Sunday, November 13, 2022

Karhu Ikoni Trail 1.0 Multi Tester Review with 6 Comparisons

Article by Sam Winebaum, Jeff Valliere, John Tribbia, and Alex Tilsley

Karhu Ikoni Trail ($155, $160 water resistant version)


Sam: The Ikoni Trail is a new max cushioned heavy duty trail runner/hiker from iconic Karhu of Finland, founded 1916. 

Karhu’s history in running and track and field goes way back.. All the way to the 1920 and 1924 Olympics where they were on the feet of the javelin gold medalist and most notably the “Flying Finns” including Pavel Nurmi who won 5 gold medals and eventually a total of nine. 

Heck they even came up with what is now adidas 3 Stripes logo which they sold to little known adidas in 1952 after those Olympics where Karhu shod athletes won 15 gold medals including those of Emil Zapotek… and for the equivalent of 1600 euros. (Source including archival pics above: Karhu)

Roll forward many decades and Karhu is still at it! For quite a while their key technology has been their Fulcrum system and that is after they came up with the first patented air cushion in 1970 and more recently fits based on millions of foot scans by retail partners.

I reviewed the Ikoni Ortix way back in 2018. It was a fine and lively road shoe but nothing since  from Karhu. 

When Karhu proposed the Ikoni Trail, I was immediately intrigued. Max cushioned at 37mm heel (measured)  / 32mm forefoot (spec 5mm drop) it features a plastic Fulcrum piece in the midsole (all Karhu have them)  to stabilize and roll you forward at transition and especially noted a highly pronounced toe spring (curve up) created by the lower denser midsole foam wrapping up at the toe and also acting as a very stout toe bumper.  At first glance the geometry promised smooth propulsion for this big shoe.

The upper was striking as well with a very solidly reinforced rear transitioning to soft pliable mesh at midfoot held by a gusset tongue and internal overlays and finally most interestingly a very soft toe box area with a highly asymmetric lacing system.

The massive outsole with 5mm lugs promised great grip but also contributes to the shoe’s weight of 11.61 oz  /  328 g (US8.5/EU42) in my US 8.5. A lot for a modern “trail runner ”. What was it? A “near hiker”, a mellow highly cushioned cruiser, even ultra shoe? I think maybe it is all of these. Read on to find out what we found out in our testing!


Superb upper combining plenty of rear hold with an easy fitting yet secure front comfort: Sam/Jeff V/John/Alex

Combination of ascending Fulcrum plastic shank and big toe spring is effective to roll this big shoe through the stride on flats and uphills : Sam/Jeff V/John/Alex

Plenty of inherent rock protection : Sam/Jeff V/John/Alex

Excellent hiking, fast packing option : Sam/Jeff V/John/Alex

Combination of softer rebounding top foam and lower firmer foam delivers a well cushioned yet very stable ride : Sam/Jeff V/John

Smooth flowing and flexible, despite stack and weight : Sam


Weight…  : Sam/Jeff V/Alex

5mm lug outsole is overdone, adds to weight and makes the firm ground ride firmer than it could be at the heel on hard surfaces : Sam/Jeff V

Below average grip on rock/slab: Jeff V/John

Foam can feel a little too firm (for a max cushion shoe) at forefoot:: Alex


Samples: men’s  11.61 oz  /  328 g (US8.5/EU42), WR version:  12.5 oz  /  355 g (US10/EU44)

Full Stack Height: men’s 37 mm heel (measured) / 32 mm forefoot, 5 mm spec drop 

Available now. $155, $160 water resistant version.

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Sam: What a fine trail shoe upper , and an unusual one. Created using over 3 million runner foot scans and it shows in its generous yet very secure fit. It is clear Karhu took that data and created an upper that accommodates a variety of foot shapes while remaining trail secure and very comfortable. 

As in any trail shoe a key element to get right is the rear and midfoot hold. Here one can think of the fit as a progression from extremely secure heel hold from the very rigid but quite low heel counter moving to the mid foot’s light and pliable mesh  including three elements of support.

A thin but lightly padded wrap around tongue with full stretch gusset

Karhu logo “M” underlays on both sides peaking through to the outer upper. 

Upfront one of the softest and most accommodating toe boxes I can recall in a trail shoe and one of very decent effective width given the very soft thin and pliable mesh.  

Clearly on its own this mesh would be inadequate in hold for a trail shoe and maybe even for a road shoe but Karhu does two very neat things to give the room and comfort yet secure the front.

The wrap up toe bumper made of the lower midsole material is vertical (no over the toe pressures) and very, very stout. 

The toe bumper also creates the toe spring and so far not only is effective in propulsion but due to the geometry I have also not noticed it bothering my dodgy big toenails although my runs have not been on the steeps as of yet. 

Also key the asymmetrical final “belay” lacing'' which draws the foot towards medial toe off and keeps the toe box’s soft super pliable mesh and all from feeling in any way sloppy. I do worry a bit about side flex point mesh durability over time but we’ll see.

The fit is true to size and should accommodate up to wider feet due to the soft unstructured mesh up front. Narrower feet should be fine as well due to the belay lacing’s adaptability but very narrow feet may find a bit less front security. Everyone should be pleased with the midfoot and heel hold .

Jeff V:  This is my first Karhu review and I had been interested in checking out the brand.  I went with the water resistant version given the timing of the review, where they arrived just in time for our first snowfall of the year.  

Out of the box they feel a bit on the heavy side, but quality is obviously very good with a premium feel and a stylish look.  

Fit is true to size for my thin, low volume foot, with a secure heel, secure midfoot and just enough room in the forefoot for long distance comfort, splay and swell, while keeping adequately secure for all but running fast down steep downhills and sidehilling.

Sam sums up the upper very well, so will not repeat technical details, but I am very impressed with the quality, comfort and foothold.  I have worn on some warm-ish days around the 70 degree range and they never felt too warm, yet when it is cold (down in the 20’s), my feet have felt warm without being clammy.

I tested on a wide variety of terrain and found the foothold to be surprisingly good under most circumstances and only felt a bit of (manageable movement) when running steep downhills or sidehilling.  This was very minimal however.  Protection of the upper is good, as I have bashed through some pretty rocky sections of trail and off trail with no bumps or bangs.

Having the WR version, I was able to take these out on snowy days and my feet stayed warm and dry in the snow, slush and puddles.

John: The Ikoni Trail looks like a trail shoe ready for faster paced hiking and casually paced running. I received the non-waterproof upper version. It is light and very breathable while still providing the excellent lockdown and protection that I’d hope for in a shoe that would take to the mountains. Unlike Jeff, I’m surprised this shoe feels as light as it does and I was a bit shocked to see it weighs more than 11 oz. The step in feel is cushioned but not overly soft and the shoe seems to have decent ground feel. I notice that it produces an efficient rebound when walking around, so the design will likely translate into comfortable and dependable trail performance. 

Alex: Not only my first Karhu, but the first time I had heard of the brand. I’ve been in the market for a max-cushion trail shoe with secure foothold, and my first impression was that the Ikoni Trail (the non-waterproof version, because it’s rarely cold enough in the mid-Atlantic to need a waterproof shoe) could be a solid contender. On first try-on, the Ikoni Trail felt lighter than it looked, was clearly cushioned, but fit snugly around my foot, without any noticeable heel slip or midfoot movement. That impression held up on the run - I was able to run off-camber slopes without feeling like I was sliding off the midsole, and there was barely any forward slipping on steep downhills. 

My only nitpick with the fit is that it is a little too much of a performance fit for my wider foot. Slightly more forefoot volume would make me more likely to take this shoe out for the big efforts it’s clearly intended for. I’d likely go half size up to help accommodate for that. But average/narrow footed folks likely feel differently!


Sam:The midsole is  Karhu’s Aero Foam Trail compound in a dual density with the top layer softer and more rebounding than the lower firmer, stabilizing dark blue layer. 

The lower layer not only is cushion and protection but serves to stabilize with a short rising piece at the medial rear and a longer raised piece on the medial side. 

In terms of stability on trail,  the lkoni, despite its high 37/ 32 stack and relatively narrow platform, is very stable whereas on smoother hard surfaces in combination with the Fulcrum and a relatively narrow platform delivers directed almost arrow-like guidance to the front toe spring toe off.

The lower layer also serves a key role upfront creating the toe spring and very stout toe bumper which not only for sure protects toes but also gives the pliable roomy upper very good front structure.

The toe spring effect in combination with the embedded plastic “ascending” Fulcrum piece and the flexibility point, just as the front bumper ends ahead of midfoot, gives the Ikoni a very distinct easy flow forward and toe off and at any pace. It reminds me of Saucony’s SpeedRoll.  Often big trail shoes are lumbering and hard to move along to toe off but not so here despite the shoe’s mass.

The cushioning is for sure forgiving at the first layer with some bounce although somewhat muted by the firmer foam below and the big outsole. Also notable the lasting board is a beaded expanded foam.  

While plentifully and forgivingly cushioned from the midsole and this is felt, all the rear rubber thickness at the heel gives a quite firm landing feel at contact on pavement and hard surfaces but not on nearly as much so on trail. I wish for a little bit of tuning there.

Upfront everything is just about right with that smooth flow forward, plenty of cushion and protection and that smooth roll forward to toe off with deep cross shoe grooves in the midsole  and with a final toe off impulse from the clearly felt toe spring.

Jeff V:  Sam nails the midsole and I agree with him on all points.  The midsole is very forgiving without being overly soft and is perfect for trail use.  When running on harder surfaces or road, the firmness in the heel is for sure noticed, but I kept road running to a minimum.  The rocker is very distinct and helps propel and encourage further motion, making for an efficient transition.  While I would not call the Ikoni Trail responsive by any means, it is efficient.

The midsole offers anything but a harsh ride and provides a comfortable cushion. It dampens shock and vibration on technical terrain at fast hiking paces and the rocker offers an efficient rebound effect. When ascending steep technical slopes, I appreciated the natural feel and, in contrast to Jeff’s observation, I found the flat fast hiking paces produced an almost snappy, forward propelling effect. The Ikoni Trail feels great underfoot and has a stable and predictable feel.

Alex: Briefly echoing what the others have said, the Ikoni Trail is cushioned without being sloppy, and the rocker gives the ride a natural feel on flats, ups, and even downs. The ascending fulcrum seems to add flex in just the right spot for steep uphills, allowing you to ascend without feeling like you’re dragging your shoe with you. The cushion dampens the impact of rocks and roots, but with just enough ground feel that you won’t accidentally twist an ankle. 

I did find the lower, firmer layer of the midsole to be a little too firm under the forefoot on my first couple runs, though I didn’t notice it all on a recent hike. Perhaps just a matter of breaking the shoe in – I hope so, because the cushion felt great hiking! Soft but certainly not bottoming out or losing ground feel entirely.


Sam:The outsole has 5mm lugs with multi directional lugs. There is an area at midfoot with lugs of exposed lower layer firmer foam. To pressing,  the lugs are very firm but fortunately except somewhat at the heel the outsole,  as it is podular,  does not deliver a harsh on firmer surfaces but there is no mistaking it is a trail shoe in at the road feel.

The forefoot has 3 very deep narrow grooves into the midsole which clearly help give the Ikoni good flexibility.for such a big shoe. They play well with the more rigid front bumper. Without them I bet the shoe would be very stiff.

My running was on mostly dry surfaces but did include leaves, rocks and some roots and everywhere grip was excellent. I will update the review after finding wetter terrain.

I do think while confidence inspiring in looks and so far capabilities and given the aggressive multi directional pattern, lower profile lugs would improve the versatility towards smoother trails and lower the shoe’s weight.

Jeff V:  I was able to run the Ikoni Trail on just about every trail condition from loose off trail, snow, packed snow, ice, rocky technical trails, scrambling rock slabs and I found mixed results.  I found that on snowy trails and winter conditions, or when wet they provided surprisingly good grip.  They are great on smoother, less technical trails, yet struggle a bit when it gets steep, loose and technical (admittedly not what this shoe was designed for).  I was surprised however that they do not adhere well to steep, rocky slabs, where on several instances I fully expected them to grip as most shoes do, they slipped out immediately upon contact and I had to back off.  Something to be mindful of (though when running rocky trails and through rock gardens, I did not have any trouble, it was just when trying to scamper up a steep pitch of rock).

John: Like Jeff, I found the outsole performs well on smoother terrain and less so on loose, off trail, rock, technical trails, and steep gravel. I have yet to test on snow, ice, or wet conditions. The lug pattern is relatively efficient on the road, which I quite enjoyed for a casual neighborhood jog as well as a dog walk. 

Alex: I didn’t get a chance to test the Ikoni Trail in wet conditions, but on dry leafy trails I found the outsole to provide great traction. I’m always cautious in new shoes on downhills, and the Ikoni Trail had no trouble on mid-Atlantic rocks and leaves. Like John, I also found the lug pattern surprisingly good for the road, perhaps making these a good option for road-to-trail adventures.

Ride, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Sam: For sure Ikoni is not a light riding shoe given its weight, big stack height and big rubber  but it is a confident smooth riding one. Very stable and secure, the Ikoni, given its Fulcrum “kicker” and toe spring, transitions more easily than other big shoes I have tested and does not linger even at slow paces. It climbs very well and is easy to toe off on the flats. All unusual characteristics for such a big shoe with massive rubber coverage.

As I ran mostly smoother forest trails and some pavement,  I could not help but think it should also be a solid hiking and fast packing choice. The rear hold is boot like in security without being overly high, the midfoot secure, the platform very stable and the toe box has plenty of splay room and for sure is comfortable. And it is also available in a water resistant version

I do wish it was lighter, at least an ounce lighter, as the weight is felt so for sure it will not be a fast day trail shoe but for a stable and secure, smooth flowing big shoe, a hard thing to pull off, it is excellent. Lighter it would be a top contender in the ultra space. At $155 and $160 in the water resistant version, value is strong. 

Sam’s Score: 9.0 /10

For its intended uses of more mellow long distance trail running (my Smiles score is on that basis) and hiking the Ikoni is an excellent choice and a strong value especially the water resistant version. . Fit, stability, cushioning, and ride are all smoothly and well executed.  I deduct for its somewhat overdone outsole and resulting weight.


Jeff V:  The Ikoni Trail provides a smooth, stable and predictable ride, best suited for slower pace running or even more appropriate, hiking, walking and casual use.  The additional $5 for the water resistant version is a great upgrade in my opinion, as I will be selecting these for snowy days around town, hiking or slower runs with EXO/Microspikes, which they accommodate very well, especially given their stability and protection.

Jeff V’s Score:  8.9/10


Ride: 9 - a nice smooth transition, especially with the rockered design

Fit: 9 - secure, yet accommodating

Value: 9 - particularly for the water resistant version, +$5 is a no brainer

Style: 9 - I think the blue looks very sharp

Traction: 8 - good overall, but grip on rock is not the best

Rock Protection: 9.5 - I have aimed for the sharpest rocks and do not feel much, if anything

John: The Karhu Ikoni Trail 1.0 is a shoe that can take casual trail runners and fast paced hikers on the path less traveled, quickly and comfortably. It is a secure fitting shoe with excellent cushion and protection for varied terrain. Although at first glance it looks clunky and heavy, it feels light on my feet for hiking and walking. Moreover, the Ikoni Trail has an efficient ride that would work well for fast hiking, long days walking, and casual attire. 

John’s Score: 8.9 / 10


Ride: 9 (stable and smooth ride that gives fast hikers and casual runners confidence and enjoyment)

Fit: 9

Value: 9 (despite having decent versatility, I think the shoe is expensive )

Style: 9 (definitely will double as a casual shoe; would prefer the GTX version) 

Traction: 8 (sufficient traction on mellow terrain)

Rock Protection: 9.5 (great toe protection, ample cushioning, and outsole provide great protection)

Alex: As others have said, the Ikoni Trail provides a cushioned, natural ride on flats and uphills – but I also loved it on downhills. Great protection, minimal foot sliding, good traction. This is not a lightweight shoe, nor is it going to hold up to the most technical trails. But for long hikes or trail runs, particularly for those with average or narrow feet, I think the Ikoni Trail deserves a look. 


Score: 8.95/10

Ride: 9 (natural and cushioned, but a little too firm, at least at first)

Fit: 9 (but mostly because I have wide feet)

Value: 8 (durability may change this score for me, but it feels expensive for a shoe that isn’t a do-everything shoe)

Style: 9

Traction: 9

Rock protection: 9.5

6 Comparisons

Hoka Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)

Sam: For sure lighter, considerably lighter, almost 2 oz lighter  with a narrower fitting upper and less effective toe off geometry, the Speedgoat still rules due to weight on technical terrain. If the pace is slow and the days long or multi-day I would pick the Ikoni over the Speedgoat for its fit and easier to roll geometry. 

Jeff V:  Agreed with Sam and will add that the Speedgoat has far superior traction and is much more of a running shoe.

Inov 8 Trailfly G300 (RTR Review)

Sam: Another massive shoe weighing about the same as the Karhu,  it is also between runner and hiker for me. The Trailfly has a somewhat softer heel feel and conforms to terrain a bit more effectively due to its rear hinge and softer outsole and its design but has a more laborious toe off. Testing to come to see how the Karhu rubber measures up to the excellent graphene infused outsole of the Inov-8.


Saucony Xodus 10/11 (RTR Review)

Sam: Saucony's big shoe saw considerable changes including far lighter weight for its 2022 version, the  Xodus Ultra so the comparison is to the older 10/11. The Xodus has a more lively, softer ride due to its more energetic foam and is more versatile despite actually weighing slightly more. It can go anywhere technical the Ikoni can but has a better smooth firm and even pavement ride.

Jeff V:  Agreed with Sam here and will also add that the Xodus 10/11 is more all trail/all mountain capable with superior traction and a more agile, nimble feel.

Saucony Xodus Ultra (RTR Review)

John: The Saucony Xodus Ultra and Ikoni Trail are both higher stack trail shoes that are both cushy and stable. Yet I find the Xodus Ultra to feel more pillowy and the Ikoni Trail feeling more firm. The new Xodus Ultra is 9.9 oz compared to the 11.6 oz Ikoni Trail, which is a very noticeable difference between the two. The Sauconys are made to run and are thus softer, bouncier, better protected, and yield a more forgiving ride. The Ikoni, by contrast, feels more stable and efficient in faster paced hiking situations and I really appreciate they have a more secure upper. 

Topo Ultraventure 3 (RTR Review)

Alex: The Ultraventure 3 is also a max cushion shoe intended for long miles on mellow trails. I find the Ultraventure 3 softer than the Ikoni Trail, but the Ikoni Trail is far more stable, has better traction and has better foothold. The Ultraventure 3 would be my pick on gravel roads, but for anything a bit more technical or with significant hills, I’d take the Ikoni Trail. 

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G280 (RTR Review)

Alex: The slightly less cushioned cousin of the G300, the G280 is still a max cushion shoe aimed at those running long distances. It is slightly less cushioned than the Ikoni Trail and offers slightly less protection, but also feels less bulky on the foot (the Ikoni Trail doesn’t actually feel that bulky except in comparison). The Inov-8  has a slightly more accommodating fit and has better traction. Those with narrower feet might disagree, but I’ve found myself reaching for the G280 the most lately, whether for a run or hike. Though I miss the toe spring of the Ikoni Trail, the way the G280 seems to disappear on my foot is worth the tradeoff.

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

The Ikoni Trail is available at our partner Fleet Feet HERE and also direct from Karhu

Tester Profiles

Jeff Valliere loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better.  He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 11 year old daughters to the outdoors.  Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years.  He is a little over 5’9” and ~145 lbs.

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost every day.

Alex Tilsley is a displaced trail runner, currently living in DC and finding dirt wherever she can. Alex discovered running in college and was a happy 3-miles-a-day hobby jogger until her mom tricked her into running a 10k and it was all downhill from there. She has since run several marathons (PR 3:38) and dabbled in triathlons, but her true love is the trails, whether running, mountain biking, orienteering, or long-distance backpacking. When she’s not running or riding, Alex works full-time in education policy and part-time putting on trail races with EX2 Adventures

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he is lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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