By BENJAMIN ROMAN
Trail-running shoes perform a tricky balancing act. They need to be light, agile, and cushioned for miles of fast trails, so they can’t simply be sporty hiking shoes. But to deliver real stability and protection, they have to be more than road runners with extra tread.
The SyncroSeek III WRX ($120, www.pearlizumi.com) is Pearl Izumi’s weatherproof trail runner, and last month I pounded out miles of trails to see how it performed. Topanga State Park outside Los Angeles was the perfect testing ground, with canyon conditions ranging from dry hardpack and scree to some slimy mud crossings.
Stability and protection are key features in a great trail runner, and the SyncroSeek III scored excellent marks. The low-profile outsole provides a stable platform, and reinforced webbing in the upper gives solid lateral support when running alongside slopes. A flex-grooved forefoot plate protects the foot without sacrificing flexibility, and rubber toe and heel caps give added protection. Traction was also exceptional on all the different surfaces I encountered, and the star-pattern tread seemed to shed caked-on dirt better than the ridged patterns on some other trail runners I have tested.
Pearl Izumi SyncroSeek III WRX
Skydex, a patented cushioning and protective material, gives the SyncroSeek III a firm but comfortable ride. A clever feature is Pearl Izumi’s “SyncroFrame,” a rigid plastic chassis within the cushioning layer. It essentially functions like a built-in orthotic to help control pronation while still allowing full cushioning throughout the heel. Arch support was decent, and the seamless liner effectively prevented any blister hotspots.
The softshell upper is a different approach to weatherproofing than the more common Gore XCR liner found in competitors. In my humble opinion, it’s a terrific compromise. The SyncroSeek III WRX is water-resistant, not waterproof, but a gusseted tongue and DWR finish easily handled mud and splashes. And the big advantage of the softshell material is genuine breathability, meaning faster drying if water does invade, and a shoe that’s still usable on a warm, dry day.
The biggest drawback of the SyncroSeek III WRX might be its weight: At just over 14 ounces for each shoe (in size 10), they’re not featherweights. But they’re certainly not clunky either, and I’m willing to sacrifice ultralight weight in a shoe that keeps my feet happy for miles. Also, Pearl Izumi sizing seems to run small, so go up a half-size from your normal running shoes.
The bottom line: A very stable and comfortable trail runner with excellent traction, and the added versatility of softshell weatherproofing.
—Contributor Benjamin Roman is a writer and design consultant from Venice, Calif.