Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]