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Hands-on Gear Review
La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX Review
Cons: Expensive, lack all-around performance
Bottom line: This is an athletic hiker that costs a pretty penny but provides great water resistance and a sensitive sole.
At OutdoorGearLab, we have tested tons of footwear from La Sportiva, which has an excellent reputation for high-performance shoes for all kinds of outdoor adventures. We were excited when we received the techy Synthesis Mid GTX. They felt great on our feet straight out of the box, featuring a comfy footbed and flexible upper. It's lightweight, too, and topped our charts in water resistance. This shoe performed only average, however, in several categories compared to the tough competition. The sensitive soles are nice when scrambling up rocks but lead to sore feet on rough terrain. It lacks traction, support, and durability, yet has a high price tag. We liked this shoe, but its performance limits its applications in the backcountry.
If you fancy a lightweight and synthetic upper, the Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX offers better all-around performance, yet is less comfortable underfoot. If you want a shoe that does it all, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is our Editors' Choice all-star.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX is an athletic, lightweight hiker with a sensitive sole and a high list price of $185. The upper is a combination of synthetic AirMesh and Nano-Cell direct injection with integrated PU-coated leather. The waterproof liner is Gore-Tex Surround. The sole consists of a compression-molded EVA midsole, TPU inserts, and a Vibram Nano rubber outsole with an Impact Brake System.
First slipping into these shoes is a pleasant experience. The upper is soft with zero break-in time necessary, and the cushy mesh tongue prevents the laces from digging into the bridge of our feet. Its generous rocker gave us more spring in our step, coupled with the athletic fit. On the trail, though, we experienced mild discomfort when hiking on rocky and bumpy paths, as this shoe lacks serious protection underfoot and in front of the toes. This shoe also offers little arch support.
We liked the speed laces on the Synthesis Mid GTX. The laces connect to the shoe with four sets of webbing eyelets and a metal fifth set, which is a ring eyelet on the inside of the foot and a hook on the other side. The hook allowed us to fully open the mouth to slip in and out of these shoes. To reduce the flopping of the laces, there is an elastic band to tuck in the laces on the tongue.
If the laces are still flopping about after tucking them under the elastic strap, cut the ends of the laces shorter, tie them into a knot, and be on your way. Unlike traditional laces, there is no plastic coating on the ends of the laces necessary for threading them through eyelets and to keep them from unraveling.
These shoes provide average breathability. In our treadmill test, our socks were damp, but there was no sweat accumulated on our skin. These shoes absorb shock well into the cushioned footbed. The Synthesis offers more comfort on moderate trails than its athletic competitor from Adidas. To treat your feet with supreme comfort, check out the thick-soled and uber-comfy HOKA ONE ONE Tor Summit WP.
The Synthesis Mid GTX feels and is lightweight. We measured its weight for a pair at 2 lb. 0.1 oz., beating out the Vasque Juxt by one-tenth of an ounce. La Sportiva achieved this low weight partly due to its thin walls and less dense outsole rubber. The heavier Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX has more rigid and durable soles.
The sole of this La Sportiva shoe is flexible and lacking in support. The thermoplastic urethane insert doesn't add much stiffness to the midfoot, as we were able to twist it in our hands more than almost any other model. For rough terrain, we prefer more rigid soles. The insole is also a simple, thin piece of foam that doesn't add any stiffness. Considering this shoe's high price tag, we would appreciate a more supportive insole. This shoe does have the highest ankle collar in this review at 4.125 inches, which gives a boost to its overall stability. If top notch support is key to your hiking needs, check out the Keen Targhee II.
In our traction tests, the Synthesis Mid GTX offered average performance overall. It walked up dry rock without a problem until angles increased, where this model didn't stick as well as expected from a company that makes excellent climbing shoes. This surprising lack in performance comes despite a softer-than-most rubber sole and a good deal of sensitivity underfoot.
This model fared better in our mud and snow tests, where the Vibram Impact Brake System assisted in descents. On wet rock, however, this model slid around more than the rest of the competition. For better performance on wet and dry rocks in a similar athletic design, check out the Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX.
We like wearing this La Sportiva model for long day hikes and when speeding down trails, rain or shine. Its sensitive footbed adds to its traction but makes feet more prone to soreness on a rough trail or under the weight of a moderate pack. The Synthesis handles these scenarios, but there are better shoes for the situations. For better foot protection and backpacking ability, check out the beefy Keen Targhee II or The North Face Ultra 09 GTX.
The Nano-cell upper stood out at the bottom of our feet, and our testers favored more discreet models around town. If you like the look, though, no one here is going to call you out.
The Synthesis Mid GTX has excellent water resistance for a hiking shoe. The majority of the upper is coated in polyurethane, which does a superb job keeping water from absorbing into the upper. With a 4.625 flood level (outsole to tongue gusset) and a collar that cinches up against the ankle higher up than all other models, this shoe handles its liquids. It also passed our five-minute stream wading test with flying colors. The only other model on par with this shoe is the X Ultra 2 GTX.
The Synthesis Mid GTX displayed low durability. After approximately 20 miles, the rubber toe cap on each foot began to peel away from the leather toe protection. This separation is minor, for now, but will only grow with time. The soft rubber of the Vibram sole also displayed more wear than most models. Somewhere along the trails, a rock was able to bite a chunk out of the outsole. As with the lacing systems of the Salomon and Adidas shoes, the plastic locking mechanism stands a higher chance of failing than traditional laces. For the price tag, we expected greater longevity from this shoe.
The Synthesis Mid GTX is at home hiking fast or running on easy to moderate trails. Its excellent waterproofing is valuable to hikers in wet climates as well.
With an expensive $185 price tag and average performance overall, other models provide much better value for your dollar.
The La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX has a great lacing system, resists water as good as any other model, and likes to pick up the pace. The sole is sensitive, which some hikers prefer. If you value these features and have the extra cash to spend, go for it. In comparison to other models, though, there are several pairs with better performance-to-dollar ratios.
— Ross Robinson
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