Nike Zoom Wildhorse Review

With the release of the Nike Zoom Wildhorse ($110) and Zoom Terra Kiger (review to come) in late 2013, Nike hopes to legitimately reenter the trail running market. In the recent past, Nike has simply added some reinforcements to the upper and a heavier-lugged outsole to established road shoes such as the Pegasus or the Structure Triax, and these two shoes spell the first time in recent history that they have engineered a dedicated shoe aimed at tackling trails.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse

I will admit that when I received these shoes, I didn’t want to like them. Nike is a worldwide behemoth with access to materials and funds for the sort of research and development that I’m sure many smaller trail-shoe companies can only dream of. But, let’s remember that almost all trail running shoes are made in one of several factories in China, so it’s not really necessary to delve into a diatribe about Nike and globalization like the protesters outside of my college track locker room. I will say that Nike seems to be taking trail running very seriously and that this shoe is a fully realized, well designed, lightweight trail machine that deserve a look from even the most discerning brand loyalist.

Initially receiving a bit less of the hoopla, the Wildhorse is the slightly heavier (8.4 ounces) and more protective of the two shoes. With a 4mm drop and decent flexibility, the Wildhorse is definitely a contender in the minimalist/lightweight category.

Upper
First, forget any preconceptions about how Nike running shoes fit you. This fit is very different and features a snug, but not tight, heel which slowly widens throughout the upper into a pleasantly wide toe box. The fit through the midfoot is kept from being sloppy by the use of a Dynamic Fit system which uses a no-seam sleeve that hugs the mid foot and acts like a gusseted tongue. A simple lacing system which cinches well and the middle-of-the-road fit of this shoe will accommodate a lot of different foot types.

A tough, synthetic-leather toe bumper bolsters a basically seamless upper which is made of a dual-density mesh over a midfoot wrap which is controlled by the lacing system. There really isn’t anything here you haven’t seen before, but the use of great materials in a completely functional (read not flashy) way won me over very quickly.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse - lateral upper

Midsole
Nike used their popular Phylon midsole foam from heel to toe on the Wildhorse and the effect is a semi-firm ride which is a touch more firm than expected at first. This midsole material recently re-emerged three years ago when Nike reintroduced their Zoom Elite series road shoe and the Phylon foam resists compression and is hard enough to alleviate the need for a rock plate. Initially, I was chagrined about not having additional protection, but I have yet to feel a rock through the forefoot. A Zoom air pocket in the heel makes the ride feel a bit more plush.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse - medial upper

Outsole
At first glance, the outsole on the Wildhorse is underwhelming, but after several runs I began to appreciate its genius. A beveled heel allows for better stability on uneven trails, and Nike uses a sticky, pyramid-shaped rubber compound around the heel. In the center of the heel section of the shoe are lugs angled to help control downhill running. The forefoot of the Wildhorse uses Nike’s standby waffle sole design but angles the lugs back toward the heel to aid with traction on the uphills.

Nike uses their Environmentally Preferred Rubber throughout the outsole which reportedly contains 98% less toxins by weight than original rubber.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse - outsole

Overall Impression
The Zoom Wildhorse is a well engineered and highly functional trail shoe that I certainly wasn’t expecting to come from Nike. I took this shoe out daily in a variety of wintry conditions from snow pack to ice to sticky red clay. I really couldn’t find a surface that the Wildhorse didn’t perform well in. This shoe is a great all arounder in the same vein as a Saucony Peregrine, Pearl Izumi Trail N1, or Inov-8 Trailroc 245, but is nearly an ounce lighter. It seems that Nike engineers took their time with this shoe, letting other companies refine what works and what kinds of features top runners want in a shoe, and then put out exactly that without any extra frills.

The Wildhorse offers a surprising amount of semi-firm cushioning in a lightweight package, and given the reasonable $110 price and great durability so far, I imagine that trail runners will see a lot of this shoe on the feet of their friends and competitors in 2014. Given the addition of the new Nike Trail Team, I think that Nike is seriously in the game and here to stay.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you tried the Zoom Wildhorse yet? What are your initial thoughts on this shoe and the effort Nike has put into it?
  • If you’ve tried one of Nike’s previous ‘trail’ shoes, how would you compare the Zoom Wildhorse to those predecessors, fit-wise?
  • And, what about the Zoom Wildhorse’s outsole? What kind of conditions have you tested it in and how did it perform?
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 17 comments

  1. dcpattie

    Great review Tom – any chance you also tested the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger during this period? I believe the only real difference between the two is that the Terra Kiger also has Zoom Air in the forefoot (Wildhorse only has Zoom Air in the heel). I'm curious if the added forefoot zoom air is noticeable.

    Also about Nike's "Sticky Rubber" – how would you compare it to say Inov8's sticky rubber, La Sportiva's FriXion XF/AT, or Salomon's Contagrip?

    1. TomCaughlan

      Great question! Comparisons are always tough, but here goes. I feel like the outsole of the Wildhorse has a similar stickiness to the Inov8 Trailroc 245, but a bit softer than the Contragrip on say the Salomons. Lug height is pretty low and definitely doesn't feel like it gets in the way on smoother trails or even roads (hence th trailroc comparison). The Wildhorse does very well on rocky, loose surfaces and I actually ran quite a bit on snow, ice, and mud this winter as well.
      Bottom line, great all arounder that will be able to handle the majority of trail surfaces.

  2. senelly

    Looks like a winner… and it's great that Nike is getting more serious about trail stuff. I use minimal shoes in general, and trail shoes in particular. My favorites are several pair of New Balance <=> shoes with Vibram soles (my latest are laceless NB MT10SO's) . It is my understanding that they are made in the USA. For me that's a plus. Do you know if Nike considered shoes with USA origination? Thanks for your review.

    1. TomCaughlan

      NB has a number of shoes "assembled in the USA". Unfortunately, none of the Minimus series are, or really any of their more performance oriented shoes. You can see the models that are here: http://www.newbalance.com/Made-in-the-USA/made_in
      To my knowledge, neither Nike, nor any other major running shoe company do anything stateside.
      Interestingly enough, the Terra Kiger, which I will be reviewing next week, uses a flyknit construction which is pretty cool. This produces 66% less waste than a shoe like the Nike Pegasus and could lead to US manufacturing to keep costs down (high labor costs in US < shipping costs from Asia) due to the one piece flyknit construction. I'm going to do some more research on this.

      1. Johanna

        I was just writing that NB only assembles ~25% of shoes in the US, but the parts and rubber is not made in the US. I included the link too :) You beat me to it, Tom!

        Regardless, NB and Brooks are trying to be more mindful of bringing production to the USA and of their waste product/breakdown of materials in landfills… and it sounds like Nike is trending that direction too.

  3. @PeterMcKinney

    I bought a pair of these, and I have to admit, I didn't want to like them either. My wife has been running in the Terra Kiger, and she loves them, but I didn't like the extra Zoom Air pocket in the forefoot. The Wildhorse has sold me. Super comfortable, right out of the box. Definitely some BRIGHT colorways (which I dig). This is a shoe for me that just sort of disappears on my foot, and that, I believe, is a good thing.

    Just take note on these, if you buy them online, the color they call "red," is much closer to a pink, in my opinion. But hey, if you're a dude, and not afraid to rock some pink shoes, then who cares!

  4. @daxross

    I've been running in these for a few months, and really like them. For me, they have a similar feel to the Brooks PureGrit. FYI, I recently bought a 2nd pair at finishline.com for $49.

  5. apkurt

    I got a seed pair of these from our Nike reps and after one run I promptly secured two more from our stock. They've been great as a road shoe while the snow is still down, and I've been able to leave the microspikes off on the trails. Nimble but protective, I expect to sell a lot of these ahead of the Superior trail races in MN, since the trail is brutally technical, but they also perform great on more runable terrain, as Id' expect from a company with a long history of producing road shoes. Very highly recommended.

    1. 3aph

      To apkurt, would the lack of a rock plate be an issue for the Wildhorse on the Superior Races? I am specifically thinking about the fall 100. Thanks!

      1. apkurt

        As Tom said, the midsole material seems protective enough to leave the rock plate out. I've never felt anything but total confidence underfoot. Plus, my biggest concern with the SHT would be a toe bumper, and the wildhorse has a surprisingly sturdy one.
        If the rock plate is a dealbreaker, I think the Pearl EM series (e.g. the N2) make for a great SHT shoe for the same reason – nimble enough to miss most of the rocks, but protective enough for the inevitable time you'll hit one. Hope that helps.

  6. wMichaelOwen

    Wore these in TNF EC California race back in December – see some pictures here: http://michaelrunningfree.blogspot.com/2013/12/20

    Really a great shoe. I had worn the Nike LunaRacers (road flat) for a 50 mile and 100 mile trail race prior to getting the Terra Kigers and Wildhorses – Wildhorses are my favorite of the two.

    Still wearing them once a week or so even with 800+ miles on them and the sides busted out. Stood up well and continue to take the beating I put on them!

    1. Skoinas

      I have the Terra Kigers and love them. What are the differences between the two, and why do you like the Wildhorses better?

      1. wMichaelOwen

        Not really sure exactly why I like the Wildhorses better – they just feel better for me. They both have the same heel-to-toe drop but the Wildhorse feels like it has more support and cushion. I don't have the specs but the stack might be a bit higher. But I like the feel of the upper – durable.

      2. dcpattie

        The Terra Kiger has zoom air in the forefoot AND heel, the Wildhorse only has zoom air in the heel. Also the Terra Kiger has Nike's higher end "synthetic mesh" hence the slightly higher price tag.

  7. Dario

    Just completed my first run (road and trail) with the Wildhorse and I am quite impressed. I usually run in Kinvara or Cortana and Newton Distance and had an immediate feeling with this trail shoe from Nike (It seems to me that it works very well also on roads).

  8. caper

    I had a pair on order which I picked up last night. Did my first run in them today in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve (here visiting)…I haven’t ran in Nike’s in 10+ years, and gotta say I LOVE these shoes. Fit well, big toe box, light, nothing you don’t need, and lots of what I wanted. I am very pleasantly surprised. The mountain preserve is a very rocky run…in some areas I was more worried about a rolled ankle than a stabbed foot. I didn’t notice the missing rock plate, never even dawned on me until reading this. If I didn’t have too many shoes already I’d be picking up another pair. I may do so anyway just as a spare.

  9. @neldiogo

    Anyone noticed the changes in the Wildhorse 2 vs 1? I have v1 and loved how the tongue is attached on both sides making it feel like a glove. V2 seems to have gone back to a "traditional" construction were the tongue is free to slide to the sides. I only tested the v2 on a store and when I got home I thought I may have tried a different shoe (like the wild trail wich is a similar cheap version). Also they made the front of the shoe less protective and the upper touches the toes wich didn't happened on v1. Can anyone confirm this changes on v2 of the Wildhorse?

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