La Sportiva Vertical K Review

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La Sportiva Vertical K Review

In a radical departure from its recent models, La Sportiva has designed the Vertical K ($115), a radically light, extremely flexible trail racer that still runs like a shoe (in a good way) that will debut in Spring 2012. When I say radically light, I mean 6.5 ounce (185 gram) light. As for flexibility, I can easily tuck the toe into the heel and tortionally wring it with easy and through a wide range of motion in both the heel and toe. This is the kind of shoe that would make a La Sportiva team member or a fellow trail running editor jealous. How do I know that … because I saw it happen in the couple days since I received my pair.


[Please leave comments asking questions about the Vertical K, as I’ll be adding to this review as I log additional runs.]

Morphodynamic Midsole/Outsole
Last year, I previewed La Sportiva’s Morphodynamic technology. In short, the technology combines an ultralight, highly absorbent midsole material with an undulating outsole covered with sticky rubber. I enjoyed both Morphodynamic models, the Quantum and the Electron, but couldn’t help thinking that this technology had a sexier application in a trail racer. With the Vertical K, La Sportiva has gouged out lateral grooves that significantly reduce the amount of heavy rubber used in the outsole. (FYI, outsole rubber is the densest portion of a running shoe.)


The lateral grooves, which correspond with the troughs in the wavy outsole, and the accompanying lack of rubber greatly add to the shoe’s flexibility. The only trail shoe in my extensive collection in the same league of flexibility was the New Balance Minimus Trail.

As with all of La Sportiva’s Morphodynamic shoes, the Vertical Ks lack a rockplate. The principle behind the MD midsole is that it’s soft and deep enough to absorb pointy obstacles, such as rocks and roots, that rockplates normally protect against. Be aware, that if you’ve run in either the Quantum or Electron, the Vertical K provides less push-through protection than these other models due to its thinner midsole and rubber-free areas in its outsole.

In another departure from the Quantum and Electron, the Vertical K features small lugs, akin to those on the Skylite and Skylite 2.0, that are overlaid on the wavy outsole. While I’ve not had a chance to test the shoes on mud and snow, these lugs shoe greatly improve the shoe’s performance in such conditions.

It’s worth noting that the outsole is made with FriXion XF rubber, the stickiest rubber this climbing shoe manufacturer uses its trail shoes. Having loved the tack of the less sticky Quantum and Electron, I can’t wait to go run more rocks in the Spiderman-power granting Vertical Ks. I know which shoes I’d take on a fall road trip to southern Utah’s redrock country!

For those who care about such things, the Vertical K has a 4mm heel-to-drop with an 18mm heel and 14mm toe height.

Upper
The Vertical K has a one piece structural upper that fits snugly, but with remarkable comfort. Playing with the upper in your hand you’d think it wouldn’t provide enough support, but that’s not the case at all. In a test run, it firmly held my foot in place. Although I’ve yet to go long enough to really put the shoe to the ultimate test, the lack of any primary focus of support in the upper could be a huge advantage in that it wouldn’t put bothersome pressure on any particular point on the foot. The seamlessness of the one piece upper will similarly reduce the chance of foot irritation. I admit to struggling to put the quality and fit of the upper into words. I’ll sum it up generally as saying that the upper is something you’ll want to slip your feet into and test for yourself.


According to La Sportiva, the one piece upper that “eliminates the need for a tongue.” However, the lacing area actually includes a tongue-like wrap that comes from the outside of the shoe and, on its unattached side, slips under the laces and into the instep portion of the upper.

There is a heel counter… if you count something that extends no more than an inch above the midsole a heel counter. That counter is asymmetric, wrapping two inches around the outside and three inches to the inside of the shoe.

There are three layers of toe protection ranging from a very lightweight overlay at the widest to a small rubber toe cap extending from the outsole. I’d describe it as minimal, but adequate.

The Vertical K features a scree gaiter covering the laces similar to La Sportiva’s Crosslite and Skylite models. This lycra piece wraps around the entire upper and is considered a gaiter protecting the entire shoe, but its primary use is certainly over the lace area.

Speaking of the lace area, this is one aspect I’ve had trouble with other La Sportiva models with lace covers. With those other models, I struggle to tighten the lowest laces by pulling the upper laces. In fact, I’ve cut the lace guards off some of my shoes. However, I have no such difficulties with the particular combination of thin laces and eyelet system of the Vertical K. Well done, Sportiva!

Call for Comments?
What do you think of La Sportiva’s Vertical K? Please feel free to leave a comment with any question you may have about the shoe.

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (85)

  • Very sweet looking shoe. Will have to continue to drool for a while.

    Great that you got an early chance to test and review. Will be a very heavily anticipated shoe. Enjoy!

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  • Was informed this weekend that Sportiva was going to launch a new lightweight - can't wait to get my hands on a pair.

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  • Saw these the other day. I'll be getting a pair to try out.

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  • Great review. Looking forward to trying them out. I'm glad they put some "lugs" on the MD sole. One of my only gripes about the Electron is their performance on mud and snow. Cheers.

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    • Great observation, RJ. The added lugs should definitely help in mud and snow. Certainly not a heavily lugged shoe, but that's what the Crosslite is for. The lugs will make it nice one days that include mud and snow... or so I'd guess.

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      • Not for wet and clay I suppose?

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        • Too early to say.

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        • Mike - by comparison, despite its appearance the sole on the Quantums is surprisingly efficient in mud, the traction is quite solid from the deep grooves in that shoe's outsole.

          It looks like the Vertical K's will be as good, if not better than the Quantums due to the addition of the outsole traction nubs, and maybe the deeper pockets into the midsole layer (though these could fill and pack with mud....have to see how it works in actual use)

          Another option for mud would be the X Country model: a shade under 9 oz on my scale, 4mm heel drop, same outsole and upper as the Crosslites.

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  • Thanks for the review, Bryon. I have run two mtn 50's in brand spanking new La Sportiva Skylites. I absolutely love the glove fit of the Skylite (first and 2.0 versions). I agree with you about the difficulties of the hidden lacing system, but it has not bothered me during races. My question is - Did you weigh it yourself or are you reporting the weight as they listed it? Thanks!

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    • Shane, That's my scale weight... and since I received the shoes while on vacation and couldn't resist the temptation to run in them, it includes a bit of dirt on the outsole. :-)

      I definitely needed to removed the scree guard on the Crosslite 2.0s to reduce toe bang on steep descents, which I'm hitting often for UTMB training. While I've only worn them once, the Skylite 2.0s seemed to lockdown a bit better, so I'm not sure I'll need to do the same thing.

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  • Any influence on the almost Times Square, flashing neon, billboard type advertisement for La Sportiva all over the shoe? Too much and performance aside it is unattractive and as I'd like to not be bothered by it, aesthetics do count for something with me.

    The Crosslite is the best shoe ever and I can handle the huge La Sportiva on them but this is overkill.

    I would not by this shoe a drink and definitely would not take it home with me no matter how dark I could get my bedroom :)

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  • About time LS came out with something like this. I'm still not sold on the MD sole. Although, the Quantums do grip dirt and loose rocks exeptionally well. Saw a guy across the cube aisle at work today wearing a pair of Inov8 Talons. The VertK reminds me of that. I still prefer the original Crosslites as the 2.0's seem to have too much fabric covering the entire shoe and impede breathability. Regardless, I'll have to get a pair of the VertK's when they come out.

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    • Larry, I wore the Crosslite 2.0s at the Speedgoat 50k and had significant issues with wet feet. I'd love to open communications with LS Italy and make the suggestion that a mud shoe needs to be breathable, especially a configuration like the Crosslite 2.0 that's intended for longer runs.

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  • Thanks for the first review Bryon. I had a chance to see these a couple weeks ago and was very impressed with the initial look. Very light and flexible. Can't wait to get a pair so I can try them out myself.

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  • Definitely looks like an interesting one to play with over shorter stuff. I've got a wide mid & forefoot and as such haven't tried any La Sportiva yet. We have to order them from overseas to get them in Australia and as much as their shoes look worth a hit out, all of the LS that mates have ordered seem narrow and without wider options. Take 'fits like a glove' and try 'fits like an implant'. Is that going to be an issue with this one and do you know if they're giving any flipperfoot love in the near future?

    Thanks Bryon - really good pics, much more helpful than the ones with the press release.

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    • Roger,

      Glad you liked the iRunFar product pics. When I get the chance, I much prefer taking my own product photos in outdoor locales.

      As for wide models out of La Sportiva, I've not heard anything to that effect.

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  • Clear and informative review as always! This is why I tell my friends about irunfar... Anyway, what about heel-to-toe drop in the Vertical K's? And is the last the same as the electron and quantum or more similar to the wildcat and raptor?

    Thanks!

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    • Chris, thanks for the kind words. While this review may have been clear and informative, I can't believe I forgot the heel-to-drop when it was right in front of me the whole time. It's 4mm.

      As for the last, it's a different last. The Vertical K is slip lasted with the Dynamic Race last while the Electron and Quantum are slip lasted on the (non-Race) Dynamic last. Not sure on the specific differences between the two lasts, although I suspect the Vertical K is narrower based on standard differences in races lasts. However, the Vertical K does not fit narrower than, say, the Electron or Quantum as there's much more play in the upper.

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      • Awesome, thank you!

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  • Good review! Questions:

    I am also curious about the heel to toe drop?

    You said, "The only trail shoe in my extensive collection in the same league of flexibility was the New Balance Minimus Trail." Have you run in the Merrell Trail Glove? If so, how does that compare relative to flexability?

    Does the toe box allow your toes to spread out or is it snug?

    Have you done stream crossings and if so, do they dry well/quickly?

    Thank you!

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    • Frazer,

      The heel-toe drop is 4mm.

      I totally forgot about the Merrell Trail Glove. That's be in the same mix.

      There's more toe room than, say, the Crosslite, but nothing like the Minimus Trail... and that's even without socks in the Vertical K.

      I've not gotten the Vertical K wet, but I anticipate that it will drain very well and dry reasonably well and certainly not poorly.

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  • I'm also wondering about the heel/toe drop.

    How narrow/wide are the heel and toe box areas?

    And when will they be available?

    Thanks!

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    • The heel-toe drop is 4 mm.

      I'd say the heel is pleasantly snug with moderate (for non-"barefoot shoes") toe box room trending toward snug. Even if the lasting of the toe box is small, it's forgiving enough to let your toes move a bit. It's not as tight in the toes as the Crosslite.

      The Vertical K will be available in Spring 2012. Not sure on the exact date.

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  • The catalog gives the heel to toe drop as being 4mm (heel is 18mm and toe is 14mm) with a 7.75oz weight for a sample size (which in most cases is a US size 9, probably a 42.0 for UK). Again, haven't tried it on but it was very flexible with a narrow toe box (like most of the other La Sportiva shoes like the Skylite, Crosslite, X Country, etc.).

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    • La Sportiva's internal weights are all over the place. The workbook lists the Vertical K at 7.75, the tech sheets incongruently list the VK as 8.7 ounces (comes to 247 g!) and 195 g on the main listing, and on the second VK page in the tech sheets lists the VK at 200g (7.05 ounces).

      Having weighed a Euro 42 (close to US men's 9), I got 6.5 ounces.

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  • Bryon,

    what is the heel-to-toe drop on these compared to the Quantum and the Electron?

    thanks.

    worm.

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    • Erik hooked you up below!

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  • Since I still have the catalog in front of me...

    Both the Quantum and Electron are listed as 31/20 for a 11mm drop. The Vertical K is only 4mm. For comparison, the Crosslite (it will be called the C-Lite in 2012 with no changes made other than the name) is 10mm, the new X Country is 5mm, the soon to be release Skylite 2.0 is 6mm.

    The Vertical K will really be a nice lightweight and low profile shoe.

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    • Erik,
      Thanks for filling in for me. Was swamped yesterday and am away from home today.

      BTW, the Skylite 2.0 is a sweet shoe for those looking for a bit more shoe. I'll probably run the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase in them this week. Too soon for me to try to race 2+ hours in the Vertical K.

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    • Erik, any chance runningwarehouse is going to carry the skylite 2.0s?

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      • We will be getting them in ASAP. I'll check with La Sportiva for an updated date and get back to you.

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  • Looking forward to reports for test runs on really muddy and snowy conditions. It doesn't seem like it would shed either easily, but I hope to be wrong. How often do things get stuck in the yellow grooves?

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    • Given how flexibly the shoe is (incredibly so), I can't imagine it holding mud very well (think of an old fashioned ice cube tray flexing and releasing ice), but that's just speculation. I've yet to get anything stuck in the yellow groves, but I only worn them through limited use.

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  • Bryon,

    Would you think this show would work for a 50M or 100M? I love the Electron for long distances and hope the MD on this shoe also will support long distances while coming in lighter than the Electron.

    -David

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    • David,
      That all depends on what other shoes you run in. With no insult meant to the shoe, I couldn't even think of running 50 or 100 miles in it at this point. I considered it for a 2 hour, 15 mile race this weekend and decided that it was too flexible a shoe for me to where for 3,000' of climbing. However, there's enough protection that folks with strong feet and calves could probably get away with a 50 or 100 mile race.

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  • Awesome review, Bryon, can't wait to get a pair of these. As you know (from running with me for a bit) I wore the Crosslites (1.0) at Speedgoat, loved them and had no sore feet. Since then I have been training in the Quantums and see the Electrons for the Bear and I'm loving the MD outsole. It's like wearing a shoe like the Crosslite, but without feeling the rocks, these Verticals look perfect and I hope to be running the first half of Hardrock in them next year.

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  • Thanks Bryon! Have loved the Electrons for long 30+ miles runs. I am running the upcoming Cascade Crest 100 in Wildcats for breathability and water drainage and some weight savings. I've run 50M in X-Talon 212s so maybe the Verticke K would be ok, is it as flexible as the Talons? Great review and the first on this shoe that I have found. Thank you for your efforts!

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  • Wow! Looks like Hoka may have some competition now. Light weight, low heel-to-toe drop (both Hoka and Vertical K have 4mm drop) and deforming outsole. While Hoka's deforming outsole may be a bit overkill, it still is a good approach (IMHO) for those running very long races. The extra cushioning help reduce shock on your feet/legs and the deforming foam sort of take all the bumps out of the trail. Now it looks like La Sportiva has a shoe that might possibly serve the same role but in a much more attractive package. I'm itching to try a pair! BTW, love the Inov-8s for most of my training and 50k or less racing, but ever since the death of the Montrail Vitesse (anybody hear remember that shoe? Ok, do you remember it when it was the One Sport Vitesse? Didn't think so!) I've been searching for my "100 miler shoe". Thought it was going to be the Hoka Bondi B, they worked awesome for me at Badwater, but not sure how they'd handle a tough mountain 100?

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