TAYLOR: FINALLY! I’ve been waiting, you’ve been waiting (at least that’s what I tell myself), and now we have it. The La Sportiva Karacal has been an elusive one for us for various reasons, but I’m glad to have gone through the trouble to get this shoe on foot.
If you know the brand La Sportiva to any extent, you would not be surprised that these mountain maniacs pump out quality equipment. They have something good to offer, from climbing shoes to skis to anything else you would need for a mountain adventure.
The same goes for trail running. We have tested almost every shoe in La Sportiva’s lineup by now, and every review comes out with positives far outweighing the negatives. Talking with Sean at La Sportiva, he commented how they don’t come out with updates or new footwear products all that often because they want to be darn sure it’s going to be a worthy one. I feel that 100%.
This is the first edition of this shoe, and it’s La Sportiva’s crack at a long ranger. From top to bottom, it is comfort-oriented, and that’s a slightly different approach from La Sportiva’s norm, where performance takes precedence. At the end of the day, I’d say comfort equates to performance with the Karacal. Let’s look a little closer.
TAYLOR: On paper, La Sportiva’s Karacal and Jackal are almost carbon copies. You basically need a coded highlighting system to pick out the differences. It’s no wonder why I get comparison questions between these two shoes almost more than any other shoes. On foot, it’s a bit of a different story. Just for simplicity’s sake, the Karacal is a more comfortable version of the Jackal when spending the day in the mountains.
The Karacal falls in the “high stack” category as it carries 29mm-22 mm (7mm drop) midsole plus a 4mm cushy Ortholite insert to bring the total stack up to 33mm-25mm. It gives off a more medium feel that eventually becomes medium soft. It’s definitely not marshmallowy and nowhere near harsh. Instead, you’re looking somewhere in between, and for long days in the mountains, I really like that.
Technically speaking, the midsole comprises two different foam densities with a protective full-length rock guard. This is an iffy game to play when the foams don’t overlap completely, but La Sportiva found a way to make the transition from heel to toe quite smooth. Part of it is thanks to a tapered toe that allows for a smoother roll-like transition off of the ground and over various terrain. Another reason is that the shoe has a very neutral feeling. Nothing is blocky or slows the roll of the transition on the trail. Overall, this underfoot experience, of course, reminded me of the Jackal. It also reminded me of the Dynafit Ultra 100. The Karacal is a little more nimble, and the Ultra 100 is a little more stable. Both are protective.
The grippy Frixion AT 2.0 outsole also supports smooth running. The varied lug depth and direction (3 mm to 1.5mm) made for solid running on soft surfaces while, surprisingly, not lacking grip when the going got a little messy. La Sportiva has a variety of hella-grippy compounds, as we have seen in shoes like the Mutant and Cyklon. For a shoe like the Karacal, I couldn’t come up with a better recipe.
Foot security should not be a surprising feature to see here. It runs deep in La Sportiva’s lineup. The upper on the Karacal is a 3D seamless mesh, which is thicker than the average mesh. Tightening the laces snuggly posed no issues because of the extra layers. It’s really more like a wrap with seamless construction that hugs the foot in an embracing way. Come to think of it; it feels a lot more like a supremely wrapped and pressed burrito. There’s nothing overbearing about the upper or laces. If the burrito imagery doesn’t do it for you, I’m not sure how else to describe it other than it just wraps very comfortably and very securely.
Overall, for a protective “high stack” shoe, the Karacal can run long or short. It can go smooth or technical. I don’t have too many concerns about performance here.Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Men Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Women
TAYLOR: There’s a first for everything. I’ve never particularly noticed the shape of the ankle collar, but I did here. To be fair, most people probably wouldn’t notice it either. Typically it’s an oval shape to fit around the foot. On the Karacal, the collar is more circular than any other trail shoe I have worn. It makes the fit slightly off in that area. Coming down some slightly more technical terrain, I also noticed that the upper itself folded interestingly around the collar, causing some slight insecurities around the ankle (but not the heel). This by no means makes it an insecure shoe.
“Insecurities” is kind of the theme in this section. The Karacal has minimal stability measure in the midfoot or heel. It still takes on the sleeker underfoot feel that you would get across the board (no matter the stack) for La Sportiva. To be honest, I was okay with that! I’m a neutral runner who will take nimble over stable almost every time! Because this does fall into the “high stack” category, it is typical for shoes to have a slightly broader footprint to accommodate the height. The aforementioned ankle squirreliness and slimmer underfoot profile have the potential for some damage. After all, nobody wants to blow an ankle while deep in the backcountry. If you’re at all concerned about that reality, the Karacal may not be what you’re looking for.
Weight seems to be a frequent flier for these mountain-oriented shoes. 11.2 ounces (US M11) isn’t jaw-dropping by any means. Newer tech is dropping our idea of what “heavy” actually means in this world. It would be satisfying for this shoe to trend that way in further iterations.
Also, I’m just going to complain about sizing. It has been quite difficult to figure out what shoe size works best. La Sportiva has been somewhat inconsistent on sizing between the different shoe offerings. They also have in-between sizes on the most common sized shoes. I think of it more as “quarter” sizes rather than a “half” size scale. For example, they have sizes 4.5+ 6.5+, 8.5+, 10.5+, and 12.5+. This was definitely part of the issue when reviewing this shoe. I went all over the board to get the right size. My initial 10.5 (normal size) was WAY too short. I went up a full size to accommodate and that was WAY too long and wide. Then, I came down to a size 11 and wahla! When I got the right size, though, I knew it was going to be worth it. Here’s a quick shout-out to Sean for virtually holding my hand through this process!Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Men Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Women
TAYLOR: I guess that wait was worth it! La Sportiva comes through with another solid mountain-grade trail running package in the Karacal. I would not say it is a “perfect” shoe — it came with the typical gripes of synching up that and that as well as weight — but it is a very good option for a long-distance mountain rambler. It ticks all the boxes: Underfoot and overfoot comfort, foot security, technical proficiency, and versatile grip. I appreciated the Karacal’s overall runnability from street to peak. These are definitely most at home in the mountains and would work really well for an all-day runner or hiker.
You can pick up the La Sportiva Karacal at Moosejaw for $130.Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Men Shop La Sportiva Karacal – Women
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