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10 oz. (283 g) for a US M9,
10 oz. (283 g) for a US W10.5
27 mm in heel, 19 mm in forefoot (8 mm drop)
Short runs on rail trails and light terrain
TerraGrip Run outsole, TerraLoft Run midsole, FirmaKnit Run upper
TAYLOR: “A life outdoors is a life well lived.” I couldn’t agree more. The quote is REI’s (Recreation Equipment Inc.) tagline, which accurately captures its major goal as a company — to get people outside.
For most of us, getting outside is both the goal and the first step to being exactly where we want to be. Where’s that? Anywhere with wide open skies to let those arms pump, legs churn, and lungs respire.
I think the shoe we’re looking at today marks a pretty substantial milestone for trail running. Whether it’s great or terrible, the fact that trail running’s popularity has increased so much that REI is producing footwear for the sport says something. REI has a pretty good track record for producing quality industry “off-brand” products like insulated jackets, clothing, and other gear, but this is its first piece of trail running footwear.
The REI Swiftland MT, like many trail shoes, aims to please with all-around performance. Overall specs put it into the “moderate” range in a lot of categories — moderate stack (27mm heel to 19mm toe), moderately firm durometer in the midsole, and moderate durability. Like a bag of Doritos Sweet Chili chips, the REI Swiftland MT has some bold flavor. It combines recycled materials, a sock-like knit upper, and a design that kicks off Pegasus Trail vibes to build intrigue. If it’s half as appetizing as those dang tantalizing triangles, the Swifland MT will be a success.
ALEX: I was previously unaware that REI made its own shoes. A quick Google search informed me that they have a great-looking, well-rounded lineup at very affordable prices. I agree with Taylor that, good or bad, the fact that REI is making a trail running shoe is an indicator that trail running is becoming more and more popular. I have no doubt that, after just a few iterations, they will make a product that’s competitive against well-established brands. It’s just kind of a bummer that REI didn’t borrow some of the more refined designs and tried and tested technology that already grace its shelves.
Right out of the box, the Swiftland MT made me feel like I was holding an Allbirds upper on an aggressive midsole and outsole. It also felt unbalanced, but I kept my mind open. Let’s see if that was the right move…
TAYLOR: Having that “whoa” feeling when opening up a box doesn’t happen to me very often anymore. We had no idea what REI would have in store when the Swiftland MT was on its way. Aesthetically, this design really grabbed my interest right away. It’s both familiar and different. Props to REI for stretching its design a little.
Aside from looks, there are a few surprising elements to this shoe. I rarely start with the outsole, but the Swiftland MT has received more comments about its outsole configuration than anything else. Not so surprisingly, it’s most comparable to the Nike Terra Kiger outsole with unique lugs and offset patterns. The TerraGrip rubber itself is moderately tacky. I wouldn’t say the material is exceptional, but it surprised me with how well it could get the job done on a variety of surfaces, even through some softer surfaces and full-on puddle jumping.
A big question mark about the REI Swiftland MT (you’ll hear more about this later) is how will a fully knit upper hold up on the trails. Comfort is an obvious benefit of the Firmaknit upper, but durability remains to be seen. We’ve seen such things in the Allbirds Treedasher where knit was… not optimal. We’ve also seen sock-like uppers on the Speedland SL:HSV and SL:PDX, and the Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro 2 and S/Lab Pulsar 2, where the upper is integral to the design. The easy-to-slip-on and flexible design really does feel nice around the foot. The no-sew construction makes the Swifltand MT feel like an extension of the foot in many ways. In that sense, the Firmaknit upper is pretty sweet.
Now for a surprise — the Terraloft midsole falls somewhere in the medium range for cushion, protection, and responsiveness. Underfoot, the Swiftland MT feels a whole lot like a slightly firmer Nike Pegasus Trail 2, Brooks Catamount 2, Saucony Ride 15 TR, or an Altra Mont Blanc. All are shoes that I thoroughly enjoyed, in large part, because of the midsole character. A thin rock plate is one of the reasons for the slightly firmer feel and boosted protection.
Even more so than the aforementioned comparisons, the REI Swiftland MT has a rockered shape allowing for a rather smooth transition through each footstrike. It’s a little more subdued than most road shoes, but pavement, gravel, and light singletrack all felt flowy. Because the midsole creates some sidewall action, the ride also felt a little more stable than it appears.
Transitions between surfaces feel natural too. On one run through Denver trail systems, I was running dirt sections of the Highline Canal trail, crossing on pavement, hitting paved sections of path, and dipping off onto smooth singletrack. All of it felt right for the REI Swiftland MT.
Aside from the running itself, I love the use of more sustainable materials. It will always be applauded. It’s a different thing to combine those materials into any sort of true performance. Of the shoes that use substantial amounts of recycled materials, like many Adidas Terrex shoes, Allbirds, and some others, it’s about a 50/50 chance that something decent will come out the other side. The REI Swiftland MT is one of the better examples of this practice.
Nearly all pieces of the shoe have a notable percentage of recycled material usage. The Firkmaknit upper contains 80% recycled fibers, the midsole uses 20% recycled materials and 20% algae-based materials, and 20% of the upper. In one shoe, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Over large productions of the shoe, it makes a difference. REI puts out a good message with this design by doing its part in a more thoughtful and sustainable design.
ALEX: Unfortunately, this section is going to be brief for me. On its own, the socklike, seamless Firmaknit upper is great. It’s comfortable, flexible, and breathable. On a trail shoe, however, it misses the mark for me. Limited protection, a little too much give, and some uncomfortable bunching under the laces make the shoe feel unbalanced, with questionable durability.
The TerraLoft midsole was the one thing that stood out to me. It provided adequate protection and had a nice, firm, responsive feel. Unfortunately, when paired with the somewhat flimsy, poorly fitting upper, I couldn’t fully appreciate it. The TerraGrip outsole is also good; it’s grippy and sticky on a variety of surfaces, though again, given the upper, it feels wasted — kind of like putting off-road tires on a Prius.
Like Taylor, I have nothing but appreciation for the good intentions around sustainability and the amount of recycled material that went into making this shoe. I hope that they recycle all of the Swiftland MTs that don’t sell and reincarnate them into something with a well-designed upper.
Oh, I guess the shoe looks kind of cool, but you know what they always say, never judge a shoe by its colorway…
A $130 trail shoe is very hard to come by these days, and this might offer an affordable, entry-level shoe for those wanting to begin mixing in some easy, non-technical, short trail runs.
TAYLOR: From a marketing perspective, it’s easy to see that REI went after its typical consumer — upper-middle-class white guys. I guess that’s a lot of the running industry, but this package is all about bending reality a little bit. The Swiftland MT is taking everything that people THINK they want in a trail shoe and throws it together in an odd package for trail performance. REI knows it will sell regardless of performance, but that’s where we step in to help inform consumers. This approach has created a lot of limiting factors
Style points are definitely due for the REI Swiftland MT, but this ain’t the National Dog Show. Take the knit upper, for example. It looks nice and feels nice, but at the end of the day, it’s a limiter for trail excursions. For one, getting an optimal lockdown is hard to do without the FirmaKnit upper bunching up around the lacing chain. So much torque also stretches out the materials from fitting firmly against the skin too.
With knit uppers like this, stretching over time is something to expect, so combining a flimsy upper with a fairly narrow shape and moderate stack can be quite dangerous for the ankles. Smooth terrain is no worry to me, but even short bouts of moderately technical will tingle your spidey senses pretty quickly. Any amount of cornering or shuffling on the trail becomes a dance with death. The Swiftland MT is neutral and not unstable. But when these things tip, there’s no turning back.
I think the fit was a little off kilter too. First, the forefoot has a slim and oddly shaped toe box. It was almost as if REI started to create a more foot-shaped toe box toward the big toe and then said to heck with it… let’s go with the Nike fit. It’s just odd.
On the heel side, it’s kind of the same. Honestly, the knit collar feels really nice until you start running. Even with a thicker pair of Merino crew socks, I could feel the heel counter rub the upper part of my Achilles. This aspect certainly limited the amount of time I wanted to spend in the Swiftland MT.
One more limiter is the outsole. As mentioned before, it can surprisingly handle a variety of conditions. Getting above the moderate technicality (anything deep, loose, or steep) will cause some trust issues. The outsole design is very similar to Nike Terra Kiger 4 and 5. It just doesn’t grab much.
ALEX: The number one dealbreaker for me is a poorly designed heel collar that rubs or puts any pressure on my Achilles tendon. This one rubs and puts pressure on my Achilles tendon. Even with the stretchiness of the upper, it causes a level of discomfort that makes both me and my Achilles annoyed.
I have a relatively narrow foot and this shoe feels too narrow throughout. It has a tight-fitting toe box that’s not quite foot-shaped, making my toes feel uncomfortably crunched against the front, top, and sides. This is not a shoe I would consider for more than a very short run without accepting that I was sacrificing at least a few toenails. Speaking of narrow, the platform on this one feels unstable due to its narrow midfoot width. On smooth, flat terrain, the shoe feels stable, but on more uneven technical trails, the Swiftland MT loses any sense of this.
The unstable feeling is amplified by the flimsy upper that is way too stretchy and unstructured with a toe bumper that won’t protect you from much. The upper is designed to be simple and seamless. While the sock fit is indeed comfortable, it is not functional on the trails. Additionally, when I lace the shoe up, the material bunches up beneath the laces and is really uncomfortable. If I lace the Swiftland MT up in a way that keeps the material flat, I’m unable to achieve a secure fit.
I think the part that frustrates me about this shoe is that it’s pretty widely understood what works for the trails: a durable, protective upper, a slightly roomy, more natural feeling toe box, a tongue and lacing system that lays flat, an unobtrusive heel collar, balance… This is going to be some runner’s first experience in a trail shoe and honestly, I don’t think it has much to offer.
TAYLOR: When I first heard about REI making a trail running shoe, I was emotionally conflicted. On one end, I appreciate the company’s products, especially those that provide a similar experience to higher-priced competitors with comparable performance. Running shoes take a different level of expertise to create. It should be no surprise that REI’s first go around with the Swiftland MT is a remix of the Nike Pegasus Trail 2 and Allbirds Tree Dasher, but it’s not ideal that the performance follows suit.
The REI Swiftland MT sure has its shortcomings that box it into the lower end of the technical spectrum. I would classify this as a road-to-trail shoe, and it does that job pretty darn well. If this is your typical terrain, and you typically run between 30 and 60 minutes a day, the REI Swiftland MT could be a solid option.
I would caution against tagging peaks and away from all-day pursuits (even if just using it as a hiker). Alex may be forever turned off from REI trail shoes. As for me, I’m still intrigued by what can be done by this major outdoor brand.
ALEX: If REI wants to be a serious contender on the trails, they have some work to do. Currently, this shoe might be a good option for short runs on easy rolling terrain or gravel.
I love that REI put sustainability front and center when they designed this one and that the company kept it affordable. However, purchasing this one might necessitate quickly purchasing a replacement or a supplemental shoe which… I don’t know… kind of promotes waste? All that being said, I have high hopes that the next go around will be less of what feels like a miscellaneous grab bag of features and more of a cohesive package.
You can pick up the REI Swiftland MT for $130 on June 1, 2023, but it’ll be exclusive to REI Co-op members until June 30.
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.More from Taylor
Alex is a trail and ultra runner from the upper midwest who loves Minnesota’s long winters and logging miles on the rooty, rocky, steep trails of Lake Superior’s North Shore. She was the first female to set a supported FKT on the 310 mile Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and enjoys multi-day events and races, especially if they involve snow and -20 degree temps.
All-time favorite shoes: Hoka Speedgoat Evo, Hoka Tecton X, Altra Timp.More from Alex