Tenaya Ra Review

June 11, 2013
Tenaya Ra

The Good

  • Precise, supportive, pointy toebox
  • Comfy uppers and split tongue
  • Stable edging and outside-edging platform
  • Bomber, highly adjustable double Velcro closure
  • Light but well built: minimal stretch and will resole well

The Bad

  • Toebox “buckled” up after use, diminishing reliability on smears
  • 4mm sole felt thick out of the gates

The Tenaya Ra is an elegant Spanish shoe representing a solid marriage of precision and comfort for trad, face, and sport climbing. The Ra had a precise, pointy toebox—great for pockets, flat edges, jibs, and thin cracks—but suffered in the smearing/grabbing department due to a stiff midsole and a flat last that, over time, developed into an upward “swoop.” The split tongue and double Velcro closure are stout, letting you torque the shoes down for a pain-free redpoint fit.


Although Tenaya is relatively new on the American scene, the Spanish company has been around since the late 1990s. It was founded by José Luis García Gallego, a designer at Boreal in the early 1980s. Boreal is the company from which modern rock-shoe technology (Firés) evolved.

It was nice to finally test-drive the shoes that Spanish crushers like Ramon Julian use when they onsight all of Colorado’s 5.14s. I went out to Trango (Tenaya’s American distributor), tried on a couple of pairs, then went with smallest size I could comfortably fit, US 9 (I’m street-shoe 10). This turned out to be a good call, as the shoes don’t stretch much: your initial fit will be quite close to your long-term fit. That’s key to remember with a shoe this pointy, where you want your big toe flush to the toebox tip. In short, size small for maximum precision.

(For a Ra demo video, watch this short clip on YouTube).

The notably asymmetrical shoe Ra drives your big toe hard into the aforementioned tip, which delivered stellar initial “bite” on gym jibs and tiny crimps. The shoe seems tailor-made for the pockety limestone of Spain, where you floss your big toe deep into solution holes and drive hard—it’s a go-to pocket boot. The Ras have continued to hold their edge and frontpoint well thanks to the rigid 2D PLT 10 forefoot midsole, which maintained the toebox form nicely, both on the big-toe and pinky-toe sides.

I finished up testing this week on a pair of thin face climbs on Boulder Canyon granite, one with demanding overlap “pocket toeing,” the other with jib-edging, and the shoes dug, bit, and edged/outside-edged as well as ever. The only gripe I had was that the 4mm Vibram XS Grip sole seemed to run a little thick; it’s a superior rubber I’ve long enjoyed, but perhaps a 3mm or 3.5mm sole would give greater initial sensitivity.

This is where I had issues—as in, at times, literally slipping off more-technical smears, maddening for an otherwise-excellent shoe. The aforementioned midsole does a great job of conferring precision and power to the big toe, but it also limits smearing ability, even after break-in.

Perhaps it’s the flattish last or perhaps it was the midsole material, but over a few months of testing the toebox took on an “upturn,” versus maintaining the usual downturn—or even flat plane—you see with most high-performance shoes. (Caveat: I have seen other shoes, from other manufacturers, experience this same issue, some while breaking in the manufacturer’s sole and some after resoles.) Now, after wear-and-tear, the toe tip sits a good half-centimeter above the ball of the foot, an unnatural position for my piggies that made the shoes buckle on smears. This also limited my ability to flex my calf, to “stand tall” off micro holds. Perhaps extending the midsole to the back of the arch and/or adding a downturn to the mild downcamber would resolve this issue—I’m not sure. I also have a relatively dense build and put lots of pressure on my feet, so perhaps lighter climbers won’t experience this issue.

Precision and sensitivity should go hand-in-hand, and the Ra, as stated above, had precise, sensitive bite, especially on microcrystals and gym jibs: holds that protrude. Having such a long, narrow toe demands visual accuracy with placement, but the Ra, when settled with due care, gave reliable underfoot feel, especially at the big-toe power point. This is also thanks to the closure system (see below).

The pointy toe was great for thin cracks and seam-pressure moves, and the laterally stiff toebox held up well in wider jams as well, making the Ra a good choice for high-end trad, with its mixture of technical jams and face holds. It’s a solid performance all-arounder.

Tenaya uses “SXR Dynamics” for all their shoes, a “moving-tightening system that keeps power focused at the big toe and front edge.” Sure, this is marketing copy, but it basically rang true. Specifically with the Ra, the light, comfy synthetic upper, cotton lining, split tongue, and double Velcro closure combined for a monster-good fit and feel.

The best feature was the closure—two broad, orange straps that lie comfortably across the tongue and toggle through similar orange bands opposite that are tacked clear down to the rand. The upper strap was particularly effective. It diagonals back around the ankle to really let you ratchet down longitudinal fit and drive your big toe forward. This stands in contrast to other Velcro models I’ve worn, where the straps are often overlaid, somewhat indifferently, in a horizontal fashion across the lower reaches of the foot—there to do little more than painfully compress foot meat.

Where I’d Use Them
Thin, vertical and slightly overhanging face climbs (Shelf Road, Colorado; Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota; New River Gorge, West Virginia), granite sport and trad, 5.10-on-up multipitch routes (easy on/off at belays).


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