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La Sportiva Karacal Review

This burly mountain runner is very protective and is an excellent choice for longer outings in rocky terrain
la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review
Credit: La Sportiva
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Price:  $145 List | $108.69 at REI
Pros:  Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La Sportiva
Cons:  Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathability
Manufacturer:   La Sportiva
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 6, 2022
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76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 19
  • Foot Protection - 25% 9.0
  • Traction - 20% 9.0
  • Sensitivity - 15% 5.0
  • Stability - 15% 7.0
  • Comfort - 15% 7.0
  • Weight - 10% 7.0

Our Verdict

The La Sportiva Karacal is a heavily cushioned burly pair of trail runners for long outings over mixed terrain. What sets them apart from other offerings from Sportiva is their high volume fit and their wider toe box. While we don't recommend these shoes for truly hobbit-footed runners, they are wider than the Bushido II and the Kaptiva. These shoes offer excellent traction, and we are happy with them on everything from loose gravel to talus. These heavy-duty kicks aren't the most breathable, and the extra padding in the tongue takes longer to dry out than a minimalist shoe would. But if you can stay out of the streams and they give you a good fit, then the Karacal is a solid shoe to help you stay fresh as the miles stack up.

Editor's Note: The La Sportiva Karacal review was updated on March 6, 2022, with more helpful information on what we would buy and deeper comparisons between competing products.

Compare to Similar Products

 
la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $145 List
$108.69 at REI
$180 List
$134.96 at Backcountry
$125 List
$100.99 at REI
$140 List
$140.00 at REI
$100 List
$80.93 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La SportivaUnbeatable fit, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, very stableUltralight, supportive, uncharacteristically agileUnparalleled comfort, unrivaled traction, ample foot protectionAffordable, comfortable ride, versatile crossover option
Cons Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathabilityExpensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garageLoose-fitting heel pocket, lack of trail feelingAggressive heel-to-toe drop, lack of stabilitySoft upper is unstable, lacks energy, inconsistent traction
Bottom Line This burly mountain runner is very protective and is an excellent choice for longer outings in rocky terrainThe cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performanceAn ultra-supportive trail runner with an agile feel that is unlike any other HOKA shoe we've ever testedA legendary shoe that gets better by the year with minor tweaks to improve the performance of this specialty off-trail runnerA comfortable, consistent, and approachable shoe for those looking to crossover from roads to trail running
Rating Categories La Sportiva Karacal Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 HOKA Torrent 2 Salomon Speedcross 6 Brooks Divide 2
Foot Protection (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Traction (20%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
10.0
6.0
Sensitivity (15%)
5.0
6.0
5.0
7.0
6.0
Stability (15%)
7.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
Comfort (15%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Weight (10%)
7.0
6.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
Specs La Sportiva Karacal Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 HOKA Torrent 2 Salomon Speedcross 6 Brooks Divide 2
Measured Weight (per pair) 20.2 oz (size EU 43) 21.5 oz (size 9.5) 18.3 oz (size 9.5) 21.4 oz (size 9.5) 21.5 oz (size 9.5)
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 29 mm, 22 mm 26 mm, 18 mm 23 mm, 18 mm 32 mm, 22 mm 25 mm, 17 mm
Heel-to-Toe Drop 7 mm 8 mm 5 mm 10 mm 8 mm
Lug Depth 3 mm 4 mm 5 mm 5 mm 3 mm
Upper Mesh Anti-Debris mesh with sockliner Unifi REPREVE recycled mesh, TPU Synthetic mesh, Ripstop, TPU Mesh, TPU
Midsole Compression-molded EVA/1.5 mm dual-density EVA Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection HOKA ProFly: dual-density foam Salomon EnergyCell+ EVA Brooks BioMoGo EVA foam
Outsole La Sportiva FriXion AT 2.0 Salomon Contagrip MA Rubber Salomon Mud Contagrip Brooks TrailTack
Rock Plate? Yes Yes No No Yes
Lacing Style Traditional Quicklace with garage Traditional Quicklace Traditional
Wide Version Available? No No No Yes No
Sizes Available 38 - 48.5 EU 4 - 13 US 7 - 15 US 7 - 14 US 7 - 15 US

Our Analysis and Test Results

The versatile La Sportiva Karacal is a heavily cushioned, protective, high-volume shoe designed for long days over varied mountain terrain. They are stable for their stack height and surprisingly breathable despite ample cushioning.

Performance Comparison


la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - with plenty of supportive midsole for plush support, these shoes are...
With plenty of supportive midsole for plush support, these shoes are built for the long haul.
Credit: Matt Bento

Foot Protection


The Karacal kept our feet in great shape over longer runs thanks to a rock guard that runs throughout the sole and a dual-density midsole that provides a 29mm stack height in the heel and 22mm in the forefoot. The ankle collar feels higher than what we're used to, but after a few miles, it never bothered us and did a great job of keeping small bits of gravel out, so you don't have to use a gaiter. Near the front of the shoe, a thick rigid toe bumper effectively prevents painful toe stubs. Materials aren't the lightest here, but they stand up to abuse. The upper is a mesh with large pores, which are key for breathability, especially since the tongue is so thick and well-padded. Once we're strapped in, we feel ready for some serious terrain.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - the deserts of eastern california have plenty of sharp hazards, both...
The deserts of eastern California have plenty of sharp hazards, both natural and man-made. Fortunately, the Karacals are very protective.
Credit: Matt Bento

Traction


As a manufacturer of climbing shoes and approach shoes, La Sportiva knows a thing or two about sticky rubber and traction. For the Karacal, they've used FriXion AT 2.0 rubber with 3mm lugs. The rubber is plenty sticky for smooth, compact surfaces like granite slabs, and the 3mm lugs hit a real sweet spot, as they're deep enough to effectively grab on to mud and gravel surfaces while still making plenty of rubber-to-rock contact on smoother surfaces. We felt much more secure on rocky, scrambling terrain with the Karacal than softer minimalist shoes and shoes with deeper lugs that can throw you off balance.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - la sportiva's frixion rubber is both durable and sticky.
La Sportiva's FriXion rubber is both durable and sticky.
Credit: Matt Bento

Sensitivity


The Karacal is not as sensitive as a low-riding soft racing flat, but for a burly mountain runner, we are pretty happy with them in terms of sensitivity. The 7mm drop leaves 22mm of foam under the forefoot, which isn't all that thick compared to the rest of the trail runners we have used, so the forefoot strikers among us feel in tune with the trail and receive a decent amount of trail feedback. You won't be able to feel every pebble, but if you're this far into researching this shoe, you probably don't want to feel every pebble.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - though the karacals aren't very sensitive, they don't feel terribly...
Though the Karacals aren't very sensitive, they don't feel terribly clunky either.
Credit: Matt Bento

Stability


A 7mm drop and an overall stack height of 29mm in the heel come into play when considering the stability of the Karacal. In general, a higher stack height and a more severe drop result in a less stable shoe, but the Karacal has several features that mitigate this, so these "high heels" still have decent stability. The Ortholite insole has a high arch that keeps our feet locked in place, so the shoe doesn't feel sloppy, and if your feet aren't high volume enough to fill out the shoe, an additional lace eyelet allows you the option to lace the shoes tighter near the ankle. Switching into the Karacal from a lighter weight zero drop shoe like the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270, the 7mm drop is very noticeable. It takes some adjusting to, but by no means did we feel like a wobbly fawn, and we didn't roll any ankles during the testing of these shoes.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - if your runs often involve a little scrambling, these shoes are up...
If your runs often involve a little scrambling, these shoes are up to the task thanks to their supportive uppers and sticky rubber.
Credit: Matt Bento

Comfort


Fit is critical for good comfort, and we consider the Karacal a high-volume shoe with a medium width. Compared to other shoes from La Sportiva like the Bushido II, there is a lot of room in the Karacal. However, these shoes still run small compared to many other brands, and our lead tester went up half a size from his usual shoe for a perfect fit. The arch catches in just the right spot, and there is about a centimeter between the big toe and the end of the shoe, allowing room for swelling and miles of downhill slamming. As previously mentioned, the tongue is heavily padded, and the porous mesh upper is essential for breathability. The mesh, combined with a "Thermo adhesive framework," provides plenty of structure, despite being thin. While the heel collar feels higher than what we're used to, it cradles the Achilles well without any pressure points.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - if your feet aren't very high volume, an additional lace eyelet can...
If your feet aren't very high volume, an additional lace eyelet can be threaded for a more secure fit.
Credit: Matt Bento

Weight


At 20.2 ounces for a pair, the Karacal isn't jaw-droppingly light, but it also isn't heavy considering the features that provide protection and stability. These shoes are for bone-grinding ultra runs and lengthy mountain rambles where you might usually reach for your favorite hiking shoes; they're not trying to be minimalist trainers.

Should You Buy the La Sportiva Karacal?


This La Sportiva model scored near the top of the pack of excellent trail runners. If you like the performance of La Sportiva, but you've shied away from this brand in the past due to their reputation for being narrow and lower volume, the Karacal is worth checking out. It shares the sticky rubber and technical capabilities of other Sportiva models but has a much roomier fit to accommodate slightly wider footed runners. Just don't forget to go up a half size for the most comfortable fit.

la sportiva karacal trail running shoes review - the karacals are a good option for folks who are hard on their...
The Karacals are a good option for folks who are hard on their footwear.
Credit: Matt Bento

What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?


These are high-quality running shoes designed in Italy. They aren't cheap, but this shoe has a reasonable price compared to other technical shoes, and in terms of durability, comfort, and miles per dollar, they may be worth it if you can find the right fit. We tested another great La Sportiva model called the Bushido II. It scored slightly higher in most metrics and earned a top rank in our review. However, for those who already know that they have a wider foot or need a broader landing platform to increase stability, you may want to look at the Brooks Cascadia 16, which earns an excellent stability score.

Matt Bento
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