Shoe Review – Pearl Izumi N2 trail shoes

Pearl Izumi N2 Trail Shoes

To be brutally honest, I set out to hate these shoes. From the moment I saw them online they didn’t really click with me. From the chunky sole and the color scheme to the “fat-soles”, I did not anticipate liking these. As a runner, I have trended towards the minimilast movement and have stayed there because my feet are happy (along with the rest of my body). The last dozen or so pairs have all been 0mm drop and I always check that very important specification before even trying them on. Obviously this would be a change, but one that ended up not being as dramatic as I anticipated.

The N2’s showed up and like any pair of shoes I receive, I ripped them open like a 6 year old at Christmas. With 2 runs scheduled for the following day, I figured that getting out there on them would be easy. As an avid trail runner, I noticed the tread pattern seemed rugged enough, so was pleased with that. Here are the specs (from the Pearl Izumi website):

  • New seamless upper creates a supple and supportive fit for technical trail running

  • Dynamic offset-shaped E:MOTION TM midsole is bio-mechanically tuned for a neutral to supinator running gait

  • 1:1 Energy Foam in forefoot cushions upon impact and returns energy back to the runner during propulsion

  • ESS forefoot rock plate protects feet against stone bruising and rock push-through

  • New aggressive multi-directional carbon rubber outsole offers superb traction and abrasion resistance

  • Dynamic offset: 4mm at initial contact to 7.5mm at mid-stance

  • Heel stack height: 24.5mm (includes midsole and outsole)

  • Weight: 10.0oz/283g (size 9)

Decent trail tread pattern helps stabilize your stride on rocks while not picking them up.

First things first: the fit:

The N2’s are equipped with “non-slip” laces…call me a purist but my first words were, “what, are these Skechers?” Upon picking up the first shoe, I noticed the weight was more than I am used to, but as far as chunky soled shoes go, these are lighter than most. It would definitely be a change if you are used to running in flatter or more minimalistic shoes. As I laced them up, I noted there is a secondary hole for better ankle support and moved the laces back to those holes.

Next: the walk:
Following all my initial guffawing and sighing, I stood up and attempted to walk, assuming it would be like wearing high heels. However, I found that the shoes were fairly comfortable and I did not feel like I was going to trip.

And then: the run (test #1).
The trail I went out on for this initial test is one that starts with a little single track and then has a fairly steep decline to get down to a river trail. One of the first things I noticed was how my feet did not feel as swift through each stride, actually making me feel slower as a runner. I chalked that up to my more mimalistic tendencies, and those who run in heavier trail shoes may not notice a difference (editors note: I have confirmed this in my running with a pair. As someone who consistently runs in mid-heavy duty shoes, these fell in line and I noticed no difference). Despite the feeling of heaviness, when I got to the descent section, the N2’s glided down the hill unlike anything I had ever worn, which definitely got my attentionin a good way. I found that the rear lace hole option was not enough to fix the heel slop, so I stopped and used a simple lace up technique for trapping the heel and continued on.

On solid dirt trail, the N2’s were good and on rocks and roots they performed well. My only complaint would be in what they consider their “multi-directional carbon rubber outsole”. To be fair, not all shoes are created equal when it comes to trail running and I am aware of that, but if you run trails and like to run around actual real live rocks and roots, you want “side of shoe” protection, which is runner speak for the outsole. Some shoes are built in such a way that it’s like having really good mud tires for shoes. Some shoes are not that great. I would place the N2’s somewhere in the middle. The saving grace for this pair is in the height of the outsole, which places your toes just high enough to avoid most abrasion but not protected enough for really large rocks. To this runner, a good trail shoe is one that has excellent outsole support and protection. This pair of shoes would likely work great for your typical city trail, but may not hold up as well if you are into more technical trails.

After about mile 4, the sole beneath the balls of my feet began to feel shifty, as if the factory insole was sliding around. I pushed on, however, and finished up after just 6.1. I was happy that there were a couple of pluses and looked forward to run #2.

No more and then: the run (test #2):

My second run in the N2’s was planned to be a hybrid of sorts; some trail and some pavement. I anticipated 3-4 road miles followed by 3-4 trail miles. Starting out on the road, the first mile was decent and I noticed the heel slop was not as bad as it had been on the twists and turns of the trail during the first run. This makes sense, of course, due to my stride not being affected by changes in my footing, but I felt that these trail shoes held up at least equally as well on the road as on the trail. That may be a positive or negative, depending on your preference.

The entirety of the road run was actually quite nice and the shoes performed very well. Once I got to the trails, I felt the heel slop return slightly, even though I had made a change to the lacing after run #1. It’s tough to say if there is a better way to deal with it but given what I tried I would say probably not.

To give the N2’s some credit, they are really comfortable on every stride. The height of the outsole again proves to be what saves them when it comes to rocks and obstacles. After 8.5 combined miles, I decided to push for a little more and ran another 3 on road and again enjoyed the impact from each stride, the comfort to my feet, and the notable difference that a maximalist shoe offers by way of the height of the sole.

OK then: the run (test #3):

The goal is to get these shoes over the 20 mile threshold for the sake of “break in period”. Every shoe is different, but 20 miles seems to be a good barometer of whether or not I would consider buying another pair. Even though I enjoyed how the N2’s felt on pavement, I knew that their real test had to come on the dirt, so off I went to my favorite trail system; Smith Rock.

The goal was 12-14 of nothing but trail (except that tiny bit of concrete at the top) and provided me a great opportunity to retrace my steps of the Monkey Face Half from the previous weekend. Aware of the heel slop from my first 2 attempts, I swapped out the non-slip laces for some slightly longer standard laces, made my adjustment for trying to lock in the heel and set off. Making the change to the laces was immediately noticed (I would highly recommend doing the same if you choose to buy a pair of N2’s), and I was able to almost eliminate the slop.

After toying with these shoes, trying them on different surfaces, and experimenting with laces, I will admit that the only thing I’m not a huge fan of is the lack of protection on the sides of the shoes that make up the toe box (again realizing that I am heavy trail runner). The N2’s will probably not be primary go to trail shoe, but after 30+ miles, they’re growing on me.

Pearl Izumi N2 Trail Shoes

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Ultra runner with an ice cream addiction.

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