Best Shoes of Winter Outdoor Retailer 2014

Back in late January, the 2014 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market (i.e., Winter OR) was sneaky. The show floor was quieter than usual (in part due to canceled flights) and there was less trail running buzz than usual, even for the winter version of this semi-annual event. However, in the end, we got to see a surprising number of great new trail shoes. Perhaps, it’s the fact that the wild swings (and accompanying hype) of minimalist and, then, maximalist shoes has calmed down. Now, technologies from the revolutionary products in these classes are being incorporated into more middle-ground products (as well as the products in those categories trending back toward the center). This sounds like stagnation or capitulation, but, perhaps, things gets quieter as you approach perfection.

With releases imminent or having just taken place, look at the hottest trail running shoes of this summer!

Inov-8 RaceUltra 290 ($140 – June 2014)

With the Inov-8 RaceUltra 290, the company is launching an entirely new platform, one specifically with ultrarunning in mind. For one, the outsole flatter and, perhaps, wider than more Inov-8 models in an attempt to increase stability. The shoe uses the Trailoc 255’s full-foot Meta-Shank III. However, an extra 2-4 millimeters of stack height provides a bit more protection in the RaceUltras than the Trailrocs. The breathable mesh upper should be great hot conditions. The shoe is a two-arrow shoe, meaning expect a 6mm drop under Inov-8s convention, but the RaceUltra 290 has a 8mm drop. The outsole is well, but not obnoxiously lugged–presumably more than enough for all but special scenarios. There’s also a proprietary gaiter attachment system.
Inov-8 RaceUltra 290

Brooks PureGrit 3 ($120 – June 2014)

Of the upgrades seen to existing shoe models at this OR, none were as radical as the changes seen in the Brooks GurePrit 3. Yes, the PureGrit 3 stays true to the Pure Project with its rounded heel, navband, and 4mm drop. However, the shoe starts to look at bit more like a traditional trail shoe with the removal of the toe-flex groove and midfoot underfoot pod as well as the addition of more aggressive lugging and a beefier toe bumper. At first glance, it just looks more like a trail shoe than the somewhat unfamiliar aesthetic of the PureGrit and PureGrit 2. The shoe will come in at just under 10 ounces (9.9).

Brooks PureGrit 3

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 ($120 – July 1, 2014)

At this point, Altra is overhauling each of its models every other year. This OR, it’s the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 that makes a break from it’s predecessor, the Lone Peak 1.5. First off, the upper is unrecognizably different. Gone are the iconic mountain overlays. Heck, gone are pretty much all the substantial overlays in favor of mesh with film overlays currently most visible in Pearl Izumi’s E:Motion lineup. To keep the midfoot snug, Altra has added a wrap up the outer mesh.

For many, the Lone Peak and LP 1.5 were already fairly plush and protective, but Altra’s gone and bumped both those aspects up in the 2.0. To start, there’s an extra 2mm of cushion throughout the midsole. Next, Altra added a second rockplate–just 1-cm wide–along the lateral arch for some additional metarsal protection  This all means that the shoe is a touch heavier. It’ll weigh in at 10.3-.4 ounces.

In case you think Altra completely scrapped things, that’s not the case. Iconic features such as the rear trail rudder and the gaiter trap remain. (See our forthcoming non-shoe winter OR ’14 article for more on the gaiter.)

Altra Lone Peak 2.0

Other Debut from Altra:

  • Altra Lone Peak 2.0 Polartec ($145 – September 2014) – For next winter, Altra will be releasing the first ever Polartec Neoshell running shoe. It’ll weigh in at about 11 ounces.

Hoka One One Mafate Speed ($170 – July 1, 2014)

With some many new Hoka models being debuted and nearly all of the company’s “road” models being heavily used on the trails, it’s hard to pick one model on which to focus. In the end, I’ve chosen a major update to the shoe that started it all–the Mafate. The biggest change with the Hoka One One Mafate Speed, at least in terms of feel, is the replacement of the previous midsole material with Hoka’s high-round RMAT material. The outsole is also all-new with narrower platform that the previous Mafates. The Mafate Speed sits at 12.0 ounces (compared to the Mafate 3’s 14.7 ounces) and stands 31-35mm tall. Plenty of shoe for the beefiest of trails.

Hoka One One Mafate Speed

Other Debuts from Hoka One One:

  • Hoka One One Clifton ($130 – July 15, 2014) – According to Hoka, the Clifton is “superminimal”… and it is, well, for a Hoka. The upper is stripped down, it sits half a centimeter closer to the ground than the Bondi 3, and weighs only 7.9 ounces (225 grams). The Clifton features midsole channeling (like in the recently released Conquest) for flexibility.
  • Hoka One One Huaka ($150 – July 15, 2014) – Having run in the Huaka, personally, this is my favorite Hoka model ever. The RMAT midsole, early-stage Meta Rocker, and slight bit of flexibility underfoot make the ride plush, but not controlling. It’s the second lowest-to-the-ground Hoka, but I find it feels even lower than the Rapa Nui 2.
Hoka One One Huaka

Hoka One One Huaka

The North Face Ultra Equity ($115 – July 15, 2014)

With The North Face Ultra Equity, the company has a more than capable shoe for the ultrarunning masses. The North Face labels this a “stability” shoe, but that’d be “stability” under the new paradigm. This is a nimble-enough, 10.6-ounce (300 gram) shoe. I’ve yet to find the construction at all restrictive, rather the shoe’s structure feels enabling.  Its upper, which combines a highly-breathable mesh with TNF’s Flashdry, is extremely comfortable.

The North Face Ultra Equity

Icebug AURORA BUGrip ($180 – September 1, 2014)

Tired of heavy combinations of your normal running shoes and traction devices, well maybe it’s time to give Icebug a look. The company, which made its name in orienteering footwear, isn’t new, but its product remain relatively unknown in the States. With the Icebug AURORA BUGrip, the company is offering a 9.2-ounce (260 gram), selectively water-resistant (it’s waterproof up to the eyelets) shoe with 19 carbide tips built into each sticky-rubber outsole. This should let you run fast and confident on nearly any surface. The AURORA has an 8-mm drop.

Icebug AURORA BUGrip

La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX ($175 – August 2014)

While not a style needed for everyone’s trail running, the integrated-gaiter waterproof/resistant trail shoe fills a need for some who live in snowy climes. Apparently, La Sportiva has seen enough demand and/or promise in this concept to offer a revision of the Crossover a few years after its initial release. The La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX is a 13.1-ounce (370 gram) winter version of the C-Lite. It’s built on the C-Lite (formerly C-Lite 2.0) platform, but with a slightly softer midsole.

In addition to changing the foundational shoe to the C-Lite 2.0, La Sportiva made three significant upgrades from the original Crossover. First, the gaiter is softer and more flexible, reducing the chance of discomfort and chafing around the ankle. Second, La Sportiva has designed the gaiter to make the underlying laces more accessible. This is a major improvement in allowing customized fit. Third, the shoe now incorporates GORE-FLEX in the waterproof booty, allowing for more comfort, especially in the forefoot.

La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX

Other Debut from La Sportiva:

  • La Sportiva Ultra Raptor GTX ($175 – August 2014) – A GORE-TEX version of the Ultra Raptor. Weighs in at 14.5 ounces (410 grams). It, like the rest of the of the La Sportiva running line, now come with Ortholite insoles.

Salomon Fellcross 3 ($170 – July 15, 2014)

In its latest version, the Salomon Fellcross 3 is even better suited to muddy conditions as the foam has been changed to a more hydrophobic version. As a result, the shoes should stay svelter in swampy scenarios. Other than that, it remains a low-riding, mud-shredding machine.

Salomon Fellcross 3

New Balance 980 Trail ($110 – July 2014)

So, if you read road running mags or are otherwise plugged into the road running world, chances are you’ve heard of New Balance’s new Fresh Foam. Well, it’ll come to the trails for the first time this summer in the form of the New Balance 980 Trail. The trail version of the 980 will have smaller lugs than the road version as well as have additional uphill-/downhill-oriented grip. The upper will also feature more reinforcement and a more closed mesh. There’s no rockplate and a 4mm drop in this 10.25-ounce shoe.

New Balance 980 Trail

Merrell Bare Access Trail ($100 – May 15, 2014)

The Merrell Bare Access Trail and its Bare Access counterparts sit between Merrell’s well-known Glove running line and more cushioned, more protect AllOut line. With the Bare Access Trail, you’ll be getting a flexible, low-to-the-ground (0mm drop, 4mm lugs, 8mm midsole, 15.5mm stack height) trail shoe in an 8.3-ounce (235 gram) package. There’s no rockplate in the Bare Access Trail, but there is a full-coverage outsole and slightly firmer midsole foam for protection. There are heel pods for lockdown and wide forefoot. The footbed is non-removable.

Merrell Bare Access Trail

Other Debuts from Merrell:

  • Merrell Bare Access Ultra ($100 – May 15, 2014) – More of a road shoe, but suitable for the trails. The midsole is softer and higher rebound than the trail version. It’s lighter at 7.0 ounces (200 grams) with zero drop and 12mm midsole (17mm stack height).
  • Merrell AllOut Flash ($110 – May 15, 2014) – A 6.3-ounce (180 gram) road shoe with a 6mm drop and 14mm of midsole.
Merrell Bare Access Ultra

Merrell Bare Access Ultra

Saucony Xodus 5.0 ($120 – August 1, 2014; GTX for $140)

In its fifth iteration, the Saucony Xodus 5.0 is the first Xodus to go under 11 ounces at 10.7 ounces (300 grams). At the same time, the outsole’s been made more aggressive, including an extra millimeter of lugging. It’ll also be made of a stickier rubber compound come August. One place where weight savings were found is in the stripped down upper. For those looking for trail features like a gusseted tongue, lace pocket, or gaiter trap, the Xodus 5.0 has ’em.

Saucony Xodus 5.0

Call for Comments

  • Which new shoe models have you most excited?
  • What will you be hitting the trails in this summer?
  • Have any questions? Ask away!

There are 8 comments

  1. nbskis

    i've been running in a pair of lone peak 2s for a couple weeks now. i have no hesitation saying they're better in every way than the 1.5s (which i put a few hundred miles in). i wouldn't have gone out for longer runs in the 1.5s, but i'm considering the 2s as a potential speedgoat shoe. more protection, more cushion = much better downhill, sole is more durable/grippy, and the fit is dialed. holds the heel nicely but still has the trademark toebox.

    1. markcarey

      How did you find the fit on the LP 1.5s and LP 2.0s? True to size, or should I order a half-size up? Looking at either for all or part of my upcoming (first) 100-miler. I currently run in Merrell Bare Access 3 (0mm drop, 8mm cushion, 13.5mm stack height, roomy toe box) — just ran a 50 mile training run in them without (foot) issues.

  2. Andy

    Thanks BP, I've been looking for reviews on some of these shoes. Have a pair of the Pure Grit 3s on order and also eager to check out the Inov-8s. A couple of the Merrells also look interesting. When can we expect to see Tom or Adam doing their stellar reviews on some of these new kicks?

  3. Andy

    Took the Pure Grit 3s out for a first, easy 6 miles yesterday, with a good mix of techy singletrack and fast fire road. They are really nice right out of the box. I can't compare them to the v. 2 (tried them on but never bought) but they are a great advance over the v. 1 in traction and nimble feel without sacrificing comfort or flexibility. The rockplate is just right, not noticeable, and no sacrifice to flexibility. Nav band is there and helps hold the foot well but also not partcularly noticeable. Still not the perfect shoe, but we all know it doesn't exist! Looking forward to longer outings in this really nice Brooks shoe.

  4. Max

    Ice bugs break my feet in half. La sportiva took a shoe that was heavy and uncomfortable and made it heavier. Altra insists that more plastic is better. And salomon still sells glorified flats that fall to shreds after double digit millage for the price of an expensive hydration pack.
    I hope the non-shoe review will hold better news. Sorry to be a downer and all.

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