Rocks and dirt zip past under my feet as I climb up a steep trail near Boulder, Colorado, chasing the designer of the shoes I’m wearing.
Pearl Izumi’s Trail N3 is the brand’s latest entry into the trail running category, and as I push myself to keep up with a fast group of runners up 500 feet of steep climbing past lodgepole pines and over jutting boulders, my feet feel secure and protected.
The Trail N3 is doing its job as intended: It’s a protective shoe for long trail runs, or for shorter runs for those who want low heel-toe drop on a firm, supportive under-foot platform.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3: Review
I’ve been running the Trail N3 for a few weeks, and have come to like the shoe, which is more protective than my usual trail shoes.
The Trail N3 has a “dynamic offset,” which means the unweighted 4mm of heel-to-toe drop becomes 7.5mm at mid-stance. The 30mm stack-height puts a lot of foam under the foot.
The brand says the dynamic offset allows for smoother running, and while it’s hard to quantify “smooth,” the shoe does feel good, and reasonably fast for a beefy, protective trail design.
All that foam equates to a very deadened ground-feel; when you step on a sharp rock or pointy root, you’ll not feel much more than the existence of a protrusion on the ground. You’ll perceive the undulation, but your foot will feel very little of the actual edge.
This can be good, especially on longer runs when tired feet lead to slowing pace and, at times, a lot of foot pain. It does, however, separate the runner from the trail a little. Those who enjoy a “minimal” feel should look elsewhere.
But those looking for foot protection and a stable platform will find it in spades. Running over rough terrain, the shoe feels moderately fast, but the firm midsole gives a real solid base for running. Rocks, roots, and dirt will whip past barely noticed under foot.
The moderately aggressive outsole has been good and grippy on both hard rocky dirt trails in Colorado and softer soil in Alaska, the two environments I’ve tested it so far. The lugs may be a little small for super soft mud.
The upper is comfortable without hot spots, and the tongue lays nicely over the forefoot. The laces seem to stay tied well. The shoe fit pretty true to size; I tested a men’s 10.
I spoke with Michael Thompson, the Global Category Manager for Pearl Izumi Footwear, after the run. Thompson, I had noted on our brisk outing up some foothills near Boulder, is a fast dude.
He told me about the design of the shoe, and what the brand hoped to accomplish with the Trail N3:
GJ: What’s your elevator pitch on these shoes?
Thompson: Maximum cushioning, smooth, fluid running experience.
And how do you accomplish that?
Two ways, the seamless upper — the beauty of our shoes is that they just disappear on your feet. The uppers fit really well, without stitching or overlays that irritate your foot, you just forget about them.
That and the midsole, the dynamic offset. It creates a really smooth, fluid running experience from touch down to toe-off.
What is the “dynamic offset.”
The midsole shape – you basically pull back the toe-spring right around dead center of the foot, almost like a forefoot rocker. The dynamic part is that it engages through the stride, and creates a really smooth experience through that mid-foot area and the toe-off.
For me, I’ve been running in them for so long now, when I go back to a traditional run shoe it feels a little slappy, more disjointed.
Who is this shoe for? What runner should chose this shoe?
This is for someone who is just getting into running, maybe a little heavier runner that wants more under foot and enjoys more cushioning, to someone who’s an experienced ultra runner that is going to be out there for 20 hours at a time, and really everything in between. The nice thing about this is that it accomplishes a lot in just one style.
What was the hardest challenge in building this shoe?
Weight, trying to get as much weight out of it without compromising the durability of the shoe.
You’re hoping to get about 300 miles from a pair?
Yes, at least. We have a lot of athletes in it, and we’re getting 300 to 500 miles easily.
Pearl Izumi Trail N3
- Weight: 10.79 ounces (men’s size 9)
- Dynamic Offset: 4 mm at initial contact to 7.5 mm at mid-stance
- Heel Stack Height: 30 mm (includes midsole, outsole and EVA strobel board)
- 1:1 Energy Foam rim and core midsole construction puts soft cushioning under your entire foot
- ESS Forefoot rock plate
- Mulit-directional carbon rubber outsole
- Price: $130
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