Gear Guide 2012: La Sportiva Vertical K Shoe

Handle slick surfaces with these featherweight shoes.

[all-terrain traction]

Sporting strips of rubber on a rippled sole that looks like a tractor tire, the featherweight Vertical K amazed testers with four-wheel-drive handling on slick surfaces. “Whether on steep, rocky trails, scrambling on smooth sandstone slabs, or climbing up wet slot canyons, I felt completely sure-footed—there was zero slip,” says a tester who wore the Vertical Ks on a two-day, 18-mile trip in Canyonlands National Park.

The sticky tread has a unique, three-part design that gives it exceptional stability: Half-inch-wide ribs of rubber (the same stuff used on La Sportiva’s climbing shoes) run horizontally across the outsole in high-contact areas for great friction on rock and scree, and form the base for a second layer of U-shaped lugs that provide lateral traction on wet surfaces like mud and snow. Between the ribs, the outsole is scooped out, completing a design that avoids collecting muck (there’s less surface area to connect with the ground) and also saves weight.

During trail runs in northern Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks and speed hikes up Colorado’s Salida Mountain, testers reported a barely-there feel thanks to the shoe’s low weight and a one-piece, 100-percent Lycra upper that stretches over the foot like a sock. And even though the Vertical K is one of the lightest trail runners we tested, it proved tough and supportive in backcountry use. The thin upper endured abrasion against rocks without tears or snags (but offers little foot protection), and the spongy foam midsole was comfortable on 10-mile trail runs and dayhikes.

Bonus: A plastic loop on the heel lets you clip them easily to a pack. “The light weight and slipperlike fit make it the perfect camp shoe,” adds one tester. Fit runs on the small side; runners with high-volume feet will likely need to go up a half size. $115; 13.2 oz. (m’s 42); m’s 36-47.5;