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Hands-on Gear Review
Pearl iZUMi Trail EM N2 V3 Review
Cons: More expensive than previous years, runs slightly long
Bottom line: Our favorite shoe, high performance for everyone.
The original version of this shoe was our Editors' Choice award winner last year and for the second year in a row there was no shoe that we enjoyed running in more than the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3. In its third version, this shoe has significant improvements over the previous two. These include extra cushioning foam in the heel, a stiffer and more protective forefoot rock plate, a wider and more spacious toe box, and a newly redesigned carbon rubber outsole that we found to be significantly more durable than the previous sole, while also doing a better job of shedding mud and gripping the trail and rocks. While it is slightly heavier than either the original version or the v2, and costs an extra $10, compared to the competition no shoe offers a better combination of comfort, stability, foot protection, and weight than the EM Trail N2 v3. While it is designed to shine on the trails, we also found that this shoe is a more than adequate mountain scrambler as well, and think that you will love wearing it.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017 - Side-by-Side Tests
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
While we were never able to get a review completed and published of the EM Trail N2 v2, we actually spent all last winter testing two different pairs of those shoes in the Himalaya of India and the Utah desert, and so have now worn and extensively tested four pairs of these shoes in the last year. We have to say that the v3 is by far the best version yet, and keeps all of the good qualities of this shoe, while improving things that could be better.
The biggest change is that the outsole now features deeper lugs with better traction, and the carbon rubber is harder and more durable than before. The forefoot rock plate adds stiffness to what used to be fairly flexible shoe, and the stack height has been increased by adding more foam cushioning. While some of the grading metrics on this year's version have been lowered, that is only because our grading is based on comparisons to all the shoes in the review, and frankly, the shoes we selected to test this year are better. This shoe ran and felt very similar to The North Face Ultra Endurance, which we named our Best Buy winner.
The somewhat cryptic terminology that Pearl Izumi uses to name their shoes actually helps to describe the level of support and cushioning that each model comes with. In the trail running line they have the N1 (neutral running gait, lowest level of cushioning), the N2 (neutral running gait, medium cushioning), and the M2 (motion control for over-pronation, medium cushioning). We chose to review the N2 because it is the most suitable for "everyone," but in reality all their shoes are quite similar, so check out the other offerings if that suits your interest more.
The Pearl iZUMi shoe was our highest scoring trail running shoe. Check out the chart below to see where the other shoes in our review fell in line behind it
We awarded the EM Trail N2 v3 8 out of 10 points for foot protection, down a point from last year compared to other shoes in our test. It did not offer the same kind of insane underfoot cushioning as the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 2 or the incredible solidity of the rock plate in the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4. However, the forefoot rock plate was an improvement on last year's version, as the shoe is noticeably stiffer and harder to bend.
There is also some added Energy Foam in the heel that makes landing a little bit more cushioned, while slightly increasing the stack height and the weight. Frankly, the underfoot protection is just about perfect in our book. But the upper, scaled back to film overlays instead of suede, and with a soft rubbery toe bumper, simply isn't as protective as The North Face Ultra Endurance. All that said, we tested this shoe one day by scrambling up the 5th class loose scree and choss of Dallas Peak in the San Juan Mountains, and had no complaints on how well this shoe protected our feet from the sharp and jagged talus that we had to navigate all day.
The outsole of this shoe is where the best improvements were made, in our opinion. In one of our test pairs of the v2's, we went for a 50k run in the Himalaya and nearly tore the sole off of both shoes. While Pearl Izumi warrantied that pair, and we didn't suffer the same fate with our second test pair, it seemed like the outsole rubber was a bit too soft for severely rocky terrain. They fixed that marvelously by making the rubber obviously harder and more durable, as well as stickier. Not only that but the lugs are slightly deeper and more aggressive, while also spaced further apart for better shedding of mud.
While these shoes don't sport the insane lug designs of the Saucony Peregrine 6 or the Salomon Speedcross 4, we think they are awesome for all types of terrain.
Stability is really where the EM Trail N2 v3 shines. The shoe has a large platform compared to most of the shoes in our test, and provides a super flat landing. The forefoot was widened a little bit more, allowing the toes and forefoot to splay out upon landing, a feature that helps mimic natural foot behavior and adds stability, similar to the Altra Superior 2.0.
While the stack height in this model is slightly taller than it has been in past years, it is still one of the lowest in our review, and the modulating 7.5mm to 4mm heel-toe drop ensures that the foot maintains a close to normal landing position. Overall, 9 out of 10 points.
Due to the very subjective nature of assessing a shoe's comfort, we chose not to give any single shoe a grade of 10 out of 10. We did, however, give a number of "perfect" 9s, and one of those was this shoe. However, all of the most comfortable shoes in this review feel completely different, so there will be a lot of personal preference in how a person decides what is the most comfortable. That said, these shoes feel great, and everyone who tested them or that we talked to who owned a pair themselves said the same thing: "They're so comfortable!"
These shoes performed among the best in terms of not absorbing water in the test, and also did an average job of drying out super quickly when wet. We also love the sure-lace system that helps the laces grip each other and stay tied all day. If we have a single complaint it is that these shoes feel a bit larger, and specifically longer, than previous versions of the shoe. It's better to run a bit large than a bit small, but we did stub our toes once or twice due to the long fit. We recommend you try them on before committing to the size.
At 23.4 ounces for a pair of size 11 shoes, these were middle of the road compared to the competition. Similar shoes in this weight range were the New Balance Leadville v3 and the Salomon Speedcross 4. While not the lightest of the bunch, they were not designed to be, and they certainly aren't heavy and clunky like the La Sportiva Wildcat. The cushioning and rock plate that make these shoes suitable for long ultras does come at a price in ounces, but it wasn't really noticeable.
If there is one area where this shoe was not as high performing as some others, it is sensitivity. However, we often find that sensitivity and foot protection work at odds with each other, where it is very hard to have a lot of one without lacking the other. As such a protective shoe, there will necessarily be sacrifices made in sensitivity. Where we tested these shoes in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, we encounter lots of jagged, sharp, rocky terrain, and thus tend to need foot protection over sensitivity. Basically, this shoe was nowhere near as sensitive as the La Sportiva Helios 2.0 or Altra Superior 2.0, but that didn't bother us, because it performed as it was designed.
The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3 is a fantastic all-around shoe. It will work great in just about any trail running application. It will really shine in longer efforts where protection is a must, but when the runner does not want to pay a price in weight or comfort. This is a traditional shoe, suitable for beginners and long-time trail runners alike. It performed well off-trail on steep talus, scree, rock, and even grass.
This shoe retails for $130, a $10 increase over previous versions of the shoe. While slightly more expensive than most of the shoes in our review, it is not off the charts, or out of line for what you can expect to pay for a quality trail running shoe. Since we found it to be very durable, as well as our Editors' Choice winner as our favorite shoe, it presents a good value, and you won't be disappointed with how much you spent.
The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3 is our favorite shoe of 2016, which is why we awarded it our Editors' Choice award. It is a traditional shoe that is appropriate for any type of runner on any type of terrain. We loved its combination of underfoot protection and stable ride; in its third version, this is the best shoe that Pearl Izumi has made. We highly recommend this shoe to anyone who asks, and indeed, this is the shoe we would buy as a gift for a friend.
Other Versions and Accessories
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3 - Women's
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 v2
Pearl Izumi EM Trail M2 v2
— Andy Wellman
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