The billion-dollar shoe brand that made its name in wool and natural materials construction enters the performance running category for the first time in its history. Meet the Allbirds Dasher running shoe.
If you listen to podcasts or scroll through your Instagram feed, you’ve heard of Allbirds. The USA-New Zealand brand took America by storm in just 4 short years with a wildly successful Kickstarter and marketing blitz that touted the brand’s commitment to footwear made from natural materials.
Fast forward to 2020, and Allbrids now has a reported valuation near $1.5 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal, and a cult following of eco- and style-minded consumers. But up until now, those consumers have largely remained in the lifestyle category. That changes today with Allbirds unveiling its first “performance-oriented shoe.”
The $125 Dasher maintains the brand’s commitment to sustainability, with a castor-bean-oil midsole, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified rubber, tree fiber upper, renewable eucalyptus, merino wool, and sugarcane-based sole. But Allbirds also aimed at casual-to-intermediate runners, promising a dual-density foam that provides both cushion and energy return.
We tested the Allbirds on some urban runs and exercise routines to get a feel for the brand’s first step into athletic shoes.
In short: Allbirds’ first swing at running shoes will likely appeal to a specific demographic — namely, casual runners and comfort-minded individuals seeking a lightweight, stylish shoe that offers light athletic capability.
Serious road runners should look elsewhere for more supportive, purpose-built shoes that have speed and support at the forefront.
Allbirds Dasher Running Shoe Review
I opened the box containing the size 13 Dashers excitedly, as I — like most people between the ages of 18 and 50 — have heard of the brand across numerous social media and entertainment platforms.
I knew the brand for its wool construction — a novelty, if not an altogether unique approach to shoe construction. So when I received an offer to test the brand’s first dedicated running shoe, I jumped at the opportunity.
Like its predecessors, the Dasher is grounded in a sustainability story. The upper is a blend of responsibly sourced wool and eucalyptus. A castor bean oil-based insole provides the surface your foot touches, while an outsole made from sugarcane and natural rubber contacts the ground.
Aesthetically, the Dasher strikes a spitting image of its brethren: jumbo eyelets, soft laces, and a classy, toned-down fabric upper that screams comfort. And to be sure, these are comfortable shoes. But their prowess during high output presented a serious question mark.
Is the Allbirds Dasher a Good Running Shoe?
With a week to test before the Dasher’s launch, I managed to put in about 20 miles of running and walking, and another few thousand footsteps of “athletic activity.” For me, that means running stairs and light calisthenics (think jumping rope and agility workouts).
The key takeaway is this: The Dasher is every bit as comfortable and easy to wear as it looks. As a running shoe, it will work for light distance on pavement and some moderate activity. For serious runners, it will likely not usurp a favorite brand or model. Other companies rooted in performance wear have their designs and materials dialed to stand up to abuse and high demand.
Why do I say that? Primarily the fit. The Allbirds Dasher has just four eyelet pairs per shoe. The typical running shoe in my quiver boasts seven. Those extra cinch points and longer laces translate to a more snug, secure fit.
Running in the Dashers for the first time, I had to stop and re-tighten the laces because my heel was slipping up and down inside the shoe. After an initial retying, however, the Dashers stayed put and provided comfortable and noticeably breathable running support.
Running stairs and performing light agility routines (side-to-side movement), I enjoyed the Dashers’ lightweight and airy construction. I paid more attention to lacing before taking off, and it made a difference. I still wouldn’t choose the Dasher for serious high-output activity, as they can’t compete with purpose-built running/agility shoes for support.
But for around-the-town exploits or a light jog, the Dashers offer both comfort and a bit of modern style.
Allbirds Dasher Sustainable Running Shoe
The materials Allbirds used for the Dasher also add some merit for those concerned with their shoes’ environmental impact. Allbirds provides a measuring tool to calculate the carbon footprint of its shoes. According to the brand, each pair of Dashers has a 9kg carbon footprint, which Allbirds says it offsets through its Carbon Fund.
The plant-based construction also means the Dashers are machine washable. Though not advertised by the brand, I suspect the Dashers will also resist odor thanks to wool’s natural antimicrobial properties.
As for the feel, the shoes are airy and breathable. Frequent runners will notice less spring than in synthetic-midsole shoes. The energy return in the Dasher feels more muted but no less protective or comfortable. If anything, the shoes offer a more authentic ground feel than shoes with “cushier” foam.
Allbirds Dasher Running Shoe
The verdict: Allbirds remains a lifestyle brand first. Though it touts “thousands of miles” of testing by amateur and professional athletes, its running shoe debut will fit more with those taking their first steps into road running, or those whose primary concern is sustainability.
That said, the brand nails its marketing message when it says the Dasher is “perfect for everything from your morning 5K to your dash to the grocery store.” For those activities, I’ll gladly lace ’em up.