Monday, March 11, 2019

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 Review - Monster on the dirt, liability in the mud

Article by Jeff Beck

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 ($110)

The heavy duty brother in Nike's trail lineup, the Wildhorse 4 is a trail beast. Frequently overlooked for its lighter/faster sibling Terra Kiger (RTR Review), the Wildhorse has a breathable upper that holds the foot well, while still providing lots of room up front. Not a maximum cushioned shoe, it still sports quite a bit of foot protection with a combination of Phylon cushioning with a Zoom Air unit in the heel and a rock plate in the forefoot, the Wildhorse 4 is an all-day cruiser. The outsole lugs are not very deep, but they provide ample traction without compromising ride quality.
The Wildhorse will be updated in April (RTR Preview) and is now test at RoadTrailRun along with the Air Zoom Kiger 5.

Tester Profile
Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less.  Jeff runs 30 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in North Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach and fellow RTR tester Dave Ames.

- Upper is roomy in forefoot but holds midfoot and heel well
- Great traction on dry and rocky terrain
- Uses rock plate and ample cushioning for good underfoot protection
- Solid ride on the road too
- Outstanding value for $110

- Asymmetrical lacing doesn't work for all foot types
- Wet and muddy traction leaves something to be desired

Stack Height 28mm (heel) 20mm (forefoot)
Listed Weight: M9 - 10.7 oz
Sample Weight M11 - 12.1 oz/343g

First Impressions and Fit
This shoe is largely ignored by the trail running world, and it doesn't deserve the apathy. Nike found the right balance of "firm plush" in the midsole that will gives you hours of comfort on the trail without sacrificing stability - and it is apparently from the get-go. While I am a 10.5 in most brand's running shoes, I typically wear 11 in anything Nike, and in the Wildhorse 4 that works out well. The midfoot strap that runs under the laces does not appear to do much for my foot, but runners with a wide midfoot may find a little extra support.

The Wildhorse 4 uses an airy mesh for the majority of the upper, paired with a relatively complicated asymmetrical midfoot strap system. The mid foot strap is a secondary layer over the mesh, and it is welded to the shoe with a built up rubberized patch that secures three Flywire lacing points. 
The midfoot strap is sewn to the upper for the first inch or so past the rubber on the lateral side, but on the medial side it is loose straight away.
The strap allows quite a bit of stretch, but really seems superfluous. My foot is fairly standard, maybe just on the side of wide on a Brannock, and the midfoot strap doesn't really do anything for me.
I've read reports of other runners having serious issues with it, and cutting it out, but I didn't need to do anything that drastic - I just ignore it. That said, the upper locks my foot down. As a result the Wildhorse 4 has become my go-to desert tank. The first time I'm running a new trail I do it wearing Wildhorses because they can handle just about anything. The Hoka Challenger ATR 5 may be my choice for longer runs, but I don't have nearly the same confidence in their trail ability as I do the Wildhorse 4, and the upper is a big part of that.
However, the Wildhorse does not have much in the way of toe bumper. Instead of bringing the rubberized portion forward from the midfoot, Nike just doubled up the mesh material and wrapped it around the toebox, bringing a little extra for the big toe. I didn't find that to be a hindrance, but I know many runners rely on a more stout toe bumper for protection.

Nike included an extra eyelet past the Flywire system in case you need to do a runner's loop to lock down the heel, but I didn't experience any issues whatsoever in that department. 
The heel collar is nicely cushioned and well designed. In all of my runs in the Wildhorse I've never thought about that portion of the shoe, which to me means they did it right.

My one upper related gripe would be the laces. Nike used a thin lace that doesn't stay tied, so everything is always a double knot. That is a minor issue, but on a few runs I picked up some rocks under my heel early on, and knowing I'd have to undo a double knot while wearing gloves made me just deal with the stowaways. With better laces I'd have just taken care of them.

The Wildhorse 4 midsole is a full-length Phylon foam, with a rockplate in the forefoot and a Zoom Air unit in the heel, and the combination of those three components works out very well. 
It gives the shoe plenty of cushioning without any uncertainty, and makes this shoe a very easy recommendation for most trail runners. Frequently when I run in trail shoes I lament that just a little more squish underneath the foot would make a better experience, but that isn't the case at all with the Wildhorse 4. As a midfoot striker I was concerned that the extra cushioning in the heel would be wasted on me, but no issues there. I think of it as a "firm plush", somewhat similar to Mizuno running shoes over the last few years - but the Wildhorse isn't nearly as firm.

The outsole uses a substantial number of smallish lugs to provide solid grip, especially on rocky or dry surfaces. You may encounter slight slipping, the product of lugs that aren't very deep, but dirt and sand are great for the Wildhorse 4. Mud, however, is an issue. 

The shallow lugs don't get much grip in the mud, to the point of feeling like a road shoe. Twice I've swapped out the Wildhorse for a different shoe because it looked like I was going to encounter either mud or rain. That's fine for those of us living in the Sonoran Desert, but if you run in rain or muddy conditions regularly, the outsole may be a deal breaker for you.

Much like the upper hold, I never put any thought into the Wildhorse 4 ride during a run, which speaks volumes to me. It's a very smooth shoe that runs much lighter than the weight would suggest. It runs so well I was shocked to see my size 11 broke the 12 ounce mark. It's a tank that runs like a sport sedan rather than a monster-sized SUV, and when the trail smooths out they are great for up-tempo runs. And while the shallow lugs likely make wet and muddy traction suffer, they allow the shoe to run well on the road. Many ideal trail shoes are awkward on the road, but if space was limited in a suitcase, I'd happily bring just the Wildhorse 4 along as an every run type of shoe. But only if there was no rain in the forecast.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The Wildhorse 4 is a heavy-duty trail shoe that runs lighter and smoother than it's static numbers would suggest. The upper is overly complicated, but still works fine. The midsole is Goldilocks-level balanced for protection, cushioning, and stability. The outsole has plenty of grip if you are running on dirt, sand, rock, or road, and only encounters problems when things get wet. For $110 this shoe provides outstanding value for trail runners or hikers that are looking for a great dry conditions shoe.
Score 9.65 out of 10
-.1 Thin laces that like to untie themselves.
-.25 Extremely poor wet traction

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Topo Athletic Ultraventure (RTR Review)
Topo's big time cruiser comes in more than an ounce lighter and with more cushioning (and no surprise, more toebox room too) but it's upper hold isn't nearly as good as the Wildhorse 4. The Topo's extra cushioning helps on long runs, and the lugs provide excellent traction, but the cushioning is plush, and the rockplate is non-existent, and over a long enough run your feet can get beat up by rocks - death by a thousand cuts style. I'll take the heavier and less cushioned but more stable and protected Wildhorse 4.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Brooks Caldera 3 (RTR Review)
The Caldera 3 is also more than an ounce lighter/more cushioned than the Wildhorse 4. However, the Brooks cushioning doesn't suffer its lack of rockplate, and its dry traction is as good as the WH4 (and substantially better in the wet). The Caldera upper doesn't hold as well as the Wildhorse, nor does it have as much room in the toebox, but its hold is fine as is the toebox. Take the Caldera unless you really need the toebox space.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Saucony Peregrine ISO (RTR Review)
Saucony's latest trail runner is a full ounce lighter, has a more straightforward upper that holds the foot as good as the Wildhorse, and protects the foot nearly as well, just in a different manner. The Peregrine boasts substantially better traction on every surface, and while the cushioning is good, if your run is going to be longer than 15 miles you may want the extra midsole of the Wildhorse. Wet, super technical, or short/fast, Peregrine is your shoe. Dry, somewhat technical, or a long slow trail run, take the Wildhorse.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Skechers GOrun Max Trail 5 Ultra (RTR Review)
Keeping the streak alive, Skecher's trail running shoe is more than ounce lighter than the Wildhorse, with substantially more cushioning. However, the upper is very insecure, severely hampering its technical trail prowess. A fatal flaw to an otherwise excellent shoe, I'd only recommend the Skecher if the trail is a glorified dirt road, and anything else, even wet, take the Wildhorse.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Topo Athletic Hydroventure 2 (RTR Review)
Both shoes have rockplate protection, decent midsole cushioning, and a grippy outsole. The Topo is an ounce lighter, and excels in all things wet, the Wildhorse gives a little more protection under foot and is great dry. Folks in the Pacific Northwest should keep a pair of Hydroventure around, and nearly everyone else should run the Wildhorse 4.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Saucony Xodus ISO 3 (RTR Review)
The only shoe to weigh in more than the Wildhorse 4 (and it is roughly 3 full ounces heavier) the Xodus ISO 3 is an absolute beast of a shoe that brings more cushioning than you can shake a stick at, but also less foot protection than the Wildhorse. Opting for a full-length Everun midsole, thick rubber lugs, and no rockplate, Saucony created an all-surface runner with a great foothold, but compared directly to the Wildhorse 4 it feels like more, but not really better. I'd only recommend the Xodus if you run wet often, otherwise go Wildhorse.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 (RTR Review)
My shoe of the year last year, the Challenger is a medium-high Hoka (well, for Hoka, for anyone else it'd be the highest stack they make) with a nice roomy toe box. More cushioned than the Wildhorse, it doesn't suffer its lack of rockplate, and the upper hold is adequate for technical runs. The dry traction isn't as solid as the Wildhorse, but it wins in the wet. Challenger wins.

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 vs Hoka One One Evo Mafate (RTR Review)
Lighter, more cushioned, and faster than the Wildhorse 4, the Evo Mafate is an easy shoe to recommend with one caveat - it is still a Hoka-shaped toebox. Otherwise it would be an ideal 15-25 mile shoe, I find I can only run ~5 miles before pinch blisters happen. Narrow footed runners, go Mafate, everyone else, probably Wildhorse.

Read Jef's full run bio here
The product reviewed was a personal purchase. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credit: Jeff Beck
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Jeff said...


Anonymous said...

Are you sure about that drop measurement? I thought it's an 8mm drop?

Jeff said...

Yup, you are right - that's a typo. Should be 20mm in the front.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you just reviewed a 2 year old shoe a few week before the update drops? Lame

Sam Winebaum said...

Nope not lame Anonymous. Jeff had run it and volunteered to write. Note that as Wildhorse 5 is imminent and in testing by our crew and we will post the review the minute Nike says reviews are OK as we have done with Vaporfly, Peg Turbo, and many others, Not only will the comparison be more detailed but readers will be able to judge if they want the new version or the 4 on clearance.
Sam, Editor

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

I had planned on writing this review a few months ago, but got busy. Embargoes prevent us from posting anything about the Wildhorse 5 for now. Also, when the WH5 comes out many runners are likely going to compare it to the previous model and wonder if that is worth picking up at a discount. Don't worry, there will be plenty of coverage on the WH5 as soon as we are able.


Anonymous said...

Great job you guys are doing - I stop by your page every day! Look forward to WH5 review.
Regards from Stockholm

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks so much Andreas! Much appreciated! We'll keep at it.
Please tell your friends about RTR and consider shopping Running Warehouse EU via the links on our articles. Shopping there helps support the site.
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

I loved the durability of this shoe as well as the cushioning, but I found the rounded heel led to instability on rocky, technical descents. If I landed even slightly off balance the rounded heel would allow my ankle to turn laterally. On more mellow trails I liked it for recovery runs.

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks for your input and insights Unknown.
Sam, Editor

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

That's interesting. I hadn't experienced that, but I can see how it can happen. The rear lugs are pretty minimal, both in size and density, and the double row of lugs that line the rear seem to be only partially effective. On my run today I forced myself to land hard on my heels for a section (rather than midfoot) and it wasn't quite as secure - I'd assume doing the same in damp conditions would be borderline catastrophic.