By Brian Metzler
Once known primarily as an apparel brand for high-energy endurance sports, Craft has been pushing hard into running shoes over the past four years. Working with celebrated athlete ambassador Thomas Puzey (aka, “Tommy Rivs”), the Swedish brand immediately went after the marathon racing segment of the market with carbon-plated road racing super shoes. And while those were well received and gave the brand street cred, its foray into trail running shoes, with the input of Puzey and elite-level American ultrarunner David Laney, is proving to be an even more successful venture.
(The brand also got loads of cred in the endurance community by sticking with and supporting Puzey – not canceling their partnership – when he was battling lung cancer in 2020. In what might seem like a rare move contrary to modern sponsorship deals, CEO Eric Schenker says his company never considered taking Puzey off retainer when he got sick. Now that Puzey has recovered and the cancer is in remission, the brand has unintentionally received a big boost of fans and followers and that, no doubt, is giving its shoe line some momentum.)
So far, Craft has excelled in the emerging category of road-to-trail gravel running. Yes, that’s kind of like gravel biking, but unlike the gravel-riding culture that has emerged in the cycling world, it’s mostly about the type of terrain the versatile trail shoes are made for (mild trails, gravel roads, pavement). Craft’s new Endurance Trail shoe is the latest in its off-road running line, but one that is more conducive to running a wider range of trails and distances.
The brand also signed several key ultrarunners in early 2023 to get more cred in the trail running world – including Arlen Glick and Ida Nilsson, who are running this weekend’s Western States 100 in California. The new Endurance Trail shoe has become a versatile training shoe for Glick and Nilsson, but they’ll be wearing yet-to-be-released prototypes of a 2024 trail racing shoe in the race. Those are all signs of how committed the brand is to the fast-growing ultra-trail discipline and the booming trail running market since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic sent everyone outdoors seeking new ways to exercise.
What’s New: The Endurance Trail is an entirely new model, the first true trail training shoe from Craft. Taking cues from its CTM Ultra Carbon 2 and CTM Ultra models, the brand built the Endurance Trail with a mix of features ideal for road running – most notably a cushy and responsive midsole – blended with a knobby outsole equipped with mid-height lugs for grip and protection on fire roads to moderate trails. The engineered mesh upper is a bit more structured than those found on other trail shoes, but it’s still very breathable, and the slightly stiffer and durable feeling of the upper, as well as the heel and forefoot overlays, provide some protection against sidewall abrasions.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Endurance Trail fits true to size with a medium-volume interior at the heel and more of a medium-wide volume from the midfoot to the forefoot. Runners with wider feet and those who like a wider toe box will appreciate the fit quite a bit. The step-in feel is mildly plush, with a soft, premium footbed, a thin, lightly padded tongue and a little bit of heel collar padding. Once laced up, the medium-firm midsole and rocker geometry of the Endurance Trail produces a soft, slightly bouncy ride that effectively absorbs shock and returns energy in every stride. The extra-wide platform and durable rubber outsole lugs give it a great mix of responsiveness, traction and inherent stability.
Why It’s Great: There’s no carbon-fiber propulsion plate like several of Craft’s original trail shoes – and that’s good because a plate can be too much on trails sometimes. However, it still offers plenty of cushioning, a bit of responsive pop in every stride and very reliable stability. The secret sauce of this shoe is the low-density Px Foam midsole, which provides both shock-absorbing protection and a boost of liveliness. (Plus the manufacturing process has a legitimate green backstory.)
Weights: 9.3 oz. (women’s size 8), 10.7 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: Women’s: 9mm (34mm in the heel, 25mm in the forefoot); Men’s: 9mm (36mm in the heel, 27mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: If you’re looking for a versatile trail shoe that can do a lot of things very well, the Endurance Trail is one to consider. It’s a cushy, near-max cushioned shoe that’s light enough to be fast and cushy enough to run long distances on just about any surface except extremely technical craggy terrain. It’s great for tempo runs on gravel or light trails or speedy runs over rolling terrain, but it’s also able to tackle sections of paved roads or concrete bike paths without feeling sloppy or clunky. It’s not ideal for short and fast racing, but it could be a good choice for longer trail races over moderate terrain. I have loved running 8- to 10-mile runs in the Endurance Trail on the smooth trails, paths and gravel roads around Boulder, Colorado, and the old mining roads near Leadville, Colorado.
Pro: This is a fun trail and gravel road cruiser and a great training shoe for road runners and trail runners, no matter what race is on the agenda for later this summer. This has become one of my go-to training shoes as I have been ramping up my mileage in preparation for the MCC 42K race in August. I don’t take it on particularly rocky routes, and when I encounter more technical terrain on a route, I slow my pace and am more careful with my footsteps. I haven’t run at very fast paces very often, partially because it takes some effort to get it to my top speed. However, I really love the responsiveness of the midsole foam and the snappy ride it produces in my slower and medium-fast paced training runs (Zone 1 to Zone 4).
Con: There’s a lot to like about this shoe and only a few drawbacks. If I have to be picky, I’d say the stack height and weight of the shoe limit its agility and proprioceptive feel for the ground slightly. It’s great on gravel roads and smooth dirt trails, but it can feel limited on terrain with technical features.