By Brian Metzler
This might shock some people out there, but give me a moment to explain: the $100 entry-level Brooks Divide 4 might be the only trail running shoe you need in your quiver. Yes, I know, I am shocked, too, but hear me out.
Not too long ago – maybe even only a dozen years ago – trail running shoes were still an unevolved concept. Shoe designers hadn’t yet developed shoes nuanced to tackle different types of terrain, mostly because shoe brands weren’t selling loads of trail running shoes yet. And that’s because the sport, even though it was growing, didn’t really have the depth of vast participation numbers. So ultimately, while there were good trail running shoes, they weren’t as nuanced with modern materials and manufacturing methods as their high-tech offspring are today. But the shoes that were available then – even though they were more basic than today’s terrain-specific models – were much better than road running shoes.
Fast forward to today as you’re looking for a new pair of trail running shoes and you’ll find there are dozens of models to choose from, ranging from $100 to $260. My two bits of advice on figuring out what model might be best for you are these: 1) Consider the type of terrain you run on most often – dry and dusty, wet and sloppy or rocky and technical – and find a shoe that can handle that terrain with aplomb; 2) Consider how often you will go trail running over the next six months or a year and, if you’re primarily a road runner who dabbles in trail running occasionally, look for a do-everything road-to-trail hybrid. In either case, it would be worth checking out the Brooks Divide 4.
What’s New: The biggest thing that’s new on the fourth edition of the Divide is the upper. It’s more durable than it was in the past, but it hasn’t lost the mild stretchiness that allows it to have an accommodating but locked-down fit. The lacing system, reinforced toe bumper and tongue have also been improved slightly.
Fit, Feel, Ride: The Brooks Divide 4 fits true to size with a medium interior volume and a little bit of wiggle room in the toe box. Truth be told, it fits like a Brooks road running shoe, so it’s probably more accurate to describe the volume as medium that borders on narrow and that it only comes in a standard width. It has a modestly soft interior that is enhanced by a premium sockliner, a little bit of padding around the heel collar and a sparsely padded gusseted tongue. In some ways, the Divide 4 is a road shoe disguised as a trail shoe. That’s most evident in the smooth, stable ride of the shoe, which feels like a mid-range neutral-oriented road running shoe. The key element is the semi-soft DNA Loft midsole that allows for very good shock absorption and a cushy sensation that leads to easy heel-to-toe transitions through the gait cycle. It’s not a very energetic feeling, but it definitely doesn’t feel dead or flat, either. Although it rides the borderline between semi-soft and semi-firm on the roads, it felt amply soft on the trails to me.
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it for the $100 price tag. That’s half the price of some trail running shoes, which means you’ll be able to spend that extra money on a race entry or a hydration pack. Does that mean it’s a low-quality shoe? No, it means that it doesn’t have some of the high-end features or materials that other trail shoes have (like a hyper-responsive midsole foam or a rock plate for protection), but it’s still a very good quality, mid-range shoe that offers comfort and versatility, as well as good traction and long-wearing durability. And for 100 bucks, it’s a steal of a deal for what the shoe provides.
Brooks Divide 4 Specs
Weights: 9.3 ounces. (women’s size 8), 10.4 ounces (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm (30mm in the heel, 22mm in the forefoot)
Why It’s Great: I love this shoe for the versatility it offers. There are a lot of shoes that are described as being do-everything, road-to-trail hybrid models, but this is one I’ve really felt good with running on the roads from my house in Boulder, Colorado, to tackle a technical trail loop on Mt. Sanitas. While it doesn’t feel as smooth as most of my road running shoes, it doesn’t feel awkward on the one mile of paved surfaces to and from the trailhead. It’s great on soft dirt and mildly technical terrain (with dirt, rocks, roots, gravel etc), offering very good stability from a wide footprint and semi-firm/semi-soft midsole and good traction from its low-profile outsole lugs. Those same elements, plus the shoe’s modest protection features, also allow it to handle more technical terrain with rocky, jagged surfaces pretty well. (It’s not exceptional, but it’s not horrible either.) It’s not the shoe I would choose for long, technical mountain runs on craggy ridgelines, but it does the trick on short spurts of rugged terrain and it really excels on everything else.
Pro: If you’re a once- or twice-a-week trail runner who runs on a variety of mild to moderate surfaces, this is a good shoe to consider. I took it on all kinds of terrain and appreciated it most on soft, semi-technical dirt trails and gravel roads, but I didn’t complain when I encountered rockier sections. I mostly used it for runs in the 45-minute to one-hour range, but I did take it on a 14-mile out-and-back jaunt on Boulder’s Mesa Trail and didn’t have any huge complaints. Bottom line: I consider it a very reliable model and I’m glad it’s in my quiver of shoes.
Con: OK, well, the downside of the Brooks Divide 4 is that it probably doesn’t remotely compare to the high-end trail shoes that are available or to the road running shoes you’ve been logging miles in lately. That’s OK if you’re an occasional trail runner who doesn't need all of the bells and whistles. It’s not going to be as light, soft, energetic, comfortable or as pleasing to the eyes. But aside from it being a bit rigid on more technical surfaces, it’s a very good all-around shoe. You get what you pay for, but in this case, you get quite a lot.