Pearl Izumi Peak XC Review

Pearl IzumiThe Pearl Izumi Peak XC is a trail racing/training shoe that debuted in late 2008 and has gained popularity with the rise of Pearl Izumi’s entire running line of very well made, and at times pricey, shoes and apparel.  Their attention to detail lends itself nicely to this low profile, but durable trail runner that provides the fit and feel of a racing flat.

Below, I share my initial impressions of the Peak XC before looking at each component in turn.  Next, I take a look at the Peak XC’s on trail performance before wrapping things up with a call for comments.

Pearl Izumi Peak XC

First Impressions
Right out of the box this shoe felt fantastic, with a cushy heel and a semi-firm forefoot.  When I say this shoe has the fit of a racing flat, I’m referring to how it hugs the foot and feels like a natural extension of the foot.  The fit was perfect with a snug heel and ample room in the toebox for my average sized forefoot.  These shoes have a very smooth transition and this facilitates a great road feel as well.  There is an eight millimeter drop from the heel to toe that feels more significant than other shoes in its weight class.  Pearl Izumi advertises this shoe as 9 ounces for my size 10, while the mail scale I use had it at 9.6 oounces.  Either way, these shoes feel light, nimble, and fast.

The Components

Pearl Izumi Peak XCThe outsole of the Peak XC is minimal. There are very small lugs, no strange contours that collect mud or pick up rocks, and no visible plastic support devices.  It is a full carbon rubber outsole that is very durable and I did not have any traction issues while testing this shoe in both the high desert and the muddy midwest.  This outsole reminded me of some trail runners’ adage that fancy soles leave only fancy footprints.  I was expecting more of a problem with traction and was very pleased that I didn’t slip around in the mud or wet rock.

Pearl Izumi uses their own cushioning technology called SKYDEX which is very present in the heel crashpad and present, but less noticeable, in the forefoot.  I was extremely impressed with the responsiveness of this cushioning and its durability over rocky trails with sharp stones.  Heel strikers will revel in the shoes transition and swift feel as the heel cushioning really flows nicely into the forefoot cushioning.  For comparison, I would say that the SKYDEX cushioning feels a touch firmer than Nike Lunar foam but softer than ASIC’s Gel cushioning found in any of their popular road shoes.  It allowed me to cover the 1-2 miles of road from my house to the trail very comfortably and this is one of the best trail shoes I’ve ever worn that work equally well on road and trail.

Pearl Izumi Peak XC

The author running in the Pearl Izumi Peak XC.

I am a midfoot/ forefoot striker, and while I found the forefoot cushioning ample for my running style, it is substantially less than the cushioning in the heel.  Imagine the feel of a road racing flat with trail durability.  There is a “stone bruise protection plate” in the forefoot which allowed the forefoot to remain flexible but offered very good protection from sharp rocks.  I found myself charging the rockiest, gnarliest parts of the trail with great confidence due to the responsiveness of this shoe and the rock plate.  I felt equally protected on rocky downhills when heel-striking due to the plush cushioning in the heel.

The Peak XC does offer some support, but traditional motion control devices are not present in the shoe.  Missing is also the dual-density midsole foam found in so many trail running shoes that offer support for pronation.  Runners who have a neutral footfall or those who are mid/forefoot strikers may not have any qualms with this lack of structural support, however for those who need support this shoe would be sufficient only for racing and faster training runs.

The upper of this shoe combines good looks and excellent breathability with ballistic design.  I caught several cholla cacti spines in the upper, something that usually leads to yelling expletives and immediately removing them. With the Peak XCs, I did not notice the spines until after the run.  The lacing design is simple, but effective with fabric eyelets that actually tighten the upper around the foot in a very snug manner.

Trail Performance

I had the privilege of testing this shoe in the high desert mountains of southern Colorado where I live as well as the muddy and root filled trails of Minneapolis during a vacation filled with heavy fall rains.  The shoe performed equally well in both terrains and I was impressed by the versatility of this shoe.  These shoes accomodated long runs, fartleks, and hill repeats equally well, and I never felt like the shoe got in the way during the fast sessions.  This shoe facilitates great ground feel and does not have any extra or frivolous bells or whistles complicating the shoe.  On muddy trails I kept anticipating that I would slip due to the lack of an aggressive outsole, but was pleasantly suprised by the grip of the sole.

Because this shoe accommodates rugged trails as well as roads, it is a great go-to shoe for all around running.  I certainly enjoyed the simplicity of this shoe most on moderate trails where you can bomb through the contours of  singletrack giddily anticipating the next rock or root to fly over.  I noticed on runs over 12 miles that my forefeet could have used a bit more cushioning, but I am not one who trains in trail racing or minimalist shoes daily.  I enjoyed these shoes most on shorter, quicker trail jaunts when I wanted to go fast.  I can’t wait to race in them!

Call for Comments
If you’ve run in Pearl Izumi’s Peak XC, share what you thought of it.  If you’ve got questions about the shoe, ask away!

[Disclosure: As is the norm, Pearl Izumi provided the sample shoes for this review. In addition, the link to Amazon is part of an affiliate program that helps support iRunFar.]

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 10 comments

  1. Shad

    I have ran on the PI Peaks for a couple of months now. They have an extremely light feel yet provide ample protection on rocky trails. I've worn them on several long runs including the Pine to Palm 100, but I find I need to rotate them with a more supportive shoe.

  2. Nick Clark

    A new and totally redesigned Peak (II) will be out spring 2011. I've had the good fortune to run in a few iterations of the new shoe, and I'm excited. All new (and improved) outer sole; lower, narrower profile; (much) tougher upper; some cool CO-specific design touches; new metatarsal plate; and all-around sexy lookin' shoe. I think the goal is to come in under 9oz too, but don't quote me on that.

    1. Anonymous

      Woohoo. I'm liking the CO specific design touches. That should be fun to see. There seem to be so many great trail shoes coming out this winter/spring.


      Amazed you ran a 100 in these togs! I found that I just wanted a tad more cushioning in the forefoot, but a little more support would be nice. Sounds like the synchro may be the shoe for me for everyday runs.

    1. FastED

      Jon – they are redesigning the other shoes to include the Fuel XC but not as extensive as the Peak. Mostly what you will see in the Fuel XC is a more aggressive tread, a sock-like tongue, and obviously new colors. The Fuel XC is my favorite shoe and with these small changes only enhances the value of the shoe for me.

  3. andreas

    I got my Peak XC about a year ago and could pretty much repeat what was said in the review. But at one point I felt they could do a little better on muddy conditions. On mud I do see the benefit of my Inov-8 Roclite outsole (besides fancier footprints). But I only use them for 15-20mi runs.

  4. Lincoln

    I got my Peak XC in late spring. I love these shoes but they started developing holes in the mesh top with less than 100 miles on them. With that said, I wish they were more durable. My road shoes (Glycerin 8) have more than 500 miles on them and still have miles left on them. The Peak XC shoes are lightweight, fast and comfortable but that durability issue is a killer.

  5. David Wolf

    Hi Nick, do you know when the Peak II is coming out this spring. Or do you have any connections for me to purchase from Pearlizumi. Thanks, David

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