Trial By Trail: Three Loops to chose between three trail running shoes
With the HAT 50k in coming up in three weeks on March 24, I wanted to have a good trail running shoe for the big day. I have been running in the La Sportiva X Country Trail shoe for many of my longer trail runs this winter. They are a fine shoe and I have piled up some miles on them, so I wanted to try some others to make sure I would have the right shoe for race day. I picked the Brooks Cascadia 7, Inov-8 ROCLITE 285, and the Inov-8 f-LITE 195 for this test. I took the shoes out to a technical hilly trail with a 4.5 mile loop that has mud, loose rock, roots, single track, fields, and five stream crossing. All of the HAT conditions were covered accept for the long road section.
I started off with the Brooks Cascadia 7. If I had tried the three shoes on in a running store, I would have probably walked out with the Cascadia. They feel only slightly heavier than the Inov-8 weighing in at 12.2 oz. vs. the Inov-8 ROCLITE 285 at 10.1 oz. The Cascadia have a plush feel and a cushy ride when walking on carpet. I had to get them out on the trails to know for certain.
It was raining when I left the house and arrived at Oregon Ridge, these three shoes were in for a mud run. I hit the trails with the Cascadias snuggly laced and noticed my heel was lifting a little bit. I was thinking if I keep these I’d need to play with the lacing to make sure I get a better fit around the cuff of the shoe. The traction in the Cascadia was pretty good and fell in between the two Inov-8 shoes. I haven’t worn a trail shoe with as much EVA foam as the Cascadia has in quite awhile and was surprised by how much I missed getting the feedback from the feel of the trail. For some people this might be a bonus. I imagine some like a softer cushier ride where you are more protected from the roots or jagged rocks. I would equate the ride between the shoes as luxury car vs. sports car. I prefer the sports car out on the trails so I started looking forward to trying the Inov-8s during the first loop in the Brooks. What pretty much sealed it for me was the stream crossings. I purposely got the shoes wet. I wanted to see how they drained. The Cascadia 7 drained really well, however the heavy squishy feeling stayed with them. Barreling down the last decline the traction was great, but my confidence to really let go wasn’t there for two reasons. One the inch of shoe between the trail and me makes me nervous that I might turn an ankle. Two without a really secured heel the shoe felt sorta sloppy. In closing for the Brooks Cascadia 7 I must be fair and say, I think these are a great shoe and would probably be the perfect choice for a wide swath of runners. It is my own preference to have less shoe and feel the trail that gave the Brooks a slightly lower grade. After mile 22 of the HAT 50k I may change my opinion on how much I want to feel and curse myself for not picking the Brooks.
For the second loop, I ran in the Inov-8 ROCLITE 285. The conditions could not have been better for these shoes. The trails were muddy with standing water, rocks, roots, sand, and gravel. This shoe with a super aggressive cleat tore up the trails. I had total confidence in every foot fall. I was clawing my way up hills and flying down the descents in control. This was fun. I was hoping that the shoes would have a more flexible feel to them as we ran. In the beginning they felt a bit on the rigid side, I didn’t seem to notice as much towards the end of the loop. Although the ROCLITE 285 has a 6mm differential from heel to toe, they felt like a zero drop shoe. I had to make a conscience effort to make sure I dropped my heel while running. The toe box fit was a little on the narrow side, for me that is ok. Some my feel it is too narrow. After the loop I thought it would be hard to beat these as my choice for HAT.
On the final loop I wore the Inov-8 f-LITE 195. The toe box was roomier than in the ROCLITE 285 and off the bat the shoe felt more flexible. They weigh in at a scant 6 oz. The heel to toe differential is 3mm but felt similar to the ROCLITE 285. These shoes felt great out on the trails but lacked the traction of the ROCLITE sole. In these muddy conditions the f-LITE were dead last compared to the other two shoes. The problem is, most of the time the trails are not this muddy. Would I find the aggressive cleats on the ROCLITE irritating on a dry hard pack trail? I am half tempted to bring both to HAT and see what would be the best for race day conditions.
I am going with the ROCLITE 285. They felt fast and gripped the trail like no other shoe I have ever worn. I am glad I revisited the Cascadia style shoe and maybe making a mistake if I let the f-LITE go, but switching out the shoes every loop sure made the 13.5 mile run fun and go by fast.
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Nice article, Thomas. The Roclite 285 is my favorite trail shoe for the type of conditions you'll encounter at a wet/muddy HAT. Good luck!
Great reviews, T! I've been wanting to give the lighter weight Inov8's a try, too.