Friday, December 04, 2020

La Sportiva Karacal Multi Tester Review

Article by John Tribbia and Jeff Valliere

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

Jeff V:  Stable, protective both underfoot and upper, fit/security, traction


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

Jeff V:  Firm ride

Tester Profiles

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.

Jeff runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 


Weight: men's 10.37 oz/ 294g   (US9)

Samples: men’s: 10.37 oz/ 294g   (288g left,, 301g right) US9, 10.9 oz / 310 grams 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. 

Jeff V:  The Karacal has a very familiar look, style and build, and is very reminiscent of many La Sportiva shoes I have run in the past, and is particularly similar in appearance to the Jackal, though this is a very different shoe.  The Karacal has a very similar, if not the same outsole and midsole as the Jackal, but with a completely different upper that I find to fit much more “normal” and which is more accommodating in the forefoot.  Fit is true to size for me.


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.

Jeff V: John describes the upper very well and I agree with him on all points.  The upper is pleasingly well ventilated, secure, without feeling confining and while in comparison to most shoes, the forefoot is not notably generous, it is relatively generous for a La Sportiva and has just enough room for splay, swell and just a bit more relaxed, while maintaining very good foothold throughout.


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.

Jeff V:  The midsole has a firm feel and while the cushioning is not particularly plush, does not necessarily feel harsh either and is best suited for those runs on more rocky, technical terrain where protection and stable predictability under foot are more important than a soft plush ride.  Response is minimal, as they do not feel particularly quick or lively, so the Karacal in my opinion is best suited for more moderately paced efforts, or even somewhat quicker efforts in technical 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 

Jeff V:  I found the Frixion AT2 outsole to be competent and adept in a very wide variety of terrain, wet or dry, rocky slab, loose dirt, packed dirt, off trail, snow and ice due to an efficient tread pattern, tread shape and rubber compound.  For having such low profile lugs, they are remarkably well designed and particularly effective on just about any surface.  Durability thus far has been very good, with very minimal signs of wear despite the rough and rocky terrain I frequent, which is testament to the purpose of this shoe.


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. 

Jeff V:  John again nails it, as the ride here is dreamy for rough rocky trails, rock gardens, talus hopping, steep off trail, anything beyond the casual terrain, the Karacal is a protective, predictable, stable and firm delight.  For more spirited, higher paced running on buffed out terrain, dirt roads or pavement, the firmness of the Karacal and less than lively outsole is not ideal, but is fine for short stints.

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)

Jeff V:  The Karacal has become one of my favorite La Sportivas and in my opinion, is much better than the Jackal, which I think has mostly to do with the better fit.  They are best suited for mountain terrain, excelling on moderate to rough terrain, with amazing protection, stability, predictability, traction and with a bit more of an accommodating fit for those longer days or those with slightly wider feet or those looking for just a touch of extra room for foot swell and splay.  I would recommend for long days in the mountains, preferably if the terrain is rugged, but for faster running over longer distances that is less technical, I might look to the Akasha 2.

Score: 9.3/10

Ride: 9 - Firm, but appropriately so for rough mountain terrain

Fit: 9 - Perhaps better than any La Sportiva to date, secure with a bit of space

Value: 9 - A fair price for a durable, competent, versatile shoe

Style: 9.5 - I love the look

Traction: 10 - Best in class, impressive for its versatility on a wide range of terrain

Rock Protection: 10 - Nothing comes close to poking through the Karacal


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. 

Jeff V: The Jackal just didn’t do it for me. I think much of the issue was the fit for me and I just never really found it all that comfortable or all that stable.  Even though the Karacal looks similar and in many ways is similar, it has a much better fitting upper that changes the entire character of the shoe for the better.  I’ll continue to run in the Karacal, but have not run in the Jackal since I finished my review way back when.

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. 

Jeff V: John says it exactly right and I agree that the Bushido 2 feels a bit more cushioned and might be a bit better for longer days because of it.  Both are very competent in rough terrain and have very good traction.

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. 

Jeff V: Agree with John 100%, nothing new to add.

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. 

Salomon Sense Ride 4 (RTR Review

Jeff V: Similar feelings to John on the SR3, but the Karacal for me has overall better protection and traction, making it my choice for more rugged all mountain excursions with talus and off trail, where I may reserve the SR4 for more moderate trails.

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.

Jeff V:  Exactly what John said.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content.

The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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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!