Tuesday, June 25, 2013

And the winner is . . .

When you are running for half the day at an ultramarathon pace, the shoe with the best technical features may not be the best shoe for your foot.  Having learned this lesson the hard way, I began to shop for a cushioned trail shoe.

I narrowed down my choices to five shoes that have gotten excellent reviews.  Unfortunately, those reviews don't tell me how the shoes compare to each other in terms of cushioning, flexibility, and other factors.  So, I bought all five from Running Warehouse so I could try them all on . . .  and then send four back for a refund.

From top to bottom, Asics Gel-Fuji Trainer 2, Asics Gel-Scout, Brooks Cascadia 8, New Balance 1210 Leadville, Montrail FluidFeel
Since the purpose was to compare these shoes, I've ranked them against each other on the following factors:

Cushioning: The rankings simply indicate how much cushioning each shoe has, and not on which is best.  Different people like different amounts.  1 indicates the least, and 5 indicates the most.

Protection: After stepping on a variety of household objects, I have tried to anticipate how much protection each shoe will provide from rocks and roots on the rail.  Again, 1 is the least, and 5 is the most.  More protection means less road feel, so again, these are not rankings of which shoe is better.

Flexibility: Easily determined by twisting the shoe in various directions with my hands.  1 is the least flexible, 5 is the most.  (Do you sense a pattern?)

Width:  1 indicates the narrowest shoe, while 5 indicates the widest.  There was very little difference between the shoes ranked 3-5, so those rankings should be taken with a grain of salt.

Weight: From the lightest to the heaviest.

Note that I have not run in these shoes, and have no idea how grippy they are, how well they drain, etc.  The purpose of this test was simply to try them on and compare how they feel on my foot, since to me that is the most important factor over a long, slow race.

Asics Gel-Fuji Trainer 2
Cushioning: 1
Protection: 1
Flexibility: 4
Width: 3
Weight: 1
Notes:  This shoe feels "barely there" while still offering more protection underfoot than more minimalist shoes.  A tempting shoe, but they're not going to take me on much longer runs than the Inov-8 295s that I already wear.

Asics Gel-Scout
Cushioning: 3
Protection: 3
Flexibility: 2
Width: 5
Weight: 5
Notes: A exoskeletal heel counter, a visible gel pod in the sole, durable layers of mesh, a pocket for the laces on the tongue: this shoe is loaded down with visible technology.  Although it feels extremely stiff in my hand, it is somewhat more flexible when on my feet.  While it doesn't stand out to me, it is a comfortable, protective shoe that could appeal to many.

Brooks Cascadia 8
Cushioning: 4
Protection: 2
Flexibility: 3
Width: 4
Weight: 4
Notes:  Aaaaah!  Brooks has nailed it.  This shoe fits my foot beautifully.  The cushioning is softer than in any other shoe, perhaps a bit too soft for my tastes, but it will feel great over a long day on the trails. Now I see why these shoes are so popular among ultrarunners.  The one downside is that they are the most expensive of the shoes I'm trying on.

New Balance 1210 Leadville
Cushioning: 2
Protection: 5
Flexibility:  1
Width: 2
Weight: 2
Notes:  In my hand, the materials feels plasticky -- maybe that's why this shoe manages to be so light.  The upper feels fantastically comfortable on my foot.  As for the sole. . . while this shoe has a LOT of sole, it isn't very soft.  In fact, it feels stiff as a board under my foot.  I just can't imagine running in these.  But, stepping on household obstacles, I barely feel a thing.  A shoe only for those who want maximum protection.

Montrail FluidFeel
Cushioning: 5
Protection: 4
Flexibility: 5
Width: 1
Weight: 3
Notes: Out of the box, I didn't want to like this shoe -- it is so damn ugly.  But in my mind, this is exactly how a long distance running shoe should feel.  Lots of resilient, but not squishy, cushioning; outstanding protection, and somehow still an extremely flexible shoe.  Unfortunately, despite having a very wide, stable base, the fit is much, much too narrow for my foot.

Any of those shoes could be great for someone, but the winner (for me) is -- the Brooks Cascadia 8!


  1. i'm curious how this new offering from nike would have stacked up in comparison to the rest of these shoes.

    read an interesting review here:

  2. i'm curious how this new offering from nike would have stacked up in comparison to the rest of these shoes.

    read an interesting review here:

  3. Hello and thanks for all the advice. You mentioned a newly designed minimus trail shoe with a rock plate.