Trail Shoes QK
by Cregg Weinmann
rail running offers challenges that road running doesn’t: unpaved surfaces, the fresh outdoor feel, and the challenge of varied terrain. Trail shoes have developed to improve traction and protection for runners. In this review, one of two on trail shoes planned for this year, we feature shoes that fall into two subcategories: Responsive Trail and Performance Trail. Responsive trail shoes are protective, midweight shoes that provide good flexibility, support, and cushioning while maintaining a resilient, responsive feel. Like their road counterparts, Performance trail shoes are lightweight shoes but with a lower profile. They’re suitable for trail racing or, for the efficient runner, all trail running from training to racing. Here we present the results of our examination of 12 new or updated models. Our weartesters have provided the valuable information to validate the trailworthiness of each model.
RESPONSIVE TRAIL SHOES Brooks Cascadia 3
Best Responsive Trail Shoe
La Sportiva Imogene
La Sportiva trail shoes have improved significantly over the past several seasons. Though the new Imogene resembles earlier shoes from La Sportiva, its performance is vastly improved. This is principally because the midsole is more resilient and flexible in the forefoot, and provides a well-cushioned ride on a variety of surfaces. The open mesh upper is enhanced with wellplaced overlays spaced intermittently to be protective without adding unnecessary weight. The toe and heel feature the requisite high-friction coatings appropriately placed. The deep tread offers excellent traction, with sticky rubber down the center for additional grip.
Each time out, the Cascadia has been improved by refining materials and design. This latest round incorporates the MoGo midsole compound previously only found in Brooks’ road shoes. Turns out, it’s great on trails as well. The closed mesh upper features synthetic suede overlays that alternate with slots, protecting without adding excessive weight. The 360° rand is a plasticized fabric with a high-friction coating at toe, heel, and lace throat. The Pivot midsole elements (at the arch in front of the heel and laterally behind the metatarsals) do a great job of allowing the foot to adapt to uneven surfaces. The heavily lugged outersole offers secure footing off-road, and also does a decent job on the roads. By striking a successful balance between protection and responsive performance, the Cascadia earns our Best Responsive Trail Shoe honors.
“This shoe felt like a regular road shoe: comfy, not clunky at all. Very good off-road, especially [on] the steep stuff.”
“Great fit for me, and plenty of cushioning. Tread bites in well, no slipping, really makes me want to look for more challenging trails.”
Sizes: Men 7–13; Women 5.5–11 Weight: 12.9 oz. (men’s 11); 10.9 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics
Sizes: Men 8–13,14,15; Women 6–11,12 Weight: 13.3 oz. (men’s 11); 11.3 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved to curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics
Montrail continues to broaden its number of trail offerings, and the new Streak checks in this season with solid credentials. While not quite as lightweight as shoes in the performance trail category, the Streak is definitely performance-oriented. The upper is a mixture of open and closed meshes, with rubbery overlays in both the low rand and over the vamp. They’re also padded over the saddle for additional protection. Thanks to the layers of innersole, EVA Strobel board, and quality midsole, the cushioning is excellent and is at home on both the trail and road. The outersole effectively grips the trail, and does a decent job on the road for those mixed surface runs. Providing a further layer of protection is the Trail Deflection Shield, a molded thermoplastic plate that deflects the trail nasties like sticks, rocks, and roots, while adding a little extra value in the process. “Just what I expect a Montrail shoe to be: protective, comfortable, almost a part of my foot. Like a vital tool to get me to the top of the mountain trail.” Sizes: Men 7–12,13,14,15; Women 5–11 Weight: 12.8 oz. (men’s 11); 10.9 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved to curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics
Oboz is a new brand whose name is an acronym for “Outside Bozeman” (MT). The Ignition features a monosock upper with a very close fit, which keeps out trail debris but may fit too snugly for some lower-arched feet. The supportive overlays are protective without hindering the foot, and the 360° rand adds an extra measure of protection. The base of the heel has a thermoplastic support for stability. The midsole offers good stability, thanks to a second density in the entire heel, and is reasonably well cushioned, certainly adequate for the trails. The lugged outersole provides excellent traction, and features a protective plate without sacrificing the flexibility required for negotiating uneven trails. “Great, snug fit; kept out the dirt, sand, and pebbles. Really gripped the trail, and it was super-protective. A little tough to get on, but worth the effort.” Sizes: Men 8–12,13,14; Women 6–10,11 Weight: 12.6 oz. (men’s 11); 10.6 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics to moderate overpronation
Trail Shoes QK
Trail Shoes Saucony ProGRID Xodus
Saucony’s trail motto is “Run AnyWhere” (RAW), and this new shoe allows you to do just that. The Xodus features road technologies adapted to the trail, and then adds specific trail touches. The Vibram outersole is nicely sculpted and provides great traction in changing conditions and on a variety of surfaces. The dual density midsole features stabilizing lugs in the heel to respond to uneven trails, and a full-length, high quality EVA midsole for great cushioning. The upper is open mesh with Saucony’s ArchLock technology shoring up the medial side. Aided by an insert of SRC, the forefoot is responsively flexible, affording a comfortable ride both off- and on-road. “Fit felt good, snug, and secure, no hot spots whatsoever. Going down steep hills, I realized they really grip, and [they’re] just as good on the uphills. Very responsive, good solid feel. All around, they really impressed me.” Sizes: Men 7–13,14,15; Women 5–12 Weight: 13.1 oz. (men’s 11); 11.0 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved to curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics
Vasque Aether Tech
Vasque’s line of trail running shoes gets broader and better each season. The Aether Tech is aimed at serious trail running. The upper has a nearseamless interior with support from HF-welded overlays and the adjustable BOA system instead of traditional laces. The monosock has a more flexible fit range than most because the BOA system allows you to pull the cable/lace along a guide to close up the gap, functioning more like a gusset than a traditional, stretchy monosock. The singledensity midsole balances cushioning, support, and flexibility with a smooth ride on- or off-road making this shoe especially comfortable for those runs that start on the roads and wind their way into trail country. The deeply treaded outersole provides traction on a variety of trails from soft to rocky and, while not super durable, it manages the roads reasonably well. “Ease of entry was better than expected, and the adjustability was better than hoped for. The traction, fit, and ride made these the best trail shoes I tested.” Sizes: Men 7–12,13,14,15; Women 6–11 Weight: 12.9 oz. (men’s 11); 10.8 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics
PERFORMANCE TRAIL SHOES adidas adiZero XT
Best Performance Trail Shoe (tie) The adiZero series is known for performance, and the adiZero XT is its answer to trail running. The upper is a breathable, closed mesh with protective, rubbery overlays, as well as more traditional synthetic supports. The low-profile, injection-molded EVA/adiPrene midsole is both responsive and protective, and the thermoplastic heel support keeps the foot properly positioned on uneven surfaces. It features the proven TraXion outersole with its trademark crescent-shaped lugs providing exceptional grip. The flexible forefoot aids agility by allowing the foot to adapt to irregular surfaces. Its combination of fit, traction, and durability earned the adiZero XT a tie for Best Performance Trail honors in this very competitive category. “Super fit. Low heel for good ankle stability, snug on foot, and flexible as can be. Great shoe to race on trails.” Sizes: Men 6.5–13,14,15; Women 5–12 Weight: 11.0 oz. (men’s 11); 8.9 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved to curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for faster-paced trail running
ASICS GEL-Trail Attack 4 WR
ASICS wisely updated this shoe with only minor adjustments while maintaining its strengths: lightness, great traction, and a snug fit. The upper reverts to a traditional tongue with gussets to keep out trail debris, and the fit is improved with webbing loops that cinch the midfoot. The closed mesh is treated for water-resistance, yet still allows the foot to breathe. The midsole is essentially the same single-density, well-cushioned chassis as the last version, but the forefoot has been slightly flared to improve stability. The outersole has been beefed up with a nylex plate for additional trail protection. The bidirectional lugs are just as effective as before, thanks to excellent flexibility that allows the shoe to contour to the trail surface, allowing the lugs to really dig in. “These shoes have a great feel. I like how they contour to my feet. There are no pressure spots or hot spots. When I run, they move with my feet, giving me a good sense of the trail I am running on.” Sizes: Men 7–13,14,15; Women 6–12 Weight: 12.2 oz. (men’s 11); 10.3 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for fasterpaced trail running
Trail Shoes QK
Trail Shoes Inov8 fLite 300
One of six fLite series shoes, the 300 features a racer-like, low-profile tread. The upper is well supported with webbing and synthetic leather overlays while a high-friction, rubbery toecap and protective 360° rand protects your foot from sharp sticks and stones. The breathable, dual layer of mesh—open mesh beneath a tougher, screen-like layer—allows good breathability while keeping out trail debris. The outersole is lower than most Inov8 soles and looks aggressive; in use, it’s highly effective. The midsole is fairly substantial, offering good cushioning for packed earth or the occasional road run without dampening the feel for the trail.
New Balance 800
Best Performance Trail Shoe (tie)
“The amount of cushion is good. Soft enough to absorb shock and contour to the trail, but stiff enough that they don’t feel unstable or allow me to feel all of the pebbles. They fit well and have surprising traction.”
The trail shoe category has been a big part of New Balance’s success; the 800 represents many of the reasons why. The upper features open mesh and synthetic overlays on top and closed mesh around the sides where the trail might intrude. The monosock’s fit is more forgiving than many similarly constructed uppers, thanks to lacing options that let you determine the tightness of the ankle fit. The midfoot is secured by N-Lock straps which work with the laces to line up the foot over the midsole. The cushioning is good on multiple surfaces, without compromising flexibility and proprioception. The outersole is N-Grip, a sticky rubber compound that combines with the aggressive lugs to provide great traction. Its standout combination of weight, protection, and traction earned the New Balance 800 a tie for Best Performance Trail shoe honors.
Sizes: Men 4–12,13; Women 5.5–11 Weight: 11.4 oz. (men’s 11); 10.3 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for faster-paced trail running
“I like the way they feel when running off-road. Their lighter weight is great for pushing uphill, they get up and down pretty much whatever I want to play on.” Sizes: Men 7–13,14,15; Women 5–11,12 Weight: 10.9 oz. (men’s 11); 8.8 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved For: medium–high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for faster-paced trail running
Nike Air Zoom Trail S+
Nike performance trail shoes have shared three things: effective traction, a low-slung profile, and good-fitting uppers. The Trail S+ continues this tradition with a few new touches of its own. The upper is closed mesh, but with a good degree of breathability and the requisite protective overlays and toe/heel bumpers. The midsole wraps up the sides of the shoe to meet the toe bumper and provides a rand-like protective layer. The forefoot features Stoneshield for added protection from trail debris, without compromising flexibility. The bottom line is, this shoe is agile. The tread offers better-than-adequate traction while keeping the profile and the weight as low as possible. “They really nailed these to the essentials of a trail shoe. They are light, protective, and their ‘trail sense’ allows me to feel the uneven trail below my feet.” Sizes: Men 7–13,14,15 Weight: 10.7 oz. (men’s 11) Shape: semi-curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for faster-paced trail running
Pearl Izumi Peak XC
The Peak XC is the off-road version of the award-winning Pearl Izumi Streak. Identical in fit and cushioning, the adaptations for trail running can be found in the upper, at the heel and toe, and in the outersole. The low profile and light weight make it well suited to trail running. The upper is breathable mesh, with high-friction rubbery overlays at heel and toes for added protection. Midsole cushioning is provided by the Skydex inserts in the forefoot and outside heel, which stand up to the firm surfaces of both road and trail. The tread is a few millimeters deeper than its road counterpart, and is surprisingly grippy even without pronounced lugs. The overall effect is a quality shoe well suited to fast, nimble trail running. “Though I had my doubts, overall this is a great trail shoe. Fine on the road, as well as the trail. They had enough flexibility, cushioning, and snug, secure fit for me to forget about them and run.” Sizes: Men 7–13,14; Women 5–11,12 Weight: 9.9 oz. (men’s 11); 7.8 oz. (women’s 8) Shape: semi-curved to curved For: medium- to high-arched feet with neutral biomechanics for faster-paced trail running
CREGG WEINMANN is footwear and running products reviewer for the Running Network LLC. A competitive runner for the past 43 years, he also has coached runners at all levels for almost 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Copyright © 2008 by Running Network LLC. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be stored, copied, or reprinted without prior written permission of the Running Network LLC. Reprinted here with permission.