Edging - 10/10
Smearing - 7/10
Steep Terrain - 5/10
Comfort - 9/10
Sensitivity - 7/10
Value For Money - 9/10
- Awesome on vertical and slabs with tiny features
- Great for jamming in fist-sized cracks
- The asymmetric shape and pointed tip make the toe box laser-precise
- Custom-fit with 9-eyelet lace closure
- Reasonable price-tag
- 100% vegan-friendly
- Getting the shoe on/off can be tedious
- The shallow heel makes hooking less secure
- No toe patch
- Not good on gym volumes and highly friction-dependant moves
Best For: Climbing outside on micro footholds
The gym bros might have forsaken flat and stiff shoes long ago, but those of us who are still pulling and jamming on reel rock understand how valuable a shoe of this nature can be. The Masai is a model that follows this old-school design style, with many climbers comparing them to the classic Anasazi Blanco model.
If you’re partial to climbing steep 3D sport routes or wrestling spicy boulders, then the Masai probably isn’t going to rock your world. However, if you’re looking for a shoe that can tackle a multitude of technical rock climbing, then the Masai is an awesome choice. Multi-pitch trad, slabby sport, and technical face climbing on terrible holds; the Masai will eat it all up with ease. There’s a good reason it has become one of the most popular Tenaya shoes ever created.
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Tenaya Masai Review
The Masai Legacy
The Masai first hit the shelves in 2010 and almost 15 years later it’s still delighting trad slab fiends with its awesome ability to balance all-day comfort with a confidence-inspiring level of performance.
The shoe was created as an offspring of the RA project, the flagship model of Tenaya’s Balance Pro range, designed to excel at a diverse range of climbing terrain. Unsurprisingly then, the Masai shares many of the qualities of the RA, except for a few minor differences including the toe patch, velcro closure, and split tongue.
Edging on terrible holds is where the Masai excels. The shoe never failed to impress me during testing with how well it could laser in on tiny features. Over the last few months, I’ve battled my way up hundreds of slabby and vertical granite pitches, and the Masai didn’t pop or roll off a single placement. At one point, it almost became a challenge to see how small the footholds could go before the Masai would submit.
Needless to say, I was impressed at how well the Masai handles on the edges, although hardly surprised. The full-length sole is about as stiff as they come, which proves plenty of under-foot support. Once the laces are tightly fastened and the heel properly secured, the board-stiff sole is tightly secured to the bottom of your foot. This creates the support we rely on while standing on micro edges and the high levels of comfort that is appreciated on big-wall adventures.
But it’s more than just a super-stiff sole that makes the Masai’s edging ability. Unlike many of the other neutral shoes out there, the Masai has a surprisingly high asymmetrical shape, similar to the curve you will find on many aggressive models. This shape, paired with the pointed-toe-box, creates a laser-precise tip, ideal for honing in on those tricky features.
Smear in the Masai feels a little contradictory. On the one hand, there is a small amount of flex in the toe box, so little smears on slabs feel solid. The Vibram XS Grip offers bucket-loads of friction too, even on these mini-smears.
But when it comes to foot placements that are highly reliant on large surface contact – like sticking to those bulbous gym volumes or polished limestone routes – there’s just no way the Masai can adapt. The shoe is simply too stiff to properly conform to these types of terrain and can’t offer the same confidence you would get while using a soft shoe.
When it comes to the steep stuff, the Masai falls pretty short. How couldn’t it? Overhung climbing is literally the exact opposite terrain the shoe is designed for. The stiff and neutral shape just doesn’t have that pocket-pulling ability of Tenaya’s Arial Performance range, like the Mastia or Indalo, or other popular aggressive models.
It’s not just the rigid sole that lets the Masai down on the spicy stuff either. Besides a little extra rubber on the front rand (which is more to protect the uppers against abrasion more than anything), there’s no toe patch, so toe hooking is off the cards.
The heel cup isn’t exactly performance-oriented either. The Vibram outsole protruding up the heel is a useful feature, and offers a little something for busting a small hook on, but cranking hard on a small heel hook just doesn’t work. There’s not enough tension in the slingshot rand to create the resistance in the heel cup required to crank hard, and I found my heel frequently slipped out of the shoe when pulling hard on a heel hook.
For the reasons I just listed above in the “Steep Terrain” section, many of the problems at your local bouldering gym simply aren’t going to appeal to the Masai. Steep cave problems? No way. Smearing on big volumes? Forget it, the Masai has zero interest in dynamic, comp-style bouldering.
But that’s not to say they have no place in a climbing gym. In fact, there are a select few gym boulders and sport climbs that the Masai will likely outperform many of the popular indoor shoes out here.
Remember that slab wall in your gym that you’ve probably been avoiding? The Masai will eat up any slab boulder that relies heavily on edging, offering your toes superior support than your soft gym shoes do. The same goes for the lead wall, any vertical or slabby faces that are heavily dependent on edging on small holds and the Masai is ready to shine.
Tenaya sizing can be a little tricky. Every Tenaya shoe I’ve worn runs big, so I’ve always had to downsize, but by how much really varies from model to model. For the Masai, I found that the perfect size was 8.5 UK (42.5 EU). In street shoe size, I’m usually a 9.5UK (44 EU), so dropping down 1 UK size was enough for me. Dropping one size still kept the shoe feeling comfortable, but it didn’t sacrifice performance either. If I really wanted a performance fit, I probably could have dropped another half-size, although I don’t think a shoe of this nature required such an aggressive fit.
Dropping 1 UK size down this isn’t as much as I’ve had to downsize for other Tenaya shoes. In the Mastia, I wear a 7.5 UK, but weirdly, the Mastia still felt looser than the Masai.
In terms of fit, as with many Tenaya climbing shoes, I find this to be a fairly narrow shoe with a low-volume toe box and an average-width heel. I have an average-to-wide foot, but the 9-eyelet lace closure allows for plenty of adjustment, so I had no issues with the fit of the shoe. If you have Roman-shaped toes, you may struggle with the narrow shape of the toe box.
As with many Tenaya shoes, I’ve been impressed with the Masai’s durability. It’s not exactly like I was going easy on them either. The amount of granite climbing I did in them is enough to obliterate most climbing shoes.
After two months of putting the Masai through its paces, the only unexpected wear I’ve noticed is a slight delamination of the rubber around the toe box. But I don’t think this is entirely the Masai’s fault; having done most of the testing in 30°+ heat, the glue has likely melted due to the extreme heat.
On a related note – considering how much climbing I’ve done in hot and humid environments – the Masai surprisingly doesn’t smell too bad, which is usually a common problem with synthetic shoes.
We’ve had our say, and now it’s time for you to have yours. If you’ve had prior experience with this shoe, then please leave a review! The climbing community needs your wisdom.