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Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 Running Shoe Review

All four of our reviewers were provided Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1 running shoes to review. So this review is composed of two female opinions and two male opinions on the shoe.

Stein: My first run in the Perl Izumi EM/N1 was the 2013 50K HAT run, in Maryland.

Jenny:  I believe that this new E:motion line is just what natural runners are looking for.  I still haven’t found the perfect trail shoe so when I saw that PI had come up with a new one, I was all over it.

What Pearl Izumi says about the E:Motion N1

The purist’s dream shoe, the Project E:Motion Trail N1 is built to deliver the ultimate smooth flowing responsive ride. The glove-like fit coupled with the E:Motion midsole deliver a light and smooth experience. The Trail N1 offers great trail feel and traction with enough protection and cushioning for bombing descents over technical terrain.

  • The Trail N1 is part of the Project E:Motion series which has been engineered to provide the smoothest running experience
  • The Trail N1 features our Dynamic Offset technology for a lively and smooth ride that eliminates forefoot slap and reduces shock
  • The Trail N1 has a low 1mm drop and a combination of shock absorbing and energy return foams
  • The Trail N1 is neutral and has our most minimal level 1 midsole
  • At 9.6 ounces, it is extremely light-weight, yet cushioned and protective enough for ultra marathons
  • Perforated SBR tongue foam doesn’t absorb water, while offering great comfort and breathability
  • Forefoot rock plate protects foot against stone bruising and rock push-through
  • Outsole has an aggressive self-cleaning lug pattern
  • Bonded seamless toe cap protects feet from rocks, roots, stumps and other trail hazards
  • Seamless upper uses bonded technology for structure and durability, leaving the inside of the upper smooth and comfortable against your foot
  • Insole has a deeply cupped heel that securely cradles the foot


In 2012, the Trail N1 set the course record at the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, proving that it is not only fast, but built for extremely long distances.

Sizes: 7–13 in half sizes, size 14
Weight–Size 9: 9.6oz/272g

The Good

Meaghan: When the Believe in the Run team receives new running shoes, I’m almost always envious of the men’s coloring. This was not the case with the Pearl Izumi. Pairing two of my favorite colors, I was happy with the look of the shoe. They fit well. They’re snug through the heel and midfoot with enough room for toes to spread out in the toe box. The upper, a seamless mesh construction, creates a smooth and comfortable fit. It’s a neutral shoe with a low 1mm drop. I was pleased to see some substantial cushioning that I was missing in the Patagonia EVERmore trail shoes. The toe cap, rock plate consisting of hard plastic under the forefoot, and rubber lugs provide plenty of protection and stability. I was comfortable running over rocks, roots, stumps, and whatever else I came upon on the trails. Like all of the shoes in the E: Motion line, the midsole contains a “dynamic offset” meant to create a smooth transition from landing to toe-off.  The transition was not extremely noticeable, but I did find the foam midsole created some bounce and helped to propel the foot forward.

Thomas: The first time I slipped the E:Motion N1 trail shoes on they felt plush and fit my narrow foot really well. I had to examine the shoe to figure out how they fit so well with minimal overlays. The foot strikes on the trail seemed easy and well cushioned. The foot was protected by the thicker (than I am used to) EVA. The E:Motion N1 was smooth over packed trail and handled the technical trails with ease. I experienced no issues with the fit of the shoe. No hot spots. This is a comfy shoe.

Stein: Foot protection is the name of the game with the EM/N1. From the thick sole material to the strategic toe bumper to the cushy sock liner these shoes are designed to keep your feet comfortable. The mesh upper construction is breathable but keeps even the smallest rocks from getting in. The Perl Izumis are plush, well constructed and fast. In fact, the 2012 Western States course record was set in them! The dynamic offset (stack height changes along with a curved shape from heel to toe) promotes a quick turnover and there’s no “slappy” effect if you find yourself running on the road. The seamless upper feels great and I basically forgot about my shoes throughout the 50K race.

Jenny: Right away, I was impressed with the weight (just under 9 oz)  and flexibility of the shoe.  So many trail shoes are bulky and rigid but this one had a snug but comfortable fit.   The seamless upper has a nice amount of give…almost like a sock and super breathable.   The cushioning was just right–enough protection but not so much that the ground couldn’t be felt.  There is an N2 available with more but I don’t personally appreciate such a cushy ride.

I was able to ask a Pearl tech rep a little bit more about the series and about the heel to toe offset.  Apparently it changes as the foot cycles through the gait and is 1mm when fully loaded.  It makes sense when you see your stride slowed down as the foot rolls through.  The dynamic offset seemed to allow my foot to naturally progress to the next step…to be honest, it kind of reminded me of the new Skechers!

The Bad

Stein: The 17mm heel stack height and dense cushioning sole material mask the road/trail feel. The toe box is not roomy enough for proper toe-splay. The EM/N1 offers very little flex; on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most flexible, I’d give these shoes a 2. The dynamic offset compensates for the lack of flexibility to some degree and gives these shoes a fairly “neutral” feel but your feet will not flex much through contact, mid-stance and transition.

Jenny: The upper toe cap hits a little funny. I don’t normally have issues with toenails but the toe cap seems to irritate them. I didn’t lose any but they seemed sore post-run and even after wearing them around for the day. I don’t think it’s a sizing issue, either. There is just the right amount of room in the toebox. Working at a running store has its benefits…I will be sure to try on the size below and above my normal 8.

Thomas: There is nothing I can put my finger on exactly. For me the shoe lacked personality. It might be due to the fact I am used to running in much less shoe on trails. The N1 with it’s cushioning takes away the feel of the terrain. For some this feature my be an upside.

Meaghan: As I find with most trail shoes, the Pearl Izumi N1 is a bit “clunky” (Despite the look, they’re rather light – women’s size 8 runs 8.9 oz). Right out of the box they feel a bit stiff and unresponsive. I’m not sure if I got used to them or if they just needed some working-in , but they did seem to loosen up after a few runs.

The Conclusion

Meaghan: My overall impression of the Pearl Izumi N1 is positive. I think one of the best aspects of this shoe is that I rarely noticed them. Even with the snug fit, I never had any sort of irritation or hot spots. They were designed for the trails with enough protection and cushioning to handle all sorts of terrain. If you’re looking for a minimalist style trail shoe, the Pearl Izumi N1 is a great option. They’re light yet durable, perfect for any distance.

Thomas: The N1 is between a more minimal trail shoe and more traditional trail shoe like the Brooks Cascadia. While I prefer a little less shoe between me and the trail, these are good shoes. I would recommend these to someone that is getting into trail running or putting up big miles on the trail. The shoes perform great, they were just missing personality. I will definitely keep them in the rotation this spring and summer. If something changes and I find out either that there is “personality” or I figure out what is is exactly I am trying to articulate I will update this post.

Jenny: Save the toe issue, I love the shoe. I love the look, fit and feel. With the road version taunting me, I’m sure to give that one a try, too. I’ll be sure to follow up if the toe cap was a sizing issue. Could just be my next trail race shoe!

Stein: These shoes are dialed in for long-distance or all day running over varied terrain. The EM/N1 provided plenty of traction up and down steep hills and through rocky stream crossings. While they are not the lightest shoe by any stretch, Perl Izumi did a good job of keeping the weight down with minimal overlays, the seamless upper and light EVA sole material. I’m not going to give these shoes a big smiley face nor a big frown face – let’s just say I am enjoying this trail shoe and would love to run in the road version at some point.

Check out Kinetic Revolution’s review of the N1


Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Daniel says:

    Great review! I’m thinking about buying one and you solved a lot of doubts I had. Thanks a lot!

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