Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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La Sportiva X Country Review
Just as runners train for specific events utilizing workouts to maximize specific systems throughout the training cycle, trail running shoes have certain types of terrain and running which they are best suited for. As my unapologetic cache of trail running shoes grows each year, I find myself narrowing down particular shoes as if they’re fourth year medical students. I have my daily generalists that can handle a bit of road in comfort, my long haulers, my mountain ascent shoes, my shoes to handle sandy trails, and togs for mud and clay. I feel ridiculous, and I could go on and on. My point is that some shoes handle a particular type of running so well that they become an extension of the foot.
When I first received the La Sportiva X Country ($100; 10.0 ounces/285 grams) this past spring it appeared to be a fell running shoe. For those of you unfamiliar with fell running it involves cross country running, often through peat bogs and heavy mud, directly up and down mountains throughout the British Isles. Further inspection on the La Sportiva website confirmed that the X Country was indeed designed with fell running in mind. Now, being from a high desert area, usually mud, peat bogs, and even stream crossings don’t come into play during my daily running. So I took the X Country out for a few six to ten mile runs with some local peak scrambling thrown in and boxed them up, waiting for my invite to the Ben Nevis race.
Meanwhile, other trail runners had been bagging insanely technical ascents and descents of peaks usually reserved for hardcore climbers wearing little other than the La Sportiva X Country. I’d found I may have missed a niche for these shoes. After a weekend getaway to some steep and rocky alpine terrain, I realized their true calling.
I’ve often wished for an upper that repels water without the weight of incorporating a waterproof membrane. So many companies seem focused on providing a shoe that drains and dries quickly, but why can’t a shoe both repel water in small amounts as well as dry quickly after full submersion? A few quick trips through some mountain streams and the X Country was dry within a few miles. While Sportiva’s Airmesh upper absorbs water but dries quickly, the Uretech coating (a mixture of sand, rubber, and glue) throughout the upper of the shoe simply does not allow moisture in.
La Sportiva’s patented scree guard over the laces of the shoe blends well into the rest of the upper creating a creaseless fit. A floating, well cushioned tongue adds padding to the top of the foot, and the heel collar is equally comfortable. Runners with narrow heels, or those who have problems with slippage, will appreciate the heel cup of the X Country which seems to mold around the heel, preventing slippage on even the steepest terrain. Toe protection is reinforced by a rubberized toe bumper which can really take a beating and saved my piggies on several steep descents through talus.
The fit throughout the X Country is true to size with a nicely accommodating midfoot and toe box despite the shoes tapered appearance. This shoe has some of the best locked down feel I have experienced which makes it very effective on technical or cambered terrain.
“Exceptionally simple” is how I would describe the firm, yet protective midsole of the X Country. La Sportiva employed their MEMlex EVA that is very hard to the touch yet surprisingly comfortable and resilient while on one’s feet. There really is no noticeable arch and a very flat platform (5 mm heel drop) leads to a very nimble feel. The last of the X Country feels very much like a highly flexible cross country flat, but this flexibility reduces the overall stability provided by its low stack height.
Somehow La Sportiva engineered their FriXion AT outsole to be both sticky and durable at the same time. I feel like I can’t get these V-shaped lugs to show more than minimal wear after close to 150 miles on fairly nasty terrain. Sportiva’s V-Groove lugs are well spaced enough to shed the clay and mud I did encounter quite easily, and after deliberately caking them with clay, the lugs had shed all debris within a quarter mile or so. The large rubber lugs also absorb some impact for extra cushioning, which I really noticed when trying to bomb a downhill. La Sportiva calls this their Impact Braking System which is designed to minimize impact downhill and maximize traction while ascending, and these shoes can climb with the best of them digging into mud, rock, loose gravel, and sand with equal ease.
Overall Impressions of the La Sportiva X Country
Pairing the right shoe for the terrain is a bit like pairing a fine wine with a gourmet meal, or pairing an American lager with your next noodling tournament or fireworks accident; it simply enhances the experience. Seeing highly skilled mountain runners choosing these shoes to tackle the most burly mountain terrain out there sparked me to do the same, and it enhanced the experience.
While I wouldn’t choose the X Country for longer than a half marathon’s worth of technical trail, I’ve read accounts of runners enjoying this shoe for up to fifty miles. If short, fast, and steep is your think (a la fell running) then I haven’t experienced another shoe that compares with such a locked down fit and aggressive lug pattern.
I highly recommend this shoe for your next technical mountain outing, and, in the meantime, I’ll be awaiting my invitation for a mid-packer at Ben Nevis.
Call for Comments
Have you worn the La Sportiva X Country? If so, what did you use them for and what did you think of the shoe?
Anyone got stories of any crazy peak bagging in these shoes?