For the minimalist runner that is looking for a trail running shoe that provides a small heel to toe drop while allowing for protection under foot, the Vertical K is the shoe for you. Weighing in at 6.9 oz., this shoe will keep you fast and light without sacrificing performance. For traction, the Vertical K has an extremely sticky rubber compound, Frixion XF, made by La Sportiva that provides amazing grip on rocky surfaces and technical terrain.
For the trail racer that wants to shave every ounce possible on race day, without sacrificing performance, the Vertical K will keep your feet on the trail while keeping you light and fast.
- Lightweight one piece wrap over upper
- Reinforced heel loop that doubles as a harness clip point
- Dynamic Race Last
- Medium – Wide Fit
- AirMesh / Nylon 4-way stretch gaiter
- PU Leather external toe cap
- Mesh Lining (back half and tongue only)
- MorphoDynamic Injection Molded EVA Midsole
- Midsole 35A Cushioning
- MorphoDynamic FriXion XF / VA Wave Outsole
- European sizes from 36-47.5 in half sizes
- Measured Size
- Weight – 208 g (7.3 oz)
- Stack Height – 18 mm (heel), 14 mm (toe), 4 mm drop
- Forefoot width – 100.4 mm (4.0 in)
- Retail – $115
La Sportiva has been making mountain running shoes for years now. Popular with the ultra running crowd, I tried my first pair in the winter with my review of the C-Lite 2.0’s which I reviewed for the site. They were a good shoe that felt like they could take on nearly any off-road terrain. On the other hand, the Vertical K is the most minimalist shoe La Sportiva has made to date.
For those that do not know much about La Sportiva. They are footwear, ski, and now clothing maker out of the Dolomites in Italy. They have been making technical footwear to explore the outdoors for over 80 years now. Their company is interesting in that it is still focused around the same small town where it began and continues to support over 140 families. La Sportiva has been family run for all 80 years as experience has been passed down from generation to generation.
Since the La Sportiva Vertical K shoes are a more minimalist option, I used them on less technical terrain than the C-Lite 2.0. Of the 60 miles I have run in these, about 20% have been on roads, 60% on non-technical trails, and 20% on technical trails. My runs have varied from basic long slow distance to some speedwork as well. They have also varied in distance from 3 to 23 miles. Here in the late spring and summer there is no mud to speak of so most of the testing was done in dry and dusty conditions.
The La Sportiva Vertical K Shoes are the most minimalist shoes La Sportiva has made to date. I am not going to call them a minimalist shoe as that make me think of a barefoot type shoe. I would call these more of a low drop cushioned shoe made for people who want a balance between a built-up runner and a lightweight, low-drop, flexible shoe. It is a range where I am seeing a lot more shoes lately from a wide range of brands. The first thing you will notice about the Vertical K’s when you first see them is that they are made by La Sportiva. It is hard not to notice as the whole upper says, “La Sportiva” on it. This is even more pronounced because the laces are hidden below a mesh gaiter, so there is even more room to brand the shoes. I personally am not a fan of this. I know brands have to have their brand on them, but I think there is a good way to do it and then there is over the top. These are over the top. Many people will say that the look of the shoe should not matter, and ultimately, it really should not, but we all know it does a little. I am much more excited to run in my cool-looking shoes that perform well even if I have another pair that performs equally well but might not hit that excitement button. Of course, this is very subjective.
The Vertical K has a full-length Nylon 4-way stretch gaiter that covers most of the shoe. The top two eyelets of the lacing are left open, but the rest is covered. The upper is made of AirMesh for breathability and to protect your toes they have used a polyurethane leather external toe cap. Under the gaiter, the lacing system uses a standard design with thin tough rounded laces. What is different is the tongue. It is made of the same cushioned AirMesh, but it is only connected to one side. Rather it is an extension of the upper and can slide underneath the other side for a non bunching fit. This also makes it easier to get in and out of the shoes. On the inside the back half of the shoe and the tongue are lined with mesh for more comfort while maintaining breathability. The heel has some structure built in to cup the heel comfortably and has an off center reinforced heel loop to help pull the shoes on, and it also doubles as a carabiner loop to carry the shoes.
The Vertical K Shoes are built on a MorphoDynamic injection molded EVA foam midsole. This midsole has a unique shape to it to reduce the weight and promote a natural flex. In the pictures of the shoes, the EVA is yellow, and you can even see a large portion of it exposed on the sole. For this reason, I like to refer to these as my “Banana Shoes” as the EVA sections on the soles look like bananas. Maybe I am just strange like that. The outsole uses a Sticky Frixion XF rubber on the MorphoDynamic waves where the EVA is not exposed. Since the outsole has a wave construction, the ridges where the sole comes in contact with the ground has the rubber while the locations that don’t contact the ground are where the EVA is exposed. The Frixion rubber used is a La Sportiva proprietary rubber that they originally designed for their climbing shoes. It can be injection molded for lugged footwear or die cut from extruded sheets. It has been designed for excellent grip on rocky surfaces and technical terrain making it also a good option for trail running.
The Vertical K shoes come in at 198 grams (7 oz) according to La Sportiva making them a very lightweight shoe. La Sportiva recommends them for minimalist running, trail racing, and speed training. They have a low drop design with an 18 mm heel and 14 mm forefoot to give the runner a more natural feel. I was not able to locate any data on the sustainability of the specific materials used to build the shoes but La Sportiva as a company has some good initiatives in place. La Sportiva makes it a goal to reduce the impact on the environment of running their business. To do this they work on switching to more video conferencing and reducing air travel, using more recycled materials in their shoes, becoming a zero waste facility or changing their catalog production. It is good that La Sportiva sees this as a worth wile effort and are making strides to be more responsible.
Foot Length (15%)
Foot Volume (15%)
Heel Width (15%)
Midfoot Width (15%)
Toe Box Width (15%)
The Vertical K Shoes are made on La Sportiva’s Dynamic Race last. It has a semi-curved shape and is designed as a unisex shoe. La Sportiva sizes their shoes with European sizing. Unlike most manufacturers, they use half sizing, which gives them a smaller variance between sizings compared to half sizes in US shoes. I am generally a size 9 in most shoes but ended up testing a 42.5 when I tested the C-Lite 2.0. This corresponds to be just smaller than a 9 1/2. For the Vertical K, I reviewed a size 43 which would best be described as a 9 3/4 according to the La Sportiva size chart. That being said, the 43 was just barely big enough. Depending on the socks I wore I could occasionally feel my toes hit the front of the shoes. That is hard to believe figuring these are nearly a size larger than my normal size. I have not had the chance to try on a pair of 43.5 but the 43 worked okay, just not perfect. I did find the heel with to be really comfortable. I would define the fit of the whole shoe to be a medium fit. The midfoot was the hardest part of the shoe to get to fit me correctly. The issue I had is because the laces are covered up, so they are difficult to micro adjust for the appropriate fit. I also have a tendency to tighten my shoes too tight. The forefoot was wider than the other La Sportiva shoes I have tried, but I still would not classify it as wide. Just like the rest of the shoe I would consider it a medium width, it worked well for my D width, but there was not enough room for my toes to splay.
The upper felt comfortable with socks on. Since this is a trail runner, I did not test them without socks. Since rocks and dust can get into trail runners I generally opt for the extra protection of socks to prevent blisters. The upper does not have a lot of structure to it so it can move with your foot easily and be more comfortable. While I was at first skeptical about the fold over tongue, it worked well and was comfortable. It does not bunch up like other tongues can and therefore, does not create any extra spots where rubbing can occur. I was not a fan of the thin lacing used in these shoes as they seemed to provide a bit more pressure on my foot than I liked. I am not sure if this is because the thinner laces provide more direct pressure through the tongue or just me tying them too tight. Either way I could feel them on my foot, and they are hard to adjust under the gaiter.
Cushioning / Ground Feel (20%)
Weather Resistance (10%)
The C-Lite 2.0 that I tested before had an external gaiter that I was not a fan of. The Vertical K Shoes also have a gaiter, but I must say that I like this one more. It is much stretchier and makes it easier to get to the laces. It is still not perfect, but it is getting better. The overlapping tongue also makes it easier to get to the laces because the shoes open up much easier. This also makes it easier to get the shoes on. I never felt like I needed to use the loop at the back and while I am on that I find the placement to be a bit odd. I think this is only because it is different than I am use to rather than being a bad thing. I see this loop being much more useful as a carabiner loop rather than helping get the shoes on. When reviewing these shoes it was important to know what these shoes are designed to be in order to properly test them. That being said I found the Vertical K Shoes to be excellent shoes for fast running on moderate off-road terrain.
The Vertical K shoes are made with an innovative MorphoDynamic sole. This sole has a wave-like design with rubber on the crests on the waves for durability and traction. The traction is from the waves and little triangular-shaped ridges that vary in direction for better grip. On rocks, road, and dry trails around Bend, I had no issues with traction. The Frixion Rubber has excellent traction, especially on the drier running terrain here. Unfortunately, I have not been able to test them out in wet or muddy conditions as we just do not have any here in bend. Therefore, I cannot comment on how they do in these circumstances. If you have used them and want to comment below, I would appreciate it. The MorphoDynamic sole also keeps the shoes very flexible, especially in the forefoot. If you take a look at the pictures, you can see where I could easy flex the forefoot in my hand.
The midsole provides a good amount of cushioning while still leaving a bit of ground feel. Especially in the forefoot I could feel some of the rocks on the trail, and unless they were very big, they felt just fine. Bigger rocks could poke through a little more than I prefer, hence why I would recommend these for all but the most technical trails where a rock plate would be appreciated. This was especially evident if the rock happened to hit in a “banana” section rather than a rubber section. The EVA foam will not protect your foot as well as the rubber sections. This midsole though does keep the weight down so at just over 7 ounces I was impressed how light and fast these shoes felt. With the lower drop and flexible sole they had a great transition through the foot strike. I tend to be a midfoot striker and liked how these felt underfoot. A good balance between natural motion and some cushioning.
The Vertical K Shoes have a mesh upper, and gaiter that both help keep rocks and debris out of your shoes. It is still possible for them to come in from the cuff, but this is not easily changed unless you use a gaiter. I also felt like they kept a fair bit of dust out of the shoe as well as over time that can build up and cause unwanted friction inside. Since this upper and gaiter are made of breathable mesh it will not keep your feet dry from rain or puddles. However, it will allow your feet to dry quicker if they do get wet. The mesh breathes well enough, but you can tell that the gaiter does make it a bit less breathable than it could be. As with most things, there is always going to be a tradeoff or balance between the properties you want to achieve. I think with the Vertical K, La sportive has found a good balance in many aspects of the shoes.
Overall, I like where La Sportiva is going with these shoes. They are using their superior knowledge of making shoes and addressing the wants of their athletes in having lighter and faster shoes with some cushioning. I personally really like the feel of the shoes but they do take some time to make sure you get the right size. Since La Sportiva is based on European Sizing it is best to try them on. While the sizing chart will help I found I needed to size up effectively ¾ of a size. I have read from some others that have found the same thing so best to try them on. I also wish the toe box had slightly more room. One of the other things that I am not a huge fan of is unisex shoes. I feel like men and women have different needs in their feet and when making a unisex shoe you either find the average or just make men’s and make a bigger size run. I am not sure what La Sportiva did with these, but I know down the road they will separate them out. If you are looking for a lightweight shoe that is breathable and fast for moderate to smooth trails, check out the Vertical K Shoes. For a runner like me these are just what I am looking for. The Vertical K Shoes retail for $115 which is about normal for many shoes now-a-days. I am looking forward to what La Sportiva’s refinements to this shoe. As always, your mileage may vary.
Pros [field name=iFrame]
- Stretchy Upper Gaiter is an improvement to the one on the C-Lite 2.0
- Flexible forefoot
- Good balance between cushioning and ground feel
- Comes in European half sizes, tighter size variances
- Low Drop
- No rock plate
- Sizing is off
- Unisex shoes
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