Sunday, August 13, 2017

Merrell Agility Peak Flex Review: Serious Mountain Runner with Great Mid Foot to Heel Hold and Stability

Article by Sam Winebaum 

The Merrell Agility Peak Flex ($130) is an all terrain highly supportive trail runner. Coming in according to Running Warehouse at a fairly hefty 11 ox./ 312 g M9, 9.6 oz./272 g W8 it has a 27mm heel, 21mm forefoot stack, 6mm drop. We were surprised and pleased with its fantastic mid foot and heel hold, probably the best of 2017, decent front of the shoe flexibility, and despite the weight decent if a bit ponderous agility. This is a shoe that will get you through hard tough miles of varied terrain in security and comfort.

First Impressions
We were quite frankly skeptical when first offered to test the Agility Peak Flex. Merrell is of course known for hiking boots and for their minimal Trail and Road Glove shoes. We know Joe Gray many time US Mountain Champion and 2016 World Mountain Champion is a Merrell athlete so that was enough for us to give them a try.

Right off the bat the shoe sure looks more hiker than runner with its fairly elaborate overlays, massive looking midsole with flex pods and dark colors.  Well make no mistake  about it the Agility Peak is well named. It is decently Agile for such a big shoe and it can handle Peaks as well.

Upper and Fit
The fit was perfect at true to size with superb mid foot to heel hold and plenty of room and great hold from a fairly high volume forefoot. It has among the best if not the best uppers of any 2017 trail shoe I have tested.  I really look for a secure mid foot and heel hold first and foremost in a trail shoe. Downhill confidence building is key for timid old me!
Merrell Omni-Fit Lacing System
Merrell calls out two upper technologies both of which we found effective.
The first is Merrell Omni-Fit lacing system. The laces run through cord loops which cross over to each side. Combined with the substantial but not overly thick overlays this system provides a superb mid foot hold. I found that over tightening is not necessary and can cause some pressure through the fairly lightly padded tongue.
Further back Merrell calls out its Hyperlock heel hold, a TPU molded heel counter strap. 
Hyperlock angles forward into the midsole side walls and the heel collar is high and substantial the combination providing the best heel stability of any 2017 shoe I have run this year but contributes to less agility and somewhat of a lumpy heel feel.

Midsole and Outsole
The midsole features Merrell's Flex-Connect. Essentially the idea is that flex grooves in the midsole walls upfront and into the outsole give this big shoe its agility. The EVA and deep lugs provide plenty of rock protection so no rock plate is included and we found it was not needed. The flex of the shoe is mainly at the very front, where Flex Connect is called out in a pattern similar to the LaSportiva Mutant. So we think much as with the Mutant. this is a shoe designed for steep climbing while retaining plenty of downhill and off camber stability. While we have not run sufficient miles to determine we worry a bit about the upper creasing and tearing at the flex point with heavy use. 
Merrell Flex Connect
The outsole features Merrell's M-Select rubber with multi directional lugs. While we have not run the Agility in wet conditions we expect grip should be fine. 

The ride is stable foot and decently agile for such a big shoe. It climbs well and overall runs lighter than its weight. The rear of the shoe as previously mentioned is somewhat lumpy on smoother terrain but shines when the terrain gets rough. Comfort underfoot is outstanding on rockier terrain despite the lack of a rock plate and the Flex Connect up front does conform to terrain while remaining stable as Merrell intends it to. This is a shoe that while not a speedster inspires confidence.

Recommendations and Conclusions
The Agility Peak is worthy of consideration as a sturdy daily trail trainer for runs and fast hikes in tough terrain. The upper and foot hold overall is truly outstanding with plenty of forefoot volume and impeccable rear of the foot hold. It might benefit from a dual density midsole with a slightly softer or bouncier heel midsole while retaining the firmer midsole up front. This could liven the heel feel and give them more pop without compromising the outstanding stability. The lacing system is excellent but the tongue could use a touch more padding, especially for those who have narrow feet or high arches. At 11 oz. I would love to see the shoe lose some weight down to 10.5 oz. 

Score 9.65/10
-.1 for weight
-.2 for somewhat ponderous lumpy heel feel, midsole could use some more pop.
 -0.05 for a touch more tongue padding under the cord lacing system.

La Sportiva Mutant (RTR review)
These are very similar shoes in their outstanding foot hold and stability and forward flex point without a rock plate in the mix and identical weights.  I might give a slight nod to the Merrell for being less fatiguing and more protective under foot at the toes and to the Mutant if you want the most supportive upper possible
Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (Jeff's RTR review)
The Merrell has a superior and roomier upper, particularly upfront. The Speedgoat has some springy pop from its bouncy midsole, maybe to much so for my tastes, while the Merrell has a less energetic response but a more stable one overall. Speedgoat is stiffer up front relying on the rocker and is a touch more stable up front despite the bouncy midsole while the Merrell flexes and climbs slightly better. The Speedgoat is 1.4 oz lighter and that is significant. 
Salomon Sense Pro Max (RTR review)
The Pro Max comes in at 0.6 oz less than the Agility Peak, has more midsole stack, the Vibe vibration attenuation inserts and lower profile lugs. It is more versatile and is fine on the road but not as agile up front as the Agility. 

Sam's run bio is here
The Agility Peak was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

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