Deciphering shoe lingo is a bit like reading between the lines on home-for-sale listings (Cute and cozy? Think tiny). So when a shoe company highlights durability, support and traction on a trail running shoe that can translate into a beast of a clunker best suited for power hiking or Clydesdale runners.
Not so with the Montrail Hardrock, which despite offering stability and traction is also reasonably lightweight and nimble.
While Hardrocks sit about the middle of the pack of many models of trail runners in terms of weight -- not the lightest, and not the heaviest -- we find they have the support and protection of shoes at the upper end of the scale. Heavy runners in particular will appreciate the stability for maneuvering technical terrain and shielding from bone bruises on rocky trails; nevertheless, our featherweight tester never felt as if she had donned bricks or snowshoes, but still felt nimble. As with other Montrail models, these also have internal front counters to prevent stubbed toes, a feature sorely lacking in other brands.
The mesh uppers are very breathable and drain well, yet the mesh is strategically placed so a wearer remains guarded against abrasion. It's also reinforced with webbing to hold your feet securely. The lacing system offers plenty of control and fine tuning (even for the lower-volume and narrow feet of one tester), though the tongue sometimes doesn't quite stay centered. Of course, fit is a personal matter (as is the need to replace the footbed with personal orthotics or simply something off-the-shelf with more cushion), but Montrail has a good all-around last with a low profile toe box. The Hardrocks are best suited for narrow to medium-width feet and mild to moderate overpronators.
The traction of the Hardrocks is fantastic in a wide range of conditions (from dirt, to mud, to clay, to wet boulders in creeksâ€¦.), and the tread pattern clears mud relatively easily (although if your area's mud is more-clay like, you may end up battling a few clumps in the midfoot). Even with the forefoot plate that increases torsional rigidity, the shoes are flexible through the ball area and don't interfere with your running and allow plenty of toe-off when needed.
The gel cushioning in the forefoot is well suited for runners who favor the balls of their feet for driving the uphills and springing gazelle-like downhill. One of our testers, who runs heavier and is more of a heel-striker, felt that the heel was not sufficiently cushioned. However, one of our other testers, a woman with strong ultra-running experience noticed no lack of cushioning, even on cement sections of some recent runs.
Obviously a shoe named for what some deem as the toughest ultra trail race in North America, the Hardrock 100 in southwest Colorado, had better deliver. Indeed the Hardrock is a superb shoe for rugged, technical trails and a clear reason Montrail has maintained such strong respect for so many years among dedicated runners.
SNEWSÂ® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $90
For more information:www.montrail.com