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 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.
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.
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.
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?