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Hands-on Gear Review
La Sportiva Helios 2.0 Review
Cons: Very little foot protection, size runs small, not suitable for all types of running
Bottom line: The lightest weight shoes for uphill trail running that we could find.
With only 4mm of heel-toe drop and a low 15mm of stack height in the heel, the La Sportiva Helios 2.0 are the most minimalist of the low-profile shoes that we tested. They are far and away the lightest shoe in the review, while also offering without a doubt the most sensitivity and best trail feel. That said, these are such a lightweight shoe that we think most people will have problems running more than short distances in them, and we don't think they are well suited to highly rocky terrain, especially not on the downhill. We think that the ideal application for this shoe is as an uphill only shoe, and think they are a perfect choice for such races as Vertical K's or the Pikes Peak Ascent. While the Helios 2.0 have undergone some changes from the original version, it remains mostly the same, and still maintains the qualities that made it our Top Pick for Light and Fast running in our 2015 shoe review.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Helios 2.0 builds on the same extremely light and minimal feel of the original Helios, with some notable changes. We are not sure how it is possible, but this year's version is even lighter than it was last year, shaving two ounces off of what was already the lightest shoe in our review. The traditional laces have been replaced with a quicklace system, that unfortunately lacks a garage to stuff them into like the Salomon Speedcross 4. We found the extra lace tails to be long and annoyingly flappy. La Sportiva also changed the heel cup from what was a stiff plastic heel cradle to what is now literally no heel support or cradle at all. This is the only shoe in the review that didn't have a very supportive heel cradle, and is probably where the extra weight savings came from. We have to admit that we didn't notice that the cradle was missing while out on the trail.
While we awarded it our Top Pick for Light and Fast in last year's review, we noticed that compared to the competition, we felt that we spent more time being careful of where we put our feet while wearing this shoe, because we were worried about damaging our feet. Increased awareness is not a bad thing, but compared to the incredibly protective Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4, we just weren't able to confidently charge over terrain in these shoes. We still like them as a short run option, for uphill only running, and for scrambling, but no longer considered them seriously for long runs, or for gnarly downhill terrain.
We awarded the Helios 2.0 only 5 points for foot protection, tied with the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2 for the lowest score in this test. The Helios is made with only a very thin 15mm of midsole cushioning underneath the foot, and no rock plate. Not only that, but there are many cut outs in the wave patterned outsole that leave lots of the soft midsole foam exposed to blows from roots or rocks. We felt that we had to be very careful of where we stepped while running in these shoes, especially after feeling the pain of taking a couple of rocks directly to the middle of our foot. The upper protection is a bit improved in this second version, adding felt overlays to areas of high abrasion where we experienced rips in the mesh last year. The bottom line, however, is that these are very sensitive shoes with minimal protection for the feet.
We enjoyed the sticky FriXion rubber on the bottom of these shoes for a few things, like scrambling and scurrying around on rocks, but in general found the depth of the lugs to be lacking, and found that the rubber was soft and relatively quick to wear down. While the wave patterned outsole adds significant depth to the traction due to the deep cutouts, the actual lugs themselves are very shallow, and not designed as aggressively as on a shoe like the Saucony Peregrine 7. While these shoes grip well enough for smooth, mellow trails, we found that improvements made to other shoes in the review this year bumped them down the list. 7 out of 10 points.
While the low stack height and only 4mm of heel-toe drop should ensure that these are a very stable ride, we found that their narrow profile and extremely soft midsole allowed a ton of flex and movement of the shoe's platform. Simply put, we weren't always confident that we would land on a stable position in these shoes, and they simply didn't inspire the confidence of the Altra Superior 3.0.
These shoes are pretty darn comfortable, but not among the top contenders in our review. Worth noting is that this year's model runs about a half size small, so be sure to size up. Even with a half size larger shoe than we normally wear, these shoes were the most snug of any that we tested. Initially this was snug in a good way, but after many days out running in these shoes we started to feel like the snugness caused a few more rubs and friction points than in the best shoes we tried. We didn't experience blisters or discomfort, but couldn't rate them up there with the best. Like last year, they also struggled in our water test. While they were middle of the pack in terms of amount of water absorbed, they were the worst shoe in the test in terms of quickly shedding water after the five minute jog. We still find this odd considering that La Sportiva advertises them as quick drying, but we think is due to the type of fabric used inside the upper.
Weighing in at a featherweight of only 17 ounces for a pair of size men's 11.5 (we had to size up half a size for these shoes), the Helios 2.0 are by far the lightest shoe in this review. It is noticeable when you put them on and go for a run! They are two whole ounces lighter than they were last year, and are over three ounces lighter than the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3, the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2, or the Altra Superior 3.0. Where light is the most important factor, like running uphill, these shoes are the ones to grab.
Without a doubt, these are the most sensitive low-profile shoes in our review, with only the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2 coming close. With no rock plate and only 15mm of soft EVA foam as cushioning under the heel, there is less between the ground and your foot than any other shoe. In short, you can feel every little twig, root, or rock on the trail. This certainly gives one an incredibly natural feel, but at the same time requires feet of steel to be able to withstand running at high speeds on rougher terrain. 10 out of 10.
The Helios 2.0 is advertised as a shoe for all conditions, but we feel like it will serve one better as a part of their quiver and not as an everyday option. It would especially shine at uphill only running and races and does a pretty good job of scrambling. We don't think it offers enough protection for full speed running on technical, rocky terrain or on off-trail downhills. By the end of the review period, we will admit that we enjoyed it the most as a very minimalist, natural feeling hiking shoe.
The Helios 2.0 will cost you $125 retail, and this puts it about average for the selection of quality trail shoes this year. Since we feel like it is such a specialty shoe, we are not sure that this presents a great value compared to bombproof everyday trainers like The North Face Ultra Endurance. For those who can drop the money for the perfect shoe to run the Pikes Peak Ascent, then you will be happy with your purchase, but for other uses, we don't think the value is super great here.
The Helios 2.0 is a unique shoe because it is far lighter and more sensitive than any other shoe in this review. It does not have much protection for the feet, and therefore does not lend itself well to difficult terrain or very long runs. But for those who love a minimalist, low-drop shoe that allows your feet to feel the trail, this is a worthy option to check out.
Other Versions and Accessories
— Andy Wellman
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