What do you get when you cross the long ultramarathon-focused La Sportiva Akasha with the speedier La Sportiva Kaptiva? The La Sportiva Jackal ($140)—a 7-millimeter drop, relatively lightweight all-mountain shoe designed to get you speedily and well-protected around your trail adventures even if you venture into the 50-to-100-mile realm and beyond. The shoe is built on the women’s and men’s-specific Tempo Ultra last and weighs in at only 8.8 ounces/250 grams for women’s and 10.5 ounces/300 grams for men’s shoes. The 25mm heel/19mm forefoot gives the shoe a moderate stack height which allows the well-cushioned ride to still retain some sensitivity to the trail beneath. For me, 7mm is an interesting drop because of my body’s sensitivity and dislike for a drop of less than 6mm. I’ve found these trail running shoes to be on the lowest end of just right for my body. The benefit of feeling more stable on descents compared to 10mm-drop shoes is really cool as well. Perhaps if I knew I had several 3,000-foot climbs in a race, I might opt for a heel lift in the second half to ward off any posterior-kinetic-chain structure unhappiness, but for 50 kilometers and less, this 7mm drop is uniquely effective for me.
The price point is pretty comparable to similar offerings, and at least with my experience thus far, the durability and lifespan of these shoes is on the more impressive end compared to other similar styles from various brands, so I feel like I can get my money’s worth. I’ve been feeling lucky with the recent entries for “if I only take one shoe with me on this trip” the running industry has been offering up, and the La Sportiva Jackal is certainly right up there in my top choices. It can handle all types of terrain from rolling jeep roads and smoother singletrack to rubbly rock and root-strewn trails. Bouldery scrambles are well within the Jackal’s realm as well, so you can really get after it. The Jackal dries quickly and stays light on the feet, so whether some snow or water crossings are in your future, or if you’re running with dust and boulders, you’ll be able to forget about the shoes and focus on the beauty of your route.
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La Sportiva Jackal Upper
The Jackal’s upper is constructed with a smooth mono-burr nylon with ripstop mesh inserts reinforced by thermo-adhesive material along the transition to the toe cap and through the sides leading to the attached lace loops. The upper has enough structure to feel supportive but retains a supple and almost seamless feeling for the foot as the interior is enhanced by the abrasion-resistant microfiber lining. I find this mesh to be slightly more resistant to fine dirt entering the shoe than the Kaptiva and fairly similar to what gets through the Akasha in the forefoot. I would definitely prefer a breathable gaiter with these in an ultra race or long-distance training run, but I wouldn’t stress out if I forgot them. The breathability is quite good given the protection, and the Jackal seems to dry out a bit faster than the Akasha perhaps due to the relatively thinner feel of the material throughout. All in all, there’s room for a bit of the foot swelling you might encounter in the later stages of a hot ultra.
The shape of the padded tongue is a definite improvement over the Kaptiva because they put a well-placed V-notch in the top of the Jackal’s tongue such that it no longer creates pressure on the anterior tibialis tendon (front of the ankle) every time you push off. The padding itself is consistent with the newer style of the Kaptiva which reduces the overall bulk of the tongue yet provides ample protection for the laces. I’m generally not sold on major changes to the standard tongue like exists on the Akasha, but the Jackal’s tongue seems to work well and hasn’t created any undo pressure through the top of my foot which I’ve occasionally felt with the Akasha after prolonged mountain descents. The tongue itself is gusseted with the same type of mono-burr nylon with ripstop mesh as the upper which keeps the tongue in place once you pull it into alignment beneath the laces.
The heel cup is firmly structured and is more thinly padded than many trail shoes, yet with the ample cutouts for the ankle bones, it makes the shoe feel lighter on the feet without sacrificing support and protection. The narrowness of the heel provides security on rocks and technical trail while staying in place for more repetitive strides along rolling dirt roads. La Sportiva made an unfortunate change to the Achilles area of the Jackal. Instead of the traditional Achilles notch which is typically well-padded and accommodating, there exists an Achilles “mound” which is quite dense, pokey, and abrasive for the first 100 miles. This resulted in cranky Achilles tendons and worn skin patches for me if I wore them more than a few days in a row as I “broke in” in the shoes. By broke in I mean that I would futz with the pointy Achilles area on the shoe and bend it back and forth repetitively before I’d run to lessen the impact on my tendons. Over time, this helped it be more comfortable and now I can wear them as much as I wish without issues. For the record, I rarely suffer for footwear, but I really enjoyed so many other aspects of the shoe that I felt it was worth it.
The lightweight, thermo-molded thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) toe cap is something I think La Sportiva continues to do really well. It’s very firm and protective without being clumsy and is reinforced by a strip of outsole that comes up the front which makes them particularly well suited to a quick (or not so quick) scramble up rocks and boulders to get a particularly glorious view. As I state in almost every one of my shoe reviews, this toe cap has saved my toes multiple times and is a key component of great trail shoes for me.
La Sportiva Jackal Midsole
The midsole of the Jackal is La Sportiva’s 32A molded ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) with its 30A Infinitoo polyurethane (PU) inserts and a 1.5mm dual-density compressed EVA rock guard. This makes for a really responsive, protected, stable ride where pointy rocks and roots relatively disappear and yet the shoe contours well over trail debris. I’ve yet to feel anything protrude through these well-cushioned midsoles and yet I feel like I have good ground feel and more agility over changing terrain than I often have. These lightweight shoes make smooth singletrack or jeep roads a pleasure to run which is a nice surprise given the obvious mountain-ultra performance focus on the Jackal’s design. This makes them a great all-around trail shoe at least for me.
One thing I’m beginning to notice is a subtle loss of the energy return or snappiness of the midsole around 225 to 250 miles. It’s been most noticeable on the rubbly, softball-sized rock-strewn trails that are so common to Colorado’s Front Range where I live. A handful of other runners I’ve spoken with agree with my observations. However, we all still feel the Jackal is very protective and comfortable to wear. If it ages like the Akashas, I’ll still get upward of 400 to 500 miles out of the shoe which is at the top of the range of any of my trail shoes.
As is consistent with other La Sportiva shoes, a 4mm Ortholite insole comes standard which works very well for my high-arched feet. I always feel ample support through my midfoot and the insole stays firmly in place while running. When it comes time to dry out the shoes, the insole is simple to remove, retains its shape, and is easy to replace inside the shoe when it’s time to run again.
La Sportiva Jackal Outsole
La Sportiva chose the FriXion XT 2.0 compound and 3mm multidirectional geometric lugs for the outsole of the Jackal and included the familiar and effective Impact Brake System. It’s the same compound and brake system as used on the Akasha but with more aggressive lug angles. I feel like the traction of the Jackal is a notch better particularly on rubbly ascents and descents. The lugs aren’t particularly obtrusive on rolling and smoother terrain and don’t tend to accumulate significant mud. Because of the relatively low-profile lugs, the Jackals aren’t my first choice on consistently snowy terrain, but if it’s just a few snow crossings with a lot of miles of dirt, they’ll do just fine.
The outsole is lightened up a bit with some exposed midsole centrally in and just behind the midfoot as well as with the 4 flex grooves in the forefoot to facilitate push-off flexibility. There’s no loss of traction or protection with these spaces and again, I think it assists in the overall ease of running in the Jackal. The lugs (and outsole in general) are holding up well at 225-plus miles with minimal wear and tear visible. Due to lack of ability to travel this spring, I’ve only been able to test the Jackal here in Colorado on our foothills trails and rolling-plains singletrack. Once the high country opens up, I’ll certainly enjoy them along the Continental Divide and some of my other favorite mountain adventure grounds.
La Sportiva Jackal Overall Impressions
All in all, the La Sportiva Jackal, once broken in, is one of my favorite shoes from La Sportiva, and I like several of their offerings. I’ve been a long-time Akasha fan and often choose them for my longer ultras, where sturdiness and cushioning are the most important factors. But now with the Jackal, I have another stellar option for when I want to feel a little faster and lighter on my feet without sacrificing stability and protection. The cushioning is perfect for rocky terrain and about anything my races and training usually throw at me, and the 7mm drop gives me a bit more confidence and agility on downhills without adding too much strain to the climbs and flats. Overall, the durability and quality of La Sportiva’s design and construction shine through again. The only thing I would implore La Sportiva to change with the Jackal is the Achilles mound–please go back and make that a notch.
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Other Versions of the La Sportiva Jackal
Also, you might be interested in the waterproof edition of this shoe: the La Sportiva Jackal GTX men’s version and La Sportiva Jackal GTX women’s version.
Read up on more new trail shoes for spring-summer 2020.
Call for Comments
- Have you run in the La Sportiva Jackal? What do you think of the shoe overall?
- If you are a La Sportiva fan, do you think the Jackal positions itself well between the Akasha and Kaptiva?
- What features of the Jackal do you like? And what features do you think could use a little work?
- What do you think of the Achilles area of the shoe, which the reviewer found irritating for an extended break-in period?
[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!]
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