“They look, ummm, pretty,” I thought to myself when first unboxing the latest PureGrit from Brooks. I was – to be honesty – slightly disappointed. My general gut feel with trail running shoes is that I want a gnarly veneer. Rough. Ready for the ‘pure grit’ that the Brooks nameplate evoked. Nothing too, well, pretty!
It turns out – as often is the way with me and first impressions – I was wrong. Perhaps I’m just too used to compromising style for the sake of substance but, in this case, it seems I don’t have to. Brooks has managed to create a minimalist trail running shoe that looks shmicko, with or without mud splashed on, and, at the same time, does the job in decently gritty of circumstances (why only ‘decently’? We’ll get to that…). The PureGrit 8 is a shoe that’s not there to show off. It’s fast but not flashy. From a distance, you can’t even tell the brand, there’s no big logo plastered alongside it and, while I wouldn’t mind some funkier colours, I like the understated grittiness of this model.
Being eight editions in, and with a name like PureGrit, you’d hope they’d have their dirt munching credentials nailed. Or I did, as it was my first exposure to the PureGrit approach, which is all about keeping the runner well-connected to the ground for a more ‘pure’ running experience. I liked the sound of it.
The stretch woven upper means the shoes look good enough to wear to work, which I did – no derogatory comments on my foot fashion were noted by my boss. Does it matter that I work from home and my boss is a two-year old? Nyet. But if you did have to enter a traditional office without the Wiggles on loop, you’d get away with it because these shoes don’t look like your average trail running shoe. They are officially office-pub-rave-ready. Or Wiggles concert. Ergo, no matter where you depart from, the Pure Grit always promises door-to-trail capabilities. And once you hit said dirt and dust, any thoughts of fashion fades and the function afterburners light up. Indeed, they are very much a trail runner wolf in working/parenting sheep’s clothing.
On the run, they feel like a good hybrid should, perfect for outings that include non-technical trails and even a bit of pavement. I took them on some hard-packed forest trails and they delivered a nicely tuned balance of trail-feel, grip and comfort that was impressive. I’m not sure they’d do so well on a muddy suffer-fest in winter (which here in New Zealand, the colder, wetter months guarantee many of our favourite singletracks become fairly quagmire-ish), but they’ll be a fun shoe to wear in the drier summer months, ideally on short-to-medium outings where you want to up the pace somewhat. These are not your choice for ultras – while the padding courtesy of the BioMogo midsole and a minimal rockplate keeps things cruisey on runs of middling distances, going ultra would test the soles of your feet somewhat.
They’ve got enough grip for the forest trails near home and they performed especially well as I ‘flew’ down the hills enjoying the new-to-me feeling of wearing trail shoes that weigh almost nothing. That’s the key difference between these and their older sibling the ‘7’: weight loss. Brooks has slimmed down what was already a decently lightweight shoe. Combine that featherweight form with a shoe that already concentrated on a ‘natural’ approach to ground feel – in that it has great feedback – and they feel very racy, primed for shorter, faster knockouts on fairly groomed to mildly rough trails. If you’re headed out for super technical runs, or into the bigger and badder mountains, I’d relegate these in favour of something beefier, the likes of Brook’s Cascadia perhaps, but they get the job done on your average weekend jog in the bush, their preferred terrain harder-packed surfaces.
I would prefer a slightly wider toe box and, for that reason, wouldn’t wear it on super long distances as I can just picture my feet threatening to burst out from inside these, Hulk-style. I’d also buy a half size to a whole size above your usual shoe size.
One thing that can be problematic for some runners is the thin heel cup that, in this model, replaces the thicker one used in the PureGrit 7. Brooks probably made this decision to shed some weight off the shoe but, in doing so, somewhat compromised its performance up in the rear. The heel cup doesn’t fit quite as snuggly as other shoes and is so thin some runners might find their heel coming out of the shoe, especially if there’s a bit of mud pulling it down.
Comfort remains pleasing, with the aforementioned
BioMogo midsole still charged with cushioning duties, which it performs
reliably across a lot of the Brooks range and has for a while now. The shoe
features a new stretch woven knit upper and hydrophobic Ariaprene tongue. The
upper is light and airy, draining and drying quickly. As with the previous iteration, the sole unit
has an interesting mix of splay lugs, hex lugs and an exclusive-compound sticky rubber
outsole that delivers on the grip front over a multitude of surfaces, wet and
dry. Unless it gets muddy. Then you’re relying on that good ground feel the
shoes deliver, your reaction time and ability to ski to keep you upright.
From its original incarnation, the PureGrit has been all about allowing your foot to run in a natural style, without the shoe controlling mechanics. This extends to the minimal heel-toe-drop which registers at 19mm/15mm stack heights for a small rise of only 4mm. The shoe therefore works best for runners with fairly strong foot form and function, and Achilles that are used to the low drop.
If you are looking for a lightweight, minimalist hybrid shoe that can perform alright both on road and on trail, and in the office fashion stakes (pending your and your work colleagues’ subjective sensibilities) the PureGrit 8 is a good way to go. It certainly earns its place on the shoe rack for a style of running that is about freedom of movement and good pace on buffed trails.
The Low Down:
Great for: door to trail, rolling routes, hard packed, gravel, downhill, fast and furious outings
Not so great for: mud, super technical, serious mountains, ultras, people with thin heels
Test conditions: mild buffed trails, a little technical, pubs and the office
Tester: Vera Alves
Tester mechanics: easy pacer, gentle striker, over pronator
Vitals: RRP: $219.95
Conditions: Shoes provided for testing by Texas Peak
Review from Edition 34 of Trail Run Mag