Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 Review

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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 Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1.

Upper

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 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.

Midsole

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.

The Trail N1’s medial upper.

Outsole

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.

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.

View Comments (80)

  • I've yet to get my hands on the N1 Trail, but have been running in the N2 Road for a coule months now. The upper is incredible, and the dynamic offset really makes for a fast run. I'm really looking forward to purchasing the N1 Trail, but was worried about how they'd hold up to the rocks of the Northeast, but now that you mention there is at least a little bit of a rock plate I think I'll give them a try. Thanks for the review.

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  • Great review! Very timely as my Trail N2's are coming today...I just hope they fit my narrow heel/low volume foot.

    Cheers.

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  • How is the sizing? I tried the Peak II and had to go up a size.

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  • Been looking for a good review of this shoe - thanks!

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  • In my opinion the sizing is right on.

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  • Gosh, I've been so interested in this line of shoes. It's just too bad that no one local carries any of the models of this shoe - I'd love to try them on to decide which version to go with.

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  • I am a big fan of Pearl Izumi shoes. I have the Streak 2, Peak 2 and Kassaki 2 and absolutely love these shoes for all of my running and they all seem to hold up well past 500 miles. When I tried on the N2 road I felt it had put a lot of pressure on my arch where their other shoes do not. I did not buy it being worried about not letting my arch flex as it should. I assume it is from the rocker shape of the shoe. Did you or anyone else get this impression from the new N series shoes?

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    • I actually worried in the other direction, that my only moderately strong feet would flex/work too much in the Road N2s. Having run a pair into the ground and having started working through another pair, I've not had that problem, nor too stiff of an arch.

      The Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N2 is my absolute favorite road shoe at the moment... actually, it's my favorite training shoe, period.

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  • Patrick,

    I'm using the Trail N2 and they fit true to size (or maybe 1/4 size small; I'm wearing the M3 road as well, and the road series seems to fit a little smaller than the trail, which is great). I would only size up if you have wide or large volume feet. If you're normal or narrow, stick with normal size (I came from a size 10 in Salomon XT SLAB 4).

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  • Thanks for the review. I wanted to like the N1's. I really did. I ran some training runs in the N1 (a couple of 10 mi and a 21 mi) and they really destroyed my legs. After running 21 it felt like I just ran 50. Previous to trying the N1, I've been alternating running in Pure Grits and Bajadas for over a year now. I was hoping the N1 could bridge that gap of having a lower profile shoe that could also go the distance. For me it didn't work. I think the midsole might have been to firm for me. It almost felt clumsy and clunky - especially on flat trails and roads. Or it could have been the rocker feel of the shoe. I did love the traction of the N1 though. There was no slipping on technical trail or even snow. After switching back to the Pure Grit and the Bajada my legs feel back to normal. I guess my legs like a bit of a softer ride. I just wanted to post another opinion. It just goes to show how much personal preference and running style plays into the equation.

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  • Mic-

    If you're already a fan of the N2 road you might check the TN2, as it's the same drop etc. I have both pairs and really appreciated the TN2 (over the N1) on rocky terrain. My $.02.

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    • What's the difference between N1 and N2? Looking for the light and fast shoe with lots of cushioning (sounds kinda unreal :)).

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  • Here's my experience with this shoe after a few month of running in them. - I really wanted to like them and make them my daily drivers. I've been keeping an eye on these ever since seeing Timothy O. crushed the record @ Western States 2012 wearing the N1s. I come from walking and running in 0mm-4mm all day everyday and so I was frustrated after going for my first couple of long runs (4+hrs) in them and having my achilles get a bit tight. Anytime I run in shoes with a higher drop than 4mm my achilles seems to notice that and gets a quite sore, so I'd say I'm pretty sensitive to drop since going "full minimal". I was sure that Pearl Izumi stated that the shoe had 4.5mm drop on their website. I even emailed them about it and they confirmed the drop to be 4.5mm. Now when I check Runningwarehouse.com they have the drop measured at 7mm, and after my achilles acting up I went back to my standard 4mm drop trail shoes and my issue was resolved and my long runs are pain free with the 4mm drop. A bit disappointed that Pearl Izumi has made it so confusing for buyers that might be sensitive to this. My advice is don't go into buying these shoes thinking they're "minimal drop". They aren't. They've got great cushion and the upper is fantastic, but they really don't feel like 4.5mm. I'd agree with the Tom Caughlan and say they feel more like 6mm, maybe even more. I wish they were a true 4.5mm drop shoe. So it goes.

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  • Good looking shoe, but 10 oz is heavy! Pearl Izumi needs to work on lightening the load here in my opinion.

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    • I agree, I've got a pair of 10oz trail shoes from NB, I feel like I'm running with weights on my legs after running in Vibrams!

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  • Will the IRF store be carrying the black/cherry colorway?

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    • We will not, sorry.

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  • Great review. ;)

    Did you try the Scott T2 Kinabalu?

    And compare the rocker shape to see which one is better?

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    • I ran around outside the store in both of them. Trail N2 felt smoother to me than the Kinabalu, but they did feel similar (to me at least).

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      • Thanks for the answer.

        I was a little bit concerned about the drop of the both shoes.

        But the rocker shape seems to make it feel in a different way.

        A technology I'll give a try...

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        • I have a pair of Scott Grip2s that have the rocker design. The drop definitely does not feel as big as they are listed as.

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  • Hmm, not sure which way to go now. Was really considering the N2, as my Mantras leave me feeling beat up 25 miles plus and that I needed a bit more cushion.

    Any other high mileage shoe I should look at?

    Great comments all.

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    • Dustin,

      I agree with you that the Mantra doesn't seem to offer enough cushioning, for me anyways, for over 50k. I do feel that the N1 has more cushioning, albeit firm, but not as firm as the Mantra. I will be trying a 50 miler in them next month. I'm interested to know just how much more cushioning is in the trail N2?

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      • Tom,

        The trail N2 has quite a bit, feels like even more than the Road M3 I'm also running in. I haven't tried the N1, though...

        Guess I should point out I also use the same aftermarket insoles in all of my running shoes...

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      • I'm with both of you. The Mantra is a great shoe for certain applications, but I need a more forgiving shoe for longer distances.

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      • Tom,

        Just took the Trai N2's out for a 6 mile road run.

        They are far more cushioned then the Sense Mantra, in fact surprisingly cushioned.

        The fit is way better then the Scott Kinabalu in the heel and they feel more solid.

        So far so good.

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        • Thanks all, maybe I will give the N2 a spin. I have my first 50M coming up and I need to find a shoe I believe in in short order.

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  • I don't think the upper is very wide. It's not as wide as a Peregrine upper and not even close to as wide as one of the Trailrocs or a Merrell upper. But for racing I could probably make due if there was more volume (or maybe better said depth) from the top of my toes to the mesh upper. Sadly there is not as I feel my toes pushing upwards against the upper as well.

    I'll stick with The Peregrines or Trailrocs.

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  • The outsole at the heel looks very wide. Did you notice any cons in respect to that?

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  • I have been running in some N1s for a little over a month now and I love them. The transition is super smooth and seems to make each step a little easier, which is nice. I also love the grip and stability. I broke my ankle and tore some ligaments last year and descents have been sketchy since. I had been putting all my miles in Peregrines and I feel way more solid going downhill in the N1s.

    The only drawback for me has been that I need to tie them pretty loose. It took a awhile for me to figure this out and when they were too tight it felt like someone was pulling my feet apart, which was kinda weird. Since I have started tying them less tight they have felt awesome. Also, being looser I can slip them on and off without having to untie, the solid heel cup makes this possible. Overall, they are the best running shoes I have owned and plan to use them up to 100 miles later in the year.

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  • Man, I totally wanted to pull the trigger on these...but really prefer a low or zero drop shoe. Some of the comments here pushed me in another direction. Oh well.

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  • Suggestion on shoes for a newbie trail runner, wide flat feet (wmns 10EE), overpronator w/ custom orthotics? Run in Brooks Ariel/Beast of late (till they change them). In looking around, seems like mfrs think everyone who wants to run trails has regular width feet, neutral pronation and wants a minimalist shoe - think I'm part of an underserved market demographic! :)

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    • Ditch the orthotics. You are a neutral runner, you just don't know it yet ;)

      Merrell Mix Master or a wide NB shoe would be a good place to start.

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      • Seconded. My wife work Saucony motion controls thanks to the Running Room, like running with Frankenstein's monster. 3 years on, in Merrell Pace Gloves, it's like she's levitating and her recurrent injuries have stopped recurring!

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    • Careful Melissa. Lots of people are unable to run at all without orthotics. Not sure where the other commentors got their medical degrees, but the doctor who prescribed your footbeds thought they were right for you. There are lots of lighter shoes than those Brooks models that will protect your feet and could work with your orthotics. Also, take a look at the podium of most ultra, trail and mountain races. Lots of beefy shoes on the podium.

      Best of luck.

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      • Careful Jeremy, skeptisism should aim in BOTH directions. My podiatrist and several PTs told me I needed custom orthotics, stability shoes, etc. but none of that prevented recurrent injuries. Once I started running in neutral shoes without squishy (unstable) cushioning, and focused on form (proper form = whatever works so it does not hurt anywhere when you run), all my chronic pains went away. People with medical degrees do not have a good track record of fixing running-related problems.

        Melissa - you sound like me - wide flat feet, tendency for overpronation. I like some cushioning but not squishy shoes, and low drop - all of which facilitates proper form. The road shoes that I like best are Skechers GoBionic (NOT the Gorun). You do need to get used to low drop if you are used to steeply sloped shoes. Still seeking the "perfect" trail shoe, but on non technical trails the Gobionics work too (except their tendency to collect rocks).

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