Tag Archives: trail running shoe

Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T.

The Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. (F.K.T. stands for fastest known time) is an attractive, lightweight trail running shoe. Is it a shoe that also holds up as a daily trainer for those who run on hard city surfaces? See our verdict below.

columbia montrail fluidflex fkt running warehouse

One can almost tell by looking at a pair of the new Fluidflex F.K.T. that it has the soul of a fast shoe. It’s just 9.5 ounces in weight, and feels lighter on one’s feet. The shoe has a seamless upper and an outsole that is almost identical to the one on the bottom of the Montrail Fluidflex, circa 2013. According to Columbia Montrail – which provided a sample for review, the Fluidflex offers “enhanced mid-foot stability and a smooth ride on the trail.” Of this, there’s no doubt.

The Fluidflex has a minimal 4mm heel drop and a protective Trail (rock) Shield in the forefoot. The shoe appears to be semi-curved, is slip-lasted for comfort, and provides a snug fit. Notably, the shoe comes with a commercial grade, high quality, aftermarket-looking insole. It’s impressive and means that the runner who buys this shoe will not need to make a post-purchase drive to the local CVS or Walgreens.

The tongue on the Fluidflex is overly short, especially for a trail shoe, but this is a minor quibble. A second quibble has to do with the fit. My narrow feet wished for more headroom in the forefoot and a bit more space on the lateral side. My small toes were crying out for more space! Luckily, the upper loosens up with the passage of miles, so patience has its virtues with the Fluidflex.

columbia fluidflex fkt

On a dirt and rock covered trail one can feel the Fluidflex’s lugs dig in. These lugs may be relatively small but their strength becomes quite apparent on a newly mown grass trail. They dig in so well, so securely, that it feels like one’s running on clawed cat’s feet. Excellent!

On a hard-packed dirt trail, the shoe offers a B to B+ ride. The Fluidflex is just nimble enough to bring out the mountain goat in a runner. On a trail made up of large and small hard rocks the Fluidflex provides all gain and no pain.

Switching to an urban surface of concrete, the Fluidflex delivers straight ahead foot strikes with some bounce but not too much. It’s clear that this is a highly protective shoe, something that’s also apparent on asphalt. And this is a great tempo trainer; lock onto a pace and the shoe will stick to it like an auto set to cruise control. Nice.

The two flex grooves cut into the forefoot of the Fluidflex do indeed provide for a substantial amount of flexibility. This makes it a joy to use as an urban trainer. Whether you are a midfoot or forefoot striker, this shoe will accommodate your style. One caveat about this model is addressed to mild to moderate pronators: the current Fluidflex does not appear to be quite as stable as the earlier Fluidflex and Fluidfeel models – both of which I’ve run in.

This Fluidflex is consistent with earlier offerings from Montrail in terms of delivering on its promised smooth ride. If you ran in the La Sportiva Helios trail shoe, for example, and are looking for a similarly comfortable non-jarring ride, the Fluidflex is one to take out for a test spin.

One final and additional quibble before we arrive at the verdict. Because of the use of foam insoles, city and trail shoes are becoming increasingly soft. I would love to see a model from Columbia Montrail that offers additional firmness from the midfoot through the forefoot. Not a tremendous amount of firmness, but perhaps twenty to thirty percent more than is present in the current Fluidflex.

Verdict

At a price of $110, the Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. is a high value shoe. Its build quality is clear and the company has gone above and beyond in terms of details like providing an upgraded insole. While the shoe works well on both country trails and city streets, I believe its pluses are most readily apparent when it is used as a daily townie trainer.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-columbia-montrail-fluidflex-f-k-t/

Image credits: Running Warehouse; Road Trail Run

 

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Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi EM Road N2

Has Pearl Izumi produced a well-balanced running shoe in the latest version of the EM Road N2?

Having had a positive experience running in the Pearl Izumi E:Motion (EM) Road N1 racer-trainer running shoe, I looked forward to having a go in another of their models. Fortunately, the company provided the EM Road N2 model – technically the second version of this shoe, the Road N2v2. For simplicity, I will refer to it as the Road N2.

Pearl Izumi states that this neutral model provides “the perfect balance of light and fast with just enough cushioning and durability.” Is this true? You can see the verdict below.

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The first thing noticeable about the EM Road N2 is the nice low-to-the-ground feel. As for the fit, while the shoe initially feels snug – a bit like a tennis shoe – it loosens up after some break-in miles. There’s enough room for the toes to splay naturally up front, but the forefoot appears to be a bit firmer than on the Road N1 model. In fact, the forefoot firmness seems to fall midway between that on the Road 1 (more flexible) and the Trail N2 (less flexible). For most, it should be just about right in terms of protecting sore toes and feet.

The Road N2 weighs 9.1 ounces, the same as the Trail N2, but it’s heavier than the N1’s 7.7 or so ounces (the forthcoming version of the N1 will weigh 8.6 ounces). In today’s running world, it’s a mid-weight shoe.

The fact that Pearl Izumi pays attention to the small details is reflected in the shoelaces. They’re just the right length, not too short or long.

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Upon hitting asphalt and concrete roads in the Road N2, one feels a pleasing amount of spring and energy return. Although it’s a relatively low shoe, heel strikers can pound away at will thanks to the brand’s dynamic (variable) offset midsole. The dynamic offset midsole eliminates forefoot slap and provides a light rocker panel feel, which easily transitions the foot from heel to mid-foot and on to the forefoot. This is a shoe that can be used by any type of runner, but mid-foot strikers will likely feel the most at home in it.

The heel cushioning on the Road N2 is not too soft, nor hard (more New Balance than Mizuno). The overall underfoot cushioning is what I would describe as soft-landing but firm in movement. Had I been blindfolded, I might have guessed that I was running in either the New Balance 890v3 or a pair of Asics Gel-DS Trainers. The key point is that my feet never felt beat up after runs in the Road N2.

What’s quite impressive about the Road N2 is the shoe’s excellent directional stability. This is not a floppy, sloppy, running shoe. You need not worry about your feet hitting each other, and there’s no sense of wasted sideways motion. Although the Road N2 does not feel fast like the Road N1, it’s a great tempo trainer. Set a pace and the shoe lets you almost effortlessly lock onto it and stick with it. And there’s a comforting uniformity in that each footfall feels the same and the ride feels the same on both feet. (It’s sometimes disturbing to run in a pair of running shoes in which the left and right shoes seem to have been manufactured in different factories.)

On a gravel-covered dirt trail, the Road N2 feels protective like the Road N1, but is less slippery due to a more traditional sole pattern. Using this shoe on a rainy day would not be a problem – something that’s not necessarily true in the Road N1.

It’s off-road where one realizes that the Road N2 provides an excellent mid-foot fit and support. On a hard-packed dirt trail the shoe feels limber but stable – and it winds up being a fine runner on a hard rock trail. You don’t feel the rocks underfoot and there’s virtually no slippage.

The Road N2 is a hybrid running shoe that would be a good choice for travel, especially when the traveler does not know what type of surface her or she will be running on at his/her destination, or whether the surface will be wet or dry. This shoe will pretty much have things covered whether you’re landing in Milwaukee, Seattle, or San Diego.

Verdict:

The Pearl Izumi Road N2 should work well for the person seeking a durable, protective shoe that can be used for slow, moderate or aggressive training runs on roads and trails. The shoe may work especially well for those who prefer to put in their miles on tracks, running at a rock-steady pace. The Road N2 can serve as a type of metronome for those oval runners.

Most runners will find the Road N2 to be a very competent 5K, 10K or half-marathon shoe, and some will find it protective and stable enough to run a full marathon. The Road N2 is not the flashiest shoe on the market – and perhaps not in Pearl Izumi’s own catalog – but it does most everything quite well.

Yes, this is a well-balanced shoe. All in all, it’s another clear water pearl from this brand.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2v2 retails for $120.00.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-pearl-izumi-em-road-n2/

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Coming Up Next…

Scarpa Spark 2

A running shoe review! We take a look at the Scarpa Spark “Mountain Minimal” trail runner.

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Going With the Flow

Running Shoe Review: Brooks PureFlow 2

Is the Brooks PureFlow 2 a running shoe that will make you take the long way home?

There are rest day running shoes and recovery day running shoes. The rest day shoes are worn on the days you’re cutting back on your mileage, running slower, and wearing heavier, protective shoes. Recovery day shoes allow you to cut loose, run long and fast. These tend to be lighter shoes.

The Brooks PureFlow 2 is a recovery shoe. When you’re ready to run, they’re as ready to go with you as a frisky new puppy. And they may be just as much fun.

Brooks PureFlow 2 (sharp - 480x355)Brooks PureFlow 2 sole (480x360)

I received a pair of these shoes from Brooks in the anthracite, green gecko and black color scheme. The shoe gets noticed for its striking appearance and they generate comments. The shoe weighs 8.8 ounces but, once on, it feels more like 10 ounces due to the MoGo midsole’s cushiony feeling. The PureFlow 2 has a minimalist 4mm heel drop, which can quickly turn heel strikers into mid-foot landing runners.

The feel is quite a bit like a shoe designed for triathlon runners, with a close fit in the rear and mid-foot but with a wide toe box. It takes a while to realize that the shoe has a split toe box, which we’ll go over in a bit. The lacing is asymmetric for comfort and the laces stay tied. (The owners of this shoe will learn that you do not need to untie the laces at the end of a run. The shoe airs out on its own.)

The PureFlow 2 arrives with 10 cushioning pads on its sole in a unique 7-1-2 pattern. That’s 7 pads up front, 1 that protects the central foot area, and 2 pads in the heel area. It does not appear that the design of the two split heel pads, which sit uniquely parallel to each other, will be sufficient to protect the heel, but it works. The pads provide for a smooth landing, although the low heel drop means that the role of the heel is minimized compared to runs in a traditional running shoe.

While this is a neutral shoe, its low profile provides stability which is enhanced by a flared-out sole. During the first few blocks of jogging in the PureFlow 2, it feels like you’re running in a bedroom slipper; which just happens to be a very comfortable slipper. The shoe feels fast on sidewalks although the flat sole can make it a bit slippery on concrete. One person has noted that the shoe loses traction on wet asphalt and concrete.

A number of minimalist shoes make for very good trail runners and that’s the case with this shoe from Brooks. The PureFlow 2 provides a nice bounce on crushed gravel roads, where it proves to be pretty protective. There’s a touch of slippage, but nothing major.

You wouldn’t think to take a shoe this minimal onto a hard rock trail, so naturally I did. Surprisingly, it works just fine. The rocks underneath the sole can be felt but not in a bad way. The non-aggressive sole lets you skip over rocks without fully engaging them. The pods are far enough apart that they do not pick up rocks.

The PureFlow 2 is highly competent on a hard-packed dirt trail. Your snugly covered feet stay securely placed in this shoe and the feet do not wobble. It’s straight ahead without any complications.

I began to see why one online reviewer called the Brooks PureGrit 2, a cousin of this shoe, the best trail running shoe he’s ever run in. Period.

Because this model delivers a very comfortable, smooth ride on asphalt, it would be a natural 5K to half marathon runner. The low profile, non-obtrusive insole allowed my toes to grab and attempt to grip the road with each step, something they do as a matter of feline-style instinct. And the split toe design permitted my big toes to move around freely, not scrunched up next to four smaller intruders. Neat!

If my experience is any indication at all, this is a shoe that will make most joggers add distance to their daily runs. It’s such an enjoyable shoe to run in that you may take the long way home, after adding on a few laps at the local school’s track.

Did I find any substantive weaknesses or issues with the PureFlow 2? No. This shoe promises to be many things for many runners and just happens to deliver on its promises.

In a day where running shoe prices are shooting far past the $100 range, the Brooks PureFlow 2 is a long run shoe, trail running shoe, fast paced lap running shoe, and everyday trainer all for a reasonable price ($100).

Highly recommended.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-brooks-pureflow-2/

Men’s Journal had these comments on the Brooks PureFlow 2: “Best for… runners looking for a supportive everyday trainer… it deftly (works) in the gray area between lightweight speed and durable support shoe. The cushy but lean midsole makes it a good high-mileage trainer, but it can be used for efforts on the track, too.”

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Run With the Pack

Running Shoe Review: TrekSta Sync

Do you need to run on high mountain trails in order to appreciate the TrekSta Sync stability running shoe?

You may have had this experience: You test drive a new car and are not greatly impressed by it. But then subsequently you find yourself thinking about it, and a day or so later you’re back at the dealership asking a salesman if you can drive it off the lot. In some respects this parallels my experience with the TrekSta Sync, a mountain trail running shoe.

The Sync is a great looking shoe, especially in the lime and black color scheme on the model provided to me by TrekSta of Moscow, Idaho. It’s a mid-weight shoe (10.9 ounces in the men’s version, 9.5 ounces in the women’s version) with a medium fit. While it looks somewhat like a Skora running shoe, there’s an odd angle in the forefoot that reduces the space available for one’s smaller toes. I had to trim my nails close to provide enough space for my toes to fit in the Sync, a half-size up from my walking shoe size.

Standing in the Sync, the low profile shoe — with a 4mm heel-to-toe drop — feels quite flat. Walking in it is not very comfortable and jogging on crushed gravel provides a rough ride for sore feet. Had I been blindfolded in the first few miles, I would have guessed that this shoe was from Saucony — a brand that I’ve not had much luck with. Their running shoes tend to feel not quite soft enough or firm enough to provide a satisfying ride.

The arch feels a bit high in the Sync and the shoe has a distinct sock liner (which arrives with indentations in the insole, as if one had already worn the shoe). At first I didn’t like it. The curved ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) insole proves to be one of the durable components in the TrekSta NestFIT system that make the shoe what it is.

The Sync’s forefoot sole looks like it was modeled after a big cat’s paws, but I never felt the spring or cushioning supposedly provided by the individual forefoot pods — which I thought of as “paw pads.” The HyperGrip sole is said to provide superior traction, but I didn’t notice that.

The Sync is labeled as a stability trail running shoe, so there’s a small second-density medial post that sits underneath the front part of the heel. It’s a small stabilizing device and I never felt its impact while running. The good news began when I realized that my feet were landing perfectly straight with each set of strides. To use another automobile analogy, it’s like driving a car on the freeway and determining that it will travel straight even when you take your hands off the wheel. My confidence in the Sync was now enhanced.

Jogging on concrete and asphalt in the Sync was a more pleasant experience than I’d had on a crushed gravel trail. But the best was yet to come. Running on a hard-packed dirt trail allowed me to find the winning qualities of the Sync. It’s a virtually unbeatable type of shoe on this surface (and presumably on a high mountain trail). The aforementioned once-troubling insole keeps the feet securely cradled in place as your ankles twist and turn like crazy on the trail bends. The TrekSta NestFIT system meets its goal of providing nearly unrivaled support.

The laces on the Sync remain tied and the shoe seems to increase in comfort the more it is worn. Soft foam fabric padding surrounds the ankles, which makes one think of a deluxe racing flat.

Since the feet are riding on top of two layers of EVA, in the midsole and insole, this is a protective runner for road races and street training. I’d feel quite confident about using it in a 5K, 10K or half-marathon.

If you’re a runner who runs on city and suburban streets but would like a shoe that provides an attractive, unique and minimalistic appearance, the Sync should work for you. If you’re lucky enough to run on mountain trails or lowland dirt trails, this Town and Country shoe may be the next best thing to coming home from auto shopping with a new VW GTI.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The TrekSta Sync retails for $125.00.SONY DSC

TrekSta Sync 3

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-treksta-sync/

The Outside magazine Buyer’s Guide (Summer 2013) added these words about the TrekSta Sync: “(T)he Sync… (is) fast and fun, with a smooth enough gait for those who log just as many miles on-road as off.”

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It Keeps You Running

Zoot Tempo Trainer 2Zoot Tempo Trainer 5

Running Shoe Review: Zoot Tempo Trainer

Does the Zoot Tempo Trainer work just as a running shoe, or does it succeed as an all-purpose shoe?

Last week I had the frustrating experience of stopping by a major outdoor goods retailer to try on some trail running shoes. Although I have narrow and thin feet, it was difficult to find a fit among many of the trail runners, even at a full size up. Several of the shoes — including those from Saucony and The North Face, felt quite tight and snug; even more so than racing flats.

Fortunately, fit is not a problem with the new Zoot Tempo Trainer, a stability running shoe with a comfortable medium-wide fit. I hadn’t previously run in a shoe from Zoot (“1983… Born in Kona.”), thus I had no preconceptions about this model that was provided to me by Zoot Sports. But then I have maintained a couple of preconceptions that were transformed into misconceptions by this virtually distinct running shoe.

I say virtually distinct, because as soon as I put on the Tempo Trainers and began jogging, I was reminded of the original Adidas Supernova trainer from the early 90s. This was true for both the fit and the feel. The classic Supernova, a bit wider than most running shoes of the time, provided a smooth ride and a bit of extra stability on rainy days.

The Tempo Trainer is a mid-weight shoe (10.3 ounces in the men’s version) with a two-density midsole. The firmness provided by the small second density post above the arch insert may be just enough to allow a runner to maintain his or her natural foot striking pattern when tired. It is not significant enough – and this is a positive – to force the feet either inward or outward.

My first preconception was that I do not favor running shoes that provide a bouncy feel. The Tempo Trainer’s Z-bound maximum cushioning midsole provides a bit of bounce over crushed gravel, something that’s appreciated by those whose feet regularly get beat up by this supposedly “softer” surface. The same minimal-to-moderate bounce cushioning feels like a protective force when jogging on both concrete and asphalt. The Tempo Trainer’s ride on asphalt is so pleasing that you might find yourself wondering when’s the next time you can sign up for a full or half marathon.

My second preconception was that as a heel striker I do not like soft heels. I’ve continually searched for running shoes with a firm or stiff heel plant. This shoe might have cured me of a strange obsession. The Tempo Trainer has a very soft heel which nevertheless provides a pleasingly smooth ride.

The Tempo Trainer arrives in a Graphite/Black/Blaze color scheme, which most of us would describe as orange and black with neon green laces. If you’re an introvert who disdains attention except when you’re out jogging, these shoes will get you noticed! If you’re on a Most Wanted list, substitute jet black laces for the neon green ones.

The forefoot of the Tempo Trainer is wide enough for your toes to splay at will, and forefoot runners will enjoy the sweet blown rubber section up front. Reflective materials are sown onto the forefoot for night running protection. And speaking of protection, I’ll reiterate that these trainers provide enough cushioning that even those with minimal padding on their feet and/or metatarsalgia will want to sing the Beatles song, “I Feel Fine.”

Well, no running shoe is perfect, so what issues cropped up with the Tempo Trainer? The first is that the sock liner is quite thick – mysteriously so (a friend mentioned that it looks like an aftermarket insole). This Bare Fit shoe was constructed to be run in without socks. Simply replace the provided insole with a standard one from another pair of running shoes — and add socks! — and presto, the fit reverts to feeling normal.

The second issue is that this trail runner feels only competent on a hard-packed dirt trail. The width of the shoe makes it feel more like a ride in a family sedan than in an exciting personal sports car. But the Tempo Trainer gets the job done, making this a bit of nit picking.

The Tempo Trainer is well named as it permits the runner to maintain a consistent running tempo in a style that favors mid-foot landings. The shoe makes for a relaxing walking shoe; it feels Asics-like at walking pace.

All in all, this trainer from Zoot presents a close-to-perfect blend of strengths that should overwhelm any minor weaknesses in it. It’s an all-purpose shoe that may eliminate the need to buy separate shoes for running, walking, visits to the gym and for casual wear. With the Zoot Tempo Trainer, it may be “one and done”!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Zoot Tempo Trainer retails for $120.00.

This article was first posted on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-zoot-tempo-trainer/

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