Our testing team is on the trail often, pounding dirt and dust in the pursuit of fun and training. A few on our team have decided that fun involves packing in as many miles as possible into one day, which means trail running. Naturally, we burn through a lot of shoes, insoles, socks and more. Finding a favorite trail running shoe, even with our team, is a lifelong pursuit, made all the more difficult because just as we find one we like, the company up and changes the design. Sigh. Nike used to be the worst at this, changing shoe styles faster than many of us changed our socks. Thankfully, shoe styles now have a tendency to stay around at least a year or two -- if we're lucky.
OK, enough whining. This last year, several shoes surfaced as team favorites as we muddled our way through various long trail races and recreational training runs, including Western States 100 -- one of us completed it, one of us paced. Through it all, and despite the many shoe options piled in our garage and front entrance, one of our testers (male, with a neutral but heavy stride and a normal width, low volume foot) kept slipping on The North Face Radial whenever possible.
Though he does not need motion control, what our tester most liked about the Radial was the fact that the curved outsole provided a smooth transition from heel strike to toe, even on rocky and uneven terrain -- commenting that the shoe felt "nimble and fast." The blown rubber crash pad under the forefoot effectively prevented bruising from stones, even on 30- to 50-mile runs. Despite having a low volume foot, our tester also appreciated the way the mesh upper and gusset tongue tightened comfortably yet securely around his foot -- something he had not experienced from The North Face trail running shoes before. Cushioning under the heel was superb. Even with a relatively well-defined traction pattern that was outstanding on loose, wet and mucky terrain, the outsole was not so clunky that he felt exceedingly uncomfortable on occasional road runs or on those points during races when the course transitioned to pavement or hard-pack dirt.
Also appreciated was the mesh upper, which provided sufficient breathability to keep our resident hot-foot's feet cool even in some quite hot conditions. The fact that the insole is treated with an antimicrobial to reduce shoe odor is also a plus -- especially to those around him.
Our only quibbles are the weight -- a tad on the heavy side at 13 ounces per shoe -- and the heel was wide enough that it felt a tad loose in the thinnest of socks. Even with a bit of heel slippage, our tester did not develop any blisters -- but he also is not prone to blisters.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $85
For more information:www.thenorthface.com