight asymmetry and downturn, but nothing aggressive by modern standards. This is an important hallmark of true “all-around” shoes. More than a touch of downturn and asymmetry in the last come at the expense of comfort when jamming cracks. Much like the La Sportiva Katana (easily the RA’s closest relative, in my opinion), the RA does a good job of walking right up to this line without succumbing to the temptation to go too far.

Edging

Despite making my legs working harder to keep them on edge, the RA does surprisingly well on edges and pockets for a shoe of its class. It’s not the Instinct or Solution or any other such high-octane sport climbing shoe, but it’s has a little more precision than dedicated trad shoes (such as the Five Ten Moccasym). I attribute this to the sharp taper at the front of the shoe. Compared to the La Sportiva Katana, the RA comes to a sharper point which helps it get into pockets and find edges. Sure, neither shoe is phenomenal and toeing straight in on something, but you can’t have it all.

Cracks

This taper also adds a little extra precision for purchase in finger cracks or granite trickery where you’re using a combination of crack edges and face features. At the harder grades, crack climbs can sometimes start to feel like face climbs as you have less and less rock to work with (compared to, say perfect hand cracks that swallow your foot up to the ankle), and the RA handles this terrain deftly. Because of this, the RA is a little imbalanced towards cracks in my opinion. It’s a decent edging and sport shoe, enough so to fairly call it an “all-around” shoe, but the RA is much more clearly a fantastic crack / trad shoe.

Compared to the La Sportiva Katana

While the RA does bear a remarkable resemblance to the La Sportiva Katana (velcro), they do feel different on the rock. Principally this is because of the soles of the shoes. The RA feels much softer in the midsole and has a definite point of flexion just behind the stripe of sticky rubber that adorns the top of the toe box. The toe sole under the toe box itself feels stiffly reinforced as with the Katana, but the flexion in the mid sole give the RA a softer, slightly more pliable feel.

Dave Alie reviews the Tenaya RA for Blister Review.

Dave Alie in the Tenaya RA, Joshua Tree, CA.

I love this aspect of the RA for climbing cracks, but it does mean that your calves do more work when you are tip-toeing up a series of edges. This past weekend I took them climbing on the edges and pockets that characterize limestone, and found that while they did better than any other crack-capable slipper I’ve ever worn, my legs did much more active work than would have been the case with the Katana (and even more than a true edge/pocket shoe).

Bottom Line

At this point, I’m pretty comfortable stamping the RA as a top-tier, all-around shoe that’s a little biased toward cracks, comparing favorably to the La Sportiva Katana in many ways. Granted, getting a good fit is key, so the RA might not be ideal depending on how well your foot matches the last, but it’s a well executed, extremely capable shoe, particularly if you prefer more sensitive shoes.

If you’re really looking for a do-it-all shoe, particularly one that errs on the side of crack climbing competency, this is about as good an option as currently exists. Know that you’re going to lose some toe power, but for a crack-ready velcro slipper, the RA performs at a commendably high level.

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