Sneak Peak at La Sportiva’s MorphoDynamic Technology
In January 2011, you’ll see two La Sportiva trail shoes, the Quantum and Electron, that are unlike anything you’ve seen before. What makes them different? MorphoDynamic technology. We’ve had our feet in both models and couldn’t wait to share what we found.
We’ll kick things off with a look at the key components of the MorphoDynamic technology. Next, we’ll share how shoes with the technology performed on the trail. Last but not least, we snagged a highly informative interview with Jonathan Lantz, the head of La Sportiva North America. [Ok, there's also a word lover's bonus at the very bottom of the article.]
What is La Sportiva’s MorphoDynamic Technology?
Let’s jump into what La Sportiva’s MorphoDynamic shoes offer. While La Sportiva redesigned the trail shoe from the ground up for its MorphoDynamic line, we’ll break these innovations into two parts – the sole, including the midsole and outsole, and the last,the form over which each shoe is constructed.
The MorphoDynamic sole is made up of four parts. There’s an anti-torsion stabilizer, a two-piece midsole, and the outsole.
The anti-torsion stabilizer is not a clunky piece of control technology. Instead, it’s a minimal horseshoe-shaped plastic component that provides a touch of structure to the rear of the shoe.
The midsole itself is broken into two components. Unlike some dual-density midsoles that use a strategically placed piece of denser foam to control pronation, the Morphoynamic midsole is dual-layer throughout the shoe. The top layer is an EVA foam for cushioning. The EVA is ergonomically shaped, but other than that, it serves a standard running shoe role.
Ah, but below the EVA is a polyurethane Ether foam. That Ether foam absorbs “negative ground impact.” In other words, it swallows up rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles on the trail so you don’t feel them. The foam is so effective that MorphoDynamic shoes don’t need a rockplate. As a bonus, the lightweight Ether foam and lack of a rockplate keep the weight of these shoes in line with comparable models.
La Sportiva has thrown FriXion AT rubber on the business side of its MorphoDynamic shoes. While Sportiva has used the same compound on other trail running shoes, the nubless waveform pattern of these outsoles gives them otherworldly grip on rock. The waves would also create great flex points in the fore- and mid-foot; however, the highly malleable midsole and outsole as well as the lack of a rockplate already allow for more flex than most non-miminalist trail shoes.
[For stat junkies, both the Quantum and Electron will have a 31mm heel and and 20mm toe height for 11mm drop. In comparison, the wildly successful Wildcat has a 28mm heel and 16mm heel height for a 12mm drop.]
A number of trail running companies are introducing ergonomic lasts and La Sportiva is joining in. On the technical side, traditional lasts have flat bottoms, hard edges, and other aspects that don’t make them ideal replacements for the feet they are supposed to stand in for during the manufacturing process. The MorphoDyanmic last provides a more realistic portrayal of the foot that leads to better support and a comfortable fit.
For most of my tests, I ran in the 12 ounce Electron and, boy, was it fun. When I first saw the unique wave-like sole pattern, I thought it looked clunky… enough so that I thought I’d have to learn how to run in the shoe. On the other hand, the forefoot was so flexible, I thought my feet and lower legs would quickly tire. My pre-test impressions couldn’t have been more wrong.
Once I slipped on the Electron, its heel-to-toe roll feel was natural and in line with other shoes that I enjoy. Just as important, the sole wasn’t clunky or a hazard on which I was more prone to snag a rock. In practice, the shoe rides much lower than you would suspect based on appearances. In longer runs, I didn’t experience any abnormal foot fatigue or lower leg soreness. That’s particularly noteworthy as I’m weakened in those area following a long bout with plantar fasciitis.
Now on to the fun stuff. The MorphoDynamic technology works. The easily shoe absorbed any and all protrusions on the trail. In fact, I could leap from pointy rock to pointy rock without experiencing any foot discomfort. The shoe is not left wanting for lack of a rockplate.
Speaking of rocks, the FriXion AT and smooth (i.e., non-nubby) outsole were velcro-like on my local Yosemite granite. I felt sure-footed in the Electron as I ran up the exposed (meaning both soilless and in proximity to 4,000′-tall cliffs) granite of Cloud’s Rest without worrying about traction. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been purposefully ricocheting off any boulders along side the trail on descents. The grip is good enough that I keep wanting to press my luck. So far, no whammies.
I’ve not had a chance to put these shoes through thorough testing in muddy or loose soil conditions, but the shoes have performed adequately (i.e., nothing negative to report) in brief encounters with these conditions.
As for sizing, the Quantum and Electron run on small side, as do most La Sportivas, but I wanted to let you know that the status quo stands with the new last. It’s worth noting that both I and my girlfriend were able to wear a size 42 (men’s 9) in the Quantum even though she’s normally a size 41. Granted she was wearing a thicker pair of socks (Drymax Maximum Protection) as compared to my thin socks.
Question and Answer with Jonathan Lantz, President of Sportiva North American
In preparing this article, we wrote the Jonathan Lantz, head of La Sportiva’s North Amerian operations, as he was involved with the two-year-long creation process of the MorphoDynamic technology. We had intended to weave his answers into the narrative above, but his responses were so informative that we included them in full below.
iRunFar: What was the inspiration behind the new MorphoDynamic technology?
Jonathan Lantz: The inspiration behind the new MorphoDynamic technology was to expand on our Impact Brake System concept and to take the lug deformation concept to the next level. When we looked at running, one of the most important things a running shoe does is to cushion the foot from impact. The easiest way to develop the advanced cushioning concept was to look at the existing components in a running shoe and expand on their abilities.
iRF: The technology was in development for two years. How did the concept evolve during that time? Were there any big additions, subtractions, or surprises along the way?
JL: There were a great number of additions and evolutions during the development cycle. The biggest was switching from an all EVA midsole to a dual material midsole and adding the super soft PU layer which was closer to the ground. The product went from simply filling the lugs with cushioning material, therefore reducing the weight, to adding a material that absorbed the trail features along with the impact forces. Finding the correct material that was resilient enough was very difficult to do.
The other addition to the MorphoDynamic technology product was the development of the ergonomic midsole and the switch from traditional strobel lasting to slip lasting the uppers as we have done in climbing shoes for over 20 years.This creates a product which is more responsive and better fitting and more supportive through the arch area.
iRF: When did the development team realize that a traditional rock plate wasn’t needed or was that part of the concept from its inception?
JL: The plan from the start was to have a more flexible product with lots of cushion. The easiest way to produce that feature is to exclude a rock plate. Adding the PU allowed us to kill two birds with one stone.
iRF: La Sportiva has an diverse offering of trail shoes. What distances, events, and terrains were La Sportiva targeting when designing its first two MorphoDynamic models, the Quantum and Electron?
JL: We were not targeting specific events or distances with the MorphoDynamic technology. We were targeting an advanced cushioning concept that created a product that is soft and flexible yet highly protective. These are not the lightest shoes, but they are the most comfortable on any terrain, even roads. Not that we are trying to make a road shoe, but you get the idea.
iRF: What are the primary differences between the two models? What particular niche is each intended to fill?
JL: The Electron is a more protective upper with a looser fit and is intended to be more of trainer akin to the Wildcat.
The Quantum has a more precise and tighter fitting upper that can be pulled tight with a closer wrapping of the foot by the lacing harness and a more breathable mesh upper. The Quantum targets more of a racing fit.
iRF: What other roles do you think MorphoDynamic shoes could fill in the future? For instance, could this technology be modified for an even lower profile mountain racing shoe akin to the Crosslite?
JL: All I can say here is that the technology works and it works really, really well. The initial feedback from testers and reviews comes with comments like, “You have something of a major breakthrough here” and “These are the mot comfortable shoes I have ever tested and I have tested A LOT of shoes.”
I can assure you that you will see products in the future that utilize the MorphoDynamic technology and they will carry our mountain design philosophy of lighter and faster and built for the rigors of the mountains.
Questions and Comments
As always, we welcome your questions and comments. Fire away!
Word Junkie Bonus
We wanted to address the technology moniker, MorphoDyanmic. The word itself may sound complicated, but it’s beautifully simple when you break it down. Morpho means shape (from the Greek Morphē). In its modern usage, dynamic means “continuous change” or “in motion.” Either definition of dynamic would fit this technology well, as they are designed so that the shape is continuously changing while you run.
However, the archaic root of dynamic might be even more fitting. The word dynamique joined French by way of the Greek dunamikos, which means powerful. Move two steps further back to the root verb dunasthai and you’ve reached “to be able.” What could be better for a trail shoe than shape that makes you able.
[Disclosure: La Sportiva provided samples of the Quantum and Electron. In addition, La Sportiva provides support for iRunFar, including our coverage of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup and our video coverage.]