La Sportiva are a significant player in the field of trail and fell running shoes and they are a brand I have probably neglected in my efforts to provide a broad overview of reviews. Until now, the only La Sportiva shoe I’ve tested was the Anakonda which came close to being brilliant with it’s excellent sticky outsole and sturdy upper but was frustratingly let down by a heel collar that shredded my Achilles to pieces. If ever there was a shoe that could benefit massively from a couple of relatively minor updates then that was it.
This may seem like a digression from today’s review but one of my main motivations in testing the new Helios SR is that it sports a variation of La Sportiva’s awesome ‘Friction’ rubber and this was something that really stood out for me when I ran in the Anakonda. The Helios is a moderately cushioned and minimally inclined shoe with a 2mm drop on a highly flexible platform with an outsole design that will most likely lend itself towards summer trail and dry mountain use for UK runners.
Resplendent in La Sportiva’s trademark black and yellow colour scheme, the Helios SR looks smart, slick and ready to run fast. There is some nice attention to detail in the design of the upper with intelligent usage of durable materials in high-wear areas and lighter, more flexible materials in areas where breathability and comfort are key. The Helios features neat, welded overlays and a nice burly toe rand which, unlike some of it’s competitors, wraps around the full width of the toebox with no obvious unprotected areas.
At 256g for my UK size 10, the Helios is almost 20g lighter than the Salomon Sense 4 Ultra which to me, seems likely to be one of the shoes competitors given their similar-ish specifications. I find this weight really quite impressive considering the cushioning levels and sturdy-looking upper and I think that along with the grippy outsole, this will be one of it’s primary selling points.
The Helios offers a lot of flexibility relative to the levels of cushioning and is not dissimilar to the excellent Altra Superior in this respect. This flexibility is thanks to the pocketed outsole / midsole design which provides multiple flex points and potentially, a bit of extra grip over soft ground. I love a flexible shoe but I find that my feet require a bit more support for extra long outings so I probably wouldn’t be using the Helios for runs lasting much more than two hours or so.
To me, one of the more curious things about the shoe is the decision to go with a 2mm drop which seems a little odd from a marketing perspective. In my opinion, 2mm doesn’t quite fit into the ‘mainstream’ low drop category which seems to be dominated by shoes with offsets of around 4-6mm but it also won’t appease hardcore zero drop fans. In reality, I think this means less when the shoe is on your foot than it does on a spec sheet and I’m sure the Helios could work perfectly well for plenty of runners from both segments but I could imagine that some potential customers might perceive otherwise.
Referring back to the Anakonda (again), I was overall fairly positive about the fit but found the toe box a bit on the pointy side. My first impression of the Helios was that it might have similar characteristics (certainly looks a bit pointy) but whilst the medial side of the toe box tapers a little sharper than I would like, the fit is actually really good and offers a good balance of security in the midfoot, comfort and snugness around the forefoot without mashing the toes too much. It’s not quite Salomon Sense-level precision but it’s pretty impressive all the same. Thankfully the heel collar is very nicely padded with no abrasion points, the heel counter is moderately supportive but comfortable and accommodating whilst the gusseted tongue is nicely cushioned and stitched into the footbed for extra security, a-la Salomon Endofit. The lacing design provides lots of easy and quick adjustment for different foot volumes….All very good stuff.
Sizing wise, I found the that I had to go up half a size from what I would usually take in an Inov-8 but the same as I would wear in a Salomon.
When it comes down to it, the formula for building a good trail / fell running shoe comes down to a relatively small number of factors. You essentially need to have appropriate levels of security, comfort, protection, cushioning, durability, stability and grip for the conditions that the shoe is primarily designed to be used in. Getting all of these right is no easy task but it’s still quite surprising how often I find that a shoe excels in most of them but then falls down dramatically in a couple of key areas. The Helios SR is an example of a shoe which, in my opinion, performs very well across the board with only a couple of minor blips which are balanced out by another really excellent feature. First of all, dealing with the little niggles:
Blip number one is what I consider to be a slight imbalance between the levels of protection and cushioning offered by the midsole / outsole. The injected EVA midsole offers quite a reasonable level of cushioning which I would describe as feeling neither hard nor soft but smack in the middle. The imbalance comes in the areas where the midsole and outsole is cut away for the flexibility grooves as the EVA is pretty thin, leaving them a bit quite vulnerable to pointy objects despite the rock protection insert. I get that they are designed to be minimal and suspect that many runners who are interested in a shoe like this will be fairly unperturbed by being prodded by rocks from time to time but I would usually expect the protection levels to be more closely proportionate to the cushioning.
Blip number two is the fact that although the security of fit is generally very good, I noticed that the upper does seem to soften up a bit and offer less support when soaked through. Again, I don’t consider this to be a big concern as they are primarily a dry conditions shoe and they drain and dry out quickly.
As I had hoped, the area where the Helios SR really excels is in the grip department as the wonderful sticky outsole does a great job of adhering to surfaces where their competitors often flounder, such as wet rock and slippery roots. Performance on moderate mud and wet grass is also better than you might expect for a shoe with such small lugs and I could imagine that they would work especially well if you wanted to mix up running with a bit of scrambling (I haven’t had the opportunity to do that type of thing so far this year boo). Inevitably, some durability may well be lost at the expense of this stickiness but that is an entirely worthy compromise in my view.
Speaking more generally, I found that the Helios felt equally at home on fire roads as it does on steep and technical terrain demonstrating impressive stability and comfort. Whilst conceived as a racing shoe, to me they offer equal versatility for training and trotting around at a steady pace as they do for faster running. The cushioning level is such that I could imagine that runners who are used to wearing shoes with a slightly higher drop could still tolerate the 2mm Helios and to me, they almost feel as though they have a little bit more of an offset than this.
Overall, the Helios SR is a very good shoe and I found no significant floors with the performance or design and plenty of plus-points. La Sportiva are the kings of sticky outsoles and some of their competitors (I’m looking at you Salomon) could gain a lot from examining their rubber compounds. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, off-road runners are sometimes literally putting their lives in the hands of the grip levels offered by their shoes so consistent performance in this area is hugely important and the Helios SR absolutely nails it. The price is perhaps a little on the steep side at the full RRP of £100 but they are undoubtedly a quality product and you can find them at discounted rates at a number of the big retailers.
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