Fall 1999 Trail Running Shoe Review

Adam W. Chase, 1999

The number of trail running shoes on the market is escalating at a pace that is even faster and steadier than Ian Torrence. And it just keeps getting quicker. A little more than two years ago, when I wrote my first fall trail shoe review, there were only 13 pairs of shoes from 10 manufacturers. The number of shoes has more than tripled, as this review features more than 40 pairs from 14 manufacturers.

Given the vast number of shoes from which to pick and the limited attention span of trailrunners, I will keep my comments to a minimum and discuss each manufacturer’s shoes as a group. I will also offer recommendations on the basis of runner types. Please note that some of the shoes featured in this "review" will not hit the shoe stores until early 2000, so a few models tested were prototypes that may be further refined before they are ready for market.

 

BRAND

MODEL

MSRP

WEIGHT*

MID-SOLE 

OUT-SOLE

UPPER

CONTACT INFO

adidas

Eqt. Boost

$110

10.7 oz

Compression-molded EVA with adiPRENE in heel, adiPRENE+ in entire forefoot and Etended TorSion System on medial side of foot

Carbon rubber TraXion

Open mesh and Three-Stripe midfoot support

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Incision

$85

11.2 oz

Compression-molded EVA with adiPRENE in heel, adiPRENE+ in forefoot and 3D TorSion System

Carbon rubber TraXion

Water-resistant mesh and Three-Stripe support

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Response TR 5

$80

13.0 oz

Compression molded EVA w/ adiPRENE in heel and rearfoot, adiPRENE+ insert in forefoot, TorSion system in midfoot

Carbon rubber TraXion with center "Road Zone"

Water-resistant mesh and non-stretch heel stabilizer

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Brahma

$85

Production weight not yet available. Sample weight: 12.4 oz

adiPRENE in heel and Performance adiPRENE in forefoot and TorSion system in midfoot

Carbon rubber TraXion

Lightweight mesh

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Savage

$70

12.4 oz

Compression-molded EVA w/ adiPRENE+ insert in forefoot

Carbon rubber TraXion and center "Road Zone"

Synthetic leather and open mesh

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Estes

$75

12.1 oz

Compression-molded LightStrike EVA w/ adiPRENE+ insert in forefoot and TorSion System

Carbon rubber TraXion and center "Road Zone"

Open mesh

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

adidas

Radiant

$90

13.4 oz

AdiPRENE in heel, adiPRENE+ insert in forefoot and 3D TorSion System

Carbon rubber TraXion fins

Open mesh

(800) 423-4327

www.adidas.com

ASICS Tiger Corp.

GEL-Nandi DS

$95

13.1 oz

Compression-molded EVA with GEL cushioning system in fore and rearfoot and DuoMax medial post and a midfoot Trusstic System

Solid rubber with DuoSole in forefoot and AHAR heel plug

Water-resistant mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 678-9435 www.asicstiger.com

ASICS Tiger Corp.

GEL-Trabuco

$80

11.2 oz

Compression-molded EVA with GEL system in rearfoot and DuoMax medial post and a midfoot Trusstic System

Carbon rubber and AHAR heel plug

Mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 678-9435 www.asicstiger.com

ASICS Tiger Corp.

GEL-Traverse

$70

Production weight not yet available. Projected weight: 11.0 oz

Compression-molded EVA with GEL system in rearfoot.

Carbon rubber and AHAR heel plug

Mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 678-9435 www.asicstiger.com

Brooks

Gecko II

$ 80

13.1 oz

TerraPod, compression-molded EVA w/ HydroFlow ST in heel, HydroFlow in forefoot, and anti-pronation roll bar

TerraPod, lugged midfoot, Crumple Zone heel, and carbon rubber

Synthetic leather and two layer mesh

(800) 2-BROOKS www.brookssports.com

Brooks

ASR Light III

$70

Projected production weight 12.2 oz

Compression-molded EVA, HydroFlow ST in heel

Carbon rubber with Crumple Zone in heel

Synthetic leather underlays with mesh

(800) 2-BROOKS www.brookssports.com

Brooks

Gila

$95

14.4 oz

TerraPod, compression-molded EVA w/ HydroFlow ST in heel, HydroFlow in forefoot, anti-pronation roll bar, and DRB Accel in midfoot

TerraPod, bi-cirectionallugs, Crumple Zone heel, and carbon rubber

Mesh with Hyper-Dri lining, and Foot Shield design

(800) 2-BROOKS www.brookssports.com

Fila

Ancerus TR

$65 men’s

$60 women’s

12.4 oz

Molded EVA

Molded rubber with flex grooves

Synthetic leather and mesh

(800) PRO-FILA www.fila.com

Fila

Delta Trail

$65 men’s

$60 women’s

13.5 oz

Lo-rise midsole, wrapped rear foot and arch shank

Carbon rubber

Synthetic leather and layered mesh

(800) PRO-FILA www.fila.com

Montrail

Vitesse

$80

12 oz

Phylon with polyurethane forefoot plate

Fas Trax carbon rubber and polycarbonate toe box

Hydrophobic synthtic leather and nylon mesh

(800) 826-1598 www.montrail.com

Montrail

Jura

$90

14.6 oz

TerraFlex 2000 with slotted nylon plate from toe to heel

Carbon rubber

Hydrophobic synthtic leather and nylon mesh with IntegraFit

(800) 826-1598 www.montrail.com

New Balance

702

$70

11.7 oz

C-Cap, compression-molded EVA and "Abzorb" in heel

Carbon rubber and N-Durance heel pad

Synthetic and mesh

(800) 253-7463 www.newbalance.com

New Balance

802

$85

12.8 oz

C-Cap, compression-molded EVA and "Abzorb" in forefoot and heel

Carbon rubber and N-Durance heel pad

Synthetic and mesh with Scotch-guard

(800) 253-7463 www.newbalance.com

New Balance

902

$100

14.7 oz

C-Cap, compression-molded EVA, dual-density C-Cap in heel and rearfoot, thermo-polyurethane medial post, and "Abzorb" in forefoot and heel

Carbon rubber and N-Durance heel pad

Synthetic and mesh with Scotch-guard and Exoskeletal Support System

(800) 253-7463 www.newbalance.com

Nike

Air Terra Goatek

$100

__ oz.

Full-length Phylon with dual-density Pylon on medial side, heel Air-Sole and Zoom Air in forefoot

G-TEK traction technology, 1000 carbon rubber surrounding soft, sticky rubber traction pads packed with Poron foam

Stretch mesh

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

Nike

Air Terra Grande

$75

13.0 oz

Interlocking PU/Phylon, heel Air-Sole, and forefoot fabric web

BRS 1000 carbon rubber

Mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

Nike

Air Terra Intangible

$65

Production weight not yet available. Projected weight: 11.0 oz

Phylon, heel Air-Sole

BRS 1000 carbon rubber and molded support shank

Mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

Nike

Air Terra Wild (Women’s Only)

$75

Production weight not yet available. Projected weight:

Interlocking PU/Phylon, heel Air-Sole, and Phylon forefoot

BRS 1000 carbon rubber

Mesh with synthetic leather overlays, memory foam in heel

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

Nike

Air Crested Butte

$100

Production weight not yet available. Projected weight: 11.0 oz

Full-length dual-density Pylon and heel and forefoot Air-Sole

G-TEK traction technology, 1000 carbon rubber surrounding soft, sticky rubber traction pads backed by Poron foam

Gore-Tex lining with mesh synthetic leather and stretch collar

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

Nike

Air Terra Humara

$90

13.9 oz

Interlocking PU/Phylon combination, heel and forefoot Air-Sole

G-Tek traction and carbon rubber

Water-resistant, high-abrasion fabric

(800) 344-NIKE

www.nike.com

The North Face

Ultra 100

$105

($10 for gaiter accessory)

13.6 oz

(15 oz with gaiter)

Roll Control dual density EVA, composite fiber midfoot insert, and X2 inserts under heel and ball

Dual-density carbon rubber

Lightweight, optional and removable gaiter, mesh, two-tier lacing system, reinforced toe box

(800) 719-NORT (ext. 155) www.thenorthface.com

The North Face

Fire Road

$75

12.4 oz

Full-length EVA with X2 inserts in heel

Carbon rubber

Mesh with synthetic leather overlays, reinforced toe box

(800) 719-NORT (ext. 155) www.thenorthface.com

Puma

Trail XC

$70

11.7 oz

Puma iCell system in heel and single density EVA

EverTrack carbon rubber

Scotchgaurd-coated mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 662-7862 www.puma.de

Puma

Lhotse

$80

14.6 oz

Puma Cell System in heel and arch, EVA with ArchTec in arch

EverTrack carbon rubber

Scotchgauard-coated mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 662-7862 www.puma.de

Reebok

Armadillo

$75

14.9 oz

Ultra Hexalite in rearfoot, TPU plate in rear and forefoot, and CMEVA

Dual-density carbon rubber

Dri-Lex lining, Scotchgaurd treated mesh and synthetic leather

(800) 662-4444 www.reebok.com

Saucony

Kyotee

$80

12.6 oz

Compression-molded EVA with GRID in rearfoot

XT600 (softer) carbon rubber with multi-directional Kyotee claw

Synthetic leather trim with water-resistant breathable mesh and buffed rubber toe protection

(800) 365-4933 www.saucony.com

Saucony

Kyotee II

$__

Production weight not yet available.

Compression-molded EVA with GRID in rearfoot

XT600 (softer) carbon rubber with multi-directional Kyotee claw

Synthetic leather trim with water-resistant breathable mesh and buffed rubber toe protection

(800) 365-4933 www.saucony.com

Solomon

Raidwind

$99

13.3 oz

EVA with PU drop in plug

Contagrip

Synthetic leather and mesh, Sensifit midfoot and heel security, Kevlar QuckFit lacing system, molded external heel counter

(800) 225-6850

www.salomonsports.com

Solomon

Raid C/D

$110

16.1 oz

EVA and Hydro Deco

Contagrip

CimaDry drop-in liner, Kevlar QuickFit lacing system, Sensifit midfoot and heel security, molded external heel counter, and Lycra ankle sock

(800) 225-6850

www.salomonsports.com

Timberland

Ravine

$__

14.7 oz

Cored shock diffusion plate, compression molded EVA, protective forefoot mesh lining

BSFP rubber outsole

Water-resistant mesh, locking Velcro speed lace

(800) 445-5545 www.mountainathletics.com

Timberland

Thruway

$70

12.9 oz

Cored shock diffusion plate, compression molded EVA, protective forefoot mesh lining

BSFP rubber outsole

Water-resistant mesh, locking Velcro speed lace

(800) 445-5545 www.mountainathletics.com

Vasque

Exodus Avanti

$135

17.5 oz

Dual density Phylon with VST nylon shank

Carbon rubber

Double link ballistic nylon mesh and Nubuck leather

(800) 224-HIKE www.vasque.com

* Weight measured for Men’s Size 9 shoes.

Recommendations by Runner Type:

Hard Rocker (Rugged and Durable)

North Face Trail 100

Montrail Vitesse

Salomon Raidwind

Women Rule (Women’s Shoes)

Nike Terra Wild

ASICS GEL Trabuco

New Balance 802

12-Stepper (Support)

adidas Brahma

ASICS GEL Trabuco

Brooks Gila

New Balance 902

Dough Boy (Cushioning)

adidas Radiant

New Balance 902

Puma Lhotse

Reebok Armadillo

Jack-be-Nimble (Fast and Light)

adidas Boost

adidas Incision

Jack-of-All-Surfaces (On and Off Road)

adidas Estes

ASICS GEL Nandi DS

Brooks ASR Light III

New Balance 702

Nike Goatek

Puma Trail XC

Saucony Kyotee

Parsimonious Prancer (Good Value)

adidas Savage

Fila Ancerus TR

New Balance 702

adidas

If you are looking for a very lightweight and nimble shoe that fits like a slipper and stings like a bee (runs like a gazelle?), the Equipment Boost is a prime choice. The Boost is the lightest shoe tested for this review. Both the Incision and the Boost have a unique medial midfoot cut-out construction that appears a bit barren, but, once you try it, it will make you wonder why other shoes have so much bulk. Both the Boost and the Incision are somewhat minimalist when it comes to support and protection, although the adiPRENE and adiPRENE+ do a remarkable job absorbing the impact of hard surfaces without being soft to the point where the shoes lose propulsion efficiency.

The entire line of adidas trail shoes boasts "TraXion" outsoles. The TraXion feature is a crossover from adidas’ soccer background that uses penetrating, aggressive, cleat-like treads that offer stability and increase forward propulsion. Another feature that appears in most of adidas trail line is the TorSion system, designed to provide midfoot support by allowing the heel and rearfoot to act independent of one another. Other features that show up in adidas extensive line of thoughtfully-designed and gimmick-free shoes include the "Feet You Wear" last, open or water-resistant mesh uppers to allow for quick moisture exit, Three-Stripe overlay support for a snug fit, and a "Road Zone" built into the outsole for a smooth ride when off the trail.

If you are a heavier runner or require more support or protection, the Radiant and Response Trail 5 are attractive choices. The Brahma is a lightweight trail shoe that does well on both trail and road with extra stability. The Brahma is such an improvement on the Al Fresco and Al Fresco 2 that adidas completely changed the name. Finally, the Estes and Savage are affordable on-and-off trail shoes that perform well on almost any surface. adidas has done an outstanding job with its trail line and I commend it for avoiding the urge to rest on its laurels. While other manufacturers have pursued the trail shoe market, adidas has maintained a hegemonic role and continues to strive for better technologies and set a pace that has kept its trail shoes ahead of the pack.

ASICS Tiger Corp.

Named for the Kenyan village that has produced many a fleet-footed runner and for a Southern California trail running venue, the GEL-Nandi DS and GEL-Trabuco, respectively, represent the high end of ASICS’ trail line. The GEL Nandi DS (DuoSole) features an outsole that layers both AHAR (ASICS High Abrasion Resistant) and a spongy substance that, although unique, added little to the shoe other than weight once it absorbed moisture. The GEL-Trabuco offers DouMax medial support for mild pronaters. The combination of midsole features in both the Nandi and Trabuco — which lacks some of the attributes of the Nandi — make for a supportive and well-cushioned ride. Both of these ASICS shoes are excellent for running on and off the trail and, unlike some trail shoes, feel more like running shoes than light hiking boots, which makes sense given that 1999 marks the company’s 50th year in footwear manufacturing.

 

Brooks

The Gecko II continues Brooks’ commitment to the unique TerraPod mid and outsole design, and the Gila takes the concept one step further with a thermo-polyurethane (TPU) plate called "DRB Accel" and a Diagonal Rollbar in the midsole for motion control and stability. The Gila also sports a Hyper-Dri lined upper with a climate control fabric from Polartec. Brooks designed the TerraPod for improved traction and more natural foot motion, flexibility, and comfort. To add cushioning and support, the Gecko II and Gila have HydroFlow ST in the heel and HydroFlow in the forefoot for cushioning and protection. Finally, both of those shoe styles and the ASR Light III offer low profile midsoles and Crumple None configured outsoles for smooth heel strikes. These three styles make up Brooks’ "All Season Running" line and are suitable for rough trail running and long miles.

Fila

Fila has been busy restructuring its running line over the past couple of seasons and, after scrapping the Fila Outdoor concept, there was concern that the company would completely abandon what had been a tremendous effort to build a superior line of trail shoes. Those fears have been partially allayed with the introduction of the affordable, comfortable, and attractive Ancerus TR. The Ancerus performs well on and off the trail with a relatively simple design that results in a solid and stable shoe that has enough cushioning for the trail without losing the feel for the trail. The Delta Trail is an equivalent shoe with the addition of an arch shank for support.

Montrail

These days Montrail and its Vitesse have understandably become synonymous with trail running, especially in the ultrarunning world. With its firm midsole, the Vitesse does a remarkable job of feeling the same on the first mile of a long run as on the last mile. Montrail’s mountaineering and hiking background help explain why the Vitesse and Jura are so rugged and durable. The Vitesse is the lightest of its kind — sturdy, stable, and trail proven. The Jura is a beefier shoe that incorporates Montrail’s TerraFlex 2000 cushioning and stability, an Integrafit three-dimensional shaping system, and advanced tread design for use on both trail and road.

New Balance

It has been reported that New Balance’s 801AT (All Terrain) was the biggest selling trail shoe last season. That shoe has been slightly modified for fall 1999 as the 802, which offers the same technical features of its popular predecessor with some minor changes. New Balance has also continued with the 700 series, which becomes the 702 for Fall 1999. The primary differences between the 802 and 702 are that the 802 has Abzorb in both the mid and rearfoot, while the 702 has only rearfoot Abzorb, some upper and cosmetic additions to the 802 and a $15 price difference. Oh, and the 702 weights less. New Balance also introduces the 902 for the fall season as an all-terrain cushioned shoe with extra stability. The 902 midsole incorporates a TPU medial post for pronation control, dual Abzorb and two densities of "C-Cap" compression molded EVA. The upper features an "Exoskeletal Support System" for added midfoot support. True to New Balance’s reputation, all three of these styles are offered in several widths in both the men’s and women’s models.

Nike

Nike’s "G-Tek" traction concept was inspired by the hooves of mountain goats and, under the right conditions, do a fine job of mimicking the performance of ungulate feet. The idea is that three sets of sticky rubber pads that are backed with soft Poron foam and surrounded by hard carbon rubber to grip and conform to varying types of terrain. The shape and placement of the soft pads is designed to maximize uphill and downhill traction.

The skinny on G-Tek is that it worked very well on hard surfaces, including roads, regardless whether they were wet or dry. On soft surfaces, however, the outsole did not fare as well. On snow, the shoes did even worse. The problem is that G-Tek gets its traction from compression of the soft rubber pads, which allows the carbon rubber to grip the trail. If you are running on a sandy, muddy, or snowy trail, there is no compression and the carbon rim never gets to do its biting.

Maybe I’m just a sore loser who is upset that Nike discontinued my all-time favorite trail shoe, the Terra Albis, but Nike’s fall 1999 and spring 2000 lines are a retreat from their past successes and offer little ingenuity. Many of the shoes are, however, well made, stable, durable designs that incorporate some of Nike’s attractive technologies, such as Zoom Air and Air Sole units for cushioning and fabric webs for stone bruise protection. The Air Terra Wild is a women’s-only technical trail shoe that received a glowing review from a local female trail fanatic. The Air Crested Butte offers G-Tek in a Gore-Tex lined shoe.

The North Face

Finally, a shoe that was designed for long-distance trail running and extreme conditions! The North Face’s Ultra 100, true to its name, is a stable, aggressive, durable trail shoe that incorporates a firm midsole that is good over the long haul. In addition to a novel two-tier lacing system, the breathable mesh uppers feature gaiter attachment points and, for an additional $10, you can get some lightweight gaiters that work well to keep out trail debris. The Ultra 100 midsole is constructed with "Roll Control" dual density EVA and composite fiber in the midfoot for support and stability and X2 inserts under the heel and ball of the foot for cushioning. I foresee this shoe becoming a favorite of those entering Hard Rock and other more extreme races where the shoe (and its wearer) has to live up to a lot of abuse. The Fire Road is also new for the season to come. It is more tame than the Ultra 100 and does well on mixed terrain.

Puma

Two seasons ago I made fun of Puma for manufacturing a trail shoe that was better suited for an Elton John concert because its midsole was so elevated. Last season Puma did not make a trail shoe. This season, Puma has managed to pull it all together by producing two trail shoes, both of which are well made. The Trail XC uses Puma’s iCell technology in the heel of the midsole to offer a low profile with adequate cushioning. This shoe is a lighter weight shoe and certainly handled like a running shoe, without sacrificing durability or feeling flimsy. Puma got it right with the Trail XC! The Cell Lhotse is a more substantial shoe than the XC and is a better choice for those who need more cushioning and support. The Cell Lhotse has Puma Cell in both the heel and arch, ArchTec to provide stability in the arch, and a premolded EVA sockliner for added cushioning.

Reebok

Billed as an "off-trail" running shoe, Reebok’s Armadillo really surprised me as a performance shoe that felt lighter and faster than what I had expected would feel like an SUV for my feet. I won’t say the shoe was like a racing car, but it outshined all of Reebok’s previous attempts at trail shoes by a long shot. Reebok got smart and took the capricious DMX technology out of its trail shoe, replacing it with a more stable Ultra Hexalite for rearfoot cushioning. The rest of the Armadillo is true to the shoe’s name, with a durable, rugged upper that is well crafted and not overdone. Not that it is all that important, but the Armadillo is also a very attractive shoe.

Saucony

Saucony’s Kyotee is a lightweight performance trail shoe that provides plenty of traction and adequate cushioning for the trails. The outsole has an aggressive, multidirectional tread pattern and incorporates carbon and sticky rubber for durability and grip. The midsole consists of compression-molded EVA with a heel GRID Technology unit for shock absorption. The upper is pretty much a standard high-quality Saucony running shoe with an "arch cookie" and an Achilles flex notch. The Kyotee II, which will be released in the second quarter of 2000, will have a completely different upper as well as dual-density midsole and a medial post for added support. The outsole will also be reconstructed for greater stability.

Salomon

You may be familiar with Salomon’s rugged adventure racing image, one that the company earned by putting their footwear to the test on the feet of winning teams in Raid Gauloises and Eco Challenge. The Raidwind can withstand multiple days of pounding through extreme conditions and while running, hiking, fastpacking, climbing, mountain biking, etc. Sounds pretty good for a trail runner, yes? Well, that depends. If you want a stable, well-constructed, durable shoe for multi-sport use and if you need that shoe to be relatively light for what it offers, then the Raidwind and Raid C/D ClimaDry, waterproof-lined version, are excellent choices. However, if you are using your shoes for the sole purpose of running trails, the Raidwind and Raid C/D may be more than you need. Nonetheless, Salomon has put together an excellent shoe that will stand up to as many miles as you want to log during a single effort and over whatever terrain and in whatever conditions you can tolerate.

Timberland

Fortunately for trailrunners, Timberland has decided that our sport deserves its concerted effort and, accordingly, the company has jumped feet first into the market with a number of styles. Timberland brings to the trail shoe market a wealth of technologies and advanced materials and has managed to incorporate those into the shoes tested for this review. The Ravine is a sporty shoe that has a novel "speed lace" fastening strap that ties into the heel for added stability. Depending on how your foot and ankle are shaped, the strap may rub you the wrong way, so try the shoes on before you buy them. The rest of the Ravine is a well-made, solid trail shoe. The Thruway is designed for more tame trails and does well on pavement as well. It was built with comfort in mind, but is burly enough to stand up to more rigorous terrain. All-in-all, these shoes represent a pretty admirable effort on Timberland’s part and we should look for this company to make some progress in the trail arena in seasons to come. As a minor observation, Timberland’s shoelaces outperformed all of the others that came with the shoes tested for this review. They never came unlaced and retained a fair amount of flexibility across the instep.

Vasque

Exodus Avanti is a multi-use shoe that would be suitable for very rugged trails. Vasque will be coming out with trail "running" shoes next year, but in the meantime, the Avanti moves in that direction as a shoe built for fastpacking, cross training, and speed hiking. It features a new Trail Tread rubber lug design from Skywalk. The lug design offers great traction over varied trail conditions. The dual density Phylon midsole offers superior support and cushioned comfort while allowing the natural strike and roll motion of the foot. The unique VST ( Vasque Shank Technology) shank is shaped to add support under the arch of the foot without using steel. Manufactured of durable lightweight nylon, the shank is combined with the midsole and outsole to offer support and comfort for quick trips with small loads over trails. The uppers are a combination of leather and nylon for durability but not lightness. At an additional cost, you can purchase the Exodus Avanti with a Gore-Tex lining.