Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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La Sportiva Akasha Review
Have you ever sleepily put on a pair of running shoes in preparation for a dawn patrol run and wondered if you mistakenly put on your favorite slippers? My excuse—it was dark, but no, I don’t have lace-up slippers. The La Sportiva Akasha ($140) is just that comfortable out of the box. It’s a higher volume shoe with a slipper sock construction that gently hugs the foot without constricting or gapping. It’s designed specifically for maximum comfort over long endurance efforts and weighs in at approximately 11.5 ounces per shoe (Euro size 42). Those who prefer a lower-than-traditional drop will be pleased with the 6mm drop. Interestingly, it’s one of the only shoes with a 6mm drop that, to me, runs like an 8mm drop. With the comfort, breathability, and lightweight protection this shoe offers, it’s easily a shoe I can imagine wearing all day. For those of you who haven’t had luck with La Sportivas in the past due to the narrower, stiffer fit, these are worth your time to test out.
The upper on the Akasha is a very accommodating, breathable Air Mesh that snugs up next to the foot and eliminates any compression breaks or discomfort. There are thin PU leather strips that overlay the mesh across the forefoot providing a bit of structure and preventing collapsing of the upper. Thicker overlays along the medial and lateral sides of the upper reinforce the lacing holes and wrap together across the heel. This, in conjunction with a sturdy heel cup, keeps the foot securely atop the platform while ping-ponging across rocks and along cambered trails. The heel notch and ankle collar is padded just enough to keep ankle bones and achilles tendons happy with whatever the trails throw at you. When you’re transporting your shoes, a small piece of webbing near the top of the heel allows you to attach them to the outside of your pack via a carabiner.
The toe is reinforced with what looks and feels like a thin outsole material overlying the PU leather. What this means in my experience is my toes stay painfree no matter how many times I kick rocks or wedge my foot onto ledges and cracks to scramble up a small technical section. This rand protects all the toes from medial to lateral and wraps up to provide a slightly protective overhang. Once the shoe is on, your feet are happily oblivious to the protection.
The tongue is one of the thickest padded tongues I’ve found in the trail shoe market, but the padding is dense and firm rather than boggy. I didn’t notice excess water absorption in this area while wearing the shoes in slushy, snowy, muddy runs, but they did seem to take a bit longer to dry out at home afterwards. Nonetheless, with our lack of humidity, they were always dry and ready to go by the next day. No pressure from laces can be felt over the tongue, but I did sometimes have to stop mid-run and retie my shoes as the lacing would feel like it loosened up. Whether that’s the nature of the padding in the tongue or the elliptical laces, I’m not sure. The tongue is gusseted from the forefoot back to the third lacing hole from the ankle. It’s adequate to keep the tongue in place and the debris from entering in from the top of the midfoot.
Overall, this upper is one of my favorites simply due to the all-day comfort, breathability, and non-restrictive support it provides.
The midsole of the Akasha is an injected EVA which La Sportiva states allows the midsole to retain cushioning and elasticity within the EVA over time versus the standard compression molded EVA that tends to pack out more quickly over the life of the shoe. Coupled with La Sportiva’s Cushion Platform, this shoe maximizes shock absorption, rock protection, and comfort while eliminating a boggy or marshmallowy feel. I did feel like the midsole could use a bit more responsiveness to enhance the efficiency on long climbs. I’m not sure if that would be in the form of a slightly higher durometer of EVA or if it would be a thin molded film of plastic in the midsole that would allow the shoe to translate your midstrike-to-push-off more directly to full forward motion. This is a minor concern. The comfort and protection the shoe provides would likely negate this issue over the 50- to 100-mile distance.
The Ortholite Mountain Running Ergonomic insole is a 4mm antimicrobial footbed that does an excellent job of adding to the comfortable ride of the shoe while not retaining moisture. Even with running through slush puddles, streams, and snow, the footbed avoided any sensations of bogginess and dried quickly once removed from the shoe at the end of the run.
Lastly regarding the midsole, my research indicated nothing about the presence or absence of an actual rockplate. What I can state is that these shoes deflected all of the pointy, rounded, odd-angled rocks I could step directly on without issue. My foot remained stable on awkward angles and could torsionally adjust to tippy rocks even with full weightbearing in stride. I’m not sure how La Sportiva achieved this, but instead of feeling the muffled point of a rock, you feel the pressure spread out underfoot from the point. It really is the best of both worlds—excellent rock protection and cushion while still retaining torsional flexibility and control as well as good groundfeel. This might have been my second favorite aspect of the shoe, the first being the entire upper.
The outsole of the Akasha utilizes the FriXion XT dual-density compound soles (XF + AT) that optimize the wear-and-tear resistance and shock absorption. The lugs are substantial and deal with mud season quite well yet are unobtrusive when linking singletrack with smoother dirt roads. The tread through the bulk of the outsole is made from the FriXion XF sticky rubber compound that excels on angled rocks and rocks with a film of wet or dry sand on them. Further, it has no trouble providing a comfortable ride banging down a rocky jeep road. La Sportiva uses reverse direction lugs to assist with breaking on downhills and also incorporates their proprietary Trail Rocker system which assists with the natural rolling of the foot through the gait cycle. Higher wear areas at the lateral heel and medial forefoot and toe have the more wear-resistant FriXion AT compound. I would be perfectly happy with this outsole on most of the trails I run on with one caveat—I wasn’t as impressed with the function on snow and ice. The lugs didn’t seem to have the bite I prefer for slippery or sugary conditions. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but I’d carry traction devices as needed, or I’d use another pair of shoes in my quiver for those runs.
Overall, I really am impressed with the La Sportiva Akasha. I’m pleased with the higher volume shoe and the very accommodating yet supportive upper. I’m about 170 miles into these shoes and I see no significant signs of wear and tear. The upper remains supple and very comfortable especially when I “clean” the mud off in the streams as I splash through them. The level of cushioning and the rock protection continue to shine which keeps the shoe on the short list in my rotation. I’m interested to see how my impression of the shoe’s responsiveness is affected as the snow recedes and longer climbs open up. All in all, I think the Akasha is a worthy shoe for sub-ultra distances as well as 50k-100 miles in most conditions and I look forward to reading your comments as you put them through the paces.
Call for Comments
- If you’ve got any questions about the shoe, ask away.
- If you’ve had a chance to run in the shoe, let everyone know what you think!