Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Brooks Running Mazama 2 Review - Fastest Uphill Trail Shoe?

by Jeff Valliere

Brooks Mazama 2
9.3 oz./263g US Men's size 9  8.4 oz./238g US Women's size 8
21mm heel/15mm forefoot, 6mm offset
$140

One of my favorite shoes of 2016, the Brooks Mazama was fast, light, exceptionally responsive and snappy when running uphill.  One of my few (and minor) complaints was that I found the fit of the upper to be just a touch long and a bit on the narrow side, even for my low volume foot, not even problematic, just notably odd.  When I learned of the improvements to the upper on the Mazama 2, I was eager to get my feet in a pair to see how well Brooks improved upon an already amazing shoe.


Upper:
The upper is definitely a notable improvement over the previous version and is key highlight of the update
LEFT: Mazama 1               RIGHT: Mazama 2
The single layer mesh ensures light weight and breathability, as well as doing a great job at securely holding the foot in place.  The new upper also has a slight bit more give to it, in that it better conforms to the foot and is less rigid, all the while maintaining foothold and security.  Fit has for sure been improved, as the Mazama 2 has a more "normal" fit, not quite as long and pointy as the original version, which is definite advantage and will accommodate a wider variety of feet.

The Mazama 2, for such a fast and light shoe has a surprisingly substantial toe bumper that does a great job warding off minor to moderate accidental rock stubs.
The heel counter is minimal, but nicely padded with just the right blend of comfort, stability and security.
Mazama 2 left, 1st version on right below.  Heel counter form factor has changed ever so slightly, but the heel cup and fit are hard to decipher from one another.
The laces on the previous version were round and thin, but the Mazama 2 has nice flat and slightly stretchy laces for perfect snugness, on the 1st tie, with never a need to re-tie.
Though I don't often use a lace garage with most shoes that have "normal" tie laces, I really appreciate this option with the Mazama 2.  It is wide/large enough to stow the laces quickly without having to fiddle around, yet the laces never work their way out.
Comparing with the 1st gen Mazama (neon yellow).  The differences in the photos are subtle, but more obvious while wearing and even more evident when running.


Midsole:
The midsole remains unchanged from the original Mazama (RTR review). Mazama 2 retains the BioMoGo DNA cushioning and forefoot propulsion plate.  I wouldn't mind if cushioning were a bit more plush and forgiving, but only as long as it did not come at the expense of the sheer speed and performance that the Mazama 2 offers.  If more cushion/protection is paramount, then the Caldera or Cascadia might be more desirable options, though the penalty is more weight and less speed/response.

I find that the cushioning is appropriate for longer distances/duration (1/2 marathon/2+ hours). On hard surfaces especially, and for longer distances/duration, particularly if a long and abusive downhill is involved, I'll probably lean toward a shoe with a bit more cushion/protection.  Those more accustomed to minimal footwear however will likely be fine with the Mazama for longer distances.
To bend the Mazama 2 as shown below takes a good bit of force.
The long flex is part of what Brooks calls a decoupled mid foot design using the same principles as in the road Neuro 1 (RTR review) and Neuro 2, applied to a trail shoe. As Brooks describes it: "decoupled midfoot design allows the heel and forefoot to move independently for a powerful push-off."
The Mazama decoupling is clearly less extreme than the Neuro's.
Brooks Neuro 2
Brooks includes what they call a propulsion plate in both versions of the Mazama. It sits below the forefoot midsole foam. I was admittedly unsure what to expect here, but was pleasantly surprised, even somewhat amazed at how well this shoe pops at toe off. I felt it to be a benefit at just about any speed on any surface, but for me, it really shined on the uphills when I was pushing hard.

The propulsion plate also doubles as a very effective rock plate, which I found to be nearly as protective as a Cascadia's.

The Mazama is super stiff fore and aft, but does have good torsional flex, also a function of the decoupled design.  Despite being stiff though, it is not board like and there has been no heel rub."

Outsole:
Also unchanged, I found the outsole to perform better in summer conditions/temperatures than they do in colder winter conditions.  Traction is good for the most part, but with such low profile lugs, I found that they struggle a bit in winter conditions where it might be snowy, wet or muddy, but really excel in summer conditions as when I reviewed the Mazama last summer.  Outsole durability is probably one of the most significant weak points of this shoe, as I see a good bit of premature wear in the toe after just 20-30 miles.  Nothing severe or a deal breaker, but probably more indicative of the rocky technical trails I frequent and would likely not be an issue on less technical, smoother terrain.
To be fair though, I test all of my trail shoes on the same steep, rocky, technical trails and tread on the Mazama and Mazama 2 wears off the toe particularly quick in this kind of terrain.


Mazama 2 yellow, Mazama 1 red have exactly the same outsoles
Like the 1st version, I am getting some visible premature wear.

Recommendations/Performance:

Like the first version, the Mazama 2 is fast, light and responsive, certainly a shorter to mid distance race machine if conditions are not extreme or overly technical.  I find the Mazama 2 to easily be the quickest, most responsive and lively uphill shoe I have ever worn and would absolutely be my first pick for any run/race where uphill speed and performance is the priority.  Though good in technical terrain and fast downhills, the lower profile lugs and minimal cushion might be a liability to some who prefer a bit more underfoot, especially over longer distances and longer more demanding downhills.  In addition to being very quick and responsive on the uphills, it runs very fast on pavement and buffed out trails, but feels a bit minimally cushioned for me to run high speeds on very hard surfaces for longer distances. 

Jeff's Score:  9.6 /10

- .2 for tread durability
- .2 for cushion.  Would be nice to have just a bit more to soften the blow on long downhills.

Comparisons:

Brooks Mazama 2 vs. Brooks Caldera 2 (RTR  review soon):  The Mazama 2 is lighter and much more responsive, but the Caldera 2 has more plush cushioning and better overall protection for longer days.  Traction is similar on both despite differing lug patterns, but outsole wear and durability is better with the Caldera 2.

Brooks Mazama 2 vs. Saucony Peregrine 7 (RTR review):  Very comparable in weight, stiffness, stature and trail feel, both are fast, light and mean business on the trail.  The updated Mazama 2 has a slightly betting fitting and more secure upper with slight better breathability.  The Mazama 2 is faster on the uphills, but if you want to come back down the hill fast, the Peregrine 7 could potentially be a better pick depending on the terrain, as it has better traction and feels a bit more capable going fast in steep, loose, technical stuff.  The Peregrine also has much better treadwear and is a bit more protective overall.

Brooks Mazama 2 vs. Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra (RTR review):  The Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra weighs a bit more, but you can hardly tell, especially while wearing.  Cushioning with the Ultra is a bit deeper and more plush, the upper can't be beat by any shoe and traction/outsole durability is one of the best out there.  The Ultra is fast and responsive, but nothing is as quick up the hill as the Mazama and Mazama is $40 less.
For Jeff's run bio see our Reviewers Bio Page here.
Comments Questions Welcome Below!
The Mazama 2 was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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