A few months ago I received a package of winter running gear from Backbone Media, which is a marketing company that represents a number of outdoor gear manufacturers. Included in that package was a pair of La Sportiva Wildcat GTX trail shoes. Before I get into my review, here is the "formal" description of the Wildcat GTX from the La Sportiva website:
"A stable, neutral, extremely well cushioned trail running shoe: our most cushioned trail running shoe. Built on the FriXion® X-Axis rubber outsole the Wildcat digs into any surface for excellent traction and added cushion. The single density midsole provides excellent cushioning and is coupled with a plush LaSpEVA 2.4 mm lasting board. A great all around trail runner for people looking for great stability and cushion. The Gore-Tex® version of the Wildcat keeps you dry in wet conditions with no compromise of fit or performance. The new stretch Gore technology we developed creates a gusset free membrane over the top."
I was initially a little skeptical about whether or not I would like these shoes given the fact that they are considerably heavier (13.69 oz) than I typically like (most of my shoes are <10 oz), but the fact that they we're Gore-Tex lined (i.e., waterproof) with a pretty rugger tread on the sole suggested to me that they might work well for running in the nasty winter conditions I typically face up here in New Hampshire (i.e., slushy, wet, snow covered sidewalks). Here are my thoughts:
Appearance: I was initially not crazy about the look the Wildcat GTX - The La Sportiva name in big block letters along the sides turned me off a bit. However, like a lot of things relating to this shoe, their look has grown on me quite a bit, and I now kind of like their rugged appearance, and the black and yellow color combination (see above photo) suits these shoes well. In addition to wearing these while running, I also wear them frequently around town, as the fact that they are waterproof makes them ideal for wearing in the winter as an everyday, out-and-about shoe up here in New Hampshire.
Fit: The fit of the Wildcat GTX surprised me - these shoes are extremely comfortable, and very well cushioned for a relatively heavy trail shoe. They are no means flexible like my Brooks Launch or Nike Free 3.0, but that's not really how they're designed, so I wouldn't fault them for that. As I mentioned above, I wear them frequently out-and-about, and they are perfectly comfortable to wear around for an entire afternoon. While a bit heavy on the run, I have run two 10-milers in them without a problem comfort-wise. They fit true to size for me.
Performance: As I mentioned at the outset, I was skeptical about whether or not I would like these shoes given their weight and relative stiffness compared to my preferred running shoe style. I generally prefer minimalist, light-weight shoes, and the Wildcat GTX are most definitely not minimalist. However, I am quite frankly surprised at how much I have wound up going to the La Sportiva's for my runs of late (about 50 miles so far) - they are really an ideal winter running shoe for the conditions I face up here in NH. Most of the time, my runs take me for at least a portion of the time along snowy/icy sidewalks where a flat-bottomed shoe would lead to inevitable slippage. The agressive tread on sole of the Wildcat GTX has worked great for providing traction in these conditions, and they excel in situations where my preferred style of shoe would come up short. Furthermore, the fact that the Wildcat GTX are lined with Gore-Tex means that they are waterproof, which is a huge deal for me given that wet feet are not comfortable when running in sub-freezing temperatures. After running in these shoes, it has been difficult for me to run in my non Gore-Tex shoes this winter as the snow/slush invariably soak through, leaving my feet soggy and freezing cold. The Wildcat GTX have done a phenomenal job keeping my feet dry, and they are now my go-to shoe when it is wet and/or snowing. All of this being said, I suspect that as the winter gives way to Spring, these shoes will see considerably less use on my runs due to their weight and stiffness. That's OK though, as I'm a strong believer in mixing shoes up according to my needs on a given day. The La Sportiva Wildcat GTX are perfectly designed for running in nasty conditions, that is where they shine, and that is where I mostly plan to use them.
On a side note, I suspect the Wildcat GTX would also work well for snowshoeing with a pair of waterproof gaiters, though I have yet to try them for this purpose.
Video Update: Runblogger Runcast #1 was recorded on a run in which I was wearing my Wildcat GTX, and I comment on them several times in this video.
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