20 WINNERS OF BROOKS CASCADIA 17 TRAIL SHOES CONTEST

20 WINNERS OF BROOKS CASCADIA 17 TRAIL SHOES CONTEST

We are pleased to announce the winners of the Brooks Cascadia 17 Trail Shoes Contest. Twenty subscribers to the Trail Run Magazine Issue #48 in Australia and New Zealand had the opportunity to win these highly sought-after shoes worth $259.95 each. We would like to congratulate the following winners:

  • Brianna A. from Perthville, NSW, Australia
  • Juanita D. from Nhulunbuy, NT, Australia
  • Alicia K. from Woodlands, WA, Australia
  • Tri B. from Kenneth, NSW, Australia
  • Geoff R. from Holland Park West, QLD, Australia
  • Stuart H. from Brunswick, VIC, Australia
  • Michael R. from Pennant Hills, NSW, Australia
  • Melinda F. from Mittagong, NSW, Australia
  • Luke G. from Beacon Hill, NSW, Australia
  • Adrian S. from Golden Square, VIC, Australia
  • Bernie M. from Lyneham, ACT, Australia
  • Shane T. – Chapel Hill, QLD, Australia
  • Tam J. – Dromana, VIC, Australia
  • Royall M. – Gunnedah, NSW, Australia
  • Shawtima R. – Gaven, QLD, Australia
  • Paul N. – Wallaroo, NSW, Australia
  • Michael A. – Golden Bay, WA, Australia
  • Caroline H. from Hillcrest, AUK, New Zealand
  • Ursula S. from Upper Moutere, TAS, New Zealand
  • Justin M. from Karori, WGN, New Zealand

The winners will receive their prizes shortly and we look forward to seeing them out on the trails in their new Brooks Cascadia 17 trail shoes. Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest and congratulations to the winners!

VITALS
RRP: $259.95 AUD
WEB brooksrunning.com.au

Shoe Review: The North Face Flight RKT

Did I just kick a skunk? Or eat licorice allsorts and throw up on my feet? Or did someone just inject heroin between my toes?   

Without wanting to glamourise drugs of addiction, it must be the latter because 1. I love animals (so I would never kick one, plus there are no skunks in Australia to kick); 2. I hate licorice allsorts (especially the black and white ones that would have resulted in such a vomitus display); and 3. my feet feel so damn gooooooood…plus, they look a little swirly in my ecstasy-affected state.  

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.59.29 amOkay, so this testing happened without the use of any narcotics (hold the jokes regarding what I may have been on while writing some of my past reviews). I’ve simply slipped a pair of The North Face Flight RKTs on my feet and I swear plonked straight into trail junkie footwear heaven. At least, that’s the immediate visceral reaction: an instant trail-crush on how they make my feet feel, a hit so noticeable I equate it to a podiatric hit of smack.  

For the record, I’ve never ‘done’ heroin, so the comparison is (honestly) based on projected imaginings of what it’s like. Suffice to say, when you slip these on, they are silken in their comfort, even if they do look like I have, once again, and against repeated advice, mixed my darks and lights in the washing machine. 

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Story goes that the shoe’s co-designer and ultra-run legend, Rob Krar, took a photo of clouds which became the cloak of fashion seen plastered across the upper. To paraphrase another reviewer, as a stylist, Rob makes a great ultra runner.  But while I am no fan of the Pepe le Pew camouflage they are just gonna get filthy dirty, so what’s a book’s cover even matter, right?  

The Flight RKT (Rob Krar Trail) are the result of when an athlete is actually allowed to step into the design studio to tell the boffins what’s what. And while there’s some marketing fluff and bubble to it (remember the power Michael Jordan had over teenage basketballers’ footwear choice in eighties and nineties?*), I’m still a staunch advocate for experienced athletes actually being allowed to have real-world input into a product, as opposed to simply slapping a name on something for a pay cheque. Krar undoubtably copped extra coin in his pocket for his efforts here, he also undoubtedly got dirt on his hands and feet in the creation of the RKT.   

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.28 amGoing beyond the grey-sky duco, the big splash in the RKTs is the new FastFoam midsole, which actually gives a cloud-like suspension under foot. That’s the firm but floaty marshmellow feel you get with these, reminiscent of the Hoka approach – especially in the heel – but without the bulk. Speaking of Hoka, a similar bathtub construction on the inside helps deliver that plush, yet highly responsive underfoot feel, delivered by a core of energy-returning EVA. There’s also a perimeter of firmer, more-resilient EVA that prevents compression set and packing out. The overall ride is pretty sublime for it, with a definite super soft counter in the heel moving down to a slightly firmer – but still comfy – landing under the forefoot. Feedback benefits up front, without too much deadening of what’s lies beneath. 

While the shoes weight in under featherweight (227g), their heel to toe is back into the middle-ground with an 18mm-10mm stack height offering 8mm of drop.  

The upper mesh gives great breathability – good for warmer days, not so for colder – with a TPU-welded architecture at the midfoot. Overall the upper features excellent support and stability, keeping the foot firm in place. The downfall here is the tongue. Constructed of mesh and tender suede it feels good but performs appallingly: thin and un-attached it folds and scrunches and annoys. The simple fix would be – as all trail shoes should feature – a gusseted design. So every time you slip the shoes on it’s a battle against smoothing the tongue across the forefoot before lacing. Then it moves during running anyway and lets debris in.   

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.53 amThe small surprise in the RKT is the grip. It’s pretty average if you’re going into soft ground territory, but the multi-directional lug design (look closely – it’s there) provides better traction on groomed dirt and rock than you’d give credit. Although it’s far from the “superior” traction claimed and wet or muddy surfaces are Kryptonite. Upside? This is a great door-to-trail shoe that performs well on buffed single track, fire trail and road. 

These are in no way technical mountain munchers: without any form of rockplate, and with that smooshy-mushy (technical term right there) undercarriage, the sharp, rocky stuff bites. Further, with only 120km put into these on test, there was early signs of quick wearing on the pad-grips, the ‘podular’ sticky rubber. This approach to grip has been to lessen weight by only whacking lug zones where there is foot strike. Hopefully the designers accounted for all of our various strike zones, not just Rob Krar’s!  

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.39 amWhile the upper holds the foot in place well, adding to confidence and responsiveness, a toe bumper is not existent, so be careful when belting through bitey terrain. 

I’ll admit it, though, I’m more than a little addicted to these, to the point I find myself planning on here I can find more packed-out, slick trails, just to warrant another hit of clouds on my feet. 

*Maybe Rob Krar can influence trail running shoes as long as Jordan has in the basketball sphere – the Air Jordans are up to edition 32 and are still on sale! 

 UPDATE REVIEW NOTE: update on the shoes pro and con having worn them for approx another 150km since the review was written. Pro: they are as silky sweet as ever. Con: one of the red/orange grip pads on the rear heel has come away/unglued, which is annoying as it unbalances the shoe and makes it unwearable. A quality issue when it comes to rough and tumble trails that do tend to tear at your shoes and thus ALL trail running shoes need durability as a core focus.

The Low Down   

Great for: speedfreak racers, door to trail, buffed trails, nimble feet
Not-so-great for: mountains, super technical, protection, grip, durability
Test Conditions: mixed singletrack, door-to-trail, a few short races approx. 20km

Tester:  Chris Ord, TRM Editor,  
Tester Mechanics:  midfoot striker, prefers technical 
 

RRP:  $230
Website:www.thenorthface.com.au 
Conditions:  shoes were provided for wear test by True Alliance 

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Trail shoe review: Saucony Peregrine 7

Seventh Heaven: I can murder a shoe. Quickly. Might be my preference for technical mountain trails that rip shoes to shreds in a flash. Or could be that I bash and crash through the bush rather indelicately. Maybe it’s just that I’m not great at post-run cleaning and poncy pandering once the shoes are back panting on the doorstep.

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Whatever the case, my trail shoes quickly go from shiny and sexy out of the box to grubby and grizzly examples of footwear. Some stand the test for a few years. Other disintegrate like shattered shale. Not Saucony’s latest iteration of the popular Peregrine nameplate, which suits me to a tee. They look like they want to get instantly grimy and then stay grubby for the remainder of their lives (which with me they most certainly will).

The ‘Run Anywhere’ mantra emblazoned on the inner heel I take literally and punch them through the mud, grit, grime and grade-A mountains of Tasmania to see if the Peregrines are (i) as comfy as they have ever been and (ii) a little hardier than they have been, which they need to be, specifically in the construction department.

While iteration means change, it’s not always presented in bunch loads when it comes to products that are already proven to get the job done – a new colourway here, an extra little swoosh there. But sales cycles need points of difference to move more units. And so the boffins look to minor adjustments to massage the performance outcome, perhaps whack on a new proprietary clap-trap label; an injection of ‘all-new technology’ and thus claim a reason for punters to upgrade.

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The Sevens essentially haven’t moved on much from the Sixes. Nor did they really need to in terms of their excellent comfort, grip, and all-round, all-terrain performance. But the toe guard construction needed to be fixed. Surely there’s a mega-super-glue that will do the job these days? On the Six, nope, not present. Consistent tales of the toe guard coming unstuck abound. Did it matter? Not really, to performance at least, rather it was just an annoyance.

On the Sevens, the sole unit is exactly the same (great lugs, awesome grip, good durability). But the toe guard now sticks on to a different form of forefoot, a TPU plastic and textured one, which seems to be holding much firmer. No flappy toe guard. Yet. Sadly there are signs…

Dammit! Because in all other regards, the Peregrine again flies stratospheres above a lot of other trail shoes in every other aspect.

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That TPU toe-guard is part of a new, larger, all-encompassing Exoskeleton wrapping the upper up for superior hold and protection (the Six had ‘FlexiFilm’). Underpinning the TPU is a super-fine mesh – great for evacuating sweat and water, but handy at keeping out the grit, too.

In general I’d say the upper is slightly roomier in the forefoot than its predecessor; but I have an average size foot, so they hit a good sweet spot that allows some toe wriggle and splay, but still keeps things secure and confident as my foot starts dancing along technical terrain. A slightly thicker heel cuff is soft yet firm (you know what I mean) for good hold-in. The lace eyelets are different from previous delivering good tension directly to the Exoskeleton – another improvement mild but noticeable.

Unchanged technology albeit expanded from the Six is the EVA Everun midsole, which stretches to full length in the Seven (it was only a heel insert in numero six).  The idea is that it will increase energy return, cushioning “every footstrike with resilience and energy”. ‘Resilience’? Hmmmmm…weasel word alert. Anyway, notice much difference? We’re unsure if we can notice the difference between iterations (it was always a comfy ride anyway), but the cushioning is firm enough to give decent proprioception feedback, yet (cough) ‘resilient’ enough to run long on harder surfaces. Despite being a visually chunkier shoe (you can see it growling), its lightweight and feels fast and responsive – enough for most runners, perhaps a little dull for those seeking truly intimate contact with Mother Earth.

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The 4mm offset wedges out between 21.5mm heel and 17.5mm forefoot, giving a minimalist drop matched to a moderate, more traditional stack height.

The PWRTRAC outsole with EBO rockplate is unchanged.  The plate is bombproof giving protection from the sharpest teeth of any rocky trail, while not deadening trail feel overly. The stand-out lugs are aggressive and quite simply some of the grippiest on the market for technical mountain terrain be that loose, boulder-strewn, gravel packed, dirt dusted or otherwise – and they shed mud pretty well for a grip monster.

Further, the rubber boasts above-average stickiness in slick wet and on dry, smooth surfaces – usually a weak point for big-lug shoes.

All things considered, if I do end up murdering these shoes it won’t be out of anger – I’ll love them to death. And at least I can comforted in my loss knowing that they will have earned their right to pass through the pearly gates of trail shoe heaven, as a saintly wear they are.

THE LOW DOWN

Great for: rough, bitey trails, steep gradients, loose surfaces, snow and mud, technical, mountains, longer distances, grip, versatility – a great all rounder.

Not-so-great for: they’ll handle anything but if you had to nit-pick, door-to-trail runs with smoother, hardpacked surfaces (although even then, they are pretty damn good); trail feedback (again, not bad, just not super sensitive); thin footed runners

Test Conditions: mostly technical singletrack, both rocky and soft, leaf littered, dry, and wet, taken on a 100km tour or Tasmanian trails
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: AU$220
Website: www.saucony.com.au
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by Saucony Australia


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Trail shoe review: Adidas Terrex Agravic

Aggravated Assault

First up: what the hell is the use of a pretty darn good trail shoe if it’s hard to come by, try and buy? Worse still, if you don’t even know that it’s in the market? When it comes to the Adidas Terrex Agravic I didn’t, until I walked into Run Stop Shop in Melbourne. And my eyes lit up.

Men Shoes adidas Terrex Agravic Shoes - Green DuFLB91 501_3_LRG

Spoiler alert: it’s a top end performer. But who knew? So when I tell you it’s a contender, you’d better be quick in your purchase because they are as rare as a heartfelt apology to an illegal Mexican immigrant by Donald Trump.

It’s a common thing in the Australian market amongst bigger sneaker brands – the Nikes, New Balances and Adidas of the world – where their stock-in-trade units (footy boots, road runners, fashion) hoover up all the local marketing team’s attention. The poor cousin trail models are begrudgingly taken on locally at brand-HQ insistence only to gather dust in a disinterested sales rep’s car boot. If only they knew that trail running is one tenant of what researchers are now calling a ‘megatrend’ movement away from traditional team sports and towards individual, nature-based outdoor pursuits. Hello, trail running. Hello sales opportunity going wanting.

Anyway, away from the failings of big brands to recognise an emerging market (and do something about it), to the shoe, the sexy if hard to find beast it is. [Yes, I know you can order it online, but who’d do that without trying one on, no matter what a reviewer says! Ed.]

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I went in with a notion that Adidas not being a mountain sports pedigree brand would fail dismally at off road. But then, overseas they play in the space much more and they do a handy football boot to boot.

With that in mind, let’s start with the obvious on these suckers: the grippy sole. Lugs protrude handsomely, 6.5mm to be exact, and have been smartly designed.

There are enough of them to dig deep into all forms of terrain, but spread enough across the sole to drop mud clumps quickly. The forward lugs are tapered providing excellent up front toe-in and transition to acceleration. Further back they work hard for better control including laterally, when on the brakes and when bombing downhill. Interestingly, the compound is as sticky as any other on market and was created in collaboration with Continental, the technology mimicked and adapted from that brand’s mountain biking tyres, including the shape of the lug. What works for one dirt warrior…

Moving through the sole, Adidas heralds its ‘Boost’ technology which most pundits agree delivers on its claim for better ‘energy control’, meaning you get a measured return of spring, enough to give increments of energy return but not enough to destabilize your foot on landing nor impinge on ground feel. This balance of bound and sensitivity on the foot strike is what for me makes the shoe a sure-footed choice.

In a way it is very much in line with the Salomon Sense Ultra – nimble, racy, with trail feedback providing confidence and grip nailing your cornering and downhill bombing. Where the Adidas excels further here is in giving a smoother ride than its competitor, assumedly courtesy of the Boost and some added EVA in the rear carriage.

Even so, it remains little stiffer through the sole than other more conservative trail runners, making them disciplined enough to take mountainside where a little ‘platform performance’ can help, but not so harsh as to give bruised feet over longer distances.

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Beneath your feet, after all, is a 24.5mm heel/18mm forefoot rigging. This delivers a mid-range 6.5mm drop, perfect for those leaning toward better technical running form, but enough up back if you still get the lean-backs on tiring.

Inside the foot fits snug, without being restrictive and the overall comfort factor is high out of the box. This is one of those shoes that feels like it instantly connects with your foot becoming an extension of rather than an addendum to your appendage. Of course, the snugger a shoe, the more chance there is your particular foot won’t agree with the shape, but I believe for most average Aussie slabs, (not too fat up front), the shoe will fit.

The ride is as mentioned fairly supreme, its only weak spot is super hard and flat surfaces that drag on – here the shoe can feel a little ‘slappy’, the overall undercarriage preferring more technical or soft ground underneath.Mt Buller

Lacing is solid in design. Despite looking a little weird, it seems to pull in where needed and give some where required. No issues there.

The rock plate in the forefoot is slim and flexible, but combined with the substantial outsole offers bomb proof protection from the hardest hits on the sharpest rocks, while still maintaining relatively good trail feel and torsional flexibility. If anything it can become to firm on the forefoot when running flats.

The Agravic is a seriously strong performer on most styles of Aussie trails. It’s just aggravating that the try and supply equation is somewhat restricted – but check Run Stop Shop in South Melbourne (or online) as a first port of call.


VITALS:
Great for: technical trails, grip, racing, all round fun
Not-so-great for: if you want to try and buy them – they are hard to find once stock is out!
Test Conditions: singletrack, lots of technical, soft ground, rocky, approx. 125km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $200
Website: www.runstopshop.com.au


 

 

Review: Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra SG

IT’S A CLICHÉ TERM: FITS LIKE A GLOVE.

USUALLY TAKEN AS A POSITIVE DESCRIPTOR, IT’S APTLY APPLIED TO THE SALOMON S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SG. THESE RACY NUMBERS CUDDLE YOUR FOOT, LIKE A FULL BODY CONTACT SPOONING SESSION FOR YOUR FEET. I MENTION THIS UP FRONT BECAUSE IT’S THE FIRST ‘FEELING’ YOU GET PUTTING THEM ON – A NOTICEABLE ‘WOW’ FACTOR OF SILKY, FORM-FITTING COMFORT.

[the following review first appeared in Edition #21 of Trail Run Mag. Download now at www.trailrunmag.com/magazines]

The precision fit is created by Salomon’s Endofit upper, which basically acts like a sock. Now, apart from the sheer comfort of this upper, there’s a performance aspect: cuddlier fit means better hold on to and connection through the sole, translating to better feel and reaction to the surfaces spinning beneath. This gives you more confidence on knarly, changeable terrain where action is varied and landing and take off can be in any direction on any kind of slope.

So, if the shoe fits for you, technical terrain becomes a carpet ride in these puppies.

The downside; they need to fit your foot and a more precise fit, as these offer, means more chance that your podiatric idiosyncrasies may not match those of Kilian Jornet and the other top flight fliers these shoes were designer around. What does I mean for you? If your foot doesn’t take an instant liking to the shape within, you’ll get hot spots.Mt Buller

Even if your planks of meat are a perfect match, you may not want to run into the ultra zone in them given foot swell will turn that spooning session for your foot into a painful exercise in ‘outgrowing one other’. Hence, while the word ultra is ingrained in the name, and emblazoned on the side, these are perhaps not for big-banger ultras per se, unless you have a second upsized pair to swap into half way!

What they are specifically for is what the ‘SG’ highlights: soft ground. Find some sloppy, technical, mulchy, muddy, springy singletrack carpet and ride these hard. They will sing on this type of terrain. Why? Because that tight-hold around your foot means there is no movement within the shoe, the trail feel is a beautiful balance fine-tuned to the point of twitchiness. Like a pair of Formula One tyres on a Ferrari, they make you want to race on the limit of your performance capabilities.

The 4mm drop means that, just as an F1 car should not be driven by a P-plater, these aren’t for everyone. Your form has to be fine and your strength and muscular spring through the lower legs strong.L37945700

Indeed, fall over on your form or be unaccustomed to the low heel-toe drop and these shoes may well bite back. But if you have the control on tap, and the confidence to push out at the edge of your technical running capacities, then the Ultra Sense is a sublime shoe to go at pace with.

The ride is 9mm up to 13mm cushion in the heel, giving that 4mm heel-toe difference. On terra more-firmer – fire roads, hard packed, groomed surfaces – they can start to tenderise the forefoot some and you’ll notice that hardness upfront from the get-go. The increased size lugs do give a little more protection and cushion than the regular Sense Ultra, but only by a smidge.

The shoe’s Profeel Film balances well as a protective layer shielding feet from bitey ground while also maintaining excellent feedback – again these being a lightweight race shoe means they will never be accused of being maximalist, and you need to be okay with that fact.

The upper on the SG4 has been revised some giving additional support through the forefoot.

According to the product notes, the Sensifit design – already market leading in our opinion – has been tweaked, too. It all lends to better securing your foot and that glove-like feel. The upper is more durable on the SG4 than on previous models, although arguably it’s also less breathable – great for cold weather, not so for summer forays and stinky feet.

The grip is, as always with Salomon across its range, excellent, but particularly so on these. The Contragrip lug pattern has deeper lugs for additional spike, particularly relevant – as you’d expect – for when the ground is softer. That said, on super muddy patches they can fail to shed the gloop as quickly as we’d like.

The rubber compound has been revised from past models and seems to have slightly better bite on smoother surfaces like rock and on dry, hard trail the lugs aren’t too intrusive (as on the Speedcross), the ride remaining fairly comfy for 10-20km outings. Longer than that and you’ll be seeking the softer stuff.

A crisp performer for those who want to up the ante, fast and furious style, pushing the envelope on technical trails. Great for a lot of the ‘sprint’ trail series going round these days!


 

TAKE OUTS SALOMON SENSE ULTRA SG4

Great for: as it says on the tin, soft ground; technical, rooty, muddy, racing, ‘shorter’ runs up to a marathon
Not-so-great for: ultras, hard packed trails
Test Conditions: singletrack, lots of technical, soft ground, rocky, approx. 180km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running

VITALS
RRP:$229.95 /AUD
www.salomon.com/au

*NOTE: a quick Google search will revel there is already a Sense 5 SG out there. From all appearances looks like the numeral on the paint job is the major change – but we haven’t investigated ;).


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Trail shoe review: Merrell All Out Crush

Crush’n It: It’s been a while since the Merrell brand has in any serious way popped its head up in trail-land in Australia. With a fairly successful outing in the minimalist category years back (with its broadly well-received Trail Glove range), they seemed to disappear on our radars, content to concentrate on the urban wanna-be adventurer category (comfortable shoes for pavement to pub that give the illusion the wearer is about to head into the wilderness).

[the following review first appeared in Edition #21 of Trail Run Mag. Download now at www.trailrunmag.com/magazines]

Capture2

There was a brief aborted attempt to re-emerge last year with a shoe that was more fast packer than runner (Capra). Now, Merrel has realigned with the release of its All Out Crush, a shoe originally designed with the mob behind – specifically for – Tough Mudder. It is however, one that defies my middling expectations on trail as a solid sweet spot performer.

Traditionally styled, this lightweight dirt-muncher was, according to the blurb, targeted squarely at the obstacle course market. I can’t attest how they go tackling the fire and pseudo brimstone of a muddy paddock packed with pyrotechnics, but I can say that taken out on singletrack, these are a great all round performer that firmly places Merrell back on the consideration radar, especially for the recreational (as opposed to pointy end competitive or extreme) trail runner.

A fairly firm forefoot ride means these are on the touchy-feely side, great for trail feedback (proprioception), and excellent when on soft trails that provide their own mulch cushion. The 5mm lugs – reminiscent but not quite as aggressive as Salomon Fellcross models – back up on that kind of terrain, too, giving excellent grip when they have something to bite into.Mt Buller

Where the midsole’s firmness starts to bite back is on hard-packed surfaces or pebbly, sharp rock terrain that continues for long stretches. On such surfaces your feet feel the pinches and prongs after a while and tenderfeet types will certainly notice the incursions. It’s fine for sub-30 kays on flatter, firmer surfaces – indeed I found these a measured balance of trail feel, grip and comfort on fast paced runs in this range – but anything longer requires a more forgiving undercarriage, in my opinion. The Crush’s pre-disposition for mushier ground makes sense given these were aimed at folks running around obstacles in mucky paddocks at distances at most stretching to 20km.

The Crush are also for runners who have a broader, squarer forefoot as there is more room in the toe box than many other narrower Euro-brand shoes which traditionally have narrower lasts. In general, the Merrell would be considered a more traditional, conservative shoe, but it’s no lesser option for it and may actually service a wider array of runners because of it’s no frills approach.

Where these are not as conservative is in the heel-toe drop – a lower range 6mm (traditional being more in the 12mm range) means that you need to at least be striving toward better mid-foot strike and good general form.160314

Those with small slabs up front may find these swim a little in the toe box with the ability to tighten the hug across the middle of the foot barely there, as the first rung of laces and general upper design doesn’t allow much adjustment.

The obstacle course considerations prove a benefit to trail runners via drainage ports wicking away water quickly once plunged in puddles. The mesh upper layered with a perforated pliable rubber lining allows the shoe to release heat just as quickly. Overall, the shoe remains comfortable on the foot at all times in anything except the coldest of weather.

If any concern, it would be that of longevity. Being lightweight, the upper and the sole are supple and if one were to guess, may not be the longest wearing of shoes. Hard to tell after only 150-odd kilometres.

Overall a great shoe for those tackling the many short course (5-25km) trail series taking place across Australia and New Zealand where event terrain tends to be softer, the trails less extreme without hard rocky sections, but where a need for grip, comfort and all weather wear is primary.

Great for: grip, softer trails, door to trail, training all-rounder, wet runs, obstacle courses
Not-so-great for: sharp, hardcore rocky or mountain terrain, thin feet, ultras
Test Conditions: singletrack, mildly technical, some hardpacked, some fire roads, approx. 155km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $179.95
Website: www.merrellaustralia.com.au


 

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TRAIL SHOE REVIEW: Scarpa Atom

Scarpa, one of the world’s best hiking boot brands, have so far not had much success breaking into the Australian trail running market so when Dan Slater got the opportunity to test out their top model, the Atom, he was intrigued as to whether they deserved a fair go.

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*NOTE: this one’s for international readers or those looking to get a feel for Scarpa trail shoes in general, as this particular model is not available in AU unless you’re an online shopper with a mate in Euroland or the US. But it’s sibling, the Proton, is and will be reviewed soon by TRM.*

With a 4mm drop and base weight of 249g per shoe (size 42), the Atoms are a different beast entirely to my current chunky runners, but with those guys finally falling to shreds and a big race on the horizon, I snatched up the offer and launched into testing like Hermes knocking off the Mt. Olympus Sky Run.

I’m not sure if the name is a nod to their minimalism hut I was immediately impressed with the weight, or lack of it, especially since I would be carrying them in a backpack for a few weeks before the race. Being built around a European-style last (the Scarpa TRM) means they aren’t the widest-fitting footwear ever, duck-hoofed flappers might need to look elsewhere, but they suited my European foot well enough.Mt Buller

I liked the little lace pocket in the tongue, reminiscent of the classic Salomon design but for real laces, of which the Atoms came with a spare pair (I never needed them). It took my pampered pods a few kilometres to get used to the lower drop but soon I was comfortably training in the 20km range. The few miles of tarmac on the way to the dirt, however, convinced me that I’d be better off strapping frying pans on my feet and stomping around Lake Eyrie than using them on roads. The 1.4 to 1.8 cm compression moulded EVA midsole just isn’t adequate for metalled surfaces, nor is it intended to be.IMG_7638

The next level of testing involved a training run through The Labyrinth on Tasmania’s Overland Track. The Vibram Genesis Lite sole’s space invader-shaped lugs gripped the mud, roots and rocks just fine and the lightweight polyester mesh fabric precluded overheating. Also, a good splash about in the mud produced no ill effects. However, that same thin fabric soon began to show signs of wear. Being a clumsy clodhopper I trip up a fair amount so the toes take a beating, and after less than 100km total run time I could see the garish upper colours beneath the thin black TPU of the toe bumper, plus the gel Scarpa branding was being knocked off letter by letter. However, they were still comfortable.

Satisfied with their performance during training I decided to trust the Atoms on the NUTR, or Nui Ultra Trail Run, a 68km course around the coastline of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It was a fantastic event but I learned that as great as lightweight minimalist shoes are on an even dirt track, the rigours of bounding over rubble strewn volcanic grasslands require slightly more supportiveness. Over the course of the day I kicked, skidded, skated and hoofed rock after porous lava rock, tripping hundreds of times and falling flat on my face on several occasions. By the finish line the uppers of both shoes were wearing through at the crease points and my plantar fascias were sore and stretched, but I was still upright and blister-free. And hell, I even won!

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So, with roughly half a million trail shoes on the market to choose from, do Scarpas deserve consideration for your next shoe purchase? Absolutely. Here’s the thing – the Atoms aren’t currently available in Australia. What? I’ve just wasted five minutes of your precious time? Well, not quite. Given the choice now I would probably plump for the new Scarpa Proton anyway. It’s similar in many ways (welded upper, lace pocket, polyester mesh) but sits a little further along the weight/durability scale, and while the Atom is a good minimalist choice for even distances, the Proton boasts a fat 10mm drop and a full Vibram Genesis sole with more cushioning and deeper lugs. The weight compromise is almost 100g but let’s face it – unless you are going to carry them on your back for several weeks, that’s not a huge issue. I’ll personally be sticking to a bigger drop on longer runs from now on.

TAKEOUTS:

Great for: mid- to long-distance even trails; running travellers/travelling runners
Not-so-great for: rubble strewn south pacific volcanoes; tarmac
Test Conditions: Centennial Park circuit; The Overland Track; Easter Island; 263km total
Tester: Dan Slater, organiser, sole runner and reigning champion of the NUTR
Tester Mechanics: slight pronator; heel striker; narrow foot
VITALS:   Scarpa Proton – $259.95/$229.95 Gore/Non-Gore
Website: www.scarpa.com


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Shoe review: Brooks Cascadia 11

In past reviews of the Cascadia, I have been highly complimentary of the model. After all, it was the shoe – out of the box – that got me through my very first trail marathon in the Blue Mountains.893828

Back then (Cascadia 4 I believe), the shoe was a little more minimal. It still had the bulldozer-like qualities that all Cascadias have delivered, ready to roll through any bush terrain no matter the beef, but the V4 certainly had no puppy fat, especially on the upper, which had a sleek lightweight mesh and only the bare necessities of padding.

Trot forward a fair few years and seven iterations, and the Cascadia has lost none of its prowess along technical trails, but seems to have put on a little around its middle (Men’s 329g). The upper is now quite plush with padding, with a thicker tongue (unfortunately not gusseted).

The improvements over the V10 are focused on increasing durability to minimize some upper-tearing issues found in its predecessor. A tight-weave mesh layer has been added over the medial midfoot support webbing to prevent debris from getting between the webbing and underlying mesh. This makes the shoe more robust and – great for colder conditions – a little more insulated, too.

Some of the beef is of course in the technology. Like a recipe for a finely crafted trail delicacy, Brooks lists: BioMoGo DNA midsole, which “provides adaptive cushioning”; a 4-Point Pivot System “gives you ultimate control” (I reckon there is no shoe in the world that magically gives a two-left footed klutz ‘ultimate control’ and a root popping up out of nowhere will fell the most deft footed, but let’s say this 4-pivot gives some semblance of ‘better’ control, ‘ultimate’ being marketing waffle); a full-length Segmented Crash Pad “allows smooth transitions”, something we found – especially as you get tired and form falls – does give true benefit; and forefoot Ballistic Rock Shield which “adds extra protection” – true although from bullets and projectiles as the word ‘ballistic’ implies…(waves disapproving finger at marketing types yet again)?Mt Buller

The last has been narrowed a smidge from past Cascadias – potentially an issue for big foots, but I wouldn’t say it is totally slim-line, rather it sits in a sweet spot for most. Nevertheless, the midfoot is cosier than previous, giving great foot-hold when cornering tight bends. It may be too claustrophobic for some, however.

A 10mm heel drop places these firmly in traditionalist territory, a good thing for those coming across from the road to get dirty. They will feel more like a traditional tarmac warrior on the foot, the runner sitting higher in the heel. Heel lift from a low profile heel cup is remedied with an extra lace eyelet to tighten the ship.

In terms of ride, Cascadia falls into the centre point of the bell shaped curve of cushion. As listed, there’s a decent stack underneath you, giving superb protection and good cushion for long runs, however it is not quite a springy touchdown, either. That’s neither bad or good, it just depends on how much trail feel you prefer. Less cushioning means (usually) more feedback from the ground allowing better responsiveness. The Cascadias sit somewhere in between – a good balance perhaps – the thicker sole unit armed with the aforementioned BiMoGo and ‘Ballistic’ rated rock plate. It has to be said that a strength of these shoes is no matter what the trail throws at you (or shoots at you according to the marketing nomenclature bods), these will handle with aplomb. Putting them on, I always imagine the bomb disposal veteran William James in The Hurt Locker, climbing into his protective suit before heading off to face-off against a tide of explosives. We all know trail running “ain’t no war” – far from it – but feeling you are at least numbed from those little mini-explosions going off underfoot can be comfort for some trailites.

The lacing system is a little unusual in that the first rows are traditional but the third comes across the foot slightly to the outside. This is a love it / hate it thing that does give more stability and hold across the top of the foot. For some it is too tight a hold.

Overall, for the runner who wants total confidence in running gnarly trails, the Cascadia offers top-shelf performance. The feel is firm, fairly responsive, yet protective and, despite its beef still decently agile. It’s not for short and fast racers – it’s a bit heavy and slow on the turnover, and not for plush maximalist runners either as it is not the squishiest thing on hard packed surfaces and on downhill heel strikes. But just like James was addicted to the buzz of a blow up, the ability the Cascadias have to disarm any technical trail will have you coming back for more, bigger and badder trails than ever before.


 

 VITALS
Great for: grip, technical trails, mountain trails, longer runs, runners transitioning from road
Not-so-great for: minimalists, ground feel, fat feet
Test Conditions: super technical singletrack, some fire roads, approx. 125km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $239.95
Website: www.brooksrunning.com.au/shoes/cascadia

THIS SHOE REVIEW WAS PUBLISHED IN EDITION#20 of TRAIL RUN MAG along with plenty more shoe, gear and trail guide reviews, all available for FREE! Download your pdf copy HERE


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Edition #20 launched: Download free now!

Edition #20 of Trail Run Mag (AU/NZ) has been released, and is once again packed full of dirty goodness from trails Down Under and across the globe!

Screenshot 2016-03-28 09.57.11DOWNLOAD your free pdf edition at www.trailrunmag.com/magazines or subscribe for iPad / Kindle Fire (access via same link).

In this edition: 

HIMALAYAN REDUX – a return to the front line as Tegyn Angel takes on the Himalayan 100 //
FRENCHMANS FORAY – the magic of Marlbek, Tasmania by Majell Backhausen //
FAMILY MATTERS – journey on the Heysen Trail, South Australia //
PLANT POWERED RUNNING – fuelling your run with green power//
INTO THIN AIR – running Shangri La’s Snowman Route, Bhutan //
NATURAL BORN HERO – Born to Run author Christopher McDougall on being a natural //
FASTEST ’TASH IN TASSIE – itinerant international Felix Weber //
RETURN TO FORM – trail technique //
SPUTNIK’S SPRAY – claims to fame //
PLUS: AU & NZ editorials ‪#‎gearreviews‬‪#‎trailguides‬‪#‎shoereviews‬ & ‪#‎trailporn‬

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Shoe Review: Saucony Nomad TR

 

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…Saucony-Nomad-TR-Shoes-AW15-Offroad-Running-Shoes-Red-Black-Orange-AW15-S20287-2

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.saucony-nomad-tr-s20287-2

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.Mt Buller

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
RRP: $199.95
Website: www.saucony.com.au
Retailers: The Running Company Clifton Hill and Geelong www.therunningcompany.com.au

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