La Sportiva Jackal Review
The Jackal is the latest edition to La Sportiva’s range of mountain running shoes and is designed for off-road ultramarathons. As John Kelley’s recent Pennine Way Record would testify, the Jackal does this job well! Northern Runner Ambassador Kim Collison has written a review on our blog telling us what a great shoe the jackal is for this mixed off-road type of terrain. You can read it here: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/la-sportiva-jackal-review/. However, most of our customers don’t buy a shoe for only one type of running and want a shoe that will suit a variety of terrains that you find in UK off-road running.
No matter which type of off-road race, event or challenge you are training for, most regular runners have to incorporate a short road run to their off-road spot. The odd few are lucky enough to tread straight onto the trails, but most of us have to cover some tarmac. Where you might purchase a pair of Jackal’s with a 50-mile ultramarathon as your goal, ideally they’ll suit the more mixed terrain in your everyday training. The purpose of this review is to see if that is possible in the La Sportiva Jackal.
A lot of runners aren’t familiar with La Sportiva as a brand. This is because they started out making shoes for climbers back in 1928 and have expanded their range of shoes to cover many other mountain exploits including running. They are not just a non-running brand adding a few running shoes to their range. La Sportiva is passionate about the products they produce and respond heavily to the feedback they get from their sponsored athletes. It is therefore no surprise to see the women’s Wainwrights Record, Lakes 24 Hour Record and the Pennine Way Record all broken by La Sportiva supported athletes within one week recently. So where have they been all these years? Running in the Mountains in Italy, like the rest of continental Europe is a bit different to the UK! The Mountains are rockier and there isn’t as much mud so the shoes have been more specialist. The La Sportiva Mutant has been around for a few years now and was the shoe used to break the Lakes 24 Hour Record and set the women’s Wainwrights record. They are overlooked by a lot of runners as they are designed to be used on soft or rough ground and don’t have the cushion or durable grips to cope with much tarmac or hard packed trail. The Jackal is different.
La Sportiva recruited Jonathon Wyatt a few years ago, who despite being 6 times World Mountain Running Champion, is also a all-round runner. By that I mean that he is not just a die hard mountain man and understands that runners run on all surfaces have to fit their training in with the other demands of life. Having run in the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games he has done his fair share of road and track training. As a result, the range of shoes coming out of La Sportiva now have a nod towards that level of versatility.
Back to the Jackal. The first thing to mention is that they are a bit shorter in length. I went up half a size compared to my usual La Sportiva/Altra/Topo/New Balance/Inov-8/Hoka size. A lot of La Sportiva shoes are narrower fitting. As the jackal is designed for running a long way in they have a bit more width for foot expansion. I wouldn’t say they were wide compared with 2E widths or the broad rounded shape of Altra or Topo shoes, but they’re an improvement. They are quite a light shoe and feel substantial and supportive. They do feel like you could run all day in them. This is a contrast to many road shoes and road to trail shoes from road running brands. These are much softer and have a more cushioned feel, which helped on the road parts of my runs where they felt nice and comfortable. The substantial feel to the shoes makes you think that they wouldn’t be nimble when you get onto the trail but I was wrong. The other feelings I get in them are a kind of strength and power. The midsole does compress and it is cushioned but it isn’t that ‘bottomless’ feel I don’t like, so I feel like I instantly get more back from my feet. The heel cup and midfoot of the shoe holds you solidly onto the shoe which increases the feel of protection. Similar to the feeling you get in a good pair of walking boots.
As you would expect from a climbing shoe background, La Sportiva know their rubber compounds. The outsole of the Jackal is both grippy and durable. Quite often trail shoes that have a good aggressive outsole pattern for the trails slide on wet tarmac. I had no issues with the grip of the La Sportiva outsole. In the Great British summer I have had plenty of opportunities to test out the shoes on wet tarmac! The outsole also gripped well on loose trails, muddy single tracks and even steep wet grass.
The tongue is stitched in to reduce grit and other debris getting into the shoes. The padding is light but ample.
After about 200 miles of road and trail running there is no sign of wear at all in this Jackal. Firmer midsoles always last longer than softer ones. I suspect that I’ll get more than the usual 500 miles that you get from softer cushioned road shoes, but time will tell. There is no noticeable wear to the outsole. This is despite half of the miles done being on hard tarmac roads.
When picking up the pace the midsole responds well but they aren’t designed for a fast 5km race. However, I have happily run interval sessions and hill reps in these shoes and haven’t felt that the shoe held me back in anyway. They just won’t be my first choice for pure speed. Running hill reps in them did highlight their off-road capabilities, as the stiffness of the midsole gives you a good platform to push off from. You feel strong on the up and then the firm cushioning becomes a lot springier on the descent. You feel confident that you can fly back down before attacking your next climb.
The heel to forefoot drop is a pretty modest mid-range at 6mm, which makes the shoe good for heel or midfoot strikers.
The La Sportiva Jackal is designed as an ultramarathon shoe and I think the further you run in them the more you will appreciate the solid, supportive feel. However, the shoe is versatile enough to use as a road to trail shoe for those regularly taking a short tarmac journey to their favourite off-road routes. I wanted to ensure this shoe is not just for die hard ultramarathon runners, and it is not. It’s cushioned, supportive and even if your mileage is lower at the moment, you can push it in these and feel comfortable doing it. Give them a go if you are both newer to off-road running, pushing that mileage or of course, taking them to the ultramarathon in your diary.
Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle
5mm heel to forefoot. A broad rounded toe box. Similar firm cushioning but, not quite as solid a feel. Review (plus link to product): northernrunner.com/blog/topo-ultraventure-review-low-drop-trail-shoes
Inov-8 Terraultra G270
Zero drop and with a broader rounded toe box. northernrunner.com/search/terraultra-270
Hoka Mafate Speed
Altra Lone Peak