Our connection to the rock is our primary source of safety. That’s why, when it comes to climbing shoes, I want the best shoe for whatever style of climbing I plan to do. The things I look for in a shoe are: Velcro (not lace-ups), then stiffness, and then fit.
Velcro instead of laces? I should begin with this caveat: I only climb in Velcro rock shoes these days for their obvious ease of donning and removal. It’s not just at the gym that I want to pop my heels quickly out of my shoes between climbs; it’s at sport crags, bouldering areas and especially at belay stations on multi-pitch routes. So, when I look for a shoe that is stiff enough for most vertical and less-than-vertical trad climbing, one that is comfortable and performs well when edging, smearing, and jamming into cracks, the Velcro options are limited.
The Spanish company Tenaya (and their American distributor Trango) describes the Ra as an “all-around performance shoe.” After talking with the Trango staff in Boulder, Colorado, I learned exactly what that means. There are rock shoes that are meant for all-around climbing, but they are not necessarily performance shoes. Performance means the shoe is built well to maintain its sizing after ample use, it has a snug/tight fit, and the rubber quality is at the highest level. If you’ve ever wondered why one pair of Velcro rock shoes costs $150 and another pair that look fairly similar by the same company is $100, this performance aspect is the main reason why. Tenaya makes other performance rock shoes that are for bouldering and steep/overhanging climbing, as well as others that are best for edging. So what makes the Ra an “all-arounder”?
All Tenaya shoes have a down-camber, which is a re-curve at the foot’s arch and heel that increases the snugness of the fit when put on. Some Tenaya shoes have a down-turned toe–these allow climbers on overhanging routes the sensitivity to stick the toe edge of their shoe on a small feature and pull/hold the climber’s body into the rock. The stiffness of the sole varies with each shoe. Stiffer soles are typically for crack climbing and edging on vertical and less-than-vertical walls, while softer-soled shoes are for overhanging routes and bouldering as well as for splitter-styled crack climbing at Indian Creek, Utah, where twisting the feet into cracks is necessary for upward progression.
As an all-around performance shoe, the Ra has a down-cambered arch with a flat toe (not down-turned), a medium-stiffness sole, a snug fit, and an extra strip of rubber across the top of the toes that works well for toe hooking, crack climbing, and maintaining the size of the shoe. All Tenaya shoes use Vibram XS-Grip Rubber (exception: the Tantas). There is a 4mm thickness for the edging and all-arounder shoes (Ras), and 3.5mm for the shoes with a down-turned toe. Other useful and common features are two pull tabs on the heels on each shoe (to help slide the heel into the shoe), two Velcro strips that pull in the same direction (from the inside toward the outside), a completely cotton interior, and a synthetic upper–the common term describing the external upper part of the shoe that covers the top of the foot (other shoes might use leather, which tends to stretch more and is less ideal if you avoid using animal products).
When I was given the choice of Tenaya shoes to review, I chose the Ras because they fit my three criteria of a rock shoe–Velcro instead of laces, stiffness and fit. For eight months, I put them to the test climbing at the gym, bouldering, and climbing trad, sport and multi-pitch routes in Vedauwoo, Wyoming, and Eldorado Canyon, Lumpy Ridge, Boulder Canyon, Clear Creek Canyon and Puoux, Colorado, as well as the Moab, Utah, area. In complete honesty, the only thing I didn’t like about these shoes was a purely cosmetic issue, which I will get to later. But first, the good stuff….
As Tenaya promised, these shoes functioned well in all venues. On the thin edges of granite slabs of Boulder Canyon and Vedauwoo, I was able to stand strong and confidently while figuring out the next move or clipping a bolt. In Eldo, Lumpy and Moab, the Ras stuffed into cracks and provided ample support…and they didn’t fall apart or get holes in the synthetic toe knuckles as I’ve had happen with other Velcro shoes used for crack climbing. In the gym, bouldering at Big Bend Boulders near Moab, and sport climbing at Clear Creek Canyon and Puoux, I could stick a toe on small footholds under overhangs, and the bouldering top-out transitions from roof to slab all went as well as with any other shoe I’ve ever had. The fit of the shoe and the stickiness of the rubber were excellent (I have a narrow foot. For those with wider feet, the Tanaya Inti is a very similar shoe to the Ra, but with a wider toe box).
For the purposes of moderate, multi-pitch climbing with guided clients, I intended these shoes to fit loosely. I first got the shoes in February when I was ski guiding, teaching avalanche courses, and guiding ice climbs five days per week with my feet cramped into frigid ski and mountaineering boots. As the spring and summer rock season came and my feet expanded, the shoes felt tighter, and rather than use them for moderate climbing, I wore them on harder routes. By the way, when I said the shoes felt tighter, I’m talking the kind of tightness that makes you want to take them off immediately after a tough pitch because you can feel the five toes pressing together into a single toe. I was curious to see if they would stretch and loosen up to my desired size for moderate multi-pitch climbing. Nope. I was surprised and impressed–now I have a sweet new pair of redpointing shoes. They only stretched a little, enough that I could do a couple laps on a tough route, not just one, without having to take them off right away. Tenaya’s claims that their shoes come out of the box broken in and ready to use was true: the cotton lining, smooth stitching, and heel box were very comfortable and didn’t dig into my skin anywhere.
In my selection of rock shoes beyond the Ras, I have Scarpa Force Xs (two pairs in different sizes; my comfortable moderate multi-pitch guiding shoes and my Indian Creek crack climbing shoes), Five Ten Anasazi Velcros (my longtime favorites for climbing my hardest sport climbs and boulder problems), La Sportiva Tarantulas (for gym climbing), and a few others I rarely use. Like the Anasazis, the Velcro tabs on the Ras both fold to the outside, while the Force Xs and the Tarantulas have one Velcro strip going each way. I find that having both Velcro strips facing out is nice for face climbing, because one foot doesn’t happen to rub against the other while it’s moving and accidentally open the inward-facing Velcro tab, a problem that happened rarely. The system of opposing Velcro straps has the strap at the front of the shoe directed toward the inside of the foot–this setup keeps it from opening when you’re placing a foot pinky-toe-down into a crack and twisting. I didn’t really notice any difference in being able to tighten one Velcro style better than another, an often-used argument for the opposite facing folds. The tongue under the Ra’s two Velcro strips are made of two softly padded overlaps. With some shoes, you can get pinched materials under the Velcro. I never once had this problem with the Ras.
The only facet I didn’t like about the Ras was a cosmetic issue. When I received my new pair for review, the remnants of the glue that line the edges of the rubber were a different color than the white synthetic leather. It made it appear faded and old right out of the box: a little cheap looking compared to some of the bright blues and yellows out there on the market with other companies. Now that I have tried these shoes and they are well worn, the way they look doesn’t matter one bit. They just might not seem as sexy as the other models displayed in the store.
One final self-disclosure is that I have been a Five-Ten fan for a long time. I always thought their rubber was superior and I climbed some very hard routes twenty years ago in multiple pairs of Anasazis. Along with Five-Ten, La Sportiva, Scarpa and Boreal have been around in the U.S. for decades. When Evolve, Mad Rock, Tenaya, and other companies started showing up, I wasn’t interested and considered them lesser products. Trying these Tenayas has really opened my mind, and I wouldn’t hesitate to get another pair or suggest them to a friend or client.
Mike Lewis, M.A. is an AMGA Certified Rock and Alpine Guide living in Estes Park, Colorado. Mike has been guiding and instructing for twenty-three years throughout the U.S. and internationally. Learn more about Mike at www.LunchboxJackson.com.
Comfortable and snug out-of-the-box fit
Quality 4mm rubber on a mid-stiff sole
They looked a little shabby out of the box