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Trail Running Shoes • February 26, 2024

Craft Xplor Hybrid Review: Gravel Growler with a Glaring Gaffe

craft xplor hybrid - curb feature

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What You Need To Know


9.2 oz (261 g) for a US M9

Stack Height / Drop

38.5 mm in heel, 32.5 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)

Best For

Daily training on gravel or light trails, or poor conditions on roads

Key Features

Steamed TPE beaded midsole, Vittoria rubber outsole, wide base

On The Run
Exceptional ride, soft yet responsive Outstanding outsole rubber Stable platform Terrible upper fit
Price / Availability


craft xplor hybrid - in the sunlight

Introduction to the Craft Xplor Hybrid

TAYLOR: If you grew up in the ‘90s and happened to time your teenage years just right, landing somewhere in the early to mid-aughts, what I’m about to bring up will likely touch the darkness that once occupied the space between mind and soul. Cellmates in this space included My Chemical Romance, Volcom, and the color black. It was the golden age of emo, and if you weren’t emo, let’s be honest – you kind of wanted to be. 

The reason I bring all of this up is because I see some similarities between that “unique” phase of life and our buddies at Craft. If you’re not familiar with the brand, Craft is a Swedish company that has ties into endurance sport. Nordic/cross country skiing, cycling, and running are all in their wheelhouse. The run division has been a fairly recent focus.

Our experiences with Craft mostly come in the form of wild colorways, unique designs, and their poster child of hardcore inspiration, Tommy Rivs. Shoes like the CTM Ultra Carbon 2, Endurance 2, and Nordlite Ultra all find their best uses on the light dirt covered terrain. Now in their “teen” years, Craft is leaning into an identity that’s not quite as polarizing as fishnets and black swooped bangs. That new identity is gravel. 

The Craft Xplor Hybrid is their first shoe that is explicitly designed as a hybrid runner that bridges road and light trail, essentially the footwear version of a gravel bike. After spending many miles in the Xplor Hybrid, I’m in full support of the identity Craft is creating. Mom and dad probably don’t understand, but we do.

Craft Xplor Hybrid - shoes on sidewalk
Craft Xplor Hybrid - logo on upper

SAM: Recently, we seem to be getting our feet into a lot of “road to trail” shoes here at the trail side of BITR. Trail running is breaking into the zeitgeist and more and more people want their workout with a side of adventure. Or their adventure with a slice of familiarity.

The average person who’s a little curious about miles on winding singletrack is probably confined to their local roads during the weekdays. This person is probably more comfortable dropping their shoe budget into something with a wider use range. Translation: they don’t want to slot a pair of trail-specific shoes next to their road shoes and start a new collection.

Despite the perception of us dirt dogs, not everyone wants a closet packed with half-dead and smelly running shoes. Shocker, I know. After all, what if the trail side of their running experiment doesn’t work out and they’ve bought this real, honest-to-God trail shoe that has no place on the roads?

Conversely, if you’re an established runner with a burgeoning (or mature, nearly-or-even-completely out of control) shoe collection, you’re probably looking for a good trunk shoe. Hybrid shoes make great trunk shoes, ready for any adventure. 

This trend might be good for budgets, or for impromptu runs, but the truth is that a fully good hybrid shoe has been mostly elusive. Usually, they’re pretty decent on roads but unsuited for all but the lightest duty trails. Shoes like the Reebok Floatride Energy 4 Adventure, Altra Outroad, and Saucony Ride 15 TR fall here.

Occasionally we’ll get the treat of a very good trail shoe that’s mostly okay on roads except for minor outsole annoyances, like the Reebok Floatride Energy 5 Adventure or the Topo Athletic MT-5. Honestly, it seems like the best road to trail shoes end up being trail-specific models that just happen to run really nice on roads, especially race day shoes like the Nike Ultrafly, Adidas Agravic Terrex Speed Ultra, and the Hoka Tecton X 2.

Enter Craft. Like Taylor said above, Craft seems to have taken the feedback that most of their models are killer gravel grinder, and leaned into the “road shoe with aggressive outsole” type. Many of their current shoes are designed specifically for use on roads and gravel paths. In that way, it makes perfect sense that they would make an attempt at a true hybrid. And that is the shoe we are here to talk about: the Craft Xplor Hybrid, a shoe designed explicitly for roads and trails, with a one-piece engineered mesh upper, Craft’s proprietary beaded TPE Px Foam midsole, and an all new outsole designed in conjunction with bike tire manufacturer Vittoria. Does it fulfill its promise where so many other shoes have fallen short?

craft xplor hybrid - rocks landscape

MATT: Last year was the year in which I flipped fully on to team Craft. Prior to then I was stuck in a perpetual conundrum where I almost willed myself to wear their shoes for the following reasons: 1) they looked cool, 2) I loved their apparel, and 3) Tommy Rivs. At the end of the day though, in a saturated market, there were just much better options out there.

Things changed big time in 2023, as Craft produced a couple of my favorite shoes of the year in the Nordlite Ultra and the Pure Trail. Enter the 2024 lineup, and the first shoe in for testing is the new Xplor Hybrid. I do a lot of road to trail running, so I’ve really embraced the Hybrid model movement of late. As Sam said above, Craft was already making some solid hybrid/gravel shoes (while possibly on accident, in attempts to make trail shoes), so if they really leaned into that label and made a Hybrid with intention, how much better could it get?

ROBBE: I’m not going to add too much else here because the dirt division has it pretty much covered. I’ll only say that every Craft shoe I’ve received in the past has either been too long, too roomy, too weird, or a combination of all of the above. For how good they’ve nailed the premium apparel side, it’s been weird seeing how bad they f*ck up the running shoe side. Now that we’re a couple years removed, I think we can all say that the Tommy Rivs zebra shoe was pretty awful (which we basically said in our review of the shoe). At $250, it actually was rebellious, in the same way that taking cash out of a blind beggar’s cup is outside the lines of common decency.

Rob me once, shame on you, rob me twice, you need to reconsider your sales model. So while, once again, I was stoked to try a Craft shoe, I tempered my expectations.

craft xplor hybrid - outsole details

What we like about the Craft Xplor Hybrid

TAYLOR: Let me lay out the big picture of the Craft Xplor Hybrid real quickly. This shoe isn’t just a gravel bike. I would say it identifies closer to a fat tire bike. It’s cruisy and comfortable in a variety of conditions. I’ve spent more miles in the Xplor Hybrid than any other shoe this winter because of this very sensation. 

Craft’s new Px Foam is responsible for the bulk of that experience. When I first saw it at The Running Event, I was already dreaming about easy miles underfoot. Now that I have the shoe, I can confirm that the ride is as luscious and bouncy as I hoped. The steamed TPE beads provide one of the most unique feeling and pleasurable running sensations. It’s hard to find such cush and response in a single package – especially in shoes that are not in the super shoe category. The best part? It doesn’t die. After 50+ miles, it retains an almost identical underfoot feel as my first run. 

With a 38.5/32.55 mm stack and a wide footprint, there’s a natural barrier to the ground that is inherently stable. The foam is soft and cushy, that’s true; but not so much that the edges crumble like some high-stack shoes. This one maintains a stable ride that is similar to many Hoka models, Speedland GS:PGH, The North Face Altamesa 500, Asics Trabuco Max 2, and Brooks Caldera 7

Flip the Craft Xplor Hybrid over and you’ll find that the outsole received just as much attention to detail as the midsole. They partnered with Vittoria tires to create a gravel bike inspired outsole. The product is a ruggedly diverse outsole. It is completely unique with a smooth center line while the circumference contains multi-directional knobbier lugs. It looks gnarly and follows suit with performance. It crossed all terrain and conditions without a thought. Nothing seemed to phase this outsole as it gripped and dug into everything I could throw at it while simultaneously feeling smooth on pavement.

craft xplor hybrid - wall

SAM: I usually start by talking about the upper in a shoe, but the Craft Xplor Hybrid deserves – maybe even demands – to be discussed from the bottom up. Craft teamed up with legendary bike tire manufacturer Vittoria for the outsole on this shoe in the hope that Vittoria’s experience making gravel bike tread patterns could fully realize the road-to-trail potential of the Xplor Hybrid. The result is an outsole with a dense, uneven strip of hexagonal lugs running down the middle of the tread flanked by widely spaced traditional lugs.

This isn’t the first hybrid shoe to take inspiration from gravel bike tires; Under Armour has been doing it for years with their Fat Tire and HOVR Summit shoes. The Reebok Floatride Energy 4 Adventure also tried something similar that also utilized a dense, directional series of lugs down the middle of the outsole. It was fine on roads but pretty horrific on trails, and Reebok abandoned that outsole entirely for the Energy 5 Adventure. 

Luckily, the Vittoria outsole here is something entirely different in all the best ways. That center strip makes road runs smooth, quiet, and decidedly non-cloppy, which is about the best you can hope for in an outsole like this. The center strip of hexagons makes for a smooth, surprisingly pleasing transition through your stride. When you veer off the road into a trail, the offroad grip is surprisingly efficient. There was great traction at all angles and over a variety of terrain. The rubber is sticky enough that wet days weren’t an issue, but durable enough that I didn’t see much wear even on the sparsely spaced outside lugs over many miles on pavement.

Above that outsole is a chunky slab or Craft’s Px Foam, a beaded TPE blend that feels stable and responsive underfoot. It’s soft, but not soft enough to feel unstable on the trails, and the wide platform has a propulsive rocker that makes road running feel fun, but never gets in the way on singletrack. Together with the Vittoria outsole, this Px Foam midsole offers what might be the first great road-to-trail underfoot experience. I looked forward to my road miles in the Xplor Hybrid, and that’s due mostly to how very good this formulation of Px Foam is when mounted atop the Vittoria outsole. It’s responsive and plush, but the platform is wide enough and the outsole grippy enough that confidence is never an issue.

Securing that midsole/outsole combo to your foot is a breathable engineered mesh upper that fits true to size for me, but not for all of our testers. This is a pretty standard road shoe upper and our test pairs came in a glowing neon pink-orange that garnered no small number of comments on my runs. They ranged from “cool shoes!” to, “whoa, let him pass we’re not wearing caution signs like those.”

MATT: Let’s just dive right into what I loved about the Xplor, because there were a lot of positives over the 50+ miles I put on my pair. Craft’s midsole foams have progressively improved over the years. Granted, they started somewhere around “frozen cinder block” in the comfort category (looking at you CTM Rebel), but the foam in the Nordlite ultra last year was one of my favorites on the market.

The Xplor midsole is by far the best yet from Craft. There is a beefy 38.5 mm of the PX foam in the heel; it’s an amazing combination of squishy soft comfort and springy energy return. The midsole ride felt great on the roads, almost to the point that I forgot this is a hybrid shoe, and, despite the softer durometer, running on the trails felt natural and stable, thanks in large part to the wide platform underfoot.

Craft shoes typically have wider footprints, which work well across varied terrain, but in the words of the legendary lyricist Mos Def, the Xplor has “an a$$ so fat you can see it from the front.”

The other component of the Xplor that really highlights its hybrid performance is the Vittoria rubber outsole. I’ll echo Sam’s feelings above in that, despite this not being a pure trail shoe, I found the grip and overall outsole performance to be perfectly capable of holding its own against the outsole set-up of most trail shoes. I hit everything from root and rock infested single track, to multiple water crossings, as well as rough fire road, and I felt secure and strong throughout.

Years ago, Under Armour released its first “Fat Tire” trail shoe, which based on looks alone I thought was so cool. Unfortunately the looks were where the positives started and ended with that shoe (it weighed a whopping 13.5 ounces and the EVA was DOA), but I have always thought the idea of a Fat Tire shoe would be fun.

The wide footprint, cushy midsole, and Vittoria tire outsole really give the Xplor a true “fat tire” style ride. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like you can roll over anything in your way.

craft xplor hybrid - outsole on rocks

This outsole rules

ROBBE: This is a gravel shoe, so I stuck to the gravel. And by that I mean roads. And by roads, I mean Baltimore roads, which are really closer to trails in their topography profile.

I took this on almost a week full of running, nearly 40 miles in snow, slush, and rain, from distances of 4 miles to 18 miles. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I just kept loving this shoe more and more. 

Craft nailed the midsole on this one, no doubt. That beaded TPE just feels good underfoot and can handle any distance you throw at it. It’s comfortable but not soft. Bouncy, yet stable (thanks to the wide platform). There’s also a slight rocker geometry that moves the foot right along, so that even though this isn’t the lightest of shoes, it never feels heavy. In fact, for everything this shoe has going on, it’s surprisingly light.

Then there’s the outsole, which is just fantastic, as the other guys have noted. I’ve used Vittoria Randonneur tires on my city bike for nearly a decade and they are sticky, grippy, and indestructible. On the roads, they rolled over and through everything, providing excellent grip and traction. In the snow or rain, absolutely zero issues. After 40 miles in the shoe, there’s no wear whatsoever.

While the other guys took these mostly on the trail, I can tell you this feels equally at home on the roads. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the nicer road trainers I’ve run in recently, and I found myself reaching for it again and again.

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What we don’t like about the Craft Xplor Hybrid

TAYLOR: As the story seems to go with Craft: what’s good is very good, what’s bad is … well, you know. And if you don’t know, you will surely know by the time we all wrap up with this section.

Just like my experience with the CTM Ultra 2, this engineered mesh upper really limits the shoe. I do like how breathable and light it feels on foot, however, it is completely unbalanced with the huge midsole underfoot. There’s little-to-no structure for any sort of real lockdown. When the terrain deviated from mostly straight forward and smooth, I did not feel comfortable keeping any sort of reasonable running speed. Any sort of side hill threw me off of the footbed. Downhills caused my toes to make out with the bumper. As you can imagine, moderately technical terrain was pretty much a no-go.

Perhaps, sizing down half a size (maybe even a full), could offer some reprieve. Honestly, though, I think the upper is so thin and loose that I would expect it to stretch after a short while. I would really like to see this same shoe with more structure up top.

SAM: As I said above, the upper on my Xplor Hybrid fits true to size, which seems to be the exception with our testers. Outside of this turn of fortune, there aren’t many other positives. The upper lacks any semblance of structure and felt baggy around basically all of my foot. There is hardly any lockdown for security on trails, and no protection around the toes, so steer clear of any rocks that look to be asking for a good kicking. On even moderate trails I experienced full lateral shifting in the balls of my feet and in my heels inside the shoe. This is a bare bones road shoe upper that really has no business on trails more serious than a gravel path.

Because of the bagginess of the upper, the laces on top of my feet became pretty uncomfortable as miles ticked by, since they were the main thing securing the wide platform of the midsole and outsole to my foot. Changing up the laces some made this better, but not wholly.

Lastly, on steeper uphill sections of trail I experienced some traction slip when pushing off straight through my toes. Not a massive issue, but the outsole is otherwise so impressive that it calls small issues like this to attention.

MATT: There is really one thing keeping me from loving the Xplor: the upper construction. Craft labels it as highly breathable, and I will agree that the mesh upper is breathable and also sheds water well. However, that’s where my accolades end.

I really struggled with Craft uppers across their models pre-2023, and then they seemed to turn the corner, specifically with the Pure Trail model. The upper on the Xplor feels like a regression, as it just fits loose and baggy. It’s odd in that I feel like sizing is fairly close to being true, but the mesh doesn’t hug your foot where you would want it to and you end up with a sloppy fit. 

The closest comparison I would make is when Hoka changed to a knit upper on the Carbon X 2. The baggy upper made even a carbon plated shoe feel slow.

It’s really a shame because I love everything else about this shoe, so I really hope that Craft sticks with the Xplor and makes some changes to the upper so that the full potential of the shoe can be realized.

craft xplor hybrid - rocks landscape

Please fix the upper

ROBBE: Craft, please help me help you. I’m going to lose my voice saying this, and we’ve tried to say it nicely before: figure out the upper situation (insert hand clap emojis between each word). Because it’s really bad and it makes your shoes look and feel cheap. The sizing is all over the place, I went down a half size and the toe-to-front-of-shoe spacing was correct. 

However, the overall fit is sloppy, and that’s being generous. Is there a performance mesh upper ban in Sweden? Because it’s like I’m wearing a paper bag with laces. There’s far too much room just – everywhere – and there’s no structural support anywhere. It’s shocking to me how you have not figured this out when literally every other brand knows how to do this. For god’s sake, Norda makes the best fitting upper in the universe in the 001 and they have like two people total on their design team. Same with Speedland. It really isn’t that hard, so stop making it hard.

Lastly, I’m not sure what Sam was talking about when it came to noise from the shoe. This thing is a clopper. It’s not as bad as the Nike Tempo Next% or Alphafly 3, but it certainly would get its head blown off as a secondary character in “A Quiet Place.”

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Final thoughts on the Craft Xplor Hybrid

TAYLOR: Excuse us while we warm up for the Dirt Diggers quartet. La, la, laaaaaaaaa! We’re really in tune with the idea that Craft frickin’ nailed it underfoot and tanked it on the back nine. 

The Px Foam and Vittoria outsole will go down in history as a glorious combination that makes running comfortable and fun. That’s why we all do this running thing anyway, right? It provided an experience that is fairly unique and I will continue to throw the Craft Xplor Hybrid on for daily runs for that very reason. The upper, however, is going to really limit where I choose to go with these shoes. It really is a shame, because I would love to take the Xplor Hybrid everywhere. It’s just not a sensible option for true trails.

If you happen to be in the market for a shoe that works best on gravel roads, dirt paths, and uber smooth trails, you may not find anything quite enjoyable as the Craft Xplor Hybrid. 

SAM: Craft nailed something special for multi-use running with the midsole/outsole combo on the Xplor Hybrid. While the upper mostly resigns the shoe to the same “roads and gentle gravel paths” zone that so many other hybrid shoes fall into, a reasonable upper with a good fit and some lockdown could make this the benchmark in road to trail running because of how truly excellent the underfoot feel is. 

For now, the Craft Xplor Hybrid is a good trainer for daily miles on pavement or flat paths. It’s worth the time simply because of the great Px Foam/ Vittoria outsole combo.

craft xplor hybrid - outsole sidewalk

Another look at this beautiful brute of an outsole

MATT: While I think the upper needs some changes, it’s not enough to detract from all the other great features of this shoe that have had me reaching for the Xplor on run after run. This is an amazing attempt at a true hybrid, road to trail, do it all trainer.

The Xplor is a perfect shoe to pack when traveling because it really can do it all.

The PX foam provides one of the best rides out there if you lean towards the softer side, and when combined with the Vittoria outsole, the Xplor really is a fun ride to rack up those daily training miles.

ROBBE: Underneath this shoe is one of my favorite midsole/outsole combinations to date in 2024. I absolutely love it and suspect it will last hundreds of miles should you pick it up. For sure, that fat tire outsole will go to infinity and beyond. I enjoyed it so much that I was willing to keep going with it day after day, despite Craft’s best efforts to make it a train wreck with the sloppy upper. Oh, also, I did roll my ankle in the shoe, which I thought would be impossible with the wide base. Part of that’s on me for having the worst joints in the world. But the no support thing in the upper surely didn’t help.

If you have a larger volume foot, you should get this shoe without thinking twice. If you have a lower volume foot, you should still get this shoe, but only think once. And pray that Craft makes the same shoe again in 2025, just with a totally overhauled upper.

You can pick up the Craft Xplor Hybrid for $140 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.

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Sam Edgin
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
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Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.

All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone Peak

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Matt Kucharski
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
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Matt is a recovering triathlete who fell in love with running and left the dark side behind. Trail and ultra running are where he is most in his element, but he can still be found routinely running the streets in and around Baltimore with the Faster Bastards. Aside from running, he is a lover of coffee, mezcal, beer, and 90s country music.

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Robbe Reddinger
Senior Editor
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Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.

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