By Outdoor Prolink Editorial Intern and resident dirtbag Sara Aranda. Sara likes to climb, trail run, travel, adventure, test gear and write all about it. She currently lives in Yosemite.
I’ve always known Pearl Izumi for their cycling and triathlon gear, especially because I raced sprint triathlons in college. I was excited to test their line of trail running shoes as well. My current favorite pair of trail shoes are the La Sportiva Helios, size 39.5, so I will be comparing the Pearl Izumi Trail N3, size 39, to shoes I have thoroughly enjoyed.
The environment that I run in is of course where I currently live, Yosemite National Park, and there are endless trails right out my front door. Surfaces range from paved pathways (asphalt) to my favorite mixture of dirt, mud, rock, and pine-needle. What’s also great is that there are plenty of relatively flat routes, but also an endless amount of incline for pushing my cardio. I need shoes that will not only provide comfort for technical work through rock and tree-root laden trails, but will also help me conserve energy during longer runs.
When I first opened the Pearl Izumi box, the shoes looked huge, and behold, there was the first difference between the Pearl Izumi and the La Sportiva shoes. The Helios fall into the minimalist category, weighing in at only 6.75 oz, with a sleek and foot-hugging fit, and I’ve gotten quite used to them. The N3 is made for maximum comfort, so the outsole is seemingly extra-wide with a heel stack height of 30mm (Helios: 20mm). This, of course, makes for a bulkier shoe at 9.70 oz.
My goal was to take the N3 for short test runs on varied terrain, and if they seemed promising, then I’d go for an hour run test. It had rained the day before, and I was definitely excited to see how they’d perform. The tread, a multi-directional carbon rubber, was adequate for the trail and not too aggressive for the paved bike trails. The cushioning was very apparent, and felt great the first mile, but then I began to notice discomfort in my feet. I’m used to striking with my midfoot, but the N3 seemed stiff and with all the stack in the heel, I felt that maybe the shoe was made for runners who heel-strike. I felt silly not knowing the heel-to-toe drop, and was surprised to see that it was only 4mm, which is the same as the Helios. However, the N3 also has a ‘dynamic offset: 4mm at initial contact,’ (initial contact usually means heel strike), ‘to 7.5mm at mid-stance.’ I’m still not quite sure about this tactic, and it makes me wonder if this dynamic range is causing more harm than good for my feet.
I wanted to give the shoes another try, so I continued to take them out, but couldn’t get past four miles without discomfort. I was curious if the Helios, with less cushioning (but surprising comfort) had sabotaged my experience with any other shoe, so I pulled out my old Montrail FluidFeel II’s (8.3 oz, 8mm drop). Despite the Montrails having been run into the ground, they were still comfortable and my feet felt fine. But, like the Helios, they are a much more flexible shoe than the N3. My favorite test for flexibility, is the shoe crunch, where you hold the shoe in your hands and try to press the toe towards the laces.
For the mixed terrain that I am running on, I need a shoe that will allow my feet to flex and flow according to their natural form. A firm sole, which often comes with the territory of more ‘cushioning’, tends to disallow my feet to roll as they please. Unfortunately for the N3’s, I often felt like I had been kicking a wall for thirty minutes, but that could have been due to me heel-striking more to accommodate the sensation of the shoes. But don’t get me wrong, they are a very high quality shoe, well made with durable materials and they dried exceptionally fast when I ran through a small creek.
- Quick drying
- Knobby laces stay tied
- Adequate tread, which works with a range of surfaces
- Seamless upper mesh
- Fun color scheme
- True to size
- Durable and well-made
- Forefoot rock plate
- Large toe box seems superfluous, and might feel rattly for women with narrow feet
- Not the lightest shoe out there, but not the heaviest either
- Rubbing occurs against my achilles if I don’t wear tall socks
- A relatively stiff shoe
I browsed the internet for other reviews and found a range of likes and dislikes. Some said the shoe is more for around town or recovery runs, and others said it truly is the ultra-runner’s dream. It’s challenging to test shoes, as everyone’s feet, and running styles, are so different and unique to the runner. I would recommend these shoes for non-technical trails, like a dirt fire-road or something with gravel. And if any shoe hurts your feet, the general rule is to simply not use them and try something else – they are definitely not worth an injury. Kudos to Pearl Izumi for creating a shoe that looks like it’ll last forever (definitely more so than my Helios), but the verdict is that my feet will be happier with a more minimalistic shoe in this case.