So I ran into a journalist, Berne, this weekend at the VT Mountain Bike Festival who writes for Backcountry mag. She does all the gear reviews and offered to hook me up with a few pairs of shoes to test for her. SWEET! So I’m running in two pairs of prototypes at the moment, a pair of New Balance ultralight trail shoes and Keene’s go at a “barefoot shoe”.
Both bring a much needed shoe to the market: super lightweight trail shoe. All these trail shoes seem to be getting over-beefed these days, so it was a pleasant surprise to find shoes that weren’t so bulky.
The NB’s are super light, well constructed, drain and breathe easily, and have a superb rock guard in the forefoot to give just enough protection from unwanted visitors from colliding with my sole. I’ve done everything from quick 7 milers on the trail to 800m track repeats to 12 mile hill workouts on the trail so far. The shoes have held up extremely well, providing just enough between my soles and the ground to let me motor along easily on the trail. With so much debris and rock in these New England woods, a bit of protection is always nice. And the laces! Oh my, scalloped laces, my dream. Because of the form of the laces, they don’t come undone once laced, even when sopping wet. I’m hooked, even though I’m in the metallic purple women’s model!
The Keene’s were the shoe I’d been dreaming about. Light, flashy, fast, and with a lacing design that looks incredible, I wanted these shoes to work so badly-but more on why they didn’t later. They’re uber-minimalist, shunning any form of rock guard, and only have a thin wedge of foam between your foot and the ground. They’re the closest to barefoot that I’ve seen in a shoe, and one needs to be careful with foot strikes just as if barefooting. I really need to get my hands on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers though, as I still haven’t tried what seems to be the ultimate minimalist solution. The lacing design on the Keene’s is wicked, weaving down in a wave from the top of the tongue to the toe box. Incredible. I’ve never found a shoe that I could simply pull the laces from the top and have the entire shoe tighten evenly. One tup from the ends of the laces, and pressure evenly distributed along the entire tongue. How is that even possible? I’ve always had to micro-adjust my laces, dialing in each section to provide more or less pressure. Not with these. But therein lies where I found their failure. I simply couldn’t get the shoes tight enough. The first time I ran in them, my soles were left as raw as if I had been barefooting! How!?! The next attempt a week later proved the same; I tightened the laces until both sides of the lacing eyelets touched, cinched completely closed. Still, it wasn’t tight enough, and my foot had a tendency to rub around in the shoe. In fact, they rubbed so badly, that 2 miles from the end of my run, I stripped off the shoes and opted to barefoot it home instead. That’s not good. The shoe fits almost perfect lengthwise (perhaps a bit more space in the toe box, but still reasonable). So either there’s too much room or in the toe box, or something else is rubbing me the wrong way. And just to clarify, my foot isn’t the narrowest out there. I can fit into almost any shoe and run pretty comfortably.
So I’ve had to sideline the Keene’s, much to my dismay. The Keene’s are the shoes I’ve been dreaming about, wanting to plop into my lap for sometime. Bummer, hope Keene fixes that toe box up, I’d love the shoe if they fit properly. The NB’s are my go to at the moment.