The lottery to get into Seward, Alaska’s Mount Marathon Race is tough and getting tougher. So, when I found myself standing halfway up the mountain as a volunteer (waiting for someone to crash and burn so I could render medical care), I wasn’t surprised or offended to be there. And, not running the race lets a person observe a lot of different things… such as what shoes are represented in the race. For Mount Marathon, the list was pretty simple and went something like this: La Sportiva, Inov-8, La Sportiva, Salomon, Inov-8, La Sportiva (and so on).
The reason for this should be self-apparent: those three brands have established themselves as top suppliers of mountain-racing shoes. They have focused their energies on producing specific models that aren’t as concerned with going a long ways as they are with going up. It is this design emphasis that lays at the heart of the 9.7 ounce La Sportiva Anakonda ($125). They are, unabashedly, a shoe designed for going up (and down) muddy mountains and doing so quickly.
Mountain-race shoes are subjected to a lot of abuse. The uppers face a constant barrage of roots, rocks, and mud. The Anakonda responds to these demands with lots of vinyl reinforcement and a heavy-duty mesh. The majority of the reinforcement is around the arch and midfoot of the upper, but it does extend to the toes in a limited fashion. There shouldn’t be a lot of concern here, though. The mesh used is thick and tough. It errs so much on the side of durability that I thought it compromised breathability a bit.
While the Anakonda does have a traditional tongue construction, La Sportiva has elected to overlay it with a continuous layer of mesh. The result is less gravel and dirt going in around the tongue, but you do run the risk of bunching up mesh between the tongue and the laces if you aren’t paying attention. I didn’t have those issues, but I paid attention to my lacing.
The most fascinating aspect of the Anakonda’s upper is the use of a pronounced TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) heel cup. La Sportiva dubs this their “Transkinetic Heel Stabilizer”. Points for a sweet-sounding feature. Polyurethane is light and durable. It is also makes for a rigid heel cup. Really rigid. I can’t imagine it “breaking in” much for a heel that doesn’t fit it well. On my runs, it felt wonderful and secure on my left foot and blistered my right heel. I have notoriously bony and pointy heels, so your fit may vary significantly.
Midsole and Fit
The Anakonda sports a 18mm heel height, a 14mm forefoot height, and has 6mm lugs. If you do the quick math, that means you have a 4mm offset and you are riding close to the ground in these shoes. I found the midsole provided ample protection for the hazards of the trail. There is a rockplate in the mid-forefoot that does not compromise front-to-back flexibility, but certainly stiffens the midsole and limits lateral motion. Overall, the ride is about what you should expect from a minimal EVA ride. It keeps the feet happy over plenty of obstacles, but demands a lot of stamina from them in return.
The fit of the Anakonda needs special mention. La Sportiva does provide their consumers with information regarding the fit of their shoes (and boots). They bill the Anakonda as a low-volume shoe (on their European website). It is exactly that. There is minimal, if any, extra room to the interior of this shoe if you pick up your traditional size. These are shoes that are designed to be close-fitting, even intimate, with your feet. The Euro 44 fit my feet like a pair of socks. Stable? Yup. Comfortable? Absolutely. Do I have black toes? You bet. I recommend trying them on before you buy or, if that isn’t possible, order up at least a half size.
The “FriXion XF” outsole on the Anakonda is 6mm of toothy and sticky goodness from toe to heel. The lugs are spaced evenly around and do not vary in height. The lugs are shaped like a closed “U.” Three sides of the lug are rounded and one side is flat. The flat face of the lugs are intended to provide significant traction. As such, the flat side faces toward the rear in the midfoot for climbing traction. And, the flat side faces forward in the heel for braking. I can’t argue with the design. It provided great footing and decent braking through all terrains. I did manage to lose my footing on a couple of occasions, but that was more a function of angle and depth of mud than lack of rubber.
The “FriXion XF” rubber is a soft rubber. These aren’t shoes for hard-packed trails or door-to-trail runs (unless you live right beside a muddy trail). I certainly noticed wear when I strayed too far from the soft muck.
The Anakonda shows off a lot of the reasons why La Sportiva is a frequent sight at mountain races. They know how to build a lightweight shoe that is capable of withstanding the rigors of that environment. While there are a few quirks for the Anakonda (as with any shoe model), it does exactly what it is designed to do. If you can figure out the correct size for you and are looking for a minimal shoe that is dedicated to the enjoyable task of going up and down slopes, the Anakonda will not disappoint.