According to their website and catalog(s), La Sportiva doesn’t make “trail running” shoes – they make “mountain running” shoes. To my eye and ear, this classification probably has the unintended effect of keeping away some runners who don’t really have “mountains” nearby. Today we’re going to get down and dirty with a trail [sic] running shoe that I feel anyone who wants to go off road would enjoy – the La Sportiva Mutant.
The outsole of the La Sportiva Mutant is actually pretty straightforward for a shoe that can handle some pretty gnarly and technical terrain. The outsole’s material is La Sportiva’s proprietary climbing (that’s right, it’s adapted from the same rubber used in their popular climbing shoes) rubber called FriXion XF – the stickiest running shoe compound they make. The 6mm deep lugs are laid out in a full-contact setup using the brand’s “Impact Brake System” which is designed to use lugs placed in directional opposition making stoping easier on the body since it uses lug friction rather then downward force combined with friction to stop. The outsole is also compatible with La Sportiva’s Hobnail spikes – tungsten alloy cleats that screw in for amazing traction on snow and ice.
I mentioned above that La Sportiva classified all their running shoes as “mountain running” shoes and they can certainly claim that with no problem. However, I think that in doing so they’re closing off their market a bit. I say this because I’ve run with this and other La Sportiva running shoes and while I certainly have a boatload of mountains with super technical terrain to run, I feel like this can also be at home on less technical trails just as easily. The grip of the La Sportiva Mutant was excellent for me on everything from dry and dusty trail to loose and crumbly dirt and rocks. Even on wet rocks and some mud the outsole held traction well and gave an abundance of confidence on the trail.
With longer lugs, one of the things I sometimes worry about is durability and with these having 6mm lugs I was a bit interested to see how they’re do. Now before I tell you about that I’ll address something that we were asked a while ago and that is, how can we run in a shoe for only 35-40 miles and still get an accurate review from that. Well, the short answer is that just as anybody else becomes very adept at pointing out features and specifics of [your job here], we do as well. The fact of the matter is that as a publication we’re reviewing as many as 15 shoes at any given time and we simply don’t always have time to run more (though when we can, we do). Probably the biggest challenge with that is being able to speak to durability of a product (in this case a trail shoe) since we have to take our observations of the outsole wear of the shoe and extrapolate that “data” to form a hypothesis as best we can. In the case of the La Sportiva Mutant – 6mm deep lugs and all – I can see no huge amount of wear with the exception of the edge of one forefoot lug having a small chip that would cause me to see any sort of accelerated wear.
First up with the midsole, I should mention that the drop is a bit outside what we normally like to see in that is has stack heights of 26mm in the heel and 16mm in the forefoot for a net drop of 10mm. While I normally prefer shoes 6mm and under, I believe this is less of a concern on trails because of the varied terrain and running technique that is employed there. The material of the midsole is a single-density, injection-molded EVA foam throughout. There is no rock plate in the Mutant but I honestly didn’t notice that since the firmness of the EVA seemingly soaked up much of what was there. At the rear of the midsole there is a TPU “stabilizer” that fully wraps from the arch on one side of the shoe al the way to the other side helping to form the heel cup (more on this in the upper section below).
The midsole of the La Sportiva Mutant actually seems to have a bit of rocker which is so popular these days – though I’m honestly not sure if this is something that was there out of the box or if it developed as the shoe go some miles of uphill running on it. In any event, the full coverage outsole combined with the high edges of the midsole make for a smooth ride with a very quick transition. Ground feel was quite good in my opinion and as I mentioned above, I didn’t really notice the lack of a rock plate.
For me, the upper of the La Sportive Mutant is the coolest part of this shoe. First, the mesh in the upper is La Sportiva’s AirMesh – a highly durable material that still maintains breathability. Overlaying this mesh is a very interesting lacing system which also creates most of the support structure called Fusiongate. In this system the structural laces (not to be confused with the laces you actually tie) appear to fully wrap the upper and rather than being woven through the mesh in a manner like that of Nike’s Flywire system, these support laces are bonded to the upper with very heavy bonded overlays. The uppermost support lace (the red one near the malleolus) actually goes so far as to wrap around to the back of the foot for further reinforcement.
The tongue of the La Sportiva Mutant is probably one of the most interesting part of this upper in that it has a very comfortable and stable “burrito” wrap from the medial to the lateral side. This means no tongue slippage and a very bootie-like fit – and a nod to some of La Sportiva’s other products like ski boots and climbing shoes. While some people may find the feeling of this type of thing a bit strange relative to more traditional construction, I found it to be very comfortable and it really held my foot in pace extremely well – seriously, it’s pretty much impossible to “kick” your shoes off when your get home after your run. The laces are also integrated into the tongue in what is a rather intricate pass through kind of thing. I would try to explain this further but rather than confusing the hell out of you I’ll direct you to the images instead. While I enjoyed the way that this system fits and feels, it’s quite complicated and I imagine that re-lacing this shoe would be rather challenging.
The upper of this shoe also rocks a very beefy, rubber toe cap that I can tell you I’ve had the opportunity to try more that once (I really should pick up my feet more!) without injury to my toes. The heel counter of this shoe is very rigid and is made of up of structural elements from the upper and midsole. That combined with the midsole’s TPU stabilizer makes for an extremely well constructed heel cup which contributes to agility. Finally, the collar of the Mutant is quite high which gives a nice, bootie-like feel. I can see where some people may be thrown by that feeling and might need higher socks if you’re used to no-shows.
Right off the bat, let me just say that when it comes to La Sportiva running shoes, you should always size up by at least a half size (in my experience). While I normally wear a size 11, I opted for an 11.5 in this shoe and it fits perfectly. Much of the fit of the Mutant is up to how you lace it thanks to the burrito tongue and bootie construction. Any average foot should have no problems in this at all and even feet that are slightly wider or more narrow should be able to adjust the wrap to some degree to fit their foot. I think that if there is trouble fitting this to your foot it’s most likely a byproduct of a slightly tricky lacing system and with some playing, you should be able to get it dialed.
Before I get fully into the ride I think I should mention the weight of the La Sportiva Mutant which comes in at 12.3 ounces in a men’s size 11 (men’s size 9 is 10.7 ounces). While this is certainly not the lightest trail shoe we’ve tried recently, I believe that the wrap fit of the upper goes a long way toward making it feel much lighter by sticking so closely to the foot. From a general comfort and ride perspective I liked this shoe a lot and would have no problem going to a marathon distance or longer with it. Some people might want to see a rock plate integrated in it for a bit more comfort over some rougher terrain but even when I was on some really rocky and gnarly stuff I didn’t really notice the lack of additional protection. As far as agility goes, this was a very impressive ride for me and again, much of that I felt was due to the upper. There was never really any time where my foot was sliding around in the shoe thanks to torsion and the wrapped tongue meant that I didn’t have to over tighten the laces for that to be the case.
On technical trail this shoe shines but as I mentioned at the outset of this review, I feel like calling it a “mountain running” shoe is a bit unfair. If you’ve got groomed trail or simply trail that isn’t so well groomed but would never be classified as “technical” or “mountain” at all, I still firmly believe that this should would be right at home. Is it overkill for things like that? Perhaps, but if it fits well and rides right for you, who cares!
A lot of people may not consider the marketing of a product to be something they really pay attention to. I have to assume though that if you’re looking for a trail shoe and see a shoe called a “mountain running” shoe you’re very likely to skip it and move on simply because you’re looking for a “trail shoe”. In this case, I think the La Sportiva Mutant, while certainly at home on technical terrain, is a really well-rounded trail running shoe that you should really think about for whatever trails you’re interested in. For $130, while it’s certainly not super cheap, it is a durable and badass shoe that can handle whatever you need.
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Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).