Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
To learn about our current favorite trail running shoes, check out our Best Trail Running Shoes article.
Vasque Transistor FS Review
The Vasque Transistor FS is strikingly different from any other trail running shoe on the market. The shoe is designed to drop your foot closer to the ground, which means more feel and more stability. The trail specific design results in a shoe that is surprisingly fluid on the roads making the Transistor an excellent option for the multitude of trail runners who need to pound the pavement before they cruise down sweet singletrack. Folks have found the shoe to be well suited to wide variety of terrain and trail conditions. Extremely rocky trails are the only place where the Transistor had noteable shortcomings, as runners do feel more of the rocks than in “bomber” trail shoes. However, most runners have found that the added “feel” on technical trails reduced injury risk and increased foot and ankle endurance enough to offset any increase in forefoot soreness.
We’ve previously explained the various Footsync technologies that put the FS in the Transistor. Well, now it’s time to share what five iRunFar readers had to say about the Transistor’s performance. First off, we’ll give you the reviewers’ initial impressions. Next, we’ll share their take on the Transistor’s components, its fit, and the shoe’s performance under various conditions, as well as a few complaints about the shoe. If you’re looking for a summary of these reviews, we’ve got the reviewers’ overall conclusions about the Transistor. As always, we end with a call for questions and comments.
Our female reviewer felt the Transistor was “very roomy,” while another reviewer noted, “I was struck by the way they hugged my slightly wide, mildly flat foot in a comfortable, non-smothering way.” A third reviewer who tested at 12 rather than his standard 12.5 due to lack of a half sizes thought, “The fit was good with seemingly enough room in the toe box even without the extra half size. However, on especially steep trails though,I could feel my toes hitting the end of the right shoe.”
The unusual construction led to two reviewers to note a different initial feel. One simply noted that the Transistors felt “a bit ‘flat-footed’ out of the box.” Another reviewer went a bit further, explaining, “It took me a few hours to get used to their lower profile, but I soon appreciated how incredibly smooth and natural they felt right out of the box.”
Some of our Transistor testing team decided to break the shoe down into its component parts, so we shall, too. If you like, jump ahead to insight into the Transistor’s outsole, midsole/rockplate, insole, and upper.
On my first “run,” which was actually a hike with my 34-pound 2-year old on my back, I was amazed by the traction the Transistors provided. The trail was 90% covered with spring snow: wet, slick, and hard packed on the trail. At first inspection, I thought the tread wasn’t burly enough for Alaskan trails, but the tread held to the snow like skins on a ski. I was quite surprised at the lack of slippage as I ascended the steep trail. On future runs the tread held its own on frozen crust snow, slush, mud, rocks, roots, and roads. The only conditions I was unable to try it out in was dry trail conditions, because they don’t exist right now in Alaska. A minor complaint is that the clear plastic ‘bubble’ near the heel filled with water while I ran and omitted a squishing sound.
What sets this shoe apart from any other shoe I’ve worn is how it feels when you first step into it. I’ve tried to describe it to people like this: in every other shoe you are ON the shoe, but with the Transistor you are IN the shoe. I typically throw out the insoles that come with running shoes, but the feel of these shoes is so much different because it was designed to be worn this way. One sits much lower to the ground enabling a “feel” for what’s underfoot. In my experience, the midsole didn’t offer enough rock protection for overly technical trails. After an 8 mile run on an especially rocky, rooty, and snowy trail, my feet were left feeling a bit beat up. However, I think the stability offered by being able to feel the trail may outweigh the lack of protection over the long haul. If one eased into this type of trail after wearing the shoe for a bit, it would probably be ok.
The Alaskan wasn’t alone on feeling rough trail, as an Arizonan noted “I found that when put the Transistor to the hardcore test on the Arizona terrain, the shoe let ME down.”
On the other hand, there was more than enough protection for Florida’s trails, as our reviewer from the Sunshine State noted, “Even with its light weight, high flexibility, and low profile, the Transistors’ underfoot protection was just about right, although I couldn’t find any trails here in Florida with lots of sharp rocks to really test that feature.”
The stitched-in Flux Foam insole received comments, which is noteworthy in itself as insoles are an oft neglected … or at least overlooked trail shoe component. One tester wrote, “I loved the form-fitting, built-in insole. It worked very well to enhance the feel of the trail and seems to be holding up very well.” Those comments were echoed by another reviewer who noted, “The new insole did do what they said. It provided great ground feel and decent stability on some of the more groomed trails.” However, one reader was disappointed when the stitching holding down the insole loosened and the components started to separate.
The Flux Foam really caught the attention of one runner,
Speaking of the Flux Foam, I was skeptical at first, but I am now a believer in its cushioning characteristics and, maybe more importantly, its ability to bring you closer to the ground. Without now-obsolete insoles getting in the way, proprioceptive feedback seemed greatly enhanced. For instance, I was running pretty fast (for me, at least), down a steep hill when I landed awkwardly on a root. Normally, I think I would have sprained my ankle badly, but instead I was able to sense my joint position quickly and adjust by taking weight off of the foot/ankle in jeopardy.
quite simply it does its job. The laces stay tied, the materials seems durable, and the fabric breathes well. The only issue I found was on my first long-ish run during the test a seam in the upper caused a weird blister on my left arch. It only happened that once though and not since, so it is a minor issue.
Another tester “open[ed] up the throttle on [the Transistors] on a rolling, technical, serpentine trail” with banked turns and found he there was no lateral slippage. The upper locked in his feet.
It’s worth noting here that two reviewers found the Transistor to be large. A reviewer with flat feet, thought “the fit accommodated [his] foot well, but if the upper stretched (which it shouldn’t as it is synthetic), [he] would reach the limit of being able to tighten it up enough around [his] midfoot.” More significantly, a woman with narrow feet had to tighten the laces to the point that the toe caved in a bit; however, she went on to note that “thicker running socks helped to remedy that issue, and since many runners have wider feet, those folks would likely find the roominess a plus.”
One the other hand, while another reviewer found there was “a substantial amount of room at the mid-foot and in the toe cage,” there was “[n]ot so much that [he was] sliding around, but enough for room for swelling and to keep [his] toes from jamming into the front on the down hills.”
The above discussion of the Transistor’s components touched on some of the conditions for which the Transistor is or is not well-suited. One reviewer found the Transistor performed well under all conditions, including snow, rocks, roots, mud, slush, and roads, and has “yet to find poor performance,” but we’ll break it down in more detail here.
Sand/Packed Dirt: Plenty of traction here and a reviewer found “there was none of the accumulation of sand that he typically gets inside his other shoes that have a more open mesh upper.”
Rocks: There were mixed reviews about the Transistor’s performance on the rocks. One reviewer who frequents Virginia’s rocky trails, noted “These shoes performed exceptionally well running on rocks. Even semi-wet rocks. Very grippy and I felt secure bombing the technical downhills. Very noticeable sensation of being “connected” to the running surface.” No one contradicted this assessment of the Transistor’s traction on the rocks; however, a common cry from the reviews was “ouch” following long technical runs. One reviewer succinctly noted, “The rock protections seems too light weight for ultra distances on technical trails.” Apparently, these are not the most comfortable shoes for long runs over the rockiest of terrain.
Roads: The Transistor are surprisingly well-suited for the roads. One reviewer wrote, “I felt better, smoother, and faster on pavement than I do in my road shoes.” Another remarked, “I also enjoyed their feel on pavement.” To drive home the point that the Transistors are at home on the road, “The Transistors again performed better than my regular road shoes on a longer road run, and I again couldn’t believe how smooth and natural my stride felt. If you have to run on roads to get to a trail, these shoes work great.”
Snow: As noted in the outsole notes above, the Transistor was grippy in many different snow conditions.
Heat: The Transistor “felt very ventilated and my feet felt cool in the 80-degree heat.”
The biggest complaint about the Transistor was its lack of adequate protection for long runs over rocky terrain. In addition, one reader did have an issue with the insole loosening, while another was annoyed by squeaking after water found its way into a plastic truss/window in the outsole.
We’ll let the five reviewers provide their overall take on the Vasque Transistor FS, but first we’ll note that a men’s size 9 weighs in at 10.8 ounces (306 g) and at MSRP they will cost you $100. Here are each of the reviewers’ conclusions:
- “In conclusion, the Transistor is the best shoe I’ve worn, and I’ve worn a lot of shoes. Its technology is impressive without being overwhelming or intrusive. In my opinion, for technical and non-technical trails, its blend of lightweight, responsive cushioning and terrific fit and underfoot protection is unmatched.”
- “They took a bit longer than I thought to ‘mold’ to my foot, but once they did I just liked them more every run. They are now one of my favorites! I really ended up loving these and will buy them in the future.”
- “[The Transistors are] ‘kick ass fast kicks.’ The shoes are good looking, light, and comfy right out of the box. I think the shoes would be best [for] those looking for a minimalist trail racer. It seems best suited for smoother singletrack and less technical trails for long distances, but at the same time gives one an enhanced feel for running technically over shorter distances. The outsole grips good in most conditions, but I would predict a problem on slick or sticky mud trails.”
- “The new insole did do what they said,great ground feel and descent stability on some of the more groomed trails. But I found when put to the hardcore test on the AZ terrain the shoe let ME down. Very minimal under armor and toe protection, my feet were killing me… I gotta say after reading all the reports on the shoe I was really expecting more. I guess everyone’s foot is different.”
- “[The Transistor] is very light weight and comfortable. I also applaud the risk Vasque took in developing this new ‘low rider’ sensation…. What I find most interesting is the combination of features you may find with a lightweight shoe and a more rugged shoe. Despite what seems to be a strong (somewhat rigid) sole, I can feel the ground beneath me. I can really feel a connection to the trail, similar to riding close to the ground in a sports car.”
[Added 6/4 8 p.m.] Vasque runner Krissy Moehl stopped by and had the following to say about the Transistor:
Thanks for reviewing these and having a variety o testerf locations to really put these to the test. I ran in the Mindbenders all last year with great successs and super happy feet. In the last couple of months I have been logging most of my miles in the Transistors. Traveling up and down the west coast has allowed me to run on a variety of trails and I echo most of the reviewers’ sentiments. I have a narrow foot, but a high instep and arch and feel this shoe (even without an insole) really wraps and supports the arch which aids in giving a better sense of what is underfoot as I’m not sliding around in the shoe. For the more technical rocky trails I still gravitate to the Mindbenders, but I’ve been pleased with the Transistors when I had to choose my shoe without much trail knowledge.
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Here’s our favorite quote from the reviews we received:
During these initial, short, non-challenging runs, the Transistors felt like a pair of Lamborghinis stuck in a traffic jam, … the last combined with the Flux Foam strobel material made the Transistors feel like grippy, shiny, silver and red extensions of my feet.
[Disclosure: Vasque provided iRunFar five pairs of Transistors, which we distributed to the reviewers through a random drawing contest. Vasque had previously provided iRunFar with sample Transistors. In addition, Vasque has previously provided support for iRunFar. While we’re at it, we’re part of the Wilderness Running Company affiliate program, your purchase of Transistors through the WRC helps support iRunFar.]