Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jeff Valliere's 2016 Trail Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Editor's Note: Jeff is Road Trail Run's technical trail shoe expert. Living in the Boulder area, his test routes for 2016 included 119 ascents, so far, of Green Mountain,  2300 foot climb in 2 miles over rocky terrain as well as many miles on smoother single tracks and over the high peaks of Colorado. A highlight of Jeff's competitive season was a victory at the Aspen Backcountry Trail Half.

Article by Jeff Valliere

Every year I am blown away by the advancement in trail shoes and 2016 was no exception. Increased traction, lighter weight, more secure uppers, responsive cushioning, better protection.  I had the privilege of testing 21 trail shoes this year , so needless to say it was tough to narrow it down to just a few for this year's end list of favorites.  Below are what I have enjoyed most on the mountainous trails I enjoy here in Colorado.  With all the advancements I have seen this year, I can't wait to see what is in store in 2017.  Enjoy!

Best Trail Shoe of 2016
La Sportiva Akasha

It was really tough to narrow it down to a top pick for 2016, but I keep coming back to the La Sportiva Akasha.  Not the lightest shoe out there at over 11oz., but this shoe runs lighter and is unbelievably versatile , with an amazing blend of cushion, comfort, security, protection, agility and traction.  Quality and longevity is also excellent. My RTR review here.

All Mountain:

#1  La Sportiva Mutant
OK, a 2015 shoe, but new to me in 2016 and still available.  The Mutant is a touch on the heavy side, but the added weight is easily forgiven, as they are a supremely competent all mountain shoe with amazing traction in any circumstance with their aggressive tread and sticky rubber outsole.  The upper is a work of art, with the Integrated Fusiongate lacing harness and Spyraltongue, the Mutant is among the most secure and confidence inspiring shoes for the most technical terrain. My RTR review with comparisons to Akasha here.

#2  Salomon XA Alpine
This could easily be tied for #1 depending on which day I answer this question.  Innovative, extremely competent all mountain shoe for the widest range of conditions and footing you might find in the high mountains.  Water resistant, stable, stiff enough for crampons (but still flexible and nimble enough for true running), unbelievable fit and confidence inspiring performance, protection and durability. My RTR review here.

#3  adidas Terrex X King
Another innovative, stand alone shoe with a removable insole/midsole and and outsole made by Continental modeled after its grippy X King mountain bike tires.  This shoe shines when the trail surfaces are challenging, wet, dry, frozen, traction is a whole new level with this shoe.  The somewhat stiff upper needs a little breaking in, but once it does, is quite comfortable, durable and provides amazing security for ripping steep, technical, off camber terrain. My RTR review here.

Trail Cruising:

#1 Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3
A last minute entry, but the ATR 3 sets a new standard for fast, responsive, long distance, lightweight, max cushion, high performance, confidence inspiring trail running.  The upper is more secure, stable and performance oriented than previous versions, yet fit is simultaneously more accommodating.  A new last helps with stability.  Traction is great, but durability could be in issue on rockier, more technical terrain.  Be it a 5k time trial, Pikes Peak Marathon or a double crossing of the Grand Canyon, the ATR 3 will be, without hesitation, my #1 pick.  This could easily lead the race ready category as well. RTR review soon!

#2  La Sportiva Akasha
The Akasha could fall easily into any of these 3 categories, as it is amazingly versatile.  The Akasha shines at just about anything you put it through, all day cruiser trail runs, off trail exploring, high mountain adventures, varied trail surfaces, racing, PR attempts, you name it, the Akasha can handle it.  Cushion, traction and fit are notable.

#3  Saucony Peregrine 6
More forgiving than previous versions, with improved traction, light weight, excellent all day protection, firm yet fast Everun cushioning and a very performance oriented upper, the Peregrine shines at long runs, all mountain adventures, fast running, slow running, snowy conditions and mud.
My RTR review here.

Honorable mention:  Pearlizumi EM Trail N3
A maximally cushioned and well protected shoe that is most at home on the longest trail days.  The upper provides unbelievable fit for a wide range of feet, is reasonably light for such a maximal shoe, has good traction and excellent durability.  The N3 seems to be made for bombing long downhills with its secure upper, stable platform and plush (yet firmly responsive) cushioning.  It is a real shame PI is discontinuing its line of running shoes, so pick some up fast before they are gone for good! My RTR review here.

Race Ready:

#1  Brooks Mazama
Hands down the fastest feeling trail shoe I have ever put on my feet.  Light and responsive with secure and well ventilated upper, minimal materials, low to the ground feel and unmatched response at toe off and uphills, the Mazama begs to go fast.  Traction is adequate for most trails.  Cushion is good, if on the firm side and is probably best suited for shorter, faster trail races. My RTR review here.

#2 adidas adizero XT 5 Boost
Light, low, fast and responsive with just enough cushion/protection for half marathon/marathon distances.  Don't be fooled by the built in scree gaiter, this is a speedy race machine!

#3  Hoka One One Speed Instinct
Overall Hoka like feel and cushioning, but rides relatively low to the ground while maintaining excellent plushness and response.  The outsole is well treaded for a speedster, providing excellent traction in most conditions without feeling too luggy or obtrusive.  The upper is secure, ground feel is better than any other Hoka I have used and is quite stable. My RTR review here.

#4  New Balance Vazee Summit Trail
Light, nimble, agile and responsive with good protection and traction, all for $100 is tough to overlook.  The upper gives a bit when pushed on off camber terrain, but for most trail use, it would go unnoticed. My RTR review here.

Other gear favorites from 2016:

Julbo Zephyr Glasses with Zebra Lens
Lightweight with great coverage, awesome fit, good anti fog and the Zebra lens is excellent on the trails, changing to suit different lighting conditions.  Zebra 2-4 works best in warmer conditions. Zebra Light 1-3 recommended for colder conditions. RTR article on Julbo Zebra lenses,  Zepher and Aero sunglasses.

Plantronics Backbeat Fit Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Secure fit, non-isolating sound good for awareness, easy controls, long battery life, good for phone calls and reasonably priced.

adidas Climachill Running Shirts
Unbelievably cool and quick drying, better than any other shirts I have used in hot weather. RTR article on Climachill here.

Jeff Valliere's 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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John said...

Jeff, I live in the West, and generally have no need of a soft ground shoe, but will be spending a couple weeks in the pnw soon, and need a recommendation for sg shoe. I'm looking for just one that can handle everything: long runs, shorter faster ones. I prefer lower drop 4-6mm - that's my sweet spot. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey John, the Peregrine 6 comes to mind, perhaps a Salomon S-Lab Wings?

Lol said...

Thank you for info. ;) said...
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