Saucony Endorphin Trail Performance Review
TAYLOR: Last year, Saucony’s Endorphin Pro was one of the first legitimate competitors to the hydra-headed Empire of racing shoes, the Nike Next% and Alphafly. The PWRRUN PB midsole was a fresh face in the game, and it was beautiful – spilling over to the Endorphin Speed made that shoe our favorite overall shoe of 2020.
Earlier this year, we started seeing leaked photos of the Endorphin Trail. And we were stoked. Oh, the possibilities! The first trail shoe sporting the new PWRRUN PB foam and SPEEDROLL technology. Coupled with an aggressive trail attitude, could this be the trail speedster to rule them all?
Welp… in short, no. Not at all.
To say the final product didn’t meet initial expectations would be an understatement. To be honest, it was disappointing to pull these out of the box. That said, when I got over my own idea of what they “should have been,” I found the Endorphin Trail to be an enjoyable running experience.
ALEX: When I first opened the box and saw these I was slightly appalled. Ok, I was very appalled. I was immediately transported back to my angsty teen years when I would scribble angrily on a page of my algebra notebook until the entire page was covered in a tangled mess of heavy black inky lines. This is what I imagine inspired the design of the midsole. Paired with the black and white checkered upper, it just seemed like there were a lot of conflicting design ideas and no one said ‘no’ to any of them.
KYLE: Straight from the funky side of the galaxy next door comes this wild-as-hell, toothy, springy trail offering from Saucony’s Endorphin lineup. You can probably glean from the number of adjectives I’ve thrown at this opening paragraph that this is a wild shoe that is absolutely screaming for a good time! And speaking of a good time, did I mention this thing has booty? Well, it has “A” bootie –– stitched right into the upper for a smooth, sock-like fit. More on this later. Let’s party with the Saucony Endorphin Trail!
MATT: Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac … this shoe’s a timebomb!
The Endorphin Trail is a curious and unique case. The design, with its “ska-punk” checkerboard colorway looks like it may have been a Saucony collab with Rancid (see the aforementioned lyric at the beginning of this section) or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. While many may use the loud design as an excuse enough to stay away, I actually thought it looked cool and it gave me even more reason to be excited to lace them up.
Reason #1 for my excitement was the Endorphin label. The Endorphin road class was/is an overwhelming success and had actually yielded a respected alternative to Nike’s carbon plated racers, not to mention their use as a great lightweight daily trainer.
Could the application of this tech on the trails yield the unicorn of an ultra trail racer that would blend speed with comfort?
Sadly, the answer is no, but let’s dig into why.
TAYLOR: Looking at the most basic features of this shoe, yes we can “technically” call it an Endorphin.
Namely, this is the first trail shoe to sport the PWRRUN PB foam. It’s encapsulated by a thin mesh net so as to not slice it up. I was surprised to feel that the foam trends toward the medium-firm side and ensures almost zero ground feel. The 36.5 mm to 32.5 stack (4 mm drop) makes this more of a highly cushioned runner with plenty of underfoot protection rather than a slim and trim Speedy Gonzales. It’s a similar stack to the HOKA Challenger ATR 6 and Nike Pegasus Trail 3. My feet felt great after every run because of the amount of cushion.
A highly responsive ride is a huge part of this package too. Not only is the foam itself quite responsive, but the SPEEDROLL technology makes this a snappy experience, primarily on more rolling and less technical terrain. This dynamic duo is what made the Endorphin line fly off the shelf and you get a taste of why right here! It’s a rockered geometry that is slightly more toward the forefoot, causing a toe-off to be quick and efficient.
The Endorphin Trail is slated as a neutral runner. There is definitely a little stability happening too. When the stability, responsive foam, and snappy feel are combined, the Endorphin Trail reminds me of a mix of the ASICS Trabuco Max and Brooks Cascadia 16 (both shoes that are highly cushioned and surprised the crap out of me).
What I loved most about this shoe, though, is the upper! I’ve been waiting for Saucony to pull something like this out of the closet again. Composed of a very durable engineered mesh, the upper wraps the foot beautifully. FORMFIT is not a seamless sock-like upper, but its tongue (aka trail sleeve) is made of a stretchy mesh that is sewn right into the upper itself. This is a nod to one of the best fitting shoes known to mankind, the original Mad River TR. Not only did it provide a comfortable hug, it also gave a great soft lockdown of the foot.
Another goody found on the Endorphin trail is the incredibly sticky full rubber PWRTRAC outsole. It’s very similar to what’s found on the Peregrine and Xodus. The outsole also seems a little more robust with its 4.5 mm chevron lugs.
ALEX: I am coming back from a metatarsal bone stress injury and this shoe was exactly what I needed. While I usually prefer some ground feel and a little more flex, this shoe offered very little to none of those things (I lost some of you here) and as a result, provided a nice transition from my walking boot! I am not knocking the shoe at all when I say this; I have ongoing metatarsalgia issues and prefer this kind of rigid + protective combo for long runs. My feet felt really good after spending hours out on technical trails in these.
The heavily armored/overlayed upper is durable and protective. I took them out on an ATV route that had steep technical sections and they did a great job of protecting my toes against roots and rocks. The heel and midfoot design kept my foot securely in place. The Quick-Fit Trail Sleeve tongue is designed to provide a comfortable, integrated, sock-like fit to keep debris out. It was comfortable and secure; it is the first shoe I have put on in a long time that I have not had to stop at least once on the first outing to adjust the lacing.
The super sticky PWRTRAC outsole has 4.5 mm chevron lugs that kind of reminded me of the Salomon SG. It feels kind of clunky on smooth, buffed-out trails but on muddy, technical terrain, the claw-like tread is perfect. The midsole is made of PWRRUN PB, a lightweight foam that provides a bouncy, yet responsive feel. I found that the rigidity of the shoe combined with the SPEEDROLL forward geometry resulted in a surprisingly smooth, fast ride on flats and a strong ability to climb.
I regularly train in HOKA, so my feet felt right at home in the 36.5 mm to 32.5 mm stack and 4 mm drop.
KYLE: What’s the very first thing that draws you to a shoe? C’mon, no more booty jokes –– the way it looks, of course. This shoe practically jumps out of the box, puts a dab of LSD on your tongue and leads you to the liquored-up aid station in the night portion in the middle of your next ultramarathon. Seriously what a wild and fun looking design.
I found that the Endorphin Trail not only looked fun, but like most things your parents warned you about; it is fun. With toothy, relatively tacky (and well-spaced) 4.5 mm lugs, an extremely smooth exaggerated toe spring they call their SPEEDROLL technology, and a responsive but forgiving 32+mm slab of PWRRUN midsole cushioning, I had a blast running all sorts of different speeds, degrees of trail technicality, inclines and climates in these.
Up and down mountains, through streams, at high speeds through triple-digit days in the canyons and to grandmother’s house we went. And then some. There’s certainly a lot to love here.
Oh! And the bootie! The E.T. (get it?) has a supportive liner that wraps the sides of the foot and instep with a sock-like fit that did a surprisingly good job of holding my foot in place. Actually maybe too good of a job (more on that below). All in all good times were had in these.
MATT: Carrying the Endorphin namesake, a beefy midsole featuring PWRRUN PB foam is central in the make-up of the shoe. The combination of the foam and a high stack provides a highly cushioned and stable ride. In fact, despite its neutral classification, there was way more stability than I would have expected, making this an option possibly for those runners that typically have to rule out neutral fit models.
After my well-documented accident with the always slick Nike outsole, I have formed a habit that whenever I unbox a new trail shoe, I immediately flip them over, eyeball the outsole, and run my fingers over to judge the stickiness.
My first impression of the outsole on the Endorphin trail was … skepticism. The aggressive PWRTRAC outsole looked shiny, firm and slick – not what instills confidence in staying upright.
However, through whatever witchcraft Saucony applied, the traction and ride turned out to be quite impressive. While appearance looked quite different than the PWRTRAC outsole found on the Peregrine line, it performed quite similarly and provided plenty of traction through a variety of trail conditions.Shop Endorphin Trail – Men Shop Endorphin Trail – Women
TAYLOR: Eesh… here we go. This thing weighs 12.1 ounces (343 g) for a men’s size 10.5! Seriously dude! There is no reason a modern shoe should weigh this much. Approaching any run in the double digits is basically a noble cause. End rant.
Thankfully this shoe has Speedroll for when the going is good. When the terrain is rough, the plot thickens. The shoe is designed for a pretty linear line where it can roll. The overall design is a little blocky, and you feel it as speed and/or terrain get more technical. On a few occasions when sidestepping around some rocks or needing to turn tightly, the Speeroll resisted lateral motions and even overturned. The sensation made me hyper-aware as to not “speed roll” my ankle.
A narrow-ish toe box also created a little discomfort. It’s a similar fit in the toe box as the Peregrine. If you have an average or slim foot, you should be fine. But if you have an average foot with a bunion or sensitives, you may want to avoid longer runs in this shoe.
As with Speedroll, the upper is a blessing and a curse. Durability – check! Locked-in fit – check! Breathability – not check! The Endorphin Trail’s engineered mesh was a little steamy. It also held onto water and debris longer than expected. Be warned that if you live in an area where moisture and heat mix, you will have two tiny personal saunas.
ALEX: The engineered mesh upper, while protective, felt heavy and like it had a few too many overlays. My feet got really hot in these and they did not drain well at all.
Also, I kind of hate the way they look.
KYLE: There wasn’t too much that rubbed me the wrong way about the Endorphin Trail. The cushioning was a tad firm for me. After 20 miles it was juuust beginning to open up a little, but I wouldn’t call this a soft shoe by any means. My only other complaint was about the aforementioned bootie/sock-liner, I did develop a hot spot on the medial side of my right ankle, just below the talus bone, that became increasingly agitated on my long run. I loosened the lacing, which helped a bit, but although the bootie and lacing system did a good job of locking my foot down overall, I did have a little trouble getting a precision fit that achieved the same without uneven pressure. Maybe I have weird ankles. Idk. “Hey, weird ankles” would probably be the gentlest insult I’ve gotten in my adult life so there ya have it.
As I mentioned above, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but if you dig the look, then you have some pretty sweet head-turning shoes on your feet with the Endorphin Trails.
MATT: The weight. Why, why, why would you create a shoe, with the Endorphin moniker, and have it weigh over 12 ounces?
The shoe is heavy and you feel every bit of it. I actually really liked the feel of the upper, but it was hot and after a couple early stream crossings, it felt soggy and sloppy for way too long afterwards. After a recent run, the shoes still felt damp and had debris stuck to the upper days later.
Despite the PWRRUN midsole, the shoe just feels like a block when on the move. There is zero feel for the ground and I felt like I was removed/separated from my feet. The combination of a high stack and heavy weight were not a winning recipe for me.
The root problem was hard for me to diagnose, but the shoe provided the overall feeling of needing to be broken in, but mile after mile, that “break in” just never surfaced.Shop Endorphin Trail – Men Shop Endorphin Trail – Women
TAYLOR: It is still hard for me to swallow why exactly they had to put the Endorphin name on a shoe that’s largely underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong! Weight aside, this is still a darn decent shoe. It just doesn’t give hold up to the standard set by the road side of the Endorphin line. I guess what “we” were all expecting was an Endorphin Speed for the trails at minimum, but really we got an Endorphin Shift.
The PWRRUN PB provided ample protection and bounce while Speedroll assisted to make this a smooth and snappy ride on more gentle terrain. A locked-in fit will always sell me on a shoe, but if it’s a comfortably secure ride, that’s money. This upper is a buck and half! The new Endorphin Trail has some things going for it. My hope is that it is reduced and refined for the next round. At $160, the price is pretty steep, but if interested, check them out!
ALEX: Unlike Taylor, I had zero expectations for this shoe, which may have resulted in me enjoying them a little more :). The upper, while protective, isn’t super breathable and seems to add weight to the already beefy shoe. But I sure enjoyed that responsive, protective, sticky midsole + outsole combination and will definitely be reaching for these for some upcoming long days out on the trail!
KYLE: After my severely rolled ankle in the Saucony Peregrine a few years back, I wasn’t sure how much I was gonna jibe with a trail offering from a brand known lately for their excellent, speedy, carbon-imbued road offerings, but the E.T. was a pretty pleasant surprise! If you’re looking for a companion for a wild time on the trails with a poppin’ aesthetic, sturdy build, and yes, a nice bootie: look no further. And like a lot of my wilder experiences, this one ain’t cheap and the fit ain’t exactly for everybody, but the memories made are more than worth it!
MATT: Verdict: the shoe’s a timebomb (that’s not a good thing), though I won’t go so far and say it’s rancid. Maybe it’s more of a real big fish. I can probably admit my hopes were too high for this shoe and if it didn’t have the Endorphin namesake my critique may not be so harsh. The problem is that there will be tons of other runners sharing the potential excitement for an Endorphin trail cousin, only to be let down.
I struggle with Saucony’s decision to launch this shoe based off the glowing track record on the road side and not anticipate the backlash when performance falls flat. I’ll be relegating these shoes to easy recovery days, as the cushion and stability are the redeeming factors, clearly distant features than what a prospective consumer would be looking for when buying this shoe.
If you are looking for that more built-up trail shoe with PWRRUN PB cushion, you can pick up the Saucony Endorphin Trail for $160 on July 15 at Running Warehouse by using the link below.Shop Endorphin Trail – Men Shop Endorphin Trail – Women
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thanks for the review. I am really gutted to hear this as I was really wanting them to be similar to the Speed, which I absolutely love.
Perhaps I will look at the Salomon Ultra glide which is the other shoes I am considering or the On CloudUltra.
P>S Keep up the great work I love your reviews.