THE WILD ONE: Let’s caveat this review: I’m an Air Jordan tragic. I grew up in an era where if you didn’t have a pair of Air Jordan’s on, you simply didn’t exist, as though the basketballer’s signed-off footwear had a magic power to uncloak you from teenage invisibility.
So while I never spoke it, I admit to an inner yearning that one day, Nike, the big boomer of running shoes on road (and basketball court), would one day get its swoosh dirty. I even sent copies of the original Trail Run Mag hardcopy to Nike Australia offices in the hope it would spark some kind of fraternity. They ignored me like I was ignored by the school basketball coach all those years ago. Severely. I didn’t hold out much hope.
So my dreams of a return to adolescent footwear that matched my adult sporting tendencies faded and I parlayed that energy into purveying brands that did have the smarts to go wild.
And then, without much warning (or local fanfare it must be said), there they were: Nike Zoom Wildhorse. Dedicated Nike trail shoes. Could it be true? More importantly, would they stuff it up? In trail land, it’s easy to look like a trail shoe but perform like a brick.
All I can say is, the most famous #23 (MJ) backed the right horse way back then, and the trail world may just have to swallow a big brand getting it smack on today, despite our tendencies to tall poppy anything tainted by the brush of mass commercialism.
Yes, on trail, these shoes did everything right. The grip is reminiscent of what I consider the best grip in the market in the Saucony Peregrines. They are aggressive and grippy enough to plant your foot firmly and confidently on any surface, yet not over-lugged, which can get annoying when the terrain is harder and smoother. The heel has reverse-oriented lugs down the middle giving excellent traction on the down. A 4mm drop (23-19mm heel-to-toe) is nearly flat and close to the ground, and with a fairly spongy heel that softens to a neutral drop.
Where the Wildhorse really stand out is in their perfect balance of cushioning, trail feel and protection. On the forefoot, it almost feels like – dare I say it – a concave cushion of air, which for a mid-fore foot striker is a dream. Yet at the pointiest end of ground impact, that ebbs to good trail feel, quite quickly, allowing good reaction to terrain. It makes for a nimble ride. Yet the sponge-like cushion doesn’t seem to adversely affect stability, as many cushioned shoes do. The ride remains confident.
Up top the shoe locks your mid-forefoot snugly, adding to stability while being absolutely comfortable with enough give. A gusseted tongue prevents small debris from working into the shoe. The single layer ripstop upper was also extremely breathable, although the evacuation of water from river stomping was slower than some.
The foot fit is what I’d say is midrange – it’s not slim yet not boxy, although upfront there is enough room if you have a bit of a flanged forefoot, and the toe guard doesn’t look beefy, but does keep your pinkies well protected.
These could be rated as a perfectly balanced shoe: lightweight and nimble enough for racing, comfortable enough for long training sessions, and stable enough for technical terrain. Another prime balancing act: the price ($170) is pretty economical up against most competition at this performance end.
“Kiger is the premium trail shoe…but in my mind there is no better between the two. Kiger is softer underfoot and in the upper. It’s the most comfortable trail shoe I’ve worn and feels amazing to run in. That said, the lock through the midfoot and the tread isn’t aggressive enough for more technical trails and that is where I’m loving the wildhorse. In the wildhorse I think you get a more locked down feel through the midfoot and better traction. I’d definitely feel comfortable in the Wildhorse racing (something like) Bogong to Hotham and it’s looking like my Buffalo Stampede shoe at present.”
The only question mark is long-term durability over super tough terrain. This is where the Saucony Peregrine’s fell to pieces. Can Nike up the ante? Stay tuned, an extended rough and tumble Alps session is still to be undertaken in these. But for now, Nike’s Wildhorses are absolutely worth saddling up.
TAKEOUTS: Nike Wildhorse
Great for: nearly everything – techy, rough, smooth and dirty.
Not-so-great for: river crossings and durability is still to be tested over time in the roughest of conditions. Mud presents a bit of a problem.
Test Conditions: Technical and non technical single track with a smattering of fire road, 80+km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running routes.
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