The Tenaya Masai: Sometimes you really can be good at it all

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So the saying goes: jack of all trades, master of none. We’re so familiar with this concept that, when we hear the term “all-arounder,” it has almost a euphemistic feel. Do we really remember anything about Deion Sanders other than that fact that he played football and baseball? Even worse is “well-rounded,” which reverberates from high school superlative awards as little more than a consolation prize.

With outdoor equipment, the label carries no fewer connotations, especially when it comes to climbing shoes. Tell me a pair of shoes does it all, and I’ll tell you it does nothing well. Fortunately, there is at least one exception: the Masai from Tenaya. From eeking up microscopic dents on a slab to toeing down hard on a sharp pocket, the Masai inspires confidence and, simply put, performs under a wide range of demands.

The Masai comes from a strong line-up of shoes from Tenaya recently released in the United States and distributed by Trango. For more history of the company and information about the other shoes, check out Trango’s site, the English version of Tenaya’s site, and this review.

I got the Masai in mid-summer. Sitting in Trango’s office, I went through a few different sizes trying to gauge how snug I wanted the fit. Ultimately, with an upcoming trip to the Bugaboos, I went with a more comfortable size. I’ll admit that I was kind of thinking “Sure, I’ll climb most stuff with these, but for the hard, thin pitches, these are not nearly tight enough to perform.” Since then, I’ve worn the Masai on a wide range of climbs: steep limestone, cracks of all sizes (tips to OW), blank stemming corners, slabs, and technical granite faces. The shoes never disappointed. By the time we were packing for the Bugaboos (after climbing in Rifle, Boulder Canyon, the Tetons, Index, and Squamish), I was confident that I only needed to bring one climbing shoe in with me.

While the Masai performs well in a nearly all climbing styles, it excels in a few particulars. First, I love it for longer routes, especially ones that are more difficult. The Masai’s fairly neutral camber makes it comfortable enough to wear for relatively long periods of time (I could consistently wear mine for two pitches unless I was really pushing hard on my feet), but its precision worked well on the technical climbing that difficult granite climbing demands. In general, I have found the Masai to climb very well on just less than vertical to just past vertical rock than involves a combination of hard edging and smearing and/or jamming.

From toe to heel, the shoe feels fairly soft, helping it conform to delicate smears, but across the toe, it is quite stiff, which allows for more power when edging and more stability in cracks. This lateral stiffness also gives good support when wearing the shoes for a long time. The uppers feel pretty soft, which makes the shoe even more comfortable. I had my concerns about the durability of this synthetic material, but aside from a bit of fuzziness, the shoes are still in great shape after probably 5000+ vertical feet of climbing, much of that on abrasive cracks in Squamish and the Bugs.

For bouldering and extremely steep climbing, the Masai is a bit on the stiff side, but the toe box does have a slight bevel giving it the little “power pocket” that is usually only available in severely downturned (read: painful) shoes. This power pocket allows the shoe to still be able to grab incut holds on steeper rock.

I really did try to be a skeptic with these shoes. I would climb a pitch in the Masai then try the pitch again later with one of my old standby shoes. Performance wise, if there was ever a difference, it was the Masai that felt more solid. What I really couldn’t get over was how much less my feet hurt at the end of the pitch. With my other shoes, I was pulling them off as I lowered down, but wearing the Masai, I came down, de-racked, sipped some water, and happily slipped them off.

The short version: If you need a pair of shoes to do it all: edge, smear, jam, hook, whatever and still deliver plenty of power without making your toes scream, the Masai is the shoe for you.

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Gear Review: The Trango Smooth Quickdraw

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The Smooth Quickdraw: ready for your clipping enjoyment

If you asked most of the folks who know me about my fashion sense, they would probably raise an eyebrow and reply, “What fashion sense?”

I’ve never been much for style or image. I wear a lot of bland, earth-toned clothes, many of which I’ve had for many years. I buzz-cut my hair  every few months. I drive a mini-van. Most of my choices for the stuff I buy are based on functionality and quality, not aesthetics. In much of my day-to-day, I’m a pragmatist, and my “style” follows accordingly.

There’s one glaring exception to this: I want my quickdraws to look cool. Wait – not just cool – sexy. And it’s not just quickdraws. There’s been a conspicuous move by many climbing companies beyond simply the most functional gear and toward equipment designed with fashion in mind. All of a sudden, harnesses have neon colors that pop against blue-streaked limestone, cams and carabiners are highlighted in the same bold anodization (sure, it’s to make them easier to rack . . . .), and ropes are so bright they reflect off the rock. It’s all so fun: Finally, rather than being the nerdy guy in an awkward helmet burdened with fat webbing loops and heavy chunks of metal that clank over conversations, I get to be clad in pleasant, complementary-colored gear that is lightweight, sleek, and – let’s face it – downright sexy.

Despite the new emergence of style over function in climbing gear, there still is no iconic fashion statement clearer than the quickdraw. If you question this, here’s my proof: What quickdraw company sponsors Chris Sharma? You know you know the answer. We notice these things, and we love it.

So, tangents aside, it should be clear that I really care about the aesthetics of the quickdraw.When I got my rack of Trango Smooth Quickdraws a bit over a month ago, they immediately proved to satisfy both my desires for aesthetics and functionality.

The Trango Smooth is as sexy as any other draw on the market. It has a beefy dog-bone runner connecting two subtly anodized carabiners. Unlike many other anodized ‘biners out there, the Smooth carabiner doesn’t seem to lose its anodization, particularly in the basket where the rope runs (and thusly blackening the rope in the process). Moreover, the carabiners are full-sized, yet their narrow profile makes a full quiver of them hang unobtrusively off a harness. The straight/bent-gate versions have the added benefit of the key-lock design, offering the “smoothness” of operation any serious bolt-clipper expects.

To be clear, I’m comparing the Smooth to other “luxury” quickdraws. These are draws designed for serious sport climbing, when ease of operation and durability (and the ability to snag the “nylon jug”) are paramount. The Smooth is comparable to established draws in the luxury category, the Petzl Spirit Express and Black Diamond’s Livewire draw, and it excels in a few aspects. First, the Smooth draws are priced about a dollar less than comparable quickdraws from other companies. Sure, you can get cheaper draws, but you’ll pay more in interest on your sex-appeal debt. The stronger selling point is weight. The Smooth draw is 5 grams lighter than other beefy sport draws, helping it crossover into the lightweight, trad/alpine draw department.

The lighter weight presents a concern about the durability of the draws, but so far they have held up to heavy abuse, being repeatedly whipped on over abrasive sandstone, coarse granite, and sharp limestone,  yet showing few signs of wear.

Overall, I love the Trango Smooth. It’s a high-functioning quickdraw with enough style for the Narcissus in all of us.