Sunday, June 12, 2016

Comparative Review-La Sportiva Mutant vs. Akasha. Who is King of the Mountain? It Depends On the Mountain!

Article by Jeff Valliere
While testing the La Sportiva Akasha recently (my review here), invariably, comparisons between it and the Mutant would arise in personal conversations with friends, strangers on the trail, online interactions and in my own mind.  As time passed, I increasingly felt the desire to compare them side by side to see for myself.  Despite Sam having already tested the Mutant (his review is here), La Sportiva graciously sent me a pair for comparison.

I really enjoy running in the Akasha and appreciate its all day comfort, cushion, agility, traction, light feel and overall nimbleness.  However, when I push the Akasha hard on steep, off camber terrain, there can be a bit of give in the upper, but it is predictable and still performs remarkably well all things considered.

I figured the Mutant, with its more supportive/precise upper, larger lugs and stickier rubber, would continue where the Akasha reached its limits.
La Sportiva Mutant
Upon receiving the Mutant, I was immediately struck with how sturdy and well-constructed the shoe is.  The high level of thought, purpose and design that went into making this shoe is impressive to say the least, with its SpyralTongue that wraps and secures the foot, to the FusionGate lacing system that solidly locks the foot in place, to the durable, high quality materials that make up the shoe, the Mutant is an all business, all mountain shoe. La Sportiva is a company with a deep mountain climbing heritage, whose slogan is "Innovation with Passion". Their products reflect careful attention to terrain and intended uses.

The Mutant, though listed in La Sportiva’s spec sheet to be a lighter shoe, (10.7 oz. vs. 11.35 for the Akasha in US Men’s size 9), actually felt a bit heavier in the hand than the Akasha.  Surprised by this, I weighed and re-weighed both shoes (left and right) and consistently came up with 11 ¼ oz. for the Akasha and 11 ¾ for the Mutant in my US men's size 10.  Not a big deal, but the slight difference is evident in the hand, on the foot and on the scale.  I also think some of that difference in feel (beyond the half oz.) has to do with the density and distribution of the EVA midsoles.
La Sportiva Mutant
Not surprisingly, I am quite impressed with how well the Mutant handles steep, technical, off camber, off trail terrain.  I was able to test the Mutant in a wide variety of circumstances, steep off trail (dirt, scree, talus, pine needles, pine cones), wet rock, dry rock, light scrambling, snow, rocky technical trails, smooth buffed out trails and dirt roads.  It handled all of that very well, but without a doubt Mutant is designed for the roughest terrain you can get into.
La Sportiva Mutant
The upper/lacing locks the foot in remarkably well, never having had my foot slide or waver and the fit is quite comfortable, though can feel a bit confining as your feet swell on longer and/or warmer runs.  The Mutant truly feels like an extension of my foot, inspiring confidence when pushing hard in any circumstance.
La Sportiva Mutant
Traction is remarkable, not only the deep lugs and aggressive pattern, but also the Frixion XF rubber compound (La Sportiva’s stickiest).  This Mutant holds well on just about anything (well, maybe not wet logs or solid ice).
La Sportiva Mutant
The heel collar of the Mutant is remarkably high, almost to the level of what I might consider to be a mid-height shoe, but I found it to be thin, comfortable and compliant enough to never be an issue and appreciated the added ankle protection in tricky, rough, off trail terrain.  As a bonus, the height and design of the heel collar also help to keep debris out of the shoe.

So, how do the Mutant and the Akasha compare side by side?  
They each have their specific strengths and very few (if any) weaknesses.
TOP:  Mutant  BOTTOM: Akasha 
I really appreciate the versatility of the Akasha.  The Akasha shines on long runs where all day comfort and cushion are the main concern.  It is light enough to be used as a go fast training shoe, (or race shoe) and can still handle just about any terrain with aplomb.  The upper is a bit more forgiving, better ventilated and accommodating for foot swell.  Because of this, I would certainly prefer the Akasha on a warmer and/or longer day.
LEFT: Akasha RIGHT: Mutant
I also find the Akasha to feel a bit more feathery and responsive compared to the Mutant, overall just more adapted to true running, where the Mutant has a slightly less lively feel to it.

One other noticeable difference would be the heel/toe differential, 10mm in the Mutant vs. 6mm in the Akasha.  Though I got used to the 10mm drop of the Mutant, it was very noticeable at first and in a perfect world, would prefer a drop more in line with the Akasha.

Quality and longevity of both shoes are top level, with very little wear on them after 60+ miles and I could easily see getting 400 rough miles out of either shoe.
LEFT: Akasha RIGHT: Mutant
The Fit of both is quite similar, geared toward a narrower, low volume foot.  The Akasha, though similarly narrow (precise fit might be a better term), has a bit more stretch and give to it, which may accommodate a wider range of foot shapes and allow for swelling.
Which to pick?  
It depends.  Both are amazing shoes with a good bit of overlap between the two, but each with enough differences to warrant careful consideration based on intended usage/preference when buying.

For a long day, almost regardless of terrain, but certainly if true running will be the focus, I would pick the Akasha hands down for its cushion, comfort, protection, ventilation, responsiveness and all around versatility.  The Akasha is equally suited for short fast jaunts as it is for ultra-distance events (100 miles would be no problem for this shoe).

If the focus is steep, off trail, scrambling, mixed mountainous terrain, where a very precise and locked upper, flexible toe, maximum sticky rubber traction and overall protection are the priority, the Mutant is the clear choice.  Forefoot protection however (lack of a rock plate) is a slight limitation in this shoe, but is really only noticeable on longer (4-5+ hour runs with a lot of rock and hard descending). The Mutant is the epitome of an all mountain shoe.

See Jeff's review of the Akasha here

Interested in other 2016 shoes?  Click here for our summary page with links to all the reviews. Road Trail Run has in depth reviews of over thirty 2016 models including a dozen of the top trail and mountain shoes.

Reviewer Bio

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.



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3 comments:

Bruce said...

hi jeff,

really great review! the akasha is not a shoe i would normally consider, but now i'm definitely interested.

i'm looking for a shoe that i could use for trail running but especially for hiking--nothing super technical, but i'd like it to be versatile. i've been leaning toward the bushido or the salewa ultra train, but now i'm also thinking about the akasha, though i wonder if it's a bit high off the ground for hiking. (the mutant seems like it might be overkill for my purposes.) could you compare these shoes for hiking? my foot is definitely narrow.

thanks,
bruce

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Bruce, thanks for reading and for the kind words. I think either the Akasha or the Mutant would make fine hiking shoes. The Mutant, with the high collar and very snug fitting upper almost give it ankle support, but if given the choice, I would probably go with the Akasha, as it is a bit more cushioned, has a rock plate, a more forgiving upper, yet still is very stable, has great traction and would be comfortable all day. I use the Mutant for shorter, more deliberately technical outings, but after a few hours, I feel somewhat relieved to take them off (at least moreso than the Akasha).

re: Bushido, another good shoe, stable, good traction and protection, but cushion is very firm.

Anyways, hope this helps.

Bruce said...

thanks so much for the race-tempo response! i take it you haven't tried the salewa? will the akasha fit as snug as bushido? (snug is good for me.) i tried on the bushido, and 44.5 seemed like a good fit. possibly i could squeeze into a 44. forefoot was a bit wider than i expected but probably fine. do you think akasha and mutant would be the same size for me? sounds like you think both are better than bushido--i'm just concerned about the fit.