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Trail Running Shoes • August 19, 2019

Saucony Mad River TR Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Crazy customizable outsole with patterned drill holes for drainage and sheet metal screw holes for traction
  • Weighs 10.3 oz./292 grams for a 9M
  • Not a ton of protection, best suited for lighter trails
  • Has more customization options than a Wendy’s taco bar (R.I.P.)

Taylor: Choice can be powerful and liberating. Shoes are one of the few products out there with such a wide range of options that users can essentially choose their own adventure. Minimal or max? Neutral or stable? And so on.

Even so, very few shoes have the ability to adapt to its user’s specific purposes. Saucony wants to change that, by granting some more power to its consumers by offering the Mad River TR. This neutral trail runner offers options to each runner adapt their shoes for fit, feel, and conditions.

To do this, Saucony has utilized some of its best technologies from award-winning shoes like the Saucony Peregrine and Xodus and thrown them into the Mad River.

Some of the fan-favorite shared specs are a PWRFOAM midsole for all-day comfort, EVERUN topsole to add a little more, and PWRTRAC outsole with a particular multidirectional lug pattern. The combination of these technologies is not found in any other trail shoe that Saucony offers. The shoe is low-drop (4mm) and low to the ground (23mm heel to 19mm toe) for added security and ability for faster running.

What’s really unique about the Mad River TR is that Saucony seems to have listened to some specific feedback on modifications that trail runners often make to their shoes and came up with a shoe to accommodate those. What a concept!

The Mad River TR includes a variety of lacing options, the option of drilling holes for water drainage, specific spots to place screws for better traction in the most slippery conditions, D-ring to encourage gaiter attachment, and an integrated tongue to a soft upper to keep debris out.

That’s more fixings than a taco bar, and they are all appreciated.

The Good

Taylor: Out of the gate, I have to say this shoe might be the most comfortable pair I have ever slid on the ol’ kickers. Yes. THE most comfortable in terms of fit/feel. What’s responsible for that? The Mad River has a soft (yet durable) upper with an integrated tongue that’s more like a liner than a tongue. It’s the only shoe that I have tried that actually has a sock-like hug and comfort.

The lacing system can also be vouched for here. It is narrower and lays on top of the foot. The perk is that when you need to lace tighter, the laces do not secure your foot by pressing down on your foot; rather, it cinches the material around the foot to create security. Another factor to the overall comfort is a wider foot-shaped design— a page from Altra and Topo Athletic’s books— to allow for a more natural experience for your feet with each step.

I would be getting away with murder if I didn’t acknowledge the adaptability of the Mad River TR. That’s what this shoe was designed for. All of the aforementioned customization options are great for someone who runs in a variety of conditions. I gladly drilled holes in the pre-marked areas to drain water after river crossings. By golly, it worked beautifully! For other seasons, the designated areas for gaiters and/or sheet metal screws for more aggressive traction are welcomed.


No matter how customizable or comfortable, if a pair of shoes is going for more than $150, I would heavily consider whether it’s worth it. But have no fear— the Mad River TR comes in as one of the cheapest *quality* trail shoes that you can find. They only cost $110 brand-spankin’ new!

Erin: It was difficult for me not to immediately draw comparisons between the Saucony Mad River TR and Saucony’s most popular trail shoe, the Peregrine. I tested the Peregrine ISO earlier this year and was not a fan. The Mad River, in my opinion, takes the best parts of the Peregrine – namely the aggressive bidirectional lugs and the tacky PWRTRAC rubber outsole – and combines it with a better-fitting, more responsive shoe.

While the Mad River is allegedly heavier than the Peregrine ISO (9.7 oz versus 9.2 oz), it was not at all noticeable to me. What was noticeable was how good this shoe feels to slip into. It has a bootie construction that had me a little worried upon first glance – the tongue and heel collar are both pretty high – but ultimately was not an issue. They’re very easy to get on and off, and the material is smooth and comfortable.

The Mad River comes with two lacing options: an inner set of loops and an outer set of eyelets. During my first run in these, I found the midfoot to feel a little unstable at times, so I tried a few different configurations and found that if I used the outer eyelets through the midfoot, and the inner loops at the top and bottom, it really eliminated that unstable feeling. This worked so much better for me than the ISO on the Peregrines.

Like the Peregrine, the Mad River has a PWRFOAM midsole and full length EVERUN topsole; perhaps because the lugs are less aggressive in this shoe compared to the Peregrine, and these also have a 4 mm drop, I felt the responsiveness of this combination. This isn’t a shoe for racing or fast trail efforts, but it feels great at slower speeds and for long days.

Can we talk about the toe box? So much room! This shoe just fits so well. The upper is a fine mesh that feels very durable, if not necessarily the most breathable (though I never felt that these got too hot).

Lastly, I am really pumped to have these in my trail rotation, because come winter, I plan to put screws in these, which I think will be a game changer.

Shop Saucony Mad River TR


The Bad

Taylor: As much as the adaptation of the Mad River TR to any terrain and condition seems ideal, this shoe does not quite cut it as a truly viable all-terrain shoe. The midsole, though comfortable and responsive, is only mildly protective. On a hard ground or more-than-moderately-technical trail, I would try to avoid some aspects of trail that I typically wouldn’t with a trail-specific shoe. That being said, I was able to test it on some softer and less-technical trails of the Midwest. I was very pleased with their performance on these types of trails.

Along similar lines, the midsole is quite flexible throughout the length of the shoe. In fact, it is almost rubbery and adds to the initial water-shoe like feel. There are no other built-in supports like a rock plate, midfoot/arch support, etc. If you are a runner that typically needs a little extra in the support department, even in a neutral shoe, this wouldn’t be a smart choice.

Erin: There’s definitely more ground feel in these compared to the Peregrine, but while neither shoe has a rock plate, you’re more likely to notice that in the Mad River. I’m someone who takes the rock plate out of my shoes, so this doesn’t really bother me at all, just something to note.

I don’t really have any serious complaints about this shoe. Like the Cascadia 14, the Mad River surprised me. Both are excellent trail shoes that you’re likely to get a lot of miles out of.

Shop Saucony Mad River TR

saucony mad river outsole

Saucony Mad River TR Conclusion

Erin: The Mad River is a great trail shoe that will prove to be very versatile with its easy screw installation. While it isn’t lighter than the Peregrine, I think it’s an all-around better shoe, and hey, it’s also cheaper!

Taylor: I love this shoe, albeit conditionally. I would love it wholeheartedly if the trails I run on were softer or on the less-technical side. However, if that does happen to be the terrain you frequent, snatch this shoe up! It really is the most comfortable shoe that I’ve worn in a long time. Add in the customization abilities, along with the more-than-reasonable price tag, and this is a real bang for your buck type of deal.

Saucony, hear my plea: please make a “hard-ground” option with a little more protection and support for us mountain dwellers. It’ll be hotter than a starfish on a hot rock in Tucson.

You can pick up the Saucony Mad River TR at Running Warehouse using the link below.

Shop Saucony Mad River TR



Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Stewart Gunyon says:

    It’s a very exciting shoe! However, is it water resistant? Do I still have to wear my waterproof socks?

    1. Taylor Bodin says:

      This shoe is awesome! Water resistant, but not like a gore-tex that’s for sure. The upper is a pretty soft meshy material. If you’re going to be somewhere that is consistently wet enough that the shoe would get soaked, I wouldn’t bother with waterproof socks anyways. Drill the holes in the bottom and let er fly!

  2. Kelly Freeth says:

    Erin said that she removes the rock plates in shoes. HOW??
    Please share your secrets as a rock plate kills my feet.

    1. Erin Surette says:

      Hi Kelly –

      I was mostly thinking of Altras when I made that comment; they typically come with a removable rock plate, which I always take out. Unfortunately, for most trail shoes that have a rock plate, you don’t have that option. I feel your pain, though, because I also hate rock plates!

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