Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 Review

The middle ground in trail running does seem to be skewed slightly to maximal recently, and updates to trail shoes that were svelte and nimble in the past now seem to be catering to legions of angry shoe buyers who mysteriously blow out uppers in less than 100 miles. What on earth are you running on/through, talus fields? I digress. The bottom line is that over the past year and into the near future, it seems that companies are capitalizing on the low cost of crude oil to create bigger and stickier outsoles covering bigger stack heights of foam, and the pendulum appears to continue to swing this way for 2016.

Meanwhile, Nike continues to churn out variations and exotic colorways of their now-flagship trail shoes, the Terra Kiger and the Wildhorse. The first two iterations of the Wildhorse built nicely upon one another and you can read our review of the first and the second. With the release of the Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 ($110), it was apparent that a complete redesign had taken place and a much-burlier shoe was created with the longer end of ultrarunning distances in mind. While the Wildhorse was always intended to be the  beast of burden of the two shoes, this third release was something completely different with a more-durable outsole, a rock plate, and a higher stack height. The first two editions of the Wildhorse weren’t quite enough shoe for me over the 50-to-100-mile distances, so these additions were welcome. Over the course of six months of testing this shoe, I’ve come away with a somewhat conflicted opinion on the Wildhorse 3.

Nike Wildhorse 3

The Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Upper

The Wildhorse started with an upper of thin ripstop nylon, progressed to a lightweight mesh, and this new version has some of the most heavy-duty, dual-density mesh I’ve seen on a trail shoe. This mesh is lined on the inside with a very soft nylon type of material that is almost seamless. This makes the Wildhorse 3 very plush feeling initially, and this is all complimented by a well-padded heel collar and a wide tongue. The lacing system employs flywire technology to provide a very snug feel around the midfoot, without any pressure points over the surprisingly wide forefoot. Wipe out any notions of a wide Nike, as this Wildhorse is significantly wider than any of the previous versions in the forefoot of the shoe.

My favorite aspect of the Wildhorse 3’s upper is that Nike uses welded-on overlays made of their re-grind material to provide durability and protection around the toe box and rand of the shoe, without sacrificing flexibility. In fact, after over 350 miles in this shoe, the upper is showing no wear whatsoever. Now I’m not very hard on shoes, but usually at this point in a shoe’s life I’m showing some fraying on the sides of the toe box. Well done Nike, in my opinion you absolutely nailed the upper of this shoe.

Nike Wildhorse 3 lateral upper

The Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 lateral upper.

Midsole

Nike adds 6 millimeters of midsole foam to the Wildhorse 3 (28mm/20mm) and this additional cushioning and 8 mm stack height is immediately noticeable. Phylon midsole EVA continues to provide semi-firm cushioning, and with more of it available, the Wildhorse 3 loses a lot of ground feel and becomes fairly stiff. This is a lot of high-durometer foam that doesn’t really loosen up throughout the life of the shoe. This experience is exacerbated by the addition of a rock plate which may have been more effective with the less cushioning on the last model. The result of all of this is a trail shoe that feels less stable and allows for very little foot flexibility which led to a great deal of irritability in my forefoot over the course of long runs.

The Wildhorse 3 has the same Zoom Air pockets in the heel which have always worked great in this shoe, however the forefoot has always felt somewhat uninspired which led me to favor the Terra Kiger which has additional air pockets in the forefoot. Again, the stiff forefoot caused me to reach for other trail shoes when I was going to be out for longer than two hours.

Nike Wildhorse 3 medial upper

The Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 medial upper.

Outsole

The classic waffle sole is iconic in the shoe industry, and Nike beefs up this design with the addition of 4mm beveled lugs covering the entire outsole. While these lugs grab very well on dry terrain, the proximity of the lugs becomes a major problem in mud or clay as they simply clog up. Even trying to clean them on a sharp rock becomes an annoyance due to this outsole’s tendency to get completely caked and not let go.

The interior of the outsole is comprised of softer and very tacky rubber which was surprisingly durable, while the edges of the outsole have high-abrasion carbon rubber. The outsole is showing very little wear for me and I think that the tacky rubber could be used over the entirety of the outsole. With the high-abrasion rubber on the edges of the shoe I believe it increased the propensity for ankle rolling and instability as the combination of dense midsole, substantial rock plate, and hard outsole rubber don’t absorb a whole lot of shock and you just seem to bounce off of everything.

Nike Wildhorse 3 outsole

The Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 outsole.

Overall Impressions

My pair of size 10s weigh in at about 11 ounces, increasing the weight from the original Wildhorse by about 2 ounces. Now, there is significantly more durability here for those of you running through fields of broken glass, but a once light-and-agile trail shoe being relegated to the 11-ounce range is a little bothersome. I appreciate the idea of differentiating the Wildhorse from the Kiger and creating a trail shoe that can handle the 100-mile distance, however I think Nike swung too far to the other extreme.

Now, there are many runners who will completely disagree with me and enjoy this bulked-up Wildhorse. Take, for instance, Nike-sponsored runners David Laney and Tim Tollefson. Both chose the Wildhorse 3 for the duration of their breakthrough runs at the UTMB and CCC races which feature rocky, technical terrain, mud, and steep up and downhill sections. I do think that Nike made a protective and very durable trail shoe with the Wildhorse 3 that will work for some people. However, I think that the high weight and inflexibility will bother a lot of runners who were simply looking for an update to their favorite shoe.

Seeing that prices on the Wildhorse 3 have recently been reduced, and with Nike’s famously quick turnover of their models, we can probably expect to see a Wildhorse 4 in the not-so-distant future. In my opinion, it would be a welcome update to see this upper on a slightly lower stack height with a less-substantial rock plate to offer more flexibility and agility on the trails.

Call for Comments

Let us know what you thought of the Wildhorse 3, why you liked or didn’t like it, and what you’d like to see incorporated in this shoe for future models.

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 18 comments

  1. MountainRoche

    Great review Tom, thank you!

    In addition to Tim, David, Zach Miller, and others using the Wildhorse 3 for epic performances in ultras, many on the Nike team also use it for short, faster races. It's my shoe-of-choice for even 20 minute trail tempos–they are able to rock 4:40 miles as easy as the longer races. I recommend it to all of the athletes I coach–while they might be heavier on the scale, they do not feel heavy underfoot, and they perform incredibly fast and climb with authority. Something about the shape of the shoe seems made for fast, sustained climbs!

    A few more notes that I think might be important to some people:

    1. This is not a shoe for a dedicated minimalist. However, the Wildhorse specifically responds to many of our concerns that 4 mm offset and minimal protection is just not conducive to staying injury free and running fast on trails for many high mileage runners.

    2. The Wildhorse 3 takes just a bit to break in. I recommend walking around in a new pair for a week or so–the shoe feels completely different with just a bit of wear. Once it is broken in, I think there is no faster and more comfortable shoe on the market.

    3. They last forever. I know both Tim T. and I have gotten over 700 miles on a single pair.

    All in all, I think the Wildhorse 3 is the best, most versatile trail shoe on the market. There is a good chance they win both the North Face 50 (Zach Miller) and the XTERRA Half Marathon World Champs (Pat Smyth) next weekend, and I think that versatility tells the story of why it's such an awesome shoe.

    Thanks again for the great review!

    1. TomCaughlan

      David-
      Thanks for your feedback on the Wildhorse. I agree that Nike created a very durable and "ready for anything" shoe here. I confess, I've always liked the Kigers more due to the forefoot zoom air. I have not tried the Kiger 3 yet, but I will be doing so hopefully in the coming weeks.
      700 miles! That is amazing! After well over 300 miles my Wildhorses don't even show abrasions on the upper and barely any lug wear.
      I love the fit of the shoe, and I hope Nike doesn't change much in that department.

  2. Feejazz

    I can compare the first and the present generation. First generation was surprisingly nimble but still very comfortable shoe with a great grip even in snow and icy conditions. I never ran more than 20km in it so I don't know how suitable for more than 50k they was. The biggest downside was upper durability. It ripped after very few kilometers. For me it was the best trail running shoe in terms of nimbleness and feeling. The third generation is much more durable,after 200k still looking like new,but nimbleness is unfortunately gone. I still enjoying running in it,but it feels very very different. I didn't find any problems with grip,the only thing I can agree with review is a bit more instability feeling because of higher stack height. I would grade it 7.5/10.

  3. @SF_Robinson

    I agree with David R. While the Kiger is a great sub-marathon race day shoe, personally, I've found I'm simply unable to race in it beyond 20 miles. The Kiger's minimal drop in stack height is simply too aggressive for my legs. So, I really appreciate the differentiation of the Wildhorse. This is hardly a clunky, maximalist choice. This is a workhorse shoe. I appreciate that.

    But I am also now curious about Tom's joke about running trends swinging away from minimalism because of oil prices… Has anyone charted whether there is a correlation between crude oil prices and running shoe mid-sole stack heights? That would be interesting.

    Wildhorse: 9/10

    1. TomCaughlan

      @SF_Robinson,
      This is really my own observation in regards to the amount of outsole material and lugs that are being used for 2016 models that are coming out rather than stack heights per se. I've always considered the outsole to cost little, comparitively, to the rest of the shoe. However, thats not the case, and sticky durable rubber is expensive. You'll be seeing lots of lug in the next year!

      1. AdamLawrence

        It's an interesting idea. An MIT group found that most of the emissions (and therefore, I assume, fuel consumption) of running shoe production occurs in the assembly process, not in the production of basic components. This is the norm for electronics, but unusual for textiles. Running shoes are atypical in being a low-tech good that has many individual parts to assemble. So while it seems likely that a simple racing flat will use less fuel than a durable workhorse trail shoe, because there's simply less rubber, foam, and fabric invested in the shoe, the difference between a 6 oz racer and a 10 oz trainer may not be as much as we might think, since number of components, not the fuel use associated with those components, seems to be the main predictor of a shoe's carbon footprint. In any case, a 300 mile racing shoe is most likely going to have to have a pretty low footprint to have a lower long-term impact than a 700 mile workhorse (although the impact per pair of the workhorse is almost certainly more, it probably isn't that much more).

        1. @SF_Robinson

          Neat. Thanks. Obviously such esoterica matters little in the terms of the looming energy crises. I imagine that the creation of ever more niches of shoes–"This is my road trainer, this is my trail trainer, this is my road flat, this is my treadmill shoe, this is my trail racing shoe."–all this probably helps incentivize further sales and thus further consumption. Hail, Malthus. ;)

          1. AdamLawrence

            agree completely. it's totally unnecessary, and besides wasting money and resources, it makes training way more complicated than it needs to be. i've seen fast dudes in my club laying down blazing 400s on the track in some giant, ancient trainer that probably weighs 12 ozs. i've given in to the temptation in the past, but if i have a comfy durable trail shoe, a similarly solid road trainer, and maybe a marathon racer to be used very sparingly for key workouts and road and short trail races, i'm set.

  4. Simco_

    Is it still a Wildhorse at this point? 2oz, 8mm, completely different upper, a rockplate…
    Why not just release a third line? Kiger for races and short, Wildhorse for "mid" and something else for the 100, sub-maximal crowd?

  5. Anonymous

    Thanks for the review. It’s my first trail shoe, I come from Vomero 10 and because I’m heavy 92kg 187cm I wanted something to protect me from rocks. The transition from 12-11 shoes to 8 drop was very easy and had no problem at all. I think that it’s the best shoe for someone who looks for first trail shoe. It’s great on grassy fields and running on rocky roads it feels a kind of comfortable too. I see some tear at the front spikes but I think it’s because of my wrong way of putting my foot on the ground. Running on soft or hard ground it’s great to and I start to look for my first trail race.

  6. hikerguy

    i just received my pair via mail order and my first impressions are negative. the fit is “off”. i’ve worn nike size 10 for as long as i can remember and these (1) appear to be a bit short, and (2) the height of the toebox seems to have been lowered. uncomfortable, and appears to be blisters on toe tops just waiting to happen. anyone else notice this? i’m hoping to find these in a brick and mortar store and see if a larger size will make a difference before returning.

    1. JasonC

      I actually have been using the Kiger3 and WH3 and have size 10 in both models. As someone mentioned above the WH seems to require a bit of break in. Out of the box, the toe box did initially seem a bit tight compared to the “just right” fit of the Kiger3. Wore them to the office for a few days before taking them out on the trail. No blisters or other issues. I have a neuroma in my right foot and cannot tolerate a restrictive toe box. 50+ miles on the WH3 without issue.

  7. lawrence

    You mentioned that the toe box in the wild horse 3 is a bit wider than previous versions. Does that mean the shoe runs true to size? Or should you still go half size up ? Also any info on when Nike will release the 4th edition?

    1. Christian

      I find them to run true to size. I wear size 11 in almost every brand and the size 11 Wildhorse 3 fits me perfectly with just the right amount of room in front of my toes. If anything, there may be a little too much room, but that should come in handy for foot swelling. I would not advise going a half size up.

  8. Chris Robbins

    Similar DNA to v1/v2, but very different fit (looser, more volume throughout) and feel (more stable/less agile) in the v3s. I wish Nike had kept tweaking the previous version and made the v3 a separate, third offering in their trail line-up (if for nothing else to see what they’d call it, the Terra Wooly Mammoth?). What I loved about v1/v2 was the nimbleness + upper combination. I think you can still get some of that agile feel in the Kiger v3, but with sacrificing a bit of ride comfort. There are still good things about the Wildhorse v3: outsole is still legit – even more durable than v1/v2, more rugged with the rockplate addition, and I think the added stack height makes it more comfortable for the longer distances. But my feet (which are on the normal-smallish side) never found a home in these uppers – which surprises me because I’ve never had fit issues with Nike. I either get heel blisters if I lace up normally, or top of the foot bruising if I use the additional lace loop to try and lock in – which ultimately makes it a no go for me. In a perfect world Nike would re-release the Wildhorse v1/v2 design, and then keep improving it – but given the shoe industry’s curious preference for change, I assume it’s gone for good. But I hope Nike at least considers releasing a middle option between the Wildhorse & Kiger (preferably built on the upper/last combo of the Wildhorse v1) as there’s now a gap in their trail lineup since the Kigers don’t give me everything I loved about previous Wildhorses. Nike obviously missed a marketing opportunity not releasing the Wildhorse v3 under the Wooly Mammoth alias, but this shoe is a positive addition to their trail line-up nonetheless. I’ll be hoping the uppers receive an update in the v4 that’s more accommodating for my normal-ish feet. Until then, I have to look elsewhere for trail shoes.

  9. MtTamRunner

    I’m an early 50’s trail runner. After +5 years running in the beloved Brook’s Cascadias, I reluctantly found myself searching for another trail shoe of the same ilk. Many folks have learned about the issues that Cascadias experience the last few years with their uppers failing well below 350 miles of use. I was one of them on three pairs. But what I also noticed is that Brooks stop offering those shoes in wider widths a few years ago too. So after trying only a few other shoes in the same class, a non-minimalist trail shoe that offers my widening foot some room, the trail, or more specifically, the article above, led me to the Wildhorse.

    After about 120 miles on some demanding surfaces in the Wildhorses, I’ve come up with these observations. They likely are reflective of my age bracket which seems a bit different from most folks that review trail running shoes, i.e 20-40 y.o.

    The Uppers:

    The uppers are great and are not tearing or falling apart in any way.

    The toebox space is accommodating for my increasingly widening foot. This attribute is very important as many shoe brands offer narrow shoes and/or no width options.

    The Midsole:

    Here I could have used a bit more cushioning, again consider my age. I’m noticing that in the last few years some additional cushioning is appreciated especially when training for ultras. (Hoka Challengers were tried recently but found them to have to much cushioning and I felt stilted. Maybe I’ll revist them in ten more years.) So, a “feel” between a Hoka shoe and the current Wildhorse I’d be elated over.

    The Outsole:

    The outsole has been great gripping dry dust covered rocks and the wet soil and gravel found on Mt Tam. (There’s very little clay on our mountain.)

    The sole also appears to be aging well, i.e. not wearing down to fast.

    In my final analysis, again baring in mind my age and changing body, I like Nike’s Wildhorse for its durability, its toebox width and its traction but would find it nearly a perfect shoe if it offered a tad more cushioning…. for this occasional ultra runner in his 50s.

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