The Dirt Is Calling

Written by: Adam Chase

When the trails start calling your name be sure to be ready for whatever terrain you may encounter. 2009 has delivered a great set of new trail shoes from some classic manufacturers, as well as a few new players.

Oboz Ignition II

Oboz Ignition II, $95
Oboz (Outside Bozeman) hit the market last year with a running start, and its sole trail running shoe, the Ignition, now in its second round, manages to impress.

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The Ignition is a multi-purpose shoe that can also work for hiking, approach and scrambling, thanks to features like a stretch-mesh upper bootie construction that’s snug enough around the ankle to block out trail debris, and the 3D Air Mesh upper that is adequately breathable. The shoe’s anatomical footbed uses multiple densities for precise, next-to-foot cushioning. The dual-density EVA midsole, forefoot cage and rather hard high-friction outsole is plenty protectiv e, but it detracts a bit from the Ignition’s trail feel because the ride feels rigid even though the forefoot flexion is good. The shoe features moderate cushioning, a low-profile ride and extreme flexibility on a wide platform. Our test team found the upper roomy, if not loose and malleable – a good thing for high-volume feet, but not secure enough for those wanting a snugger fit for challenging trails.

LaFuma Akteon

LaFuma Akteon OT, $130
Sometimes the line that separates scrambling footwear and running shoes is a thin one – and the Akteon OT toes that line. It struck our testers for being lighter than it looks, and it performs well on rocky downhills, especially because of its cushy upper and comfortable lace system. The Akteon gets rave reviews for its comfortable fit. The Vibram outsole provides excellent traction for traversing side slopes, but on climbs or flatter sections, the shoe impressed our test team as a lightweight hiker. We recommend it for those who are in the market for a mountain cross-trainer.

LaSportiva Wildcat

LaSportiva Wildcat, $100
Just as the challenge of being simultaneously waterproof and breathable has perplexed the outdoor industry, the challenge of making a shoe that is protective and flexible has frustrated footwear manufacturers. LaSportiva, known for its armor-like shoes that shield the foot against gnarly trail abuse, has attacked the flexibility part of the equation with the introduction of the Wildcat. To increase softness, it features an extra layer of EVA cushioning under the footbed, and for stability, it features a plastic heel stabilization cup that holds the rear of the foot securely with minimal weight. A scree guard that is integrated under the laces to ward off trail debris can put pressure on the instep for those with high arches, but otherwise our test team found the Wildcat plush from start to finish.

Patagonia Release

Patagonia Release, $110
Patagonia, a company known for its light treading, has introduced a multisport shoe that functions well for adventure travel when you have only one pair of shoes and don’t know if you’ll be hiking, scrambling or running. Our testers really appreciated the fine craftsmanship that makes the Release the handsome shoe that it is, and they recommend it for runners who want the plentiful protection afforded by firm midsole material. Patagonia uses recycled EVA in a sandwich of shock pads, protection plates, an arch bridge in the midsole and a Vibram outsole. For a very secure upper feel, the Release features plastic heel-to-instep collar arms that embrace your feet.

Scarpa Raptor

Scarpa Raptor, $90
The Raptor may suffer an identity crisis because, while it’s certainly running-compatible, it’s also well suited for scrambling, light hiking, trekking and other multisport mountain disciplines. Our testers enjoyed the secure feeling and comfortable fit of the ribbed synthetic leather and nylon mesh upper. The EVA midsole, with a forefoot plastic protective shield and heel stabilizing system, is both protective and dampens impact, but it leaves the Raptor on the heavy side. Our test team recommends it for off-road use only.

Merrell CP Paragon

Merrell CP Paragon, $90
The Paragon meets the needs of trail runners who enjoy lightweight, low-profile and airy minimalist shoes. The upper features Merrell’s M-fit and slip-resistant heel lining for controlled security that’s complemented by a gender-specific anatomical curve last fit. Despite the simple feel, the Paragon has a lot going on underfoot, including midsole cushioning from multiple materials that also provide support and stabilization. The women’s model features a Q-Form pronation control, while both the men’s and women’s versions boast added forefoot protection for metatarsal shielding on uneven terrain and multiple forefoot flex grooves. Our testers found that these features combine for a unique ride that feels rather naked, a good thing for some but too exposed for others.

The North Face Voza

The North Face Voza, $95
Because not all trail runners have easy access to trails without logging many road miles to get to and from their favored surface, companies like The North Face choose to make shoes that can be used on numerous surfaces, including pavement. The Voza is a road and trail shoe hybrid that should serve a wide variety of neutral runners, given its dual-tread outsole with a road-ready center and aggressive perimeter for trail traction. The Voza also features a smooth and simple compression-molded EVA midsole, which makes for smooth heel-to-toe transitions on most types of terrain.

Teva X-1 Control 2

Teva X-1 Control 2, $100
The X-1 Control has been retooled with a new last that fits more closely, but not so much that it squeezed our testers’ toes, although the mid and forefoot constrained our high-volume testers. Teva has done a fine job of retaining the Control’s smooth heel-to-toe transition, but that comes at the cost of minimal underfoot protection and cushioning despite the integration of a forefoot protection web to guard against bone bruises. Accordingly, the shoe is not recommended for long runs on more rugged terrain or for heavier runners. The Control runs well on and off pavement, and Teva’s relaxed approach to pronation control through a dual-density midsole is unobtrusive.

Salomon XT Whisper

Salomon XT Whisper, $115
Salomon has always made alluring women’s apparel, but with the XT Whisper, it enters the women’s trail shoe market in an attractive and versatile way. The Whisper is a hybrid road and trail shoe that our testers found comfortable on tame trails, dirt roads, bridal paths and paved surfaces. The fit is what stands out, thanks to a women’s-specific last and a lightweight Agile Chassis System that Salomon tweaked to accommodate women’s feet. The Sensifit quicklace allows for a secure feel, and the dual-density, posted midsole provides dynamic return, support, pronation control and cushioning.

Vasque Momenta (Women)

Vasque Celerator (Men)

Vasque Momenta (Women)/Celerator (Men), $120
Call it sexist, but Vasque is keenly aware of the differences between genders and has accordingly introduced female- and male-specific shoes. The Momenta is shaped to support a woman’s metatarsals with a women’s-specific last, and it has a narrower heel, higher instep and lower center of gravity. Beyond the different fit, the neutral performance of the Momenta and Celerator represents the lightest of the company’s relatively heavy line. Both shoes feature highly breathable uppers, Vibram outsoles and protective midsoles – although the mid and outsole combination isn’t flexible enough for our test team to recommend the shoes for road running.

End Outdoors Stumptown

End Outdoors Stumptown, $85
END (Environmentally Neutral Design) is dedicated to the environment and treading lightly. This message is nowhere better presented than in the super-light Stumptown 12 oz. With this shoe, the company has taken a minimalist approach, focusing on sustainability in materials and the manufacturing process, both of which help the shoe to stay super light. The Stumptown’s key focus is its combination recycled and virgin EVA midsole, which gives it moderate cushioning, a low-profile ride and extreme flexibility on a wide platform. Our test team found the upper roomy, if not loose and malleable – a good thing for high-volume feet, but not secure enough for those wanting a snugger fit for challenging trails.

INov-8 Flyroc 310

INov-8 Flyroc 310, $95
If you have a fast-paced trail race coming up, especially one with lots of ascents, the Flyroc 310 is a great choice. It has the feel of a racing flat and offers superb traction to nimble-footed trail racers who don’t need much in the way of cushioning or support. The fit is snug from heel to toe, as the shoe has a narrow, very flexible midsole over an outsole that means business. Our testers noted that these speed demons felt funny while walking, but when on rugged, muddy or sandy trails, it was hard to hold back from full-throttle running. Accordingly, the 310 is recommended for neutral, lightweight runners who plan to use them for racing or fast-paced training on rugged terrain.

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