Looking for some new shoes to take you through the winter months? We might have a suggestion.
By: Roger Burlinson
Up until the autumn of 2018, I’d resisted using shoes with a waterproof liner. I felt that they were just extra weight and unnecessary protection – when you’re walking fast, if your feet get wet that’s just part of the challenge right?
But then I was facing a winter of long training sessions in preparation for my non-stop attempt on the South Downs Way and, all of a sudden, the idea of using lined shoes was much more appealing!
It’s not so much standing water and mud that was the issue, it’s the simple fact that as soon as the season turns towards autumn and then winter, grass remains wet for a hell of a lot longer than it does in the summer and it’s grass that’s the real culprit when it comes to wet feet.
You can find a way around mud and standing water but grass is crafty stuff. It looks so unassuming and clean. It’s often what you seek out to avoid mud and puddles and that’s when it gets you! So, this turncoat decided that with such an important training block ahead, lined shoes were now absolutely the way to go.
I turned to the brand that has served me so well so far – La Sportiva – and opted for the Lycan GTX model, as it seemed to fit my needs the best.
Now, with the exception of a couple of specialist retailers in the UK, if you want to buy La Sportiva mountain running shoes (which the Lycans are) you need to buy online. Prices vary but there are a couple of good online sources or you can buy direct from La Sportiva itself.
When the shoes arrived, I found the pair that I’d ordered were exactly the right size and fitted perfectly. I have had to vary the sizes I’ve bought in the past, as I’ve found a couple of models came up a bit small but the Lycans were spot on. Handling them, they felt more robust and a little heavier than my main ultra shoe – the ‘Akasha’ – but wearing them, they certainly didn’t feel heavy at all, in fact they felt really quite agile.
One quite striking difference to my Akashas, was that the Lycan has quite a pronounced curve on the sole from the middle of the shoe to the front tip. If I were to make an analogy to one of my other sports – Kayaking – I’d say the shoe has more of a ‘rocker’ to it than the Akasha.
The term ‘rocker’ describes the curvature of a kayak or boat hull along its length and this feels like a great term also to describe shoe soles because some are quite flat and others, like the Lycan have quite a pronounced curve. What I found quite quickly with the Lycans, was that the ‘rocker’ made for a really nice rolling action when I walked but it didn’t compromise mid sole stiffness.
Using my Akashas as a benchmark, I’d say the Lycan offers similar stiffness but the additional ‘rocker’ gives the impression of extra flexibility, just without the downside of too much actual flex – toe compression.
I swapped shoes back and forth, again and again but the only discernible difference was the amount of roll in my walking action from the curvature of the Lycan’s sole but this really didn’t worry me because I knew that for the South Downs challenge itself, the slightly flatter walking action of my Akashas would deliver greater comfort over the longer distance.
The outsole has a really aggressive grip, ideal for winter conditions (which this GTX version of the Lycan was designed for), with ‘Sportiva’s excellent ‘breaking zone’ on the heel to give greater confidence on descents. The cushioning felt really nice too – firm enough to prevent ‘moon walk bounce’ but soft enough to protect your feet on rough terrain. Cushioning can be a bit of a tricky thing when using running shoes for walking but I’ve always found that La Sportiva shoes give a perfect balance and don’t feel soft at all.
The upper didn’t feel like it had a waterproof liner, which I found interesting. In some other shoes I’ve looked at, the uppers are quite stiff but the Lycans really didn’t look or feel like a waterproof winter shoe, they just looked like robust and well structured shoes. Yes, they were a little less flexible in the upper than my unlined shoes and yes, the upper was a little thicker but it certainly didn’t feel over engineered.
The Lycan has good padding around the ankle cuff with an excellent achilles grip on the heel and the tongue is nice and thick as well. The Ortholite footbed gave just the right level of padding underfoot and worked well with the shoe’s mid sole cushioning. Lacing was fluid with no resistance from the upper and the shoes wrapped nicely around my feet leaving no gaps or movement at all. It is true that ‘Sportiva shoes are more suited to those of us with narrow feet but the Lycan has a good amount of volume in the toe box, so it’s probably only those with really broad feet who might struggle.
As for the look of the shoe, well you judge for yourself! To my eyes, they’re more demure than other vibrant ‘Sportiva models but they retain those funky design touches that make all their shoes stand out – the diamond embossed side walls of the sole, the bright camouflage patterned outsole and the branding stripped down the sides. I’d chosen the dark green and lime colour because I figured they’d end up pretty cacked up after a long winter on the trails, so bright colours were a bit pointless but they also come in a really nice blue and a few other options.
To me, these shoes look like really nice and very competent light walking shoes more than they do running shoes but looks really are the least important aspect. Performance is everything, so I headed off to the South Downs for a test walk.
Now, I have to confess, in the past, even with my other beloved La Sportiva shoes, I have had to break them in a little bit but usually within one or two walks or some tweaks with insoles etc, they’re ready to go. Not this time.
Straight out of the box, the Lycan’s felt the most comfortable and well fitting shoes I’d bought. I was walking out east from Buriton towards Harting Down and this trail offers a good range of surfaces and some testing climbs, so it was an ideal route to really put the shoes through their paces.
I walked 30k that day and went much further than I’d planned, partly because these shoes were like I’d had them for months. Not only were they comfortable but they were also quite fast, my pace for the session was 8:27/KM. This surprised me a bit because I was expecting a competent shoe that would keep my feet dry, I wasn’t expecting a shoe that felt… well, a bit racy!
And that’s how it stayed. These shoes took me through the whole winter and well into the early summer for all my main trail based training sessions. I only switched back to the Akasha in the last month or so before my South Downs challenge.
I walked about 45k maximum in any one session and I did feel that this was probably about their limit, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as they’re not sold as an ultra shoe. I found them to be excellent shoes for marathon distance walks though and strong training sessions on the trail, on all surfaces.
On the few occasions I encountered rock on the trail, such as on the Purbecks to the west of my base in the New Forest, they gave excellent grip and I’d certainly use them in the Mountains, especially on wilder, wetter trails.
Talking of wetter trails, the GTX Gore liner worked extremely well. My feet have never felt too hot and although I do sometimes feel the faintest hint of water ingress, if I misjudge the depth of a puddle for instance, it never progresses beyond that – just a hint.
What I found interesting as a ‘liner newbie’ was actually the lack of any strong feeling of protection with these shoes at all. They felt breathable like my unlined shoes and there was no sense of them being reinforced in any way. In fact, it was really just the absence of consequence that was the clue to these being different to any other shoe.
You step in a puddle or mud and yes, maybe, you feel a bit of dampness, especially if it goes into the lacing area but almost in an instant your feet just feel warm and dry again. If the weather’s dry and warm, your feet just feel kind of right, they don’t over heat. There are no consequences to what you do with these shoes and that means you don’t think about them being ‘protective’ shoes, you just notice their performance.
And that’s why I’ll be buying another pair when I finally accept Strava’s repeated nagging that it’s time to retire them! I will retire them, when they stop feeling like they did when I took them out of the box. Nearly 700km in and they don’t really feel any different. The lugs on the outsole still look sharp and the shoe’s performance remains great. Who knows how long they’ll go on for!
So, to sum. The Lycan GTX. Not for ultras but for everything else, you won’t need another shoe. I’ll be buying another pair without hesitation.
La Sportiva Lycan GTX – RRP £125.00