The VK is a race ready shoe, as long as that race is a VK (vertical kilometer). This shoe knows what it was made for and it does it very well. This is a fast shoe for a very specific purpose—going up.
The La Sportiva VK is a very unique shoe, with a very specific purpose. By calling it the VK (Vertical Kilometer), La Sportiva isn’t hiding their intentions. This shoe is made to go uphill and to go uphill fast. Whether that is running a VK or scrambling up a rock face, this shoe can handle it. What it cannot handle is regular trail running. It objects to going downhill unless you are totally bombing it and really struggles on switchbacks or loose surfaces. It has a very unique design with its one-piece, booty upper. It is snug getting your foot in and is fairly low volume. The lacing system also takes some getting used to since it wraps around the heel and ties at the side. I believe the laces are meant to be tied once and then you can slip the shoe on and off.
The VK is a race ready shoe. It is not meant to handle everyday training or very high mileage. Most VK races are 5k-10k in distance and that where this shoe is most comfortable. It could possibly go up to a half marathon if need be. That being said, this shoe is excellent for what its intended purpose is. However, it is still a surprisingly comfortable shoe. The upper breathes well and moved with our tester’s feet. The midsole is firm but, not rock hard and when running efficiently feels really good. The rock plate provides excellent protection and response, and has a nice snappy feel to it.
While most companies are attempting to appeal to the masses by making well rounded, general purpose trail shoes, La Sportiva has continued their tradition of making very good but very specific mountain shoes. If your needs fit the skill set of this shoe, you really cannot go wrong with it. It is lightweight, nimble and grips incredibly well.
It should also be noted that there is not a women’s version of this shoe. All testers were men and it is cut as a men’s shoe. Sizing does go down to a women’s 7 so most women could wear it.
Like a traditional lightweight trail shoe, the La Sportiva VK is built with speed and short distances in mind and not so much comfort. That being said, the upper is completely one piece with a very unique lacing system that wraps around the heel. The upper is very comfortable and flexible and the sock like construction is great. It is a very snug fit that will not accommodate a wide or high volume foot well. The midsole is very firm but is fairly flexible. It also runs a bit short, even by La Sportiva standards. Since this shoe is called the VK, it is made for going uphill and not down, so toes jamming into the front seems to not have been taken into account.
The VK is very fast, in a straight line, and especially uphill. The midsole is firm and responsive with great ground feel. There is a carbon fiber rock plate that really adds a snappy toe off. Most people, especially here in the US, don’t regularly race VK’s so when used on varying terrain this shoe struggles. The grip is excellent but not on downhill switchbacks or on sandy, soft trails.
Security of Fit
This shoe fits very securely. So securely most people may not be able to comfortably wear it. Since the upper is all one piece, you cannot slip out and even loosely tied there is not much lateral movement. With it’s lacing style, it is hard to get it really tight, but once you trust it to hold your foot, you realize you don’t have to tie it as tight as you normally would. Another feature that takes some getting used to it tightening it behind your heel. This gives it a very customizable fit, and very secure fit, which makes sense since it is designed to go uphill and the last thing you would want is to have your heel slip.
The VK is both very agile, and also not at all. Going uphill and either bouncing from rock to rock or dancing around obstacles, it really is great. The rubber is soft enough to grip and the tread pattern is made for uphill and lateral movements. But the lugs are not very deep which is part of the reason why on descents, downhill switchbacks and loose terrain, it really struggles. On a typical trail it is just hard to trust it to stick. If you are brave enough to stay up on your toes and really bomb a downhill it can work well, just don’t expect the shoe to help you break.
This is probably the VK’s strongest category. It is easy to get up on your toes and it is always ready to go fast. The midsole is firm and that gives it great ground feel and feedback which really helps to make a shoe responsive. Also the carbon plate also acts as a propulsion plate. You can really feel the shoe snap on toe off and can feel that help push you forward. Getting up on your toes to climb is absolutely necessary and this shoe really helps that.
Protection is probably about what you expect from a shoe like this. Underfoot protection is very good thanks to the carbon rock plate and firm midsole. But, there isn’t a lot underfoot so you feel some rocks. The toe bumper is great. It is the same as on the La Sportiva Lycan which is exactly what you want out of toe bumper, effective but not obstructive. The upper provides almost no protection since there are no overlays and it is very thin. The upper does come up fairly high up to the ankle which really helps with keeping debris out, almost like a built in gaiter.
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HOW WE TESTED
Out testing spans the course of several months. Our testers spend a few weeks running at least 50 miles (typically much more) in each shoe. They live all over the country so each shoe can be put through our testing protocol in a variety of terrains and conditions. Each tester is encouraged—to the best of their ability—to test the shoes in as many different terrain environments as possible: in the mountains, on dirt roads, buffed single track, technical terrain, etc. In addition to varying terrain, our testers have to test each shoe at different efforts including a long run, easy running and fast running. As mentioned above we test for six different criteria: comfort, speed, security of fit, agility, responsiveness and protection.