Patagonia Forerunner Review

Simplicity is something that I’ve come to value more and more as I age, and this appreciation extends to gear.  Not necessarily absolute minimalism, but nothing wasteful, extraneous, or frivolous.  Patagonia may have had this in mind while designing the Forerunner, their newest entry into the trail running market.  With a 4 mm heel drop (9mm heel – 5mm forefoot) and weighing in at just over 9 ounces for a men’s 9.5, the Forerunner puts you close to the ground while still giving you responsive cushioning and flexibility to earn the moniker “minimalist.”

[Added: We’ve added a full video review of the Patagonia Forerunner to the bottom of this article.]

Patagonia Forerunner

First Impressions
I’ll admit that Patagonia trail shoes I’d seen and tried on in the past looked like nothing more than light hikers with seemingly little design given to trail running.  The Forerunner even looks more like a shoe you’d see on a coffee shop patron rather than a fully realized trail shoe, but that is where the similarities to Patagonia’s previous trail models end.  The Forerunner fit my foot like a glove right out of the box and the 9 ounces of shoe were barely noticed during my first run on technical trail.

Upper
The Forerunner features a durable mesh upper surrounded by a breathable synthetic leather around the base and toe of the shoe.  A well-cushioned, but not overly beefy, tongue provides enough protection for a traditional lacing system with fairly standard sized oval laces.  The Forerunner does not have any overlays in the upper to provide added support, but the fit is fantastic with plenty of lockdown.  The heel collar is well padded and the heel cup is fairly pliable.  A synthetic leather overlay wraps around the back of the heel and the Forerunner does not have any toe bumper to speak of.  To be honest, this has to be the simplest upper of a trail shoe that I’ve ever reviewed.

Midsole
Due to the low heel drop the Forerunner gives a very low to the ground, proprioceptive feel.  The midsole cushioning is simple EVA foam (as best as I can tell) which feels firm and responsive all at the same time.  The Forerunner is quite flexible and forefoot and mid foot strikers will love the fact that the cushioning stays fairly uniform the length of the shoe.  The Forerunner does not seem to have any sort of a rock plate, but I didn’t want for more protection, even on sharp rocks.  A tad bit of medial support is available due to the outsole of the shoe curling up to create a minimal arch in the shoe, and I did not feel any other motion control devices in the midsole.

Patagonia Forerunner midsole

Outsole
A simple, yet effective, lug pattern runs throughout the flexible outsole of the Forerunner.  This rubber feels very tacky, and I felt like the Forerunner has better than average grip compared to most trail shoes.  It shed mud and clay quickly during wet runs due to the lugs not being too large or deep.  On rocks the flexibility of the Forerunner allowed it to grab really well and I really had zero traction issues with this shoe.

Patagonia Forerunner outsole

Overall Impression
Patagonia markets this shoe as their entry into the minimal trail shoe world, and some may balk at the weight (over 9 oz for men) citing it as a disqualification from this category.  However, minimalism also implies simplicity and this may be the simplest trail shoe I’ve ever tested.  No new technologies, no gimmicks, no fancy names for features that don’t function.  Just a simple trail shoe with an uncomplicated upper, an efficient flexible midsole, and a sticky rubber outsole.  In fact, I couldn’t even find anything I didn’t like about this shoe.

But, the real test of course comes during the long run and whether this shoe could be worn for an ultra.  To those biomechanically gifted runners who can manage the post-marathon distance in something like the New Balance MT101 or a pair of road racing flats the Forerunner will provide more than enough protection.  For others who value the feel of a minimalist trail shoe but tend to wear something more substantial for ultras, the Forerunner is a great shoe up to 50k. It will be available for $110 in early 2012.

Video Review

Call for Comments
What do you think of Patagonia Footwear’s venture into the lightweight trail runner market? If you’ve gotten a sneak peak, what did you think?

What is your ideal concept of minimalism? Does it focus on low weight? Low heel-to-toe drop? Low overall height? Simple construction? Something else entirely?

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 24 comments

  1. Jeff Faulkner

    Tom, how would you compare these to the upcoming NB MT110s? This look looks interesting but it'll have to be best the MT110 to get my $$$.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Jeff,

      I cannot compare the two side by side as I was only testing the MT110s for NB before having to send them back :(

      I will say that the amount cushioning is quite similar, but the Forerunner's cushioning is a bit firmer. The Forerunner's outsole is made of harder carbon rubber and can probably handle rocks a bit better.

      The shoes also have quite a bit different feel, but they both feel light and minimalist. Of course the MT110 is quite a bit lighter (can't remember the exact specs). Hope this helps.

  2. schlarb

    I love Patagonia's products, their corporate culture and stewardship to the environment. I was skeptic of their trail shoes as well, looking awfully like something I would hike in. This is all I've seen of this new shoe, but it certainly is exciting to see Patagonia enter the market this way.

  3. Bigfoot

    These look like interesting additions to the menu. Thanks for the review Tom. How does the toe box room compare to other shoes you've reviewed? I've run in Montrail's Badrocks lately which have a huge amount of room.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      I'd say that the toebox on the Forerunner is moderate to widely sized. I prefer wide toeboxes and sometimes experience rubbing on my deformed and sad looking pinky toes. I had no issues with these at all.

  4. ajax

    Here we go again, like most on here love patagonia's apparel, corporate culture etc. but remain skeptical of their shoes. Unless they completely surprise me I'll look forward to picking up a pair either at STP or the Zappos outlet close to home. Would love to see patagonia focus their R&D on some running specific packs.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      I has a much firmer feel than the Puregrit, with overall less cushioning. It also feels lower to the ground than the Puregrit. Hope that helps.

  5. Jeff Halsey

    I've been curious about these shoes since they were launched at OR and haven't found any info on them yet, so thanks for the review.

    It seems like Patagonia has taken a pretty reasonable route to minimalism in their trail shoes. They have a solid group of runners wearing their shoes and have been historically design-improvement focused. All together, I've been bullish about Patagonia's future shoe releases. I look forward to trying out a pair of Forerunners for myself.

  6. GMack

    The Patagonia Tsali trail running shoe has been out for about 2 years and really can't be confused with a light hiker with 'little design given to trail running'. Tsali's are about as light as the shoe in this review, built on a running last, with forefoot protection and a mid-foot lacing system which makes them very secure for fast downhill running. Durability is an issue with the Tsali. They break down in about half the time of my Asics Fuji go-to trail shoes.

    FWIW, I recently ran a 50 miler in the Andes in a pair of Brooks PureGrit. Removed the elastic band over the laces as well as the insoles. The PureGrit is great for groomed single track, but the minimal design and flex of the sole can beat up your feet over long rocky sections.

  7. Tom

    Good to know. I have only tried on the Spector in the past and not the Tsali. I didn't mean to imply that they weren't well designed trail shoes, and was only commenting on their aesthetics. Hopefully we can see more from Patagonia in the future.

    Good to hear some more field tests on the PureGrit.

    1. Bryon Powell

      My everyday shoe for walking around is the Patagonia Release. Originally released as a trail running shoe, stores like Backcountry.com categorized it as a light hiker, which is what it really is…. and a darn comfy light hiker at that.

  8. MikeC

    When will this shoe be available? I have a pair of Tsalis I use for hike/jog scree runs. They have held up well and I'm curious to see what they've come up with now.

  9. Leon

    I LOVE the Patagonia Tsalis and wear them for just about everything BUT running where I find them heavy. I was psyched to get my hands on the Forerunner but was immediately disappointed to find that they didn't have the Tsali's dynamic lacing system (I turned several different people with very different feet on to the Tsalis and all raved about the fit the lacing provided) and barely improved on the weight. Even if it would make the Forerunner fall that much shorter of a "minimal" tag, bringing the dynamic lacing into play would make this a far better shoe than it is. Without it, sadly, I find the Forerunner to be really middle of the road.

  10. Kathleen

    I have been wearing the forerunner for a couple of months for a day shoe. Not for running but for walking and work. They are very comfortable but now they have threads hanging out everywhere. Every seam is fraying. The suede like parts have little balls or pilling. The shoe is still strong but they look pretty sad. Won't recommend them. A good design but poorly made.

  11. James @RedDirtRunner

    I picked up a pair of the Tsali 2.0 recently and really like the simple yet practical design. I have logged a few runs from an hour of dry, fairly rocky single track to a 5 hour trail slog in the rain.

    Grip is good, cushioning is just right for me (neither to much nor too little), ample protection underfoot, seem to drain pretty well and the dynamic lacing system works well. The only potential issue I have experienced is some discomfort that might be PF. I can't say it is because of the shoe but is something I will keep an eye on. Overall, I am quite pleased so far.

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