Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 Review

Project E:Motion is the result of Pearl Izumi engineers’ quest to create the smoothest running shoe possible. Keeping in mind the principal of simplicity, shoe construction was kept basic, functional, and even minimalist in some aspects. The idea was to create a running shoe with a quicker and more natural transition which takes less work and leads to faster running.

They found that a traditional running shoe design has a flat bottom, meaning that when you are standing in the shoe the heel and ball of the foot are in a level plane. So, when you have your weight in the shoe during the running stride the contact points do not change until toe off. This led Pearl Izumi designers to create a Dynamic Offset Midsole in which the height difference between the heel and ball of the foot is continually changing as it moves throughout the stride through the four phases of ground contact, loading, transition, and toe off. Let me rephrase that for you shoe geeks out there, the heel drop, heel differential, whatever you want to call it, is changing throughout the four phases from initial contact to toe off. Please keep this in mind as there will be some confusion about the official drop of the Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 ($115) and I will aim to address this later to the best of my ability.

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1

The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1.


The most remarkable facet of the N1 upper is that it is seamless and one piece of breathable dual density mesh. I didn’t experience too much dust getting in through the mesh as I often do with shoes this breathable. I was also pleased at the durability of this mesh as I have yet to have a blowout despite caking this upper with a great deal of dirt, grime, clay, and snow. The mesh continues to feel supple and there is no evidence of a crease which could create a likely area for a blowout.

Welded overlays are fairly minimal and only present throughout the mid foot and heel area. A well padded tongue constructed out of SBR foam is durable and made to not absorb water, and I can attest that this upper drains well after running through a creek or getting perpetually soaked in snow. A very durable but flexible toe cap is bonded on and offers more than enough protection.

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 - lateral upper

The Trail N1’s lateral upper.

The fit of the upper is absolutely perfect for my foot and fairly moderate in fit which should accommodate a lot of runners. The heel collar and heel depth are well padded and I haven’t experienced any heel slipping, and the sausage laces stay tied and are of an appropriate length (such a small detail but many companies totally fail in this one aspect). The best part in my opinion is a wide toe box which is unimpeded by overlays which allow the toes a lot of room. Even after a few hours of running and some foot swelling the N1 still fits well. The feel is very locked down and I can bomb downhills in the N1 without any forward foot movement and this upper feels very stable on technical terrain.


Pearl Izumi uses their 1:1 Energy Foam, which is supposed to return energy to the runner and I was pleased with the performance of this cushioning. This midsole is exceedingly simple and the ride feels a little firm on roads but perfect on the trail. Again, this is subjective, but I feel that the N1 occupies that middle ground of cushioning that seems to protect the feet, but also holds up to faster paced running. There is no dual-density midsole material or medial posting to add stability as the N1 is a neutral shoe.

From a flexibility standpoint the N1 feels nimble and flexible while running, but is misleading if you’re holding it in your hand and trying to crunch up or twist the shoe. I attribute this to wide foot plant of the N1 which does add stability, especially combined with a 1 mm Dynamic Offset. From my explanation above one can ascertain that midsole differential changes, but for the purpose of reviewing this shoe it feels like a 6 mm drop. To me, that is a good thing, but I’ve had runners ask if the N1 is a zero drop shoe due to confusing advertising and it most certainly is not.

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 - medial upper

The Trail N1’s medial upper.


A simple and unobtrusive outsole pattern surprised me in its grippiness and traction on uphills and downhills. The lugs are very low profile which allow for comfortable road running as well. Durable carbon rubber runs the length of the outsole in all but one area of the mid foot where midsole foam comes in contact with the ground. This was likely done to save weight and it is the only area of the outsole that shows any wear. A minimal rock plate offers enough protection without reducing flexibility in the forefoot too much.

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 - outsole

The Trail N1’s outsole.

Overall Impression

Setting aside all of the techno babble from the first paragraph, advertising, and shoe jargon, the eMotion N1 is a shoe that felt great right out of the box for my first run and continues to impress me after approximately 200 miles. With a weight right under 10 oz for my size 9.5 and what I’ve measured to be a 6mm heel drop, the N1 works as an all purpose shoe. I’ve worn the N1 for short tempo runs, hill repeats, and five-hour-long runs and this shoe continues to impress me with it simple and effective design. The feel is spry yet well cushioned and I have not ended a long run with beat up feet.

In a nod to the Pearl Izumi designers, I will say that the transition is very quick on the N1 and fast running is a joy in this shoe. I’ve reviewed other shoes with different rocker style technology and the N1 is the only shoe I feel actually improves transition and flow through the foot strike. I guess the ultimate endorsement from me is my willingness to race long distances in a shoe, and I will be racing a spring 50 miler in the N1 and I will likely consider it for my summer 100. The eMotion Trail N1 is hands down the best trail shoe I’ve tried for 2013.

[Editor’s Note: The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 is available in the iRunFar Store.]

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 80 comments

  1. Kelly

    I have tried on the trail N1s and M2s. The drop is very confusing on both. I like the fit of the M2 better but it feels a little higher than its advertised drop of 4mm. I am curious how PI measures the drop in these shoes. The M2 feels spot on but I sure wish it felt a little lower in terms of drop.

  2. Ben Z

    Todd –

    I run the Auburn SRA trails every week and that's where I used these shoes. It's a perfect shoe for the rollers on and along WS I think.

    1. Todd

      I've been looking for something to supplement my MT110's for longer hauls. I CAN do longer runs in them, but the next day my feet are pretty tender.

  3. Kelly

    I take back what I said about the M2's. I have no issues with the drop and the shoe is the best I have tried this year. Perfect fit from heel through midfoot and awesome cushioning.

  4. Todd

    At roughly what mileage are you guys feeling this magical break-in? I've got roughly 20 miles on my N1's and they feel like a brick. I do love the fit though.

  5. Todd G

    I really like this shoe and I'm on my second pair. The only issue I have is that I've blown out the material beside my big toe on both pairs. Anyone else have this problem?

  6. Mason


    I have been running in the N1 for a while now, and LOVE it. I bought them in part because of your review. I am curious, though, how you would compare it to the Salomon Sense Ultra/Mantra. This is purely out of curiosity. I love my N1s and am buying a fresh pair to break in before my first 50 end of this month. I would like to maybe try the Salomon just for kicks (get it?) despite being happy with my current shoe, but wondering if the price tag is worth it :)

  7. cp

    Just ran a 40 miler in a brand new pair of these this weekend. Started getting some hot spots after 13 miles, but put some lube on my toes and tightened the laces a little and had no more problems. I was looking for a lower drop shoe with a little cushioning. I have had chronic IT band problems for years, and only experienced relief when changing to Altra Superiors, a zero drop shoe. The toe box in the N1 is definitely not as big as the Altras, but they still fit well. True to size at 12.5. I actually tried the N2's but could tell that they allowed me to land further back on my foot than I wanted. I even got some of the IT band pain coming back during a 10 mile run. I personally think that foot strike has a big effect on my IT stuff, and the N1s are a low enough drop to force me to run with better form.

  8. David

    I bought a pair of N1's back in May and after a few short runs, did a 45 mile Grand Canyon run in them. I thought, "these are pretty sweet, but there's probably something better." Well it turns out (for me) there wasn't. I tried trailroc's, helios, lone peaks, etc. and have kept coming back to the N1. After running lots of rugged Colorado mountain trail miles in them, as well as using them for San Juan Solstice 50, they've proven to be the best shoe – even when I thought in theory that some others would be better. The combination of protection, smooth ride, and ultra distance comfort is just hard to beat – looking forward to getting my next pair.

      1. David

        No – that's one of the few I didn't try. But I came back to the N1 enough times to know it's the shoe for me…plus the price of the SU is a bit more than I'm willing to pay.

  9. leighNZ

    Can anyone give me an idea about how the cushioning on the N1 compares to the amount of cushioning on Inov8s? I currently run in Inov8 Roclite 315s or Terroc 330s. I'm looking for something with a bit more cushioning for long runs (but possibly not as much as the N2s).

  10. Andy

    Don't know if anyone will see this now that it's Feb 2015, but have had a bizarre mystery with the Pearl N2 trails.

    It's been my go-to shoe for the past year. So, after three pairs showing their wear, I ordered two more. Same size. They arrive and they are notably smaller — in both length and width — and not just by feel but by the tape measure. The friendly customer service folks at Pearl Izumi did their homework but insist it can't be something in the production lot and tell me they probably just need to "break in" and that the foam will expand as I wear them. The outsole will expand by 1/8 in. or more?! I doubt it. And why did my first three pairs of size 11s — in three different colors — fit perfectly right out of the box?

    Has anyone else had a similar issue with the N2 recently? Not sure where to go from here other than order up a half-size and hope for the best.

    1. kjz

      Interestingly, I found myself up a 1/2 size in the recent N2 v2 trail compared to when I wore them 2 years ago, but I think I would be okay in the 1/2 size smaller–they'd just fit like a glove rather than with a bit more room like I prefer. I just figured my feet grew. :) ha! It really does seem strange that you'd get two pairs of shoes with the same issue… did you try ordering them from a free shipping/returns online store or can you go to a local shop and actually try them on/compare and contrast? Good luck!

  11. truax

    @andy and @kjz

    I’ve owned many pairs of PI N2, M2, and N1s. All v1 up until lately…I just returned a pair of N2 v2 because, just as you experienced, they fit shorter and narrower. Fluke? Maybe. But not likely given your same experience. I’m disappointed with PI for not knowing about such a change and/or not keeping QA/QC in check with their line. Let us know that you’ve changed the fit! I’m gonna start looking for a different shoe now. I hope you’re listening, Pearl.

  12. David Harrison

    I have been running the N2 Trail v2 for a month or two, and while there is much I like about it, I find it too stiff and inflexible. I am considering the N1 – has anyone tried both and could opine as to whether or not the N1 is noticeably more flexible when running than N2?

    1. banban

      Yes. I bought the N1 years ago and it was the best!i use it for training to a 21k run. so right when i thought that i need an upgrade for the 55k race that ive sign up for.. i was wrong! I bought N2 V2 and it was a disaster! it feels like too high and ‘heely’ i couldnt do the ‘downhill’ like used to on the N1.. made my angkle rolled few times. i end up walking for the last 20km due to a beat up feat.

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