Winter has returned with a vengeance in the U.S.’s Colorado Front Range where I live and the 12- to 16-inch layer of new snow on my favorite trails is currently in various stages of ‘packed’ versus ‘post-holed.’ It will soon transition to ice and hardpack in upcoming days as the sun works its magic. My winter-running survival tools commonly include microspikes for the really treacherous ‘death ice’ and steeper-angled hardpack where large, pointy teeth on the bottoms of my shoes help with forward motion and staying upright. But for less-burly and more-variable conditions, do-it-yourself hex head screws in the bottom of a pair of trail shoes have also been my pseudo-effective strategy since 1999. This winter, I’ve been really excited to step up my traction-oriented footwear game and have another option in the La Sportiva Blizzard GTX ($199) shoes thanks to peer pressure from two of my ultrarunning partners.
These winterized shoes weigh in at 13.3 ounces/377 grams for a U.S. men’s size 9 and are unisex in fit and style. The stack height is 18mm at the heel and 12mm at the toe which gives them a 6mm drop. The outsole adds 7mm lugs with La Sportiva’s tungsten alloy hobnails for added traction. For as small and unassuming as the hobnails are, they’re significantly more effective than hex head screws both in their bite and in how secure they are within the lugs. With 150 miles of wear on variable trails, the hobnails are just as secure within the lugs as when they were new in the box. Incidentally, you can purchase a pack of hobnails (with tool included) for around $50 from La Sportiva and add them to any shoe, but the Blizzard GTX has so many other features that make winter running significantly more comfortable for your feet that it’s definitely worth checking the shoes out first.
La Sportiva Blizzard GTX Upper
The upper looks a bit intimidating at first if you’re not used to seeing pre-attached gaiters with strategic lacing that disappears into its garage, but once your foot slips securely into the shoe, all is forgotten. This is the most comfortable integrated four-way stretch scree and moisture guard I’ve experienced that is actually built into a shoe. It absolutely doesn’t chafe at the ankle regardless of the height of my socks nor does it put uncomfortable pressure on the anterior shin or tendons. The gaiter is constructed from a dense, almost-sock-like material that is water repellent and has large, reflective pull tabs extending up from the heel as well as the tongue of the shoe to assist with working your foot through the stretchy opening and into the shoe.
The Gore-Tex Extended Comfort Membrane and Gore-FLEX Slip Resistant Nylon Mesh give the shoe’s interior and gaiter a near-seamless feel. I’ve experienced no hot spots or sock travel in the Blizzards even right out of the box and no break-in time necessary. I’ve also been really impressed with how dry my feet stay inside the shoe. Not only does moisture and debris not come in from the outside—my tights seem to seal out any snow that comes over the top—but my feet haven’t had any issues with sweating and wetting out from the inside. The shoes aren’t ‘insulated’ per se, so I wouldn’t go as far as to call them ‘warm,’ but I can wear them fat biking on a mild day or on a lower-energy-output dog walk and my feet stay noticeably warmer than with regular non-Gore-Tex trail shoes.
The ankle collar isn’t visible from the outside, but is less structured and padded than other La Sportiva shoes without the gaiter. There’s no loss of stability, however, because the heel cup is quite firm and structured, giving the shoe the ability to negotiate uneven trails well where frozen footprints add to the challenge. Overlays wrap from the heel to the front of the midfoot and connect to the lacing system via the proprietary High Frequency Fusion Gate structure. This creates a wrap around the foot which further enhances medial, lateral, and torsional stability on varied terrain. I found it very easy to adjust the laces before my run and then tuck my double knot into the large lacing garage on the upper front of the shoe. The garage is basically an extension of the outer layer of the wide, padded tongue which is stitched continuously with the upper further sealing out all the elements. Once stowed in the lacing garage, the laces stay tied and never need readjusting regardless of the snow, slush, or puddles I end up in.
Overall, the fit of the upper feels relatively accommodating to me. It’s not a strong hug like you get from a soccer-boot-style shoe but rather one that allows for winter-thickness socks while still keeping the foot centered on top of the footbed. My sizing is consistent within the La Sportiva brand, and if I compare the fit to other shoes I regularly wear within the brand, it feels more like the fit of an Akasha or Lycan than a Bushido. Technically, the medium-wide last is the Tempo 2 which is the same as shoes like the Helios III, Mutant, Ultra Raptor, or Akyra.
La Sportiva Blizzard GTX Midsole
The midsole of the Blizzard GTX is injection-molded EVA with the 32A cushioning rating which in La Sportiva terms makes it in the same category as the Lycan GTX but I find the Blizzard GTX to be less stiff overall. For me, it’s a moderately firm ride with enough cushioning to keep my foot well-protected from rocks, ice, and the overall chill of the winter trail. It’s not overly nimble or springy, but due to the challenges of winter terrain, I prefer to have the focus on comfort and protection. Sometimes midsole materials get significantly stiffer as the temperatures drop, but this midsole retains its responsiveness even with temperatures into single digits and below. I really appreciate the feel of the fast-running Lycan on dry trails, so to have that midsole feel coupled with the protection of the Blizzard GTX’s flexible, waterproof, Gore-Tex upper and the studded outsole is a really brilliant combination for winter running.
La Sportiva Blizzard GTX Outsole
La Sportiva created the Whiteout Outsole from the FriXion AT 2.0 compound also found on their Helios and Wildcat shoes but added 7mm, deep, large polygon lugs, nine of which have tungsten alloy hobnails fixed in. The lugs themselves provide good grip on all but the loosest snow and allow for smooth heel-toe transitions on less-technical singletrack. The small, flattened points of the hobnails provide a nice bite on hardpack trails as well as with variable ice conditions—much better than sheet metal screws—but I did find myself wishing for more hobnails. When I’ve screwed shoes in the past, I typically put on double the amount recommended for the same reason I use confidence markers when I mark trails—why not? I’ll take any confidence boosters I can get. I’d already purchased a set of La Sportiva hobnails for some other trail shoes I was converting this year, so I added 10 to each Blizzard GTX shoe on the lugs that made the most sense (almost all of them). This definitely decreased the occasional slipping on angled terrain and made me feel better about opening up my stride a bit. Someone with a lighter overall running style likely would not find this necessary. Though there are still steeper trails and the dreaded ‘death ice’ that require a toothier approach to traction, a huge benefit of the hobnails is that they don’t interfere with running over a stretch of dry trail or dirt road in the middle of an otherwise snowy run—no need to stop and adjust anything. La Sportiva has made excellent outsoles for a long time on their trail shoes, and the one they’ve created for the Blizzard GTX is no exception.
La Sportiva Blizzard GTX Overall Impressions
I’ve really appreciated the La Sportiva Blizzard GTX shoes this winter with how many snowy and icy trail days we’ve had. Even with frequent usage, the outsole looks almost new, the hobnails show no signs of wear and tear, and the upper looks like it did out of the box. Given their durability and the fact I’ll wear them for only part of the year, I expect they’ll last for several winters which takes the sting out of the high price tag. Adding eight to 10 more hobnails to the bottom of the available lugs improves the traction on the hardpack and variable ice on most runs, though they still don’t eliminate the need for microspikes on the really treacherous trails. The hobnails have expanded the number of trails I don’t need to pack spikes for, but I’d love to see the shoes come with 18 to 20 hobnails integrated rather than just nine so I’m not adding another $50 to the overall cost of the shoes.
My favorite feature of the Blizzard GTX that I simply love is the fact that my feet stay completely dry in these shoes which is certainly key for keeping warm and comfortable during long, cold, wet trail runs. It’s an impressive feat (sorry) given how water seems to be able to get through most anything. The only time I’m slightly less enamored with the performance of the shoes is when the annoying doll-head rocks on my beloved trails are covered by the snow but not yet packed in. The hobnails tend to slide around on the round rocks and something about the more-accommodating fit of the shoe becomes a bit laborious as I negotiate the unseen-yet-expected hazards. This is where a snug, soccer-boot-type fit could be more beneficial.
Overall, if you live where winter yields challenging trails with variable snow and ice conditions, the La Sportiva Blizzard GTX is designed specifically for you. The more accommodating shape and last allows you to dial in your winter fit with varying sock thicknesses and the rock-solid lacing system, and the lugs and hobnails will keep you upright and speeding along most climbs, flats, and descents. So lace up and get to dancing over all nature throws at you in the wintery climes.
Read up on more new trail shoes for fall-winter 2019.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you run in the La Sportiva Blizzard GTXs? If so, what do you think of the shoe overall for winter running?
- How do the outsoles and hobnails perform for you? Do you maintain the traction you desire?
- And how about the performance of the integrated gaiter?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]