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.
La Sportiva Karacal Review
Cons: Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathability
Manufacturer: La Sportiva
Compare to Similar Products
La Sportiva Karacal
$108.69 at REI
$134.96 at Backcountry
$100.99 at REI
$140.00 at REI
$80.93 at REI
|Pros||Very protective, roomier fit than other models from La Sportiva||Unbeatable fit, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, very stable||Ultralight, supportive, uncharacteristically agile||Unparalleled comfort, unrivaled traction, ample foot protection||Affordable, comfortable ride, versatile crossover option|
|Cons||Heavily padded tongue results in sub-par breathability||Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage||Loose-fitting heel pocket, lack of trail feeling||Aggressive heel-to-toe drop, lack of stability||Soft 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 terrain||The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance||An ultra-supportive trail runner with an agile feel that is unlike any other HOKA shoe we've ever tested||A legendary shoe that gets better by the year with minor tweaks to improve the performance of this specialty off-trail runner||A 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%)|
|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|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More