Episode 208 of Talk Ultra is a special show with DANIEL FEENEY and Jonathan Wyatt discussing the collaboration between BOA and La Sportiva for the new, Cyklon shoe.
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Italian brand, La Sportiva, take running shoe specialization to the next level with the VK Boa®, a shoe that is specifically designed to go mountain as quickly as possible in the lightest package available.
To understand the shoe, you need to understand its purpose.
The VK in the name refers to Vertical Kilometer® a sport created on the slopes of Monte Rosa in 1994 by Marino Giacometti, the founder and creator of the sport, Skyrunning. Governed by the ISF, the International Skyrunning Federation, the sport is simple in concept – To cover 1000 vertical meters in a course that is less than *5km long with average incline of 20%. Double (2000m) and triple (3000m) VK’s also exist.
Initially created for scientific research the VK concept grew and it has become a staple in the calendar of skyrunning with its own specific calendar and relative world and European champions. Often, a VK would be added on to a race weekend that included another longer race, the Dolomites being a prime example where a VK would take place on Friday and a SkyRace on Sunday. Competitors often do both races. The world record stands at 28-minutes 53-seconds by Philip Goetsch set at one of the steepest VK’s in the world, Fully, which covers the 1000 vertical meters in a course that is only 1.92km long. The finish line is 1500m altitude.
The VK sport was created in Italy and the La Sportiva brand was born in Italy, the synergy between the two is obvious.
To create a specific shoe for VK not only shows the demand, especially in Italy, for such a shoe, but also the enthusiasm for the sport. The 2020 the Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit, managed by SkyMan, was cancelled however, the ISF have confirmed the sport will continue and recently they announced a new 2VK circuit – HERE
La Sportiva VK Boa®
Like track spikes, the VK Boa is a very specific shoe.
It’s all about minimal weight, secure foot hold, grip and a package that turns the eye. I have to say, the classic black/yellow/red of La Sportiva has always appealed and here in the VK Boa® that is taken up a notch to make what I think is a really ‘sexy’ shoe.
The striking look pulls you in and then you pick the shoe up, at sub 200g for a standard UK8 (230g for a UK9.5) this shoe is amazingly light.
The upper is just one seamless sock with a narrow opening from which one inserts the foot. Three wide straps come across the shoe to create the foothold and structure and conventional laces have been removed to be replaced with the Boa® rapid closure system.
A minimal toe bumper offers toe protection.
The outsole is a story of two halves: the front using a black semi-aggressive grip with relatively small lugs (25) the rear has a different configuration in red.
Cushioning, as one would expect is minimal but surprisingly more than I expected.
Drop is 4mm.
The shoe is described as being ‘universal’, but I do feel some support under the arch.
Sizing is true to size.
Firstly, getting one’s foot into the shoe is a little tricky. This shoe is designed like a Formula 1 car and as such, excess is taken away. One you have your foot inside, take time to wiggle your foot, make sure your heel is in the correct place and ensure that you pull the upper up, just like a sock.
There is no tongue. Tightening the shoe is done from the Boa® closure by turning the dial. Do this slowly making sure the laces sit where you want them. Taking time here will ensure a great foothold, particularly on the important Navicular bone.
The heel box is really impressive and rightly so for a shoe that is designed for going uphill. A lack of secure hold at the rear and it would prove really problematic. I’d go as far to say that the VK Boa® has the most secure and tight-fitting heel box of any shoe I have tried.
The toe box area, just like socks, is free of any reinforcement and extremely slipper like. It is not narrow and not wide, but the freedom of movement offered by the bi-elastic mesh would make this shoe work for most people. La Sportiva call it Low Volume which is designed for a tight fit following foot shape.
The outsole is very clever, La Sportiva know that when doing a VK, the front of the shoe is used almost 100% with only occasional use of the shoe rear. The outsole reflects this with two different grips and notably there is ‘rock-guard’ only at the front of the shoe. The outsole is designed to have as many contact points as possible. Frixion Red is a combination of grip, long-lasting wear and shock absorption. VK’s take place on grass, rock, stone, scree, mud and even ice, the outsole does a great job of handling each of the conditions.
The cushioning is compressed EVA and I was surprised how much cushioning was in the shoe, but it is designed for softer ground where the requirement for shock absorption is reduced. Completely understandable for a shoe designed for VK’s.
This is a very specific shoe and as such will have a very reduced market. It’s not a shoe that can-do multiple tasks, having said that, they VK Boa® may work exceptionally well on a short mountain race but downhill support and comfort would be compromised.
This shoe is designed to go up.
Considering that most VK’s are completed in 30-minutes for the elite men, around 35/40 minutes for the elite women and then 60 to 90-minutes for mortals, you get a picture that this shoe needs to be light.
Light they are; super light! They really do fit like gloves and I am still surprised at how well they hold the foot. I have had mixed experiences with Boa® closure systems previously but on this shoe it all clicks together. The Boa® (L6 type) system is a logical closure step allowing the top of the shoe to be free of seams and additional stitching and the three straps, just like in cycling shoes, comes across the foot to create a really superior hold. It’s all about efficiency and it makes a really nice aesthetic.
The shoes are extremely flexible and notably they excel in three areas.
The hold in the heel area is superb, no, it is brilliant! The lack of slipping in the heel area for a shoe designed for going uphill is absolutely crucial and the VK Boa® may well be the best I have tried.
The soft and flexible upper manages to provide enough structure and support but allows the foot to move and bend in the propulsive phase without restriction. Crucial for a VK when pretty much the entire race or run will be undertaken on the front of the shoe.
The outsole is designed for purpose and I love the specific grip and rock-guard just for the front of the shoe where it is needed.
Precise, reactive, great foot hold, excellent proprioception and extremely flexible, the VK Boa® really is beautifully designed for the task it was created for.
This shoe is not for everyone and I applaud La Sportiva for creating such a specific shoe. Light and minimalist, they excel for the designed purpose and there is little to fault.
They look great, the Boa® system is a superb addition to the shoe that maybe is the best use of this product I have seen in a running shoe.
RRP is 170 euro, so, they are not cheap. However, such a specific shoe will have a long life as they will only be used for VK racing or training. More often than not, VK’s are located close or near cable cars, so, the need to run back down is not required. Having said that, if one does need to run down, the VK Boa® does lack some of the structure a conventional run shoe would have, so, that needs to be considered.
If VK’s and going uphill as fast as possible is your think, the La Sportiva VK Boa® are most definitely worth checking out.
Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE
La Sportiva have been making shoes for a long time, 80+ years! So it feels somewhat crazy that it’s only now that I have slipped on a pair of La Sportiva shoes for a test. I travel a great deal, particularly in Italy and it’s fair to say that Italians are loyal to the Italian brand that are based just outside Canazei in the Dolomites. Adding to the irony, I have driven past the La Sportiva factory many times on my way to the Dolomites SkyRace, year after year.
To provide a perspective of the foothold (pun intended) that the brand has in this area, La Sportiva shoes are the ‘norm’ and yes, even Salomon take 2nd place. The brand is that big!
I digress, needless to say, 80+ years of history and a desire to bring technical footwear to consumers so we can enjoy the playground is the heritage that La Sportiva trade on.
The BUSHIDO shoe (which means way of the warrior) is not a new shoe, not at all. But it is a popular shoe and one that I have been recommended time and time again. So, finally I took the plunge and grabbed a pair.
Like all shoes, different colour ways are available and the BUSHIDO comes in a pretty cool looking black and yellow. I unfortunately got a pair of turquoise and orange (?) – not my favourite colours. Oh vanity…
The BUSHIDO doesn’t look light and at 300g (give or take) they are certainly at the heavier end of shoes that I wear. But then again, everything is relative, this shoe looks like it means business and therefore, as in the way of the warrior, maybe the build quality and weight needs to reflect that?
Slipping the shoe on I was really surprised with the hold the shoe had on my foot. It has a gusseted tongue which La Sportiva call an ‘Internal Slip-On Construction’ and I have to say that the BUSHIDO comes close to Salomon’s ‘Endofit’ as witnessed on the ‘Sense’ range for example. This is a huge compliment to the La Sportiva shoe. I test and wear shoes all the time and Salomon is still the benchmark in terms of how a shoe holds a foot.
Standing up things didn’t feel right? I did my usual walk around, flex the forefoot, bounce around a little and then I stopped. I asked myself the question internally, ‘are these shoes neutral and what is the drop?’
I checked – 6mm drop and neutral.
After running over 100 miles in these shoes I still really question these facts. The BUSHIDO for me does not feel neutral. Actually, I would almost go as far to say that they have a pretty aggressive arch support. I noticed it immediately and the more I ran in the shoes, the more I noticed it.
A 6mm drop should have had me feeling comfortable mid to forefoot striking but no, I felt as though the heal of the shoe was getting in the way. I haven’t had a low drop shoe feel this way before. It may well come from the 13mm to 19mm cushioning at the front and the rear? Yes, the BUSHIDO is a cushioned shoe. The Scott Kinabalu Supertrac (for example) has plenty of cushioning, loads of grip and an 8mm drop and they feel considerably ‘lower’ than the BUSHIDO. I use 8mm drop day-to-day and for long runs and I regularly use and run in 4mm drop for shorter/ faster sessions. However, the BUSHIDO never felt like a 6mm drop. I have found it difficult to pinpoint why but at all times I felt the heel was too pronounced.
Running at first felt somewhat awkward and cumbersome with the shoe lacking flex and feel. It’s rare these days that shoe feels so stiff out of the box. I thought, a few runs and they will soften up. They never did…
I have to say, I was on a slippery slope. I had waited to try the BUSHIDO for quite some time and with every run I was realising that I disliked them more and more.
The build quality is somewhat bullet proof: good toe protection in a TPU toe cap, a dual density compressed rock guard in the midsole, a TPU shank and IPS (impact brake system) and my conclusion? This shoe is completely over engineered and just doesn’t allow me to feel or enjoy the trail in a way that a good shoe should. For a ‘neutral’ shoe I felt as though I was being ‘guided’ with every foot strike as though my mind and my foot were saying, ‘let’s do this’ and then the BUSHIDO would step in and shout at me, ‘NO – YOU ARE DOING THIS!’
This relationship wasn’t going to last.
The outsole is unique with round edges and has two different sections, black and white. In simple terms it’s two different compounds that provide grip on a multitude of surfaces. This works well on dry trail, rocks and gnarly terrain and they grip well on wet rock. However, the outsole won’t handle mud – it’s just not aggressive enough. The black compound is sticky and grips whereas the white compound is more durable provide traction for off camber and irregular trail. Underneath all this you may well just see a flicker of blue? This is the rock plate which protects you (and your foot) from anything sharp, irregular or nasty. Like I said this shoe is bullet proof but all of the above and 13/19mm cushioning make for an unresponsive shoe which lacks feel.
The TPU cradle adds to the problem. This cradle wraps up into the midsole and holds the foot firm. It provides a cradle which the foot sits in. This for me is not really a ‘neutral’ shoe. I want my foot to be free and neutral – not guided.
In the rear of the shoe you can see a little orange piece of plastic which is called ‘STB Control’ – again, the word ‘control’ – I think you are beginning to realise that the BUSHIDO is fighting me and my feet. Also at the rear is another cage like system that holds my heel. More stability, more support designed to hold the foot and stop it rolling or losing control.
The upper is soft and breathable and as I mentioned has the gusseted fit which really is the high point of the shoe. There are no seams so you could, if you wish, go sockless. The tongue is slightly padded adding to the comfort and should you really want to pull your laces tight, this will add some additional protection.
On the sides of the upper there is some reinforcement going into the lace zone and the lace section is additionally reinforced allowing laces to be pulled as tight or as loose as possible. This area follows the theme of the shoe in my opinion – stability, reinforcement and guiding.
The heel cup is tight and secure and is too high potentially causing an issue on the achilles. My left heel rubbed on run one and continued to rub on every run after causing me to add some protection for the test runs.
The toe box has a narrower and more precision fit which works really well for me. The BUSHIDO is designed for the mountains and I don’t want my toes moving left to right when I need reassurance. Of course, if you need a wider toe box this may well not suit you so make sure you try them. Toe protection is excellent.
I wear a UK9.5 and these shoes were true to size. I think it would be easy to think that the BUSHIDO sizes small on first impressions but I would say no! The shoe is designed to fit and hold your foot and so therefore, my advice would be start off with like-for-like sizes and see how you get on.
In conclusion, I have to say that the BUSHIDO and myself just didn’t get on. The shoe has loads of pluses, in particular the sock like fit. On paper I should have liked the shoe – 6mm drop and neutral fit rings all the correct bells. But no! The BUSHIDO at all times felt over engineered, too supportive, lacking feel and I have to say, of all the shoes I have tested in the last few years, this is one shoe that I won’t go back to.
But, many runners out there like this shoe so maybe I am the odd one out? If you are looking for a durable shoe, with loads of protection, a low ‘ish’ drop and plenty of security and guidance – this is the shoe for you… the BUSHIDO does all these things well, maybe too well?
Specs from La Sportiva
UpperAirMesh/ Thermal Adhesive Microfiber/ High Frequency Welded Ripstop/ TPU Toe Cap
With performance driven design, the Bushido is perfect for technical terrain and provides added stability over stones, roots and branches on the trail. The “STB Control” construction utilizes a TPU frame that wraps under foot to provide maximum stability, responsiveness, and reduce overall weight.
Internal slip-on construction fits the foot like a sock without causing excessive pressure.
Outsole lugs have rounded edges and wrap over the midsole to provide added traction and enhance stability on off camber terrain.
Great video here showing the terrain, climbing ability and descending ability of some of the best Skyrunners in the world. In particular, make sure you take note about 12-min in, this is why Kilian Jornet is the best in the world; look at his speed!