Let's state the obvious: a trail running shoe's primary purpose is running on trails. But that's a broad remit, so these shoes need to be good all-rounders. Most of us will take them onto rough pathless terrain too, while at the opposite extreme they'll probably see the occasional bit of tarmac. And it's not just runners who can benefit from the lightness and comfort of a running shoe; whether you're hillwalking, long distance backpacking, or approaching mountain crags, trail shoes have crossover potential well beyond trail running.
Unlike a minimalist fell or race shoe, trail shoes have a more cushioned sole to soak up the pounding on harder surfaces. This tends to make them heavier, but also - for the average user - more versatile and comfy for all-day wear. They should offer stability, support and precision on rough ground too, and decent grip on rock, wet grass and mud. We've judged this selection on all of the above.
Drop is the difference (or gradient) between heel height and toe height. Road running shoes tend to have a drop of about 10mm, while minimalist fell shoes can have half that, or less. A shoe with less drop may be more nimble on rough ground, but less cushioned for hard surfaces and long distances, so the ideal for a trail shoe is arguably middle of the road. The shoes in this review have drops ranging from 4mm - 10mm.
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
Manufacturer's weight: 700g/pair size 42 (UK 8)
4 / 5
La Sportiva Bushido
Manufacturer's weight: 610g/pair size 42 (UK 8)
4.5 / 5
Inov-8 Roclite 305
Manufacturer's weight: 610g/pair size 8
4.5 / 5
Mammut MTR 201-II Boa Low
Manufacturer's weight: 610g/pair size 8.5
3 / 5
Manufacturer's weight: 686g/pair size 42 (UK 8)
4 / 5
Manufacturer's weight: 540g/pair size 42
4.5 / 5
Arc'teryx Norvan VT
Manufacturer's weight: 635g/pair size 8.5
4 / 5
SCOTT Supertrac RC
Manufacturer's weight: 500g/pair approx
4.5 / 5
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor £110
A chunky and supportive shoe with plenty of cushioning for hard ground, the Ultra Raptor takes big days in its stride. Built for comfort (rather than speed) the padding is generous, the toe has room to accommodate some foot spread over a long day, and there's a profusion of mesh to keep things cool. The moderate-depth tread may not be the best on sloppy ground, the 9mm drop may feel a bit much for some, and the overall weight is high - we make it 932g/pair size 47, while La Sportiva quote 700g/pair size 42. However if you're covering big distances then this is a solid choice at a fair price. The support and stability on offer also make this a very capable dry weather hillwalking shoe; in fact, having used Ultra Raptors for several years, for eveything from running to multi-day backpacking, our reviewer is now on his third pair.
Broad at the toe, and with a high volume, the Ultra Raptor's fit is roomy enough to accommodate some foot spread over a long day. It might be best suited to broader feet, but with a stretch fabric in the upper, and an effective lace system, the shoe can be pulled in close for a nice precise fit. Despite its weight the Ultra Raptor has quite a soft feel, with a well cushioned sole and padded tongue. An external structure that extends to the midfoot to provide a real feeling of support, the heel cage offers a close fit without feeling too aggressive. A little shiny faux leather insert at the heel makes sliding the shoes on and off easier, and helps protect against wear at the rear. It's far from being a minimalist shoe - instead the Ultra Raptor is all about all-day comfort.
With a soft, deep shock absorbing EVA midsole, the Ultra Raptor soaks up a lot of pounding, and on hard ground it feels noticeably more cushioned and springy underfoot than some of the other shoes in this review. Hard-packed trails are no issue: you could almost go road running in these (actually, we have). The 9mm drop is joint second biggest in this review, making the Ultra Raptor a good bet for anyone coming to trail and hill running from a road running background. On the minus side that high heel can feel a little more cumbersome and divorced from the terrain underfoot than a flatter sole. To help support the feet over long days, there's a lot of lateral stability in the sole, too, and flex only at the toe. Our heavier reviewer really likes the relative stiffness of this sole, though lighter, more nimble runners may find it a bit clumpy.
On rough ground a big rubber bumper provides an effective guard for the toes, while the robust midsole protects the soles of your feet from sharp rocks - as we've said, you can feel less of the ground through the Ultra Raptor than many trail shoes, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Underfoot the Frixion rubber outsole has proven really grippy on dry trails, with plenty of stick on the rock if you choose to take these shoes scrambling (we have many times). Being quite soft though, it does tend to wear fast. By the standards of this review the tread pattern is medium depth, and though the heel has a little ledge which provides effective braking on the downhills, the tread overall is better for hard dry ground than soft and wet. We've found its limits a few times on steep wet grass and muddy slopes; clearly the sole was designed more with alpine trails in mind than sloppy British fells.
A profusion of mesh in the uppers makes for a really cool shoe that's ideal for summer running. Though thickly padded, the tongue is very breathable too. It doesn't need a gusset to keep out debris because it sits inside the sock-like mesh of the upper - an unusual arrangement but very comfy. Our reviewer's only criticism of the tongue is that it tends to slip to the side over the course of a run. To guard the uppers from abrasion and offer the feet a measure of protection from rocks, there's a soft wrap-around rand up to mid-foot height. This also helps keep water out, so you can ford shallow streams and puddles without instantly filling up. While a Gore-Tex lined version is also available for the wettest conditions, we really don't get on with waterproof liners in a shoe, and would always prefer the coolness and fast drying times of the standard unlined version.
La Sportiva say:
Created for off-road, endurance trails, ultra marathon competitions and long training sessions. The extremely breathable Air-mesh uppers are mounted on a soft EVA graded platform (wider at the toe and lower at the heel) for optimum shock absorption in any condition and reduction of the ramp angle. The integrated lacing system uses a strap sewn to an internal stretch fabric with high frequency reinforcements on the external mesh. This allows greater versatility in boot tension throughout the boot, thereby enhancing comfort levels. Ultra Raptor unites the performance advantages of a snug-fit construction method with those of the comfort derived from the wider shape and sole. The result is a product that can be used for several hours and is the ideal choice for endurance trails and all types of off road trails.
- Sizes: 39-47.5 (men) 36-43 (women)
- Weight: we make it 932g/pair size 47; La Sportiva say 700g/pair size 42
- Upper: Breathable air-mesh with microfibre reinforcement, abrasion resistant coating and a "Performance Platform". The uppers are assembled on a compression molded EVA platform
- Lining: Mesh with "Easy-in" PU leather insert for ease of fit and heel stability.
- Midsole: Injected shock absorbing EVA
- Footbed: Ortholite Mountain Running
- Sole: FriXion XF (grippy) with Impact Brake System and integrated rubber protection toe cap.
- Drop: 9mm
For more info see lasportiva.com
La Sportiva Bushido £115
Designed, say La Sportiva, for skyrunning, the Bushido offers a precise fit and tons of support and stability, in a midweight package. The heavily-lugged sole gives great traction on most terrain, and a measure of scrambling performance - as befits the skyrunning remit. The drop of 6mm is middle of the road by trail shoe standards, as is the amount of cushioning provided. Compared with, say, the Ultra Raptor, this gives them a fairly low-to-the-ground feel which is an advantage on more technical terrain. While there's still enough cushioning underfoot for comfort on harder packed trails, this might not be our first choice of shoe for long distance days with a tarmac element. As well as being a very competent trail/fell crossover shoe, we've been using them as an approach shoe for mountain crags, and for rockier hands-on hillwalking days.
Compared with the Ultra Raptor the Bushido feels a little more 'fitted', with a foot hugging shape across the midfoot and a slightly pointier toe. Inside, a stretchy sock-like insert keeps things close fitting and precise at the front, and helps hold the foot in place when traversing slopes. Some people find them narrow and have suggested going up a half size as a result, but our broad-toed reviewer actually gets on well with these in his normal shoe size, so we guess the jury is out. We will agree though that the toe of the Bushido is quite low volume, and while we think this helps keep the fit close and precise - a bonus for deft footwork on technical ground - it's clearly not going to suit some feet. The heel cup is a little lower and more relaxed-fitting than some, which may not suit some wearers; to bring the fit in closer at the top and avoid heel lift we've been using the Bushidos' secondary top eyelet when lacing them up.
While the Bushido's EVA midsole feels less cushioned than some - rather less than the Ultra Raptor for instance - it's still easily sufficient to soak up the impact on harder tracks and trails. Having tried running on tarmac in these, however, we won't be doing much of that in future. The upside to this slightly shallower, harder sole is the sensitivity and stability that it offers on rough ground. Despite not being the lightest of shoes the Bushido has a really nimble-footed feel. La Sportiva's STB construction is a fancy name for a rigid TPU frame that wraps right under the instep. Adding such chunky torsional rigidity in the middle of the foot might sound odd on paper, but in practise it makes the sole feel supportive, stable and protective without being unduly heavy, and boosts lateral stablity when traversing slopes. As you might hope from a brand with such a strong climbing heritage, the relative stiffness also makes the Bushido perform very well on scrambling terrain, where its ability to hold an edge is reassuring. If you prefer a flexible, minimalist shoe then the Bushido is likely to feel too chunky and rigid, but our reviewer loved them.
In terms of grip, the dual density 'Frixion' outsole gives good friction on rock, though the softer component does seem to wear fairly quickly as a result. Some users have reported not finding these the grippiest shoes in wet mud, but then what shoe really is? Our experience is actually the contrary; those deep, chunky lugs are multi-directional for grip on slopes, and wrap around the sides to offer you some bite on cambered surfaces, and we've found they offer a decent amount of traction even on sloppy ground. In short, it's a shoe we've been happily taking off-path on the full range of mountain terrian.
With a mix of mesh and microfibre, the upper combines decent ventilation for hot weather with a fair degree of scuff resilience. A rubbery overlay provides additional structure, wrapping close around the midfoot when you lace up to give a real foot-hugging fit. This multi-layered upper is comfy, but doubtless adds a little weight to the shoe. While the laces themselves aren't particularly smooth running, this does allow you to vary the tension a bit along the length of the foot for a fine-tuned fit. A rubber rand adds toe protection at the front - vital on rocky ground - but doesn't wrap as far back as the little toe; a bit more protection on the outside of the foot might have been good. The mesh tongue is really comfortable - soft, moderately padded and lined with something sweat absorbing; there's no gusset to keep out grit, but the upper fits so closely over the tongue that it's not needed.
La Sportiva say:
A technical model created for the world of skyrunning competitions. Super lightweight, sticky, aggressive. The Bushido features 'STB stabilisation technology' which consists of a TPU frame that extends and wraps over the midfoot for a more stable fit. This helps reduce weight by avoiding the need to insert stabilisers into the shoe midsole. At just 610g for a pair of size 42s, the shoe is lightweight for a trail runner. It features a 6mm heel-to-toe drop for a smooth, low-to-the-ground transition, as well as a dual-density FriXion XT sole for durable grip. The shoe also features La Sportiva's patented Impact Brake System to help runners slow down quicker, and features overwrapped lugs on the outsole for ground-hugging traction. Available in men's and women's versions.
- Sizes: 39 - 47.5 (men) 36 - 42.5 (women)
- Weight: we make it 770g / pair size 47; La Sportiva say 610g/pair size 42
- Uppers: Breathable Air Mesh + thermal adhesive micro fibre; the external structure has high frequency applied to rip-stop fabric.
- Lining: Mesh + no sweat lateral mesh inserts + stretch Air Mesh tongue.
- Midsole: Compressed EVA + Rock-Guard insert in dual density EVA on the forefoot.
- Footbed: 4mm Ortholite Mountain Running Ergonomic.
- Sole: Lighter weight Dual mix FriXion XT + Impact Brake System and lugs for attaching AT Grip Spikes.
- Drop: 6mm
For more info see www.lasportiva.com
Inov-8 Roclite 305 £125
The Roclite has been a firm favourite amongst trail runners for many years now, with its blend of versatility and shock absorption that allows it to cross from trail to fell with ease. Well lugged for the roughest of trails, their grip fails only when the going gets very wet and muddy. Yes, it's hard to be the jack of all trades, but of a certain genre the Roclite does succeed in being the master of one, excelling at long distance trail where surfaces are either hard or mixed. In this set of circumstances it's a shoe that keeps going, and going, and going, while the amount of shock absorption on offer also helps ensure that your legs can keep going too. Considering all of these features come in a reasonably light package, we can see why they are popular.
The Roclite is lasted on a regular width, albeit with a noticeably spacious toe box for its size which helps to give the feet a bit of room as they splay on longer runs. That said, some Inov-8 users prefer to go up half a size on their standard street shoe size, since the company does seem to err on the side of narrowness in its lasting. The Roclite 305 features all sorts of fancy sounding technology, including an ADAPTERWEB met-cradle and the XLOCK heel system, but the long and short of these daft sounding features are that they keep your foot stable and secure - point scored.
To carry on with the feature name dropping, the POWERFLOW midsole claims to deliver "10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles", but as with all claims of this kind it is very difficult to accurately quantify from an end user perspective. What we can say is that it is a very comfortable, all-day, all-terrain shoe.
Featuring a 6mm lug depth, the Roclite is at home on trails both rough and hard. The sole is robust enough to enter the fells, but only up to a point, as the grip definitely falls short on steep, wet or muddy ground; as such these would be a superb Lakeland mountain shoe in the right conditions - perfect for something longer like the Bob Graham. The shock absorption within the heel is something that helps achieve this, as it really does make for a comfortable ride, particularly when coupled with the popular 8mm drop. These shoes feature a rock plate that guards the soles of your feet from pointy rocks, while up front a rubber toe-cap offers the necessary toe stubbing protection.
The uppers are, to Invo8's credit, exceptionally well crafted. There's padding, but not too much padding, and limited stitching (which is always a bonus, as stitching inevitably leads to an increase in wear and tear on the given area). Whilst they gain a little weight when wet, they dry relatively quick too, with plenty of mesh in and around the toe-box for ventilation in warmer conditions without so much mesh that the shoe lets in every last drop of water. An integrated tongue gusset keeps loose debris out, too.
The laces are worth a quick mention, as they seem to be impressively resilient to undoing - presumably because of their flat design. Not revolutionary, but it's amazing how many brands seem to use laces that are teflon coated (or something like that!), as they seem to undo all the time!
Run with confidence and comfort with this trail running shoe. The ROCLITE 305 is the ultimate shoe for those seeking increased comfort and protection when running over multi terrains. Super-durable upper materials provide a premium fit and feel, while the outsoles versatile grip delivers supreme confidence no matter how diverse or unpredictable the terrain.
- Sizes: 6 - 14 inc half sizes (men); 3 - 10 inc half sizes (women)
- Weight: we make it 635g / pair size 8.5; Inov-8 say 610g/pair size 8
- Fit: Standard
- Footbed: 6mm
- Lug Depth: 6mm
- Midsole: POWER FLOW
- Midsole Stack: Heel 22.5mm / Forefoot 14.5mm
- Shank: META-PLATE™
- Sole Compound: TRI-C STICKY
- Product Weight: 305g / 10.675oz
- Drop: 8mm
for more info see inov-8.com
Mammut MTR 201-II Boa Low £140
Though billed as a light and technical racing shoe, with its 6mm drop and reasonably cushioned ride the MTR 201-II Boa feels more like something we'd wear for short training runs on firm ground than for a serious fell race. Without much in the way of support, it might suit fans of minimalist footwear, but anyone who prefers a stable and protective shoe may find this a bit lacking in backbone. It's pretty light, but with its bendy sole and non-aggressive tread this shoe feels best suited to shorter distances on easier ground. Venture off-path on typical UK hill terrain and some users may find it wanting. Compared to the more fell-capable rivals in this review, the price seems high for what you're getting, too.
Sizing on the small side, and with a pointed toe, this shoe may not best suit the wider-footed. On the other hand the volume is reasonably high, particularly in the toe box. Immediately obvious is the 'Boa' fastening system. Reminiscent of some cycling shoes, this employs a thin wire and wheel mechanism rather than traditional laces. Smooth running, robust, usable with gloves and quick to release, it leaves no flapping lace loops waiting to snag on every passing twig. The big drawback however is that the tightness of the fit cannot be varied across the length of the foot - it's either loose everywhere or tight everywhere. This wire runs through webbing loops, which operate freely of the outer fabric of the shoe and instead connect to a stretchy 'half sock' inside. It's possible to pull the fit in close around the midfoot, but since the fastening does not extend far towards the front of the shoe our reviewer finds the forefoot can slide around inside the shoe no matter how tight it's done up. Lacing that runs closer to the toe would have been better, as might the addition of an extra webbing loop in the system.
The rear of the shoe feels more successful, with a robust plastic cage for stability, and a nice bit of memo foam padding for a close heel-hugging (but not achilles-pinching) fit.
Less substantial than the other shoes on test, the sole has a lot of both forward and lateral flex. If you're used to minimalist shoes then you might like this softness, and for easy ground and shorter distances it's arguably no great disadvantage for any runner. However not all trails are flat, and not all distances short. A sole this insubstantial offers less support for the foot over the course of a long day, and less stability on rough ground. Traverse a steep gradient and the shoe tends to just bend with the slope rather than providing a solid platform for the foot; pick your way over rocky ground and the sole can flex and roll off rock edges rather than holding them. On the plus side ride feels nice and close to the ground. Offering a bit of feedback from the terrain underfoot is no bad thing, but despite boasting a 'Stone Protector' the sole seems less protective than some on review, and you can certainly feel sharp rocks through it. With the MTR 201-II we find we have to tread a little carefully on really rubbly ground - fine if it's a short distance, but not ideal if your route involves a lot of it.
As for grip, of the models in this review the MTR 201-II Boa's sole is arguably the least able to cope with the full range of off-path terrain. With shallow lugs and a lot of flat surface in contact with the ground, the tread pattern is not aggressive, and though fine for dry gravel paths, traction is unimpressive on mud and wet grass. There's no ledge at the heel to help with downhill braking, either. After a trial on Curved Ridge we've also found the friction wanting on dry rock, where the lack of grip combined with the amount of flex in the sole did not inspire great confidence. The cushioing feels nice on hard-packed surfaces, however, soaking up the jarring without feeling too soft and spongy. In short, this shoe is not an off-path all-rounder, being ideally suited to dry non-technical trails and park runs, but doubtful on rough mountain terrain.
Made almost entirely of honeycomb mesh from the midfoot forwards, the upper offers loads of ventilation. The tongue is highly breathable too, making this one of the best shoes on test for warm weather use. In terms of abrasion this mesh material is pretty tough stuff, and reinforced where you most need it with a rubbery overlay. Toe protection is more than adequate too, thanks to a large rubber bumper. Its 'foot mapping', which zones warmer and more ventilated areas according to need is, admittedly, hard to appreciate in use; the upper is noticeably quick drying though - always a bonus in a non-lined shoe.
The fastest technical trail competition shoe! The MTR 201-II Boa® is very direct and light. The IP EVA midsole provides good cushioning and has a heel drop of 6mm. The Stone Protector and D3O® Strobel construction make sharp stones barely noticeable. This competition shoe also features the patented Rolling Concept®, the aggressive gripex™ Sonar tech sole with integrated Sonar technology, Base Fit Advanced® with improved efficiency, memo foam, VentTech™ and FeetMap, as well as the proven Boa® Closure System, which now allows micro-adjustment in both directions.
- Rolling Concept®: The support and cushioning encourage the foot's natural rolling movement
- Memo Foam at instep, shin and ankle
- Feet Map: Lining and padding takes account of the different areas of the foot to ensure less perspiration, less cold and prevention of pressure points.
- Base Fit Advanced®: Efficient lace system
- Boa® Closure System: allows fast and secure tightening.
- 3-D Textile: Honeycomb-structured, multi-layer liner fabric with high level of moisture absorption and low drying time.
- Innovative, high-end cushioning material
- Cushioning Strobel construction with D3O and stone protector
- Midsole height: 8 / 14 mm
For more info see mammut.com
- Sizes: 7-12 (men); 4 - 8.5 (women)
- Weight: we make it 738g/pair size 12; Mammut say 610g/pair size 8.5
- Drop: 6mm
Scarpa Proton £120
Scarpa suggest these shoes are for "high alpine running and ultra training" but being relatively stiff and heavy, and perhaps not the most precise in terms of fit, the Proton feels rather more like a walking shoe than some others on test. Fair weather hillwalking, scrambling, long distance hikes, crag approaches, slow uphill trudges, short jogs round the park - these are all fine, but as soon as you run a long way in these shoes their weight (we make it 752g/pair/size 8.5) makes itself known. So they are neither light nor dextrous, but on the plus side there's a fair bit of support and cushioning, the latter being a definite advantage if you find yourself runing on hard-packed trails or tarmac.
With a medium width fit in the forefoot, the Proton can accommodate some foot spread over a long day, but this is a quite a stiff shoe - particularly in the rearfoot. The 10mm drop is more typical of road, rather than off-road shoes. Users coming to trail shoes from a road running background might instantly get on with a drop this large, and it's certainly comfy on hard flat surfaces; but on the rough we've found it a bit cumbersome and clumpy feeling. If you're a heel striker though, it's probably good news. A women's fit is available.
For comfort over long days, or stretches of running on harder surfaces, the dual density EVA midsole offers plenty of cushioning. The Vibram outsole gives complete coverage underneath – there are no exposed bits of midsole as there are in other Scarpa shoes of the same Alpine running range (eg the Spin). The sides of the sole are also well protected with protruding lugs. Away from the edges the lugs on the sole are not hugely deep though, and quite widely spaced, which we feel makes the Proton more at home on harder, drier ground - as befits its alpine running billing perhaps. While the traction is not at all great on typical off-path UK hill running terrain, i.e. wet grass, heather and peat, this sole does have enough grip to cope with most muddy, rubbly tracks and trails. On the plus side, overall this shoe is very hardwearing. On the minus, at 752g/pair in a size 8.5 we've found it relatively heavy; however it's worth pointing out that Scarpa's own value is 686g/pair for the very similar-sized 42.
There is some protection around the toes plus a substantial, hard plastic heel cup at the rear. The uppers of this shoe are dominated by an open weave fabric. This is highly breathable, which is an obvious bonus in hot weather; it also extends right down to the sole with no rand or other protective material. One consequence of this is that you are vulnerable to wet feet even from a fairly modest puddle. A Gore-Tex lined version of this shoe is available, but this adds cost and weight, and - in common with all such linings - is going to feel comparatively hot and sweaty. The non-lined version we tested is most at home on dry ground, which does rather limit its year-round UK appeal. Looks should not matter, but we think the design and colour choices that the Proton comes in are fairly dowdy.
Two nice touches: As with other shoes in this range there is a hidden pocket at the top of the tongue to tuck the laces in, which stops them flapping about and snagging on heather twigs in passing. The tongue also has a sewn in gusset to keep bits of muck out.
High alpine runs? Ultra training? You name it. A cool, durable, high-mileage shoe is a must in your quiver. Rely on the dual-density EVA midsole for cushioning (10mm drop) and the heel cage for stability. The fabric-synthetic leather upper breathes well and resists abrasion. Up front, lightweight toe protection lets you run and hike the gnarliest trails without sacrificing your feet.
- Sizes: 40-48 (men) 37 - 42 (women)
- Weight: We make it 752g/pair size 8.5; Scarpa say 686g/pair size 42
- Sole: Vibram Genesis
- Last: TRP
- Upper: Synthetic Leather & Polyester mesh
- Lining: Polyester
- Mid Sole: Compression Molded EVA
- Weight: 686g per pair 42
- Insole: H-EVA Plate
- Drop: 10mm
For more info see scarpa.co.uk
Scarpa Spin £110
With its chunky cushioning the Scarpa Spin does not at first glance look like a typical off-road shoe. However, in use Scarpa's description, 'Alpine running shoe', seems appropriate. They are definitely not 'fell running shoes' intended for
Neither noticeably broad nor narrow, we'd call the fit middle of the road. The lightweight uppers give the impression of having a bit of stretch, too. Likewise the thin laces supplied with these also seem to have quite a bit of give in them. We find we need to adjust and tighten the shoes with almost every run, perhaps accounting for this give. The does mean they are comfortable, however it also means that mean your feet can feel less secure laterally, particularly if contouring when we've found we get a bit of foot movement inside the shoe. A female fit is also available.
The outsole is made by Vibram; there's something psychologically reassuring about having the yellow logo there! Our tester used these primarily in Mallorca, where the terrain is a good test of shoes. There is roasting hot, bone-dry, dusty, rocky, razor-sharp limestone to test the underneath and thorny, abrasive maquis vegetation to trash the uppers. Testing did also involve quite a bit of scrambing including some tricky down climbing on the Cavall Bernat Ridge (think Crib Goch on steroids, with added sun); we've found the nature of the sole gives confidence on this kind of terrain. With its cushioning, stiffness and grip on rock, the Spin has proved ideal for long days running, walking or even scrambling on rough, rocky terrain.
The yellow EVA foam midsole is really thick, the forefoot seemingly almost as thick as the heel – in use there feels like very little gradient although the manufacturers do state a 4mm drop. We guess a drop this low is bound to feel pretty negligible in use, and this neutral feel suggests that the Spin is best suited to those who run with more of a mid-to-forefoot strike. The advantage of the sole's robustness becomes immediately apparent running over very sharp rocky ground; there is no penetration whatsoever by sharp rock edges irrespective of how rough the ground gets. Scarpa also describe a "shank of rigid EVA" which you can see in places through gaps in the midsole. They describe this as being beneficial for the biomechanics of running; however this almost certainly has a role in protecting the underside of the foot from painful sharp points and edges too.
We'd say that if you enjoy flexible shoes or using barefoot running shoes then despite their near-neutral 4mm drop the Scarpa Spin may not be for you. The stiffness of this shoe seems to help on technical ground though. However, the variable terrain typical of the UK also frequently means mud, soil and rubble will be involved; the shoe is less well suited for this. Our reviewer considered using these for Glencoe Skyline race this year, since their stiffness and stability would be great for Curved Ridge, Aonach Eagach and rocky trails. But then he remembered all the mucky bits between, for which the tread seems less well suited. In the event he didn't use them.
However, there is an elephant in the room: durability. The environment in which we've largely tested the Scarpa Spin is brutal from a shoe point of view, and would likely shorten the lifespan of any kind of running shoe. However this may have been helpful in exposing some potential areas for improvement. One problem which started almost immediately is that the sole began to peel away from the upper at the toes; we suspect a combination of heat (around 23 to 30ºC) softening the glue and then dust getting in which prevented it from adhering. Secondly although there is a tough Vibram outsole there is also a lot of exposed, soft EVA midsole (the yellowish bits). On flat surfaces this may not make much contact with the ground, however on uneven surfaces it is clearly vulnerable to getting trashed.
Although there is a breathable open-weave fabric on the uppers, much of the external structure is a smooth, non-woven, vinyl type material; this is bonded to the fabric underneath so there are no visible stitch lines. The uppers are thin but tough and survived being dragged through the brittle, thorny Mediterranean vegetation. Offsetting the beefed-up underside of the shoes with more pared down, lightweight uppers seems to have helped keep these shoes relatively light. We have weighed them at 598g/pair size 8.5, and it's worth pointing out that there's quite a difference between that and Scarpa's stated weight of 540g/pair size 42. We can't explain that, unless they haven't counted the footbeds.
There is a clever little pocket at the top of the tongue which allows the ends of the tied laces to be tucked away.
These shoes have a glued-in footbed but also came with an additional shaped insole which can be inserted on top. Our reviewer was able to wear the shoes comfortably with these in or out and this perhaps allows for some flexibility with sizing, choice of socks and cushioning.
Spin is a shoe created for speed. This Alpine Running shoe is the benchmark of the category in terms of lightness and performance. Made with a thermo-welded film in the upper and ultra-breathable fabric, it has no stitching, guaranteeing a super precise and safe fit with the possibility to wear it without socks. Resistance to abrasion and breathability give the best protection and performance. The midsole is in medium density EVA, specifically designed to provide cushioning on the heel and responsiveness on the forefoot. A shank made in rigid EVA is set into the front of the midsole and guarantees a higher energy return following the strike phase and consequently more responsive propulsion.
- Sizes: 41 - 47 (men); 37 - 42 (women)
- Weight: we make it 598g/pair size 8.5; Scarpa say 540g/pair size 42
- Sole: Vibram Fixion
- Last: ARS
- Upper: Fabric + Film
- Lining: Stretch Textile
- Mid Sole: HD EVA Insert
- Drop: 4mm
For more info see scarpa.co.uk
Arc'teryx Norvan VT £130
You can often rely on Arc'teryx to do things a bit differently, and the Norvan VT certainly does that. The brand's first trail shoe, new this year, this is high-tech footwear with some unusual and well-considered features. Most striking is the two-part upper, which combines a durable synthetic outer 'shell' with an internal full-length stretchy sock. Hats off, too, to the lace 'hook' that allows you to switch from a running fit to a more precise scrambling mode. On the trail the Norvan VT's performance is excellent; off the path, it's reasonable; but it's on steep rock that this shoe really shines. With something of an approach shoe feel, it's one of the best models for scrambling in this review, and would be a good choice for walkers too. The sightly high price is no surprise from Arc'teryx, but also reflects its build quality.
Narrow in the toe, with a low-medium volume, the Norvan VT comes in half sizes, except for an oddity of the men's sizing at the upper end, where it jumps from a UK11.5 to a 12.5 for no apparent reason. This is unfortunate for our size 12 reviewer, who found 11.5 a little pinchy but 12.5 long and flappy. It is a testament to the fit though that he could run happily (if a little comical-looking) in a size 12.5, with no notable heel lift or foot movement even when traversing slopes. For this we'd like to thank the internal elasticated 'sock', which hugs the foot and does an excellent job of holding everything in position. The soft heel cup has a farly relaxed fit, not at all achilles-troubling. Unique among the shoes in this review - and we can't remember seeing something like it elsewhere - is the Adjustable 360° Support System. This is a fancy name for what amounts to a hook, but the effect of this simple addition is quite clever, allowing you to alter the lace configuration in an instant. Running? Leave the laces relaxed. Scrambling? Use the hook to add an extra zigzag to the system, pulling the shoe in close around the instep for a more precise and technical fit. Lacing that runs right down to the toe helps in this regard as well.
The two-part Vibram outsole has a softer compound up front for grip on rock, and a harder wearing zone at the rear, a combination that we think works well. Overall there's decent grip on wet trails - we tested it on some very wet hill runs with paths like streams. Off the path the traction is less confidence inspiring though, with lugs that aren't as deep or aggressive as the best on test. This is among the most scramble-oriented shoes in the review, a bit stiffer up front than some and with a bit of an edge at the toe for more precise footwork on the rock. In essence it feels rather like an approach shoe at the toe and more of a cushioned trail shoe at the rear - an unusual combination but one with a definite application if you're doing a lot of scrambling in your hill days, or intenting to wear these shoes on more technical crag approaches.
Blending EVA with someting called Polyolefin, the midsole is thick, and does provide plenty of cushioning on harder surfaces; and yet it's undeniable that this shoe feels firmer and less forgiving underfoot than some of the more obviously running-oriented models on test. With its large 9mm drop, the Norvan VT feels closer to a road shoe than a neutral fell shoe. This would probably suit beginners well, and might please those who run with a lot of heel strike, but for picking your way over fiddly rough ground - par for the course when scrambling or skyrunning, for instance, we find the heel a bit high and insensitive.
All shoes are made of synthetic materials these days, but with its shiny unabsorbent outer the Norvan VT looks more sci fi than most. Despite having quite a plasticy feel, the upper feels pretty breathable overall, thanks to a profusion of mesh panels. The exception to this is at the toe and heel, where we have noticed sweaty socks on occasion. The upside of the plastic effect is that where you don't have mesh the shoe is really quite water resistant. If running in the rain the net result is socks with a patina of wet and dry areas - which is more than you can say for some of the less water-resistant shoes on test. A Gore-Tex lined version is also available, and that would come with the usual caveats from our perspective regarding waterproof linings on trail shoes (in short, yuck). With no absorbent material in the uppers, and no stitching or over-layering of fabrics, the unlined version we've been testing dries in super quick time. Toe protection is good, with the addition of a robust bumper.
Inside is what Arc'teryx call Fixed Adaptive Fit Technology. We're going to call it an elastic sock. Forming a piece completely separate to the outer shell, this hugs the foot close, holding things firm, helping to prevent any rubbing, and doing a pretty decent job of keeping out debris (grit can still find a way in between the two layers of the upper). This stretchy mesh is completely breathable, very quick drying, and comfy even if you're not wearing socks. This clever system has a lot going for it, but we do think there's a downside: with no padding or cushioning of any sort inside the shoe, and that thick plasticy outer in close contact with the foot, we find the Norvan VT hard and unforgiving to wear over a long distance. The complete lack of a tongue, padded or otherwise, does tell a bit too, in the sense that the thin round laces can feel uncomfy if tightened too much against the bony top of the foot.
A high-performance trail running shoe with enhanced climbing and scrambling capabilities, the Norvan VT delivers excellent traction and support on unpredictable terrain. The adjustable 360° support system instantly switches from a higher volume run mode to a precise-fitting climb mode. Fixed Adaptive Fit Technology wraps the foot and seals out debris, and the custom Vibram® sole combines a sticky Idrogrip forefoot for traction on slickrock and wet trails with a Megagrip compound for durability.
- Sizes: 6.5-11.5 & 12.5 (men); 3.5 - 8.5 (women)
- Weight: We make it 726g/pair size 11.5; Arc'teryx say 635g/pair size 8.5
- Performance mapped Vibram® outsole combines sticky forefoot climbing zone with a durable Megagrip compound
- 3.5mm lugs
- Adjustable 360° Support System switches from climb mode to run mode
- Durable EVA/Polyolefin blend midsole
- Trail Performance Geometry delivers comfort, precision, and a dynamic ride
- TPU film overlays protect the forefoot, heel and high abrasion areas
- Longwearing 4mm OrthoLite™ 3D molded insert
- Fixed Adaptive Fit Liner comfortably wraps the foot and keeps out debris
- Drop: 9mm
For more info see arcteryx.com
SCOTT Supertrac RC £125
The Supertrac RC is most definitely geared towards the race end of the performance spectrum, being both lightweight and aggressive. However, despite its elite credentials it is remarkably comfortable to run in, with just the right amount of EVA in the heel to take the sting out of hard packed tracks and a seamless upper that hugs the foot tight and steady, without feeling too constrictive. It is also fair to say that this is among the most fell oriented shoes in this review. With a competitive weight, and that little bit of extra support, it's a good all-rounder too. The sole is extremely grippy, suitable for a wide variety of upland environments, with the only downside being the knock-on effect to durability. Other than that it's a hard shoe to knock.
The Supertrac RC is what we would describe as a medium/wide fit, with an average volume in the forefoot. Size-wise they did what they said on the tin, coming in at an accurate 8.5 - no need to go up or down any sizes here. You've got a choice of whole and half sizes all the way from UK 6 - 12 in Men's and 3.5 - 8 in Women's.
The buzz-word in the marketing lingo here is 'radial traction', which - in short - means that the lugs go out in all directions. The result is that it doesn't matter whether you're slipping one way or the other, the sole will grip regardless. This is definitely noticeable on steep and/or grassy terrain, with the shoe performing admirably. As with all shoes there comes a certain mud-based tipping point beyond which no amount of grip can help you, but the Supertrac RC's mud tolerance is definitely higher than most. Due to the soft compound used you definitely notice a bit more purchase on rocky terrain too, which is an area you're always vulnerable due to the frequently high surface area of the soles of most trail/fell shoes. However, on the flip side this obviously has a knock-on consequence to durability. Still, this is a race model so it's hardly surprising…
The heel to forefoot drop is 5mm, which indicates the balance this shoe tries to achieve. It's neither an aggressive 3mm nor a more leisurely 8mm, but sits slap bang in the middle, giving you close-to-the-ground precision but with some measure of forgiveness and comfort for those who aren't used to running in minimalist neutral shoes. That said, with that drop in mind unless you've got a particularly strong forefoot strike, and can run with efficient form for very long distances, then the Supertrac RC might be better considered a short-mid distance shoe. The sole's 'rocker' design might take some getting used to too: instead of offering loads of flex at the ball of the foot (of course there's a bit), the sole is designed to roll the foot forward from heel to toe.
Cushioing in the midsole is actually quite a bit more generous than you'd expect for a shoe of this nature (i.e. one that markets itself towards racing as opposed to recreation), meaning that it's remarkably comfortable on both hard pack and rough terrain.
The uppers are bonded as opposed to stitched, which means they're lighter and a little more flexible than your average shoe. In terms of weight we make it 635g/pair size 8.5; Scott say 500g/pair, approx, to which we can only conclude that they've weighed the smallest size. In theory the bonded upper means there are no pressure points where you'd usually have seams, to rub and cause blisters, and fewer weak points outside to abrade on passing rocks. The result of this is difficult to pin down in isolation when it comes to actual performance, but coupled with the shoe's curved outside/midsole and tongue design it means that the shoe as a whole provides a remarkable degree of comfort and support for such a lightweight, race-orientated shoe. Finally, due to the insubstantial nature of their uppers they dry very quickly when wet.
This is an odd one, and we're not sure how we feel about it, but the insole comes when you remove your foot from the shoe. Apparently this is meant to happen, as the soft and sticky insole is part of what provides your foot with so much stability. As such we're not listing this as a negative, just an observation that will no doubt raise an eyebrow or two (it certainly did ours).
The SCOTT Supertrac RC is a technical mountain racing shoe. The introduction of a unique outsole offering multi-directional traction adds confidence when the trail twists and turns meaning no loss of traction when you need it most. A light weight supportive upper completes this race specific produce for the harshest of terrains. Ideal for Skyrunning races.
- Sizes: 6 - 12 (men); 3.5 - 8 (women): inc 1/2 sizes
- Weight: we make it 635g/pair size 8.5; Scott say 500g/pair approx
- Radial Lug Design
- Wet Traction Rubber
- No Sew Construction
- Race Specific Tongue
- RC Insole
- Uppers - Welded mesh
- Sole: AeroFoam & rubber
- Heel: 22.5mm
- Forefoot: 17.5mm
- Cushioning: Aerofoam
- Drop: 5mm
For more info see scott-sports.com
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