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Trail Shoe Review Roundup: Montrail Fluid Flex ST, Scarpa TRU, Altra Superior 2.0, North Face Ultra MT, Brooks Cascadia 10

IMG_0148I’ve had a chance to try a lot of new shoes over the past year, and while this is usually great, it sometimes compromises how much time you can get in each shoe. The following shoes are all trail models currently on the market that I ran in last summer and fall but never got the chance to do a full review of. There were some redeeming qualities in each of them that I felt were noteworthy enough for a post, so what follows is more of my impressions of the shoes rather than full reviews. All specs via Running Warehouse unless otherwise noted. Disclosure: These shoes were provided free of charge by their respective manufactures.

Montrail Fluid Flex ST – weight 9.4 oz (266g) mens, stack height: 22mm heel, 18mm forefoot, price: $95.00 MSRP

Montrail Fluid Flex ST

Great midsole and ride on these – vastly improved over the Fluid Flex II. Upper is a solid design, but high volume.

The Fluid Flex ST was a big surprise for me and has one of the best dry trail rides of all the shoes I tried last year. It was a surprise because I really wasn’t fond of the original Fluid Flex, which was too soft and unstable on technical terrain. With the Fluid Flex ST, Montrail added their Fluid Guide feature to the midsole where they put denser foam in the midfoot in a graduated way so it blends more than a traditional post. Additionally, the fluid guide is on both sides of the midfoot, and even extends to parts of the heel and forefoot so it is not like a medial post but more for overall stability and structure.

Montrail also added a very minimal rock plate to the forefoot and simplified the upper. The result is a shoe that runs very precise for how forgiving it is, and feels a lot lighter than its weight would suggest. The only issue I have with this shoe is that the upper has way too much volume in the midfoot, and the heel collar was too high for my foot, so it feels a little too loose overall. I’ll probably do a little modifying to the lacing to try to snug it up a bit, but mostly I’m hoping the recently-released Fluid Flex FKT, which has the same midsole/outsole setup, will address the issues I had with the upper. All in all, the Fluid Flex ST is a fantastic trail shoe and one at a fairly rare $95 price tag.

Scarpa TRU– weight 8.5 oz (241g) mens, drop:6mm, price: $109.00 MSRP; specs via Scarpa

Scarp TRU Trail Shoe

Very minimalist design overall, and great last shape.

The Scarpa TRU is my first experience with Scarpa trail shoes other than trying on the Spark a while back. The TRU has a great minimalist design, and the fit is very nice with a medium/wide forefoot and snug midfoot/heel. The outsole is also designed well with low profile lugs, and reminds me a lot of the New Balance MT101. It has a nylon fabric rock plate in the forefoot and a very firm midsole so that it comes across as fairly protective from rocks, but also not very cushioned. If you liked the ride of the MT101 or MT110v1 this is right in the same vein and quite minimalist feeling, but with a better fit than either of those. The outsole is also a very hard rubber compound which should hold up very well over time, although it also contributes to the super firm ride. The TRU mostly has me really excited about the potential of the forthcoming Scarpa Atom and Neutron which have Vibram rubber and are 4mm and 6mm drop.

Altra Superior 2.0 – weight 8.7 oz (246g) mens, stack height: 19mm heel, 19mm forefoot, price: $110.00 MSRP

Altra Superior 2.0

Altra’s most nimble trail model. Best Altra ride to date for me, and interesting mix of design.

The Altra Superior 2.0 is by far my favorite Altra that I’ve tried. It has a nice, responsive ride with what feels like a blown rubber outsole that adds to the springiness. The upper fabric is more effective at holding the foot than most other Altras since it has very little stretch to it (unlike the Lone Peak 2.5). This is a good thing since it seems that Altra avoids putting overlays on their trail shoes (the Lone Peak 3.0, thankfully, appears to change that trend). The fit is also much lower volume than most other Altras, and fits my foot much better volume-wise. This let me really appreciate the wide toebox rather than feeling like it comes at the cost of midfoot security like some other Altras. The shoe even runs well on the road, and I’ve really enjoyed it overall. I prefer it over the Lone Peak, and oddly enough I actually feel they offer similar protection levels (not as odd when mine weight only 15 g or .5 oz different).

All that said, there are still some things I hope they change in the future that could improve upon what is a decent shoe. First, I don’t like the outsole cutouts at all. It exposes too much midsole to rocks, which puts the foot at more risk and damages the foam prematurely. The added flexibility (what little it adds) is not worth the trade off in my opinion. Second, I also don’t care for the removable-rock-plate-under-the-footbed concept. It adds a lot of weight, messes with the volume of the fit if you want to take it out, and would be more effective between the outsole and midsole rather than under the footbed. I know Altra likes to sandwich the rock plate up higher in the shoe like in the Lone Peak so it deflects the rock into the midsole before it hits the plate, but I don’t think the design makes sense. I don’t find my foot pivoting in shoes with regular rock plate placement like they claim (especially on lower stack shoes), and you lose a lot of precision in the ride and the protection the rock plate gives to the foam so it doesn’t get beat up as quickly. Lastly, the heel collar is too wide and padded for what is necessary for this type of shoe. This is typical of most Altras at this point so not specific to the Superior, but I just don’t think the shoe needs it and could be lighter and snugger fitting with a slimmer heel collar.

Also of note with the Superior 2.0 is that I had to go with a size 14, which is probably 0.5 size too big for me in the end because of a sizing issue with the first round of the 2.0. The new colors launching this spring will have the sizing issue fixed, which should result in a lighter shoe that fits the same (since I could run a 13 instead of 14). Overall, I really like the feel of the shoe and hope to see an update soon since there is much potential already there. I like the wide toebox concept, and I appreciate how Altra listens to feedback and improves their shoes like they seem to be doing season after season.

The Altra Superior 2.0 is available for purchase at Running Warehouse.

The North Face Ultra MT – weight 9.8 oz (277g) mens, stack height: 23mm heel, 15mm forefoot, price: $130.00 MSRP

The North Face MT

Fantastic Vibram Megagrip outsole on the MT, and rock plate in the forefoot are highlights.

The North Face hasn’t been in the shoe game for that long, but are starting to build some momentum with recent and forthcoming offerings. The Ultra MT is by far their best to date (among those that I’ve tried), and has a unique mix of quality materials and design that set it apart in the current market.

First, you’ve probably heard of Vibram’s new Megagrip rubber, which is very sticky, but also durable at the same time. So far, I have no reason to doubt those claims and the rubber has been fantastic on this shoe (so far it is the only shoe with Megagrip that I’ve run in). The last is decent on the MT – fairly roomy in the forefoot, while providing a nice lockdown in the midfoot. The heel is probably overly padded, but I didn’t feel it ruined the shoe. The midsole is firm but offers a nice pop. It runs smooth on hardpack trail, while the outsole and rockplate offer great coverage on technical terrain. The ride is precise and close to the ground, but still quite protective (rock plates win again!).

Overall, a great design, and there will be a forthcoming winter version (see pic 8 in Brian’s great preview post) next summer that adds an integrated gaiter much like the discontinued New Balance MT110 winter, but with the much better suited MT platform has me pretty excited to use them next winter (yes over a year away :)). Overall, no major issues with the shoe other than a minor gripe with the tongue being a tad short for some reason. It will be a shoe I have in my rotation for the foreseeable future.

The North Face Ultra MT is available for purchase at Running Warehouse.

Brooks Cascadia 10 – weight 11.6 oz (328g) mens, stack height: 27mm heel, 17mm forefoot, price: $120.00 MSRP

Brooks Cascadia 10

The classic Cascadia in its 10th version; my first time trying it.

Although I’ve seen many trail runners using the Brooks Cascadia over the last 5 years, I’ve never had the chance to try one, and never looked into them personally because of their heavier weight and higher drop. Brooks offered to send them, and I thought it was a shoe I should at least run in for reference because of how popular they seem to be.

The Cascadia 10 receives a more seamless upper design, and slightly different outsole lug pattern, but is on the same midsole as previous versions. Overall, my impression of the shoe was that it will be super durable, never let you feel under protected, less tank-like than I expected, but, in the end, still a pretty heavy feeling shoe. The ride is fairly firm, but with gobs of protection and some forgiveness. I can see the appeal it has for many for longer races, or if you only want to buy one shoe. The fit is better for me than the Pure Grit (which has too much midfoot volume), but still a little tapered at the big toe (like most Brooks seem to be). Overall, it is definitely a work horse trail shoe that would take a ton of abuse, handle most trail conditions, and it even ran fine on some short road sections for me.

Because we are spoiled these days with tons of options and I have shoes that are designed specifically for certain tasks, the all around nature of the Cascadia doesn’t grab me in any way. However, if you could only have one trail shoe (heaven forbid!), the Cascadia 10 would fill a lot of roles and provide a great value.

The Brooks Cascadia is available for purchase at Running Warehouse. The Cascadia 11 is now available as well at the previous link (Pete apologizes for the delay in getting this review published!)

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About David Henry

David Henry is a 31 year old husband and father of 3 young children. He has completed over 23 ultra marathon events as well as many other shorter races. Some of the notable races he has completed include The Pike’s Peak Marathon, Speedgoat 50k, The Rut 50k, Gorge Waterfalls 100k and Bighorn 100. He has raced in diverse environments ranging from Alaska in winter to the Arizona desert. David appreciates well-crafted running shoes and running on any surface and distance. If interested you can follow my running on Strava: https://www.strava.com/athletes/davidjonhenry

Comments

  1. Nice reviews and a nice mix of shoes, David. I’ve loved the Montrail FluidFlex II’s since they came out and a few months ago they had a few of our size 13s on sale for $27 on Amazon so I snagged a couple more pairs. If the ST and new FKTs are even better I’m looking forward to trying them out when the time comes.

    • David Henry says:

      Yeah, these were from last year. I do think the ST and FKT in particular are better than the Fluid Flex IIs. Much better upper on the FKT especially and I really appreciate the Fluid Guide that stiffens and protects the midfoot with the firmer foam there…makes them much better on long runs.. I should have a review up for the FF FKTs soonish and have my review of the new Caldorado posting Wednesday. -David

  2. Don’t you feel the Superior has limited vertical toe room because of the extended toecap over the toes?

    • David Henry says:

      It does and I had to size up in this version. In the new 2016 version they increased the toebox height and I can use my regular size…I don’t necessarily think the toecap was the main problem, just the height. -David

  3. These are some good shoes David. I ran a handful of shorter races late last year in the Fluid Flex ST, and I liked the lighter feel about the shoe, and was thoroughly impressed with the outsole – it gripped the ground well.

    The Superior is a good shoe too, but I believe that the removable rock plate can be left out for future updates. And I’m glad you were able to try the Cascadia. Based on your reviews here for the Runblogger site, I have the sense that you prefer lighter, more minimal footwear, but the Cascadia is a well-liked, solid trail shoe by many.

    I’ve been running in the Hayate 2 lately. Unlike many trail shoes, this one actually does not have a rock plate up front, but it has done well on fairly technical terrain. Version 2 is drastically different from the original, but the update was a good one.

    • David Henry says:

      Thanks for reading Austin! Yeah it was a good selection of shoes to try and while I do prefer lighter shoes, I’ve definitely enjoyed some more protective shoes lately and the designs are improving. The Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3 and Montrail Trans Alps are two that I’ve enjoyed that a year or two ago I’d have written off without even trying them. -David

  4. hi david– thanks for the interesting updates. could you compare the fluidflex st (and fkt) to adizero xt5 and NB MT101?

    thanks,
    bruce

    • David Henry says:

      Hi Bruce, The Fluidflex is a really nice shoe that runs well. The biggest difference between the xt5 and MT101 is the lower drop (4mm vs. 10mm for both of those) which gives a more level feel to the shoe. It is probably about as protective as the xt5 and more protective than the 101 and softer/more forgiving that both while still feeing fast. I’ll have a full review of the FKT somewhat soon, but I’ve been enjoying that shoe a fair bit. -David

      • thanks, david. so you don’t see any real advantage to xt5 or mt101 over FF ST, aside perhaps from weight?
        do you know if FF II and/or ST are being discontinued? i liked the first two versions of FF a lot more than you did, at least for easier trails. i know the review is coming, but did you find a big improvement in FKT over ST? (i really can’t look at FKT without hearing a certain phrase in my head.)

        best,
        bruce

        • David Henry says:

          Hi Bruce, Yes the FF II and ST are discontinued. I don’t really feel the FKT was a huge improvement over the ST other than it fit my lower volume foot much better and I think the upper is more refined overall. -David

  5. PS: any experience yet with the vazee summit? (also, did you ever run in the vazee pace?)

    • David Henry says:

      Yes, I’ve run in the Summit and just got a pair of the pace pretty cheap (haven’t run in them yet though). The Summits are interesting…on one hand I like the racing flat feel to them and they do remind me of a more refined MT101, but I also feel they are really harsh riding (very firm foam on them, that doesn’t give the same rebound that firm adidas foam does, like the XT5), Besides the upper being better on the Summit, I think the XT5 and XT Boost are superior shoes to the summit. -David

      • thanks for laying it all out for me, david.

        one flash-in-the-pan model you might be interested in if you can find it–because, well, they’re shoes–is the NB MT1690. from a couple of years ago, lasted maybe one year (seemingly no effort to make people aware of it). the cushioning is definitely not minimal (weight around 9 oz.), though the drop is 4 mm and feels a bit lower than that. great fit/last (with great lacing)–quite snug in the heel and midfoot, moderate room in forefoot. very fast-and-free feeling to me; pretty flexible, but nothing like original fluidflex. (can’t vouch for it on technical, no experience, unusual outsole.) just a thought…

        have you tried NB 1400v4? supposedly increased stack height, for better or worse. if you have, how does it compare to v3? did midsole change at all from v1 to v2 and v3? (i only had v1.) v1 fit me very well in my typical size. v2 seemed to run short. what about v3 and v4?

        and fwiw, does shoefitr exist anywhere anymore?

        much thanks,
        bruce

        • David Henry says:

          I actually tried the 1690 back when it came out and I just don’t have good luck with NB’s PL last which the 1690 was on. I agree that overall design was solid, which is why it caught my attention, but I could jive with the fit.

          I’ve tried on the 1400v4 but haven’t run in them. Fit is right on with previous models and it did seem like there was just a bit more shoe, but I would guess it wouldn’t run substantially different. I’ll probably try it down the road when I can find it cheaper sometime.

          RE: Shoefitr, I don’t know what happened to it…I used to use it on Running Warehouse, but since they stopped having it, I haven’t come across it elsewhere.

          David

  6. did v4 and v3 seem true to size to you? as i mentioned, i found v1 true to size but v2 a bit short.

    • David Henry says:

      Yeah they seemed true to size to me…at least true to my NB size…I do fine NB runs just a bit shorter (like 1/4 size) than many other brands.

      • thanks again. sorry, one more–have you tried sense pro 2 yet? i’ve seen a couple people saying that while it’s more cushioned than the original, it’s also (even) stiffer.

        • David Henry says:

          Hi Bruce. No worries. I was out traveling till yesterday so didn’t see the comment. I have a pair of Sense Pro 2, but haven’t run in them yet. Will probably get out in them later in the week, but just from trying them on I’d say they probably are not that different in feel…maybe a little softer/more cushioned but not by much. -David

  7. Hi David, i waited for the Dynafit vertikal pro but they never came to stores here with my big size so I bought the Altra superior 2.0. I have revaluated the tight toe box as my problems with the toes has improved with a bigger toe box though IT tok some time to get used to it.. Overall I really like the concept of Altra with wider toebox and zero drop, it feels more natural and i can run a lot longer without getting burnt out in my legs. I hope they improve the heel cap to the next version to be deeper or higher, I run without the rock plate doesnt feel I need It!

    • David Henry says:

      Thanks for the update Marcus and good to here the toebox issues were fixed in the new Superior 2.0. That model has tons of potential with a little refinement. It is still my favorite Altra to date. -David

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