Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: gear review

Altai Hok 125 – Initial Impressions

Generally I’m against initial impressions and support thorough long-term reports but occasionally there are good reasons also for writing about initial impressions. And I think, this is one of those occasions as the Altai Hoks are relatively new product and the best season for using them is under its way at the moment. So, here are my initial impression of Altai Hok 125 skis with X-Trace universal bindings.  As I weight nearly 100kg I wished to test the 145cm long version but none were available for test (and I don’t think any are available for purchase either, at least not from Finland).

The tools of choise for the initial testing.

The Skis

Well, they are not exactly skis in the traditional Nordic meaning of the word but the Hoks are closer to skis than to snowshoes so lets call them skis for a while.

The Hoks are 125cm long, erm, short and about 12cm wide and relatively light making them very maneuverable. Those interested in numbers can check Dave C’s posts: Altai Hok: by the numbers, Tools; choices (for comparing different options) and The 145 Altai Hok (for those interested in the longer option providing more floatation). The skis are built with wood core covered with fiberglass mixed with organic materials. The bases are smooth sintered polyethylene (the typical ski base stuff) and have a large glued-on skin insert in the middle and are finished with 3/4 steel edges. The skis have metal screw inserts for the standard 75mm Nordic Norm bindings (with three inserts for a heel pad) and thus also fit the X-Trace binding and there is an adapter plate for NNN BC and SNS BC bindings.

There is not much camber and it might not even work with very short skis like these. The tip has a generous amount of rise that lifts the ski on top of snow by just pushing it forward (no need to “walk”, it’s more of a motion of kicking and gliding but without much glide because of the skin) and there is also some rise in the tail. The little side cut and raised tip and tail makes then turn super easily on down hill!

The skis and the sled in camp near Patvinsuon National Park.

The Bindings

The Hoks are often sold as a package with the X-Trace universal bindings. The word “universal” means that you can use them with about any boot or shoe that has relatively flexible sole (so a no go with plastic ice climbing boots and similar).  The X-Trace is a Finnish design binding that uses snowboard binding style straps and flexible base plate. The toe strap is mounted on a fixed front piece and another strap wraps around the ankle and is mounted on a heel piece that can slide on the flexible plastic plate to adjust the size. The size i.e. the length can be easily adjusted on 8cm range which wasn’t enough for my size 46 Sorel Caribou boots but there was plenty of extra space on the flexible plate so making extra notches for adjustment wasn’t a big deal. I recognize that the binding should fit size up to 46 hiking boot without any problems (manufacturer claims fit with EU sizes 35-47,5) but the big Sorels were a bit too much and felt lined Sorels larger than size 47 or 48 are simply too big even with extra notches. The straps were barely long enough for the Sorels but for even bigger boots, there are extra-long straps available as accessory. I’ll write more about the bindings when I have more experience with different footwear.

The Use

I’ve had the skis only for a bit over a week now. I’ve used the skis on a short test run in the backyard forest and on four-day winter trip near Patvinsuo National Park in Eastern Finland. On both occasions I was wearing size 46 Sorel Caribou felt lined boots. On the short test run I was looking for the wort possible ground without a backpack or a pulka. I crossed blown down trees, ditches, climbed over some big rocks and pushed through dense forest.The skis proved to be very agile and maneuverable and on steeper down hills they glided nicely and on safe speed but on subtle slopes the skin inserts prevent real down hill skiing. Floatation was quite good but there wasn’t that much snow for a real test, maybe some 30cm.

A swift little down hill on the test run: easier and faster with the Hoks than with snowshoes or traditional long Finnish skis.

On the four-day trip I was pulling a Fjellpulken Explorer 168 sled weighting something over 30kg fully loaded. The terrain was varying but mostly we skied on small lakes, swamps and in woods. There were no big hills but occasional little slopes, banks on the shores, ditches to cross and one fucked up boulder terrain. Other people on the trip were using 225-280cm long traditional Finnish forest skis and the Hoks turned out to be a lot more maneuverable in the woods and the skin inserts provided plenty of grip for pulling the pulka and tackling little obstacles on the way. The down side is that on good open terrain they are slower than long skis because of the skins but they are still a lot faster than snow shoes. The floatation was decent even though there was occasionally over half a meter of snow. The tip rises really nicely on top of the snow by just pushing the ski forward. I recon that the 145cm model would have been better for me providing more floatation. The weather on the trip was also frigging cold with lowest skiing temps being -36C. It is advised that the bindings should not be used in temps lower than -30C but not skiing wasn’t an option and the bindings coped the use well.

Fucked up place to go with a pulka. Here shorter skis make easier going.

The Impressions

They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent floatation.

The Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises. In my opinion the biggest compromise with the Hoks is the permanent skin insert which slows them down though also adds to the agility of the skis. It might be the only sensible option for skis like this but I’d really like to see a version with fish scale base and detachable skins (like the Madshus Intelligrip but a lot wider) or skin inserts (like the ones Åsnes has). The bindings are also quite a compromise. I like the ability to use any kind of footwear with the skis but they were not especially convincing, convenient or light weight. But untill I get to use something better I’m happy with them. The Icetrek Flexi bindings seem like an interesting option but they are quite expensive.

I’d personally rather have the 145cm long model to get more floatation as I believe it would be just as maneuverable as the 20cm shorter version. I have a trip plan for the next winter where the 145cm Hoks might be just the perfect tool…

Judging by the limited experience that I have with the Hoks I’d say they are killer tools for certain conditions and I see the Hoks suiting well for:

– Traveling in dense woods, especially with lots of soft snow. The maneuverability is invaluable and floatation good enough.
– Shoulder season trips when there is still some skiable snow left or you are expecting year’s first heavy snowfall during a walking trip.
– Hunting, photographing and doing other things that require agility and maybe occasionally going without poles.
– Having fun! Hoks are fun and provide a good way to have some exercise in the backyard woods or to tread trails in the deep snow around the house or a cottage and so on.

As I saind the Hoks are not skis in the traditional Nordic sense, neither are they snowshoes. Based on the snowshoe = slowshoe word play the Hoks are often called fastshoes which is very apposite name in my opinion. My friend translated fastshoe to “vauhtikenkä” in Finnish and I’ve called them “pätkäsukset” (shorty skis).

In my opinion Hoks do good job replacing snowshoes unless you are heading to very steep hills with hard packed snow (say hiking up for some off-piste snowboarding or climbing a mountain). They are agile enough for gathering fire wood, moving in and around camp, for hunting in woods, etc. From my point of view the Hoks could also replace long traditional Finnish forest skis if loosing some speed and ease of going in easy terrain is tolerable. The floatation is good enough and when hauling a sled the extra grip is nice. The Hoks could even replace steel edged fjell skis but that would mean loosing a lot of speed so I wouldn’t personally go there.

But if I could have only one pair of skis… I might nor have skis at all. I’d have fastshoes, the Hoks.

Availability & Price

The 145cm version seems to be out of stock every where in Finland though I heart that there might be some available at Kalevan Prisma in Tampere. The 125cm version is readily available from the usual suspects like the Varuste.net that sells them with X-Trace bindings for 295 euros.

– – –

Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland (the importer and distributor of Altai Hok skis and X-Trace bindings) lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them.

Advertisements

Sasta Everest jacket – Review

Once again this is a love story under the name “review”. And more than about a jacket, this a story about a hood. And not just any hood but possibly the best shell jacket hood in the world. And it can be found from Sasta Everest jacket.

The author enjoying the great hood in Svalbard in April 2011. Picture by Janne Holme.

Sasta is a small Finnish outdoor clothing company based in Nurmes in Eastern Finland. Sasta is well-known for modern high quality hunting clothing (“Green” line) and also as a niche manufacturer for the clothing used by Finnish expeditions to Arctic regions (most recently “The Pole” collection). In addition they also make some high quality outdoor clothing well suited for Nordic conditions (“Outdoor” collection) like the Kalotti anorak and backcoutry skiing clothing designed with Antte Lauhamaa.

The jacket reviewed here is a special model of Sasta Everest jacket that was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition to Svalbard. And to make things complicated Sasta has made several different variations of this jacket sold under the same name so if buying something named “Sasta Everest jacket” make sure you buy the model you were looking for.

A hard shell for winter use? Why?

Even though the conventional wisdom and some people say that in winter you should “avoid membranes in clothing like the plague”, I disagree with this in some cases. I think that hard shell clothing (i.e. something with membrane like Goretex and Event) can offer some advantages in winter expedition style use.

First of all, waterproof & breathable membranes work surprisingly well in cold and dry conditions as the relative difference in humidy and temperature between the inside and outside of the shell clothing is big enough for the membrane to work (i.e. breath). The hard shell fabrics are also completely windproof which adds quite a bit of warmth at least when compared to traditional tightly woven poly-cotton. In certain conditions 100% windproof clothing is a must. The membrane packed fabrics are also waterproof which is very useful in case of rain or wet snow as it keeps the user and layers underneath it dry. And if hard shell clothing gets thoroughly wet (from rain, sweating, submersion, etc.) in sub-zero temps it usually doesn’t freeze into a stiff lump but stays quite operational. All this is very useful on long-lasting winter trips with no real chances to dry clothing where you have to push on despite the conditions.

And if it is cold enough, almost all moisture freezes to the warm layers under the shell clothing or into the shell itself and in these conditions having a membrane or not doesn’t make much of a difference – a snow brush is needed anyway.

Moisture frozen under a shell jacket. Picture by Poppis Suomela from Magnetic North Pole Expedition 2003 of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland.

And one point for choosing a hard shell is the unfortunate (?) fact that hard shells are often better designed with better technical details meaning that if one wants certain details and functions a shell with membrane might be the only option available. So, from these points, from the experience and experiments by others and from my own limited experience I’d say that hard shell clothing works very well for winter expedition use. And of course this doesn’t mean that a non-membrane clothing* would not work!

The Design and Specifications

The Everest jacket is based on a jacket design by Kari “Poppis” Suomela who designed the jacket used by the Finnish Airborne Ranger Clu’s expedition across Greenland in 1999. During the last decade the jacket has been used on several expedition and revised several times but the basic design has stayed about the same. A slightly different version is now sold as “Sasta Pole Jacket”.

To be honest the jacket is quite a typical mid-length hard shell jacket. It is made using the “core comfort mapping technology” meaning that different materials are used on different areas. Most of the jacket is made of 3-layer Goretex Proshell and the side panels and underarms are made of stretchy 3-layer Goretex. The stretchy panels give some extra freedom of movement. The features of the jacket include:

– beefy full length two-way zipper with double storm flaps and a lacing back-up system
– long (50cm) two-way pit zippers with double storm flaps
– long sleeves with velcro tabs on cuffs
– draw cords on waist, hem and collar (plus a bunch of adjustments in the hood)
– two big chest pockets (33cm x 20cm), a small sleeve pocket and a napoleon-style pocket for a pen flare
– the best collar and hood system in the world

Not that winterish. Notice the different materials (different shades of black).

Being a “winter expedition jacket” it’s not a light one. My jacket is size XL and weights 990 grams with the thick fur around the hood adding 115g. The cut is quite roomy: I am 186cm long and weight around 100kg with relatively modestly built upper body (all the beef is in the legs) and I can easily fit a base layer and two thin fleeces under the jacket. For me the hem reaches below the waist line and a bit further on the back covering the butt. The sleeves are roomy and plenty long enough.

Sasta Everest jackets in use. Notice the full face protection provided by the depth of the hood.

Here are some measurements from my size XL jacket:

– length of the back (from neck to hem): 82cm
– circumference on chest: 135cm
– circumference on waist: 125cm
– sleeve (from shoulder seam to cuff): 73cm
– collar height: 11cm
– hood “depth” (from the brim to the back of the head): 27cm

Visible: the long pit zipper, different materials and some other features.

The Use

I’ve used this jacket mostly during the winter 2011 from January to April. I’ve used it on short ski trips, on snowshoeing day trips, while building snow shelters, on weekend skiing trips and of course on the three-week expedition to Svalbard. The conditions have varied quite a bit and occasionally the jacket has been an overkill* but often, especially in high winds, it has been a real gem. I think that I’ve used the jacket for some 50 times, often one time meaning a full day outside. I think that I have enough experience with the jacket to write a review of it. I haven’t used the jacket during the warmer time of the year, mostly because of it being heavy and overkill for the conditions. So this review is written purely from a winter use perspective. I know also that the exact model and similar ones by Sasta have been used for example in climbing at the Alps, the Andes and the Denali so it seems that the jacket would also work for mountaineering.

Successes

I think that the design in general is good for hard winter use but some features are more important or better than others.

All the zippers (all YKK) are adequately protected with storm flaps and all the zipper pulls have long cords to enable operating them with gloves. I think that it’s cool that the main zipper’s storm flap has a velcro closure and on the last 20cm there are small webbing loops that enable turning the jacket into an anorak in case of a zipper failure on a long trek! (Just add some cord and sew the rest of the zipper shut.)

Visible: double storm flap, pen flare pouch, collar wedge and backup loops.

The best part of the jacket is the collar and hood system. There is a 11cm high fleece-lined collar with a draw cord to keep the nasty weather outside. This is often enough and for better but not-that-good weather there is a fleece lined wedge with some velcro that can cover your neck even if you’d partly open the main zipper. I often use it to add a bit of ventilation but still keep me protected from the weather.

Visible: hood half-way down providing still some protection. Notice also the extra velcro tab for use with a hard face mask.

The hood itself is sewn to the lower edge of the collar. It is very spacious and you can even fit a helmet inside but in my opinion it works better without one. There is a bunch of adjustments in the hood: In the back of the hood there are two volume adjustments and in the front there is a total of three adjustment cords. The adjustment next to the forehead adjusts the fleece-lined seal next to skin. The next two cords adjust the big tunnel that protects your face from the hostile cold winds. The peak of the tunnel is stiffened with wire and there is some additional soft stiffening material on the sides. There is a 4cm wide velcro strip on the edge of the tunnel for attaching a fur**. (Fur is not included, I got some really furry raccoon from a hunter.) It’s really nice to be able to detach the fur on a rainy day. The tunnel can be easily folded for better field of view in better weather and with some adjusting the fur can still protect the cheeks, ears and neck while not wearing the hood.

Visible: The side profile and all the adjustments of the hood.

Because of the collar wedge and a big velcro tab that goes over the front of the hood, the hood can also seal over a hard face mask (like Scott Safari goggles with mask) to offer superior protection from raging winds.

The jacket worn with hard face mask. Feeling invincible.

The long and roomy sleeves are also nice. There is a lot room for movement especially with part of the sleeve being stretchy. The sleeves reach below knuckles providing cover for hands. I can also tuck the cuffs of my thick winter gloves (another love story to be reviewed) inside the sleeves. There are also small plastic rings for dummy cording gloves but I usually put the lanyard around my wrists so I haven’t used them.

Visible: long sleeves, velcro tabs, ring for dummy cord and sleeve pocket.

The big chest pockets are nice: they are roomy, easy to access and don’t interfere with backpack or harness. The pen flare pouch is useful if you need to have one easily available for example to fend of curious polar bears. The pouch fits one flare to the bottom and the launcher on top of it. Instead of a pen flare I carried a lip balm in the pocket and it stayed relatively warm and soft there. The sleeve pocket has been originally added for the needs of smokers but as a non-smoker I use it to carry a compass, sunglasses or something similar light and small.

Visible: chest pockets. The pockets reach all the way down to waist.

There is also a double layer of fabric on one place on the sides of the jacket as it seems that pulling sled for some 1000+km causes inevitable wear on this area. And actually some of the girls in the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition had visible wear already after some 400-500km of skiing with the jacket.

Room for Improvement

There are no major problems in the jacket but few small things could be improved.

In my opinion the major shortcoming of the jacket is that it is too short. I’m relatively long guy and to properly cover my groin area and butt (often chilled in stormy winter conditions) the hem should reach about 5 cm lower. This is not a crucial shortcoming but annoying one anyway. I’ve been thinking that an optimal ski expedition jacket could be even 15cm longer covering most of the upper legs. This would of course hinder the use with a climbing harness but might be worth it for skiing in very cold and windy places. And if the jacket would be that much longer it might be nice to add big pockets to the hem?

Visible: the hem (too short in my opinion) and the hood with the "tunnel" folded for better visibility. (Pics with me wearing the jacket by N.)

There could also be some additional length in the hood. Now at some cases the shoulder starps of backpack or sled pulling harness pulls the jacket down on the shoulders causing slight pressure on the top of the head if wearing the hood. This doesn’t happen always but when it does, it’s again slightly annoying. I think that a centimeter or two of extra fabric on the back of the hood (or the user having shorter neck or being shorter) would solve this.

The sleeve pocket is somewhat redundant but on the other hand doesn’t cause any problems either. It might also be useful to have lanyard-loops on the chest pockets. But what I’d really like to have would be a pocket or two on the inside of the jacket to keep some things warmer. One could be a napoleon-style pocket accessible under the strom flap without opening the main zipper (camera batteries, iPhone, lip balm, etc.) and the other could be a roomy mesh pocket inside the jacket to temporarily store things like ski skins, a water bottle or an infusing bag of freeze-dried food.

The edges of seamtapes are abrading on some areas. As the  seamtape used is wide this hasn’t caused any problems and I don’t expect it to but this shouldn’t be happening to a jacket with RRP nearly 700 euros (around $1000). Another minor inconvenience were the cords on zipper pulls. They were made of soft cord that got stuck in the velcro of the strom flap. Changing the cords into longer and stiffer ones was of course easy.

Visible: the wear on seamtapes and the thin fleece lining inside the collar.

Summary

In summary the Sasta Everest jacket is a specialized rugged hard shell jacket well suited for long trips in cold and windy places. It’s not cheap but for some it might be worth the price. The jacket is build with long man hauling trips in mind but in my opinion it should be a bit longer to offer better protection. The cut is good, the details are good, the sleeves are long and big enough. The outer pockets are also good but I think that the jacket would benefit from couple of inner pockets. The best part of the jacket is the wonderful hood and collar system. It’s great for hostile winter conditions – the best I’ve used or seen this far.

I’ll be using the jacket more when the proper winter arrives again and I will report immediately if I find out something new and interesting concerning the jacket. And at some point I’ll write a long-term report to complement this review.

Skiing to the ghost town of Pyramiden in Svalbard in bitter wind.

* PS. I’m also looking for a good light softshell to accompany this jacket on winter tours. It should be a bit beefier than windshirt but not too thick and preferably have a full zipper, couple of pockets, long sleeves, long hem and a decent collar/hood and maybe even pit zips. All recommendations are welcome!

** PPS. If you know a source for legal Russian/Siberian wolf fur, I’d very interested in upgrading my hood fur from raccoon to wolf as it should handle the frost better. Wolverine and Polar bear would be even better but those I can’t probably afford…

Availability

As mentioned, the very model of Sasta Everest reviewed here was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition, but: It is now available from one of the expedition sponsors Trekki under the name of Sasta Expedition Parka “Vaiska” Edition. It is expensive as hell but might be worth the price if it fits to your specific needs. And as mentioned the Sasta Pole Jacket is very similar to the jacket reviewed here and it is available from many places in Finland and also from online and it’s even quite a lot cheaper. And if you are looking for a jacket for a high-key expedition it might be worth contacting Sasta directly.

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. 😉