Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2 Review

Pearl Izumi finally captured my attention in the shoe department with their E:Motion Trail shoes a few years ago. The roomy slipper-like feel of the Pearl Izumi Trail N2 v1 (version 1) had me feeling light and fast on summer trails while still keeping my tender feet protected from most of the rocks. I was hoping my body could tolerate the lower heel-toe drop so I could wear them exclusively instead of keeping them in a rotation at the time. Recently, I received the Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2 ($120) for the purpose of testing. The “N” still refers to “Neutral”—this shoe has no medial post or dual-density foam for motion control. The “2” has more cushioning than the “1” and less than the “3.” I was quite pleased to slip them on, head straight for the trails, and find that the new version retains the light-and-fast feel while providing an even-smoother ride over the packed dirt and somewhat rocky trails. These shoes make me feel like a relatively agile speedster on less-technical terrain—emphasis on “feel.”

Pearl Izumi E MOTION TRAIL N2 v2

The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Upper
Pearl Izumi really has the seamless upper with the Ortholite Sockliner dialed in. It is one of the most comfortable shoes I slip on my feet. The medium toe-box volume in this version is perfectly roomy for all five of my toes as well as my metatarsal heads which keeps everything happy on uphills, downhills, side hills, and moderate rocks. The mesh is stretchy without losing form over the miles despite being exposed to water, mud, dry dirt, and a lot of sunshine. The overlays are unobtrusive to the foot but seem to provide some added structure to the upper which helps maintain the close fit as you negotiate the terrain. I did not have issues with significant debris getting into the shoe, but I also didn’t get to run in sandy washes like you might find in the true desert. That would be an interesting test for the mesh, but I feel like it would pass adequately. I felt the shoe breathed well in temperatures I ran in during this testing period which ranged from 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) to 90 degrees and water drained effectively after stream crossings or puddle splashes without the shoe remaining sloshy for more than a few minutes.

The heel cup in this shoe has a firm structure and just the right amount of padding up through the Achilles and ankle collar. The women’s-specific fit allowed my heel to be anchored perfectly in the shoe with no slippage on long uphills and no pinching or hot spots on uneven ground. There’s a helpful loop at the rear of the shoe for attaching to your pack or for assisting in donning and doffing the shoe.

Pearl Izumi continues to use the sausage laces, which are perhaps the only ones that let me get away without the standard double knot if I somehow forget. The tongue now has two lace guides to hold it in place near your ankle in addition to the standard lace guide more distally over the midfoot. These upper guides seemed to act in place of a gusset to keep the tongue in proper alignment and to prevent debris from getting in. I found this to be completely effective and didn’t even realize the tongue lacked gusseting until I wrote this review. The tongue itself has just the right amount of padding and is just the right length to remain effective in its purpose while remaining undetectable to the anterior tibialis and ankle.

The toe cap is has a bonded rand that wraps around the forefoot and joins in with an overlay that extends to the rear foot at an upward angle to the heel. Your toes are further protected from rocks and roots by a portion of the Carbon Rubble Trail Outsole compound that extends up from the sole. I catch my toe on a variety of things on the trail on a fairly regular basis. So far, the protection offered on this shoe has been adequate in keeping my toes and toenails intact.

Pearl Izumi E MOTION TRAIL N2 v2 lateral upper

The Pearl Izumi E: Motion Trail N2 v2 lateral upper.

Midsole
The Pearl Izumi Trail E:Motion N2 v2 is a 9.2-ounce (261 grams) shoe in a women’s size 8. While this isn’t particularly light on the entire spectrum of trail shoes, something about how it fits and how it rolls along the ground from heel to toe makes it feel lighter than the scale indicates for me. Pearl Izumi has kept the Dynamic Offset which is the hallmark of the E:Motion line and seeks to provide a more natural flow through the gait cycle. This means in more specific terms that the heel-toe drop varies from 4mm at initial contact and 7.5mm at mid-stance. To most runners, I think this ends up feeling like a 6mm drop shoe. For instance, in standing, I don’t feel like my heel is lower than my forefoot which is how I feel in shoes at 4mm or lower. For the runners with sensitive lower kinetic chains (ahem), you will, indeed, notice that these are not 6mm drop shoes. As much as I love these shoes, the 4mm drop at initial contact seems to cause issues with my hamstrings, calves, and Achilles at 20-plus miles in a run or if I wear them more than three times per week. If Pearl Izumi ever decides to make the N2 with an 8- to 10mm drop, I’m so in.

The midsole also features a forefoot rock plate for which I’m very thankful. When you peek through the openings in the outsole, it appears that the rock plate is made from a highly compressed foam. This very lightweight piece paired with the outsole lug pattern protects my forefoot fairly well from all but the sharpest or pointiest rocks. I also like that it adds protection against prolonged hardpack trail and gravel roads or paths should you find yourself linking singletrack via such connectors.

The designers use the 1:1 Energy Foam in the forefoot and also in the heel crash pad which they say returns energy back to the runner. I find the amount of cushion present in the N2 is plenty for the less-rocky, rolling trails I live by. If heel-toe drop wasn’t an issue for me, this would easily be a 50k shoe and possibly a 50-mile shoe if the terrain wasn’t technical. What I notice is simply that it’s easy to run in these shoes, and it’s easy to keep my legs turning over as I roll along the trails. These have a firm but nicely cushioned ride without any bogginess or awkward transitions.

Pearl Izumi E MOTION TRAIL N2 v2 medial upper

The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2 medial upper.

Outsole
The outsole uses Carbon Rubber with multi-directional lugs to provide traction and resistance to abrasion. I find the traction to be adequate for most Colorado Front Range trails in the summer and fall. If I still lived in Oregon, I’d be happily running on the non-muddy summer trails around central and western Oregon. too. While these wouldn’t be my shoe of choice for significantly technical or significantly muddy and snowy trails, the lugs are perfect for rolling dirt singletrack, dirt roads, smoother mountain tracks, and similar terrain. I’m sure more efficient runners with better form could dance on the technical trails as well, but I’d need more aggressive traction and protection. The one thing I was surprised by in regards to the outsole, my tread started showing wear after about 125 miles. Now that I have closer to 200 miles in them, the wear is more pronounced throughout the bottom along my normal wear patterns. With how durable the rest of the shoe seems, I’m surprised I’m losing the outsole at this rate. I’ll be interested to see if the rest of the shoe outlasts the outsole.

Pearl Izumi E MOTION TRAIL N2 v2 outer

The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2 outsole.

Overall Impressions
Overall, I enjoy this shoe as my non-technical, I-want-to-feel-fast-today trail shoe. It has great protection and comfort for as light as the shoe feels when I’m running, and the responsive ride is simply a pleasure. I’ve added a 4mm heel lift to both of my shoes to allow for more frequent wear now that the snow is flying at the higher elevations and keeping me running lower and easier. I think Pearl Izumi has an excellent offering in the Trail N2 v2 and I look forward to seeing what they do with their trail line in the future.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2 v2? If so, what are your impressions of the shoe?
  • For those of you who have run in the original N2 and now this second model, how do you find them to be similar and different?
  • On what types of terrain does this shoe run best for you?
Kristin Zosel

is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

There are 23 comments

  1. truax

    I've owned a few pairs of these now, and while I love them (and ran my first 50M in them with no issues at all), the outsole durability is definitely their downfall. Oh, how I wish they would get some stickier and more robust soles for these otherwise amazing shoes. Depending on the amount of nasty terrain I'm in, I've worn through the outsole lugs in a couple hundred miles. Granted, it was in a lot of rugged, rocky terrain, but they aren't a La Sportiva :). The upper on the shoe is still fine, but the sole is now only good for easy, buffed trails. They're nearly a road shoe now. These were the N2 v1FWIW. I've experienced about the same rate of wear on the N2v2 also.

    I hope that Pearl listens to this, and sources a different rubber. Besides this, they are an amazing shoe for nearly all of my needs. Thanks for the review Kristin!

    1. Scott

      Totally agree with you here, Truax. Oddly, I haven't had any issues with lug durability per se (my first pair of the v1's has an almost dead midsole yet the lugs are fine), but it's definitely NOT a true technical trail shoe because the rubber on the sole slips off just about anything. The lugs are large enough to give a bit more cushion underfoot but not deep enough to work really well in mud. I wish there was some middle ground between the top-end mountain-running design of a Salomon/Sportiva/Inov8 shoe and the top-end "light trail" design that PI has mastered with the N2.

      My thoughts on the update, since I just got a pair in the mail: definitely snugger in the midfoot/heel. So stoked about the update to the heel cup. Can't wait to rock 'em on some singletrack and fire roads this spring!

      1. kjz

        The middle ground might be what Salomon is trying to do w the speedcross vario. It's not as light feeling as the PI but it has middle ground lugs w more cushion for rock pro than the straight speedcross. I think it could be dialed a bit more, but it works better than PI on mud but not as good as Speedcross or fellcross. I do remind myself that there are a lot of trails out there that aren't technical, nasty muddy, of Rocky… Apparently I don't run on too many of them… :)

  2. mcgovski

    I have about 80 miles in the N2. Its comfy on the foot, but feels like it has a wood sole to me. Maybe Hoka one one has ruined me…

  3. dharrisonz

    These are my first pair of Pearl Izumi's. The dynamic offset does seem to encourage a quicker rolling footstrike/toeoff – I find myself sprinting down the trail more than usual. These shoes are a bit more stable and rugged than I am used to which gives me confidence to attack mildly gnarly terrain, but on scrambly terrain or longer runs my knees would benefit from more flexibility and softer cushioning. I like them a lot, but not yet the perfect shoe for me.

    Wishlist: I like the roomy forefoot, but the midfoot and rearfoot of the upper are a bit too wide for me and I always get trail grit in the shoes unless I wear a gaiter. I wish the footprint/last were a bit more scuplted at the midfoot and the outsole had more flex grooves or divisions so as to yield a bit more flexibility and agility. The insoles seem oddly sub standard compared to the rest of the shoe or any other comparable shoe, but I usually customize my own anyway.

    I think these would be great shoes for a heavier runner with high foot volume.

  4. AdamLawrence

    My TN2s have all lasted forever, one of the comfiest and most durable shoes I've ever worn. The lugs wear down, but that doesn't bother me, and if I threw away my trail shoes as soon as they started to show significant lug wear, I'd be buying a new pair every month. As long as the overall outsole/midsole/upper integrity lasts past 500 miles, I'm happy and can live with lug wear.

  5. @stevebohrer

    I really like the N2's for all of the reasons above. My only complaint is that PI has the worst sock liners in any shoe I've worn. Every pair I've owned from the Peak 2's to the N2's has gotten holes under the heels after less than 300 miles. Never happened with any other brand.

  6. ben

    I am a big PI-EM fan and have run in N1s for the last 2 years and just got my feet into the N2V2s b/c I’m starting to run longer distances and wanted a bit more cushion under foot. I agree w/ other commentators about the outsole wearing quickly. I’m bummed to hear that’s not something PI addressed w/ the update b/c I thought they changed outsole material, but maybe not? So far (<100 miles so far) my impressions of the N2 are that they run and feel very much like the N1…which makes me happy b/c I love the N1. It is definitely a jack-of-all-trades type of shoe that, as Kristin and others noted, isn't fantastic at super-technical or muddy trails, but it does well for me 95% on the CO/Front Range trails. I'm a big fan of the fit on my wide-ish feet that hate narrow toe-boxes. It's not an Altra in the toe-box, but the volume works well for my feet. The mid-foot and heel are really locked down for me and that provides a lot of confidence when the trails get more technical.

  7. Al Yaz

    I am on the second pair of the PI-EM N2’s and absolutely love these trail shoes. I am 200 lbs and really, really enjoy running trails in these shoes. The first pair lasted me a year, some days two runs a day. The trails in this area are pretty soft but stable. Almost no rocks at all but lots of roots here and a few roundish rocks if you run along the beach. I much prefer these over my Altras and Salomons. Anyway, I really like the Pearls. They have held up admirably and provide a good meeting between comfort/protection and a lower lift shoe.

  8. Kelly

    Thanks for this review. I didn’t realize the heel drop was this small and it was a huge issue for me on my last pair of road shoes!

    1. KristinZ

      I know. I sooooo wish shoe manufacturers would offer different drops in the same shoe… like… women’s size 9 with a 4, 6, or 8mm drop. click the box. :)

  9. Bryan Connolly

    May I ask what you use for Heel lifts? I just bought some Nike Kiger 3 shoes and finding my calves (which I have issues with) bothering me a bit. Otherwise I like the shoes.
    Thanks!

    1. KristinZ

      Well, I’m a PT on sabbatical and had purchased some off-the-shelf 4mm heel lifts you can buy for super cheap (a few bucks per lift) long ago. You can sometimes buy them at a running store, but I’d call around to your local orthopedic PT’s and see if they have them in stock. They usually sell them in 2mm increments. Also, orthopedic felt works, too, which is also found at your local PT or orthopedic doc and sometimes is free… scraps from splint making can be perfect for a heel lift. :)

  10. Harlow

    Can anyone say how the mesh behaves in sand? Does it keep sand out, or does sand pack in between the mesh and the liner? I’ve been having a horrible time with mesh shoes in places in southern Utah.

    1. KristinZ

      I think it works fine as long as I keep the sand from entering over the top = I use the super breathable dirty girl gaiters which work beautifully with the velcro tab attached slightly lower in the back to make sure the gaiter functions optimally in the deeper sand. My feet don’t get hot and the sand stays out.

  11. KB

    How is the fit, specifically the toebox? I need a wide toebox, so I run in Altras. My problem is that my calves don’t do well with zero drop so I have to add heel lifts, and then the heel slips on the Altras. I can’t do Hokas because they are all too narrow up front. Do these have a decent width toe-box?

    1. Rob Youl

      I just received mine KB and they’re not quite as wide as the Altras or Inov8 290s that I normally run in but much wider than say the Salomon S lab

    2. KristinZ

      For me the toe box is very roomy and “stretchy” feeling compared to speedcross, etc. I do wear a full size larger in PI compared to Salomon and a half size larger in PI than in Montrail. The cut of the toe box leaves out a bit of room for my 3, 4, 5 toes it seems, but the overall fit is great in the larger shoe comparatively.

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