La Sportiva Helios 2 ReviewJune 10, 2016
- Excellent responsiveness and turnover
- Grips well on rock
- Limited protection underfoot
- Upper breathes and drains poorly
The La Sportiva Helios 2 is one of those trail shoes that seems to defy conventional logic. Both the upper materials and the midsole foam have a level of softness and flexibility that almost feels pampering and therapeutic on the foot. What’s surprising is, while most shoes that feel this soft also tend to be mushy and unresponsive, the Helios responds quite nicely to faster running, particularly on the flats. This makes for a very versatile shoe that can handle a wide variety of speeds and distances. The Helios is less responsive on climbs, however, due to energy loss caused by a lack of stiffness. Traction was generally excellent except on steep, graveled surfaces.
The major challenges with the Helios are its lack of underfoot protection and marginal stability on highly technical terrain. Because the midsole is so soft, push through protection is almost non-existent. Therefore this is not a shoe for rocky trails unless speeds are quite low. Another consequence of the soft midsole is reduced stability during hard, aggressive cornering. There simply isn’t enough rigidity to keep the foot from continuing to move relative to the shoe after the shoe contacts the ground.
The Helios will appeal to runners looking for a versatile, daily trainer to use on groomed trail and other smooth surfaces. It also would make an excellent racing shoe for less technical courses. The Helios is probably not the best choice for heavier runners or those doing significant miles on rugged terrain. And definitely go up half a size if not a whole size.
The overall comfort of the Helios is one of its stand-out characteristics. The upper material is very soft and flexible, and the padded tongue helps to lessen lace pressure over the top of the foot. Underneath, the mid- and outsole materials are both wonderfully soft without being mushy. Note that the shoe definitely runs small, and going up half a size or even a full size would be prudent.
The Helios is a much faster running shoe than the cushioning would suggest. The midsole material offers a surprising amount of response at higher speeds, and the lighter weight assists both turnover and precision foot placement. Although the heel-to-toe drop is fairly low, the Helios actually runs like it has a more aggressive profile.
Security of Fit
The overall softness of the Helios makes a secure fit somewhat hard to achieve. The upper material lacks the stiffness necessary to resist rotational motion. This is compounded by the softness of the footbed, which effectively compresses out from beneath the foot and thereby allows separation between the top of the foot and the upper. These issues were most noticeable on highly technical trail, however, and the security of the fit was more than adequate for typical groomed single track.
Although the overall weight of the shoe is light enough to facilitate quick foot placement, the overall softness of the shoe makes the Helios a bit challenging on technical trail. The midsole material tends to compress unevenly during hard cornering, which is not only a waste of energy but actually quite distracting at times because it forces the runner to pay attention to what the rear foot is doing, rather than where the forward foot is going.
The Helios was surprisingly responsive at moderate to faster speeds on flat and rolling terrain. This definitely seems to be a sweet spot for the midsole material. The shoe did sometimes feel over-compressed during faster running on hard surfaces – rock, pavement – but this did not seem to be an issue on trail. On climbs, however, there is simply too much overall flexibility in the shoe to provide much energy return.
Protection is definitely the weak spot of the shoe. The upper is sufficiently padded enough to provide protection against rocks, branches, and other trail hazards, but push through protection is marginal at best. This is definitely not a shoe for rocky trails.
To conduct our lightweight trail running shoe test, test director Jacob Waltz recruited multiple testers to use these shoes over a solid period of testing. All of the shoes were put through 50-100 miles of rigorous testing on technical single track, paved dirt roads, and some mixed pavement.