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9.9 oz. (280 g) for a US M9,
8.0 oz. (230 g) for a US W8
39 mm in heel, 33 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)
Long, technical jaunts (like Backyard Ultra records)
Zenfoam midsole, gusseted tongue, Claw outsole, color-changing mesh upper
JOHN: This is a really exciting time to be reviewing the Trail Devil. Just recently, Australian ultra runner Phil Gore broke the world record for the backyard-style ultramarathon, completing 102 yards at the Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultra wearing the Tarkine Trail Devil. His performance gave Tarkine some big-time exposure, and, like most trail runners, I’ve been dying to know what this shoe is like.
But first, a little background on the company. Tarkine was founded by Australian runners Sam Burke and Ross Johnson. Totally fed up with the shoe industry, they made their own company that’s transparent, highly innovative, and extremely environmentally focused.
Tarkine hopes that its success in business will help save Australia’s largest temperate rainforest for generations to come.
SAM: John’s given it away in the lede, but the story of the Tarkine Trail Devil is a story of three parts:
First, the shoe itself – a reasonably priced and ecologically constructed trail shoe built for speed over big miles. Tarkine bills it as “the pinnacle of eco-driven performance” and markets it for race days and daily mileage. With a high stack for a trail shoe at 39mm in the heel and 33mm in the forefoot, moderate rocker, a foot-shaped toe box, and Tarkine’s proprietary Zenfoam midsole and Claw outsole, the Trail Devil looks poised to do evil things to the trails you subject them too, all while lessening your environmental impact.
The second story is Phil Gore’s insane performance at Dead Cow Gully that John mentioned above — 102 yards for over 420 miles and a new Backyard Ultra world record. A chunk of those miles were in the Trail Devil. Phil posted a photo of his shoes to Instagram after the race as, naturally, everyone wanted to know what in the fires of hell you stick your feet into to run 420 miles in the desert. He rotated through two pairs of the Trail Devil and two pairs of Tarkine’s road shoe, the Goshawk.
Third, and lastly, is that this is an eco-friendly shoe that’s, frankly, good and won’t make your shoe budget suffer the torments most eco shoes will. Eco-shoes usually fall into a more sharply angled gear triangle (your gear can be: lightweight or quality or cheap — pick two, and the third will increase exponentially) than most items, and somehow Tarkine has landed the Trail Devil precariously smack in the middle. It has a recycled engineered mesh upper, fully compostable insole and laces, and it can be returned to Tarkine to be recycled in full after you’ve wrung your last miles from it. This is after Tarkine has ensured it was manufactured in factories that pay fair wages under good working conditions and donated three percent of the sale to preserving wilderness in Australia. Good mates, these Tarkine guys, and they make a decent shoe.
MICHAEL: John and Sam have things wrapped up on everything you need to know about Tarkine as a company, and it’s an exciting one at that, mates. (Sorry, the typical Australian lingo is likely going to be as peppered throughout this review like kangaroos through the outback). But even with all that awesome background behind us, you may still be wondering…what the heck is a Tarkine?
I wondered the same thing, and as it turns out, it’s actually Australia’s largest temperate rainforest (John alluded to this earlier), and it serves as both the inspiration behind the company’s namesake as well as its mission. Tarkine is a brand built around creating sustainable footwear that seriously performs on the run. More specifically, 2% of all of Tarkine’s profits are put towards saving its namesake forest. Count us in.
JOHN: I’m just going to flat-out say it. This is the best trail shoe I’ve run in as a reviewer for Believe In The Run. I must make some caveats here, though, I am not a competitive ultra runner; I’m more a consistent tank that makes cutoffs. For what I do, doing hard ultras, this is an amazing shoe. It fits my feet perfectly and is wide. It looks to me like an Altra in terms of width but with no heel slippage. My foot felt snug but with enough room to splay. The 3.5 mm Claw lugs are tough and allow excellent grip. The Zenfoam is extremely comfortable on even tough trails.
Further, I love the weight of this shoe. At 280 g, it’s significantly lighter than comparable products, and it doesn’t feel heavy even once you get tired (I was a complete disaster on my long run during this review, and the shoe did better than my body did, that’s for sure).
Now the mindblowing part of this shoe to me is it’s $165. I had to do a double-take when I saw the price. For what this shoe is, that’s a great deal. Comparable shoes from more established brands are more expensive. Tarkine, in my opinion, is putting the giants on notice. There is a lot of value that comes with this shoe. I can’t wait to use it on Viaduct 100. I was going to save it for Eastern States 100, but no, I want to run an ultra in it immediately.
I’ve mentioned on here several times that I am not a cool guy. I dress pretty whack, just a random mix of athleisure and I don’t really match or care about what a shoe looks like as long as it works, but this is a nice-looking shoe. My girlfriend, Denise, mentioned initially when I showed her the shoes that there are a lot of little easter eggs around the shoe and that the color seems to shift and expose camouflaged symbols. Even taking pictures of the shoes, they look really different when the sun hits them. I had the black/ green pair, and it became a maroonish color in the sun.
I used to tell customers when I worked at running stores: function over fashion, but this is the rare shoe that gives you both.
SAM: This devil has some angelic features. The fit is good, and with the foot-shaped toe box, it falls somewhere between an Altra Lone Peak and a Topo Athletic Terraventure. There’s a little room all the way through the shoe, but never too much. It fits true to size but is just a hair shorter than some other shoes, so if you fall between sizes, go up. The recycled mesh upper is surprisingly breathable, very comfortable, and has some neat hidden design flourishes that only pop out when light hits just so. Unlike John, I really appreciate the gusseted tongue on the Trail Devil — it’s padded enough to keep the laces from cutting off your circulation, and the split top edge lays nicely on the front of my ankle.
Tarkine says that both the laces and insole of the Trail Devil are compostable. This is cool! The laces tie well and won’t loosen, and the insole is perfectly comfortable. This is VERY cool. I’m impressed by how both were an absolute non-issue on any of my runs, which is way more than I can say for plenty of other non-compostable shoe details from other shoes. Imagine the city compost piles stuffed with flattened insoles and ratty laces if the rest of the industry could nail a similar formula that Tarkine has here.
The nitrogen and CO2-infused Zenfoam midsole (which is not to be confused with Topo Athletic’s Zipfoam, here in our era of peak foam) is cushioned and responsive. I’d say it’s comparable with other super-critical foams out there. It’s chunky, but you don’t really feel the extra stack on the trail. The base of the shoe is wide and stable, but not so much that it’s ever in the way, and the durometer of the foam is dialed perfectly. In fact, the thickness of the stack makes this a pretty great road-to-trail shoe as well. I have hardly any compression or degradation after 50 miles of mixed surface use. Under that, the Claw outsole is grippy in most conditions and decently durable.
MICHAEL: John and Sam have already mentioned many of my favorite features of the Trail Devil, such as the responsiveness and protection of the Zenfoam midsole, wide toe box, and the undeniable versatility of the design. So with all that being said, I’ll just briefly mention some of my personal highlights of the shoe.
Starting with the midsole, I really loved the shape and tooling here. The wide platform, coupled with a little bit of a bathtub construction, feels extremely stable underfoot yet not too bulky or clunky on technical terrain. Also, the Zenfoam material provides a bit of plushness without feeling squirmy or out of control. Support and structure are both totally present in the Trail Devil, yet not at the expense of feeling agile or held back when dancing through the technical stuff. Also, the midsole construction feels very protective underfoot without the use of a rock plate, further adding to this shoe’s versatility for all-mountain applications and rough, rocky conditions.
One often-overlooked aspect of an eco-friendly shoe is durability, and the Trail Devil has. The Zenfoam midsole is dense and feels like it will last forever, and the upper materials are tough. I have no doubts this shoe could last 500-plus miles for the right runner, which is pretty fantastic, seeing as how some only last for 300. Another thing I love is that Tarkine takes sustainability a step further here than just being eco-friendly. Rather, they have applied sustainability practices not only to their product but to the manufacturing process as a whole, ensuring that their product is manufactured under good working conditions with honorable wages. What’s not to love?
Putting all these features together (as well as several others touched on by Sam and John) makes for a really fantastic package, especially for a debut model. For $165, the Trail Devil is an immediate contender in the max-cushion, foot-shaped ultra trail space. For many runners, this has the potential for near-Speedgoat levels of versatility, add that to a thoughtfully sustainable production model, and we’ve got a winner on our hands.Shop Tarkine Trail Devil - Men Shop Tarkine Trail Devil - Women
JOHN: Super nit-picky here, but the tongue of the shoe was a little weird when putting it on. I had to play with it to get it just right, but it really wasn’t a big deal. Also, for me, this shoe doesn’t feel like a shoe you would want to use for super speedy runs but for slower, more difficult trails or to have comfort for a longer duration. I’m stretching just to find something to put here because for what the shoe is offering, it’s a crazy good value.
SAM: The Tarkine Trail Devil has a few sins hiding beneath all that neon-dyed foam. First, it’s pretty uncommon for a trail shoe to have no midfoot upper reinforcement to keep your foot in place, and this shoe has nothing but that single layer of engineered mesh. Once a trail starts getting technical or a downhill draws out, it was difficult to keep my foot in place. This exacerbated the second issue: the toe guard.
Despite the foot-shaped toebox, my pinkie toes really pushed at the lateral sides of the Trail Devil’s upper, and on downhills, this would jam them repeatedly into the edge of the short, firm toe guard. It’s painful enough over the course of a run to take this shoe out of long miles contention for me.
The Trail Devil’s final sin is in its Claw outsole, with its suspiciously Vibram-like badge. It just really sucks on wet rocks and isn’t all that durable. This is not an uncommon failing for shoes — wet rocks are one of the greatest temptations for our feet to succumb to — but you always want better, especially for a shoe with such good elements as this one. In fact, this outsole reminded me of the similarly frustrating one Altra keeps deploying on its non-Vibram-equipped shoes. It’s there, and it’ll do alright under normal trail conditions, but you’re certainly going to wish it was better, especially at any stream crossing.
MICHAEL: Unfortunately for the Trail Devil, it’s not all “hippie trail, head full of zombies.” For me, the fit is really lacking through the midfoot; having to cinch up the lacing until the eyelets are touching is one negative experience I most recently had to experience with the Timp 4. That being said, after cinching down the lacing, my heel stayed locked in, and I felt comfortably secure over technical terrain, so it’s not a deal breaker; basically, the fabric just bunches a ton.
Speaking of Altra, Sam put it perfectly; the claw midsole is kind of mid, just like Altra MaxTrac. They perform similarly and get the job done on general terrain, but as soon as things turn truly gnarly, it has us all wishing it was as good as the Vibram stuff on Altra’s primary competitor in the natural foot shape realm, Topo Athletic. I was thinking about adding another Men at Work pun in here, but I couldn’t seem to make one work. This claw outsole just doesn’t rock.
While your ears are still ringing from the atrocity that was that previous sentence, allow me to introduce the final negative aspect of the Trail Devil. Who can it be knocking at (Tarkine’s) door? It’s weight. The dreaded culprit of seemingly every eco-friendly shoe I’ve tried to date, the weight will ultimately keep the Trail Devil out of race day consideration for me (specifically races 50k and under). Don’t get me wrong, 11.3 oz for my US M9.5 is respectable and not at all bad for 90% of daily mileage and ultras (only 0.9 oz heavier than the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3), but for some reason, I really felt sluggish in the Trail Devil.
Let’s get the obvious reasoning out of the way here: it’s summer, it’s hot, and I’m tired. But seriously, the ride of the shoe felt a bit sluggish. Perhaps the shoe could benefit from a slightly more pronounced rocker, especially with all that stack? Maybe I just need to sleep more? I’m not really sure, but I’ll be curious to see if that comes in version two.Shop Tarkine Trail Devil - Men Shop Tarkine Trail Devil - Women
JOHN: I beat the hell out of this shoe. Water crossings, rocks, roots, trail, and even a little road, and it did amazing.
I truly believe I have found a shoe to replace my old go-to on 100 milers. I love the value of this shoe, what the company is all about, and how comfortable and tough this shoe is. I legitimately feel like Tarkine is not going to sell out and compromise its ideals, like some other brands, and make radically inferior products. If you are fed up like the founders of Tarkine were with the state of trail shoes that are out right now, you need to try the Trail Devil.
I feel like this shoe, in ways, feels like a less heavy Olympus. It’s also not quite as expensive as the Olympus. I suggest check out the latest Olympus review we have here at Believe In The Run. If that was your go-to shoe in the past, it may be time to try the Trail Devil.
SAM: The Tarkine Trail Devil is far better than it should be as a debut eco-friendly trail shoe from a newer company. It has a few sins to atone for, but that’s what future models are for. If you care about the environmental footprint of your shoe and are a fan of shoes like the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 or the Altra Olympus, this shoe won’t break the bank and will carry you through lots of trail and road miles. Then you can compost and recycle it. This Devil might just give you a boost on the way to better, more environmental living.
MICHAEL: Tarkine has a legitimate contender in the foot-shaped market here for ultra-distance trail racing and almost every training run. While I’m not quite as enthusiastic as John on this one, this is a really great shoe for a great price and is seriously worth looking into as a solid Altra or Topo alternative for everything from gnarly ultra courses to the throws of daily training and regular abuse. Plus, this company is obviously doing awesome things, and you’ll be the talk of your Tuesday night trails squad with fresh kit from the land down under. Bravo Tarkine on a fantastic debut. I can’t wait to try version two; I have a feeling it’s going to be a smashing hit.
You can pick up the Tarkine Trail Devil for $165 from Tarkine’s website using the buttons below.
An obsessed runner, John has run in most ultra races in the Mid-Atlantic area. Since he’s an ultra runner, it’s no surprise he’s also a lover of food. He’s also a dedicated father, caregiver, and veteran.More from John
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 PeakMore from Sam
An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.More from Michael