Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4 Review-A Favorite Improves! Detailed Trail Feel Comparisons to Hoka Speedgoat 2, Salomon Sense Ultra and Sense Ride

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor Road Trail Run

Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4
24mm heel/ 20mm forefoot 4mm drop
9.7 oz/275 g Men's 9, 7.9 oz/224 g
My size 8.5 weighed 9 oz, so a size 9 should weigh less less than Nike spec. above or 9.5 oz.
$125. Available now. 
Zoom Terra Kiger 4 Gray Matches NH Granite
The Terra Zoom Kiger 3 (review) was my 2016 Trail Shoe of the Year. The Kiger 4 improves on the 3 in subtle and effective ways without changing the character of the shoe. Light, agile, protective and supportive it has everything most need for any trail run terrain and speed and distances up to 50 miles or so.  I am not running 50 miles or even 30, so for me the key strengths of the Kiger are its low slipper like surefooted ness on all terrain, its agility, more than adequate underfoot protection and relative on trail speed compared to more substantial, heavier, structured shoes.



For those familiar with Nike think of it as a Pegasus for trails as the midsole is about the same firmness and the upper and fit largely similar with the Kiger being a 4mm drop shoe with the Peagaus  10mm heel to toe drop. I was not a fan of the Pegasus 33 for its somewhat firm and harsh ride. Interestingly, taken on the road, the Kiger 4 feels very similar to the Pegasus and one of my least favorite trail shoes taken to the pavement. On  trails it is a delight and actually superior in feel, stablity and protection to many trail shoes, even those in our comparisons below which run great on the road.

Upper
The upper is entirely made of Nike's flavor of engineered mesh, Flymesh. The only overlay, and new to the Kiger 4, is a same color, very soft plastic toe bumper which also wraps over the top of the toes and the Swoosh.
Most of the changes are to the upper with the net result to date a somewhat more supportive, ventilated and snugger fit yet one that is smooth and consistent over the entire foot from heel to toe.
New to the Kiger 4 is a two layer interior bootie with one layer an elastic bootie tied into the tongue and the other a non stretch layer between the bootie layer and the outer mesh tied into the front 4 lace loops with at the rear 2 lace holes  two Flywire loops towards the heel for a great lock down.


The Nike Volt yellow outer bootie (see below) has minimal stretch and is connected at the top to the inner side of the lace loop and at the bottom to the midsole. The other side of the lace loop is laminated directly to the upper. The tongue is connected on both sides to the midsole by a more elastic bootie material, in the Kiger 3 it was single side bootie. Sound complicated ? 
Well it is, but it appears to us to be highly effective way to tie the foot to the platform evenly and securely with no lace, overlay, or the previous full Flywire's pressures. Despite having zero overlays beyond the Swoosh this is a fantastically secure and comfortable upper, if a foot form fitting one. No slop, sliding, or foot rotation under way.

The Kiger 3 had Flywire top to bottom at all lace loops and an odd tongue with a the tongue going to a bootie to the midsole but only on the medial side for more support.
LEFT: Kiger 4  RIGHT: Kiger 3
The Kiger 4 upper and tongue has far more ventilation but we are a bit concerned that the holes may catch on twigs and that the essentially unlined mid foot section may let in grit. The front toe box is now lined with soft dense fabric so front grit should not be an issue there. Fewer Flywire loops  also reduce the chance of obstacles grabbing them.
TOP: Kiger 4 BOTTOM: Kiger 3
The toe box below the mesh has a softer inner layer than the Kiger 3 had and instead of the minimal printed TPU overlay toe bumper of the Kiger 3 the Kiger 4 now has a soft yet substantial toe bumper.
Engineered mesh uppers with few overlays stretch so if it fits you a bit snug initially give it some time to stretch to your foot as the Kiger 3 did over time. I fit true to size in Kiger 4 as I did in the Kiger 3.

Outsole and Midsole
The midsole is made of Nike's Phylon with low profile Zoom Air units at the heel and forefoot in, as far as we can tell, the same construction as the Kiger 3 and Pegasus 33. While the Pegasus has a 29mm heel/19mm forefoot the Kiger 4 is a lower drop 4mm shoe having a 24mm heel and 20 mm forefoot.  The cushioning firmness is about the same from what we can tell and the road ride is similar so one could call the Kiger 4 a lower drop Pegasus for trails.


The 4mm drop heel is noticeably stable, one of the most stable if not the most stable yet decently cushioned heel construction of any trail shoe out of the maxi cushioned class.

While our Kiger 3 are quite worn,, and their Zoom Air units may have lost some pressure the forefoot cushion of the Kiger 4 seems a touch firmer, and thus as the Zoom Air also provides the rock protection slightly feels more protective than the Kiger 3, if memory serves.

The Zoom Air units and particularly the forefoot provide a very unique and effective combination of trail feel, stability and protection. One has a sense of the air units wrapping around obstacles and providing localized stability over terrain. 

The outsole is made up for 2 grades of rubber in a tight dense grid of square lugs with bevels towards the front of the shoe. 
  • Softer, mottled pattern "Environmentally Preferred Rubber" through the center of the shoe in a single plate for all terrain grip
  • 2 strips of 054 High Abrasion harder carbon rubber running from the heel in a ring interrupted in the center of the heel as a crash pad and upfront on the medial side for toe off.
The ground conforming characteristics extend to the outsole as the ring of firmer rubber sits inbound of the firmer air units in the forefoot so it depresses into the midsole along outer edge of the forefoot providing great surefooted grip and stability and push off on most terrains.

The small, tightly spaced and sharply square lugs did have an occasional tendency to grab smaller protruding roots and rocks at slower speeds.

We see some delamination of the rear outsole on its inner edge in the center gap at the heel of our well worn Kiger 3 and others have reported the same. To date we see no delmaination on the Kiger 4 but we will be keeping a close eye on this area. 

It appears the heel midsole geometry may be slightly modified with more vertical rear walls and less of rear flare but given the wear on our Kiger 3 this could also be due to compression of its midsole.



LEFT: Kiger 4  RIGHT: Kiger 3
Ride
The ride is very much like the Kiger 3 with a touch more and firmer cushioning from the front air unit. I am a timid downhill runner and seek a very stable heel while at the same time I like uphill and flats agility in a light shoe. The Kiger 4 checks all boxes. The Kiger 4, as the 3 did last year, fits the bill perfectly for me for a variety of terrains and paces.

This is one confidence inspiring shoe at any pace and one that is also light and agile . There is a distinct sense of being as one with the terrain with minimal instability. I did not test on severely off camber terrain but did the Kiger 3 and the upper in the 4 is, I think, more supportive and snug in a good way yet sufficiently wide for most feet up front. It is strangely not much fun to run on the road, firm, awkward and lumpy but I also did care much for the similar riding popular road Pegasus either.

The Kiger for most would likely be a bit light in protection over 50 miles or on extremely rocky terrain and in that case consider the Wildhorse which adds 4mm to the heel and substitutes the front air unit for a more conventional rock plate.

Conclusion
The Kiger 4 is a fantastic trail shoe. Agile, decently cushioned with a supportive yet comfortable upper it is fun and fast, protective, confidence inspiring and light at 9.5 oz or so. I only wish it was able to handle some road miles with less awkwardness.

Sam's Score 9.85/10
-0.10 for lack of versatility with awkward firm road manners.
-0.05 while we applaud the increased ventilation we are concerned about grit infiltrating at mid foot and obstacles catching the large ventilation holes.

Comparisons
I chose four trail shoes the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4, Hoka One One Speedgoat 2, Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra and Sense Ride for a side by side comparison taking careful note of what I felt and their performance. Jeff Valliere has just completed full reviews of the Sense Ultra here and Speedgoat 2 here.  A full review of the Sense Ride is coming soon.

All four shoes weigh under 10 oz with the Kiger 4 the lightest at approx. 9.5 oz. The greatest stack and cushion was with the SpeedGoat, the lowest stack and firmest was with the Sense Ultra. It is remarkable to think how far trail shoe technology has come in the last several years with lower weights, more forgiving cushion, great traction and protection and far more comfortable and supportive uppers. 

LEFT TO RIGHT:
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra, Salomon 
Sense Ride, Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4

To really get at the subtle differences between these four top 2017 models I ran all of them on a 2.7 mile trail loop with about 270 feet of elevation gain per loop made up of 2 steep climbs per loop. The trails included rooty and smoother single track, some short rocky sections, fields, gravel road, and a touch of pavement. I did a lap in each shoe, one after the other over 2 days. Conditions were generally dry with some tacky mud. The Salomon Sense Ride was a half size up from my true to size with the others all true to size.

Uppers and Fit
LEFT TO RIGHT:
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra, Salomon 
Sense Ride, Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4
The roomiest forefoot of the bunch and most comfortable upper of the lot is on the Sense Ultra, followed by the Kiger 4 with its snug but fairly broad up front engineered Flymesh and no overlays. 

The Speedgoat 2 has consistent snug and supportive fit from heel to toe with the narrowest and lowest very front of the toe box but still a big, big improvement there over Speedgoat 1 narrow pointy toe and loose hard to adjust mid foot fit. While true to size, some may consider sizing up in the new SpeedGoat.

The Sense Ride has a similar fit to the Sense Ultra but has heavier materials and overlays making it a touch more supportive and also less slightly less comfortable.

In terms of upper trail support and comfort for the longest hauls by fast runners on moderate terrain, dirt roads and even some pavement I would pick the Sense Ultra understanding that as it is has the lowest overall stack heights, especially in the forefoot so you will get a roomier upper but less cushioning.

On more technical terrain the Speedgoat upper would be my pick, a sharp reversal from the SpeedGoat 1 (review) and its unstable upper.

While I have not run in hot conditions yet the Kiger 4 clearly should have the most breathable upper followed by the Sense Ultra.

Midsole and Outsole 
There is little doubt that for long run underfoot comfort the Speedgoat 2's midsole is the winner. This said it is the stiffest and not nearly as agile as the others.

The Kiger comes in second in terms of overall cushion and balances decent cushion with good trail feel.

The Sense Ultra is the least cushioned of the four and focuses your attention on trail feel. When you combine the roomy Sense Ultra with its thinner flexible forefoot you have a shoe for the agile fast runner who wants to dance more than plow over terrain, the speciality of the Speedgoat. The Sense Ultra as it combines a roomy forefoot upper and thinnest forefoot has the most foot splay and terrain feel. Adding a few millimeters of foam to the Sense Ultra forefoot while keeping the upper would make it an ideal shoe for me: lower drop, more cushioned up front, and a touch stiffer making it more stable as well under its roomy upper.

Its cousin the Sense Ride adds 2mm to the heel and 3mm to the forefoot and is somewhat less stable in the heel, the least stable of the four, but also is slightly more protective and stiffer under the forefoot making it for me the best forefoot combination.

LEFT TO RIGHT:
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra, Salomon 
Sense Ride, Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4
All four shoes have all terrain outsoles. To date my running has been on drier terrain and all performed just fine. The Kiger 4 has the tightest pattern of lugs so it runs comparatively smoother with less sense of lugs being present on hard pack but the tight spacing may accumulate mud. The Speedgoat 2's Vibram Mega Grip serves as a noticeably stable platform under the somewhat squishy midsole.

Conclusions
For a balance of cushion, comfort, stability, agility and confidence at any speed I  give the nod to the Kiger 4 for most day to day trail running, closely followed by Speedgoat 2 for longer days and for overall cushion and protection underfoot.

The Sense Ultra would be the choice for faster long runs and ultras for those who want plenty of trail feel and also for those who have some door to trail on their routes as it is a fine shoe on the road. If you want almost everything the Sense Ultra offers, understanding it has a snugger but still comfortable upper and a touch more cushioning especially welcome up front, but not quite the heel stability of the Sense Ultra, or the other three, for $60 less the Sense Ride is a great choice.

The Kiger 4 and other shoes in this review were provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

For dozens of 2017 in depth shoe and gear reviews including for the Sense Ultra, Speedgoat 2, and Kiger 3 visit our index page here.
Check out our mini review of Nike's fine trail apparel and Kiger Vest here

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2 comments:

marksilver2 said...

Very nice review! I really liked previous versions of the TK. For comparison's sake, I would think the Hoka Speed Instinct is closer to the Kiger than the Speedgoat. It has very similar stack/weight characteristics. I haven't ran in the Speed Instinct. Can you give me your thoughts on how they compare, please.

Anonymous said...

This bootie system makes the shoe much less breathable than other trail shoes.