Gear Review: La Sportiva Helios SR

I love the original Helios.  Since its release, it has been one of my go-to shoes on just about any trail surface.  So you might understand my excitement when the Helios SR was announced.  Basically, one of my favorite shoes upgraded with a rock plate for added protection…AWESOME!  I had high expectations for this shoe (as I generally do for the La Sportiva brand) and wanted to fall in love with it, but while it is a solid shoe I found that it fell short of my expectations.  Let’s take a look why…

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal affiliation with La Sportiva, however, they did provide me with a demo pair for my review.

Product Description

From La Sportiva’s website, they promote the shoe as a “Sticky soled, neutral trail shoe with a rock guard ideal for trail running on technical training.”

HeliosSR

Specs

  • Weight: 8.1 oz
  • Drop: Heel: 21mm / Toe: 19mm / Drop: 2mm
  • Fit: Extremely Small (size up a full Euro size from the original Helios or a half size from the Bushido)

Out of the Box

One of the first impressions of this shoe is the look, which is a bit more slick than the original Helios.  Though it currently only comes in one color, the shiny black and yellow combo looks fantastic.  The laces were a good length as well; I didn’t find myself stepping on them or running out of lace with different lacing configurations.

Fit

The fit through the back- and mid-foot falls in line with other La Sportiva shoes.  It is snug and really wraps the foot nicely.  This is one of the things I love about their shoes; I don’t have to worry about heel slipping at all.  You come to expect a snug, narrow fit with La Sportiva shoes, but it was in the forefoot that I experienced problems with the Helios SR.  With the addition of the rock plate, they didn’t seem to adjust the height in the toe box.  So what is normally a comfortably snug forefoot now feels really cramped (even after sizing up 1/2 size from what I wear with the original Helios).  I also noticed that at the bend of the upper near the base of my big toes I was experiencing some discomfort/bruising after a few miles.  This may have been exacerbated by the fact that they already fit rather tight.  It did seem to loosen up after putting some mileage on the shoe, but never totally went away.

In Action

Fit and comfort aside, these performed exceptionally well in regards to traction and responsiveness.  The shoe felt light and fast and the rock plate provided some nice added protection over the original Helios.  The outsole, which uses La Sportiva’s high grip “sticky” rubber, handled well on just about any surface.  Here are some observations from a couple of my runs:

Test Run #1 – 6.25 Miles: non-technical, mixed trail conditions (Strava Link)
This run was a relatively flat out and back with a short steep climb at the beginning and descent back down at the end.  This run had some muddy spots off and on, allowing me to test the traction.  The one thing I like about the “banana groove” design on the Helios outsole is that they provide great grip and flexibility while also shedding mud nicely.  I didn’t really have any issues through the few muddy patches and was able to maintain my speed for the most part.  It was on the uphill and downhill that I really noticed the restrictiveness in the toe box.  While it wasn’t overbearing to deal with, it didn’t really make me fall in love with the fit either.

Test Run #2 – 14.25 Miles: semi-technical, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)
For this run, I wanted to add a bit more distance with a couple minor obstacles thrown in.  The good thing is that even though the fit was snug it resulted in very little friction from shoe movement and, as a result, I had no signs of blisters.  That being said, my opinion didn’t really improve about the fit.  Traveling over a few small sections of rock allowed me to confirm that the outsoles do indeed handle exceptionally well like most other La Sportiva models.  The rock plate also resulted in a smoother ride.

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The outsole did not really change from the original Helios, which means that this shoe is super grippy.  I love the Helios platform on any surface, from wet, bare rock to dry, loose gravel…it just eats that stuff up and creates a great sense of confidence while running.
  • The addition of the rock plate did in fact provide an ample amount of underfoot protection.

Cons

  • The toe box is way too shallow.  La Sportiva’s are already known for their snug fit.  It feels like when they added the 3mm rock plate in the front of this shoe, they failed to adjust the toe box.  My feet felt cramped immediately…can’t imagine what it would feel like with a little bit of swelling.
  • The area on the upper where the toes bend seems to cause some minor bruising/irritation.  With a little bit of break-in time, they loosened up a little, but it never fully fixed itself.

Recommendation

Score: 3.8 of 5

I hate being overly harsh, especially because my opinion is only one in a sea of different personal experiences, but I do feel that even with the improvements the Helios SR took a step back from the original Helios.  I have run in La Sportiva shoes far more than any other trail shoe brand and therefore have come to expect near perfection from them.  Perhaps this is unfair and I have become spoiled, but it is what it is.  I will still wear this shoe, but I anticipate limiting it to runs of under 10 miles.  Beyond that they start to become too uncomfortable for my taste.  I would prefer not to size up a full size to adjust for the narrow toe box because I would worry about losing the trademark La Sportiva fit in the rest of the shoe, but this might be the best option for this model.  I would rather see La Sportiva open up the toe box a little more in the next iteration and hope they do so.

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Gear Review: La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0

Over my several years of trail and ultra running, I have experimented quite a bit with shoes of all makes and models.  While I continue to try out different things, I have seen myself gravitating toward one brand, La Sportiva.  I think this is in large part due to having a narrow foot, an area in which La Sportiva’s traditionally excel.  While I have several La Sportiva models that I rotate between, a long distance (50+ miles) shoe has been elusive.  I had hopes with the Ultra Raptor, but a couple of design shortcomings (in my opinion) left me unsatisfied.  Enter the Wildcat.  La Sportiva bills this shoe as ideal for training or long runs, so it caught my eye as a potential candidate for my longer runs.  With the release of their new version, the 3.0, I decided to give it a try.

A little caveat, I have not run I the Wildcats before, but have run in most of the other La Sportiva models. As such I will review them as a standalone shoe and in comparison to other La Sportiva’s, but will not make and comparisons to previous versions of the Wildcat.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated to La Sportiva at the time of this review, however, La Sportiva did provide me with a pair of these shoes for the purpose of evaluating and reviewing them. As always, I will do my best to maintain an unbiased stance for this review will highlight both positive and negative aspects.

Product Description

Straight from La Sportiva’s product page, the shoe is “designed for off-road running, ideal for training sessions & longer runs thanks to its plush cushion & comfortable fit.”  Let’s see if it lives up to this description.

Wildcat 3.0(1) La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0 Out of the Box

Specs

(From Sportiva.com)

  • Weight: 13.1 oz per shoe
  • Drop: Heel: 22mm / Toe: 10mm / Drop: 12mm
  • Fit: Normal (wide when compared to your typical La Sportiva’s)
  • Size: True to size

Fit

Out of the box, these shoes live up to the claim of being well-cushioned.  The cushioning is  definitely plush, however, the outsole is a bit stiff, clearly indicating the need for some degree of break-in (about 25-30 miles based on my experience).  The upper is comfortable and snug, yet a bit wider than most La Sportiva’s, giving the toe box a bit more room.  If you look at the pictures below, you will see a lot of similarities with the Ultra Raptor.  My biggest complaint with the Ultra Raptor and the one that ultimately made me abandon them is the barely padded leather heel cup, which caused blisters almost immediately whenever I ran uphill.  I was encouraged to see that the Wildcat had a well-padded cloth heel cup.

Wildcat 3.0(2) Top view with cushioned heel cup and a thin tongue

Ultra Raptor(2) Top view of the Ultra Raptor for comparison

Wildcat 3.0(3) Bottom view with aggressive lug pattern

Ultra Raptor(1) Bottom view of Ultra Raptor for comparison (same outsole)

In Action

As you can see from the pictures, the Wildcat uses the same outsole as the Ultra Raptor, which is promising.  I have been running almost exclusively in the Wildcats for the past 2 1/2 weeks.  Below, you will see the detail of several runs I made in these shoes along with observations from each run.  I attempted to run on several different course types and conditions to be able to provide a well rounded opinion of the shoe. while the test runs listed below don’t represent all of my runs, they highlight those that featured different terrain and conditions.

Test Run #1 – 8.75 Mile Technical Trail, Rainy with Wet/Muddy trail conditions (Strava Link)

This was my first run in the Wildcat 3.0 and it was a good one, getting a chance to test it out on a technical trail with a solid elevation profile.  For added bonus, throw in some rain, wet trail conditions, and even a little bit of snow.  The shoes were as comfortable as advertised, with a very cushiony feel.  They felt good and stable under the feet, although were quite a bit rigid, which I am hoping is just because they need a little breaking in.  The wet conditions were a good test to see how well the shoes drained water, which I would say is above average…my feet, while wet, rarely felt drenched.  The grip on the outsole was where I was most pleasantly surprised.  I had next to no slippage on the wet rocks and muddy trail.  These are CLOSE to being on level footing with the Bushido in this respect.  We also crossed a snow field where these shoes may have even surpassed the Bushido in snow, especially when climbing.  They were fantastic.  They did seem a bit heavy and sluggish, particularly on the short flat sections we were on, which is an expected trade-off when going with a heavier shoe.

Test Run #2 – 6.50 Mile Road to Non-Technical ATV Trail, Dry trail conditions (Strava Link)

With this run, I wanted to test the performance of the Wildcat when transitioning between pavement and trail.  This was especially important because while La Sportiva shoes are popular for their mountain running, they aren’t generally a high performer on pavement.   This route began with 0.75 miles on pavement, followed by 3.5 miles on trail, ending with 2.25 miles on pavement.  I found no issues with the feel or comfort on the pavement and would rate these on the higher end in terms of pavement running within the La Sportiva line.  They handled well on the pavement and transitioned to trail smoothly.  The trail on this route was non-technical and sandy, but the sand didn’t seem to be a problem either.  On the last stretch, I was able to open it up a bit and run a comfortable 7:00/mile.  Similar to my first run, they are a bit sluggish on the flats, and pavement is no exception.  I definitely had to work harder to maintain this pace versus most other shoes, but given the weight of the shoe, that is to be expected.

Test Run #3 – 17.25 Mile Long Distance / Extremely Technical, Steep Uphill and Downhill, Dry Conditions with Some Snow at the Peaks (Strava Link)

This run was the true test, a long run on some of the steepest and most technical terrain that the Wasatch has to offer.  This run covers portions of the Speedgoat 50K course, the most difficult 50K in the U.S.  I am not a strong downhill runner in steep conditions, so with this run, I was looking for two things: grip on the downhill and durability/comfort on the long runs.  Once again, I was satisfied with the Wildcats.  My downhill pace was a bit faster than normal because I did not feel like I was slipping at all, despite the dry, loose dirt.  This gave me a bit more confidence to speed up a bit.  In terms of comfort, they definitely did the job.  At the end of the run, no blisters, no hot spots, etc.  They performed so well in fact that I am on the fence about changing my plan and wearing these for the full Speedgoat!

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • This shoe lives up to the bill of being a well-cushioned shoe.  Even on extremely technical trail, these shoes did a great job at preserving my legs.  I could definitely see using these on longer race days.
  • The grip was amazing, particularly in muddy/snowy terrain.  They also performed well on dry/loose dirt.  The grip improved a bit more after about a 25-30 mile break-in period when the outsole had a bit more flexibility.
  • For runners that love La Sportiva, but wish they had a little more room in the toe box, you will like this shoe.  This definitely has the roomiest of all models that I have run in.

Cons

  • The biggest complaint about this shoe will be the weight, which will likely cause most people to use this shoe as a trainer and go with something lighter on race day.  It will depend largely on how you value comfort versus speed.  I think for future versions, it would be advantageous for La Sportiva to find a way to trim about an ounce so that they fall more inline with other cushioned shoes on the market.
  • Some people will have issues with the steep 12mm heel-to-toe drop.  Personally, it doesn’t bother me that much, but I still would prefer something in the 8-10mm range.  To do this, they would likely have to find someplace else to trim weight in the shoe.  Still, adding another 2mm to the forefoot would be awesome for a cushioned shoe.

Recommendation

Score: 4.6 of 5 (Recommend)

As I mentioned, I was surprised with this shoe on a number of occasions, all in positive ways. I wouldn’t say that I had low expectations, but instead that the shoes simply performed beyond ideal in many aspects. While I adapted nicely to the weight of the shoe, most people will simply find it a bit heavy for their taste. As such, for a broader audience, I highly recommend this shoe as a trainer on terrain ranging from smooth to technical. I will also recommend it as a long distance shoe for anyone willing to sacrifice a bit of performance for superior comfort. Whether I do end up using the Wildcat in the Speedgoat 50K or not, this shoe definitely now has a place in my lineup.

Gear Review: La Sportiva Bushido

I decided to hold off on the review of the Bushido until I had at least 50 miles on them and had the opportunity to test them on both technical dry terrain as well as a more slick/muddy terrain.  As is always the case, all feet are a little different so I tried to provide as much detail as I could to help you decide if the Bushido may be worth a try.

Product Description

MZ_Bushido_BlkYellow_26K

La Sportiva describes the Bushido as “NEUTRAL, STABLE, LIGHTWEIGHT, STICKY AND AGGRESSIVE; THE BUSHIDO IS DESIGNED FOR PERFORMANCE ON TECHNICAL TERRAIN”

This description is fairly accurate from my experience.  It appears to me that the development process of the Bushido paid extra close attention to keeping you comfortable and on your feet in the most technical conditions.

Specs

(From http://www.sportiva.com/products/footwear/mountain-running/bushido)

  • Weight: 9.1 oz per shoe
  • Drop: Heel: 19mm / Toe: 13mm / Drop: 6mm
  • Fit: Narrow
  • Size: Runs small.  I went from a 43 up to a 43.5.

Fit

The upper is designed to hug the foot and keep it in place.  I found the fit to be snug, but comfortable at the same time.  The shoe does a great job at wrapping around the midfoot in particular, holding it securely in place.  The heel is rather is narrow, which is a staple of La Sportiva shoes.  It will fit best if your foot is on the narrow side; I experienced no heel slippage in the Bushido.  If you don’t have a particularly narrow heel, I could see some potential blister issues on the side of your heels in this shoe.  The rather thin tongue of the shoe enables the rest of the upper to sit close against the foot and helps to eliminate gaps between the shoe and foot that rocks and dirt often creep down into.  I don’t use gaiters and in my runs so far, I have not yet had to stop and pull anything out of my shoe.

Bushido - Top

In Action

No matter what complaint you may have about the Bushido, you definitely won’t be able to criticize its grip.  This shoe clings to the trail better than any shoe I have ever run in.  I have had a chance to take it over rocky terrain, across loose sand, and through thick, sticky mud and in all of those scenarios, I never questioned my footing.  These handled it all remarkably well.  The outsole is grippy, aggressive, and durable.  I can honestly say that I won’t even consider another shoe at this point if I know I am running in any of these conditions.

With a lower stack height, I don’t see this as being ideal for super long runs.  Distance wise, this will probably be a 50K shoe for me (possibly 50M if the course is super technical).  I also would be weary of using them if there is a significant amount of pavement on the course you are running.  Then again, if there is more than 20% pavement on your course then it isn’t a trail run! 🙂

Bushido - Bottom

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • Grip.  The Bushido is second to none.  The trails in the Wasatch Mountains here in Salt Lake City are extremely rocky and technical.  These shoes handled them perfectly.
  • Fit.  If your foot is on the narrower side and you get the correct size, you will certainly love this shoe.  It wraps the foot so nicely that you will hardly even notice it.
  • Stable.  Fingers crossed, but no rolled ankles or even close calls to this point.  It handles uneven terrain, rocks, and roots very well.

Cons

  • The heel cup on the insert rises a bit too much on the sides, which I guess is meant to help hold the heel in place,  This is a bit unnecessary in my opinion because the shoe itself does a good enough job at that. For me, it was causing some rubbing on the sides of my heel which would likely cause blisters over longer distances.  If I could change it, I would flatten it out a bit.  As an alternative, I actually swapped the inserts out with the ones from my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors and the issue was resolved.  Trail runners are often resourceful and could probably come up with some other solutions as well.
  • They run small so be aware of the sizing.  As La Sportiva’s generally run narrow, if you go too small you may have some uncomfortable rubbing on the big toes.  When I sized up by a half size, I had no issues.
  • This is a true trail shoe!  They feel great on the trails, but if you like your legs, do not take them on pavement.

Recommendation

Score: 4 of 5 (Recommend)

This isn’t a multi-purpose shoe.  The Bushido has a very specific purpose (technical terrain) and is EXCELLENT at that!  While I don’t see myself using it on a flatter, drier course, it is so good at handling technical terrain and sloppy trail conditions that the Bushido is my new go-to shoe in these instances.  As I previously mentioned, I will likely limit these to distances of 50K or below.  Overall, it is a nice addition to my running shoe toolkit.