Best Hiking Shoe: La Sportiva Synthesis Review
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After using these for over 2 years, I can easily say that the La Sportiva Synthesis is the best hiking shoe or hiking boot that I’ve owned. This hiking shoe is lightweight, rugged, and has a great trail feel. I use it for everything now. Here’s why it’s so great.
But before you read on, two things.
If you love a big, solid hiking boot, the La Sportiva Synthesis is not for you. Go with something like the Asolo Fugitive GTX instead.
Second, I only post and recommend gear that I actually use and love. And I love this hiking shoe.
This boot is being is discontinued (yet is still great and available) and is being evolved into a new line. Check out my gear page for the updates and skinny.
The La Sportiva Synthesis is a Hiking Shoe / Hiking Boot / Trail Runner Hybrid
I used to have a pair of hiking boots and minimal hiking shoes. I used the hiking boots for rough and sloppy terrain, and the minimal hiking shoes for day hikes. The minimal hiking shoes were my preferred choice because they were light and felt great on the trail.
I own a lot of different footwear, I’d place these in the top two. They feel more like a sneaker than a boot. Extremely comfortable, easy to put on and take off do to the lacing system. Deep treads and good grip. I bought them for tackling mountains however I have been wearing them every day. Might have to get a second pair. – REI Reviewer
The La Sportiva Synthesis has replaced both my hiking boots and minimal hiking shoes. It’s light and has the trail feel of a minimal shoe, but it offers the protection of a boot. If you take a look at the pictures, you can see how much more protection they offer compared to my old minimal hiking shoe, and how similar they are to a full hiking boot. And although they look like my hiking boot, they weigh about half.
The light weight becomes an asset when you hike. The less work your legs have to do, constantly lifting and dropping your feet, the more energy you have, the longer you can hike. It’s the reason why most Appalachian Trail thru-hikers prefer trail running shoes. La Sportiva took their popular trail runners, and beefed them up for hikers.
The La Sportiva Synthesis Have the Stability of Hiking Boots
Hiking boot stability is a controversial subject with hikers. Some hikers swear by a full boot. A full boot allegedly supports your ankles when you are carrying a heavy pack.
I’ve found that ankle support isn’t a factor, regardless of how much weight I have on my back. I’ve rolled ankles in full boots, and I’ve rolled ankles in low hiking shoes. In both cases, my ankle rolled. My ankles tend to roll when I’m tired and not paying attention. No boot will fix that.
I measure a hiking shoe’s stability by how well it grips and adheres to different terrain. I want to be able to step down and know I won’t slip. Hiking boots generally have great stability. They’re heavy, have a wide sole, and have serious tread.
The La Sportiva Synthesis has these attributes, but without the weight. I tested these hiking shoes in extreme, yet common hiking conditions. Testing included mud, loose dirt, rock scrambles, stream beds, and loose hard rock. I never once lost my footing in any of these cases. The blocky Vibram tread and sole are effective. The ground contact is solid. These hiking shoes are as solid as hiking boots.
La Sportiva Synthesis Offers Good Foot Protection
These hiking shoes have Gore-Tex, and are waterproof. I walked through puddles, I hiked through shallow streams, and no water entered the shoe. It might seem obvious, but water will come in through the top, since it’s a mid-cut shoe. Other hikers have used these shoes with waterproof gaiters for water protection higher up on the leg.
Unlike my old minimal hiking shoes, the sides of these come up to your ankle. This offers protection from rocks and debris that get kicked up around your feet. When I take these hiking shoes off after a hike and shake out the debris, nothing comes out.
The Vibram sole is effective at protecting your soles from debris on the trail. If you step on sharp rocks, you don’t feel it on your foot.
The Most Comfortable Hiking Shoe, Ever
Yea, I said it. Other hikers had told me that the La Sportiva Synthesis shoes were comfortable, but you have to feel it to understand it. You can feel just enough of the trail without the trail debris poking through.
I went ‘all-in’ on my test hike with the La Sportiva Synthesis. I did a 19.5 mile hike with 5200 feet of climbing. At the end of the hike, my feet felt fine. I didn’t have any blisters. There was no break-in period. Beautiful.
My feet stayed cool thanks to the new Gore-Tex Surround technology. This tech has a layer in the sole that vents all the air out of the shoe every time you step down. It does this while still being waterproof. The Gore-Tex breathed and keep my feet cool in 100F+ temperatures.
I’ve had a pair of the Synthesis for the last 6 months and have been very impressed. They get used mostly hiking around Colorado (though I’ve had a few trips up to Wyoming and Utah) and the first thing I noticed was how much lighter and more comfortable they were than my old Asolo boots. While they give up just a little ankle support, I feel like they more than make up for that in mobility. The Vibram sole is awesome and it sticks to pretty much everything I’ve run into. Loose and rocky terrain is so much easier with the better mobility and traction, After reading a few reviews on the way the Surround works, I was intrigued. Generally I avoid GTX shoes for summer as I end up with wet, sweaty feet. After hiking all summer in these, I’ve decided the Surround is a definite improvement over my old GTX boots. So much so that I even throw these on for trips around town (something I would never do with my old boots). They are equally as waterproof and my feet stay dry after splashing through puddles or crossing streams. – REI Reviewer
These hiking shoes are about half the weight of a regular hiking boot. There’s an old hiking quote – “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.” Hiking with the La Sportiva Synthesis saves you energy. In practical terms, that means you can hike farther and/or not be as tired.
Hiking shoes have been popular with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers for a while now. The two most popular hiking shoes for AT thru-hikers were the Salomon XA Pro 3D and the Brooks Cascadia. I tried both of them on at REI, and the La Sportiva Synthesis just felt much better. If in doubt, try those on, maybe they’ll work for you.
1200 Mile Update
After 1200 miles, my La Sportiva Synthesis finally failed. Here’s an update on their condition.
Overall, they’ve held up really well. I’m a pretty active hiker, and use the boots in many different conditions. I’m probably somewhere above the average hiker, and somewhere below an AT or PCT through hiker. I had read that the tread wore down for some AT users at around 800 miles, but it held up for me pretty well.
The boots are still waterproof, and they still grip really well on rock scrambles. Some of the threading in the lacing system has frayed though.
The major malfunction that I experienced was chafing on the lace, which led to them breaking 10 miles into a 20 mile hike. Incredibly, the boot was snug enough that I was able to hike the remaining 10 miles home and the boot stayed on my foot (with the broken lace). After investigating closer, a small pebble had wedged itself into the mesh loop that the lace goes through. As I hiked, the pebble wore away the lace, and it broke at the loop.
I called La Sportiva, and they recommended replacing the lace with Yankz! laces (available at REI). I went to REI and talked to the shoe guy. He recommended just replacing the elastic webbing cord. I tried both, and they both worked fine. It was a 5 minute swap for both options. I also did a 12 mile hike with both systems. The Yankz! provided a snugger fit, perhaps because of the larger diameter cord. Some of the reviews for the Yankz! laces said they break easily, but after about 100 miles, they’re still fine on my boots.
Overall, I would still recommend them. I haven’t had one blister since using these, they’re light as can be, and have held up really well.
1600 Mile Update
I finally called it a day for this pair and got another. They were still comfortable, but the tread just wore away. Here’s some new pair / old pair comparison photos. You can see that aside from the laces and tread, the boot held up extremely well.