Running Shoe Review: La Sportiva Helios
Is the lightweight La Sportiva Helios running shoe fit for both trail and road?
At first glance the Helios trail running shoe looks more like a racing flat than a shoe built to take you bounding and pounding over mountain and urban trails. It is heavier than it looks (8.1 ounces) but it is bold in appearance, at least in the grey and orange color combination. The Helios is also available in a more conservative, tamer grey and red color scheme.
La Sportiva describes the fit of the Helios as medium/wide but, trust me, it’s anything but that. I could only get my narrow feet into the shoe — a half-size up from my walking shoe size — by removing the provided insole, substituting it with a thinner sock liner from another trail shoe, and wearing a very thin pair of socks. I would label the fit as narrow/tight.
Although the Helios is a neutral shoe, it’s built on an almost straight last which provides some low-to-the-ground stability. It is a minimalistic shoe with a 4mm heel drop, but with a good sized EVA midsole. The shoe has a two-piece upper and comes with a gusseted and highly padded tongue which does not move around. I changed the lacing pattern on the pair provided to me by La Sportiva, eliminating the use of the extra eyelet which sits a full inch in front of the standard eyelets. This made the shoe feel more flexible up front.
The sole of the Helios looks like nine ocean waves headed toward shore. It is most definitely a wave patterned sole.
There’s a blue rubbery surface on the top of the slip-lasted midsole which implies a softer ride than the shoe actually delivers. The Helios’s cushioning was initially unimpressive on crushed gravel. This changes when one speeds up the pace and then the sui generis soft rubber underfoot seems to take hold. According to the manufacturer, the orange Frixion AT sole is “soft, resilient and lightweight rubber… for road and trail.” One immediately gets the feeling that this is a shoe designed and built for those who prefer to put in relatively fast training runs.
I found that the Helios absolutely comes alive on concrete. Suddenly, you can feel the bounce from the soft rubber which makes it easy to lift one’s feet higher for a quicker ride. Since the Helios is heavier than it appears to be, I think it may be durable enough for more than the occasional run on roads. Warning: Your actual mileage on concrete may vary.
The heel cushioning on the shoe is more soft than firm but it gets the job done. The heel pad looks awfully small, but this is not something you’ll notice while running.
The shoe’s inherent stability kicks in on asphalt when, again, a quicker pace is rewarded with a smooth ride. The Helios should perform well on any organized run from a 5K to a half-marathon.
On a hard-packed dirt trail, the Helios provides a good but not a great ride. Luckily, I happened to find a grass-covered trail on which this model’s pliable sole delivered a blissfully enjoyable run.
I think the biggest issue for many with the Helios will be the fit. You may want to consider a full size up if you try this shoe and note that the toe box is lower than most in height. The shoe is simply snug from back to front, something that a certain number of trail runners will prefer as opposed to a wide, loose-fitting shoe.
The La Sportiva Helios is a hybrid shoe to consider if you train on city or suburban sidewalks or run on minimal to moderately punishing trails at whatever altitude. Just don’t be surprised if someone asks you if you’re wearing racing flats!
This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:
Outside magazine’s Buyer’s Guide supplied this verdict on the La Sportiva Helios: “Our favorite shoe for guys with consistent, midfoot-striking, form who want a really natural feeling, slipper-like fit without getting all caveman about it.” (Well, that’s clear.) And Running Times added these comments: “Some testers had a hard time getting into the Helios, which runs significantly short (try them on in a shop and consider sizing up). Once fitted, however, the Helios brought wide grins to our test team members, because of its light weight, outstanding security, conforming tongue, comfortable upper, strong traction and smooth cushioning. As one tester said, ‘The extra ounce over the weight of the La Sportiva Vertical K was a small price to pay for the added protection and all-day wearability.’ The responsive performance and feel of the Helios were enough to inspire confidence on most surfaces and, one tester commented, it ‘excels as conditions deteriorate.'”