La Sportiva Kaptiva Trail Shoes Review

When La Sportiva say that the Kaptiva provide "the perfect balance of protection, cushioning, stability and traction" the challenge is on for me to prove them wrong. I've run a Bob Graham, The Lakes Sky Ultra and countless classic Cumbrian races, and there's only a few makes of fell shoe I tend to see when I look down at the start of a rugged race. The UK's steep wet grassy and muddy descents generally see off all but a few models - so would the Kaptiva be among them?

On the Nantlle Ridge, a good test for the Kaptiva's all-terrain ability  © Mark Glaister
On the Nantlle Ridge, a good test for the Kaptiva's all-terrain ability
© Mark Glaister

Putting my brand new bright orange and blue, rather comfy looking Kaptiva shoes to the test was going to be fun. I aimed to do at least 100 varied miles in them before writing this. Well I started to write this 150 miles in after just under two months, but it's significantly more now because I keep reaching for them out of choice.

The Kaptiva comes in both a men's and women's fit; I've been using the latter. This is a medium volume shoe, with enough toe room to accommodate a bit of foot spread over a long day. Its 6mm drop is fairly middle of the road for a trail shoe.

Recommended terrain

On an early spring day in the Glyderau  © Mark Glaister
On an early spring day in the Glyderau
© Mark Glaister

The combination of its sole that cushions the pain from sharp ground underfoot, but with sufficient precision, plus a surprisingly good grip on rock, has inspired my confidence on wet and dry rock and even the dreaded wet moorland flagstone paths.

The sole is Sportiva's "Frixion White" which they state as "ideal for high performance mountain running shoes and indoor climbing shoes". It's a compound that favours grip over durability - well, there's always going to be a tradeoff somewhere.

They coped well over the boggy moorland of the Moelwyn leg of the Paddy Buckley and equally the steep sided slopes of Cnicht.

They were perfect on the Lakes 42 race too, which is mostly mountain path. The friction proved itself when I used them on the grade 1 scramble on the back of Moel Siabod (see the Route Card, left) and I would definitely recommend them for walking in to mountain crags because of this, the loop at the back being handy to hang on your harness if needed. The only limitation would be where speed is needed on steep boggy and grassy descents, when you need to know the shoe will bite into the hillside: the fairly shallow studs on the Kaptiva clearly aren't optimised for this. If you really need traction however, the lugs are designed for use with La Sportiva's AT Grip Spikes.

photo
They were fine on a mix of grass, rock and late snow...
© Mark Glaister

photo
After a 10-mile trail run on Dartmoor - note the lacing
© Mark Glaister

Comfort

Straight out of the box I ran 20 wet moorland miles in them without any problems. Interestingly next time on (a mere 5K parkrun!) I immediately felt something digging into the top of my left foot where a ruck in the tongue was rubbing. You'll see in the photos that I've re-laced that shoe missing an eyelet, which has sorted it out and it's not impacted on performance. I couldn't get the ruck out once it was there, which surprised me. But this wouldn't stop me purchasing a second pair.

The shoe gives more than a blister-free wear though, the robust support of the sole makes it a better choice for those long stony paths and that's why it was a perfect choice for the Lakes 42 race; equally I'd not hesitate to use them over the Scafell plateau in the Lakes or the Carneddau in Wales for the same reason - and they'd be ideal for long trail races like the Lakeland 50 or 100. Some shoes feel pretty flat underfoot, but there's a fair bit of arch support in the Kaptiva, which fits their medium-to-long-distance billing.

They are easy to slip on too and I like the feel of the built-in sock-like tongue. This is supposed to minimise debris getting in although I haven't noticed much difference to other shoes there. The loop at the back makes it so much quicker to get on. On endurance runs foot swelling is not an issue because of the wider toe box. Also there is enough "give" in the fabric to cope with socks for all seasons - I've worn them with thick waterproof socks, thin sports sock, even no socks (although gave that up as a bad idea after three miles).

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Box fresh...
© Bridget Collier

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...and after 100 miles
© Bridget Collier

Shoe fabric

I'm going to ignore talking about the breathability for a minute in order to say that whatever they have made the laces out of works brilliantly. One bow plus one knot is all that has ever been needed and they haven't budged once. I've thrutched through heather and bilberry bushes on the direct up Place Fell on the Lakeland 42 race, had the suction of muddy bogs over the Welsh Paddy Buckley legs and plenty of rivers, bracken or scree elsewhere. I've worn them for up to 10 hours and they have never needing checking or re-tying, so that's a massive plus.

Back to the shoe itself, it is sort of breathable and sort of not - much like most shoes really. This is because of the different fabric used, a stretch knit combined with the front part in something called an 'anti-lining stabilizing mesh fabric' (I've no idea either). At times I've complained that I could feel the wind through the fabric near my toes (I do run cold) but at other times I've run through water to cool my feet down. Overall I've no complaints about breathability, and I've not had one blister.

In terms of durability, so far there is no sign of weakness in the material on top, no nicks in the toe area which is usually first to go, and the sole is still going strong although you can obviously see that it's worn down a bit and as you would expect. La Sportiva do describe the sole as having grip over durability and this will be correct, but I suspect I'll only be changing them as frequently as my other shoes.

Good for the rocky stuff...  © Mark Glaister
Good for the rocky stuff...
© Mark Glaister

...and the grass  © Mark Glaister
...and the grass
© Mark Glaister

Is this an endurance fell shoe?

The quick answer here is without doubt, yes. They work better across the spectrum of terrain on our UK hills than I expected them to - and I've tested them in Snowdonia, Cumbria, the West Pennine Moors and Dartmoor. I've used them on sections of the Bob Graham and the Paddy Buckley so lots of free terrain as well as paths and trods. There are times I would still choose a more aggressive sole, for all day running on soft wet ground for instance. However, whereas in the past I've bought a "fell" shoe and a "trail" shoe, that distinction rather breaks down in this case, and if you're only buying one pair for a bit of everything then it makes sense to use something like the Kaptiva that can cope with so much and provide a decent level of durability too. I've noticed some advertising suggest this is just a trail shoe - well I'd say it's got a lot more to offer than that description suggests.

La Sportiva say:

Kaptiva is the trail running shoe dedicated to medium and long distance races such as skyraces and mountain running. Innovative knit fabric and SLIP-ON construction which reduces to a minimum the volumes of each individual piece of the shoe. The fit is snug and comfortable, free of empty, destabilizing volumes. The stretch, mono-layer cuff sticks to the heel like a sock avoiding overlapping layers and preventing external agents from entering the shoe, facilitating at the same time the entry of the foot and the operation of fit. The sole/midsole package aims at providing the perfect balance between fluidity, stability, flexibility and traction thanks to the longitudinal cuts in the tread of the super grippy and extremely durable FriXion White compound with Impact Brake System lugs of different angle inclinations.

  • Sizes: 36-43 inc half sizes (women) 38-47.5 (men)
  • Weight: 560g / pair size 42
  • Upper: Tongue in wraparound, stretch knit fabric and front part in
  • Lining: Slip resistant, breathable mesh
  • Midsole: Compressed EVA and TPU stabilizers and anti-torsion inserts + dual density EVA rock guard insert
  • Sole: Frixion White with Impact Brake System with lugs designed for use with AT Grip Spikes
  • Footbed: 4mm Ortholite Ergonomic
  • Drop: 6mm
  • Cushioning: 8-9

For more info see lasportiva.com

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