9 Jul 14 by James Elson

La Sportiva Shoe Review: Helios & Bushido

Running and racing year round in the UK, the 'right' trail shoe for me has always been the one which handles the best across the broadest range of underfoot conditions. Training routes almost irrespective of where you are in the UK (outside of the mountains) often combine a mixture of road, track, trail and field. A shoe needs to be able to handle all of those things well. Specificity is great but a utility shoe is important given where I live and run. 

In a similar vein, it's rare to find one's self running an ultra which is all single track, all open grass or all gravel. Quite often, runners at our events often show up if conditions are dry, in road shoes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the non-mountainous areas of the UK where rocks are not an issue, a road shoe will often handle dry trails as well as a trail specific shoe. 

That being said if conditions are either wet or muddy, most runners will turn to a trail shoe and the choice available is mind boggling and greater than ever. 

Our Ultrarunning Team have been working with Lyon Equipment in the Lake District and La Sportiva over the last couple of years, on their range of mountain and trail shoes. At the end of 2012, the La Sportiva range included mainly much heavier duty trail shoes, designed to cope with the underfoot conditions thrown up by running in the Alps and the Dolomites, something that didn't necessarily apply to the majority of our UK trails. 

Then, in 2013, La Sportiva took on board many of the comments from the market and created a couple of more reduced models which retained the key aspects of their light and heavyweight mountain running models. Those things and the things I myself look for in an all round trail shoe are:

- Comfort from short trail runs up to very long days out on the trail or in the mountains.
- Also able to handle road or track
- Lightweight without compromising on protection

The Helios

When Neil Bryant and I were first handed the advance model of this shoe in early 2013, we felt that we were looking at perhaps the perfect answer for an a minimal around trail shoe. La Sportiva had combined their incredibly lightweight Vertical K model with the heavier mountain running designs of the Wildcat and the Raptor. Rather than be a compromise, this shoe held on to the best assets of all three and has subsequently become the go-to utility trail and ultra race shoe for the some of our team. Dan Doherty raced to 3rd overall at the Salomon Zuggspitz 100km just a few weeks ago in them.


Upper: The first thing that strikes you when you pick up this shoe is the weight and that's in large part due to the light weight mesh upper which allows for good drainage of water without letting in excess debris. The lacing system is integrated with the upper and pulls the shoe together really nicely for a close but comfortable fit. The tongue is thick and cushioned, perhaps a confusing aspect of the shoe, until you run in areas with scores of loose rocks (the Lakes/ Snowdonia). It might sound utterly ridiculous but if you've ever really booted a rock with the top of your foot, as I regularly do in the Lakes, some cushioning on the upper is actually incredibly beneficial. 

Mid-Sole: A great balance of cushioning and support. There is some arch support but the LaSpeva plate makes the shoe sit on that middle ground I talked about between being too rigid and too soft. It gives control, adds fluidity to your gait and works on all terrain types, including rocks. 

Out Sole: Here is the best part of the shoe. The sole is made up of La Sportiva's Frixion material, laid out in rubber grips including indents going back and forward on the sole. The level of ground contact is significant enough to offer grip on all trail types including mud and rocks, yet not too broad to turn the shoes in to skates on wet grass/ mud. Non-studded trail shoes often perform very poorly on wet grass but the Helios indents give enough grip to offer confidence. 

Sizing: The shoe comes up slightly small and if you are between sizes it's worth considering going half a size/ a size bigger than you usually would. In fact i'd say the same for all LS models.

Overall the shoe is light, but doesn't feel inadequate. It includes a level of protection through the mid-sole which will handle most all terrain types. The upper is comfortable and can be drawn in as tight as you like. And the out sole is the grippy, responsive and great on all underfoot conditions. The shoe could easily be worn for long periods of time on any terrain including road, making it for me the go to Ultra Trail shoe of the moment. I would describe it as the perfect trail shoe for those looking for the balance of lightweight and comfort with all round terrain handling. 

I asked one or two of the team to let me know what they think of the shoe. I should add that we operate a very honest policy with Lyon and La Sportiva and until now have felt that the majority of their models were simply too much shoe for running here in the UK. 

Craig Holgate:

I have run nearly all my life in Asics shoes and have really struggled to find an off road shoe that works for me.  I have worn shoes by other brands and for various reasons they have not worked for me so I was somewhat sceptical when the Helios arrived.  Before I even tried them on I was impressed with the lightness of the shoe.  After my first run in these shoes I realised I had finally discovered the off road shoe for me, it seemed to stick to the trail, despite of its light weight it is still a sturdy shoe and it even feels on home on the road.  For me its a trail shoe that feels like a road shoe and are perfect for me.  I would happily buy these shoes!

The Bushido

I recently heard an experienced ultra runner refer to the Bushido as 'a mix of the helios and cross-lite on steroids'. The cross lite was La Sportiva's answer to a combination fell & trail running shoe. The studded outsole and rock plate made it ideal for handling mountain terrain as well as open fell/ grass, without being too heavy to be slow. The sole made the handling on wet rock and flatter track / tarmac for long periods just too uncomfortable however. It was a more specific shoe.

The Bushido walks that mid point between the lightweight Helios/ Vertical K and the more specific mountain shoes like the Cross Lite. It is another all round trail shoe with some slightly more enhanced features to the helios and some runners will undoubtedly find greater confidence, handling and support from this model.

Upper: Similar to the helios, a light weight mesh which allows for good drainage of water without letting in excess debris. The lacing system is integrated with the upper and pulls the shoe together really nicely for a close but comfortable fit.

Mid-Sole: 6mm drop and at 278 grams the overall shoe would probably be best described as mid-weight. It's not too light, and it's not too heavy. The rock plate is fantastic, giving a comfortable ride on rougher ground, enhanced by stabilisation plates on either side of the mid foot. This makes for a heavier shoe but a more stable ride and therefore a step up from the Helios on loose/ large rocks for those looking to feel more confidence on that type of ground. 

Out Sole: Here is the significant enhancement on the helios. Again made up of La Sportiva's Frixion material, but this time with rubber indents around the outside of the sole as well as through the middle. The grip is greater than with the helios   with a stickier mid sole, La Sportiva's impact braking system.

Overall the shoe is again a perfect all rounder across all terrain types but being slightly heavier and grippier than the Helios it's better suited to those used to a more stable ride and those looking to spend longer hours on rougher terrain.