Korpijaakko

- my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

La Sportiva Wild Cat – Long-Term Report

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 background

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.

Structure

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.

The use

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.

Problems

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.

Summary

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…

Availability

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. ;)

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21 responses to “La Sportiva Wild Cat – Long-Term Report

  1. Khap Parka° (@khapparka) 26/10/2011 at 15:17

    Hey Jaakko! Thanks for a nice report. Glad you found your favorite pair of hiking shoes! :) I’m still in the middle of my tests.

    The Wildcats sure look like they can take some beating and the built quality is nice! And the price isn’t bad either.

    I used to have McKinley’s dry plus hiking shoes (don’t remember the exact model) but I can’t say anything good about those. They lasted approx. 4 months, from early summer to start of autumn. The insoles crumbled down into pieces after 1 month and the shoes didn’t really hold any water or moisture, so even basic walks with dog when it rained was out of the question. Since the shoes had a low build offering no real protection to the ankle bones(talus) I finally quit using them on hikes after getting injured couple times on rocky terrain.

    So, I’m back at the hiking boots again. Currently testing Lowa Tibet Pro GTX. Will pop out my report in near future™. :)

    Oh btw, what is your shoe/boot choice for the up coming winter?

  2. Antti 26/10/2011 at 18:40

    Great review! Thanks!

  3. Joe Newton 26/10/2011 at 19:20

    Currently wearing LaSportiva Crosslite II’s after also getting divorced from Inov8 due to their heel-cups having irrevocable differences with my heels. So far so good and the grip is STUNNING. I have yet to find a shoe that doesn’t have a least one compromise (fit, grip, durability and fit must always come first).

    BTW you can get NRS 0.5mm neoprene socks that offer nearly all the benefits of neoprene socks (albeit with slightly less insulation) but at far less volume. Recommended.

  4. korpijaakko 26/10/2011 at 23:58

    Khap Parka: For me winter boots are highly activity spesific. For skiing either Alpina BC 1600 NNN BC boots (with overboots if necessary) or good’ol rubber boots with felt liners. For snow shoeing or walking probably Inov8 Goretex 390s (those are relatively new to me) or old and trusty Meindl Vakuum GTX boots (these are also relatively good with crampons). And if I need really warm footwear then Sorel boots or down socks with felt liners inside. It’s a lot easier during the three warmer seasons!

    Antti: Good that you liked it. More of the same style coming up later.

    Joe: I haven’t tried the Crosslite IIs. How is the fit/sizing wide & roomy or narrow? And thanks for the neoprene socks tip. NRS socks would probably do the trick, especially for warmer packrafting trips as they are maybe not very durable?

  5. Martin Rye 30/10/2011 at 20:03

    Heel-cups are the key to good trail shoes. Stabilise the foot and that is critical to me. I will dare to say Inov-8 stole a lead with light trails shoes. But others are soon catching up. FAST. I own Crosslite (have a hole in them) and Raptors with the sticky rubber sole. I cant praise LaSportiva enough.

  6. korpijaakko 31/10/2011 at 12:02

    Thanks for the comment, Martin. There seems to be a growing agreenment that Inov-8 failed the heelcups and that better fitting options exist. (Hmm, can you fail something you don’t have in the first place?) When I find soem other La Sportiva models instock somewhere I will give them a try too.

  7. Josh Spice 31/10/2011 at 19:22

    The only thing I don’t like about mine is, ironically, how thick the soles are – they put you so high up (relatively speaking), you are more prone to rolling ankles. I’ve done it a few times and NEVER roll ankles in any other footwear, plus a buddy of mine has destroyed his ankles TWICE wearing these shoes in the Alaskan backcountry and swears to never wear them again.
    They have totally changed how I look at backcountry footwear. Thin soles are in… for me.

  8. korpijaakko 31/10/2011 at 19:50

    Josh: Now that you mention it, I’ve also had more angle rolling close-calls with these shoes than some other models but never had any real accident. Thin soles are good but in addition at least I need a good fit to really benefit from the thin soles and the Wildcats provide the best fit I’ve experienced yet. So an addition to the wish list: thinner soles. Even the thinner sole could still be a bit stiffer if using them mostly off trail were ground provides the cushioning needed.

  9. Martin Rye 01/11/2011 at 01:39

    Really interesting comment from Josh. I did turn my ankle twice in the Raptors in Scotland in May. But that was on roads and not looking where I was putting my feet and they turned in a pothole. But insights like that are eye opening. Why blogs are handy for info and insights on kit.

  10. J O (@jayo_vi) 01/11/2011 at 03:05

    Love my Wildcats.. thanks for the review.

  11. korpijaakko 05/11/2011 at 23:35

    J O: Nice to hear that you like them, the shoes and the review.

  12. martin cooperman 08/02/2012 at 17:39

    I’d like to hear more about these.
    Thanks.

  13. korpijaakko 08/02/2012 at 21:34

    I don’t know what more to say about them as I’ve worn out one pair and the second is working as well as the first one. If you have any spesific questions feel free to ask!

  14. Pingback: There Have Been Guest Posts « Korpijaakko

  15. James 26/10/2012 at 15:31

    Very comfy but dodgy grip on mud and after 30km about a third of the yellow studs on one shoe all fell off…so back they went to the shop.

  16. korpijaakko 28/10/2012 at 14:45

    The grip on mud or on wet grass is not as good as with more agressively lugged shoes (for example on many Inov8 shoes) but they shouldn’t wear out so quickly so good that you took them back to the shop.

  17. Pingback: La Sportiva Wild Cat 2.0 – First Impression | Korpijaakko

  18. Aaron 02/10/2013 at 18:34

    Another big fan of the Wildcats here! My feet and pretty wide and/or high volume. I had a rough time finding shoes that fit well and performed like I wanted. I’m on my third pair of these and I have three new pair in storage.

    If you’re in the US, the original Wildcat or Wildcat 2.0 seems to come up once or twice a year on Steep and Cheap for 50% off for discontinued colors. They also show up every once in a while at Sierra Trading Post at a discount. This is why I have a few pair in reserve, but I’d gladly pay the new price if my stash runs out.

    I typically wear them through the course of a year for the 20-25 miles/week of day hiking I do year round, starting with a fresh pair in the spring when things get muddy. Since having a few slips when using well-worn Wildcats in spring mud, I’ve switched to this schedule. The rub rubber is nicely sticky and can wear down pretty quickly if you’re hiking on a lot of rock, I’ve found. They’re my winter shoe as well, paired with Kahtoola Microspikes.

  19. korpijaakko 03/10/2013 at 22:03

    Thanks for the comment Aaron! And especially for the tips on getting good shoes for reasonable price. 50% discount is actually enough for ordering overseas as well so I’ll keep my eyes open. How are your winters? I can’t really think of using Wildcats here as my winter ftowear. :D

  20. ideologger 04/10/2013 at 03:52

    If you can order from Backcountry.com and Steepandcheap.com, sign up for alerts on the keyword “Wildcat” at sacalerts.com. I’m in Duluth, MN. Comparing to a few cities in Finland (Helsinki, Kuopio, Kajaani), it looks like we get a lot more snow on average, lower lows, and hotter summers. Our winters are pretty cold and snowy and the Wildcats do well for me in winter, as long as the temp is below freezing. The cold keeps everything dry.

    I should say that I don’t wear the Wildcats when it’s above freezing enough for everything to be a wet, cold mess. I break out a pair of Golite boot/high top shoe for those days.

    Mind you, I don’t do any backpacking in the winter, though I’d love to start. It might be a different story when you’re away from the conveniences of civilization at the end of a day of hiking. In winter, I mostly do daily 5-10 km day hikes, so even if the temps are a little higher that day I can always let them dry out when I come in from the cold. :)

  21. korpijaakko 04/10/2013 at 09:23

    That might explain it! :D Though some people use trail runners also for winter hiking (with snowshoes) I believe some more insulation is needed on longer witner trips. And of course, I use skis so ski boots are the way to go.

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