Six words: The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2.
Until recently, I was the only Pearl holdout, even though each of my friends swore by the company’s trail shoe. ("I would marry them if I were a shoe," says my buddy, Joel Conners.) But despite stories about how the just-right heel cushioning saved their legs on long runs, I stuck with my Saucony Xodus 4.0.
Maybe I was reticent because I consider Pearl Izumi a bike apparel company (it's one of the largest companies in the U.S. in that space). What I didn't know is that Pearl Izumi's co-founder, Stan Mavis, held a half-marathon world record and that the Colorado-based company has been making shoes since 2003.
The company's Trail N2 shoe has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop and is intended for neutral runners who don't under or over pronate. If you're not a neutral runner, you can probaby stop reading here, although the company does offer its EM Trail series kicks in two other versions: the EM Trail M2 (for midfoot strikers), and EM H Trail (for heel strikers).
Pearl also offers each of these lettered categories in a 1, 2, or 3 with varying amounts of cushioning. The N2 I tested has 23mm of foam on the heel, the N3 has 25mm, and the N1 has 21mm. (Although the 2mm-foam difference might not seem like a big deal, one friend ran a 50K in the N1s and couldn't walk for a week, while the N2s never gave him any trouble.)
A month ago, I caved to the peer pressure and ordered a pair of the N2 Trails. And I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a breakdown of what I—and the rest of my running teammates—love about these shoes:
"The N2 is a lightweight shoe you want on your foot for the uphills, but with the support to rip a downhill without putting clown shoes on," the group's founder and most accomplished member, Mike Stadnisky, wrote in an email.
Pearl Izumi created this combo by giving the N2 a cushy 23mm heel while taking some material out of the toe and moving the midsole back about 4mm, making the forefoot look like it has some rocker. This gives you emergency cushion if you get tired and start heel striking, but it won’t slow down your toe push.
Freakishly Versatile Upper
Pearl Izumi managed to make the N2’s seamless upper extremely rugged while still keeping it incredibly lightweight—a mere 10 ounces. Stadnisky, who’s put hundreds of miles on the shoes, described the upper as "all but indestructible."
The rubber graphics add to the upper’s structure and are built directly into the lightweight mesh, which moves heat and moisture exceptionally well. "They somehow manage to breathe and drain, which gives you greater versatility than any other shoe I’ve run in," Stadnisky wrote. In 2015, Pearl Izumi is going to use 3-D printing to create the upper, which the company claims will allow it to add more ventilation to the fabric.
While competing in the 40-mile Peterson Ridge Rumble and the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, gentle giant James Kidwell had zero problems with bruised feet or cramping. Pearl Izumi built the N2’s midsole with a dense carbon rubber near the heel and an air-bubble-infused blown rubber in the front of the shoe. This creates maximum impact resistance in the back and softer cushioning in the front.
Fit Favors Wide Feet
Both James and I suffer from wide feet, and we’ve dealt with savage blisters and mangled pinky toes from too-narrow shoes. But we both found the N2 gives our feet plenty of room to comfortably swell without feeling sloppy when running down steep hills or on offset trails. This is due in part to the N2's extremely deep heel cup that keeps our feet from sloshing around in the otherwise-roomy upper.