Friday, December 04, 2020

La Sportiva Karacal Review

Article by John Tribbia

La Sportiva Karacal ($130)


John: In a recent interview with Jonathan Wyatt (multi-time World Mountain Running champion and La Sportiva Running Product Specialist) he suggested that last year’s release of the La Sportiva Jackal (RTR Review) was a prelude to this year’s new release, the Karacal. 

The emphasis in design of the Karacal was comfort and maximum mobility, which translates to a very comfortable and breathable shoe. La Sportiva listened to consumers by focusing on the shoe’s protection to cushion the impacts from varied terrain. The Karacal uses the blue FriXion outsole with an “all ground” tread that is supposed to perform well on any kind of surface. In addition, there is a full length hardened EVA rock plate for best-in-class protection The shoe boasts a 7mm drop in the midsole from 29mm in the heel to a forefoot height of 22mm, which offers cushion in the back and exceptional ground feel in the front. Coming in at approximately 10.37 oz (294 grams) in a 42 EU size, the shoe is intended for training and off-road races over medium and long distances.



John: great ground feel, very stable, well protected, and efficient in technical terrain. Very breathable


John: a bit too breathable for colder pursuits, my feet were freezing at 45 degrees!

Tester Profile

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.


Weight: men's 10.37 oz/ 294g   (US9)  /  women's / (US8)

  Samples:  10.37 oz/ 294g   (288g left,, 301g right) men’s US9

Stack Height: 29mm heel / 22mm forefoot, 7mm drop

Available early 2021, $130  

First Impressions and Fit

John: The La Sportiva Karacal is incredibly comfortable and holds my heel securely in place. The forefoot and toe box feels wider than other La Sportiva I have run in, but not in a blister inducing way. The seamless upper is comfortable on the foot with no abrasive spots, breathes well, and works well in tandem with a wide tongue and locking lacing system to envelope the foot. 


John: With a seamless 3D mesh upper that is covered with very thin overlays and thicker wrap around rand, the upper of the Karacal is an excellent combination of breathability and protection. 

The heel collar is low with just enough padding. There’s an external heel cup overlay that provides structure to the upper and greatly enhances the heel hold. 

Related, the midfoot hold is excellent. With the combination of a secure heel and midfoot, the high volume fit in the forefoot / toe box allows for swelling and splay, which I find gives me better control on the technical terrain. 

Overall, the upper security is exceptional,, especially on steep technical terrain.

The laces are soft, comfortable, and provide a secure tie-down. Lastly, the gusseted tongue wraps around the foot nicely and stays in place quite well.


John: the midsole of the Karacal is a dual density compressed EVA with a full length hardened EVA rock plate designed to protect your feet from those sharp and uneven rocky paths. Like the Jackal, I didn’t find the cushion plush, responsive, or bouncy, but it provides excellent stability upon impact. But, the shoe does have some give with the 4mm Ortholite insoles that when combined with stability and firmness, absorbs shock and keeps the foot stable when navigating rocky, unstable terrain.


John: The FriXion AT2 outsole with 3mm lugs provide superb traction and security in all types of terrain. I felt very secure and was able to be aggressive in almost any terrain - from rocky trail, ice, gravel pack trail, to mud. 

The yellow hardened EVA rock plate extends the entire length of the shoe and provides stability at the rear while providing protection at the front without being overly stiff as rock plates sometimes can be

Although the 3mm lugs aren’t exceptionally deep, they are sharp and strategically placed so they attach well to a variety of surfaces 


John:  The ride of the Karacal is dreamy for those who run in the mountains over rough and technical terrain. Traveling over scree or other technical and rocky surfaces feels smooth and responsive. Moreover, there’s plenty of cushion to soften descents or hard foot impacts. What I love most about the Karacal is the exceptional ground feel and low center of gravity. I never felt wobbly or disconnected from the terrain even in the most technical situations. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

John: If you are looking to add a shoe that is ideal when moving fast and efficiently through technical mountain terrain, the Karacal is a top choice. The shoe is comfortable with a wider fit than typical La Sportiva shoes, feels secure and stable when running across varied terrain, is firm in a good way, and can withstand long days in the mountains.

John’s Score: 9.1/10 

Ride: 9 (fun mountain shoe with stable and firm ride)

Fit: 9 (the roomier toe box is a welcome feature)

Value: 8 (breathability is great for summer, but my feet get too cold in colder temps)

Style: 9 (I love bright yellow!) 

Traction: 10 (best in class)

Rock Protection: 9.5 (toe protection, foot plate and firm cushioning, and durable upper)


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

La Sportiva Jackal (RTR Review)

John: Karacal feels lighter on foot and more nimble. I would say the Karacal is best on compacted terrain and the Jackal can perform a little better in loose stuff, but honestly there's not a ton of differentiation between the two other than I would use the Karacal for road to trail runs more than I would the Jackal because I like the fit and feel of the Karacal. The low center of gravity and snug fit of the Karacal yields more ground feel. By contrast, I feel prefer the Jackal fit and that it has a little more cushion. The upper of the Karacal is enveloping and very breathable. The Jackal's upper is thicker and not as comfortable to me. 

La Sportiva Bushido 2 (RTR Review)

John: The Bushido is well protected and slightly more cushioned, but has a rigid feeling ride. By contrast, the Karacal rolls better, has better ground feel, and the more open toe box provides a more comfortable fit. 

Saucony Peregrine 10 (RTR Review)

John: Both have a really comfortable upper and similarly have great ground feel. The tread on the Peregrine is great for loose, mud, and soft conditions thanks to the aggressive lug design. The Karacal’s tread is lower profile, more versatile, and very sticky on rocky surfaces. 

Salomon Sense Ride 3 (RTR Review)

John: The Sense Ride 3 has more cushion, especially in the forefoot. Given the cushion differences, I would prefer to take the Sense Ride on longer excursions. Both have really great traction, but the slight edge goes to the Karacal. 

Hoka Torrent 2  (RTR Review)

John: The Torrent 2 is lighter, faster, with less protection. I think the Torrent does well in most terrain, but lacks an edge to the Karacal in rocky and uneven terrain. The Karacal is well suited for trail and off-trail sections where superior traction and protection are mandatory.

Please Check out our Big Holiday Runners' Gift Guide HERE

The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the author's.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Jules said...

Great review guys - thank you.

Have you had any experience with the Akasha, and if so, how would they compare?


John Tribbia said...

Hey Jules! Thanks for reading. The biggest differences I notice are that the Akasha has a more cushioned feel and softer, more accommodating, ride. The Karacal has a rock plate and more ground feel. I would use the Akasha for longer outings and the Karacal for mid distance trips into technical areas. Let me know if you have other questions!

Here’s Jeff’s review of the Akasha from a few years back:

Jules said...

Thanks so much John!

Jules said...

Thanks so much John!

Anonymous said...

Does the Karacal avoid the achilles-blistering heel cup issue of the Jackal? Loved pretty much everything about the Jackal, but it created dreadful blisters on both achilles tendons after 7 or so miles every. single. time. Sadly, had to move them to the "unwearable" pile.

John Tribbia said...

I found the Karacal has just a little more heel padding, but I didn't experience any blisters in either. My slightly narrow foot fits really well in both (though I did have to size up in the Jackal). Perhaps that extra little padding in the Karacal will alleviate what you feel in the Jackal.

Torin Clark said...

Anonymous user from 1/12/2021 re: the heel blisters...I have the exact. same. problem. Okay until about 7-8 miles and then guaranteed blisters. Otherwise love the Jackal. Praying the Karacal will be mostly the same, but not cause that problem!

. said...

Have the exact same blister problem with the Jackal. Can't even wear them as a work shoe. Hoping someone with the Jackal-problem runs in a pair of the Karacal and posts their results.

Anonymous said...

I'm typically a 9 or 9.5 but wear a 43 in the Akasha, love the fit but certainly wouldn't want it bigger. Any idea how the fit of these shoes compares to the Akasha as both are claimed to have a more roomy toe box. I can't find the Karacal in stock locally so going to have to play the ordering game. It was recommended I size down to a 42.5 in the Lycan 2 wondering if there is any feedback on sizing for these. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Data points from my closet:

Lycan(I): 42.5 (my normal shoe size)
Karacal, Bushido(I), Mutant, Akasha: 43
Kaptiva, Jackal: 43.5

I just got the Karacal and haven't run in them yet, but seems very very similar to Jackal (favorite LS shoe to date), with less supple materials. To be honest, I can't quite figure out why both shoes exist!?

Was hoping more volume would = more width in the Karacal (vs Jackal) but the added height of forefoot is what's most noticeable to me.

Hope that helps!