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LA SPORTIVA TRAIL SHOE RANGE

Disclosure: La Sportiva generously supply the Run the Wild team with trail shoes to try and test out.

La Sportiva have come up the ranks in trail running, with many more familiar with their prominence in the climbing shoe and mountaineering boots worlds. The initial formation of the company was in Italy in 1928 when Narciso Delladio produced hand crafted leather work boots for lumberjacks and farmers in the Dolomites. During the second world war, he also produced boots for the Army. His son introduced the name ‘La Sportiva’ in the 1950s. The company transitioned from mountaineering boots, to focus more on specialist climbing equipment in the 1980s, and is now known for ski, climbing, mountaineering, and trail running gear. The emphasis remains on the production of technically high performing equipment.

Here at Run the Wild we take a closer look at 6 of the trail running range:

Model Terrain Distance & Volume Weight Drop Grip
Lycan II Mud Mid/Short - High/Med 305g 6mm 6.5mm lug FriXion® Blue
Jackal All Ground Ultra/Long - High 305g 7mm 3.5mm lug FriXion® Red
Mutant Mud Mid/Short - High/Med 320g 10mm 6.5mm lug FriXion® White
Akasha All Ground Ultra/Long - High 310g 6mm 4.5mm lug FriXion® Red
Helios SR Rock Short - Med 230g 2mm 2.5mm lug FriXion® Red
Kaptiva All Ground Mid - Med 280g 6mm 4.5mm lug FriXion® White

 

Its always difficult when comparing trail shoes vs road shoes, as the conditions you can be out in vary so much even day to day, on the exact same paths. At Run the Wild we have been fortunate enough to try out a few La Sportiva shoes now, and due to the winter conditions, these have really been put through their paces! Before we look at the individual shoes, let’s give a bit more explanation about some of the terms we see in Trail Shoes:

Drop: this is the difference in height from the forefoot to the ground, and the heel. If you are walking barefoot that’s a 0 or Zero Drop. 6mm is approximately considered ‘neutral’ for running, and implies/promotes a heel strike motion. Less than 6mm is low drop and suits a running style with forefoot or midfoot striking. Don’t be confused in assuming very cushioned shoes have greater drops, this is not necessarily the case if both the front AND back of the shoe have a lot of cushioning.

 

Lugs: Lugs are the grippers on the sole of the shoe. They not only vary in height (the softer and more slippery the terrain, the greater the lug height usually required), but also in direction, allowing for grip going both up and down hill, and to reduce sideways slippage. The pattern in between the lugs also encourages the shed of mud build up.

Sole: I am now going to talk La  Sportiva, as every brand has a different name for the material the outsole of the shoe is made from, which provide different levels of friction or grip and hardiness. La Sportiva are known in the climbing world for their climbing shoes in particular, where grip on sheer rock faces literally becomes life or death. La Sportiva split their rubber compound outsoles into 5 colour categories, named FriXion® Black, Eco, Blue, Red and White which are rated out of 10  for grip, and out of 10 for how hard wearing they are.

  • Black – Super sticky (9.2/10 for grip), ideal for climbing shoes, 2.8/10 in hardiness
  • Eco – Recycled, super sticky (9.2/10 for grip), again 2.8/10 in hardiness.
  • Blue – Softer (5.6/10), long lasting compound (7.1/10), great for trail running.
  • Red – Dual mix combination of good  grip (6.7/10) and long lasting (6.7/10)
  • White – Super sticky (7.5/10) leave no trace, good for performance mountain running (5.1/10)

Uppers: The material that the covers the foot. You may see the term ‘overlay’ also, which is a layer of fabric over the very outside of the shoe to help with structure, and design.

Toebox: The front area of trail shoes offer additional protection, as a stubbed toe on a rock or tree stump can be surprisingly painful.

Rockplates: Similarly, treading on a sharp rock can seriously bruise the foot (we have all stood on lego in barefeet at some point), so the rockplate is inserted to protect the underfoot, and outer edges around the heel.

Midsoles: The middle portion of the shoe responsible for both cushioning, and the amount of bounce the shoe gives on each push off, which is sometimes described as energy return. Again, each brand tends to call the various midsoles by different names, making direct comparison difficult, but La Sportiva use 3 main variations: Injected EVA for high cushion, with less ‘squash’ than standard EVA, meaning you benefit from the cushion for a longer time; Compression EVA, where you really want to feel the ground beneath you, and less cushion is needed; Infinitoo™, that offers extra energy return.

Are you still with us? Now that we have the jargon out the way, lets take a look at the shoes themselves.

The La Sportiva range come in their recognisable Black and Yellow with hints of Red colour combination, but an assortment of other exotic colours are available, such as Neptune, Hibiscus, Goji, Orchid, Opal, Butter…you get the idea. You really need to see the pictures to know exactly what colours they are describing. In terms of sizing, they do come up on the narrow side. Generally, they were adequate in length, but most of the guiding team had to size up ½ a size to get a better fit across the width particularly in the midsection. The width may be due to the continental design for the shoes.

Having run numerous trails all over Europe, but particularly the UK, France, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden, I can safely say nowhere else quite has the mud that we do here in the UK, so I can fully understand why the design of trail shoes, and lugs specifically, is rarely at a level which can proficiently cope with the very worst of the UK mud. We even have different shades of mud, depending if its chalky (slippy white mud), clay (sticky terracotta mud), peat (ive lost my foot black mud), or sandy (well…err..sandy coloured, its-rubbing-everywhere mud). You get the idea. La Sportiva are great shoes for autumn and spring mud, but when it comes to the depths of winter running, or running in more remote areas of the UK fells, there are limited options within the range that can adeptly keep you upright. That being said, there are few and far between number of brands which do offer a trail shoe with almost football boot style cleats on the sole.

In addition, La Sportiva shoes do take a few runs to wear in. In the first few runs, the shoes can feel a bit inflexible, but after 30-40miles, they mould to the feet, and the increased flexibility was pronounced. These are not flimsy trail shoes that are likely to easily rip across the wide forefoot section, as many other brands seem to, so the trade-off of perhaps needing some extra time to get the shoe feeling spot on, is really worth it. Quite a few within the range feature an inbuilt gaiter to stop mud and small stones getting in the shoe. This is a great feature, but does mean getting the shoes on is a battle more similar to getting socks on than some other shoes.

So now that we have got the shoes on, and warmed them in a bit…this is where the true shoe review starts!

Lycan II

These are good looking shoes, with some serious tread (6.5mm to be precise), designed for medium distance running, on muddy terrain. Not a light shoe, but the uppers combine a reinforced breathable mesh fabric, while the midsoles feature their injected EVA, which provides plenty of cushion, while maintaining shape, and helping with propulsion on the push off. All that being said, they are a comfy shoe to put straight on, though as mentioned previously, the soles needed a little wearing in.

The lugs are great for autumn/spring trail mud. Over the depths of winter, when surfing through the bogs of the Chiltern countryside, one got the feeling that the Italian designers maybe haven’t had to deal with quite the same level of mud as we do here in the UK, when football boot style shoes are the only way to avoid slipping. The mud fell off cleanly rather than building up, so you get the maximum lug depth on each stride.

Andy says: I would estimate I’ve run 6-700kms in the Lycan IIs on a mixture of trails from hard and compact to extremely muddy. I've also used them a fair bit on the Lakeland fells. In my opinion they are best suited to semi-soft surfaces, like grass and light mud. They cope with short stretches of road but the 4 mm ortholite® ergonomic footbed doesn't provide sufficient cushioning. The FriXion® Blue with Impact Brake System soles are firm and provide good protection underfoot off-road.  This may explain the slightly hard ride and why the shoe is great on dry rock but skittish when wet. The impact brake system is designed to absorb negative impact, help traction and improve grip downhill, and it does its job really well in the right conditions. The Lycan II weighs in at 305 grams, in your hand they don't feel that heavy, but in comparison to other trail shoes such as the Inov8 G260, which are, you guessed it, 260g and the Hoka Torrent 263g, you wouldn't think an extra 40 grams would make that much difference, but add mud and water and it does all add up.

Durability wise they are starting to show signs of wear on the upper in the usual place, that is where the shoe bends on push off. This is nothing more than you would expect for the distance and terrain I have covered. The breathable upper works well and is covered in an anti-abrasive coating with a protective TPU or Thermoplatic Polyurethane toe cap to protect your toes.

Overall the La Sportiva Lycan II is a good package in the right conditions, light mud, grass and dry rocks. 

Lucy says: The Lycan II is a great shoe to bridge the seasons; though the lugs are not aggressive enough to provide sure-footed security in the worst of winter mud, they are more than enough once when the trials begin to dry up. The cushioning in the heel and forefoot is spot on, and I would be comfortable wearing the Lycan II even on hard summer trails. The wide, soft tongue and lacing structure also provides great comfort. The fabric uppers do soak up some water, so splashing through puddles on longer runs can be an issue, and plenty of time to dry out is needed after washing. All in all, the Lycan II were my first introduction to La Sportiva and I'll be a happy returning customer in the future!

Jackal

An alternate Autumn/Winter/Spring shoe is the Jackals. A very different shoe when placed next to the Lycan II (as a side note , we would say that’s a really positive feature for La Sportiva, that their range is designed to be diverse, rather than essentially the same shoe with marginal changes). A wider shoe, designed to cope with adaptations to the foot when running ultra distances, the Jackal instantly feels like a more robust shoe. The uppers are almost leather like to touch in places, a friction reducing fabric, which makes sense given the purpose. The tongue is connected internally on both sides, which takes a little getting used to. The idea is to create a barrier against small stones, mud and so forth, but you need to adjust the internal ‘fold’ to be flat against the top of your foot or it can inadvertently create rub. The rockplate, sturdy toe cap and double density midsoles create a shoe that is designed to protect your foot, along with offering ‘energy return’ with their Infinitoo technology. A stubbed toe may sound inconsequential, but can easily end a race if you have to push through another 50miles with bruising.

Karin says: I initially wondered whether these would feel heavy to wear, as when you pick the shoe up, the material on the uppers is more akin to the uppers on a walking boot. As soon as I put them on however, my concerns were eased. An instantly comfortable shoe, which feels like it will really last the distance. The 3.5mm lugs are designed for all terrain. Given the smaller lug size than the Lycans, I was impressed by how much stability they still provided. I did find that the mud built up and held between the lugs a little more than the Lycan IIs. That’s fine if you are constantly in and out of mud and then onto harder ground, as it would loosen the mud, but with winter trails providing mile after mile of muddy trails, it could be more of an issue. Overall, this has become my go to spring trail shoe.

Mutant

The La Sportiva Mutants are a headliner shoe for the brand. With 2020 being the year of the FKT (Fastest Known Time), the Mutants took pride of place amongst a line-up of big hitting shoes.  La Sportiva state these are shoes for all types of mountainous terrain running, featuring an ultra grippy sole and grip spike features. These are a versatile trail shoe and are a great choice for mixed terrain in soft to wet conditions. Coming in at the heavier end of the spectrum, these are designed to protect your feet, with their 6.5mmlugs and 10mm drop.

Simon H says: Comfort and stability top my wish list for trail shoes and the Mutants deliver on both having tested through the months in Autumn and winter. I found the mutants to be ideal when ground is soft and muddy underfoot whilst navigating the trails of the Chilterns. The grip is excellent and the stability in the shoe provide forgiveness when planting your feet on branches, rock and the general uneven ground of woodland trails.

The shoes feature a gaiter style opening, which hugs onto the lower ankle. Whilst this is fantastic for keeping out unwanted debris, it does make getting the shoes a bit of a workout in itself. You can use the hook in the heel to help, but this is a sit down job and no matter how much you loosen the laces it requires some force to squeeze the feet in. For me, the fit was great but they are on the narrow fit so if you have particularly wide fit you will definitely want to try before you buy.

For those like myself who are looking for an all round trail shoe for middle distance trail running this is a solid choice.

Akasha

The Akasha is a another allrounder designed for high volume over mixed terrain. High breathability in the uppers, and additional toe protection, much consideration has gone into the design of these shoes. I would go as far as to say these are one of the more traditional looking La Sportiva shoes, offering a midrange 4.5mm lug, and midrange 6mm drop. The Akasha are touted as a high volume, ultra shoe, again offering the injected EVA midsoles for plenty of cushion. Simon tested these out, who underwent serious hip surgery a few years ago so always needs additional protection for his joints.

Simon J says:  I’m familiar with the La Sportiva brand from my mountaineering background and therefore am confident of the quality and expertise one can expect, but I had yet to try out their ever-expanding range of trail running shoes. For me it’s important that a shoe has enough cushion to compensate for the hip surgery I had 6 years ago, it’s not an easy demand to meet.

I’ve been hammering out some trails over the last month in the Chiltern Hills, racking up more miles than I thought possible due to a continuing recovery, and also making the most of the improving weather and the spring conditions in the UK. Of course, we have still had a fair bit of mud too!

A super comfortable shoe and although each weighs 330g, which is on the heavier side, I really didn’t notice it. The heel area is nicely padded and sits snuggly gripping your foot and decreasing slippage. The upper is made of a light stretchy mesh which keeps your feet air conditioned. I would advise you to go for a size or ½ a size bigger than you normally choose though. The running comfort with them was ace, I mean really good, probably the best shoe I have ever run in, including all those lightweight racers I smashed out marathons and track sessions in! They also felt really stable on my foot without feeling tight, both for steep ups and downs. They never rolled on turns, and because of the airy upper, my feet were kept cool. An additional minor point but a major one in reality; is that the laces never came undone! I only needed to single knot them, I’ve never experienced that before.

I didn’t get any hot spots let alone blisters, which I have experienced post my hip-op due to a change in the gait of my right foot. I put them through their paces with some rapid long descents of up to an hour and my hip was fine (well it still looks like it’s attached!) so the cushioning they boast appears to be working! What’s nice is that the cushioning has not compromised the comfort of the overall shoe.

The grip and traction on the Akasha has been excellent. The shoe appears to incorporate a stickier rubber and so has very effective grip on wet and dry rocks, in fact I haven’t had one slip yet (now I’ve said that of course it will happen…). The shoe certainly appears to be able to deal with most general conditions, and that is always key for me as a trail running guide, I’m certainly not looking for a mud monster. I can’t wait to try them out in the Alps, they are certainly going to be packed to come with me.

A really excellent trail running shoe from La Sportiva which exceeded my expectations of comfort given the cushioning it offers. A highly functional, grippy trail shoe ideal for running most trails. It also looks pretty cool too!

Helios SR

The Helios is a noticeably lighter shoe. Weighing 90g less per shoe then the Mutants, these have been designed as much more of a summer trail/race shoe, and specifically rocky terrain. Although not La Sportivas dedicated Vertical KM race shoe, the Helios is designed with that sort of event in mind. The soles are designed to promote grip in the rear of the shoe for climbing, and holding on the downhills. The sole of the shoe is almost wave like in construction, without the individual lugs seen on their other trail shoes. The internal gaiter keeps out unwanted mud and pebbles, but as we have seen before, this can make them a bit harder to get on. We asked Mark, our resident speed demon, who typically covers a mix of road and trail terrain on a run, how he got on:

Mark says: I’ve been running in the Helios SR now for a good few months – regularly covering distances between 10-25k - and I have to say, what a shoe it is. Quite simply it’s my go to, all-rounder trail shoe – as happy on the tarmac as it is gravel tracks, grassy fields and forest trails. The Helios SR is what I would call a ‘runners shoe’ – it encourages you to get up on the balls of your feet, run with what the text books would class as ‘good form’ (or at least better form in my case) and simply head out wherever your adventure takes you.

The performance is thanks to the shoes’ lightweight design and a sole which provides great ground contact feedback yet is cushioned enough not to see you wincing with every spring off a rock or outcrop. The shoe utilises a cushioned upper, specifically tongue, which although seems a little counter intuitive for such a ‘run fast’ shoe certainly adds plenty of comfort.

For me this is one of the best ‘all-rounder’ trail shoes I am yet to experience but beware they do make you want to try and run fast every time you lace them up!

Kaptiva

The Kaptiva is an all ground, mid distance, mid volume trail shoe. The cuff around the top of the shoe sticks to the ankle to stop debris getting in, and the sole features their impact brake systems (where the lugs are different angles to ensure grip up and down slopes). The shoe is designed to fit snugly on long ascents, preventing the foot moving around too much and creating hot spots. The rock guard also avoids feeling each stone you happen to step on. The shoe is designed for medium to long mountainous races, so combines a performance shoe, with the necessary protection, and grippy lugs and sole.

Phil says: Having worn in a pair of the Mutants to deal with the worst that winter could throw at me, I was keen for a lighter trail shoe once spring came along and the ground finally firmed up a bit. The Kaptivas offered this, with a little give up on grip, which was worth the trade-off. Overall, they are an even more comfortable shoe, particularly the sock-like inner constriction that keeps out stones and allows the shoes to be slipped on and off without slackening the laces. Size wise I was half a size up from my road shoes, and that was a perfect fit. A great intermediate trail shoe.