La Sportiva Karacal Review
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
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La Sportiva Karacal
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$179.95 at Backcountry
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|Pros||Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La Sportiva||Unbeatable fit, very comfortable, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, ankle collar keeps out debris, very stable||Good protection and sensitivity, stable||Stable, low to the ground, great traction||Very light, comfortable, stable, wide in the forefoot, sensitive, affordable|
|Cons||Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathability||Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage||Not particularly breathable, fit is small||A little heavy for a trail shoe||Little underfoot protection, poor traction|
|Bottom Line||This burly mountain runner is very protective and is an excellent choice for longer outings in rocky terrain||The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance||These protective tanks will keep going over rocky ridges and scree fields but aren't great for hotter environments||This is a very stable shoe with a sticky outsole that's perfect for putting in miles over varied terrain||A 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%)|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Matt Bento
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