Everyone loves talking about gear. It can be a bit of an obsession. A piece of gear that I haven’t really given any thought to in a long time, though, is shoes – and this is because I’ve found my holy grail pair. Enter the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor. If I’m completely honest, I don’t even know how many pairs of these I’ve gone through anymore, but I started wearing them in 2012, and they have been my shoe of choice over many hundreds of miles. They’ve covered the Colorado Trail, the Colorado section of the Continental Divide Trail, 200 miles across Norway, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Great Divide Trail with me. Needless to say, I love them!
One of the bigger complaints I hear about this shoe is that it’s heavy – and perhaps it is, for a trail runner. As I use them almost exclusively as a hiking/backpacking shoe, the 1lb 50z that my pair of 39’s weighs in at doesn’t feel cumbersome at all. I especially value them when I get myself into some off trail, talus-strewn, or scramble-y situations, where the bit more beef that this shoe boasts really starts to excel.
Overall, it’s a La Sportiva model, so most folks find that they will upsize about a 1/2 size for this shoe over what they typically wear. This is common with the Italian brands, but good to know if you’re trying to buy sight unseen. It also runs just a smidge on the wide side. The heel cup is fantastic, locking my heel in place nicely, especially if I do a quick different lacing system. The upper is very flexible, allowing it to wrap around the foot without causing friction. Like most lightweight hikers and trail runners, this shoe is great right out of the box – no need to break it in.
For references sake, I measure a US women’s 6-6.5 and a B/C width – my normal hiking size in this shoe is a 38, and I go for a 39 while thru-hiking. Occasionally, I have had to do a different lacing pattern across my instep – I have a high instep and wear custom footbeds, meaning that when my foot is swollen from a thru-hike, I sometimes need to skip crossing the lace directly over the top of my instep.
This shoe excels at comfort! With its fairly cushioned sole (28mm in the heel and 19mm in the toe) and a nylon shank, my feet stay happy in these all day long, day-in and day-out. The sole is very protective, so I can hike all day on rugged terrain without aching, yet also sensitive enough that I can still “feel” what I’m walking on, making it easy to navigate techy terrain. The nylon shank also offers incredible torsional stability – helping prevent rolled ankles.
I reliably get anywhere from 400-700 miles with these shoes – the variance coming from how rough the terrain I am traveling through. The more off-trail and/or talus-strewn the terrain, the less long the shoes will last for me. For example, on the Colorado Trail, which is roughly 500 miles of beautiful trail, I can finish with one pair of shoes that have just a bit of life left in them at the finish. On the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico, I got 700 miles, with a significant portion of that being on dirt road, two track, or easy overland travel. On the Great Divide Trail, where I covered 750 miles, I used two pairs, and both were beat up pretty bad. This mostly came from the uppers – too much post-holing through mud and scree wears down the uppers pretty fast. The sole is also a very sticky rubber composite, so it would not be an ideal shoe to wear on pavement, as it would wear down the lugs pretty fast. Some people (including my husband) have a problem of the laces fraying and coming unsheathed, but for whatever reason, I have not had that issue.
I absolutely love the traction of these babies. This is due to several things: first, La Sportiva uses a very sticky rubber, so they stick exceptionally well, especially on smooth, dry rock. The Ultra Raptor also sports a very rugged outsole – the lugs are quite deep, and multi-directional, leading to solid traction. The only type of terrain where these are a bit slick (and honestly, most footwear struggles here), is smooth, wet rock, though they do excel in stream crossings, offering stable footing. On the stream crossing note – of course these are not waterproof (though La Sportiva does make a GTX version with GORE-TEX that I tend to find a bit tighter across my instep). They often stay surprisingly dry when splashing through shallow puddles, but when they get wet, the expanse of mesh does allow them to dry, so I don’t fret wet feet. (And my feet were wet every day on the Great Divide Trail – so were people’s who had boots, as we had many deep river crossings – but it’s a matter of managing wet feet.)
Overall, if this shoe fits your foot, I highly recommend it for long runs in the mountains (though I don’t run, I have friends who love this shoe for it), hikers looking for a lightweight hiking shoe, and of course, weekend or longdistance backpackers (I just don’t recommend the pack being much more than 40lbs, at that point, you might want more of a mid).