Monday, March 28, 2016

Review New Balance RC 1400 v4: V 4 Victory!

New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
The New Balance RC 1400 v4 is the 4th iteration of the lightweight neutral racer from New Balance. It weighs in at 7.7 oz/218 g for a men’s 9, 6.5 oz/184g women's 9.  The forefoot is 15mm and the heel is 25mm. $100.
This version follows in the tradition of the previous versions with some changes that make a significant difference. I’ve run marathons in all versions of the shoe and have liked some more than others. Is the V4 an improvement? Read on to find out.
Upper and Fit:
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
The upper on in the RC 1400 series made a big leap forward in version 3. Version 2 had a rough interior and a tongue that had a seam with a bad habit of digging into the top of my foot. Version 3 felt better put together and the tongue was no longer a problem. For the most part, V4 continues in the direction of the V3.
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart

New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
The No-Sew upper is very comfortable and has some overlays that hold the foot in place nicely. It’s a good looking shoe, is pretty simple and feels really good on the foot. V3 and V4 both really disappear once you put them on.
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
In terms of fit, they’re definitely race shoes. There’s not a ton of room in them, but I didn’t size up and I’ve had no problems with hot spots or blisters. They fit my feet really well, the laces are simple and effective and the tongue is a nice complement. There’s a tiny seam on the underside of the tongue—it doesn’t seem as bad as on V2 of the shoe, but seems a little more prominent than V3. It hasn’t caused any trouble yet, but I do have to make sure the tongue is totally flat before I go out for a run.
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
Midsole and Outsole:
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
The midsole is still trusty Revlite® which has a nice mix of cushion and bounce— and the outsole is blown rubber. The outsole pattern is very similar to V3, with some minor tweaks. There’s still a plastic plate in the middle of the shoe to give it a little stiffness.

New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
The big story here is the additional 2mm of cushion in both the forefoot and the heel. My biggest beef with the NB 1400 has been that the forefoot gets a little thin feeling in the last miles of a marathon. The extra 2mm makes a HUGE difference. I went out for 19 miles with speed and hills in these and they felt terrific the whole way. They’re by no means a max cushioned shoe, but the extra 2mm under the forefoot makes them a more viable marathon shoe in my opinion.
New Balance RC 1400 v4  Photo Credit: Peter Stuart
I can’t say enough good things about the ride of the RC 1400 V4. They are one of the smoothest, sleekest, fastest and most comfortable running shoes I own. With the extra padding up front they are now more viable as a lightweight trainer  and they are a terrific shoe on race day. They feel good at any speed and have a perfect balance of cushion and stiffness.

Conclusions and comparisons:
The 1400 line has steadily evolved into a more fully refined racing shoe. I’ve run in a lot of shoes lately and there seems to be a great effort to reinvent the proverbial wheel. Some shoes have complicated lacing systems, others have pods, others just seem to be trying to fix things that aren’t really problems. The 1400 is a straight up, simple running shoe. It feels great on the foot and is really fun to run in.

Score 4.9 out of 5

The NB 1400 v4 was a personal purchase at retail

Peter Stuart's Running Bio

My running career got off to a slow start…in high school I was told I ran like a race walker and was thus relegated to race walking on the track team. I got back into running about 15 years ago and then into triathlon. Triathlon really rekindled my love for running, so about two years ago I hired a coach and really focused on the half and full marathons.  I broke a bad habit of putting in tons of moderately hard miles (and no easy or hard ones) and after plateauing at 3:25 (with some disastrous marathons in there), this past year I brought my marathon under 3:00 and my half under 1:25. Along the way I’ve developed a bit of a shoe problem.

Interested in other 2016 shoes? Road Trail Run has reviewed 30 different models in the last 6 months! Click here for our summary page with links to all the reviews.

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The RC 1400 v4 is available from Running Warehouse
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Men's here Women's here

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Julbo Performance Photochromic Running Sunglasses: Zephyr Zebra Review with Comparisons to Aero Zebra Light

Review by Jeff Valliere with Sam Winebaum

Circa 1900 Julbo crystal hunter sunglasses

Editor's Note: Julbo is a french company from the Jura Mountains near Switzerland located in the same valleys where the finest hand built watches are made. Founded in 1888, their earliest sunglasses launched over a 100 years ago were designed for crystal hunters in the Chamonix valley. Since then Julbo has focused on high performance sun protection sunglasses and goggles for mountain and water environments. Maybe not as well known as the usual suspects, their quality and performance is appreciated by some of the finest mountain athletes out there  In addition to famous extreme skier Glen Plake and  Swiss speed mountaineer Uli Steck, many outstanding mountain runners including Rob Krar, Krissy Mohel, Stevie Kremer are Julbo sponsored athletes.Julbo is also well known for its fun and worthy line of stylish baby and children;s sunglasses.
                         Julbo Zephyr Zebra 2-4 lens

Julbo Zephyr w/Zebra 2-4 lens ($180)

For years, the name Julbo conjured images in my mind of round glacier glasses with leather side shades worn by high altitude mountaineers.  Over the past few years however, Julbo has really caught my attention and changed my perceptions as their newer offerings have become commonplace, perhaps even somewhat synonymous with the MUT (Mountain/Ultra/Trail) scene.  A handful of my friends have been wearing them and after trying them briefly on local runs, I knew I had to have a pair.

As luck would have it, Julbo graciously offered a pair of the new Zephyr with a Zebra 2-4 lens to review for RoadTrailRun.  In addition, Sam also sent me his new Julbo Aero glasses with the Zebra Light 1-3 lens, primarily for the sake of lens comparison.

The Zephyr is designed specifically for running (but is certainly appropriate for just about any other outdoor sport) and combined with the photochromic Zebra lens, I found this combination to be ideal for most days running here in Boulder, Colorado, where bright sunshine is the norm and brighter sunshine is guaranteed on the higher peaks.  Combine snow and sensitive eyes, I wanted a single pair of glasses with a lens that would cover all of my bases, from the brightest conditions above tree line, to shaded forests and canyons.
Julbo Zephyr Zebra

Monday, March 21, 2016

Guest Review: ASICS MetaRun: Vivid Energy Return, Adaptable. Smooth. A Well Executed Blend of New Technologies

Review by Giannis Papagiannis

Editor's note: All the way from Greece, the birthplace of the Marathon ,we are thrilled to present a review of the ASICS MetaRun by Giannis Papagiannis, an accomplished marathoner and ultra marathoner who has completed the UTMB and Sparathon among many others. Giannis is a co-owner of Pulse100 one of Greece's finest running and endurance sports stores.  Previously Road Trail Run published an initial impressions review by Derek Li of Singapore here. The MetaRun is not currently available in the US but is in international markets including from Pulse100.

As you may know, the ASICS MetaRun was recently released and very quickly drew the media attention due to the new technologies it ntroduced. So, it was more than natural, that Pulse100 was also curious to find out what’s so special about it and how all this new technology works in real-life!

Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis

Starting from our first view on MetaRun, it clearly refers to a typical ASICS stability shoe.
Looking at the midsole, we recognize the thicker Duomax foam under the foot-arch and the AdaptTruss system in the middle of the sole. This type of shank is a different construction in comparison to the Trusstic System, used in other ASICS stability shoes. The new one in MetaRun is surely more rigid, and the highlight is the carbon-fiber reinforcement, directly underneath the foot-arch, which definitely saves some more grams from shoe’s weight.

The new AdapTruss shank Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis

Just above this carbon-insert( the wavy weave), we see a plastic-lamination, which does not contact the carbon-insert. We assume that this construction provides more dynamic-rigidity characteristics to the shoe, meaning that as more pressure is applied, the greater the resistance of the construction. This all new construction gives MetaRun the ability to progressively adapt the supporting function based on type of foot-arch and running conditions.

   Plastic lamination and the gap from the shank Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis

The amount as well as the gel-quality (X-GEL) used is also different from other ASICS models. It seems that less gel and different types is used in MetaRun, placed in specific points of the shoe, mainly in the outer heel-part of the shoe (“landing-zone” for heel-strikers), in the middle of the heel-part of the shoe, as well as underneath the ball of the foot, which serves surely as extra protection and cushioning, but also improves the “windlass mechanism”, a natural mechanism that reduces overpronation. The new gel philosophy saves also some valuable grams.
One of the newest technology applied in MetaRun is the FlyteFoam situated underneath the sole. It is very soft and when pressed gives a clear energy-rebound feeling. Unfortunately we don’t have more detailed information on this, since the particular technology is brand new, but probably has little to do with the classic EVA. According to ASICS, it’s much lighter than the industry standard and it utilizes organic fibers inside in order to achieve greater elasticity after compression, which means more lasting cushioning even after many running kilometers (who doesn’t want this?!). Heel sole-thickness is 30mm and 20mm fore, which calculates into a drop (heel-toe offset) of 10mm, kind of standard.

The upper consists of a brand new, single-layer mesh material, without the outer reinforcements usually seen in other shoes. The material is sinternally reinforced, with differentiated construction in some parts and various openings for improved breathability.

Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis

The thickness of the tongue is not constant throughout its width, but it’s thickness is quite substantial. The internal memory foam lining in the heel collar looks like more “floating” than in other shoes from ASICS, which uses a more rigid form, especially around Achilles tendon. The heel counter (ASICS calls this new construction MetaClutch) is also brand new regarding its shape and it is more flexible. Finally, the laces are thinner than usual, relatively hard, but can slide smoother in the holes, offering a more uniform tightening around the foot.

The new heel counter MetaClutch Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis    

Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis

Detail: the laces are thinner in the part where they enter the holes but wider in the part where you tighten them.

Asics MetaRun. Photo Credit: Giannis Papagiannis
The weight as we measured it, is 302 grams in US 9.

Running the MetaRun…
Surely an objective description of all the technologies embedded in MetaRun is necessary. However, in order to capture the “feeling” when wearing the METARUN, we assigned John Papagiannis (a multi times Marathoner, an Ultramarathoner having participated in UTMB, Spartathlon, IRONMAN races, and an energetic regular in Pulse100!) to share his thoughts and METARUN-experience:

When you first wear the shoes the fit is perfect; you can feel as if foot-and-shoe are one, without any hint of pressure. It is like wearing a kind of foam-sock.
Even more appreciated was the soft feeling around the heel-area, something that many runners with sensitive Achilles tendons will definitely value!
After running the first kilometers, this “foam”-like feeling reduces in strength, so now you feel like wearing “your” shoe, ie a shoe that has somehow adapted to your foot.
Tightening the laces is done easily, without having much in mind to tighten them uniformly, since this is done very easy due to the thin and hard laces of MetaRun that gently slide into the holes. I usually don’t over tie my laces when running long distances and as a consequence sometimes they untie. That never happened with MetaRun.
The feeling after taking the first steps, is that you wear a light, smooth but also alive shoe! I could feel the FlyteFoam retreating under the body-pressure, whilst on lift-off I could feel a pleasant, alive feeling of energy return. I could almost sense every tiny material in the midsole sole “working” for me. In the beginning of every run I could vaguely feel the AdapTruss system. After running the first 2-3 kilometers, the AdapTruss feeling vanished, giving way to the initial smooth and alive feeling. During the first runs, the feeling of each and every material and aspect of the sole, lasted for the first 15-17 kilometers, after which the shoe responded uniformly. Run-after-run, the transition to a more-uniform feeling of the sole was reported earlier and earlier, so after running 60-70 kilometers the shoe was completely “run-in” and the uniform-feeling was there from the beginning of the run. This running-in period is completely normal. The different thing here is that till now the Asics shoes were run-in in shorter distances, for example for Nimbus, Kayano and Cumulus I would need only 20-30 kilometers to run them in compared to i.e. Mizunos where longer running-in distances are usually required.
Another characteristic of MetaRun is the positive feedback you get in every phase of foot movement during running, giving a completely different, new feeling compared with any other shoe I’ve run so far.
In landing-phase cushioning is very good, very smooth, reminding a lot of NIMBUS. I could feel a soft, but not extended, retreat of the sole on the heel-side. In MetaRun, the X-Gel works well giving a soft but, in the same time, rigid feel during landing (the gel-part doesn’t subside that much). The new thing with MetaRun is the feeling of elasticity, like having a tiny, soft spring under the foot. I have run with shoes which provide this feeling of elasticity (eg ON CLOUDSURFER) as well as with shoes that focus in cushioning (eg ASICS NIMBUS). The combination of these two characteristics is not seen often, but in MetaRun is quite clearly present and, indeed, very well balanced. I am not in favor of very soft midsoles and outsoles, because they tend to alter their geometrical characteristics. In extreme cases, you can even feel  the drop changing withevery step! MetaRun provides very good cushioning with a rigid feeling of the sole at the same time and all this in a very smooth way.
As soon as the foot progresses forward after landing, and more body-weight is set on the middle of the shoe, the same smooth feeling is here.
The most interesting part here is the adapting-capability of MetaRun to the runner’s special needs: during the stance-phase a supporting action on the left-foot (which is inherently slightly over-pronating) was felt during the run-in period and also seen in the video-capture. After the run-in period no “correcting” action was felt, whilst the right-foot felt the shoe like any other neutral shoe, since there is no inherent overpronation on this one.

Asics Nimbus 17
Asics MetaRun 

On lift-off-phase the energetic feeling is more than evident. I got a slight, soft energy rebound all the time. It was very positive that this rebound was well-balanced, not at all tiring or annoying while running-distance is cumulating. Not very common with shoes trying to give back energy, shoes that feel very nice in short distances, but tiring the runner at longer distances.  In toe-off phase (the last contact of the foot with the ground when the toes are propelling the body forward), when wearing other shoes with similar sole thickness as MetaRun and especially after the 26-28km of long-runs, I get a slight annoying feeling in metatarsal (classic nerve pain). In the case of MetaRun this feeling is absent up to now.
Proceeding from phase to phase, the shoe gave me a uniform feeling. No difference spotted from heel to toe. As easy as it sounds, this is not common-sense in running shoes. I often encounter shoes with altered characteristics from heel to toe.
Running short distances (intervals – tempo runs) with MetaRun strongly resembles a trainer shoe. This is mainly due to the positive energy feedback and “fast” feeling, as well as the relatively small shoe-volume. Although it’s not lighter than ordinary training-shoes, the feeling is definitely “light”.
In long runs, especially up to 25-26km, I didn’t notice any significant change on MetaRun’s behavior. After this point of running-distance, a very small reduction in cushioning was evident, common in the majority of running-shoes. However, the interesting element with MetaRun is this gentle, alive and pleasant feeling of energy-return, which not only stays mainly unchanged throughout the run, without creating fatigue (unlike other shoes with more vivid energy-return), but also contributes to maintain a steady running-pace during the hard parts of the run!
The outsole of MetaRun does not give the ideal traction in every running surface. I noticed very bad traction in wet asphalt and on the treadmill, average in dry asphalt and exceptional in slick surfaces, eg pedestrian plates and tiles. In track it performed also quite well.
Shoe-fit is impeccable, as if the shoe adapts to the shape of the foot! Laces are tightened easily and remain well-tight, providing a uniform fit all over the foot. Toe-box is spacious enough. Not the widest shoe I’ve ever worn, but due to the great elasticity of the newly introduced materials it never felt narrow or underdimmentioned. The softer plastic material as well as the memory-foam used in the heel-counter provides greater stability lacking any signs of overpressure.

In our first review “MetaRun First Impressions” we have stated that: “If you want to express with only three words the feeling when running with MetaRun, it is smooth, vivid and adaptive”.
After running 220-230km with MetaRun the three above characteristics are confirmed!
MetaRun is a light, long-distance running-shoe. It gives the runner a vivid feeling of energy-return, but still gentle and very smooth. Adaptability is also one of the main advantages of MetaRun, which provides a customized feeling to the runner regarding fit and tread. The only missing link is the poor traction quality on wet asphalt and treadmills.
It can definitely handle light to medium pronation, as well as most of neutral feet. The only thing missing now is to define its performance in heavier over-pronating feet.
New technology materials have been harmonically applied producing a uniform-superior quality product. We can remember past cases of similar “concept” shoes, which presented new technologies, but where more technological-platforms rather than good running shoes, trying to establish themselves as hi-tec products only price-wise. But this is not the case with MetaRun, which performs as a well designed, very well tuned shoe. MetaRun clearly demonstrates the fact that when new-age foams, like E-TPU and OBC, are successfully blended with classical EVA-materials, they can produce materials with outstanding combination of physical properties, not feasible till today!
It is a shoe that made us wonder how it would perform on even longer runs. As the training for the next ultra is starting in 2 months, we are tempted to see it’s behavior in these conditions, since we have the feeling that MetaRun can click the eye to the maximalistic competition!

Reviewer Bio

Giannis Papagiannis is a former track 400 m athlete, who discovered long distance running some 20 years ago. After then he has ran many marathons on road and in trails. Stepping over to longer distances he ran Greek 100 miler ROUT, UTMB, greek DOLIHO 160 miler and wanting to hurt his feet, SPARTATHLON. He has done also the ROTH ironman distance triathlon. As a mechanical engineer and a co-owner of Pulse 100 running shop, he is passionate about the technical properties of running gear and doesn’t miss a chance to test, running the mountains and roads of Athens. With two teenage daughters, he now needs to run even further!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review: Pearl Izumi EM Trail N3 – Smooth as Butter

Review by Jeff Valliere

The all new Pearlizumi EM Trail N3 ($135) looks fairly benign and unassuming at first glance, but this 10.8 oz/306 g. (men’s size 9), 9.7 oz/275 g (women's size 8) neutral trail trainer offers an impressive mix of cushion, comfort and all-around performance.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

I have been running in Pearlizumi shoes for 11 years and have found their evolution to be quite remarkable, from struggling to keep up with their competitors, to their game changing launch of the Project E:Motion line for both road and trail.  The E:Motion line (or EM for short) is Pearlizumi’s version of a rockered outsole, or, Dynamic Range Offset as they like to call it.  This Dynamic Range Offset allows for a faster transition with less energy expenditure and a very smooth ride.  It may sound gimmicky to some, but it really works!

Initial impressions
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

My first thought upon pulling the N3 out of the box was that these shoes are huge, somewhat Hoka-esque in stature, width and bulk.  They feel a little heavy in the hand at first (though feel much lighter when running), but I think much of that initial perception of heft is based on their look.  The outsole appears identical, or very similar to other EM N/M trail shoes with a similar seamless upper and well placed seamless overlays.  The color scheme is very subtle and subdued, something I often appreciate in a day to day trainer.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

The N3 has a quite durable and versatile full contact outsole with the tried and true tread pattern that Pearlizumi has been using in their EM trail line, but with an updated carbon rubber compound for improved traction and durability.  The lugs are moderate and perform exceptionally well on a variety of surfaces, from groomed dirt, to a short stint of road to rocky, steep and aggressive single-track, mud and snow.  Previous EM trail shoes I have used have had somewhat sub-par wet traction, but this updated outsole has helped significantly on wet ground and does reasonably well on packed snow and low angle (slightly dirty) ice.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
Wear resistance is excellent, with hardly a sign of wear throughout the 50 or so miles I ran during testing.  If history is an indicator, this improved outsole will be good for several hundred miles before significant wear begins to occur, as my EM Trail M2 have around 200 miles and wear is very minimal.
The N3 also features Pearlizumi’s ESS forefoot rockplate, which offers remarkable rock protection, while still maintaining good torsional flexibility and ground feel.
Width of this outsole is quite impressive, about as wide and stable as any shoe I have run in.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

The N3 uses Pearlizumi’s proprietary 1:1 Energy Foam around the rim and “core midsole construction puts soft cushioning under your entire foot” according to their website.  I am not sensitive or discerning enough to feel that specifically, but I can say that the ride and cushion of this shoe is among the very best I have ever run in.  The midsole cushioning is on the firm side (though not the least bit squishy), but very compliant and forgiving upon impact.  I appreciate that I can run several miles of downhill on rock and hard surfaces, at just about any speed and not feel beat up afterwards.  Stack height in the heel is a very substantial 30mm and the effective offset is 4mm at heel strike and 7.5mm at mid stance (due to the Dynamic Range Offset). The N3 will best accommodate the heel to midfoot striker, but still work for just about any running style.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

The seamless upper of the Trail N3 is about the most perfect upper I could imagine.  It is light, well ventilated, has just the right amount of padding in the heel and tongue and hugs the foot in a snug, supportive and comforting manner.  The welded overlays are placed in such a manner that they do an incredible job holding the foot in place without feeling the least bit tight, constricting or causing any discomfort.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

There are 6 eyelets, plus an additional/optional 7th for those with special lacing needs.
I love that Pearlizumi uses sausage link laces that are just the right thickness and just the right material, as they have just a little bit of give to them without being stretchy nor too static.  The laces also integrate perfectly with the eyelets and allow for easy and accurate cinching on the very first try.  Unlike many shoes, I am able to snug them up once and never have to re-tie or get them dialed in.

The tongue has medium padding and provides just enough comfort without begin excessive and is just the right height.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
It is not gusseted, but I did not find that to be an issue, especially given the fact that there are 3 lace holes (2 on the upper half and 1 in the very center) to hold the tongue in a centered position.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

The heel counter has just the right amount of padding and support with a clever and efficient semi flexible, yet protective plastic cup in the lower 2/3, while the upper 1/3 that forms the ankle collar has medium weight mesh padding that sits in a perfect position just below the ankle bone.
The toe bumper is a somewhat flexible molded overlay type material, though at the tip of the shoe is an inch wide, thick rubber extension of the outsole wrapping over the toe.  Though I did not have any stubs, it seems as though this rubber extension would deflect the majority of hits.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

Fit is true to size and I suspect this shoe would accommodate a wide range of feet.  The “Anatomical Forefoot Shape” toe box is accommodating and has space for swell, comfort and a bit of splay, but not so much to be a liability when pushing the performance limits of the shoe.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

Smooth is the key descriptor here, incredibly so.  The combination of the Dynamic Range Offset (rockered outsole) and the responsive yet well cushioned 1:1 Energy Foam is a combination that is hard to beat.  On just about any terrain, from 20+ % grade rocky trails to buffed out single track or dirt roads, the N3 rolls along in a very forgiving and confidence inspiring manner, giving the impression that you could run in this shoe all day.  Additionally, it does not matter whether or not you are hiking, jogging or pushing for a PR, this shoe excels and make it feel effortless.
Despite the N3 being somewhat larger in size compared to some of the other lighter/slimmer trail shoes, the wide platform, good traction, protection, cushion and control of the upper makes this shoe a top performer on technical and non-technical downhills alike.

Left to Right: Cascadia 11, Caldorado, N3, Leadville v2, Stinson ATR. Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

New Balance Leadville 1210 v2 – previously my favorite (or co-favorite) mid-weight, well cushioned long distance every day trainer.  Very comparable to the N3 in terms of all day comfort, cushion and toe room, but the N3 has a slight edge with the Dynamic Range Offset and the slightly more precise fitting upper.  The 1210 v2 is just a few grams lighter.
Brooks Cascadia 11 – similar in weight, quality and protection (though the Cascadia is about an ounce heavier), the N3 has better trail feel and requires less effort to run in due to the reduced weight and Dynamic Range Offset.

Hoka Stinson ATR – the king of cushion, the Hoka has a Meta Rocker and thus a similar feel to the N3.  Though the ATR has benchmark cushion, the N3 is only 2mm less (32mm vs. 30mm).  The outsole of the N3 is equally as wide as the ATR in the forefoot, but the N3 is a full ½ inch narrower in the heel, but even so, I found the N3 to be more stable and MUCH more nimble and agile, especially in technical terrain.  The N3 is an ounce lighter and has a better upper.
Montrail Caldorado – just a few grams heavier than the N3, the Caldorado has comparable performance in technical terrain and all day comfort and protection.  The N3 has a slightly more fitted upper, better cushion and better traction.

The N3 is impressively versatile and will serve many purposes, from short distances to 100 mile ultras, racing, training on just about any terrain.  If you a looking for a comfortable shoe that will do just about anything, this is it.

MSRP $135. Available now.

Score: 4.90 out of 5
-0.5 for overly long laces and lack of and muted color choice. I''d hate to see this shoe "missed"!
-0.5 for weight. A touch less weight combined with its performance would make the N3 near perfect.

The N3 was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Reviewer Bio

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N3 is available from Running Warehouse.
Use Road Trail Run Coupon CodeRTR10 for 10% off.
Men's here   Women's here

Friday, March 18, 2016

adidas Outdoor Terrex Agravic and Agravic GTX – Extreme grip and protection for just about any terrain.

Review by Jeff Valliere with Sam Winebaum

Editor Note: Jeff tested the Gore-Tex version of the Agravic in the rock and snow above Boulder, CO. Sam tested the non Gore-Tex version on dry NH single track and roads.
adidas Outdoor Terrex Agravic GTX; All Photos Credit Jeff Valliere

The $150  new adidas Terrex Agravic GTX weighing in at an advertised 12.5 oz/355g. (US size 9) is a monster of a shoe with it’s very aggressive Continental rubber outsole, energetic Boost midsole and supportive/protective Gore Tex upper.
The $135 non Gore-Tex Agravic weighs in at 11.1 oz/315g. Stack heights in both are 24.5mm heel/18mm forefoot, so 6.5mm drop. Both also available in women's versions. Available now.
Either shoe is ready for just about anything you can throw at it.

First impressions

The toothy Continental rubber outsole is the star here and is the first thing that jumped out at me, looking ready for snow, mud, rock, ice and steep off trail use.  The shoe is reminiscent of the adidas Terrex Boost (RTR review here, now called the SkyChaser), but is a huge improvement.  Despite looking very much related, the Agravic has been revamped significantly with a more forgiving and compliant upper, a more beefed up and sturdy heel counter (the Terrex Boost had none to speak of), improved traction, better lacing and most importantly, improved fit.  The original Terrex Boost had a really odd fit that pinched the widest part of my (somewhat narrow to average) forefoot at the outbound lace holder overlays, yet left my toes swimming with way too much room at the tip of the shoe.  Though it never caused me any significant issues, it was really distracting and somewhat uncomfortable.  Despite a very fair trial period, they soon ended up in my give away pile of shoes.

Enter the Agravic.


In my opinion and for my terrain preferences, the outsole is hands down the highlight of the Agravic.  The Continental rubber outsole is made of a very sticky rubber compound that grabs like gecko feet.  Coupled with very deep 6,5mm well shaped and well-spaced lugs, the Agravic sticks at least as well, if not better than my very favorite go to sticky/luggy shoes (TNF Ultra MT, Salomon S-Lab Wings SG, La Sportiva Bushido for example).  I was able to test the Agravic in a wide variety of conditions from (almost always steep) dry technical rocky trails, wet technical rocky trails, slush, frozen slush, dirty ice, sheer ice, snow of varying consistency, steep off trail (dirt, pine needles, loose rock, etc….), smooth single track and hard pack dirt roads of varying gradient.
There were many times I approached potentially slippery areas with a bit of apprehension, knowing that most shoes would slip in the identical circumstance, but aside from a few minor (but expected) slips on sheer steep ice (where only metal would get any bite), these held very well almost all of the time.  Over the course of a few runs, as I learned their traction limitations (or lack thereof), I  developed an amazing sense of confidence about foot placement and hold.
The rock plate in the forefoot is slim and flexible, but combined with the substantial outsole offers bomb proof protection from the hardest hits on the sharpest rocks, while still maintaining relatively good trail feel and torsional flexibility.
As sticky as the rubber compound may be, it is of a somewhat hard durometer, which is excellent for durability and longevity, but comes at the cost of a compliant ride and dulls the properties of the Boost midsole.  At moderate speeds and/or on softer ground, it is hardly an issue, but at higher paces on hard surfaces, it feels a bit hard and “slappy”.


The adidas Boost midsole material gets widespread and almost universal praise for its blend of cushion and responsive properties.  Though I have recognized the quality of the Boost material in various adidas road shoes, I have not found that it shines in the Terrex Agravic, nor the aforementioned Terrex Boost.  Though I find it to be reasonably responsive, the heft of these two shoes feel somewhat contradictory and the substantial Continental outsole acts to counteract the intended feel of the Boost material.  As mentioned earlier, it is hardly evident at slower to moderate speeds, but when pressed at higher speeds, it is evident.
This shoe also features a 6.5mm drop, which I find falls into middle ground that should satisfy all but the most ardent low drop aficionados, as I personally can rarely differentiate 4mm from 12mm on rocky, steep, technical terrain which this particular shoe is made for.

Sam: I don't entirely agree with Jeff on the Boost in this shoe. Without Boost and with the usual EVA  midsole and the huge lugs I think the shoe would run like a dead brick. Despite the thick, firm lugs, I can feel some pop for sure from the Boost and welcome the Boost cushion, particularly on hard surfaces such as road. The non Gore-Tex Agravic weighs about 0.5 oz less than the Terrex Boost.The shoe flexes nicely for its intended purpose despite the presence of a substantial stiff plate below mid foot running between the 2 white marks in the picture below. This plate stabilizes the mid foot but also contributes, along with the lugs, to some slapping on firm smooth surfaces such as asphalt.


The upper on the Agravic GTX is a durable mesh with strategic and effective welded overlays, on top of a fully wrapped Gore Tex membrane.  Overall, the upper is somewhat stiff, but I found that it softened a bit over time and is much more compliant and forgiving than the Terrex Boost.  Padding in the heel counter/ankle collar is very minimal and there were times where I felt like it could use just a slight bit more (on steep climbs with thin sock), but that is just a comfort preference.  Heel hold was generally good though.
Sam: The upper on the non Gore-Tex Agravic is a single layer of very tight mesh with overlays, the only lining being at the heel counter. The color variations and fine finish of the various overlays is particularly subtle and striking.

The rubber toe bumper is low profile but substantial and integrates well with the mesh upper and continues around the entire perimeter of the shoe just above the midsole, forming somewhat of a rubber tub that even further reduces susceptibility to moisture penetration.
Being a waterproof Gore Tex shoe, the tongue is of course well gusseted with Gore Tex material and does a very good job keeping moisture out.  The tongue is thinner and more flexible than on the previous Terrex Boost and a bit longer/taller, which I found to be very welcome.

The laces, though a huge improvement over the quick pull laces of the Terrex Boost, could still be improved.  I found them to be a little too thin and I have a difficult time getting the desired snugness I am looking for when there is minimal resistance though the woven lace loops or eyelets.  I think this shoe could benefit greatly from thicker laces (preferably sausage link) and also from an additional lace eyelet or loop (there are only 5 total).

Sam: I to wonder why such thin cord laces. Yes, an improvement over the quick lace but why not as Jeff suggested thicker laces to better wrap the foot given the fairly stiff upper. The laces on my non Gore Tex version appear even thinner! The thin leatherette un padded tongue on my non Gore-Tex version made cinching to the right pressure, without to much pressure, challenging at times. This shoe could use a padded tongue of some kind in my view.

The Gore Tex membrane is very effective at keeping out moisture, whether it be in snow, or an outright soak in the creek (being careful to not go too deep).  I ran in snow and felt no moisture and even stood in standing water for several minutes with no seepage or soaking through.  The water just beads up on the outside of the shoe and rolls off.  Common complaints for Gore Tex is that shoes with the material are too hot, but I did not find that to be the case with the Agravic, using them on days where the temperature was in the high 60’s to low 70’s and would forget even that the shoe has a Gore Tex membrane.  In temperatures down as low as the mid 20’s and snowing, my feet were toasty warm, even while wearing a thin synthetic summer weight sock.
Sam: I don't see the non Gore-Tex upper as being particularly well draining as the overlays where midsole meet upper extend 1/2"-1"all around. On the flip side these overlays keep puddle splashes into the shoe at bay. Given most of the upper has no lining with the mesh fine gauge, it should absorb little water or debris and breathe moderately well.

Fit is true to size and I very much appreciate the improved “normal” toe box.  I found the width to be perfect, enough room for comfort, swelling and bit of splay, but fitted well enough for good hold in rough terrain.  Overall foothold is good if one is very careful and precise with lacing, but as I mentioned earlier, it takes a bit of work to get the laces snugged up enough to really hold the foot as I would like.  Those with larger volume feet may not have a problem, but it took a concerted effort for me to get 90% of the way there.
Sam: My fit at the sample's half size up was fine. I agree the lacing is tricky especially if the use is on rough terrain where foot hold is key.
Though the Boost material has a responsive feel to it, this shoe is a bit limited by its weight and thick outsole in my opinion to be a high performer.  My US size 10 test shoes weighed in at close to 14 oz. each, ~1.5 oz. more than the already seemingly heavy Terrex Boost which I weighed in a side by side comparison with the same scale.  Yes, the Agravic has a Gore Tex membrane, which expectedly adds a bit of (worthwhile) weight, but a size 10 shoe nearing 14 oz. is, in my opinion, flirting with low top hiker status.  Though the Agravic does feel a bit lighter on the foot than the measured weight would imply, it is a heavy shoe.
Despite the weight though, it does run surprisingly well at moderate to slower speeds and is a relatively agile and stable shoe, especially in technical terrain (with much credit going to the outsole).  Any limitations (weight, less forgiving cushion on hard surfaces) only become evident at higher speeds.
Suggested Use
This shoe is great for those looking for a top quality training shoe with the very best traction, water resistance, protection and durability, but are less concerned with high end performance or plush comfort/cushion.
Sam: I would agree with Jeff. This is one durable shoe best suited to rough mountain pursuits where grip is key. This said I have also run them up to 10 miles on the road and while somewhat slappy the ride was more than adequate and comfortable and far better than many heavy duty trail shoes taken on the road.

La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX – similar weight, Gore Tex, great traction, but has a more precise fitting upper and is a more comfortable shoe with better cushion.  Better for full days on the feet.  The Agravic though has a much grippier outsole for a wider variety of terrain and conditions.  Quality and longevity, especially in regards to the outsole favors the Agravic.
Saucony Xodus 6.0 GTX – similar weight, protection and quality, great dry traction.  Better comfort and cushion for longer days.  Again, the Agravic though has a much grippier outsole for a wider variety of terrain and conditions.  Quality and longevity is similar.
Montrail Trans Alps Outdry – better cushion and comfort, similar weight and quality.  Agravic again has better traction and is more stable.
adidas Response Trail Boost (review)-softer ride, more flexible. Agravic has a more supportive upper particularly at the rear of the shoe.
adidas Raven Boost (review)-very plush ride, supportive soft upper, suitable for long slow miles on any terrain. Agravic is more protective on rocks and more agile.
adidas XT Boost (review)-far more agile, lighter and faster, not as protective. A shoe right between Agravic and XT Boost would be ideal

Jeff's Score: 4.6 out of 5
-0.1 for lacing issues
-0.1 for lack of cushion around heel counter/ankle collar
-0.1 for weight
-0.1 for hard ride

Sam's Score: 4.6 out of 5
-0.1 for lacing and tongue issues
-0.1 for weight
-0.1 for over done mid foot stabilizing element leading to slapping and weight.
-0.1 for over agressive lugs which add to weight, 5mm would be fine instead of 6.5mm

The Agravic was provide at no charge to RoadTrailRun. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Reviewer Bio

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The Terrex Agravic is available from Running Warehouse!
Men's here
Women's here

Also direct from adidas Outdoor below