Winter 2016 Trail Shoe Review

By Cregg Weinmann – February 1, 2016

Here’s our semi-annual look at a sampling of shoes designed to grip and tame trails: some for training, others for faster running. The mix includes five new models and three updates. Trails vary considerably, and not surprisingly so do trail shoes. It’s a good idea to match your shoes to the running you’ll be doing. If you like protection on the roads, start with Responsive Trail shoes. If you like speedier Performance shoes on the road, Performance Trail may be the best place to start. As always, this review is a starting point in your search for your best trail shoes. Follow it up with the help of a Specialty Running retailer whenever possible. And don’t forget to check for periodic updates and special features.

361º Ortega $120
The new 361º Ortega brings the brand’s technology to the trail. The upper is closed mesh with no-sew welded overlays supporting the shoe, an extended saddle that’s light and secure. A traditional toe bumper, rearfoot and eyestay supports, and a full rand add security and protection, and an external thermoplastic heel counter adds stability. The midsole is low-profile, molded EVA, with 361º’s Qu!ckfoam element lending extra cushioning. The outersole is low-profile carbon rubber, textured for grip, in a thin configuration that’s surprisingly tough. The forefoot of the outersole is bonded to a spongy layer of polyurethane, adding a bit more cushion to the ride as well as an ability to conform to the trail surface. The combination of quality materials, efficient design, and a comfortable and adaptive ride make the Ortega a worthy contender for trail performance.

“Snugs well to the foot with good protection. Sure-footed on the trail, and does really well getting there, too.”

Brooks Pure Grit 4 $120
The Pure Grit is the lightest of Brooks’ trail running shoes. The upper is a tight, closed mesh with 3D-printed overlays providing some structure and a layer of protection. The supportive midfoot strap (Brooks calls it the Nav band) adds a snugger midfoot fit, while still flexing enough to accommodate differences in foot volume. The chassis carries over from Round 3: a low-profile layer of BioMoGo foam with DNA added to the mix for very good cushioning. A forefoot rock plate between the midsole and outersole offers protection from rocky trails. The outersole features the same hexagon-shaped lugs, as their bite tames trails efficiently and the effectively. The Pure Grit 4 is a solid performer that fits well, performs well, and carries the Brooks trail tradition well.

“Good, close fit all around. Flexible enough with decent traction. They did a great job for my weekend trail runs.”

HOKA ONE ONE SpeedGoat $140
The new SpeedGoat sports geometry and traction designed to go as fast as you can, thanks to the developmental input of Ultra trail star Karl Metzler. The upper is a tough minimesh with lacing that extends down to the toe for extra security. No-sew overlays lend support overall and add a bit of design  air while keeping it light. A traditionally stitched toecap features an added layer of ground rubber for abrasion resistance and protection. The ankle collar is cushy and improves the heel to the midsole is a soft, thick layer of injected EVA that absorbs shock and conforms to the terrain for a protective and sure-footed feel, in combination with its 5-millimeter geometry, and is resilient enough for good response and durability. The outersole is a luggy profile of Vibram® Megagrip® rubber—a new compound and partnership for the brand—that offers really good traction. The SpeedGoat succeeds for runners looking for traction, cushion, and a snug, secure it to finish fast.

“Looks sports-car fast. I really like how easy the upper is to open up and then tighten down on the shoes. The midsole [is] cushy and protective; the traction is just right.”

Mizuno Hayate 2 $110
With its effective construction, fun graphics, and strong trail performance, the Hayate has been a breath of fresh air for Mizuno trail running. Round 2 takes a bit more traditional approach, at least in appearance, while maintaining the strengths of the original. The upper is open mesh with traditional, supportive overlays and a full rand—simple, but protective. The midsole maintains the Waveplate and U4ic foam from the original, thanks to its effective ride and stability on both road and trail. The outersole continues, too; its luggy traction works equally well on hard-pack, loose, and muddy trails. The compound is quite durable, so pavement isn’t a problem. The Hayate remains a quality choice for the trails, especially if Mizuno is on your favored brands list.

“The upper is totally different from before, with a stretchier feel, though the support strapping holds the foot nice and secure. The ride feels about the same as before, and the traction makes it a real trail shoe.”

New Balance 910 v2 $110
The effectiveness of the New Balance trail running line has satisfied runners in every strata of the running world. The 910 is one of several New Balance everyday trail runners that handle terrain, mileage, and the elements are effectively. The upper is an engineered mesh that vents well, and keeps it light with no-sew overlays but also protective at the toe, thanks to an additional overlay layer called Toe-Protect. The support of the upper is good, with the overlays forming a complete rand, connecting the effectively to the heel counter. The eyestays and external ankle collar are reinforced with zig-zag stitching. The midsole is a healthy chunk of RevLite foam with its lively feel and good durability. The outersole is full-length rubber that features triangular lugs that have a nice bite on the trail without being overly tall on the road. The Rock Stop plate provides protection on uneven trails without making the forefoot overly stiff. The 910 v2 continues to offer the performance expected of the line, maintaining its traction, ride, and value.

“Fit snug in the heel, roomy up front. Comfortably well-cushioned with grippy traction.”

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 $125
The Zoom Kiger and its sibling, the Zoom Wildhorse, represented a much needed trail running reset for Nike. Round 3 features some fine-tuning to a solid performer. The upper has been lightened a bit, and uses engineered mesh. The most significant changes up top are overlays which are thin and printed on the surface, and the mesh is closed at the base of the upper, essentially forming a rand without using additional material. The midsole maintains the low-pro le, 4-millimeter geometry that has been so successful for the Kiger, as it is substantial enough to cushion well on all surfaces. The outersole is little changed from Round 1: chisel-pointed tread in a sticky rubber compound that’s still tough enough for even bituminous surfaces, though best off-road. The combination of low-pro le geometry, light weight and good traction make the Terra Kiger great for faster trail running.

“Secure upper with good toe room. Flexible, light, and fast. It’s fi ne for dirt trails, but it’s no bushwhacker.”

Saucony Nomad TR $110
The Nomad TR is the first new trail running shoe from Saucony since the introduction of the Peregrine four seasons ago. The Nomad offers several features that differentiate it from its off-road siblings and add value to Saucony’s trail line. The upper is closed mesh with no-sew overlays, Pro-Lock secures the midfoot, and a D-ring at the bottom of the laces facilitates the use of gaiters. The midsole features 4-millimeter geometry and a low-pro le setup of Power Grid foam for responsive cushioning and good flexibility. The outersole employs a newly designed tread of elongated diamond-shaped lugs that  ex laterally to conform to the trail.  The flat bottom adds stability to the foot plant, and the tack of the rubber offers additional grip. The Nomad TR successfully fills the gap in Saucony’s RAW collection, and its versatile traction, adaptable fit, and good protection earned it our award for Best Trail Shoe for Winter 2015–16.

“Roomy fit, but without feeling sloppy. Traction is subtle but effective, with a smooth feel on trail and road. I was impressed
by both the fi t and the performance.”

TrekSta Alter Ego Star $110
TrekSta has shown that a consistent, single focus on trail performance can bring dividends to a brand. The new Alter Ego Star debuts with an upper of tightly woven mesh with 3D-printed overlays providing much of the upper’s support, and traditionally stitched overlays at the toe, heel, and from the eyestay to bolster the foot, especially in the forefoot. The forefoot has a pronounced asymmetrical shape that mimics the foot’s, along with similarly skewed lacing. These features will improve the fit for many feet. The midsole is a high quality, single-density EVA with excellent flexibility, without sacrificing protection. The outersole is a sticky rubber compound called Hypergrip, but the variety and shape of the lugs adds as much to the effectiveness of the sole’s grip. The Alter Ego Star provides fit, traction, and protection for top-notch trail performance. 

“They were shaped like my foot, so they fi t great. Really good traction, not too heavy, plenty of cushion. They covered all of the bases.” 



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