La Sportiva Wildcat
Weight: 1 lb. 8.7 oz. (men's)
What we like: Crossover appeal for both trail running and hiking.
What we don't: For running, overall performance falls significantly short of more modern designs.
See the Men's La Sportiva Wildcat See the Women's La Sportiva Wildcat
A favorite among trail runners and thru-hikers for nearly a decade, the La Sportiva Wildcat balances a burly build with an approachable $110 price tag. However, after testing the shoe back-to-back in the Pacific Northwest against other competing models, we came away unimpressed. In short, the Wildcat’s dated and heavy design, dramatic heel-to-toe drop, and poor traction on slippery trails fell notably short of more modern trail runners across almost all areas of testing—although it did perform reasonably well as a lightweight hiker. Below we break down our experiences with the Wildcat. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best trail running shoes and best hiking shoes.
Table of Contents
- Fit and Sizing
- What We Like/What We Don't
- Comparison Table
- The Competition
Blurring the line between trail runner and lightweight hiking shoe, the La Sportiva Wildcat gripped most dry trail surfaces with ease. Whether I was running or hiking, the fairly aggressive outsole dug confidently into soft ground, and the widely spaced lugs did a decent job of keeping out mud. Even when the trail turned technical, the sticky FriXion rubber excelled at clinging to granite. All things considered, the La Sportiva Wildcat proved to be a capable companion in normal conditions.
However, the Wildcat began to suffer when things turned wet, which it frequently does here in the Pacific Northwest. Traversing damp and moss-covered logs had me quickly wishing for my grippier Salomon Sense Ride (since updated to the “4” model), which has deeper lugs and a more versatile Contagrip outsole. Running on wet roads was equally nerve-racking—I found myself tiptoeing over manhole covers and crosswalk paint to avoid slipping. In the end, I prefer a more well-rounded shoe like the Sense Ride 4 for the varied terrain that I frequent on my runs.
Put simply, the Wildcat left a lot to be desired in terms of stability for running. The flexible all-mesh upper, tall heel (29mm), and dramatic heel-to-toe drop (12mm) led to far too many ankle rolls, and the lack of stabilizing overlays allowed my feet to slide around in the shoe on off-camber sections of trail. To be sure, the Wildcat didn’t feel overly cumbersome or sloppy, but it fell notably short of a nimble shoe like the Salomon Sense Ride 4. Additionally, I found the Wildcat’s insole to be very flat—it provided little in the way of arch support, which only detracted from the shoe's overall stability (those with flat feet might feel differently). However, when I slowed my pace, the shoe felt noticeably more stable and the thick heel paired nicely with the weight of a light pack. In other words, while the Wildcat underperformed as a trail runner, it did much better for day hiking.
One of the first things I noticed when I slipped on the Wildcat for the first time was its thick heel and substantial (12mm) drop. While most of the industry has moved toward lower- and even zero-drop designs—which target midfoot and forefoot strikers—the Wildcat is aimed squarely at heel strikers. Personally, I didn’t like this shape, but it truly comes down to personal preference and comfort. The good news is that the generous cushioning did a great job of isolating my feet from sharp rocks and provided ample protection on mid-length runs. However, the rest of the shoe felt quite stiff for a trail runner, and in the end proved to be too much shoe for most runs. For those who want a more forgiving ride, we instead recommend cushier options like the Salomon Sense Ride 4 or Hoka One One Speedgoat 4.
Compared to other trail running shoes I’ve been wearing recently, the Wildcat ranks among the lowest in comfort. The shoe felt very firm underfoot, the above-average drop made me feel as though I was being constantly pitched forward, and the materials used throughout the design were stiff and unforgiving. Additionally, the insole provided no arch support (a selling point for those with flat feet), and I felt especially fatigued after long runs and hikes. Even when worn casually, my feet grew uncomfortable after a couple hours of standing—something I haven’t experienced with other footwear I own. All that said, I didn’t experience any blisters, hotspots, or numbness in the Wildcat, which is high praise when breaking in a new shoe. But if comfort is at the top of your priority list, I recommend instead checking out the Brooks Cascadia or Salomon Sense Ride.
At a listed 1 pound 8.7 ounces for a men’s pair, the La Sportiva Wildcat is among the heaviest trail running shoes currently on the market. Competitors including the Brooks Cascadia 15 (1 lb. 6 oz.), Altra Lone Peak 5 (1 lb. 6.2 oz.), and La Sportiva’s own Bushido II (1 lb. 5 oz.) all come in notably lighter while still offering impressive overall performance. In fact, the Wildcat is closer in weight to some lightweight waterproof hiking shoes and boots, including the Vasque Breeze LT Mid GTX (1 lb. 11 oz..), Arc'teryx Aerios FL Mid GTX (1 lb. 10 oz.), and Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX (1 lb. 10.8 oz.). The Wildcat did manage to feel reasonably light underfoot, but I still prefer the options above for trail running and hiking.
La Sportiva products rarely disappoint in the durability department, and I’m happy to report that the Wildcat continues the trend. In fact, I found the shoe to be well-built for hiking and arguably over-built for trail running. The relatively stiff heel and midsole haven’t packed out, and the FriXion rubber outsole has outlasted the soles of many Altra models I’ve owned in the past—most notably a past-generation model of the Superior. And while the all-mesh upper might be an initial point of concern, the material has proven to be extremely robust and hasn’t torn despite high-mileage use. As I touched on above, the Wildcat is heavy for a trail runner, but this heft nicely translates to a bump in durability.
I ordered my usual size 9 in the La Sportiva Wildcat and found it to be a bit on the short side (it fit more like an 8.5 lengthwise, so I recommend sizing up). The rest of the shoe had an average shape, although it’s slightly wide overall. That said, the Wildcat did a nice job of holding my heel in place during ups and downs on the trail, and the toe box provided a good overall fit for my average feet. If your feet are on the wide side and you don't like the zero-drop shape of the Altra Lone Peak, the Wildcat might be a good match.
Other Versions of the La Sportiva Wildcat
I tested the non-waterproof Wildcat for this review, and La Sportiva also makes shoe in a Gore-Tex model. The Wildcat 2.0 GTX ($155) features the same basic construction and outsole as the standard Wildcat but adds in a waterproof membrane for improved wet-weather protection at a weight penalty (1 lb. 12.3 oz.). If you plan to use the Wildcat for hiking, particularly in rainy climates, it might be worth the bump in weight and cost to upgrade to the GTX model. La Sportiva also sells both the mesh and GTX Wildcat in women’s versions, which clock in a few ounces lighter and are offered in different colorways. Otherwise, the women’s Wildcats are identical in both design and price to the men’s.
- With a stiff build and superb durability, the La Sportiva Wildcat is a solid hiking shoe and a decent trail runner.
- The all-mesh design vents well and kept my feet cool on warm days.
- Despite its heavy 1-pound-8.7-ounce weight, the Wildcat feels reasonably light on the trail.
What We Don’t
- The robust build, thick heel, and above-average drop (12mm) feel awkward and clumsy for trail running.
- Traction falls notably short on wet surfaces.
- Flat insole likely will be uncomfortable for those with high arches.
- Sizing runs a bit short and wide.
|La Sportiva Wildcat||$110||Rugged trails||1 lb. 8.7 oz.||Moderate/maximum||12mm|
|Brooks Cascadia 15||$130||All-around/rugged trails||1 lb. 6 oz.||Light/moderate||8mm|
|Altra Lone Peak 5||$130||All-around||1 lb. 6.2 oz.||Moderate||0mm|
|La Sportiva Bushido II||$130||Rugged trails||1 lb. 5 oz.||Light/moderate||6mm|
|Hoka One One Speedgoat 4||$145||All-around/rugged trails||1 lb. 5.6 oz.||Maximum/moderate||4mm|
|The North Face Ultra 111||$120||All-around/rugged trails||1 lb. 14.2 oz.||Moderate||12mm|
The La Sportiva Wildcat has solidified its popularity among the trail running and lightweight hiking communities over the past decade, but we think that other more modern designs have better crossover appeal. For example, the Brooks Cascadia 15 features a similarly robust build, more aggressive lugs that translate to better traction in wet conditions, and a more precise fit. Further, the Cascadia undercuts the Wildcat in weight at 1 pound 6 ounces, and a new reinforced upper provides solid protection, although it does run warmer than mesh-heavy designs. All in all, the Cascadia still gets the edge for both trail running and hiking, and you can go faster and nimbler with some of the more modern-feeling options below.
Another popular option in the trail running and lightweight hiking worlds is Altra’s Lone Peak, which was recently updated to the “5.” Both work well for those with wide feet but otherwise share very little else in common. To start, the Lone Peak features a zero-drop shape which favors midfoot strikers (compared to the Wildcat’s thick heel and 12mm drop that pairs well with heel strikers). Further, the Lone Peak’s deep lugs are a much better match for muddy and loose trails. And thanks to its more modern materials and design, the Lone Peak (1 lb. 6.2 oz.) comes in lighter than the Wildcat (1 lb. 8.7 oz.). The Wildcat does have the upper hand in durability—we’ve had premature delamination issues with Altra shoes in the past—but the Lone Peak still is the better all-rounder.
Another shoe to consider is La Sportiva’s own Bushido II, which is purpose-built for exceptionally technical terrain. In short, the Bushido looks and feels a lot different than the Wildcat. Most notably, the shorter stack height and less dramatic heel-to-toe drop (6mm vs. 12mm) add a noticeable boost in stability. We also found that the Bushido’s FriXion XT 2.0 rubber outsole gripped far better on wet terrain—a major pitfall of the Wildcat—and its burly TPU toe cap and synthetic overlays outperformed the Wildcat both in protection and support. Finally, the Bushido undercuts the Wildcat by 3.7 ounces and feels nimbler on the trail. All this considered, we think the Bushido is the better overall shoe, and especially for rugged and rocky trails.
For a more well-rounded option, Hoka One One’s Speedgoat 4 offers a standout combination of comfort, traction, and weight (1 lb. 5.6 oz.). Like most Hoka models, the Speedgoat is heavily cushioned (32mm at the heel and 28mm at the forefoot), but the more moderate 4-millimeter drop is much more confidence-inspiring than the Wildcat’s 12 millimeters. The Speedgoat also gets the edge in traction, with an aggressive outsole that excels on everything from dirt and mud to steep rock. The tall stack height makes the Speedgoat less precise and nimble on more technical ground (here, we prefer the aforementioned Bushido II), but it’s nevertheless a capable all-rounder and our favorite trail running shoe for 2021.
Last but not least, The North Face offers a very similar design to the Wildcat in their Ultra 111 WP. Labeled as a trail running shoe, we think the Ultra works best as a lightweight hiker. Like the Wildcat, the TNF shoe is impressively stable and durable with great all-around protection and hardwearing materials, and it has a similarly burly feel. However, the Ultra 111 is considerably heavier than the Wildcat at 1 pound 14.2 ounces, and it’s only offered in a waterproof DryVent version, which limits its breathability. That said, the Ultra grips better and feels less clumsy overall, which is why we rank it higher in our hiking shoe round-up.
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