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Dirty Runner: Pearl Izumi EM N1 Trail Shoe Review

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1I’ve been struggling to write this review. I received this pair of Pearl Izumi EM N1 Trail shoes in May and have run 111 miles in them so far (Disclosure: These shoes were sent to me free of charge as a media sample courtesy of PI). I love these shoes, but when thinking about what to write for this review I’ve been stuck. Why?  Because there is nothing gimmicky or flashy about it.  A trip to the Pearl Izumi website gives this for a description:

“The purist’s dream shoe, the Project E:Motion Trail N1 is built to deliver the ultimate smooth flowing responsive ride. The glove-like fit coupled with the E:Motion midsole deliver a light and smooth experience. The Trail N1 offers great trail feel and traction with enough protection and cushioning for bombing descents over technical terrain.”

For once, a company has got the marketing 100% correct. I couldn’t describe the shoe better if I tried. It fits like a glove over the midfoot/forefoot, has a nice ample toe box, comfortable heel and delivers a very smooth ride.

This is the trail shoe that Goldilocks would rock. Everything is “just right.” It runs exactly true to size. The ride is not too firm, and not too soft. The weight is not too light, and not too heavy (my size 10.5 weighs in at 10.6 oz). The grip is not slippy, but not overly aggressive. The heel counter is not too stiff, but not too soft. The drainage is not bad, but not great. The rock protection is not to thick, but still works well to protect your feet.  The sole is not too stiff, and not excessively flexible. You get the point.

But the net result of avoiding any characteristic that is not too radical is a great trail shoe that I seem to pick time and time again when I want a shoe that is just right for about every condition out there.


That’s not to say that it doesn’t have any great features, it does. Take the design of the tongue for example. PI did something incredibly smart. They incorporated a normal lace holder in the middle of it, but also added two other lace holders near the top that secure it in place incredibly well.  Although it’s not gusseted, it doesn’t have to be because it just doesn’t move out of place.  Super smart.

I supposed that a proper review of this shoe should talk about PI’s “E:Motion” design.  For me, it is a great idea that ends up confusing a lot of people as far as the heel/toe drop. They list it as having a 1mm “offset” on the website.  Running Warehouse, who measure the shoes themselves, list it as having a 16mm forefoot and a 23mm heel (7mm). The video below explains what PI is calling “Dynamic Offset” vs. our traditional thought of what offset is.

I would imagine that every shoe could have a “dynamic offset” measurement based on how they explain it in the video.  But the real question is, does it achieve the desired result?  I can tell you that it absolutely does.  The shoe feels comfy and smooth throughout the entire foot stroke.  Looking at a picture of the shoe, it looks like it has a rocker type sole, but it doesn’t feel like that when you run in them.  There is no pronounced bump under the arch and it feels like it sits flat when standing still.  There is also very little arch support, which I like.

There is a common saying in the business world, “don’t try to be all things to all people.”  The “one size fits all” approach rarely works for most products.  But in the case of the N1, it does.  This is a shoe that will fit a broad range of runners.  From occasional trail runners to somebody looking for a 100 mile race shoe.  Timothy Olson has won the Western States 100 twice in this shoe.  Now you have no more excuses….

The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 is available for sale at Running Warehouse and in a wider range of colors (some on sale) at Zappos.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit

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  1. […] 2013, “The eMotion Trail N1 is hands down the best trail shoe I’ve tried for 2013.”, August 15, 2013, “The “one size fits all” approach rarely works for most products.  But […]

  2. […] Reviews: Runner’s World, April 18, 2013, “‘Unequivocally, the best shoe I’ve ever worn,’ says one runner, a sentiment echoed by many other testers.” […]

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