running shoe review – Runblogger http://runblogger.com Running Shoes, Gear Reviews, and Posts on the Science of the Sport Wed, 12 Apr 2017 09:10:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.9 Winter Running Shoe Round-Up 2017: Scarpa Atom S, The North Face Ultra MT Winter, Altra Lone Peak Neoshell Mid, Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine, Saucony Razor ICE+, http://runblogger.com/2017/04/winter-running-shoe-round-up-2017-scarpa-atom-s-the-north-face-ultra-mt-winter-altra-lone-peak-neoshell-mid-salomon-s-lab-xa-alpine-saucony-razor-ice.html http://runblogger.com/2017/04/winter-running-shoe-round-up-2017-scarpa-atom-s-the-north-face-ultra-mt-winter-altra-lone-peak-neoshell-mid-salomon-s-lab-xa-alpine-saucony-razor-ice.html#respond Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:00:03 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2185055

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IMG_1143It is already feeling like spring in many parts of the US, but if you live near mountains and like to go up into them from now until May/June, you are likely to encounter some snow still and otherwise harder conditions than ideal for the average trail shoe.  I’ve put a handful of winter trail shoes through some miles and tough conditions this winter/early spring and give you some of my thoughts.  What follows are my experiences with each shoe starting from my favorite on down.  The great news is that they all have something new/unique to offer in a design space that has seen little innovation over the last 5 years.

Scarpa Atom S

Undoubtably the best winter specific shoe design I've seen. Scarpa is on a roll in the technical mountain space.

Undoubtably the best winter specific shoe design I’ve seen. Scarpa is on a roll in the technical mountain space.

When it comes to a pure mountain winter running shoe, this is it folks!  Scarpa pulled out all the stops on the Atom S and came away with the most comfortable and functional shoe of its kind.  The upper is lined with Outdry all the way up to the top of the gaiter, thus making the shoe waterproof all the way to the top.  The gaiter seals up on the calf with no zippers and disappears after a few minutes.  The midsole is stiffened up a bit from the Atom with what I believe is slightly firmer foam and a harder strobel material.  The outsole is Vibram Icetrek and works great on everything I’ve taken it on.  While the Atom S is currently only available in Europe, I believe there will be an Atom S Evo that is coming this next winter that carries over a very similar upper while putting the new Spin midsole and outsole on it.  Should be even better!

The North Face Ultra MT Winter

A really comfortable winter shoe and probably the most well rounded of the bunch. Enough lugs for the snow and ice and yet still runs decent on regular trail.

A really comfortable winter shoe and probably the most well rounded of the bunch. Enough lugs for the snow and ice and yet still runs decent on regular trail.

I really hope the Ultra MT Winter is not a one off shoe (which is what I expect).  They pretty quietly put out this shoe this winter and it is fantastic.  The Ultra MT Winter has a super comfortable upper on a winter shoe and in a bit lighter, less mountain specific application (non-waterproof back half and gaiter which helps with breathability).  Vibram IceTrek outsole as well on this shoe and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the compound.  It is the MegaGrip equivalent for winter.  The Ultra MT Winter also has the distinction of being the only shoe with speedlaces that I’ve not yet felt the need to cut off.  The ample tongue padding and thicker/softer lace cord (hint hint Salomon and others) really take care of the major issues of speedlaces and haven’t been a problem for me.  Well done The North Face and I sincerely hope this isn’t the last winter shoe they produce.  Yes, these types of shoes probably don’t sell in big numbers but for a company focused on producing mountain specific product, they give credibility to that aim.  They are on sale now and I’d highly recommend grabbing a pair for the mountains this spring or even for saving for next winter.

Nicely padded tongue and speed laces that actually work well with the top of my foot...note the thicker cord diameter.

Nicely padded tongue and speed laces that actually work well with the top of my foot…note the thicker cord diameter.

Altra Lone Peak 3 Neoshell Mid

The best version of the Lone Peak 3 in my opinion. A stiffer midsole and harder rubber compound with a more supportive upper really dial it in.

The best version of the Lone Peak 3 in my opinion. A stiffer midsole and harder rubber compound with a more supportive upper really dial it in.

I’m a big fan of Altra’s application of Polartec Neoshell on their Lone Peak series.  I enjoyed the original Neoshells last year and was very excited to hear of a boot version coming down the pipe for this year.  I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed.  The Neoshell Mid is THE shoe I would use for long winter slogs and currently would be the option I would go with for a winter 100 miler if I was to tackle one (Susitna 100, White Mountains 100, Arrowhead 135 for ex).  Since knowing about the Iditarod Trail Invitational and running a 45 mile winter race in Alaska in 2014, I’ve always been evaluating winter shoes for their potential utility in these long and insane winter races and the Neoshell Mid tops the list for me so far.  The wide Altra toebox, stiffer midsole and harder outsole compound relative to the regular LP 3.0 is welcome and actually makes it run better than the LP 3 in my view.  The upper is super comfortable and warm and does not pick up any water weight…huge bonuses if you have to be out all day in the cold and or wet.

Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine

The most specific and technical shoe of the bunch. Salomon's clean design aesthetic on full display.

The most specific and technical shoe of the bunch. Salomon’s clean design aesthetic on full display.

The XA Alpine is no doubt the most niche of all the shoes I tried this winter and I love that about it.  It is at the same time a nimble trail running shoe, with gaiter, great wet-grip contragrip outsole and designed to use flexible crampons (Kahtoola KTS for example).  The fit is one of the best of any Salomons I’ve tried and the midsole, while stiff is adequately protective and runnable.  The shoe just has great design style and construction as well (a continual strong suit of Salomon).  I wouldn’t recommend them for the average runner just looking to keep snow out or stay dry on trails in the winter, but as a tool for mountain travel in the winter or even spring/summer in the high mountains it is very specifically designed and nothing else comparable exists on the market (…yet,  Scarpa has the Atom Tech releasing next winter which should be comparable). The XA Alpine adds to Salomon’s technical credibility and I respect Salomon for pushing a shoe like this out there to the general public since they could easily just make these for their high caliber athletes only.

Basically a Sense upper underneath the gaiter.

Basically a Sense upper underneath the gaiter.

Saucony Razor ICE+

Cool and light gaitered shoe. Outsole is most unique factor and most limited as well.

A nice and light gaitered shoe. Outsole is most unique factor and most limited as well.

I was pretty excited to see Saucony get back into the winter running shoe market with Razor ICE+.  They were one of the first to do such a shoe with the original ProGrid Razor and the ICE+ has a nice clean and light design aesthetic.  Of all the shoes in this round-up, it most reminds me of the old New Balance Winter MT110 which was and still is the lightest winter specific shoe out there.  The 110 Winter’s big drawback was the lack of winter traction and adequate cushion for frozen ground.  The Razor thankfully rectifies some of this but still comes up a bit short in the traction department.  The Razor ICE+ has decent cushion for a lightweight shoe and I’ve had no problems in this regard for runs up to 2 hrs (haven’t taken it out longer than that).  The traction scenario is a bit perplexing.  While, on one hand, the shoe delivers some superb grip on wet and smooth ice due to the implementation of Vibram Arctic Grip (something only available to Wolverine Worldwide companies currently; think Saucony and Merrell in the running space), the tread design is very light and shallow for a shoe that you will spend most of your time in mud, snow and generally nasty conditions.  It’s grip on anything but hard pack dirt and ice is subpar.  I’d recommend the shoe if you are looking for something to perform on ice without having to use metal spikes, even road runs, but if you are looking for an all around winter trail shoe, there are better options listed above in this post.  The good news is the overall design and implementation of the shoe is good and so there is some potential to be tapped into.  If Saucony can redesign with a full Everun midsole and deeper lugs and either more smartly implement Arctic Grip or ditch it all together in favor of Ice Trek or Mega Grip, they’d have a pretty slick winter trail shoe.

Pretty simple and light upper. Most reminiscent of the New Balance MT110 Winter out of the bunch.

Pretty simple and light upper. Most reminiscent of the New Balance MT110 Winter out of the bunch. I removed the speed laces and replaced with regular laces.

 

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La Sportiva Helios 2.0 and Helios SR Dual Review http://runblogger.com/2017/03/la-sportiva-helios-2-0-and-helios-sr-dual-review.html http://runblogger.com/2017/03/la-sportiva-helios-2-0-and-helios-sr-dual-review.html#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:00:10 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2185047

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IMG_2612The original Helios came out in 2013 and used the concept of La Sportivas Vertical K shoe but in a more traditional package.  Essentially the Helios 2.0 and SR remain fairly unchanged at their core compared to the original.  Some upper modifications and rubber compound changes being the most notable. Because the SR and 2.0 are fairly similar I’m going to review them together.

Upper and Fit

In regards to the upper, the SR and 2.0 are nearly identical.  The upper is secure while still being fairly sock-like and generally suits the type of ride and application La Sportiva is going for with the shoe.  The most notable differences are that the 2.0 has no heel counter (something that works really well with this shoe) and the 2.0 has speedlaces (which I removed…the SR’s regular laces work much better and my distaste for speedlaces is well known for regular Runblogger readers).  Overall, the uppers are pretty good.  La Sportiva tends to overcomplicate uppers unnecessarily with many different materials and overlays and these are no exception, but they aren’t distracting in any way.

Fit is very similar, particularly after I removed the speedlaces from the 2.0.

Fit is very similar, particularly after I removed the speedlaces from the 2.0.

Midsole and Ride

The midsole component is literally unchanged from the original Helios and is the element most holding the shoe back in my view.  The “Morpho Dynamic” wave-like design doesn’t hold up in practice in my view for a general use, light-weight trail shoe, although, if you follow Anton Krupicka, he seems to feel they work great scrambling on rock.  The shoe is super flexible and the troughs of the wave shapes create really thin areas that, inexplicably, also have no outsole material?!?  The SR is supposed to have a rockplate on top of the midsole, but I had a real struggle feeling like it added much protection to the shoe.

No heel counter on the 2.0 (on right) is the biggest upper differentiation.

No heel counter on the 2.0 (on right) is the biggest upper differentiation.

Outsole

Like most La Sportiva shoes the outsole compound and stickiness is fantastic while still being durable.  Unlike most La Sportiva shoes, which usually feature full outsole coverage, the wave design, including gratuitous cutouts, are not a great choice for what amounts to a technical mountain racing shoe.  Not only does it not protect the foot super well, the midsole and rubber is prone to getting destroyed by rocks and sharp objects.  This design needs to go in my view.  Not that it can’t work ever, it is just that the shoe would be so much more versatile if it had more rubber coverage and a more standard, non-wave oriented design.  In fact it would be a really fun mountain racing shoe if that was the case!

Helios SR on left, 2.0 on right. Of note, SR has durable rubber on heel and sticky on forefoot where 2.0 has durable all over. Also, take a look at that puncture hole from a piece of gravel in the midsole on the 2.0...one of many reasons that I don't prefer large cutouts.

Helios SR on left, 2.0 on right. Of note, SR has durable rubber on heel and sticky on forefoot where 2.0 has durable all over. Also, take a look at that puncture hole from a piece of gravel in the midsole on the 2.0…one of many reasons that I don’t prefer large cutouts.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things I really appreciate about La Sportiva’s design approach and how they go about making mountain specific product.  They typically take their time creating shoes that are purpose built for certain applications and then after they are released, they rarely get updated and if so, it typically takes a few years at least, which is something I actually like in the now common, 6-12 months and it’s gone product cycle.  La Sportiva makes a quality product and keeps it around for a while; I’m not sure why this concept isn’t followed more in the market since I think it says something about your product (that it is inferior, or wasn’t good enough) if you are already replacing it in a year or less.

La Sportiva’s approach is great when a product really hits the mark in its category.  The Mutant in particular is a example of this.  It’s a unique and quality shoe that performs well and as intended. There is no major reason to update a shoe like this unless you have new and significantly better materials or design ideas.  For the Helios, on the other hand, it’s time has come.  While it does have some good things going for it, the Morpho Dynamic outsole design with way too much exposed midsole needs to go and has passed it’s useful lifespan as a technology.  I’d suggest La Sportiva revive the Skylite (iRunfar review of the Skylite from 2009; oh the days when 12.1 oz was “fairly lightweight”) and use a similar midsole height as the Helios but with the Skylite’s full rubber outsole or something similar with lower lug height designed for drier trails and racing but with La Sportiva’s mountain running design ethos.  As it is, the Helios SR and 2.0 are fun quasi-minimalist shoes with sticky rubber that work great on smoother trails and short little scrambles, other than that, for me they’ve sat on the shelf.

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David’s Year in Review: Best Shoes and Gear from 2016 http://runblogger.com/2017/02/davids-year-in-review-best-shoes-and-gear-from-2016.html http://runblogger.com/2017/02/davids-year-in-review-best-shoes-and-gear-from-2016.html#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 13:00:58 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2185013

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End of the first day at the Fat Dog 120 mile. Enjoying the high alpine section at evening before what would be my biggest struggle of the year through the night resulting in my only DNF for the year.

End of the first day at the Fat Dog 120 mile. Enjoying a high alpine section on a perfect evening before what would be my biggest struggle of the year through the night resulting in my only DNF for the year.

Yes, unfortunately it is now February and a best of 2016 post is old news, but better late than never. While things were a little lighter on the blogging front for me, I still had a full year of running, racing, and got to try out tons of new shoes and gear in the process.  I ran the Carlsbad Road Marathon in January, Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April, Quad Rock 50 mile in May, Bighorn 100 mile in June, Fat Dog 120 (DNF at mile 80, 25 hrs in) in August, and the North Face 50 mile in San Francisco in December.  All in all, it was a good year of improvement and continuing to learn more about my self as a person and runner. Some big goals on tap for this year and hoping to start things off well at the LA Marathon in March (despite a recent injury setback last week, my first in 3 years).

I’ve done a “Best of the Year” post every year and thought I’d put together another one with the addition of some great gear that I’ve used a ton as well.  Hopefully this won’t be too long and some will find it useful!

Best Shoes of 2016

-Road Shoes

From Bottom to Top: Skechers GORun Forza, adidas adizero Boston 6, and Salming Miles.

From Bottom to Top: Skechers GORun Forza, adidas adizero Boston 6, and Salming Miles.

  1. Skechers GORun Forza – The Forza didn’t blow me away when I first tried it in February last year, but it has really hung on in my line-up and is on the short list of road shoes I turn to for most road runs other than really fast days.  The shoe holds up super well, fits and feels like a lighter shoe and offers great structure without ever getting in the way.  Such a great shoe from Skechers and foreshadowing of some big improvements that are just now coming with their 2017 lineup (See GORun 5, GOMeb Razor and GOMeb Speed 4 all of which are fantastic!).
  2. adidas adizero Boston 6 – It took me a long time to get around to trying the Boston 6 despite my affinity for v5 on dry trails.  While the Boston 6 is still great on trails, adidas really improved it’s feel on the road with a softer feeling forefoot due to a new outsole which is softer and yet still very durable; great stuff from Continental.  The new seam-free toebox is a great change as well.  The Boston 6 is one of the best all around shoes out there that will literally almost do anything well.
  3. Salming Miles – Salming was a big surprise for me last year and ended up with my road shoe of the year in the Distance 3.  They didn’t really revamp their mainline models much in 2016 other than some new midsole material on them, but did launch a new road shoe in the Miles.  All of my complaints about durability in the Distance and Speed have been completely abolished with the Miles.  It is probably one of the more durable shoes I’ve ever used and feels completely natural riding in Salming’s usual style and feel.  Great high mileage (likely a 750+ Mile shoe) trainer particularly if you don’t want a higher drop training shoe.

Honorable mentions: adidas adios 1 Haile (great re-issue of the adios 1 and super versatile shoe…can’t find it anymore so hopefully they re-issue the re-issue :) ), adidas adios 3 (incremental update, but still a great shoe) and Nike Pegasus 33 (light and versatile; great on trails),

-Trail Shoes

From Bottom to Top: Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3, Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3, and New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi.

From Bottom to Top: My modified Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3, Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3, and New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi.

  1. Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 – Yes, I know this shoe was out in 2015 even (hard to believe) but I really didn’t begin to use it till this last year and actually ended up using it in most of my races this year at some point or another.  The biggest reason it took me so long was that it took modifying the midsole profile to narrow the shoe up, which transformed the shoe and quickly made it much more nimble and it made a world of difference in the overall feel.  The upper on the Wildhorse 3 is also second to none on the market it my view.  It is light, breathes well and dries out quickly while allowing me to run very long in them sock less with zero issues.  One of the best, well rounded trails shoes ever made.  Version 4 is on the way in April and very much looking forward to that update as well as the Kiger 4.  Take a look here from a preview pic of both of them from Kaci Lickteig’s twitter.
    Unmodified Wildhorse 3 on top, modified on bottom. Basically I've shaved the midsole down to a narrower more nimble profile and really like the results.

    Unmodified Wildhorse 3 on top, modified on bottom. Basically I’ve shaved the midsole down to a narrower more nimble profile and really like the results.

    Doesn't affect the shoe in any negative way and really tightens up the ride while being an ounce lighter. Win, win.

    Doesn’t affect the shoe in any negative way and really tightens up the ride while being an ounce lighter. Win, win.

  2. Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3 – The Ultra 3 was a real surprise for me and after logging quite a few miles in it (in a couple different versions: standard, Climate All-Weather and a custom version with the GOTrail rock plate in it which is amazing).  It has become a very nice tool to reach for in my rotation and the just released GOTrail Ultra 4 is even better with an improved upper in nearly every aspect as well as a bit firmer midsole which is also nice.  If you haven’t tried the Ultra 3 or 4 grab a pair, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and it offers a very unique ride that isn’t really similar to much else in the market.
  3. New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi – I waited till November to try the Gobi and that was too bad.  After feeling that the Zante was loosing some of its initial luster for me due to some subpar (in my view) foam that breaks down way too early.  The Zante also had an upper that isn’t quite as supportive as I’d like to see.  Well the good news for me was the Gobi has a great upper with much more support in addition to the added lugs to the outsole which really improve the feel of the ride in my view.  The foam still breaks down too soon, but really at the price they go for (under $100) there isn’t much to fault in them.

Honorable Mentions: Hoka One One Speed Instinct (best Hoka to date for me; well cushioned yet still enough pop to run fast and the best fit by far in any Hoka for my foot…like a Nike Kiger with more plush feel), Topo MT-2/Hyrdroventure (great light minimal-esque shoes and fantastic update to original MT…there is a new version of the MT-2 with an updated upper material that just came out) , Skechers GOTrail (good new entry for Skechers that runs well in a variety of conditions with a faster/lighter feel than the Ultra 3, but similar fit and finish), Montrail Caldorado (solid all-around new shoe from Montrail…really looking forward to the Caldorado 2 upper update which could address biggest issues with first version), Montrail Trans Alps (super burly, durable and surprisingly runnable beast of a shoe; also looking forward to upper update)

-Mountain Shoes

From Bottom to Top: Scarp Atom, Scarpa Neutron, and Salming Elements.

From Bottom to Top: Scarp Atom, Scarpa Neutron, and Salming Elements.

  1. Scarpa Atom – Scarpa really nailed their 2016 launches and overall came out with the best technical mountain footwear of the year in my view.  Other than some overly wide heel profiles which, while not a deal breaker, could be narrower in my view, the shoes are remarkably well made with sticky Vibram Megagrip, low drops and secure uppers.  The Atom, being the most minimal of the lineup fits snug but comfortable and creates a mountain slipper like feel in both the upper and ride.  Such a fun shoe to run technical terrain in.  I do think it could be improved with a forefoot rock plate to help with the occasional sharp rock and extend the length of outings it could handle, but even so it is still very good and one of my top 3 mountain shoes of all time….I rarely buy 2nd pairs of shoes these days and I’ll be buying another pair of Atoms.
  2. Scarpa Neutron – The Neutron is a burlier and more luggy option from Scarpa and despite needing just a bit narrower midsole profile in the heel, it is a really sweet mountain option with tons of protection, a decent ride, secure upper and great traction.  Check Scarpa out if you frequent some technical or mountain terrain and keep a look out for the forthcoming Scarpa Spin that aims to strike a balance between the Atom and the Neutron and has tons of potential.
  3. Salming Elements – Salming’s first entry into the mountain running scene and they got a lot of things right.  The upper needs just a bit of work in cleaning it up from stitchingand making it a touch more secure and the shoe could use a forefoot rockplate with its relatively low forefoot stack height, but the grip is quite nice in mud and loose terrain and it is one of the best non-UK designed (i.e. inov-8 or Walsh) fell running shoes I’ve come across.  Hopefully, Salming doesn’t give up on the shoe and makes a few tweaks in the direction they appear to be going with their forthcoming Trail 5 and Snowrace with improved uppers and Vibram outsoles.
Descending near of the top of Mt. Olympus outside of Salt Lake City in August.

Descending near of the top of Mt. Olympus outside of Salt Lake City in August.

Best Gear of 2016

-Hydration Gear

From Top to Bottom: Ultimate Direction Mono and Stereo (Hi-Fi fronts on both), Salomon Sense Set and Sense Ultra Set and Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0.

From Top to Bottom: Ultimate Direction Mono and Stereo (Hi-Fi fronts on both), Salomon Sense Set and Sense Ultra Set and Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0.

  1. Ultimate Direction Mono and Stereo waistbelts – I would have never thought waist belts would make a post of any sorts let alone top my list of hydration products but UD blew me away and totally revived the waist belt as a useful running tool.  I used the Stereo which holds two 500 ml soft flasks (the Mono holds 1 500 ml flask) at the Bighorn 100 in the heat and it was incredible to have my torso clear to vent heat and yet still carry enough water comfortably.  The Mono is something I use multiple times a week in training and literally you can’t even feel it on. I can carry a phone and multiple gels (with Hi-Fi front pouch, which comes with Stereo…they are interchangeable) in the front and 500 ml of fluid in the back without even noticing (used this setup at the North Face 50 and it was flawless).
  2. Salomon Sense Set and Ultra Set – What UD did for waist belts Salomon did for hydration vests…I’d almost not call these vests but hydration shirts or apparel they fit so close to the body.  Great versatility and can carry a fair bit without any encumbrance.  When I needed more gear than the UD belts could carry I used one of the Sense vests (i.e. nighttime at Bighorn or other races or training outings where jackets and lights were necessary).  Salomon is revamping the line this year with new bottles with wider caps/opening (yes!) that should go back into the vest easier and upping the capacity from 1 and 3 to 2 and 5 for these vests in addition to adding a new 8 L model (see new line here).
  3. Ultimate Direction AK Mountain Vest 3.0 – The AK vest moved from the most minimal of UD’s vests to a more robust 10L capacity and includes extra pockets and features like ice axe loops for more ambitious outings.  I used the vest at the Fat Dog 120 mile in Canada which had a pretty large mandatory gear list and it was great for that heavier load which would have been too much for the Sense Ultra.  Great for adventures and more involved races and offers a nice blend of capacity and streamlined design.

-Other things I Liked this last Year

Altra Casual shoes, Buff and Dynafit running hats and GU Hydration and Nutrition products.

Altra Casual shoes, Buff and Dynafit running hats and GU Hydration and Nutrition products.

  1. Altra Casual Shoes – Altra released the Tokala and Desert boot and they really hit a nice balance of lightweight design and comfort, while still looking like a normal shoe and feeling like a running shoe.  They’ve been great especially going to work after runs where they have plenty of room for feet to spread, relax and recover.
  2. Light running caps from Buff and Dynafit – the Buff Cap Pro and Dynafit React Cap have been awesome this last year.  They are super light, very packable and both allow the bill to be flipped up when you are climbing steeper trails or otherwise want more visibility.  Great design, particularly in more mountain environments.
  3. GU Energy  – I used to not be that picky about energy and hydration products in the past and felt that sugar was sugar, but after making some effort to dial in my nutrition for 100 milers (after some issues with hydration at Western States in 2015), I needed to deal with sodium levels better as well as have a wide variety of gels and chews to keep things interesting for calories.  The GU Hydration (formerly GU Brew) product had become a go to for electrolyte replacement for long outings and it also contains 70 cals per serving so there is some added sugar there too.  The big difference for me is that the GU Hydration doesn’t have a super sweet taste or aftertaste that many others do for me and this is huge when going through lots of volume of liquid.  GU Roctane drinks are also great for workouts in training where I want to simplify my calories and hydration into one drink.  GU gels, which are now offered in bulk with a GU designed soft flask (yes!) have a wide variety of flavors with many being very palatable for me (some favorited are Salted Chocolate Roctane, Cucumber Mint, Root Beer, Salted Watermelon and Salted Caramel but many other good flavors). I still will use Clif Shot Bloks, Clif gels and Honey Stinger Gels to mix up the type of sugars here and there, but I’ll use GU the most and their drink is by far the best in my view (Clif’s Hydration drink mix is also decent).
Another shot near the bottom of the Mt. Olympus trail.

Another shot near the bottom of the Mt. Olympus trail.

Hope you all found something of interest with this post and hang in there with the site as we try to figure out how to balance everything out with our busy family lives and careers.  Doesn’t mean we aren’t getting out running and trying new things still!  I’d love to read any comments you may have on any of the shoes or gear I mentioned and always on the lookout for new things that work well for folks.  I like good design of all sorts and always curious for new innovations and ideas that work well.  Happy running in 2017!

Recent marathon training conditions....not exactly ideal for a SoCal marathon!

Good luck in 2017 everyone! Pic of some of my recent single digit F marathon training conditions….not exactly ideal for a SoCal marathon, but that’s part of the challenge!

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Mountain Running Shoe Review Round-Up: Scarpa Atom, Salming Elements, inov-8 Arctic Claw 300, Salewa Lite Train, adidas Terrex Agravic http://runblogger.com/2016/12/mountain-running-shoe-review-round-up-scarpa-atom-salming-elements-inov-8-arctic-claw-300-salewa-lite-train-adidas-terrex-agravic.html http://runblogger.com/2016/12/mountain-running-shoe-review-round-up-scarpa-atom-salming-elements-inov-8-arctic-claw-300-salewa-lite-train-adidas-terrex-agravic.html#respond Fri, 16 Dec 2016 13:00:51 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2184944

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In an effort to consolidate the vast amount of shoes I’ve been able to try in the last 3-4 months, I’m going to group shoes into a couple categories and give brief reviews on each of them.  I’m still planning on doing in depth reviews on shoes as well (and have a few shoes already set aside to do so) but in an effort to give some testing feedback on as many shoes as possible I’m going to put together three different round-up reviews of Light Trail Shoes, Protective Trail Shoes and Mountain Running Shoes.  Hopefully there is at least a shoe or two that every reader is/was curious about! This is the third installment covering mountain running shoes after the first two round-ups which covered Light Trail Shoes and Protective Trail Shoes.   I’ve ranked them in roughly the order of my most favorite first to the shoe needing the most improvement at the end.  Specs via Running Warehouse (click on shoe name) unless otherwise indicated.

Scarpa Atom

Scarpa Atom

1. Scarpa Atom – weight 250 grams (8.8 oz) mens 9, 4mm drop, $119.00 (specs via Scarpa)

My first experience with Scarpa was with the TRU which I reviewed in a roundup last year.  Overall I like the fit and design of the shoe but found the midsole to be quite harsh.  My biggest worry about Scarpa’s otherwise great looking 2016 lineup was that the midsole material would be super firm like the TRU.  I’m happy to report that the Atom (along with the Neutron and Proton) all have much better feeling rides.  The Atom has really grown on me over the summer for technical mountain terrain.  It has a very precise ride that inspires confidence on tricky terrain.  The Vibram Megagrip outsole is fantastic and really ties together the otherwise pretty minimal shoe.  Additionally the upper is nice and secure while still being pretty comfortable and sock like. My only wish was that there was a small rockplate in the forefoot to help just a bit with some rock protection on harder surfaces.  It is pretty minimal overall and just every so often that fact is brought to my attention in really rocky conditions.  That said though, it is one of my favorite mountain running shoes ever and the best I’ve tried this year.  Go check them out!

Well padded tongue, lace pocket (yes!) and secure yet comfortable upper.

Well padded tongue, lace pocket (yes!) and secure yet comfortable upper.

I did trim the midsole up a tad to increase sharpness...result was good.

I did trim the midsole up a tad to increase sharpness…result was good.

The Neutron is also a great option, that while not as nimble, offers a ton of protection and is still precise enough for tricky terrain.  The Proton is very durable and protective and runs much better on hard terrain than the Atom or Neutron.  All in all Scarpa definitely hit the mark with their new lineup and quickly moved to the top of my list when I look for a shoe to handle technical routes.

Scapa Neutron - Great all around mountain shoe with tons of protection, traction and good upper comfort.

Scapa Neutron – Great all around mountain shoe with tons of protection, traction and good upper comfort.

Scarpa Proton - super durable, good fit and not as clunky as it looks. NIce high mileage and more hardpack friendly option from Scarpa

Scarpa Proton – super durable, good fit and not as clunky as it looks. Nice high mileage and more hardpack friendly option from Scarpa

2. Salming Elements – weight 277 grams (9.8 oz) mens 9, 21mm Heel/17mm FF, $140.00

IMG_2584Salming has been on a roll over the last couple years and they haven’t really introduced a bad shoe yet. At first I wasn’t sure they could carry the magic over to the the mountain running segment since it tends to be a niche that more technical/moutnain oriented companies better understand.  The Elements defies the odds though and Salming came through with a great shoe for steep, loose and soft terrain.  The fit is secure and yet quite roomy in the forefoot compared to many other mountain/fell running shoes.

A fairly wide toebox for a mountain shoe and good overall upper padding too...something not always present on mountain shoes.

A fairly wide toebox for a mountain shoe and good overall upper padding too…something not always present on mountain shoes.

Super deep lugs do well in soft terrain and the shoe is very stable and natural riding like most of Salming’s lineup.  Other than the slightly higher price tag (a common theme with Salming) I really can’t find too many issues with the shoe when you consider its end use.  I might also like a light rock plate on it like the Scarpa Atom so as to expand the type of terrain it can handle. I’m a big fan of plates for lower stack shoes since you can add a ton of protection at a low weight penalty and little change to the ride.

3. inov-8 Arctic Claw 300 – weight 300 g (10.5 oz) mens 9, 8mm drop, $150 (specs via inov-8)

Arctic Claw 300 on bottom and Arctic Talon 275 on top

Arctic Claw 300 on bottom and Arctic Talon 275 on top

Spiked mountain shoes are a very niche category and typically, other than Icebug, Salomon with the Spikecross and Merrell with the All Out Terra Ice, inov-8 has been the only other brand producing these types of models.  Arguably they’ve been doing it the longest, at least on a larger scale, and I’ve run in the inov-8 OROC 280 and 340 for many winters.  The 340 was and probably still is the gold standard for me in a spiked shoe.  However, one area that I’ve yet to see a company succeed is in making a spiked shoe with a roomy upper.  That was what intrigued me about the Arctic Claw 300 initially is that it is built on inov-8s wider Standard Fit where as all of their other past spiked models (and pretty much any other spiked shoe ever produced) has been quite narrow fitting.  The Arctic Claw comes through in providing a fairly roomy toebox but still manage to have the rest of the shoe perform with aggressive lugs, spikes and even, to some surprise, a little bit of cushion in a technical shoe.  If you’ve shied away from spiked shoes in the past for winter or very wet running because of fit, the Arctic Claw 300 is worth a look.

Arctic Claw 300 on right has a significantly wider toebox and midfoot fit than the Talon 275 on left...I like both but for different reasons

Arctic Claw 300 on right has a significantly wider toebox and midfoot fit than the Talon 275 on left…I like both but for different reasons

The companion Arctic Talon 275 is also quite good and more in line fit wise to the OROC 280 and 340.  inov-8 continues to do well in these more niche categories where as I’ve felt they’ve struggled a bit in making good all around trail shoes in the last few years.

4. Salewa Lite Train – weight 260 g (9.2 oz) mens 9, 18mm heel/12mm FF, $129.00 (specs via Salewa)

IMG_2606I was intrigued when Salewa introduced their Lite Train earlier this year.  It has a lot of features I look for in a mountain and lighter shoe (medium to low drop, rock plate, full outsole, secure lower volume upper but with medium to wider toebox) and I’m always happy to see new entries into my favorite shoe category, particular from companies with mountain expertise that haven’t yet taken a stab at a running shoe.  Of course along with this comes some growing pains and rarely do brands nail it on the first try (the Salming Elements above is probably the biggest exception to this rule that I can recall).  Mainly this comes in the form of the upper being slightly overbuilt with a very heavy and hot suede-like material lining about 75% of the inside of the shoe, backing the mesh.  This results in a very secure fit but the shoe is hot and the upper doesn’t move as freely with the foot as I’d like and is particularly an issue where the tongue is sowed on the upper which is very thick and has irritated the top of my foot.  The last shape is really good though and the foot hold is fantastic so some bright spots in the fit there.  The outsole is also quite nice with Michelin branded rubber which seems quality so far.  A forefoot rock plate adds just the right amount of protection for a light shoe.

Good last shape and overall a well done first attempt.

Good last shape and overall a well done first attempt.

Really the biggest issue besides the slightly overbuilt upper is the midsole material, and thus ride, is sub par and is pretty noticeable compared to many offerings now on the market.  For shorter outings and on really rough terrain it is not as noticeable, but on hardpack trail the shoe just doesn’t inspired much in the ride department.  That said, I like the feel, ride and fit better than something like the Salomon Sense and Sense Softground so it really is not a bad shoe, just still room for some improvement.

5. adidas Terrex Agravic (and Agravic GTX) – weight 328 g (11.6 oz) mens 9, 28mm heel/22mm FF, $135.00

Agravic GTX

Agravic GTX

Man, I cannot tell you how high my expectations were for the Terrex Agravic.  I’d seen glimmers of greatness with the Terrex Boost (now call the Skychaser) and was hoping that the Agravic would essentially keep the good elements (great outsole and midsole/ride) of the Skychaser and address the upper comfort issues and produce in in a slightly lighter and more nimble package.  I tried everything to get the Agravic to work for me, including modifying the lacing and upper to get better security and relieved high lacing pressure issues but to no avail.  The Agravic upper simply is just not cut out for the job.  The EVA tongue design is awful, stops zero lacing pressure and is super sweaty on the foot.  The mesh is mostly comfortable but adidas chose to put a stitched overlay right at the pinky toe and side of the 1st metatarsal which are not comfortable.  Additionally, the upper just doesn’t hold my foot on the platform so taking advantage of the great Continental outsole is not possible.  The midsole, while similar to the Skychaser, is actually a little less precise, especially in the heel area which moves it in the wrong direction for me.

Agravic on top GTX version on bottom. Tried everything I could to salvage Agravic upper including punching new lace holes and removing the offending forefoot overlays.

Agravic on top GTX version on bottom. Tried everything I could to salvage Agravic upper including punching new lace holes and removing the offending forefoot overlays.

Super thin eva tongue...a design I hope not to see again from adidas

Super thin eva tongue…a design I hope not to see again from adidas

A huge bummer, but I really can’t recommend the shoe.  I will say the GTX version doesn’t have all the issues of the regular.  With the GTX membrane it has more support in the upper and also the eva tongue isn’t full length like in the regular version.  I can actually see using the GTX version some this winter, but wouldn’t consider it in any temps above 35 deg F.

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Protective Trail Shoe Review Roundup 2016: Montrail Trans Alps, La Sportiva Akasha, Saucony Xodus ISO, Altra Lone Peak 3.0, Pearl Izumi Trail N3, The North Face Ultra Endurance http://runblogger.com/2016/12/protective-trail-shoe-review-roundup-2016-montrail-trans-alps-la-sportiva-akasha-saucony-xodus-iso-altra-lone-peak-3-0-pearl-izumi-trail-n3-the-north-face-ultra-endurance.html http://runblogger.com/2016/12/protective-trail-shoe-review-roundup-2016-montrail-trans-alps-la-sportiva-akasha-saucony-xodus-iso-altra-lone-peak-3-0-pearl-izumi-trail-n3-the-north-face-ultra-endurance.html#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 13:00:32 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2159485

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In an effort to consolidate the vast amount of shoes I’ve been able to try in the last 4-6 months, I’m going to group shoes into a couple categories and give brief reviews on each of them.  I’m still planning on doing in depth reviews on shoes as well (and have a few shoes already set aside to do so) but in an effort to give some testing feedback on as many shoes as possible I’m going to put together three different round-up reviews of Light Trail Shoes, Protective Trail Shoes and Mountain Running Shoes.  Hopefully there is at least a shoe or two that every reader is/was curious about!  The second in this series is going to be the Protective Trails Shoes and there are some great new shoes in this category this year.  I’ve ranked them in roughly the order of my most favorite first to the shoe needing the most improvement at the end.  Specs via Running Warehouse (click on shoe name) unless otherwise indicated.

FullSizeRender 4

1. Montrail Trans Alps – 365 g (13.0 oz) mens 9, 29mm H, 21mm FF, $130.00

Montrail has successfully, in my view, rebooted and reinvigorated their trail line-up in 2016.  Despite some restructuring as a company, and further re-branding coming in 2017 where they will be called Columbia Montrail, they still managed to put together some good product (see previously the reviewed Caldorado) .  I almost wrote off the Trans Alps when I first saw it.  Fortunately, Montrail sent me a pair anyway and I was more than surprised at how well the shoe ran.  What looks like a lead filled hiking shoe with tank-like construction runs really smoothly and is the most protective shoe I’ve probably ever run in while still be enjoyable to run in.  The outsole is aggressive, yet not overly so and it has a supportive and yet still comfortable upper.

The midsole geometry and design is what really saves this shoe.  It features Montrail’s Fluid Guide construction which has a graduated, seamless density of foam that is softer in the heel and gradually firmer through the midfoot and then softer in the forefoot.  The result is a very stable shoe that transitions really well for how stiff and protective it is.  The shoe has a rock plate and external midfoot shank too which further adds to its ridiculous levels of protection and support.  I, for one, am glad Montrail is willing to produce a shoe like this, which is nice to have in the tool bag for long and rough ultramarathon events and mountain adventures.  I equally enjoy their F.K.T. treatment to the Trans Alps that came out this fall where they simplify the upper and remove the Fluid Guide to lighten of up the shoe and allow for a more nimble option on the same platform.  Very good shoe from Montrail, one of my favorite new shoes this year, and one of the best values on the market since the shoe is easily a 1000 mile shoe I would guess based on the near zero wear I’ve had over a hand full of rough mountain style outings in it already.

FullSizeRender 22. La Sportiva Akasha –  285 g (10.1 oz) mens 9, 31mm H, 25mm FF, $140.00

La Sportiva doesn’t come out with as many new models as other brands, but when they do, I usually pay attention since they build shoes with a very purpose-built mountain design aesthetic.  The Akasha is their most highly cushioned shoe to date and the focus of design was on building an all-around trail and mountain shoe that could handle a variety of terrain and distances.  I think they’ve generally met that goal and the Akasha is one of the better all around, protective models I’ve tried this year with good precision for the level of protection and a comfortable yet secure upper.  One of La Sportiva’s strengths has always been its fantastic rubber compounds for their outsoles and the Akasha is another representation of this.  It uses a combination of the sticky XF rubber in addition to small amounts of the more durable AT compound (red rubber) at the heel and big toe.  The rubber wears really well and performs even better with great traction on most every surface.  The lug shape (one aspect of design I have keen interest in) is good too with lugs going in the direction of travel when they should an providing breaking traction in appropriate areas.

Great tongue padding that distributes lace pressure. Overall a pretty good upper on the Akasha.

Great tongue padding that distributes lace pressure. Overall a pretty good upper on the Akasha.

The midsole is a decent (though not outstanding) injection molded EVA that offers enough life and cushion, yet is still firm enough to not be too squishy or unstable on more technical terrain.  I did modify the heel after a few runs to narrow up what, in my view, was too chunky of a design that was the only glaring flaw in the ride.  After doing so, the shoe performs very predictable on downhills and uneven terrain and in accordance with its protection and stack height.  For runners that are looking for one shoe to cover a wide variety of applications, the Akasha would be near the top of the list as a fantastic all-arounder.

Narrowed the somewhat fat heel down a bit and it made a ton of difference on technical descents...much better heel compliance and stability, plus it saves nearly half an ounce (15 grams).

Narrowed the somewhat fat heel down a bit and it made a ton of difference on technical descents…much better heel compliance and stability, plus it saves nearly half an ounce (15 grams).

IMG_16143. Saucony Xodus ISO – 297 g (10.5 oz) mens 9, 29mm H, 25mm FF, $130.00

I haven’t had great luck with Saucony’s trail line in the past.  The Peregrine 5 is probably the best of the bunch and I did like some things about the Nomad TR.  I’ve not tried previous versions of the Xodus, mainly because they looked overbuilt, heavy and too tapered in the toebox.  Saucony made a significant overhaul to the Xodus with the new Xodus ISO.  The fit in the heel and midfoot is very good, particularly for a Saucony.  It is secure, but the ISO overlays don’t cut into the foot at all.  The only glaring issue with the fit for me is the still, very noticeable tapered toebox.  I’d recommend sizing up a 1/2 size in them to alleviate this issue.  As is, with my size being 13, I can’t size up a 1/2 size to remedy this so the shoe ends up feeling a bit short at the big toe due to the taper.  The midsole and ride of the shoe are above average.  The geometry is good and they keep the profile narrow enough to not feel bulky.  The Everun topsole does help give a little life to the otherwise somewhat dead and firm-ish compressed eva.  The shining component is no doubt the PWRTRAC outsole.  It is making its way onto most all of Saucony’s trail shoes at this point and is a great soft, but durable compound and in a good tri-flex patter on the Xodos ISO.  I really like this outsole and if it was on something closer to the Nomad TR last, it would be a big win for long mountain races/runs.

FullSizeRender 54. Altra Lone Peak 3.0 – 277 g (9.8 oz) mens 9, $120.00, available July 2016

I tend to think of Altra’s Lone Peak as their most recognizable model and it has surely seen great success in the last few years and they are solid fixture at every trail race I go to.  The 3rd full version sees the most substantial update of all versions before it with entirely new outsole, midsole and upper.  I had some issues, particularly with the upper not being secure enough on the Lone Peak 2.5, but really liked the Neoshell version in which the neoshell upper is more secure by not stretching during the run.  The Lone Peak 3.0 attempts to address some of the issues I had with the 2.5.  First, the midsole is a little softer and gives a slightly more responsive ride to it which makes it run better on hardpack/smoother trail; more responsive and lively which I like.  That said it feels like there is a little more stack height and a slightly softer foam so it comes across as an almost quasi-maximalist experience in feel to me and drifts just bit away from the core Lone Peak position as Altra’s all around trail option.  I tested this out on two different Lone Peak 3.0s (pre-production model and production pair) and it still feels softer and more flexible than the 2.5. This basically creates a bigger gap between the Superior and Lone Peak experience.  Oddly enough, with the added stack, there actually seems to be less structure to the midsole due to the midsole compound being slightly softer and softer outsole rubber as well compared to the 2.5. This results in a more flexible ride overall and bit more bouncy feel (good on hardpack, but worse on uneven/tech ground for my tastes) and it leaves me feeling that the shoe just doesn’t quite commit to either being a more protective, bomber long run option (which is what I always have wanted it to be) or more minimal/lighter option since it has elements of both.  Since I’d prefer the more protective approach (lighter option is already the Superior) I think they could thicken the Stoneguard rock plate (which feels pretty light) to add some structure to the soft and flexible ride which would also give the shoe just a bit more spine and protection for the long outings is it best suited for.

Too much volume in the midfoot on the Lone Peak 3.0 last. Shown in comparison is the Topo Athletic Ultrafly which has a very similar toebox but much more secure midfoot...you don't have to have a loose midfoot to have a wide toebox.

Too much volume in the midfoot on the Lone Peak 3.0 last. Shown in comparison is the Topo Athletic Ultrafly which has a very similar toebox but much more secure midfoot…you don’t have to have a loose midfoot to have a wide toebox.

The upper is much improved with solid overlays and a much better heel fit than almost any other Altra I’ve tried.  Good progress in the upper.  However, the last is still too voluminous in the midfoot for my tastes and I have trouble getting the shoe tight enough on technical descents, however, it is a lot better than the 2.5.  I just ran in the new Altra Torin 2.5 for the first time and the performance last on it is great; super wide in the forefoot yet still secure in the midfoot and heel.  I’d love to see the Lone Peak on this performance last, but I’m just not sure if much of Altra’s runner base prefers extra volume in the midfoot/instep and I’m in the minority or if there are more runners out there that would prefer a more secure fit.    I still think the shoe is an improvement over the 2.5, but it still being held back from being great in the small ways I’ve mentioned.  I’ve always imagined the Lone Peak to have the potential to be the perfect long distance trail shoe, but it still falls just a bit short for me.  All in all a good shoe and I’m really looking forward to the mid-height winter version coming in a few months.  It think it has tons of potential for being a great winter running shoe as well as a light hiking shoe for backpackers/through hikers.

FullSizeRender5. Pearl Izumi Trail N3 – 300 g (10.7 oz) mens 9, 29mm H, 21mm FF, $135.00

Pearl Izumi and their E:Motion line has been a staple in the trail and ultra running scene for the last 3-4 years.  Their comfortable uppers and well rounded models have been well received and the shoes generally work as intended.  They offer good middle of the road cushion, protection and traction with soft and comfortable seamless uppers.  All of these good qualities make them great options particularly for the runner who wants one shoe to do everything.  However, as I’ve discussed in my previous review of the Trail N2v2 and N1v2 the lines get blurred a bit between the models where the N1 and N2 aren’t that differentiated featuring similar protection and cushion at similar weights.  Unfortunately the Trail N3 continues this trend with it coming in at nearly the same weight as the N2v2 (and N2v3) and while softer with more cushion, the protection feels somewhat similar as well.  The good news is that all the features that you’ve come to expect from PI are there with a soft and comfortable upper, smooth-ish rockered ride, rock plate and good protection to weight ratio.  That said, being that it still comes in as a very similar middle of the road option with just slightly more cushion than the N2, I’m just not sure where they differentiate the line that much and it will lend to runners buying just one of the models rather than considering two or all three as different tools for different uses.  As it is, I see them as very similar tools with just slightly different leanings.  The N3 runs pretty decent, fits well and works as advertised but doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nor blow me away on any level.  In the end, I think I still probably would go with the N2 to split the difference between the N1 and N3 and have it give me the best of both models.  Since reviewing these, Pearl Izumi announced they are shutting down their run division.  Definitely an interesting move by PI and in many ways sad to see them go.FullSizeRender 3

6. The North Face Ultra Endurance – 323 g (11.4 oz) mens 9, 26mm H/18mm FF, $125.00

I was pleasantly surprised by the North Face Ultra MT last year which had a great mountain design and was the first shoe I ran in with the, then new, Vibram Megagrip rubber compound, which is fantastic.  Seeing that the Ultra Endurance was going to feature a more shallow lugged outsole with Megagrip on a more well-rounded platform, I was pretty excited to test out the results.  It was supposed to have injected EVA, rock plate (North Face calls it a Snake Plate) and middle of the road 8mm drop.  Turns out, they couldn’t have gone with the injected EVA (that or it is really poor foam) and it instead features just a generic low grade EVA material that substantially detracts from the shoe.  This shoe runs very dead to me and it is such a shame!  In this day and age, you just can’t get away with that low of quality of foam and hope runners don’t notice. Secondly, the rock plate literally feels like they forgot it.  The shoe feels thinner and less protective than many other shoes I’ve tried this year but at an 11.4 ounce weight this just makes no sense.  They need to beef the rock plate up quite a bit to give the shoe some structure and protection.  The upper is actually somewhat decent fitting, although, arguably lower volume for most folks for the type of end use it is marketed for (long trail runs).  The outsole is the one shining point with a great design and of course great rubber compound.  The shoe need not be just discarded and is completely salvageable in a version 2 if they can upgrade the foam and beef up the rock plate…maybe lighten the upper up a bit here and there and have a little taller toebox height it really could be a sweet little shoe.  As is, I can’t really recommend it other than for casual hiking or something.

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Light Trail Shoe Review Roundup 2016: Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T., Scott Kinabalu RC, Salmomon Sense Pro 2, Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra, Brooks PureGrit 5 http://runblogger.com/2016/12/light-trail-shoe-review-roundup-2016-montrail-fluidflex-f-k-t-scott-kinabalu-rc-salmomon-sense-pro-2-salomon-s-lab-sense-5-ultra-brooks-puregrit-5.html http://runblogger.com/2016/12/light-trail-shoe-review-roundup-2016-montrail-fluidflex-f-k-t-scott-kinabalu-rc-salmomon-sense-pro-2-salomon-s-lab-sense-5-ultra-brooks-puregrit-5.html#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:00:31 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2184624

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In an effort to consolidate the vast amount of shoes I’ve been able to try in the last 4-6 months, I’m going to group shoes into a couple categories and give brief reviews on each of them.  I’m still planning on doing in depth reviews on shoes as well (and have a few shoes already set aside to do so) but in an effort to give some testing feedback on as many shoes as possible I’m going to put together three different round-up reviews of Light Trail Shoes, Protective Trail Shoes and Mountain Running Shoes.  Hopefully there is at least a shoe or two that every reader is/was curious about! This is the first installment covering Light Trail Shoes .   I’ve ranked them in roughly the order of my most favorite first to the shoe needing the most improvement at the end.  Specs via Running Warehouse (click on shoe name) unless otherwise indicated.  All shoes, except for the Scott Kinabalu RC, were provided by their respective companies for review.

IMG_16031. Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T – weight 274 grams (9.7 oz) mens 9, 22mm H/18mm FF, $110.00

The Montrail Fluidflex ST was a shoe that I saw some potential in last year and Montrail decided to fine tune the upper for 2016 with a new design that is a little lower volume, has a lower heel collar (relative to the last version not in general) and new seamless overlays.  The shoe really runs well and I’ve been particularly happy with it on workouts where I’m running for 2 hours on the trails with some work at tempo pace.  The shoe can handle the distance of a 12-15 mile run just fine, but feels snappy and sharp enough to feel at home at faster paces.  It’d be on my shortlist for a smoother surfaced trail 50k and I’ll likely keep it in my rotation going forward specifically for trail workout days.  The midsole and outsole are carried over from the ST with the Fluid Guide still present that stiffens the midfoot foam just a bit.  Good overall update.  I’m hoping they look at tweaking the midsole and outsole a bit next giving it just a bit sharper, narrower midsole profile and a little more rubber coverage wouldn’t hurt.

IMG_15983. Scott Kinabalu RC – weight 255 grams (9.0 oz) mens 9, 19mm H/14mm FF, $130.00

Scott appears to have made some effort to keep their lineup relevant with some updates to their Kinabalu and off-shoots of the Kinabalu name in the Kinabalu Enduro and Kinabalu RC.  The RC, essentially takes the previously Trail Rocket 2.0 platform and adds a rockplate to it with a new upper.   I like what this has done to the ride, giving the shoe more snap and protection for its weight.  The upper is very low volume throughout…maybe a bit too low for the average foot, but with a heavily padded tongue you can really cinch the shoe down and it doesn’t feel too constricting, although the upper does run a bit hot.  Overall the ride reminds me of the Nike Kiger 2 without zoom units, which is a very good thing since the Kiger 2 is probably the best light trail shoe ever in my mind.  The Kinabalu RC has a fast, near road racing shoe-like ride but still protective enough for rocky terrain.  The only downsides, I feel are the shoe is a bit expensive for what it is (essentially a trail racing flat) and the slightly hot upper.  I do feel, however, that the Kinabalu RC is one of the best light trail shoes to come out this year and that SCOTT has done the best they can do with their carryover platform and to really continue progressing the line, they need a new midsole design and materials.  The good news is after seeing the 2017 lineup at Outdoor Retailer this year, the Kinabalu RC will get a new upper and new midsole material which should move it in the right direction!  Stay tuned for more!

IMG_16063. Salomon Sense Pro 2 – weight 260 grams (9.2 oz) mens 9, 23mm H/17mm FF, $130.00

The Sense Pro hit a great sweet spot for many runners in that it gave the fit and feel of the S-Lab Sense with a little more protection, cushion and without the extra $50 price tag.  I essentially see the Sense Pro 2 and Sense 5 as very similar shoes with just slightly different leanings so many of my thoughts on the Sense 5 (see #4 below) apply here.  However, some things different and stand out in the process.  First, the 6mm offset, in the case of these two shoes is by far preferable since the shoe has a much better flow and transition from midfoot to toeoff.  The Sense 5 is really flat from the midfoot forward, which, while fine when going uphill, feels like it is fighting toe off just a bit on the flats and downhills.  I’ve seen in places where even Salomon team runners like Max King have mentioned this about the Sense 5.  Second, the Sense Pro 2 has a little more stack height and a slightly (relative to the Sense 5) softer midsole feel that gives the shoe a more forgiving ride.  Granted in the scope of all shoes on the market, the Sense Pro 2 is still quite firm.  Lastly, I feel the last on the Sense Pro 2 is just a bit more accommodating fit wise and is more comfortable overall.  All of this combined with the more normal price tag makes choosing between the two shoes an easy decision in favor of the Sense Pro 2.

IMG_16004. Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra – weight 223 grams (7.9 oz) mens 9, 19mm H/15mm FF, $180.00

The S-Lab Sense is quite the iconic shoe.  Having been originally developed for Kilian Jornet’s winning run at the 2011 Western States 100, the shoe has seen quite a few iterations since then (5 in fact, go figure) with the shoe generally getting more substantial with each version.  The Sense 4 was nearly 8.5 oz and had a fairly well lugged outsole, but, and this is the kicker, on the same midsole mold as the original.  So essentially you have a midsole design meant for a 7.0 oz racing shoe that is still being used on 8+ ounce models.  Version 5 does head the other direction to bring the shoe back under 8 oz by removing some of the lug and using a very thin and open mesh on the upper.  Overall I think they’ve basically fine tuned this platform to the utmost in the Sense 5 and it is a nice light trail shoe, but I still honestly find the shoe lacking in some areas that I wish it was just better.  In a way, it would still be best suited as a 7.0 oz trail racing flat, but instead Salomon has firmed up the foam to try to make it more protective and durable..  Problem is, it still has all those midsole/outsole cutouts which reduce protection and durability.  This results in a semi-harsh ride without any durability or protection benefits because of all the cutouts and narrow racing design. The cutouts made sense on a shoe trying to shave every gram, but don’t on a shoe that is trying to be more well rounded.  The construction and quality is top notch but the design needs an overhaul and is basically 5 years old at this point.  It still is a fun, fast little shoe, but there are so many other shoes in the same weight class that I’d choose over the Sense at this point (Nike Kiger anyone?) that it is just not at the top of my list and that is not even getting into the, in-a-class-of-its-own, $180.00 price tag.  The high point to the end of my long standing frustration with some of the design choices with the S-Lab Sense over the years is that the Sense 6 coming in 2017 gets a full outsole and midsole refresh that should help with durability and hopefully ride (if the midsole material is better/less harsh).

 IMG_15945. Brooks PureGrit 5 – weight 277 grams (9.8 oz) mens 9; 21mm H/17mm FF, $120

The Brooks PureGrit has always been a shoe that I’ve wanted to like and, nearly always not worked out for one reason or another.  In version 5 some of the issues I’ve had a addressed and some remain.  The main thing I like about the shoe is the low profile, yet protective all around ride.  It feels minimal and fun to run in, but substantial enough to run longer in.  The midsole material is firm but has some responsiveness to it and the rock plate is substantial enough to really add to the protection and responsiveness of the shoe.  The outsole also is well done and versatile in design.  All in all, the platform is really solid on the shoe.  For me, however, the fit is still a glaring issue on this shoe.  While better than previous versions for me in some areas, there are still some major shortcomings in the fit department.  First off the amount of eyelets are quite low and start much further up the foot than most trail shoes.  This leaves an open feeing over the ball of the foot and toes, which is fine walking around, but at speed on technical trail, my foot was moving a lot in this shoe.  Second there is near zero tongue padding/lace pressure dispersion, which all but eliminates abating the first problems since you can’t crank the laces down unless you don’t want to feel the top of your feet.  Maybe there is a “Brooks” type of foot out there that works for other runners, but for me, the Brooks lasts fit about as poor as any other brand out there which is a real shame.  I’m hoping the forthcoming Mazama, with its speedier focus, fits just a bit more secure.

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New Balance Zante 2 Review: Solid Sequel to a Great Shoe http://runblogger.com/2016/08/new-balance-zante-2-review-solid-sequel-to-a-great-show.html http://runblogger.com/2016/08/new-balance-zante-2-review-solid-sequel-to-a-great-show.html#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 19:16:43 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2184903

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New Balance Zante 2It’s been a long time since I’ve put over 100 miles on a pair of shoes. I’m not entirely sure that I exceeded that with the New Balance Zante 2 (I don’t track miles on shoes anymore), but since I’ve run most of my miles for the past several months in them, I’d have to guess that I’m easily in triple digits for mileage. Over the course of those miles, my experience with the Z2 has been very positive.

The original Zante was one of my favorite shoes – soft sole, comfortable fit, and a smooth ride that offered plenty of cushion for longer runs. To be honest, not much has changed in v2 – the Zante remains a personal favorite, and it’s a shoe that I highly recommend. It retains a soft, 6mm drop sole (though lately as it has broken in I’m almost feeling it’s too soft), and the bump I felt under the midfoot of v1 seems toned down a bit in v2. New Balance did change the pattern on the sidewalls of the midsole, but I can detect no noticeable effect of this.

New Balance Zante 2 side

The upper of the Zante 2 is minimalistic – it’s composed of a stretchy, double-layered mesh with welded overlays, and the heel counter is very flexible. Fit is reasonably roomy on my foot (though not overly spacious – I did go up a half size). Put simply, it’s a no frills upper that just works.

New Balance Zante 2 Medial

The outsole of the Zante 2 is also relatively unchanged. It is a smoothish, full length outsole composed of flat rubber hexagons (see picture down below). Great for the road, but not great on trails, and very little traction (would not use it in winter!). Durability for me has been excellent.

New Balance Zante 2 top

To be honest, my only real complaint about the Zante 2 is the fact that it can at times feel overly soft. It almost feels like the sole may bottom out. I’ve only noticed this recently, so it could either be an effect of running on hot summer asphalt, or breakdown of the midsole cushion with use. In either case, I would not recommend the Zante 2 if you like a firmer shoe.

New Balance Zante 2 Sole

All in all, the New Balance Zante 2 is a great shoe for those who like a smooth, soft ride. It offers a lot of cushion in a lightweight package (8.7 oz in men’s size 9), and could easily serve as a marathon shoe for me. And an even bigger plus is the price – at $100 MSRP it’s quite affordable in the current market. I highly recommend giving the Zante 2 a try!

The New Balance Zante 2 is available for purchase at Running Warehouse and Amazon.com.

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Saucony Peregrine 6 Review: Interesting Update That Needs Some Refinement http://runblogger.com/2016/08/saucony-peregrine-6-review-interesting-update-that-needs-some-refinement.html http://runblogger.com/2016/08/saucony-peregrine-6-review-interesting-update-that-needs-some-refinement.html#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 17:26:57 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2061488

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IMG_0957While I wouldn’t say I have a long history with the Peregrine line (I’ve never really taken to the shoes), I have run in versions 1, 2, 5 and 6, so I have some sense of the evolution of the shoe. Overall, I feel that it has improved over time.  Saucony overhauled the Peregrine for 2016 with a heel Everun insert and new PWRTRAC outsole.

Read on below for my take on the effectiveness of the changes.

Specs

Price:$120 MSRP

Weight: 275 grams (9.8 oz) mens 9 and 235 grams (8.4 oz) womens 8

Stack Height:25mm (Heel), 21mm (Forefoot)

Specs via Running Warehouse

Ok overall fit, but toebox still a little pointy and just not overall very comfy up front.

Ok overall fit, but toebox still a little pointy, and just not very comfy up front.

Upper and Fit

The fit of the Peregrines (and other Saucony shoes) has always been the limiting factor for me.  The Peregrine 5 was by far the best fitting Peregrine for me, and other than a overly stiff heel counter, I had no problems with that upper.  The Peregrine 6 doesn’t quite have as nice of a toebox feel to me (a little less compliant/soft feeling), and the heel counter is still too stiff/overkill for this type of shoe.  The biggest issue with the Peregrine 6 is the vertical stitching on the very narrow heel cup/collar – it hit my heel bone in such a way that it has caused blisters on every outing I’ve taken the shoe on (and I probably only get a handful of blisters all year).  Not good.  Other than that, the upper is pretty standard mesh with Saucony’s Flex Film overlays, and works decent enough in the midfoot and even in the forefoot, though there is still some room to improve the shape there, which is still too pointed.

Peregrine 5, Peregrine 6 and Skechers GOtrail Ultra 3 from left to right. P5 has no material change/stitching and Ultra 3 has it wide enough to not be a problem. Peregrine 6 is too narrow and hits my heel bone.

Peregrine 5, Peregrine 6 and Skechers GOtrail Ultra 3 from left to right. P5 has no material change/stitching on heel and Ultra 3 has it wide enough to not be a problem. Peregrine 6 is too narrow and hits my heel bone.

Midsole and Ride

One of the big stories for Saucony (at least from a marketing perspective) is the recent use of Everun material, which like the Boost material that is used in adidas shoes, is a TPU based cushioning material that touts better responsiveness and durability.  The big difference with Saucony is that they only (so far) have implemented it in a “topsole” fashion, which means that there is a thin layer of Everun on top of the traditional EVA midsole.  In the Peregrine 6, this layer is only in the heel.  Personally, I could not tell much difference from its inclusion in version 6 to the ride in version 5.  The heel may be just a bit softer on downhills, but I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t just from the softer PWRTRAC outsole.  I’m a little confused, particularly since the Peregrine is a pretty light and low trail shoe that favors a midfoot/forefoot landing, as to why they didn’t put the Everun in the forefoot instead, where it would be more noticeable and help offset some of the firmness from the substantial rockplate (which I like).

Pretty basic midsole design with 4mm offset. Somewhat firm-ish, but outsole softens that up a bit.

Pretty basic midsole design with 4mm offset. Somewhat firm-ish, but outsole softens that up a bit.

One thing I thought on my last run in them was that the midfoot was much too flexible, and doesn’t tie the shoe together very well since it has a more substantial forefoot and heel structure.  The solution to this would be to put a small shank in the midfoot to help tie the front and back together.

No midfoot structure with a somewhat structured forefoot (rockplate) and heel (stiff heel counter). Just to be clear, the foot doesn't bend this way, so the shoe doesn't need to either ;).

No midfoot structure with a somewhat structured forefoot (rockplate) and heel (stiff heel counter). Just to be clear, the foot doesn’t bend this way, so the shoe doesn’t need to either ;).

Overall the ride is not bad, but its not memorable either.  It gets the job done, protects the foot well and feels moderately precise, but doesn’t grab me in any way and is the main area (other than removing heel collar stitching) to improve the shoe going forward.

Pretty good shape to heel midsole with little flare.

Pretty good shape to heel midsole with little flare.

Outsole

The new PWRTRAC outsole is by far the most improved area of the shoe over version 5.  I’d go so far as to say, if Saucony would put the new PWRTRAC outsole on the Peregrine 5 midsole and upper they’d have a really nice shoe.  The rubber compound is nice and sticky while also contributing cushion and responsiveness to the ride.  I’d argue that the lug shapes are too pointed for the type of shoe it is, which will accelerate wear, but overall it is so much better than the old (but extremely durable) hard rubber that the previous Peregrines had that was super sketchy on anything but dry dirt (wet rock or bridges were dangerous in that shoe).

Great rubber compound and aggressive lugs. I'd probably prefer the edge lugs to be like the ones in the middle where there is some surface area which would have them hold up better.

Great rubber compound and aggressive lugs. I’d probably prefer the edge lugs to be like the ones in the middle and have some surface area rather than being narrow ridges which would have them hold up better/longer.

Overall, my experience with the PWRTRAC rubber, which is also on the Fastwitch racing flat and Nomad TR has been very positive and is one of the best developments in Saucony’s trail shoes thus far.  The forthcoming Xodus ISO looks to use the PWRTRAC rubber as well.  Overall, the traction on the Peregrine 6 is vastly improved over all other versions.

Peregrine 5 profile is narrower than 6 (better I think) and has midfoot structure with TPU (green material) in midfoot...much better overall in my view. rockplates are similar and robust.

Peregrine 5 profile is narrower than 6 (better I think) and has midfoot structure with TPU (green material) in midfoot…much better overall in my view. The rockplates are similar and both very robust for a light trail shoe.

Conclusion

Some good, some bad with the Peregrine 6.  The outsole is a great improvement, and the ride is maybe a bit softer and flexible as a result of the outsole as well.  However, the upper really detracts from the shoe and is a rare, deal-breaker upper for me. This is unfortunate as upper issues are less common these days – most shoe companies are producing much more comfortable uppers than even a short 3-4 years ago.  The stitching on the inside of the heel cup is a must fix for a Peregrine 7 in my mind (I’d love to see them fix it in the new Peregrine 6 colorways for Fall 16 if possible…it needs immediate attention).  If they fixed that and added a midfoot shank (both could be done without a new midsole mold) they could salvage an otherwise decent shoe.

The Saucony Peregrin 6 is available for purchase at Running Warehouse.

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Saucony Kinvara 7 Review http://runblogger.com/2016/06/saucony-kinvara-7-review.html http://runblogger.com/2016/06/saucony-kinvara-7-review.html#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 22:57:42 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2184655

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Saucony Kinvara 7 frontThe Saucony Kinvara has long been a top option for me among low-drop, lightweight training shoes. I’ve run marathons in the Kinvara, and have had positive experiences with most iterations of the shoe that have come out. Since the arrival of the Kinvara 7 a few months ago, I’ve heard a lot of mixed opinions about the newest version of the shoe . Some have suggested that it’s lost some of it’s magic by becoming a more traditional-style shoe, whereas my friend Thomas over at Believe in the Run says it feels pretty similar to v6.

I tend to agree with Thomas here – though both the upper and sole have been changed in v7, the shoe retains the essence of what the Kinvara is. It’s still a lightweight (sub 8oz in size 9), affordable ($110 MSRP), 4mm drop shoe (22mm heel, 18mm forefoot) that is suitable for both speed and longer distances (specs via Running Warehouse). As someone who prefers less shoe underfoot, the Kinvara is more of a distance trainer and marathon racer for me, and v7 still fits that bill quite nicely.

Saucony Kinvara 7 sideSaucony Kinvara 7 (top) vs. Kinvara 6 (bottom)

Upper

The upper of the Kinvara 7 is really pretty similar to that of the previous version. The mesh has changed slightly, overlays have been moved around, and the Saucony logo has been shifted forward toward the forefoot (similar to what Brooks has done on some of their shoes). But in terms of fit, function, and comfort, there really isn’t much noticeable change. In most ways, it’s still a fairly simple, minimally structured upper (for example, the heel counter remains very soft and flexible). Saucony did opt to keep the Pro-Lock wrap around the midfoot – I honestly don’t have a preference one way or the other about it, but my general feeling is that it doesn’t do much (similar to the Brooks PureProject NavBand), and could therefore be eliminated to shave a bit of weight and simplify the shoe.

Saucony Kinvara 7 topSaucony Kinvara 7 (top) vs. Kinvara 6 (bottom)

Fit

Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed in the Kinvara 7 is the fit (note: I always go 1/2 size up in the Kinvara). K6 fit me well, but the forefoot of K7 feels downright spacious to me. It may be the roomiest forefoot I have felt in any version of the Kinvara. Midfoot and heel lock down well, and this is one of the better-fitting shoes I have tried in awhile – would be a great option for swelling associated with longer distances for my feet (I’ve probably run over 70 miles in them, but long runs maxed out a 7-8 miles).

Saucony Kinvara 7 medialSaucony Kinvara 7 (top) vs. Kinvara 6 (bottom)

Midsole

The big thing that Saucony is touting about the Kinvara 7 is the addition of a wedge of Everun cushioning in the midsole under the heel. From what I gather, Everun is similar to the adidas Boost compound – Saucony claims increased energy return, and better resistance to breakdown over time. To be honest, I couldn’t feel the stuff at all. I tend toward a mild heel strike with most loading under the midfoot, so my stride isn’t always the best to assess heel cushion. If anything, and this may be my biggest complaint about the Kinvara 7, the sole felt a bit dead to me. The Kinvara 7 does not feel springy like the adidas Adios Boost, moreso like the RevLite material used in some New Balance shoes. And it doesn’t feel quite as soft as previous versions of the Kinvara – I’m liking the ride of the New Balance Zante 2 better right now for longer distances for this reason. I’d be curious to try a shoe with a sole made entirely of Everun – as it is now, you likely won’t notice much unless you really pound the heel.

Saucony Kinvara 7 SoleSaucony Kinvara 7 (top) vs. Kinvara 6 (bottom)

Outsole

The outsole of the Kinvara 7 has changed from triangular patches under the forefoot, to a chevron-like pattern. Still no rubber along the outer margin of the forefoot, so durability might be an issue there for some, but mine look pretty solid still after 70+ miles. My guess is only extreme forefoot strikers will have major durability issues due to lack of outsole coverage.

Conclusion

I don’t feel like the Kinvara 7 has strayed far from previous versions. Weight, stack height, etc. all remain very similar. The Kinvara 7 stands out for me due to the spacious forefoot, and with regard to fit, it’s a shoe that disappears on my feet. I would not view the addition of Everun in the sole as a major selling point, and the sole actually felt a bit dead to me – Sacuony may want to extend the material further into the forefoot to see if that improves the ride. For me, the Kinvara 7 remains a solid option among lightweight distance shoes, but I’m finding that the New Balance Zante 2 may have surpassed it in terms of overall ride for my stride in this category.

The Saucony Kinvara 7 is available for purchase at Running Warehouse.

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Skechers GOtrail Ultra 3: Max Cushion Done Right http://runblogger.com/2016/06/skechers-gotrail-ultra-3-max-cushion-done-right.html http://runblogger.com/2016/06/skechers-gotrail-ultra-3-max-cushion-done-right.html#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 12:03:22 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2021203

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Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3For any of you who have followed Runblogger for a while, you know that I haven’t been crazy about very many max-cushioned shoes.  This is not to say that I am closed off to the idea.  Despite starting from a more minimalist framework in my running years ago, I continue to try to be open minded and see how the principles of natural running and good shoe design can be carried over into different tools that runners can use for a wide range running.

I was pretty skeptical that a shoe with a high stack height could retain these principles, and had not run in a highly cushioned shoe that I could tolerate for even an easy recovery run. Until the GOtrail Ultra 3 arrived,  that is. Actually, to be fair, the first shoe was likely the GOrun Ultra Road, which is a little lower in stack height but still within the maximal category. Both of these shoes offer a much more flexible ride than is typical in a max cushion shoe, and the fit is by far the best in the category.  I’ll get into more details below about how this works so well for the new GOtrail Ultra 3, and why you need this shoe on your feet.

Specs

Price: $120 MSRP

Weight: 309 grams (10.9 oz) in mens 9 and 257 grams (9.1 oz) womens 8 (weight via Running Warehouse)

Stack Height: 36mm heel, 32 mm forefoot, midsole height 30mm heel, 26mm forefoot (stack via Skechers Performance)

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Notice the GOtrail signification. First time Skechers has started using that, and a sign of things to come :). Also the tongue is actually well padded, a nice feature for longer outings.

Upper and Fit

The uppers on the newer Skechers shoes have improved so much from their earlier shoes, that they really aren’t even comparable. If you haven’t tried Skechers in a while, you need to try one of their 2016 models to see what I’m talking about. They’ve gone from producing pretty average uppers with stitched overlays and lower-quality feeling materials (except for the Speed series), to producing uppers that are, in my view, equivalent to, if not the best uppers on the market. The last shape on the Ultra 3 is perfect for a long distance trail shoe, with ample room in the forefoot, but a secure midfoot and heel that allows the shoe to feel secure on steep descents without any constriction of the toes.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Great fit for all day comfort, but secure enough to perform at speed.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Welded internal support straps.

Additionally, the tongue is adequately padded, something sometimes oddly missing from trail shoes. A padded tongue is very welcome when you have the shoe on your foot for 5-30 hours in ultra marathon events (especially in shoes with a lot of cushion).  The shoe breathes well and drains extremely well, thanks to a mesh strobel, drainage holes in the foot bed, and holes in the side of the midsole (more on that later).  If you like Hokas, but have struggled with the narrow toeboxes and the funky midfoot fit, the Ultra 3 is really a dream come true in terms of fit for long races.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Great upper design and overall package is high quality.

Midsole and Ride

At first I wasn’t sure if the upper was what made the Ultra 3 stand apart, or the midsole.  I think, in great shoes, all the components work together in a way such that you can’t necessarily separate one component from the other, and the Ultra 3 is a great example of this.  However, in the max cushion realm, the midsole and ride of the Ultra 3, more so even than the upper, really sets this shoe apart.  As I’ve said before, Hokas fit super narrow and uncomfortable with, in my view, a pretty poor last shape for most feet.  Up until now, runners did have the option to turn to one of Altra’s max cushioned models with the Paradigm or Olympus.  I’ve run in both the Paradigm 1.5 and Olympus 2.0, and I can say the fit is more comfortable than Hokas by a long shot (although still not as good as the Ultra 3).  However, the midsoles of the Altras just don’t ride naturally at all with their drastic toe spring/rocker, stiff feel, and wide overall platform (Olympus 2.0 is better with regard to footprint width).

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Tons of cushion. Notice drainage holes in the side.

The Ultra 3 has, hands down, the best ride of any max cushioned shoe on the market.  The geometry and footprint of the midsole is just right (not too wide a footprint, and lively feel from midfoot to toe off) to give it proper stability and a smooth, propulsive ride. The 5GEN compound is super soft, but also very resilient (meaning it bounces back and holds shape/resists compression).  This makes the shoe feel much lighter than it is, and also much more nimble.  Significant flex grooves in the midsole and outsole (interplay between components again) allow for unprecedented flex in a shoe of this stack height.  Additionally, the shape narrows in the arch, which decouples the forefoot and heel (natural principles again).  This is the opposite approach of Hoka and Altra, which rely on stiff midsoles that are thick/wide through the arch to allow for rockered geometries to get through the gait cycle.  In my experience, the rockered soles feel ok at low speeds but really feel unnatural at higher speeds, especially on steep downhills and on technical ground.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Not a very wide or flared heel, which is how I like it. Wide enough to be stable for the high stack, but doesn’t get in the way.

The Ultra 3 runs nearly the same as a normal shoe except for the noticeably enhanced cushioning.  Gait-wise, I didn’t have to change a thing.  This was a massive surprise on the first run in this shoe!  The shoe also features a very innovative and effective drainage system that really is a big deal in long races when there are multiple stream crossings and/or it is hot (requiring the runner to get wet constantly to stay cool). The only surface on which I felt the midsole was suboptimal was on super technical terrain when the shoe really flexes torsionally. I’m not sure yet if design could eliminate this issue (I have a few ideas), or if the stack height just won’t allow it.  Either way, I can confidently say it is the best maximal ride on the market.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Mesh strobel for quick drainage.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Nice footbed with heel drainage holes…this shoe will drain quickly.

Outsole

While not as immediately noticeable, the outsole might also be quite revolutionary as well, mainly in how it allows for significant coverage while staying light weight and allowing for a high level of flexibility.  At first look, I was convinced I’d be ripping off sections of the outsole quite quickly, and am usually a fan of full coverage outsoles for that reason, and for the consistency of ride that a full outsole provides.  The Ultra 3 outsole provides the consistency of ride since it is dispersed evenly due to the web/lattice design.  I’m also happy to say it has held up to significant abuse with no sign of de-lamination so far, and I’ve had it on some rough terrain.  In this case, I’d say the added flexibility and weight savings are worth the tradeoff since it seems to be holding up great.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Great overall and unique web/lattice design.

The traction is fantastic on anything but ice, snow and mud. This is an issue of softness and high stack since you can’t get the penetration into these surfaces since the ground force pressure is dispersed…one of the trade offs when you add cushion.  Overall the lug height is about right, and durability seems on track to last at least 300-400 miles, if not longer, depending on the terrain you run on.

Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3

Skechers recessed the outsole into the EVA midsole, which is brought up flush with the rubber to prevent delamination. It’s these little things that come together to really show the refined design of the Ultra 3.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far in the review, then you already know that I like this shoe.  A lot.  The GOtrail Ultra 3 and Ultra Road have opened my mind to the possibility of max cushion shoes providing a ride that still feels natural and is more of an enhancement, in the form of added cushioning, that still works with a runners natural stride.  This is a huge difference in feel, and the shoe is category-leading in my mind.  If you like Hokas or max cushioned Altras, go out there and try the Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3 (or Ultra Road if you don’t run trails).  The midsole material is substantially better, and the fit and ride is next-level for the category.  If you’ve shied away from max cushion up to this point, I’d also encourage you to give them a try, particularly if you run ultras or higher volume training. They are surprisingly natural feeling for the stack height, and as someone who believes the foot should control the shoe, not the other way around, these are the first maximal shoes that I feel achieve that.  Fantastic job from the Skechers Peformance Division!  I can’t wait till I start seeing the Ultra 3s more and more at trail ultras this year.  I know they’ll be on my feet a fair bit, particularly in my 100 milers later this summer.

The Skechers GoTrail Ultra 3 is available for purchase at Skechers.com (many colors), Amazon.com (some currently discounted), and Running Warehouse (single color).

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Topo MT-2 and Hydroventure: Large Refinements in Topo’s Trail Line http://runblogger.com/2016/06/topo-mt-2-and-hydroventure-large-refinements-in-topos-trail-line.html http://runblogger.com/2016/06/topo-mt-2-and-hydroventure-large-refinements-in-topos-trail-line.html#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 17:43:17 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=1976870

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IMG_0743I’ve running in Topo’s shoe offerings since the inception of the brand.  My general experience has been good, with an appreciation for the concepts they were trying to get across and the approach they took. However, the execution felt just a little lacking, with some materials not as refined, and the ride not very notable.

Topo’s 2015 lineup started to change this a bit, particularly in the uppers, and is reflected in my review of the Runventure. Topo seems very keen on listening to feedback and quickly improving their shoes. I expected some incremental improvement with the MT-2 and Hydroventure, but what I found were some very large refinements across the board that elevate the Topo trail lineup from cool ideas from a new brand, to legitimate trail offerings. I’ve been a fan of Topo for a while, but just couldn’t honestly say the overall experience was one I could recommend.  That’s pretty much turned around with these two models, and I’ll explain why below.

Specs

Topo MT-2 –

Price: $100.00 MSRP

Weight: 241 g (8.5 oz) mens 9

Stack Height: 23mm Heel/20mm FF; 3mm drop

Topo Hydroventure –

Price: $130.00 MSRP

Weight: 275 g (9.7 oz) mens 9

Stack Height: 23mm Heel/20mm FF; 3mm drop

Specs from Topo Athletic

Topo MT-2 and Hydroventure

Great overlays and fit on both of them, with good toebox room and secure midfoot and heel.

Upper and Fit

As I stated above, Topo’s uppers really came a long way in 2015 with shoes like the Runventure, Magnifly and Tribute showing large improvements in the construction, materials, and overlays on the uppers. The MT-2 and Hydroventure continue this refinement in different ways.  The only downside to the Runventure upper was that it had a pretty thick, 3/4 length lining in the interior.  While this was nice from a comfort standpoint, in warmer weather the shoe ran a little hot.

The MT-2 completely alleviates this issue with nearly 70% of the upper unlined (all but the heel area), and a very thin and breathable mesh.  What I’m most surprised about is how they managed to get a good, secure fit with such a thin and light mesh.  My conclusion is that this is due to the fantastic overlays, which they combine to entirely rand the shoe, plus secure the midfoot to the lacing, all in what appears to be either one seamless overlay layer or a few very thin layers (continuous if that is the case since I can’t see transition areas).  The end result is the upper is extremely flexible and comfortable, while still being breathable and supportive.

Same mesh as far as I can tell, with Hyrdoventure (red on right) having the DVdryLT eVent material laminated to the back.

Same mesh as far as I can tell, with Hyrdoventure (red, on right) having the DVdryLT eVent material laminated to the back.

The Hydroventure upper is an entirely different type of improvement.  It uses the same outer mesh and overlay approach as the MT-2, but adds an DVdryLT eVent, one piece upper. While not a waterproof outer shell as much as the Altra Lone Peak Neoshell, it is still a true one piece waterproof upper, unlike the bootie type designs of nearly any other waterproof shoe. The great part of this is that the upper is really not any thicker than a normal shoe, and can be constructed the same as a normal shoe. This makes the fit much nicer than nearly any other waterpoof shoe I’ve run in, even better than the Altra Neoshell simply because the Topo last is much more secure in the midfoot and heel than the Altra.

The only downside to the Hydroventure upper is linked to its upside.  It runs warm in any temps over 35-40 degrees, but as a waterproof shoe, this is almost unavoidable and also a benefit usually in the nasty weather where a waterproof shoe is more useful anyway. Additionally, this upper construction method lends itself to an extremely light overall shoe weight over GTX shoes. The Hydroventure is definitely the lightest waterproof shoe I have and, according to my own measurements, comparable to almost any other normal trail shoe in weight – for example, it is as light as something like the Nike Kiger 3.  Very impressive!

Hydroventure interior is simple and just like regular shoe construction, despite being waterproof.

Hydroventure interior is simple, and just like regular shoe construction, despite being waterproof.

The fit overall is much improved on the MT-2/Hydroventure (same last on both). The midsole is slightly narrower at the arch, and this contributes to a better fit in the midfoot for me over the MT and Runventure. The footbed is also changed, and completely different from other Topo models. Instead of a thick/stiff two piece footbed that felt dead to me, Topo replaced it with a lighter, softer one piece foot bed that just feels much better. Additionally, I feel like the last overall is just a bit more refined in fit, and I get a better fit in the toebox and midfoot than other Topo models without the bunching and more baggy fit of the original MT. The MT-2 and Hydroventure are two of the best fitting shoes out there with a wide toebox and secure midfoot/heel.

New, simplified and lighter footbed.

New, simplified and lighter footbed.

Midsole and Ride

While the uppers are much improved in these shoes over previous Topo models, the midsoles improved even more. The Runventure and original MT both felt dead to me. While the midsole was there and protected your foot a little, it added no life or “feel” to the shoe.  I’m happy to report that the MT-2 and Hydroventure midsole (same mold/shape and I believe firmness) is not only a little more protective, but also much more responsive and lively.  I ran a few different runs in the MT-2 that included some tempo work, with even one interval on pavement, and the shoe really didn’t even feel like a Topo to me.  I would have been very uncomfortable running that same run in the Runventure, and yet the MT-2 was not only enjoyable, but worked as good as many road shoes would, and much better than tons of trail shoes.  They have a very versatile ride that handles smooth/hard terrain, but also is competent on more technical trail due to the lower stack height and trim cut to the midsole and outsole.

Great new midsole design that adds 3mm to forefoot stack height of original MT/Runventure design and offers a slightly softer and more responsive feel. Additionally midfoot is a bit narrower which leads to a better fit in the arch for me.

Great new midsole design that adds 3mm to forefoot stack height of original MT/Runventure design, and offers a slightly softer and more responsive feel. Additionally, midfoot is a bit narrower which leads to a better fit in the arch for me.

One key difference with the Hydroventure is that Topo put in the same rockplate as in the Runventure, which gives it a more protective, and slightly firmer ride. By contrast, the MT-2 has no rockplate, and is much more flexible in feel, but also a bit softer and less protective.  I’m kinda torn between the two rides since the Hydroventure ride would be much better for longer runs/races, but I like MT-2 upper, being light and breathable, so kind of wish the MT-2 had the Hydro rockplate, even though I still like the flexible nimble feel of the MT-2 without it for shorter runs; maybe Topo will offer both someday (fingers crossed :) )?

Outsole

The MT-2 and Hydroventure outsole are the same and, in fact, are also the same as the original MT and Runventure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it is a very versatile outsole that handles a wide variety of terrain and surfaces very well.  Additionally, it is quite durable and light too. For the MT-2, I think the outsole is nearly perfect, however, for the Hydroventure it may be a little under-lugged, since that shoe, being waterproof, is normally going to be used in much nastier conditions like mud, snow and rougher mountain terrain. In this case, I think it could really benefit from a bit deeper lug, which would also help differentiate it a bit more from the MT-2 (and make room for an MT-2 with the Hydroventure rock plate :)). As it is, the current outsole is quite good, and thus the Hydroventure makes a good winter road-to-trail shoe, and also functions well on regular trail in cold conditions.

Same outsole. Notice rockplate exposed in both forefoot and heel (two piece TPU plate) of Hydroventure on the left.

Same outsole. Notice rockplate exposed in both forefoot and heel (two piece TPU plate) of Hydroventure on the left.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m actually somewhat blown away by how much the new Topo models have improved. If these two shoes are any indication, there are some good things coming down the pipe from Topo.  The MT-2, particularly since it retails for $100, is probably one of the best values in the lightweight trail market, and is extremely versatile. The Hydroventure is one of the more reasonably priced waterproof models, while also the lightest and probably best fitting waterproof model out there due to the great DVdryLT eVent design. I’d wholeheartedly recommend the MT-2 for anyone that runs trails and likes a light and lively shoe, and I’d recommend the Hydroventure as a general waterproof shoe, particularly notable for its light weight and for those that like the MT-2 but want a bit more protection. Great stuff Topo!

The Topo MT-2 and Hydroventure are available for purchase at Topoathletic.com and Amazon.com. The MT-2, but not the Hydroventure, is available at Running Warehouse.

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Review: Brooks PureCadence 5 http://runblogger.com/2016/06/review-brooks-purecadence-5.html http://runblogger.com/2016/06/review-brooks-purecadence-5.html#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2016 21:10:32 +0000 http://runblogger.com/?p=2184485

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Brooks PureCadence 5With my return to teaching, I’ve realized that time constraints necessitate making a change to how I write reviews (or they’ll never get done!). I’m going to try a more streamlined approach that I hope will allow me to churn through a backlog of reviews that have been accumulating since the beginning of the year. Here goes…

With their latest iteration of the PureProject, Brooks has trimmed down the collection by eliminating the PureConnect. The PureCadence (support), PureFlow (neutral), and PureGrit (trail) move on to v5. I’ve run in both the PureCadence 5 and PureFlow 5, and this review focuses on the former. I do feel obligated to once again point out that although the PureCadence is marketed as the support/stability shoe in the PureProject lineup, I think that this categorization is pretty artificial. Quite frankly, it feels pretty darned similar to the PureFlow, so don’t let it’s categorization scare you off if you’re interested in giving it a try.

Perhaps the most exciting change in v5 of the PureCadence is the fact that the silly NavBand has been eliminated, as has the non-functional split-toe sole. I’m a fan of eliminating marketing-driven nonsense, and I don’t feel that either of those PureProject “features” accomplished much of anything for the shoe. Thank you Brooks for letting go.

 

Brooks PureCadence 5 SideBrooks PureCadence 5 Medial

Here are my thoughts after probably 75 or so miles in the PureCadence 5:

1. Specs: 9.6 oz, 22mm heel, 18mm forefoot.

2. Sizing: I stayed true to size with a 10 – fit was good, no need to size up for me.

3. Ride: The PureCadence 5 feels very similar to previous iterations of the shoe – reasonably well cushioned, smooth transition, comfortable over longer distances. The shoe retains the undercut heel design, and as a midfoot to mild heel striker this makes me happy. Solid all around!

4. Fit: On the narrow side of middle-of-the-road. The toebox is not overly spacious, but not uncomfortably constricting. Midfoot and heel hold the foot well.

Brooks PureCadence 5 Top

4. Upper: The mesh is not particularly stretchy, so not a lot of give. However, depth of the toebox is sufficient so there is room for the toes to move. Interior lining is plush and might be suitable for sockless wear (have not tried it yet myself).

5. Sole: I’m fond of the Brooks BioMoGo-DNA compound used in the midsole, and have been since the initial iterations of the PureProject shoes. It provides a fairly springy ride, and is a good match for my stride. Brooks touts that their Omega Flex Grooves optimize flexibility – I have no idea what an Omega Flex Groove is, but the sole is reasonably flexible, no complaints there. As mentioned, this doesn’t really feel like a stability shoe. In fact, I’ve gotten some abrasion on the side of the ball behind my big toe. This typically only happens in shoes with a soft medial forefoot, so I may be getting more late stage pronation than in most other shoes despite this being billed as a support model.

6. Durability: Outstanding so far. Plenty of rubber on the sole, with minimal wear visible. Upper has held up extremely well. No tearing, abrasion, etc.

Brooks PureCadence 5 Sole

Conclusion

The Brooks PureCadence 5 is a solid mid- to long distance trainer for those who like a lower-drop, sub-10oz shoe. It’s not for the wide-footed, but should work for narrow to moderate width feet, and durability seems to be excellent. The price point at $120 is a bit higher than I’d like to see ($100-$110 seems more appropriate), but if the durability continues to be as good as I’ve seen so far, then then the $/mile ratio may be fine. And as I said at the outset, I don’t find this Cadence to be particularly controlling or stable, so don’t let that scare you off if (like me) you think the “neutral” PureFlow 5 is pretty ugly.

If you have any specific questions, leave a comment below!

The Brooks PureCadence 5 is available for purchase at Running Warehouse.

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