By Rob Coppolillo
Initial reports indicated that La Sportiva—the Italian maker of boots and shoes whose North American HQ is in Boulder—had a new approach rig called the Gandalf, presumably named after the king-honch sorcerer in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. By the time I spied a look at ’em, they’d been renamed the Ganda, so we can reasonably assume a few lawyers made some dough and the folks at La Sportiva had to rename the shoe.
The good news is the Ganda is a work of art. We’ve grown to expect nothing less from La Sportiva’s Italian-crafted footwear: tight, regular stitching; supple leather; a stellar fit; an innovation or two; and plain-old kick-butt performance.
The Ganda’s downsides? Well, the euro hasn’t fully released its stranglehold on the dollar, and paying skilled craftsmen (and providing health care!) isn’t cheap, so the shoe ain’t either: $215 for a pair. The Ganda also feels a tad clunky (14.74 oz/418g) at first—but there’s a method to the design, and by the end of a week of thrashing around in them, I was sold on the construction.
(Full disclosure: La Sportiva provided me a pair of Gandas free of charge…and I pray I get to keep ’em.)
The artisans at La Sportiva build a couple shoes into one with the Ganda. The rear of the shoe is board-lasted (like a lightweight hiker), and there’s a substantial layer between the shock-absorption goo of the lower shoe and the upper. The forefoot is then slip-lasted (like sensitive climbing shoes), putting your foot in closer contact with the sole.
The result? The rear of the shoe feels like a well-supported hiking shoe (pronators and supinators need not worry), definitely a notch beefier than a lighter and softer approach shoe like a Cirque Pro, a La Sportiva model I’ve worn for the past five years. The Ganda has a deepish heel cup which affords zero heel-slip, and plenty of protection for hiking with a pack or rock-hopping, or both at the same time.
The lacing extends to the toe-box of the shoe, helping to hunker down the forefoot when you’re sketching on slabby terrain (consider cinching the laces before you’re run out on Satan’s Slab). The additional padding in the forefoot sole (a godsend while hiking) certainly sacrifices some sensitivity on the rock, though I noticed it mostly in terms of deformation. That is, there’s enough soft, cushiony material in the shoe that torquing the forefoot or edging to the side “gooshes” the upper toward the outside of the sole. The harder you climb in the shoe, the more you’ll notice it, but in general it’s a minor gripe.
I did a few pitches of up to 5.8 climbing and bouldered on harder terrain for a week while testing the Ganda. This was my first go-round with Vibram’s “dot” sole, and it’s certainly climbable. I’d be talking smack if I ranked it against 5.10’s version—not enough time climbing to render a verdict. But nothing about the rubber raised a skeptical eyebrow, durability- or performance-wise. The Gandas feel a lot like the ’80s-era Fires: tons of protection, a sacrifice in sensitivity, but not bad for a boot made for walking. Hand-cracks? Forget it: Toe in, cam over, and float upward. The Gandas smear well enough to keep your sanity on slabs, but tiptoeing along a finger crack might be a challenge. I also loaded a pack with a grade IV–worthy rack, and I felt I could’ve added another 15 pounds without any control or stability problems. What felt “clunky” out of the box makes a ton of sense on the trail—you could easily hike into the Grand or the Incredible Hulk with the Gandas.
As with all of La Sportiva’s hand-crafted models (the Asian-made stuff doesn’t show quite the quality of the Italian goods, in my opinion), the shoes offer impeccable construction. I’d expect several resoles out of a pair, and I’d be mightily surprised if I blew a stitch in the first few seasons.
La Sportiva ships the Ganda with a standard-issue, flimsy insole. The marketing stuff suggests hiking without it, then inserting the insole to take up some volume and improve sensitivity while climbing. I’m not sure I buy that shtick.
I used my custom orthotics, lovingly prepared by Chuck Bird, pedorthist and boot fitter at Neptune Mountaineering (email@example.com). His insoles probably add a bit more material to the whole foot-midsole-sole sandwich, and that’s probably part of my “gooshing” problem mentioned above. It’s my foot, though, and I’m babying it how I like!
I fit my Gandas a bit snug in the forefoot (with said orthotic, not the OEM insole). I can’t stand too much play in the toe box of a shoe in which I’m climbing, but I also wonder if my feet wouldn’t suffer a bit on a Grand Teton day. For what it’s worth, I chose the exact size of my Nepal Extremes and Trangos, so La Sportiva’s sizing seems consistent through their line, as far as I can tell.
Those accustomed to a Cirque Pro, 5.10’s Daescent, or Scarpa’s Expresso, will find the Ganda one notch less sensitive, but if you’re doing alpine days or hiking to a bivy before ridge scrambling, the Ganda will vastly outperform lighter models…and probably last for years longer.
La Sportiva will also offer a higher-cut version, the Ganda Guide, starting this summer ($235). I haven’t handled a pair, but they appear to have a less climbing-friendly sole and a bit more heft (20.2 oz/572g)—think fourth-class ridges and maybe enough beef on which to strap a crampon.