This review first appeared in Edition #19 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.
Nomad: a member of a people or tribe that has no permanent abode but moves about from place to place, usually seasonally and often following a traditional route or circuit…
With a model stamp carrying that kind of meaning, I just had to try out Saucony’s new Nomad TRs by kicking them along a few of my ‘traditional routes and circuits’.
One thing made me wary at first – the fact that the colourway looks like I’ve had a night on the turps and thrown up all over them didn’t tickle my fancy, but then fashion sense is not my strong point – maybe that’s what all the trail hipsters are wearing these days? Of course, as one trailite buddy pointed out, they actually just look pre-muddied, as though they’d already sloshed through a paddock of mud before being put into the sales box. Instant cred, perhaps?
Other, more important and notably functional aspects noticed before getting them on trail: the sole construction is like nothing else out there and the toe box shape is a new direction for Saucony, especially for those used to slimmer Kinvara architecture.
First, to the grip. Where others look to get traction from spiking things up with bigger (or more) lugs, Saucony has looked to an elongated hexagon made of so-called (nonsensical capitalised marketing claptrap nomenclature alert!) PWRTRAC outsole – a tacky rubber compound that’s “engineered to adapt to various terrain types while providing excellent traction and durability.”
Sure, the rubber is a softer, stickier yet seemingly durable compound, but I think what gives these such awesome grip is the design of the hexagons and the interlocking between four separate plates of grip. This allows the hexagons to open up as the curved foot lands and then close up as the foot flattens out, effectively making the grip ‘pinch’ the ground as it moves through the impact motion.
For smoother surfaces – groomed trail, packed dirt, slippery rocks – it works in the same way that road bike tyres have more grip in bitumen than mountain bike tyres: there’s more contact area between rubber and ground. In mud there’s less clogging if any as no ‘cleats’ for mud to get stuck between. But whereas a road bike is useless in the mountain biking off road territory, take the Nomads off road and their grip remains strong on most trails. Sticky wet, claggy clay is the only kryptonite, but then that is a hard ask for any shoe and who wants to run in it?
In terms of ride, the Nomand offers a highly agreeable balance between cushioning and response. It runs firm enough so as not to feel unstable on semi-technical terrain, but also runs forgivingly on flatter, smoother trails. In many ways this is a door-to-trail shoe, given the mix of comfort and flatter grip, yet it can easily push deeper into wilderness than most other door-to-trail offerings, making it more versatile than most trail shoes.
No rockplate means where it starts to struggle is in the steeper, more technical stuff where sharp rocks are a puncture and bruise problem. Even so, those with strong technique will be able to take these to the very edge of roughness.
The shoe does have a ‘heavier’ feel to it – not by the grams as much as in how it feels on the foot, in the same way a Brooks Cascadia feels like it has a little beef. For those who like a feeling of some structure especially around the rear if the shoe, this may be a good thing.
Then there’s the new up-front expansion, in terms of the toe box widening out (unlike Saucony’s traditionally more narrow toe box, especially the Kinvara). The Nomad sports what they refer to as an oblique, toe-shaped last. It’s a wider fit in the tradition of the Altra brand, although not quite as big. Where the Saucony trumps the Altra is that from the midfoot to the rear it reverts to a more average corridor width coming back into a snug heel. Just because you have a flatter, wider slab of meat up front doesn’t mean you have fat ankles. To me this fits with a broader range of foot shapes, gives a much firmer overall fit, and also allows for the swell of the forefoot on longer and ultra runs.
The drop is a lower end 4mm but the stack height 22mm at the heel and 18mm at the front, is where the cushioning is found. So a good shoe for those trying to transition to a forefoot strike but liable to get lazy and drop technique as tiredness sets in.
Saucony’s Nomad TR – despite a label hinting at homeless wandering – have found a place in my home. Welcome to the tribe…
Great for: grip, hard-packed dirt and gravel trails, comfort, trail response, those wanting more toe room, long runs
Not-so-great for: hardcore mountains and seriously technical trails
Test Conditions: groomed trails (MTB), fire roads, semi-technical singletrack
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
Retailers: The Running Company Clifton Hill and Geelong www.therunningcompany.com.au