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

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