Although Bishop is known as one of the best bouldering areas in the world, the sad fact of the matter (for our group, anyway) was that we just didn’t have the endurance to climb nonstop all day long. So we’d wake up and climb for a few hours, bang out a few miles on the trails after lunch, then hit the boulders again before crashing for the night.
With its scrub brush, dry riverbeds, sandy trails, and rocky switchbacks, Buttermilk’s high desert terrain gave us a great chance to try out a variety of trail shoes, so we laced up and hit the trails with some new kicks. Here’s what we came up with. Shoe photos by Brett Faulknor.
Heading out to the testing ground. From left to right: Will Hinkson, Brett Faulknor, and Billy Brown
The Road-to-Trail Shoe: Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral 12oz, $134.95
Salomon’s first road-friendly shoe, the XR Crossmax is designed to be as comfortable on the road as it is on the trail. After testing them on pavement in San Diego, tester and photographer Brett Faulknor took the XR Crossmax out on Bishop’s trails, and they didn’t disappoint.
I’ve never used the speedlace system before. They’re the only pair of laces I’ve used that haven’t come undone on a run. They never even loosened up. The tread is low-profile enough for pavement, but it provided sure footing the whole time, running on and scrambling over loose rocks.
The support was great – I have flattish feet, and my feet bother me on long runs. The 8-mile test I didn’t think about my feet at all. The lace system kept my heels in place, which was impressive, especially on the downhill portions. All my trail runners feet clunky, but these ones feel really responsive, thanks in part to the snappy OS Tendon on the outsole.
The only real complaint that I have is that I got a lot of debris in the shoe; a tighter ankle cuff would have been handy to keep out the occasional pebble.
The All-Arounder: Columbia Ravenous Lite 7oz,$80
At 7 ounces for my size 10.5′s, Columbia’s Ravenous Lite trail running shoes are the company’s lightest running shoe, and it definitely has a nice minimalist feel. The mesh upper and nylon frame keeps the shoe extremely supple. I was a bit worried about the shoe’s narrow look, since I’ve got wide-ish feet. Fortunately, there’s pretty much no restriction of toe movement within the shoe and the mesh stretched enough to make for a comfortable, secure fit. The open mesh is a double-edged sword – it makes for great drainage after creek crossings, but the mesh tends to pick up stickers when running through grassy areas.
While not exactly barefoot (it’s got a 5mm heel-to-toe drop), it’s extremely flexible, thanks to its slim Techlite midsole and thin, flexible outsole. This pliable platform allowed the shoe to wrap around rocks and trail obstructions rather than forcing my ankle to roll over them (which kept my ankles happy), yet provided enough protection to keep me from wincing when running over the occasional sharp rock.
They’re actually great off-trail, too. The Techlite midsole provides enough cushion to keep them comfortable on longer pavement runs and since they’ve got a nice muted style (I got the black/grey color), I’ve been using them as my go-to travel shoes. They came in especially handy on a recent sprint across SFO to make my connection.
The Comfort King: TrekSta Edict Trail Runners 11oz, $135
Using a last that’s derived from the scans of 20,000 feet, TrekSta’s footwear is shaped more like an actual foot than any other shoe (besides the toed kind). Tester Matt Moseley tried out Treksta’s offering, their Edict trail runner, to see if the shoe fits (and whether you should wear it). After trying them out in the Wiskeytown Recreation Area’s mountainous singletrack, he took them to Bishop.
A foot-shaped last gives the Edict an extremely comfortable fit and its sturdy sole offers foot burly protection on rocky terrain. The toe box is my favorite of any trail shoe I’ve tested – the toe-shaped toe box (what a concept!) allows for a snug fit without a bunch of unnecessary space. This design allows for a better feel of the terrain and a great fit overall. The shoes shed water remarkably well which was surprising since they do not have the “mesh” look.
The tread on the bottom of the shoe is not very aggressive which leads to some minor slippage on sandy or gritty terrain, but the Hypergrip outsole held up on creek crossings. The shoes took some getting used to since the heel drop is a little more than I have found on other trail shoes, but the stiff platform provided plenty of protection over sharp rocks and felt supportive on technical trails.
The Trail Killer: La Sportiva Vertical K $115
La Sportiva’s superlight, super-flexible minimalist Vertical K trail running shoe’s midsole had me a bit confused. Since midsoles tend to add weight and reduce flexibility and groundfeel, minimalist shoes usually stick with a super-thin midsole or do away with it altogether. Instead, La Sportiva’s lightweight Morphodynamic midsole and the grooves in the shoe’s outsole provide great rock and shock absorbtion (I could feel sharp rocks, but was able to run right over them without any pain) without sacrificing weight or flexibility. On test runs, the shoe felt featherlight and highly responsive – and the sticky FriXion XF rubber gripped everything: wet rock on river crossings, dry granite on steep grades, and the grooves even helped them dig in on looser dirt and gravel.
My big concerns about the Vertical K revolved around that wraparound gaiter. After Bishop and further testing in Whiskeytown, I got some answers:
Could I tighten the bottom laces adequately? Surprisingly, yes – the laces aren’t hindered in any way by the gaiter. I was able to tighten/loosen the shoes at will.
Would the shoes be too hot? Not at all – even during runs in 80- to 90-degree weather, the upper vented out hot air extremely well.
How would they handle crossing a river? Fairly well, it turns out. The shoes drained well; they didn’t feel waterlogged or squishy after submersion. On the other hand, they’re not very breathable – my socks were still soaked when I took the Vertical K’s off an hour later.
Could the gaiter withstand sharp branches and rocks without abrading or tearing? Indeed! The shoes made it through rocky singletrack and a jungle’s worth of foliage without so much as a scratch.
Would it pick up a bunch of stickers when I ran through a field? Nope, the shoes came out clean – didn’t have to pick out a single sticker even after running through a field of dry scrub brush in Bishop.
Overall, these shoes were lightweight beasts on the trail. They provided the kind of protection and cushioning that you’d expect from a much heavier shoe, but they rocked the light weight and flexibility that you’d expect from a minimalist shoe.
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Tags: barefoot running, bishop test trip, columbia, columbia sportswear, edict, footwear, la sportiva, minimalist, mud run, ravenous lite, running, running shoes, salomon, trail running, treksta, vertical k
Author: Billy Brown