ExecSum: The shoe marries aggressive, sticky tread with a flexible, low profile midsole and a very durable leather upper, creating a combination unique amongst current trail running and hiking shoes. It does so by increasing the weight relative to mesh shoes, by decreasing the draining speed, and by substantially increasing the drying time.
Review: Back in August I purchased a pair of LaSportiva Crosslites. They’d been on my radar a while, and after I had decided that the Fireblade tread was too shallow and the MT100 upper too fragile, it seemed like a good choice. It was, and for the first 50 miles of hiking (plus another 60 sitting in a packraft) they seemed perfect. Until this rip appeared.
A comparable but smaller tear had appeared on the other shoe, and in my frustration I returned them to REI (who were very nice as always) and exchanged them for some Crossleathers. The Crosslites and Crossleathers are identical save two things: the toe cap is a different color, and the sides of the later are a thin leather rather than the mesh and synthetic reinforcements of the former. I wear a 45 in both, and the fit is wonderful for me. I can wear a single pair of thin socks without my feet slipping, or a thick combo of wool and vapor barrier socks without restricting blood flow. I have wideish but very low volume feet. If your feet are clubish and/or very wide, the Crossleathers (and Sportiva shoes in general) probably aren’t a good choice.
I made three modifications to the shoes before wearing them outside. I cut the silly lower lace guard off with scissors (dead easy), as it interfered with using gaiters. I glued a 2″ square patch of velcro to the back of the heel for Dirty Girl adhesion, which I do to all my hiking shoes. I also treated the leather with two thick coatings of beeswax, warming the leather before and after each coat by placing them on the open oven door (with the oven on 200 or so). I was concerned that the many, many wet-dry cycles to which my shoes are subjected would cause the leather to dry and crack.
This has turned out to not be a problem. Weather the leather treatment was essential I cannot say, but I’d certainly recommend it. Doing it with pristine leather is much more effective. As you can see from the above picture, the shoes have held up very well. They don’t have a massive amount of miles from the last three months, but many of those miles have been bushwacking, snow slogging, stream wading, and talus running and scrambling. The leather is scuffed in the usual spots, but there are no significant gouges, and (with the possible exception of the old synthetic leather Vitesse) no other trail shoes I’ve owned would have done so well with such difficult terrain.
The downside is in weight, draining, and drying time. If my memory is correct (our scale is still in a box from moving), the Crossleathers are 14 oz a shoe as they sit modified by me, in size 45. That’s 1.5 oz heavier (per shoe) than the Crosslites, and fairly porky compared to the modern crop of light trail runners. My Mt100s were 8.2 oz a shoe in the same size. However, given the expense of shoes, and how well this last fits me, I’m willing to take the weight penalty.
The draining issue is a more multifaceted one. On the one hand, a slow draining shoe holds heavy water longer, and lets your foot dry much slower. On the other hand, a slow draining shoe creates something of a wetsuit effect, and is all things equal warmer than a fast draining shoe. I’d rather have a fast draining shoe, but every truly fast drainer I’ve owned has suffered from either a fragile upper and/or an upper which let in tons of dirt, dust, and sand. The Sportiva Exum River sorta avoided that trap, but had other issues which led to its exit from the market. Point being, this is a problem which could be solved my existing technology if designers took it seriously. For the moment, slightly wetter feet aren’t a big deal, and in light of the Crossleathers strengths I don’t care so much.
Dry time on the Crossleather is quite bad. The Crosslite dried very quickly, almost as quickly as the MT100 (the fastest drying shoe I’ve very owned, bar none). I’d expect the Crossleather, if it and the Crosslite were soaked and let sit in a breezy, warm, shady spot, to take between 3 and 4 times as long to dry out completely. Less if a catalyst like body heat were introduced. This is a pain because it makes an already heavy shoe heavier in real world use. Theoretically it will freeze up a lot more solidly when you overnight with a wet shoe, though bizarrely I’ve managed to avoid that thus far (the night on St. Mary lake last month was preternaturally warm given the wind and season). I mind this the most of all the downsides, but am prepared to live with it for all the aforementioned reasons.
The heart and soul of the Crossleather/lite is the sole, and for Montana hiking (or anywhere that mud and loose gravel and scree are the norm) I cannot fathom a better tread pattern and rubber compound. It’s the trail running equivalent of a Continental Mountain King tire, big sticky lugs, widely spaced to both grip in the loose and shed mud quickly, that are somehow arranged such that they don’t feel draggy and slow. When descending a steep, slick trail this sole is worth quite a lot of quad energy saved. I say again: insofar as my vision reaches today, this sole is perfect.
The rubber has worn quite fast, especially the softer gray compound. I don’t see this as a bit deal, as given the current rate of wear the midsole will be shot around the time the tread is gone. Rubber compound is a compromise between hard wearing and traction, and I think LaSportiva hit the balance well here.
One downside of this sole design is that on bare rock, friction is much diminished due to the relatively small percentage of the sole in actual contact with the rock. This isn’t the shoe for 4th class slickrock scrambling in Zion, and there have been times I’ve noticed this shortcoming when scouting or portaging the packraft. Such terrain is a small percentage of miles traveled, and thus for me not a big deal.
Fit is at once the most important thing about a shoe, and the one which is impossible to review. I find the fit ideal for my peculiar feet. As I wrote a few days ago, my transition to more minimal shoes has wrought a substantial change in my feet, such that now, I find even the minimal arch support of the stock midsoles to be obnoxious and excessive. I’m planning on replacing them with yoga mat insoles this evening, with perhaps less than full coverage on the inside of the instep.
On the whole this shoe has been tough, the fit excellent, and the sole design extraordinary. Most significant of all, this shoe has been very comfortable. Part of that is the synergy of all of the above, especially the good fit which lets me lace them looser than I’m typically able, thus allowing more room for swelling. I also theorize that the soft rubber lugs being against the ground, with a reasonably good rock plate above, causes a lot of the impact of walking to be dissipated and absorbed across the whole foot. Typically the balls of my feet get sore before anything else, and I think the combination of extraordinary traction and good impact management has helped abrogate this significantly.
In the sysiphian quest for the ideal shoe, this is one worth considering.