"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review of the La Sportiva Helios

Review of the Helios and a comparison to the Vertical K

I was a huge fan of the La Sportiva Vertical K, I was excited when I saw that the Helios was a similar shoe, but built with longer distances in mind.  Unfortunately, I don't wear my Vertical K's much anymore, as they either shrunk, or my feet grew, and all of a sudden they're too small.  I made sure to size up when ordering the Helios.

Usually I wear between an 11 and 11.5.  I have a pair of Vertical K's that are 45.0 - they're too small.  So I went with a 45.5 when I ordered the Helios, and they are just right, although if I wanted to wear big socks (Drymax Maxpro or Trail) I might find myself a little constricted.  I hope that helps anyone trying to figure out what size Helios to buy.

Helios foreground, Vertical K background

First Impressions
The Helios is heavier than the Vertical K.  I noticed it as soon as I took them out of the box.  I assume this is mostly due to the 2mm rockplate/eva layer that was added to the shoe in order to provide a little bit more protection.  La Sportiva also made some modifications to the upper.  Gone is the one-piece upper with built in scree guard.  Instead, La Sportiva has used a new "air mesh" upper, which I have to say is incredibly comfortable, although it doesn't look as sturdy as the scree guard upper.  

I've run about 100 miles in the Helios in the last 3 weeks, so I feel comfortable reviewing them.  I haven't noticed any hotspots or problems, which is a great start.  The local trails have oscillated between frozen mud and mucky mud, and the Helios handle both well.  

Speaking of the upper; the lacing system is much more traditional than most other La Sportiva shoes. Relatively thick laces with normal anchors provides a more customizable fit than can be achieved with laces that are hidden under a scree guard.  Also, a big bonus is the extra eyelet that can be used to tie the shoes in an ankle-lock down fashion, something I thought the Vertical K really would have benefited from.  While the Helios does not have a scree guard style upper, the tongue is gusseted, and I haven't noticed any problems when running through sand, so I'd say it works well.  The shoe also breathes very well with the air mesh that is used for the top of the upper.  I'm not big on sockless running, but even if I was, I don't think the Helios is built for it, there are exposed seems in several places.

The last difference in the upper between the Vertical K and the Helios is the overall stability provided by the upper.  The Helios has a substantial heel counter that probably adds a little weight, as well as thermoplastic overlays that are used to help secure the midfoot.  There has also been the addition of a pulltab on the heel of the Helios, which helps get them on and off quickly.

Gusseted Tongue

Thermoplastic overlays to secure the midfoot

Morphodynamic.  Pretty sweet.  Light and cushioned.  Actually, the Helios feels a little firmer than the Vertical K does.  I am not sure if this is due to the rockplate or whether it is because they used a midsole foam with a higher density.  Along with the slighter firmer ride is perhaps a lesser degree of flexibility.  Don't get me wrong, the wave pattern still allows for good flexibility, but it is not quite as slipper-like as the Vertical K.  I also feel like the back heel of the helios is not quite as cut-out as the Vertical K.  This might be why runningwarehouse spec's the Helios as a 5mm drop and the Vertical K as a 4mm drop.  I agree, the Helios feels not quite as minimal in general as the Vertical K.  This could be good or bad, depends on your preferences and the type of race you're running.  I should also mention that both shoes use a sticky Sportiva (FriXion AT) rubber that seems to wear pretty well.

Pretty similar outsole?

Morphodynamic in both

Conclusions/overall feeling
I think the Helios is very much what I expected.  A more robust version of the Vertical K.  The protection on gravel roads and local trails seems pretty good, although its hard to test them fully without making a trip to somewhere rockier.  The overall fit is excellent, the Helios feels wider in the toe-box than the Vertical K, and less pointed up towards the toes.  At first I was a tad disappointed by the fact that the Helios felt firmer than the Vertical K, but I adjusted pretty quickly, and now enjoy the energy transfer that a slightly firmer midsole allows.  Overall, I rate this shoe very highly.  Excellent fit, good traction, adequate protection and cushion, low drop, and fairly lightweight (8.5oz size 9 men's).  I think anyone who likes the Vertical K, but wants a little bit more for longer runs would find the Helios to be a nice compromise.  Also I think someone looking to step down from more traditional shoes would find this is a nice intermediate shoe that combines lightweight with moderate drop, and makes for an aggressive and comfortable ride.  I don't mind a little extra weight on my shoes when I feel it is put used for practical purposes, and I think that the extra 1.5-2oz on the Helios serves a purpose, making them a well-rounded trail shoe.

Are they built for Ultras?  Yes, I think so, but to be honest I haven't run more than 15 miles in them yet.  Its winter, give me some time and I'll try to get a few longer runs in.  The roomy toe box and extra protection really make them a nice shoe, def my favorite La Sportiva offering in a long time.


With insoles removed

My friend Mark just ran the 2013 Rocky Raccoon in his Helios, here is what he had to say about them:  " I wore these for 100 miles at Rocky Raccoon over the weekend. It was a drier year than last, and then the challenge is the dust and sand that often gets into the shoes and grinds away at your feet. The Vertical K's have the gaiter built in, but the Helios does it a little different. The real question to me was, does the Helios work. In a word, yes. I changed socks at about mile 72, due to a blister forming on the outside of my little toe. There was no sand or anything else to be removed from my shoes the, and the same was true at the end. I wore them for the full 100 miles, and I never regretted the choice. I kicked a number of roots, but none of them bothered my toes a bit-- though there was a little loss of blood involved. The Helios fine mesh must be an adequate virtual gaiter, and they seem to give me more support than the Vertical K for the long run."


  1. Finally a review of these! I love my VKs, which I wear with Superfeet Black insoles, which act as a rockplate and arch support. My main complaint with them is the forefoot is so flexible and narrow that toes rub together and take a beating on rocky terrain, especially steep descents, and that the laces can bite into the foot over time. So directly comparing the two shoe's forefeet, would you say the helios provides more stiffness and protection and less toe-rubbing in the forefoot? I've worn the VKs for up to a 50M on less technical terrain, and would want the Helios for 50M and beyond, again with insoles. Do you think this is a reasonable expectation? Is the helios an ultramarathon shoe?

    1. I haven't worn the Helios in an ultra yet, but I am planning on it. So yeah, I think so. They're a beefed up, more roomy version of the Vert K, I'm digging them so far.

  2. Definitely intrigued by these. In what kind of terrain and/or conditions do you think these would outperform other shoes?

    1. Personally, I think they are a pretty top notch all terrain shoe. The grooves handle mud well, the sticky rubber is legit on rocks, the rockplate has adequate protection, they're a little firm so you want to run fast.

  3. No one to read this I imagine, but anyway: Well I ordered a pair and have worn them the last couple days. A few impressions: One, they are *much* roomier than the VKs. A 47.5 in VKs had my bigtoe nearly hitting the front of the shoe, while there's a good thumb's width of clearance in the Helios, and I can splay my toes freely. So much room I briefly considered going a size down, but with thick socks - drymax maxprot - it's fine.

    Two, the rockplate's presence is evident in the forefoot, yay. No more wincing with the VK.

    Three, I'd been wearing superfeet black insoles in the VK pretty much since day one, as they were so flexible I immediately noticed plantar twinges. Putting this same insole in the Helios resulted in ITB pain, an indicator to me of too much pronation/arch support. Replacing with the stock insole has eliminated the ITB issue, but my plantars are definitely working more now. No plantar twinges as yet, and I'm not sure what to do if they reappear in this shoe, but we'll see.

    I'm giving the Helios a big thumbs up right now. The design of the upper looks of high quality to me, the rockplate works, and out of the box it weighs the same as the VK with added insole. Though still unsure about longer runs given my somewhat weak plantars, I'm looking forward to wearing them in the spring races.

  4. Also, after about 75miles, I'm seeing some tearing near the upper lace holes & overlays on the inboard side of the shoe. Anyone else having this issue? I've checked all my other shoes, none have this. I slathered shoegoo on it for now.

    1. I haven't experienced this problem yet, but I have been running fairly tame trails in the them. I would contact La Sportiva if I were you.

  5. Do the Helios have much structure? I prefer minimal shoes with no arch support, but find I need a little cushioning late in the ultras.

    1. I'd say they are on the low end of structure for a regular shoe, or the higher end of structure for a true minimal shoe. I didn't find them to have too much arch support.

  6. A last update here. I did 40+ miles a couple weeks ago on fairly soft trails wearing the Helios, followed with a recovery 13+ on the wonderful Sand Canyon Pueblo trail outside Cortez. My only complaint is there is enough flexibility in the forefoot that my toes were feeling a bit more tired from rubbing and moving around than I would like in a long ultra.

    That's a very minor complaint though. Plantar concerns and the slight tearing noted earlier have not resurfaced. These are good trail shoes. I'm now trying on Hoka Bondi B2, which I'm amazed at, but am thinking I should have chosen the Stinson for more outsole durability on trails?

    1. Thanks for all your input. I think the Helios is a great all around trail shoe, but I haven't done runs as long as you have in them. Im in the Smoky Mtns right now with my friend (the guy who reviewed the Stinson) and he is running the Bondi 2. He straight up loves them, and after 50 miles on nasty trail they are still in great shape.

  7. Thanks, nice review. I really like the Helios too. Here are my thoughts about the difference between the Helios and the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra which is in many ways a similar shoe, and yet not. http://blog.arcticrunning.is/?p=98ið