It is now done. A gear review. The first on this blog. But these shoes are just so damn nice that I had to write about them. I was first going to name it “A Love Story” instead of the cold “long-term report” but as there will be more long-term reports coming up it’s better to keep it clean.
Some years ago I adopted the idea of using trail running shoes as three season hiking shoes instead of those typical heavy leather boots. First I used Inov8 Rocklite 315 shoes but they never really fit me: there is no heelcup so the heel goes up and down causing blisters to the feet and wear to the shoes. In addition the midsoles collapsed after a few hundred kilometers of use. This might be because I’m quite a big guy weighting 100kg, often carrying over 15 kilo loads and having problems with pronation, but in my opinion a pair of runners should last longer than 200-300km.
Inov8 Rocklite 315s at Koitajoki in October 2009. Feet happy with running socks while walking despite sub-zero temps and slush.
I tried (i.e. used in real life conditions) also Salomons, Asics and Haglöfs shoes but all the time I felt that there should be better fitting shoes for me. Last year I came across La Sportiva mountain running shoes and found out from the depths of the Internet that the Wild Cat model had relatively wide fit and deep heel cup which sounded perfect! I had tried some other La Sportiva models (e.g. Crosslite) and those were too narrow for me. But trusting the all-knowing Internet I decided to order a pair of Wildcats in my usual size 46. That was a decision I haven’t regretted. I have now worn out one pair and just bought a new pair some weeks ago so I think it’s time to share some of my thoughts and experiences.
As background information, it might be useful for you to know that I usually use size 46 shoes so the sizing of the La Sportiva Wildcats seems to be running pretty true. My forefoot is relatively wide and the feet are also quite “high” in front of the angles. My insteps are pretty low and I have some pronation issues. My heels are quite pointy occasionally causing problems in finding well-fitting footwear.
A new pair and a well used pair of goodness.
The shoes are built like about any typical off-road running shoe: There is a rubber outer sole and EVA midsole providing cushioning. The heel is slightly thicker than the forefoot, which is unnecessary according the bare foot running paradigm but hasn’t caused any problems for me. The stock insoles are relatively good thin insoles with some extra support to hold heel in place but it seems that the sharpish edges of the insoles also abrade the lining around heel area after some use. The outer sole wraps around the tip of the shoe providing some protection for toes which has been very useful feature when scrambling forward tired like a half-minded zombie.
The laces go trough webbing loops that attach directly to the midsole inside the shoe. This provides very secure fit and saves some strain from the main fabric. The main body of the shoe is made of thin fabric and the aforementioned webbing loops are also sewn to this fabric. From the outside the shoe is protected with sturdy mesh. There is some padding on the tongue, around the tarsal bones and on the area around the achilles tendon. The padded parts are lined with some softish “honey comb” styled fabric. The main body materials (the thin fabric and sturdy mesh) cover also most of the tongue so someone wanting to shave off the last grams might try cutting out the tongues but I haven’t tried this yet.
Notice tha the structure of the used shoe (on the right) has collapsed a bit.
For me the best part of the shoe is the heel cup. It is deep, sturdy and secure. There is no padding against the calcaneus bone but some for the achilles tendon. Inside the shoe there is stiff material that forms the shape of the heel cup and outside there are additional plastic reinforcements. For me this structure works incredibly well and was comfortable even after the fabric lining and most of the padding had worn out after some 700km of use. I think the good fit is mostly because of the plastic reinforcements securing the shoe above the calcaneus bone but not causing excessive pressure against the bone itself.
This one has seen some 700km of use. Insole is removed for the pic.
As I mentioned above, I have now worn out one pair of these shoes and I’m starting with another pair. The first pair saw some 700-800 km of use ranging from occasional run on asphalt to one-week long hikes off trail in forests and fjells, longer daytrips on trail and some packrafting worn over the socks of a dry suit. The shoes do of course get wet especially when packrafting but they also dry relatively quickly because there is no Goretex nor much padding and only thin fabric lining. They don’t dry as quickly as Salomon Tech Amphibians or similar mesh shoes but quickly enough for me.
I’ve used the shoes with a range of socks. Depending on the conditions I’ve used either: Bridgendale Coolmax liners, thicker Bridgendale merinowool hiking socks, Inov8 running socks and even thin neoprene socks. For me the shoes are not big enough for long walks (several kilometers) in neoprene socks and even thin 2mm neoprenes caused some blisters between my toes. When the fit is otherwise good there just isn’t enough space in the toe box for that kind of thicker incompressible socks. Of course I have had some blister with these shoes, especially on the tips of my pinky toes but that is quite typical for me and I’ve been more than happy with the shoes. I’ve used a pair Inov8 Debris Gaiters to keep the unwanted stuff out from the shoes. The problem with these is that the original rubber bands that should keep the gaiters in place snap easily because the thread is not as aggressive nor deep (i.e. protecting) as the one in Inov8 shoes. I have now replaced the rubber bands with some P-cord which seems to last 150 km or so before needing to be replaces.
Some tears in the mesh outer after one+ year of use.
Despite starting to look very used the first pair served me well for a long time. After some 700km there were some tears in the outer mesh, the lining and padding were quite well-worn out, the toe protectors had come loose and the whole structure of the shoes had slightly collapsed because of the pronation. But: the shoes were still very much working. What finally lead me into buying a new pair was the outer sole wearing out and thus loosing grip and in the end cracking in both shoes. The cracks were actually quite deep and reached about half way to the midsoles so it was time to buy a new pair. The old pair is still in occasional use for morning runs or short orienteering tracks. This means that for me one pair serves about one active season (i.e. the time of a year when I’m not using skis for backcountry travel) as primary shoes and after that as a secondary pair for shorter walks and runs. I find that to be quite reasonable. I think that for a lighter user and in lighter use the shoe might well serve longer time (measured in days and/or kilometers).
The sole and tread are not the best possible. Notice the crack in the old shoe's sole.
The only thing that I’m not satisfied with is the grip. The thread and sole material seems to work very well on dry rock, trails, gravel roads and asphalt (Well, they are sold as mountain running shoes after all.) but on wet rocks or wet duckboards they really suck. Same with slippery mud. A more aggressive thread would probably help as would softer and more grippy rubber but that wouldn’t last as long. Maybe La Sportiva could offer these shoes with two different types of soles like Inov8 is doing? I was thinking about adding some grip to the old shoes with some screws but this is yet to be tested. We’ll see how it works when the winter sets in.
There should also be some pattern the heel and the forefoot (where you can see the La Sportiva logo in the pic above). I don’t really understand why most shoes don’t have any thread on that area? Especially when orienteering in forest I often step on wet branch or root with that part of the shoe and also often slip because of the total lack of any grip. I know that for example some Icebug models have thread also on that area and I think that the La Sportiva Wild Cats should have also.
If considering these shoes strictly for hiking use with the kind of heavyish backpack I’m often carrying the midsole could be a bit more stiff with less cushioning and the toe protector could be a bit sturdier. But of course, then these wouldn’t be as good running shoes any more.
In addition to the occasional blisters I got an inflamed achilles tendon while hiking with these shoes last July. I think it wasn’t because of the shoes but had more to do with the heavy load combined with feet getting cold and wet while packrafting. For example in October I walked 105km in 23 hours and 30 minutes with these shoes without any unanticipated problems. I also did a six-day hike without problems with the new pair taken straight out of the box.
La Sportiva Wild Cat mountain running shoes.
Size 46 weights 413g per shoe including the stock insole.
Quite typical non-waterproof trail running shoes. But they are the best fitting shoes I’ve ever tried! The structure in general is good, materials are good, the fit is excellent and especially the heel cup is brilliant. The shoes would benefit from more aggressive grip and especially some added grip in front of the heel. As the fit is highly individual thing I recommend trying any shoes before buying but if you have relatively wide forefoot and pointy heels, these might be the perfect shoes for you!
I wish La Sportiva would make a Goretex lined mid with the same fit for winter use…
La Sportiva Wild Cats are also available with Gore-tex lining and there are also specific versions for women available. In Finland the importer for La Sportiva is OAC and you can check your local retailer from their homepages or you can order the shoes online for example from Varuste.net. The prices in European online shops seem to range from 80 euros to 120 euros.
Oh, and as a disclaimer: I paid the full price for both pairs but I’d happily take a pair or two for free for future use. If interested in supporting, please send an e-mail for address and details. ;)