Monday 3 December 2012

Shoe Review: La Sportiva Crosslite XC

As the upper in my previous right trail shoe decreased its attachment to the lower portion of the shoe, I started to look out for a new model and brand.  Nic has been quite happy in her choice of La Sportiva Crosslites for several hundred miles, but when I tried a pair, the fit wasn't really what I was looking for.  I've been wearing Inov-8s since 2008, which makes it tough for anything new to get past the "first impression" test. I liked the upper and the rock plate, but something wasn't quite "right".  So, when I had the opportunity to try on a pair of Crosslite XC at the Snowdonia Marathon mini-expo, I took the chance and was pleasantly surprised.  The next thing I knew, I had a pair of shoes tucked under the wardrobe waiting for the untimely demise of my Roclites.

After my trip to the Wrekin last month, the time had finally come to try something new.  Carrying my new shoes in my backpack, I ran for my favourite proving ground - Bredon Hill.  My preferred approach up the hill begins with a steady track around a ploughed field, carries on through a firm pasture, slogs through a load of boggy muck, up a wetland that was like a shallow stream after all the rain, up a limestone track, and along a path that alternates between grass, slippery roots, mud, and rock.  Then it's a nice circuit of the hill and back down.  In a little over 7 miles, this route offers a fantastic mix of terrains and textures to test out a new pair of shoes.

The Crosslite XC is a light shoe (less than 280g in size 9) with a breathable upper, aggressive outsole, and lace gaiter.  Thankfully, the bright yellow mellows quickly once you hit the mud.

La Sportiva Crosslite XC - "Before"
The first thing you notice when you put on the Crosslite XC is that you can't get to the bottom of your laces.  Adjusting the tension requires an old-fashioned tug on the ends and some hope that you'll get it right.  It took a few tries, especially with cold fingers (I'd had a nice, if very cold, road run to reach my testing ground).  After a couple of stops, I got the laces right and was able to tuck them into the gaiter.  The gaiter comes up high enough to provide a good anti-muck layer above the most vulnerable grit access point, but not quite far enough to allow you to completely hide the knots.  Being able to tuck away the loops in the laces should help to keep the shoes from being untied by running through long grass, but the knots still get caked with mud as you find with any other shoe that needs to be tied.

The rubberized toe box and reinforced upper proved suitably robust against the various rocks, sticks, and roots I encountered on my way.  My feet kept reasonably dry when running through small amounts of mud, and the shoes seemed to drain quickly when I went through anything particularly deep.  I never felt like the shoe was holding an unnecessary amount of the water I was running through.

Widely-spaced lugs, angled to support ascending and descending.
The Crosslite XC is billed as an aggressive fell and trail shoe, designed for wet and slippery conditions.  The outsole bears out the description.  The lugs are angled in all directions to support forward motion - the outer lugs on the forefoot are angled to resist sliding away from the centre line, the main forefoot lugs are angled to grip and pull through as you go up hill and to push mud away as you go down hill, and at the back you can see the lugs turned around, so they offer extra grip as your heel digs into the shifting earth/scree on a messy descent.  The "FriXion" rubber compound is a soft rubber, ideal for wet rock.  The grip on wet limestone descents was unexpectedly good, comparing quite favourably to the popular Inov-8 Mudclaw. The harder sole on the standard Crosslite is not quite as sticky across wet rock, but wears well on the road sections of a route - I'm not sure how long the XC will cope with the inevitable road running between trails, but the extra stability on wet limestone is worth it on my local trails.  I felt incredibly well connected to the ground on my descent through wet leaves, rock, roots, and grass, with good grip throughout.

The rock plate and rigid sole provided excellent protection from the occasional sharp rock, but the difference  from the incredible flexibility I normally have in my shoes may take some getting used to.  I can think of several races over the past year when I would have loved the extra protection, so I'll be breaking myself in as quickly as possible.
They wash up well in running water, and don't keep it with you  once you carry on.
Towards the end of my run, I tested the built-in gaiters with a knee-deep mis-step.  Very little filth got into the shoe, which made a nice change from my previous pair.  I did manage to sweep some grit into the shoes as I washed off the mud in a stream, but nothing more than could be expected with the vigour of my swishing about.  Happily, the shoes also released the water as I ran, so there was no squelching after just a field or two.

As I sat to change back into road shoes for the 10K run home from the test, I encountered an unexpected bonus.  Although I hadn't really noticed the fit once I got the lace tension right, the Crosslite XC heel box fits me perfectly, with no slipping.  My feet typically tear out the heel box cushioning in all of my shoes, but these gripped in just the right places - to the extent that I struggled to get the slimy things off my very wet feet!

In summary, the Crosslite XC is an excellent fell shoe, great for wet and slippery conditions, with a great fit.  It handles rough terrain as well as its better-known rivals, and feels like it will last a bit longer.  It seems like La Sportiva are phasing it out (I can't find it on their website any more), so it's worth stocking up before they disappear entirely.  That said, based on my experience so far, I'd happily consider any new light-weight replacement the manufacturers come out with.

Mid-life update: 
It's nearing the end of February, and I've put nearly 200 miles on these shoes, so I thought it useful to update the review. Mostly, I have been running in mud - up muddy hills, down muddy hills, through wet and muddy fields.  The longest I've spent in the shoes is around 6.5 hours.  They really do drain well. I've managed 1 dry run in that time, and the shoes held up well.  My feet didn't get too hot, but I must say that after 20 miles, I was feeling a bit battered by the combination of already-tired feet, minimal cushioning and the fairly rigid sole.  I'm quite happy to run on a minimally cushioned shoe, but I would have liked a bit more freedom for my feet for a run of that distance given the amazing lack of soft ground on that day.  

As with nearly every shoe I've worn this winter, I am seeing some heavy wear around the toe box.  But, unlike my Inov-8s, I haven't had any holes developing in the Crosslite XC.  The fabric is pretty robust.  The test will be whether it separates from the sole after another hundred miles.  So far, the signs are that the shoe will last well.

I still think this is a top-notch shoe, but I can't see wearing it for any of the 8-12 hour events I've got coming up in the spring.  But, since that's not what the shoe is designed for, I won't complain about that!

No comments:

Post a Comment