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La Sportiva Karacal Review

This burly mountain runner is very protective and is an excellent choice for longer outings in rocky terrain
La Sportiva Karacal
Photo: La Sportiva
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Price:  $130 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La Sportiva
Cons:  Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathability
Manufacturer:   La Sportiva
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 5, 2021
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74
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 17
  • Foot Protection - 25% 9
  • Traction - 20% 9
  • Sensitivity - 15% 5
  • Stability - 15% 7
  • Comfort - 15% 7
  • Weight - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The La Sportiva Karacal is a heavily cushioned burly pair of trail runners for long outings over mixed terrain. What sets them apart from other offerings from Sportiva is their high volume fit and their wider toe box. While we don't recommend these shoes for truly hobbit footed runners, they are wider than the Bushido II and the Kaptiva. These shoes offer great traction, and we are happy with them on everything from loose gravel to talus. These heavy-duty kicks aren't the most breathable, and the extra padding in the tongue takes longer to dry out than a minimalist shoe would. But if you can stay out of the streams and they give you a good fit, then the Karacal is a solid tool to help you stay fresh as the miles stack up.

Compare to Similar Products

 
La Sportiva Karacal
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price Check Price at REI
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$180 List
$179.95 at Backcountry
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Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at REI
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Check Price at REI
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La SportivaUnbeatable fit, very comfortable, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, ankle collar keeps out debris, very stableGood protection and sensitivity, stableStable, low to the ground, great tractionVery light, comfortable, stable, wide in the forefoot, sensitive, affordable
Cons Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathabilityExpensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garageNot particularly breathable, fit is smallA little heavy for a trail shoeLittle underfoot protection, poor traction
Bottom Line This burly mountain runner is very protective and is an excellent choice for longer outings in rocky terrainThe cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performanceThese protective tanks will keep going over rocky ridges and scree fields but aren't great for hotter environmentsThis is a very stable shoe with a sticky outsole that's perfect for putting in miles over varied terrainA very comfortable and affordable zero drop shoe that is one of our favorites for short trail runs
Rating Categories La Sportiva Karacal Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 La Sportiva Bushido II Saucony Peregrine 11 Altra Superior 5
Foot Protection (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
5.0
5.0
Traction (20%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Sensitivity (15%)
5.0
6.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Stability (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Comfort (15%)
7.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
9.0
Weight (10%)
5.0
6.0
7.0
5.0
9.0
Specs La Sportiva Karacal Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 La Sportiva Bushido II Saucony Peregrine 11 Altra Superior 5
Measured Weight (per pair) 20.2 oz (size EU 43) 22.4 oz (size 11) 21.9 oz (size 9.5) 22.5 oz (size 9.5) 17.4 oz (size 9.5)
Heel-to-Toe Drop 7 mm 8 mm 6 mm 4 mm 0 mm
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 29 mm, 22 mm 26 mm, 18 mm 19 mm, 13 mm 27 mm, 23 mm 21 mm, 21 mm
Upper Mesh Anti-Debris Mesh with sockliner Air mesh/thermal adhesive microfiber/high-frequency welded ripstop overlays/TPU toe cap Reinforced mesh Sandwich mesh
Midsole Compression-molded EVA/1.5 mm dual-density EVA Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection 4mm LaSpEVA/compression-molded MEMlex/1.5 mm dual-density compressed EVA PWRRUN Quantic, InnerFlex
Outsole FriXion AT 2.0 Contagrip MA Rubber FriXion XT V-Groove2 rubber with Impact Brake System PWRTRAC Maxtrac rubber, TrailClaw lugs
Lacing Style Traditional Quicklace with garage Traditional Traditional Traditional
Wide Version Available? No No No Yes No
Sizes Available 38 - 48.5 4 - 13 38 - 48.5 7 - 14 7 - 15

Our Analysis and Test Results

The versatile La Sportiva Karacal is a heavily cushioned, protective, high-volume shoe designed for long days over varied mountain terrain. They are stable for their stack height and surprisingly breathable despite ample cushioning. These are our favorite shoes from this mountain-centric brand.

Performance Comparison


With plenty of supportive midsole for plush support, these shoes are...
With plenty of supportive midsole for plush support, these shoes are built for the long haul.
Photo: Matt Bento

Foot Protection


The Karacal kept our feet in great shape over longer runs thanks to a rock guard that runs throughout the sole and a dual-density midsole that provides a 29mm stack height in the heel and 22mm in the forefoot. The ankle collar feels higher than what we're used to, but after a few miles, it never bothered us and did a great job of keeping small bits of gravel out. Up front, a thick rigid toe bumper is very effective at preventing painful toe stubs. Materials aren't the lightest here, but they stand up to abuse. The upper is a mesh with large pores, which are key for breathability, especially since the tongue is so thick and padded. Once we're strapped in, we feel ready for some serious abuse.

The deserts of eastern California have plenty of sharp hazards, both...
The deserts of eastern California have plenty of sharp hazards, both natural and man-made. Fortunately, the Karacals are very protective.
Photo: Matt Bento

Traction


As a manufacturer of climbing shoes and approach shoes, La Sportiva knows a thing or two about sticky rubber and traction. For the Karacal, they've used FriXion AT 2.0 rubber with 3mm lugs. The rubber is plenty sticky for smooth, compact surfaces like granite slabs, and the 3mm lugs hit a real sweet spot, as they're deep enough to effectively grab on to mud and gravel surfaces while still making plenty of rubber-to-rock contact on smoother surfaces. We felt much more secure on rocky, scrambling terrain with the Karacal than softer minimalist shoes and shoes with deeper lugs that can throw you off balance.

La Sportiva's FriXion rubber is both durable and sticky.
La Sportiva's FriXion rubber is both durable and sticky.
Photo: Matt Bento

Sensitivity


The Karacal is not as sensitive as a low-riding soft racing flat, but for a burly mountain runner, we are pretty happy with them in terms of sensitivity. The 7mm drop leaves 22mm of foam under the forefoot, which isn't all that thick compared to the rest of the trail runners in our quiver, so the forefoot strikers among us feel quite in tune with the trail and receive a decent amount of trail feedback. You won't be able to feel every pebble, but if you're interested in these, you don't want to feel every pebble.

Though the Karacals aren't very sensitive, they don't feel terribly...
Though the Karacals aren't very sensitive, they don't feel terribly clunky either.
Photo: Matt Bento

Stability


The 7mm drop and an overall stack height of 29mm in the heel come into play in terms of stability as well. In general, a higher stack height and a more severe drop result in a less stable shoe, but the Karacal has several features that mitigate this, so these "high heels" still have decent stability. The Ortholite insole has a high arch that keeps our feet locked in place, so the shoe doesn't feel sloppy, and if your feet aren't high volume enough to fill out the shoe, an additional lace eyelet allows you the option to lace the shoes tighter near the ankle. Switching into the Karacal from a lighter weight zero drop shoe, the 7mm drop is very noticeable, and it takes some adjusting to, but by no means did we feel like a wobbly fawn and no ankles were rolled during the testing of these shoes.

If your runs often involve a little scrambling, these shoes are up...
If your runs often involve a little scrambling, these shoes are up to the task thanks to their supportive uppers and sticky rubber.
Photo: Matt Bento

Comfort


Fit is key for good comfort, and we consider the Karacal a high volume shoe with a medium width. Compared to other shoes from La Sportiva like the Bushido II, there is a lot of room in the Karacal, but these shoes still run small compared to many other brands, and our lead tester went up half a size from his usual shoe for a perfect fit. The arch catches in just the right spot, and there is about a centimeter between the big toe and the end of the shoe, allowing room for swelling and miles of downhill slamming. As previously mentioned, the tongue is heavily padded, and the porous mesh upper is key for breathability. The mesh, combined with a "Thermo adhesive framework," provides plenty of structure, despite being thin. While the heel collar feels higher than what we're used to, it cradles the Achilles well without any pressure points.

If your feet aren't very high volume, an additional lace eyelet can...
If your feet aren't very high volume, an additional lace eyelet can be threaded for a more secure fit.
Photo: Matt Bento

Weight


At 20.2 ounces for a pair, the Karacal isn't jaw-droppingly light, but it also isn't heavy considering the features that provide protection and stability. These shoes are for bone-grinding ultra runs and lengthy mountain rambles, and they're not trying to be minimalist trainers.

Value


High-quality running shoes designed in Italy aren't cheap, but this shoe has a reasonable price compared to the high-end models we tested from Salomon. In terms of durability, comfort, and miles per dollar, they are a decent value.

Conclusion


If you've shied away from La Sportiva trail runners in past due to their reputation for being narrow and lower volume, the Karacal is worth checking out, as it shares the sticky rubber and technical capabilities of other Sportiva models, but has a much roomier fit. Just don't forget to size up a half size.

The Karacals are a good option for folks who are hard on their...
The Karacals are a good option for folks who are hard on their footwear.
Photo: Matt Bento

Matt Bento

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