The Top 6 Trail-Runners of Spring 2012

Salomon XR Mission

THE SELL: A stable, confidence-inspiring neutral trail shoe for daily training. THE TEST: We loved the XR Mission’s wide, firm forefoot, which let testers run without fear on technical, high-speed downhills and hard-packed dirt trails alike. On sloppy mud we still felt secure, thanks to the toothy tread, and once we got used to the quick-pull laces we found ourselves missing them in other shoes. No waterproofing here, although plastic accents helped ward off light rain better than a mesh upper, like on Patagonia’s Forerunner. Bummer: the cushioning was too stiff for steady uphill runs. THE VERDICT: Our pick for technical trails. 11.5 oz; 11-mm heel-to-toe drop

Helly Hansen Pace Trail HTXP

THE SELL: Protection from whatever Mother Nature throws your way. THE TEST: The Pace Trail has all the bells and whistles of a heavy-duty soggy-weather trail shoe: waterproof upper, bulletproof toe bumper, hefty cushioning, and the most aggressive tread of the group. Testers, especially those who prefer more traditional trail-running shoes (with heel-to-toe drops in the 10-to-12-millimeter range), raved about the Pace Trail’s competence on uneven, rocky terrain. Of course, all that armor comes at a cost—at 13.6 ounces they’re not light, and the weatherproofed uppers don’t stretch for runners who have wide (or swollen) feet. THE VERDICT: At this price, the Pace Trail makes a heck of a hiking-and-trail-running hybrid. 13.6 oz; 12-mm heel-to-toe drop

Patagonia Forerunner

THE SELL: Patagonia’s lightest-ever trail runner marks the company’s entry into the minimalist-shoe market. THE TEST: The low-drop, 9.1-ounce Forerunners were our go-to pick for fast, aggressive runs on well-maintained trails. Nubby outsoles gave solid traction, and testers liked the Forerunner’s simple, breathable upper and single-density foam cushioning. But all that mesh meant that these were the least weather-resistant shoes in the group, which left a couple of testers with wet feet on rainy days, dirty socks on dry ones, and no protection from protruding sticks. THE VERDICT: Everything you’d want from $90 shoes; too bad they’re $110. 8.3 oz; 4-mm heel-to-toe drop

La Sportiva Quantum

Quantum
Quantum   Photo: Courtesy of La Sportiva

THE SELL: There’s more than one way to grip the trail. THE TEST: Don’t let the Quantum’s extra-thick outsole scare you away: for runners who crave a plush ride, La Sportiva’s smooth, wavy Frixion outsole is pillow soft, and these shoes felt lighter than we expected. Testers were happiest wearing them on dry, rocky terrain, where that weird-looking bottom performed as intended, deforming around obstacles and providing grip and protection from sharp rocks at the same time. In mud or snow, though, the sole’s shallow, almost smooth lugs were a mild liability. Runners who don’t like soft shoes should look elsewhere. THE VERDICT: Stiff enough through the midfoot for overpronators, and plenty of cushion for long dry-weather runs. 11.5 oz; 11-mm heel-to-toe drop

Brooks Pure Grit

THE SELL: Brooks’s first low-drop trail runner. THE TEST: The Pure Grit has a 4-mm heel-to-toe drop, making it a good choice if you’re intrigued by minimalist shoes but still want a bit of cushioning. Testers found it agile enough for mixed terrain and runs over ten miles, and they were especially impressed with how the rugged, single-piece outsole dug into loose gravel. Minor gripes: the stretchy, foot-snugging strap across the laces made the shoe hard to slip into. And that weird-looking split toe box, designed to increase trail feel? All we noticed was that it picked up pebbles. THE VERDICT: Versatile high-mileage shoe for those looking to transition into barefoot running. 8.3 oz; 4-mm heel-to-toe drop

The North Face Single Track Hayasa

THE SELL: A lightweight performance shoe on- or off-road. THE TEST: With the Hayasas’ low-profile but surprisingly grippy lugs, air-pocket cushioning, and supremely flexible midfoot, testers were just as happy taking them on sidewalks as they were into the loose and rocky foothills outside Santa Fe. North Face claims its new cradling system can help direct a runner’s biomechanics. We couldn’t tell, but we did love that the laces tightened evenly across the top, snugging the shoe down to our feet. Plus, testers agreed these low-angle runners were “slipper comfortable right out of the box.” THE VERDICT: The most versatile shoe we ran in this year. Neutral runners who take to blacktop as often as dirt will love it. 9.8 oz; 10-mm heel-to-toe drop

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