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Pearl Izumi Trail N3 Review

[Editor’s Note: Pearl Izumi recently announced that it would not be making running gear in 2017. Nevertheless, our tester was already wearing this shoe when the announcement was made and thinks this review could be helpful in the short term.]

Meet the gateway shoe to the maximalist realm of trail footwear. If you’ve been waffling about trying one of the highly cushioned shoes now securely holding court at the maximalist end of the spectrum, the Pearl Izumi Trail N3 ($135) might just be for you. While the stack height is 5mm taller in both the heel and forefoot than the previous iteration, the Trail N2, and 6mm taller overall than the Trail N1, the midsole has retained much of the firm ride for which the Pearl Izumi’s E:Motion series is known. This shoe is fairly lightweight for a maximum-cushioned shoe at 9.7 ounces (women’s)/10.8 ounces (men’s). It also features the Dynamic Offset, which is the hallmark of the E:Motion line—a heel-toe drop that varies from 4mm at heel strike to 7.5mm at push off.

The excellent cushion without the boggy feel makes for a perfect shoe for those who need the enhanced protection for every day miles or long ultras with less-technical terrain. The N3 is also a great ‘recovery-day’ shoe for those who typically prefer a lower-profile ride with more ground feel as it neutralizes the pounding of the run while still letting you feel fairly quick over the terrain. I have but one caveat to my glowing recommendation, which I’ll discuss in the ‘Midsole’ section of this review.

I’m sad to see Pearl Izumi ending their Run department. With this shoe added to the E:Motion series, I feel like Pearl Izumi has done a great job of addressing the needs of a wide variety of runners with the N1, N2, and now N3 trail and road shoes.

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Upper

The seamless upper of the Trail N3 retains the comfort and sock-like fit of the other shoes in the Trail series. The mesh drains effectively while still keeping dust and debris out of the shoe. I continue to use lightweight gaiters to enhance this as I do with all my trail shoes. I find these shoes to be one of the best in terms of breathability and heat management on hot summer runs. I haven’t had the fortune of testing these in temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit yet this year, but I assume as with the N2 I reviewed last year, they’ll perform well as long as I make the correct sock choice.

As in other E:Motion models, the bonded overlays on the upper are unnoticeable even with thin socks. I found that they provide an added element of security through the midfoot as I rolled over rocks and ruts in the trail. The thinly padded tongue stays perfectly in place thanks to the lace locks that run along each side of the tongue. Though the tongue is not gusseted, no debris sneaks in because of the reinforcement of a suede-like material along the lace holes and the added layer of more tightly woven mesh along the tongue and around the perfectly padded ankle collar. Pearl Izumi continues to use my very favorite sausage laces on the market. These do not come untied whether you remembered your double knots or not.

The heel cup in the Trail N3 has a very firm structure, which is reinforced medially and laterally at the point where it joins with the posterior midsole. This provides a bit of added medial and lateral stability for your heel on the foot bed, which is helpful given the stack height of 31mm/23mm (heel/forefoot). I had no issues with my foot wanting to slide off the shoe on cambered trails. A large loop of webbing attaches at the rear of the shoe, which facilitates greater ease of donning the shoe. It’s so large, however, that a big carabiner could easily fit through it to attach the shoes on the outside of your carry-on bag.

A flexible yet somewhat protective rand wraps around the entire front aspect of the roomy toe box and is reinforced by a one-inch piece of outsole that wraps up in the center of the toe of the shoe. I haven’t kicked too many rocks while wearing it, but the protection was adequate.

Overall, I didn’t notice any significant changes in the upper as compared to the first and second versions of the Trail N and M series of shoes. This shoe continues the Pearl Izumi E:Motion line’s tradition of well-designed uppers.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3 lateral view

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3’s lateral upper.

Midsole

Of the maximally cushioned shoes I’ve tried, the Pearl Izumi N3 is my favorite out of the box. The relatively firm ride doesn’t make me feel like I’m losing energy vertically with every step. Though I don’t feel any rocks or roots through the shoe, I still feel like I know where I am on the ground. Never once have I scuffed the sole of these shoes on a rock or root because of the size of the shoe underfoot compared to my usual trail shoes. I also haven’t experienced the ‘near-ankle sprain’ that occurs in some maximal shoes as you tip off the side of a rock or rut. Technology-wise, Pearl Izumi again utilized the ESS Forefoot rock plate, which offers excellent protection while remaining very lightweight and flexible. This coupled with the 1:1 Energy Foam EVA midsole means that feet remain oblivious to all sorts of intrusions from trail debris and other parts of the kinetic chain enjoy the added shock absorption all day long.

I have but one complaint with this midsole, and unfortunately at 125 miles, it’s turning into a deal breaker for me. Though I have fairly rigid and neutral feet, the right shoe is showing distinct creases in the midsole on the posterior-medial heel region. I noticed a couple runs recently where I started to feel a bit of discomfort and strain near the tarsal tunnel on my medial ankle. Given that this is not an area I typically have any issues, I checked this shoe for increased wear. The creases were apparent, leading me to believe that somehow the midsole wasn’t holding up in that region, thus increasing heel eversion on my right foot. No other shoe in my quiver displays this issue, and I don’t have similar symptoms when wearing other shoes. This is a concern of mine with any truly maximalist shoe given the wide variety of gait patterns for each runner and even for one runner over the course of a long event. Whether it’s one’s gait pattern or the durability of the shoe, it’s important to make sure your shoe choice facilitates pain-free running.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3 medial view

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3’s medial upper.

Outsole

The outsole of the Pearl Izumi Trail N3 is made of a new carbon-rubber compound with a similar multi-directional lug pattern found on the N2 version 3 model. Interestingly, when I compared the lugs to my N2 version 2 models (and the N2 version 3 models online), the overall size and length of the lugs appeared shorter and smaller. The lug height wasn’t noticeably different. Performance-wise, I found the traction to be on par with the other Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail models I’ve worn. They provide adequate grip on most Colorado Front Range trails—especially the buffed-out ones—in normal conditions and would also excel on the slickrock trails in the Utah desert and anywhere a dirt jeep road can be found. The carbon rubber is nice and sticky for the rocks especially when not covered in wet sand or kitty-litter debris. In my experience, the N3 shoes are not deep-mud and snow shoes but that is consistent within the brand for me. One point of significant improvement from the Trail N2 version 2 model I tested late last fall is, after 125 miles in the shoes, the sole has no signs of significant wear. This was one of my primary complaints about the second version of the trail series, so props to Pearl Izumi for correcting the issue with the new carbon-rubber compound.

Pearl Izumi Trail N3 outsole view

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3’s outsole.

Overall Impressions

Truly, I think the Pearl Izumi Trail N3 is an excellent maximally cushioned shoe. I love the firm ride, the protection, and the fact I still feel aware of the ground under my feet. For 125 miles, it was my favorite ‘recovery shoe’ to wear on singletrack and jeep-road runs where I was feeling a little banged up from mountain miles earlier in the week. I wish I had full faith that the midsole-durability issue I am seeing in the right shoe is just a one-time, quality-control issue, but it’s difficult to know. Let me know your experiences with the shoe!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you a Pearl Izumi Trail line wearer? Have you tried the Trail N3? How would you compare this version to previous versions?
  • What are the biggest pros and cons you have found in this shoe?
  • Are you experiencing any midsole-breakdown issues like our tester describes?

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