The cliché about Formula 1 cars – the pinnacle of racing – is that what's impressive about them is not how rapidly they accelerate, but how quickly they brake. The same could be said of La Sportiva's Ultra Raptor all-terrain runners.
Fall runs through hillside foliage are a great way to clear your head – and twist an ankle on slippery trails. The Ultra Raptors are designed for those days when traction is a challenge on trail runs. Contructed of thermoplastic urethane tops and sticky rubber outsoles, the shoes have small toothlike lugs on the bottom of the sole that are intentionally aimed forward to cut into the dirt when you're trying to slow down, rather than speed up. The company calls the design its "impact brake system," and it can deliver a tenacious grip.
In dry grit, the shoes definitely made us more surefooted, but they really came into their own on semi-slick, damp trails. On some Vermont hills, we didn't seem to gain a lot of extra traction climbing steep dirt tracks, but we sure appreciated the Raptors on the way down. Where previously we worried about the embarrassment (and pain) of ending up our derrieres, the shoes dug in just enough to make us forget about the danger.
Unlike extreme studded runners, the Ultra Raptors can be worn into the weekend coffee haus after a run and are comfortable enough, should the need arise, to do a little antiquing in them. In the city, the toothy grip can catch you out on uneven sidewalks, but then again, the Ultra Raptors are designed for country gents rather than city slickers. [$130; sportiva.com]