Since moving from New york City to Boulder, Colorado in 2011 I’ve had the amazing experience of getting to run more trails that I ever thought I’d be able to. Combine that with Gearist and I get to spend a lot of time, in a lot of different shoes, on a lot of cool trails. When wear testing/reviewing though I am sure to go on the same trail a couple of times as a control. This gives me the chance to truly get a feel for the shoe I’m wearing in both a subjective and objective way.
Having really enjoyed the Pearl Izumi EM Road N1, I was quite excited to get their dynamic offset technology dirty and see how it performed.
The trail I use for my control is one that I’ve run in myriad different conditions. I’ve run there when it’s bone dry, when it’s muddy and when it’s snowy. I’ve run on both dry and wet long grasses and on rocks, from pebbles to boulders at least double my height. The great thing about this trail is that if a shoe has a weakness it’s exposed pretty quickly but it’s also a place to really push the limits of a shoe.
The first run I did with the Trail N1 was on the trail when it was about 50/50, dry/muddy. As I made my way up the mountain I could already begin to feel the quick transition and the smooth ride of the dynamic offset (which we’ll talk much more about in the midsole section). The blown rubber lug system on this shoe is not one that stands out as being super aggressive but the way in which it works with the rest of the shoe is where it shines.
On the dry, dusty surface the lug system did a great job both up and downhill, never requiring me to slow down for any of the more parkour-esque (in my mind) cuts and leaps I was working with. I mentioned a minute ago that the trail I use for my control is one that will reveal weakenss in shoes. One of the key ways that it does this is through its mud. The dirt on the trail is very fine when dry which, in turn, results in some REALLY slick mud. When I was forced to de-beautify the Trail N1, it was in this slick mud. The lugs did a nice job of keeping things under relative control and I really believe that the only thing that would have done better is something with a very aggressive cleat.
One thing I think should be pointed out is that PI touts a “self-cleaning lug pattern”. I was curious about how this would work and it took me a second to realize it’s function. When you’re running through mud and gunk, the lugs – like any lugs – will get clogged and may result in a slick bottom. However, when you do make it back to dry land, the lugs do shed mud quite quickly.
In our review of the Road N1 from Pearl Izumi we went into their Dynamic Offset technology. With it, the drop/offset is different at different points depending on where the foot is exerting weight at the time. With the Trail N1, PI advertises the drop as being 1mm. To me, it feels close to that though maybe a tiny bit more (maybe 3?). I know I’m splitting hairs here but with people being super picky about tech specs of shoes, I figued it worth mentioning. It’s also worth saying that on a trail the weight is often loaded onto the foot differently than on the road and so it’s not as big a deal.
As with the Road N1, the midsole of the Trail N1 uses PI’s 1:1 foam which makes for a ride that’s not overly firm and not super cushy either. Again, like the Road N1, the shape of the outsole/midsole of the shoe has almost a rockered look (without feeling like a true rocker) that accounts for a crazy smooth ride. Also in the midsole is a rock plate that protects the foot without sacrificing flexibility.
Finding the right balance between comfort and durability is something that is challenging for trail shoes. On one hand you want a shoe that offers plenty of room but doesn’t have buckling in the fabric that could easily lead to tears. Then you want something that is rugged enough to survive hard, rock and debris filled miles but without feeling like you’re wearing cardboard on your foot. The upper of the Trail N1 has it pretty well nailed.
The upper is a double-layered mash that externally keeps out the big junk but has a fine enough backing to keep out sand and the like. It manages to do that while being a true single piece construction. Though not as stretchy as the upper of the Road N1, the Trail N1 does use the same shape which is a great fit for the shoe. The support and strapping elements of the upper are heat bonded and quite minimal, extending from the midfoot, back. The bonded, seamless toe cap if flexible but heavy enough to protect toes and feet from trail hazards and clumsiness alike.
Probably one of may favorite aspects of this shoe – that should be filed under the, “the seemingly insignifigant things are often the coolest” department – is the tongue retention system. The tongue, which is made of of non-absorbing, perforated SBR foam, has the usual lace guide loop about halfway up. On top of that though, there are two loops on the sides of the tongue toward the top. When the laces are passed through these loops that tongue won’t even dream of moving around. Rounding out the upper is a fairly rigid heel counter that compliments the cup in the rear of the sockliner and makes for a solid rear foot fit.
Sizing in the Trail N1 is exactly where it should be and I had no need to over-tighten or over-loosen the laces to make up for my foot. Through the midfoot the shoe fit me very comfortable and the almost featureless inside of the upper made for a hug-like fit. Perhaps by listening to runners or maybe simply by looking at th way the foot is shaped, Pearl Izumi has done a nice job woth the toe box of this shoe giving it ample, comfortable space.
The E:Motion line from Pearl Izumi is one that has really made a splash with it’s smooth ride. While many people look to cushioning to keep down wear on the body, PI’s dynamic offset uses its shape and fit to do the same. In the Trail N1, this is no different. The ride is ultra smooth and the ground feel is really well done.
Now to explain (if I can) my favorite part of the Trail N1’s ride. When running trails, particularly on super uneven and technical surfaces, the foot is constantly adapting to what it feels underfoot. No two footfalls are the same. It’s the nature of the Trail N1 and its Dynamic Offset that it gives a ton of ground feel and sense of where the foot is relative to the surface. If I need to land on my heel for some reason, the transition to the forefoot is fluid and quick. If I need to land on a hard side cut, the regressed toe spring give the shoe a shape that keeps me in contact with the ground enough to know exactly where I want to go next.
At 9.6 ounces (men’s size 9) the EM Trail N1 is a pleasantly light-ish trail shoe. Also, while it is $115, that price is pretty standard for a good trail shoe and it’s really durable to boot so the cost-per-mile is very appealing. While I do think that some people would like to see a model similar to this with a bit of a more aggressive lug, I think that would disrupt the character and feel of the shoe.
Pearl Izumi has had quite a good response with the E:Motion line and for me, this shoe fits right in there with its counterparts. With a new Pearl Izumi Road N0 (that’s a zero) on its way to Gearist HQ we’re stoked to check out this smooth ride in an even more slimmed down body.