The terms of reference used in running today seem increasingly blurred. Mountain running, fell running, trail running and ultra distance running all have overlapping borders. The Jackal reflects this, as it's a shoe that can embrace all such disciplines simultaneously, being suitable for trails, mountain trails, and mountain trails over very long distances. It's designed with mileage in mind, with ample cushioning to keep you comfortable over ultra distance events and races. When it comes to grip there's all that is required tracks and trails, be that on the valley floor or the fell tops. Sound too good to be true? You might think so, but the Jackal made a good first impression, and my opinion of it has got better still with use.
To add a little further context to the intro, where is the Jackal best suited? The term 'trail' is exceptionally vague. You might picture a broad, manicured track winding gently through forest and valley floor, but equally, 'trail' could encompass something the various routes up Snowdon, Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis, which clearly border on what many might call fell or 'mountain' running.
So what about an ultra like the Bob Graham, which combines each of these aspects of running into a single very long outing? This is a thought I was thinking a lot earlier in the year, shortly before a ruptured appendix scuppered my own attempt. The vast majority of the Bob Graham is on wide footpaths in the Lakeland fells, between which there's a fair few trods of varying size and significance. If you get your route dialled there's a few bits which have an off-piste feel, but if all goes to plan you should be keeping these to a minimum. Given that I'm already a convert to La Sportiva's more gnarly Mutant, I wasn't sure whether the Jackal would tempt me away, but had all gone to plan it is undoubtedly the one I would have chosen for the BGR - at least for the first two or three legs (possibly more).
The Jackal is emphatically NOT an off-piste beast, as its width can lead to it feeling a little unstable on off-camber and rough terrain (think tussocks); however, it's not designed or pitched as being for this - hence it's an unfair criticism to draw (although a question people will inevitably ask, including myself). It is a strong contender for one of the most likeable shoes I've worn in a long time, feeling comfortable and supportive irrespective of the distance. This made it appealing not just as a longer distance shoe, but also as a training shoe throughout the rest of the year, as the benefits of its cushioning can still be felt on shorter runs. The 7mm heel drop also provides a good balance, not feeling too high (and therefore unwieldy on more technical descents) or too low (hence lacking the required cushioning and support).
Whilst it isn't designed with walking or walk-ins in mind, due to its comfort, grip and light weight I have frequently found myself using them where I might have previously put on an approach shoe. So whilst it may not be what they were designed for, they've proved more than suitable for walking in the hills, especially on summery days where the breathability can be fully felt. They could be a good bet for backpacking on harder-packed trails, too - think something like the West Highland Way.
Above: aside from running, the Jackal also proved to be comfortable whilst walking
The Jackal has a wide fit, particularly around the forefoot, which should help to compensate for any swelling which might occur throughout ultra distance events. It also gives ample space for the foot to spread and contract naturally, which helps to avoid pinch points and blisters. The downside to this is that on off camber and/or particularly rough terrain they can feel a little unstable - but if you're looking for an off-piste beast then give the Mutant a go instead. Those with a particularly narrow foot may just find them too wide, full stop; as always we recommend trying before buying in order to guarantee that they're a shoe that will work for you.
The heel cup is firm in its construction, with a narrow fit that helps to keep the back of the foot firmly in place, minimising the risk of heel lift. I've found that it manages to do so without aggravating the achilles, although depending on the shape of your heel this may or may not require time to wear in (for me they were fine out of the box, but I've seen reports of others needing a bit more use to wear them in).
The Jackal is available in a men's fit and a lower volume/women's version. Size-wise they come up quite small; I think it's worth going a half size up (I'm a 43.5 in the La Sportiva Mutant and a 44 in the Jackal) - in fact La Sportiva recommend going up a full size, which perhaps suggests they got their numbers wrong here!
The Jackal features a dual compound FriXion® sole with lateral IBS* lugs. In layman's terms this roughly translates to 'pretty grippy, but not too grippy'. It's not designed to be worn in the muddiest and slippiest conditions, but it can handle some rough terrain. Unless it was particularly dry, they wouldn't be my off-road shoe of choice throughout the winter months, but that largely depends on the terrain. If it's more open trail, they should be fine; if it's more forested or rough mountain environment, then probably not. During the summer months they could take you a lot of places but, to reiterate, they're better suited towards drier conditions.
*presumably this does not stand irritable bowel syndrome?!
When it comes to the cushioning the Jackal has had some serious amounts of love and attention put into it. It features dual density EVA, with a softer and bouncier compound throughout its whole length, but with a denser EVA around the back which helps to provide additional stability. However, the key to its success is undoubtedly in the internal 'Infinitoo' pads, which give a great sense of spring when moving forwards. Ordinarily I'd be cynical of such claims, but it is noticeable from the first moment you put them on to the last step you take going back home.
The final aspect of the midsole that is worth mentioning is the rock shield, which on the one hand does what it says on the tin (i.e. protects your feet from rocks), but on the other does something so much more worthwhile, by providing a bit of torsional support across the shoe - something that you can definitely feel the benefit of on off camber terrain.
Weight-wise the Jackal comes in at 600g per pair (size 42), which is impressive considering the level of support and cushioning it provides. Yes, there are lighter shoes out there, but none of them provide anywhere near what the Jackal does in terms of all-day comfort.
The uppers feature a stretch tongue which has a soft feel and a lycra cuff/side panels, which help to keep it central (and also help to keep dirt, twigs and rocks from getting in). The laces themselves are worthy of note, insofar as they're quite soft and whilst they aren't flat, they're a curious blend of flat and rounded and stay tied up remarkably well. The lacing goes 2/3rds of the way down the shoe, giving you adjustability right up to the forefoot.
Over the forefoot itself there is a quick drying mesh on top, with a thermo-moulded TPU toe-cap across the front, which provides protection for your toes. The sides are reinforced with a thermo-adhesive TPU, which helps with durability and also offers a bit more structure, which in turn makes them feel a bit more supportive. Overall though they are an extremely breathable and quick drying shoe.
I liked the Jackal from the moment I first put them on and have continued to love them through repeated use. They hit a good solid middle ground, as something that can be used comfortably in a wide variety of environments, be that trail, fell, mountain, ultra, or whatever other discipline you wish to participate in. Were there to be a drawback it is that their width could lead to a lack of stability on rough terrain and that due to their sole, they're not what you'd want in unduly muddy conditions. That said, this doesn't feel like what they've been designed for. If you want something comfy and supportive for middle-to-long distances they could well be the business.
La Sportiva say:
Jackal is the mountain running shoe dedicated to off-road running over ultra distances and for training long-distance workouts on medium distances thanks to the exceptional cushioning guaranteed by the innovative Infinitoo™ high energy return technology. Every detail, from the uppers to the sole, is designed to enhance the comfort of the foot over long distances: wide, comfortable fit designed for use in ultra-marathons, comfort fit, enveloping and soft elastic tongue for maximum freedom of movement with internal bellows to protect against stones and mud.
- Sizes: 38-49.5 (men) 36-43 (women)
- Weight: 600g pair size 42
- Uppers: Sandwich mesh (toe and tongue) + thermo-adhesive TPU reinforcements + side panels in mono-burr Nylon + Elastan cuff
- Lining: Abrasion resistant micro-fiber
- Footbed: Ortholite® Ergonomic
- Midsole: EVA with polyurethane Infinitoo™ Technology + rock-shield in high density EVA + additional internal cushioning platform
- Sole: Dual compound FriXion® Red with lateral IBS lugs
- Soft, stretch tongue provides a comfort fit for maximum freedom of movement
- Internal bellows construction provides protection against stones and mud
For more info see lasportiva.com