This week (it’s a week of guest writers!), we welcome back Caine Warburton, our resident Queensland gear reviewer and ultra runner coach for some opinions on the new La Sportiva Helios. La Sportiva is an Italian climbing and mountain running brand formed in the Dolomites Italy. This year they released perhaps one of the most exciting shoes in their line up for an ultra runner…The Helios.
It’s clear that La Sportiva has poured a lot of thought and design hours into making the Helios. The result is what appears to be a very light, functional mountain ultra shoe.
The upper has two very different sections. The first around the mid-foot/lace attachment, is made from a solid flexible plastic type material intersected with a plastic mesh which appears to provide good strength and durability, but not at the sacrifice of ventilation. The second makes up the tongue, heel and top of the shoe. This material is a very light foam in a honeycomb layout, which provides excellent ventilation and contributes to the overall lightness of the shoe. The upper is both stitched and glued to the sole and the tongue is attached to the upper via a debris proof elastic mesh. There is also extra protection added around the toe in the form of a “poly-cap” non-ridged plastic strip.
The Helios run a minimal 4mm heel to toe drop and their “Morphodynamic” foam in the sole. The “Morphodynamic” foam, like much of the shoe’s design, comes from the short course mountain racer the “Vertical K”. The foam is light weight but medium in volume and designed to “Morph” around rocks that might penetrate the sole to provide good protection and cushioning. The foam is laid into a wave design in the sole which is what gives the Helios their flexibility.
On the Run
When I pulled on the Helios I was instantly surprised as to how light they were, given the amount of foam in the sole. I was expecting them to feel heavier than my other minimal runners (Inov8, NB) but this was not the case. I found the Helios great for climbing, and the lightness of the shoe really makes a difference on the longer, steeper hills. I was concerned initially with how much energy might be lost when climbing from having the extra cushioning, however due to the flexibly of the sole I noticed that I could get right up on my toes and reduce the surface area in contact with the ground and get good returns for my power output.
Descending is where the Helios really come into their own. The extra cushioning and “Morphodymanic” sole all contributed to some of the fastest descents I have done in a while. Compared to other minimal 4mm drop shoes you can really push down hill in the Helios with the risk of serious damage to your knees/quads and without having to panic as much about foot placement. I found the extra cushioning of the shoe protected my feet and knees on the steep down hills, and I could let fly and reach the bottom without being completed smashed, a key function of a mountain runner.
I have even logged a few road kms in these shoes to and from the trail head, perhaps about 15km out of the last 100km. The Helios (due to the cushioning) are very comfortable on the road, they don’t have the “luggy” feel of shoes such as the Inov8 X talon and actually feel quite plush.
The Helios use a combination of a friction rubber V-shaped lugs, and the soles’ flexible wave design to provide the grip. The friction rubber is a derivative from La Sportiva’s climbing shoes and I found it to be much like the soft “Vibram” compounds and provide good grip on rock. The V lugs are placed in an array of forwards and backwards positions to give grip both up and down hill. The lugs are not very deep but they are wide, and while I noticed some lack of grip on very muddy and loose climbs they performed well on most other surfaces. However and oddly enough I didn’t notice any grip issues during decent in loose conditions, perhaps due to my faster downhill speed and reduced ground contact time.
So far I have put about 150+ km into the Helios and there have been no issues with durability. Even after some serious descents, 40km long runs and being constantly wet, the shoes are still very much as they came to me, the cushioning just as plush and upper (albeit dirty) still intact and looking strong. I think La Sportiva made a conscious decision to make the Helios more durable than the Vertical K and they a have succeeded in my opinion. I will note that although I have done some road kms in the Helios I would not recommend excessive road running as the V lugs would be susceptible to wearing down if used regularly on the road.
Overall I see the Helios as a great addition to the Ultra/trail community. With their 4mm drop and bit of extra cushioning I see them as a solid shoe for minimal runners looking to go longer say 50km-160km. I also see them as a great shoe for anyone who needs a bit more protection under foot, but still enjoys the low profile and lightness of minimal trail shoes. Personally the combination of drop, cushioning and lightness means I will use these shoes for most of my trail races but substitute them if the conditions are muddy and loose.
Weight: 460g (a pair)
Drop: 4 mm
Cushioning: 20mm Heel, 16mm Forefoot
**Important to note is that this article was written in January 2013, but was held back due to a backlog of reviews and articles at the time. At the time of writing (January), Caine had no ties or associations with La Sportiva and wrote this independently. However a few weeks ago, Caine was fortunate enough to have been asked to join the La Sportiva trail running team. As our readers should know, we like to be truly transparent on these issues so that the reader can decide and make up their own mind. We lay all the facts out on the table so that nothing is hidden.**