Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: La Sportiva Mutant: Very Supportive Upper, Great Cushion, Deep Lugs, and an Agile Forefoot. All for Less than 11 oz.

The La Sportiva Mutant is a highly supportive, deeply lugged trail shoe for rough mountain terrain: loose rock, snow, mud, etc.. Yet it is also perfectly fine on smoother terrain and has been more than decent for shorter road stretches due to its soft yet stabilized cushioning. It manages to pack a ski boot bootie type mid foot wrap tongue, debris proof sturdy upper, deep 6mm lugs, and road comfortable and not overly firm cushioning into a package weighing less than 11oz -10.9 oz 309 grams size Men's 9 EU 42, Women's 9.6 oz. To accomplish all of this must not have been easy! The shoe is aptly named as it really is a "mutant" combining features of ski boots and lightweight running shoe design in neat new ways.

La Sportiva Mutant

The Upper is the Star
The upper is one the most evolved and carefully considered for purpose, rough terrain, I have seen in a trail runner or for that matter any running shoe. The Mutant features two innovative upper technologies which to date work as intended.

La Sportiva Mutant: SpyralTongue

Essentially the tongue and mid foot upper are one with the 2 sides of equal thickness mesh covered with firm padding wrapping over each other, like a ski boot liner. Towards the toe, at the 3d lace from the top the lateral black wrap transitions to black mesh only but on the medial side, where more support is needed, stays the thicker mesh and padding. The cord lace at the second lateral hole instead of reaching all the way across to the inside medial side goes through a loop on the medial tongue as it wraps to the lateral side (see picture above). This locks the foot securely. This is a shoe for folks with bad ankles in my opinion. 
La Sportiva Mutant: Left traditional lacing, Right using mesh garage
To tie one can lace as normally or run the last piece coming from the medial side through a mesh pocket on the lateral side tie and tuck into the mesh. Laces hidden from gotchas. A bit complex but instructions are helpfully provided.

The lacing system is made of round cords. The laces run through loops instead of holes. The loops widen and extend down the upper to the midsole using the same type of cord as the laces. The harness cords are quite heavily coated and glued to the upper with what I think LaSportiva calls "high frequency reinforcements", essentially what looks like clear TPU covering not only the cords but an area to each side of each cord.
La Sportiva Mutant FusionGate
The La Sportiva logo band along the side is also this protective material over the mesh. Areas down near the midsole are also coated with somewhat more coating on the medial side than lateral side. All of this coating is clear so difficult to see but it is there and is more substantial and thicker than the usual overlay materials.
La Sportiva Mutant
The FusionGate system looks  well protected but time will tell what abrasion does to this system.  The result is a combination of incredible support that is quite snug but not overly constraining.

Upper Mesh and ToeBox
The mesh upfront and throughout the upper is very dense, very debris resistant. Suspect they will tend to be a warm shoe but it has been too cold to test that aspect! The Mutant is not water resistant but should keep splashes away. I do have some concerns about draining of water.
The toe box has plenty of height for me. There are no seams or overlays whatsoever in the toe box, the yellow lines below are paint, which I am sure contributes to the forefoot flexibility.
La Sportiva Mutant
Will have to see if there are durability issues, blowouts, but none so far for me. Due to the dense mesh, and of course the mid foot wrap, the front of the foot is very well held. No slipping what so ever. The black toe bumper is very firm, but unlike many such toe bumpers I have not noticed it all, likely due to the fact that due to the rest of the upper my foot just does not move around in this shoe but must say my trail runs have been relatively mellow to date.
Heel Counter and Collar
La Sportiva Mutant
The heel counter and collar is very high with almost no padding except a small wrap of padding below the collar around the achilles. Debris is not going to sneak in here either. Some may have issues with both the height and the lack of padding but I have had no issues to date.
The fit is quite snug with a distinct sense of support and protection from toe to heel, yet not constraining. Those who like a more minimal upper in their trail shoes may find the whole upper to much but not me for the intended purpose, rough terrain it is what I want and need. I went true to size with no issues but those considering the Mutant for very long runs can easily size up half a size.The SpyralTongue and FusionGate systems are also very amenable to loosening the shoe as feet swell as support will remain unlike most shoes.
La Sportiva Mutant:Outsole

The outsole has among the deepest lugs I have run on, 6mm. It is made of La Sportiva's "super sticky" Frixion XF rubber. La Sportiva as a full "mountain" company also designing and producing outstanding hiking, climbing, mountaineering and ski mountaineering shoes and boots knows their outsole rubber. So far the outsole has performed well on all surfaces although I have not been on any rough terrain where it really should shine. I have some concern, and others have expressed same, that such prominent lugs could get painful on very long runs on firm surfaces. The only knock on the shoe for me so far is the prominence of the lugs, adds weight and may be overkill except, in the deepest wettest snow or mud.
Ride and Recommendations
I have run on a combination of drier Utah single track, hard road base, and asphalt to date. While for most purposes I would prefer lower lugs, the Mutant has performed admirably on all terrain, even the road.
There is no question that to enjoy the Mutant one must prefer a very supportive and snug upper,  or have a need for a more supportive shoe for really rough terrain or dicey ankles. This is not a near road shoe upper on a trail platform but something more akin to a... good nordic race ski boot in fit, no slop.
I have been surprised by the flexibility of the forefoot.  It is very flexible up front so this shoe climbs extremely well with the flexibility gradually lessening to the mid foot. The Mutant accomplishes this flexibility up front via its upper and relatively thin, where the 6mm lugs are not present, 13mm full coverage outsole midsole combination. Mutant has no rock plate but does have full coverage outsole rubber between the lugs. To date I have had no issues with "rock bite" as my guest reviewer Dominick Layfield had with LaSportiva Helios SR where the thinner non full coverage wave outsole and very thin midsole was an issue.
The heel area, reinforced with 2 small Stabilizer plates is extremely stable even if the actual heel contact outsole area and midsole is a bit narrower than shoes such as the Hokas or New Balance Fresh Trail. There is very little midsole widening flare to the outsole. 
I expect the overall durability to be outstanding.
My only wish would be that a lighter, lower lugged version be introduced.

Highly recommended for very rough terrain and sloppy wet conditions as a moderately light yet very supportive option. Recommended for everyday trail use for those seeking a very supportive upper and lots of grip in a versatile shoe.

Weight: Men's 10.9 oz 309 grams size 9 EU42, Women's 9.6 oz 272 grams
Stack Height: 19mm/29mm with average 6mm lug height. $130.
Retail Price: $130, available now

The Mutant was provided to me by La Sportiva at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely my own.

Get your own Mutants at Running Warehouse Men's here. Women's here.  
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David Henry said...

Completely agree Sam. I've run them a couple runs already I think Sportiva has a hit on there hands and they combined so many elements so well. Very impressed with them and the upper is a fantastic piece of work!

Teletrade-dj said...
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Unknown said...

Hi Sam, I like my Sportiva Helios and a recent 8 mile round-trip hike in Hurricane Ridge, WA, really demonstrated Helios'incredible grip but could really use a bit more foam and protection underfoot.

So, how would you rank the Mutant in terms of cushioning? Or should I look elsewhere, a la Adidas Raven Boost or Hoka Speedgoat?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Richard,
There is a big difference in cushioning, protection and support between the Helios and Mutant. Mutant is a shoe for the rough trail but decent on the more mellow too. Plenty of cushion and very supportive upper. The Speedgoat has great cushion and great grip but a narrower more race fit. You might look at the Hoka Challenger ATR there. As far as other choices I am really liking the Inov-8 Ultra Race 290v2 (review soon) and The adidas Response Trail Boost. Both plenty of cushion with Response a bit more lively than the Raven. Another fine choice the Montrail Fluid Flex St. Low to the ground feel, very stable under foot, light, sitting somewhere between the Helios and Mutant, Hokas, etc...

Unknown said...

Hi Sam, very interesting review. I think I'll try them since I'm not happy with my Salomon Speedcross 3 and Tecnica Rush E-lite. But with a 83 kg weight, do you think are better the Mutant or the Terrex Boost?

Sam Winebaum said...

Paolo, depends. The Mutant is not as stiff in the front of the forefoot i.e. a nice flex for steep climbing but overall back of the front is a bit more rigid. The Terrex is narrow over the metatarsal heads due to its overlays so unless your foot is very narrow you will find the upper more comfortable up front in the Mutant. I do like the feel of the Boost in the Terrex, lively. Both very good for rough terrain but I would give a slight advantage to the Mutant overall.

Unknown said...

Posting this here as well - One question i have about the Mutants is the rocker in the toe. I've been loving my Akasha's, and just got offered a great deal on some Mutants in the same size. The shoe seems to fit great except for my toe, which seems to bump into the bottom of the shoe as it rises/rockers up. It isn't hitting the end of the shoe, but it's noticeable enough that i'm a bit concerned that i'll get blackened toenails on long runs. Did you guys experience this at all? I'm interested in whether you dont feel it on longer runs as you're pushing off or whether the shoe breaks in and it becomes less prominent.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hi Jesse, I had that problem with the C-Lite 2.0 and did lose toenails after one very long and fast descent, but have not had that issue with the Mutant. I think it is the same last, or very similar, but the Mutant is much more forgiving in that regard, either when it was new, or as it has become increasingly broken in. Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the response Jeff! So you're saying that, when the shoe was new, you didn't feel the rocker on your toe at all? Or that you noticed it, but it broke in a bit and was never an issue on runs?

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