In a quest that’s stretching now beyond the two-year mark to find the perfect trail-running shoe, I’ve discovered only one real thing: There is no perfect trail-running shoe.
For every situation and every trail, for every person, for every foot, a different shoe will work better or worse. I’m happy now, finally, with that conclusion.
But all that said, for the subgenre of trail sprinting, for 5K races and shorter on dirt and rock trail, there is a perfect shoe, or at least a most-perfect shoe on the market, for my particular foot.
For me, that near-perfect shoe is the F-Lite 250 made by Inov-8, a U.K.-based company.
This svelte little shoe, which is built on a minimalist philosophy, is among the industry’s lightest-weight models made for the outdoors. An average F-Lite 250 weighs 9 ounces.
The company calls the $90 F-Lite 250 an “elite lightweight racing shoe ideal for use on hard pack mountainous terrain.” It has a low-profile midsole, which essentially means there is very little cushioning underfoot, and its upper is a thin synthetic mesh that offers only mediocre protection from errant roots and rocks.
The sole is so thin that you can feel sharp stones through the rubber when running on a path. Also, its outsole is made of a sticky smooth rubber with no knobs and little tread, making the F-Lite 250 slippery on wet grass.
But the lack of material makes the shoe feel almost absent from your foot. It is nearly half the weight of some trail-runners on the market, and this makes a huge difference over the course of a couple mountainous miles.
It just fits me right, too, letting my foot move and flex totally unencumbered over different types of terrain.
Beginning runners need not apply for the F-Lite 250. By design Inov-8 made sacrifices in comfort, support and foot protection in the name of speed. Anyone with knee issues might think twice as well.
But for heat-of-the-race type scenarios, for that specific situation of sprints on the trail, I have yet to find a better shoe.
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)