Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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La Sportiva Helios Review
La Sportiva made some noise in the trail running world when they released the lightweight, high performance La Sportiva Vertical K (review). Since then, the Vertical K has been very popular for shorter runs and races, but the minimal package had some runners looking elsewhere for a daily trainer or ultrarunning shoe. La Sportiva responded with the release of the Helios. The Vertical K’s influence on the Helios is apparent with the similar outsole, same basic midsole shape, and a 4mm drop. With the addition of 1.5 ounces, the La Sportiva Helios ($120) diverges from the Vertical K with a wider footprint, the addition of a 2mm LaSpeva plate for additional protection and support, and a more built-up upper.
The most noticeable aspect of the upper when first putting on the shoes was the heel stabilizer. I was skeptical about this at first, but found it did a good job of keeping my heel in place without being too restricting. The rest of the upper is composed of mesh, which did a nice job with drainage and keeping out debris. I ran through a few puddles in the shoe and never dealt with too much water retention. The shoe has a gusseted tongue that I found very comfortable. One strange aspect of the tongue was the thick cushioning present. It never posed any issues on runs, but I didn’t find it to provide any benefit either. The upper is locked down with a TPU lacing system that is integrated into the shoe. The lacing system pulled the upper together and added some structure, as well. The laces could have been a little longer, as they came untied a few times on the trails when I was at a comfortable lace tension. The toe cap on the front performed just fine. I most often wore the Helios sock-less and never had any memorable chafing issues with the upper.
The midsole of Helios was one of the most impressive aspects of the shoe. The midsole is composed of an EVA midsole with the addition of a 2mm LaSpeva plate. LaSpeva is described as a thicker, more-resilient foam that is supposed to add to the comfort and rebound of the midsole. The cushioning was right in the middle ground of shoes I’ve worn. It fit right in the range where I didn’t feel like I was losing energy on the trail or feel like I was going to sustain a stress fracture when I took them out on the roads. The shoe hit a middle ground on width, as well. It didn’t feel too wide or narrow in any part of the shoe. There is a small amount of arch support.
The outsole is a unique design made up of La Sportiva’s FriXion AT material arranged along the edge of the shoe, and then alternating rubber and indents going from front to back. I’ve been able to test the Helios on a variety of trail conditions ranging from pavement, dirt, rocks, mud, snow, and ice. The grip has been fantastic across the board. The FriXion AT material really surprised me with how broad of a range of surfaces that it gripped well.
Over the past few months I’ve been running in the Helios, I’ve found it to be a fantastic shoe for pretty much any trail running situation. La Sportiva really nailed it, making a shoe that combines performance and just enough structure for training and racing long. One of the only issues I had with the shoe was with some foot-swelling issues at about the marathon point on some muddy and icy trails. I wore the shoe between 15 to 20 miles plenty of times without issue, but it felt a lot tighter when I went longer. The size I’m wearing, 44.5, fits like a glove on me now, so if I get another pair for going past the marathon distance, I will probably go a half size larger to compensate for foot swelling. I’d highly recommend the Helios for anyone that’s looking for a minimal shoe with enough support for an ultra.