Arc’teryx Norvan LD | £135
BEST FOR: Long distance and ultra trail runners looking for arch support.
Built to meet the demands of distance off road running, the Norvan LD is all about comfort, support and performance. Out of the box it is immediately obvious that this is a seriously supportive shoe. We struggle with low arches and were instantly impressed by the functional support of the Norvan LD just walking around the house.
The key to this supportive feel is the durable EVA/Polyolefin midsole that has been specifically designed to deliver comfort over long distances. With the Norvan LD the ride feels supportive and stable yet crucially not stiff or rigid – a fine balance indeed.
Yet despite the obvious emphasis on comfort and support, the Norvan LDs are still a light and responsive shoe. Weighing in at 520g per pair, they’re surprisingly feathery for such a robust-looking shoe that’s obviously been built to last.
Whilst we wouldn’t go so far as to describe them as an all-out super nimble shoe, they do respond quickly out on the trail, allowing you to fire through switchbacks and over rocky terrain safe in the knowledge that you’ve got that all-important functional support to keep you on the straight and narrow.
At £135 the Norvan LDs are pricey but if you want to last the pace you’ll need a shoe that’s built to go the distance.
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Salomon Sense Ride | £110
Sitting mid-range, the Sense Rides are equipped with Quicklace lacing, Sensifit overlays, Vibe midsole inserts, and an Ortholite liner.
Fit is narrow across the mid foot opening out into a roomy toe box which gives the toes plenty of wiggle room.
The Quicklace system and Sensifit overlays work fantastically, giving one of the best fits of any trail running shoe we've worn and the mesh upper is supple but supportive.
Surprisingly stiff out of the box the Sense Rides loosen up over time to become super comfortable in part thanks to a 27/19mm stack height and Vibe technology which aims to reduce vibration using Opal inserts, as a bonus these also give a subtle rebound.
Well-spaced 4mm lugs take care of traction and on wet rocks the Contragrip unit sticks like sh*t to a blanket. The reasonably tame lugs add an element of door to trail versatility making the Sense Rides a reasonable shoe to run in on hard ground. Three flex grooves at the forefoot and one on the heel add flexibility to the sole unit and the Profeel Film adds good protection from rocks as well as a consistent and stable transition to toe off.
At £110 the Sense Rides are somewhat of a bargain considering the versatility.
Inov-8 X-TALON 230 | £115
BEST FOR: Trail and fell runners looking for a precision fit and maximum grip in muddy terrain.
The X-TALON 230, with 6mm drop, is the ideal choice for off road runners looking for decent cushioning with maximum grip and protection when travelling in soft and muddy terrain. Weighing in at 460g per pair, the X-TALON 230 is slightly heavier than the more race-oriented 210, but still very much a fast and light fell/mountain running shoe built to withstand the reality and demands of relentless off-road running.
Shock absorption, comfort and protection are all prioritized in the X-TALON 230 with the addition of a flexible rock plate and the POWERFLOW+ midsole that claims to deliver 25% more energy return than standard midsoles.
One of the features that impressed us the most was the protective wrap-around rand of the X-TALON 230 designed to protect you from scuffs and withstand wear and tear. If you’re fed up of buying expensive, fast and light mountain running shoes that start to break down after a few months use then the durable upper of the X-TALON 230 will appeal.
All good so far but what about the all-new, much-lauded STICKYGRIP sole, the X-TALON 230’s raison d’etre? This shoe is all about the traction across the board. From squishy mud to soft slippery grass, from wet slab to hard, steep rocks, the X-TALON 230 grips like a total boss.
At £115, the X-TALON 230 is a great value shoe designed to facilitate speed and inspire confidence in soft and challenging terrain.
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Dynafit Feline SL | £125
BEST FOR: Fast and light mountain runners looking for a precise, grippy shoe.
The new Feline SL (SL = SuperLight) alpine running shoe is a fast and light specialist built to endure. Weighing in at 500g per pair, the Feline SL is clearly a speed-oriented shoe, but it’s capable of way more than a lightweight performance.
Focus here is on the ability to adapt to the ever-changing mountain environment. Running at speed over long distances takes you from muddy low altitude river trails, up through soft mountain pastures then onwards to the summit over precipitous rocky ridges before descending back down steep scree slopes to the valley floor.
The MULTIPAD midsole is made up of independent units that allow the shoe to adapt to the specific demands of each section of the trail and the Vibram Alpine outsole offers an impressively stable, grippy and durable ride.
The Feline SL features an ORTHOLITE footbed with memory foam, and is one of the best and most comfortable out-of-the box footbeds we’ve seen, but those with problem feet may still want to use their own custom footbeds.
If you’re looking for waterproof protection then there’s a Gore-Tex version of the Feline SL that fits the bill. Personally we tend to avoid Gore-Tex running shoes as summer alpine running can be a hot affair so breathability is a priority over waterproof protection, if you’ve ever run long distances in 35+ degrees you’ll know what we’re talking about…
The Feline SL isn’t cheap but you’re looking at a niche product that’s been built with mountain runners in mind.
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Scarpa Neutron 2 | £125
BEST FOR: Long distance off road runners with wide feet looking for a mountain running shoe to last the miles.
When the original Neutron was released in 2016, many runners found the fit of the shoe to be slightly bizarre. The narrow toe box and wide heel cup made it specific to a very niche foot shape which may go some way to explaining why the Neutron part 1 failed to garner mass appeal.
Fast forward a couple of years and the Neutron is a totally different beast. Still very much a rugged off-road shoe designed to appeal to alpine runners, the updated Neutron 2 is much more suited to the demands of long distance mountain running.
The key difference is that it’s wider around the forefoot so there’s more space for toes to spread and expand, which is a crucial feature for ultra runners and anyone venturing into alpine terrain.
Other notable mountain running-specific improvements include the TPU insert designed to simultaneously reduce accidental twists and increase the power and speed of the shoe in the push-off phase.
The 6mm drop is standard and predictable, the weight is similarly unremarkable coming in at 580g per pair, and the profile looks very similar to the La Sportiva Akasha. That said, the Akasha is one of our favourite ultra running shoes of all time so if the Neutron 2 is capable of delivering a similarly impressive performance long term then we may be converted.
The Neutron 2 looks set to be a solid and reliable off road performer. Think function not fireworks.
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Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 | £100
BEST FOR: Fast runners looking for a comfortable shoe.
French brand Hoka One One has become the manufacturer of choice for many long distance runners looking for cushioning, shock absorption and a stable off road ride. Whilst the brand has become famous for its maximalist, heavily cushioned thick-soled running shoes, the Speed Instinct 2 is a very different beast.
Out of the box, it’s immediately obvious that the Speed Instinct 2 is built for…well, speed. There’s still a decent amount of mid-sole and heel cushioning so, although not a minimalist shoe, at 226g they’re still lightweight and should appeal to swift and efficient off road runners.
If you’re used to running in shoes with a regular and/or high heel-to-toe drop (anything in the region of 6mm to 12mm), then the Speed Instinct 2’s 3mm stack height will take some getting used to. We normally run in shoes with a fairly standard drop of 6mm so the Speed Instincts felt flat and close to the ground but this helped push onto the midfoot, encouraging a more efficient stride that was particularly noticeable when running downhill.
It’s worth mentioning that we noticed less physical effects the day after running in the Speed Instinct 2. This is probably down to the lower stack height which reduces the tendency to heel strike on the descent and in turn lessens the impact on the quads and knees.
Solid grip and great comfort on mixed terrain with a good feeling of contact with the ground.
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