Concept shoes, by and large, are usually a passing fad at best and a commercial flop at worst. However, in today’s trail running market that adage just doesn’t hold true anymore. Take, for instance, the success of the Vibram FiveFingers or the Merrell Trail Glove. Trail runners seem more open to trying out a new concept than their asphalt pounding counterparts, and GoLite makes their second entry into the trail running market touting a unique concept and design for the GoLite Tara Lite.
For lack of a better descriptor, the Tara Lite is a “thong shoe,” with a rubber separator between the wearer’s first and second toes which was inspired by the Tarahumara tribes of Mexico and their huaraches. However, this shoe is not minimal by any means and sometimes the best intentions have the strangest outcomes. Not to imply that this shoe is a dud, there are particular aspects of this shoe that get high marks in my opinion.
The Tara Lite was conceptualized as a huarache sandal on a moderately cushioned midsole with a protective upper which could be worn year round. The midsole height is consistently 24mm throughout the midsole technically making it a zero drop shoe. However, this midsole is anything but minimalist. GoLite uses their Soft Against the Ground (SATG) technology which puts the softest EVA closest to the outsole. The hardest material is right under the insole of the foot and GoLite claims that this reduces ground impact forces on the wearer by 33%. I will say that I was impressed with the cushioning in this shoe, but it lacks some flexibility desired for the trail.
When I first tried on this shoe I was surprised at how large the thong between my toes was. GoLite provides some thong socks to wear with the shoes and one would have to either go barefoot, wear the provided pair of socks, or wear Injinji toe socks. The forefoot is rather wide and the entire shoe is secured with an interconnecting strap system which is tightened by two velcro straps: one on the top of the foot and one at the back. I had difficulty getting the shoe tight enough with these straps without the upper wrinkling a bit, especially at the heel of the shoe. My size 9.5 also fit more like a 10, and without a very secure system to lock the foot down I would purchase a half size smaller than usual.
I was also surprised by how heavy this shoe was tipping the scales at over 11 ounces. By and large the majority of this weight is in the midsole; however, the upper of the Tara Lite seems to be fairly thick stretchy material. It does an excellent job of keeping debris out and adding adequate protection on the trail, but my feet roasted in these shoes on summer runs and I found the shoes to breath poorly.
I took several shorter trail runs in this shoe and trails that would classify as smooth single track. I didn’t feel that the fit of the Tara Lite warranted anything more adventurous. There are quite a few aspects of this shoe that I didn’t like at all. The thong concept is uncomfortable in my opinion and really has no functionality in the shoe. It irritated my feet and I wear flip flops daily so I already have a callus between my toes. The upper is stifling to the feet and the strap system also has little functionality rather than being gimmicky. The shoe is too heavy and I felt like I was running in a hiking moccasin rather than a trail running shoe.
What GoLite Did Well
The SAGT cushioning system definitely has my vote of confidence. I’m not sure what the exact durometers (densities) on this shoe are, but the cushioning feels responsive and springy. I also liked that with the higher 24mm platform they created a zero drop shoe which wasn’t really noticeable. I didn’t feel like I was running in a completely flat shoe and it wasn’t until after I researched the specifications of the model that I found this out.
The outsole of the Tara Lite is covered with tiny sticky nodules inspired by a gecko’s feet. There are 350 lugs of various sizes and the outsole is contoured with a rounded heel which seemed to roll well through all terrain, especially slanted trails. I found this outsole to perform very well in wet clay, sand, and on rock.
I think that GoLite is on to something with their midsole and outsole designs that, unfortunately, were overshadowed by incorporating design fads. Now, some runners might completely disagree with me and find the strap system and upper of the Tara Lite to be completely functional. I think that GoLite has the potential to make some very exciting trail shoes in the future, and in my opinion it would be great to see this gecko outsole paired with a stripped down version of the zero drop SATG midsole (think 15mm) and a minimalist upper with a more traditional lacing system. Get the whole package down under 9 oz. and GoLite would have one amazing shoe.