Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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Pearl Izumi Peak XC Review
The 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.
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 trail running 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 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.
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.
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 accommodated 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!