By Brian Metzler
We all know the benefits of road racing shoes with carbon-fiber plates embedded inside squishy foam midsoles. The plates act as levers that promote forward momentum while optimizing energy return. Those plates can also smooth out the ride in the preferred forward path of a runner’s stride, but they can also destabilize a runner’s gait by executing any lateral movement.
But what about trail running shoes with carbon fiber plates? Do those shoes offer the same performance benefits on the trails? Well, sometimes, but not in the precise way their road running counterparts do because running on uneven terrain doesn’t produce a smooth, consistent gait. In the past two years, several carbon-plated shoes aimed at off-road running have debuted with great fanfare only to be exposed for being too wobbly on technical trails. In my experience, the plates offer protection rather than a springy sensation that improves speed or efficiency.
No matter if you're an avid, longtime trail runner or a novice, occasional trail runner, what you need most is a sturdy, do-everything pair of trail shoes that offers a smooth ride, moderate protection and high comfort. Although Craft has put out several max-cushioned carbon-plated trail running shoes in recent years that have been great for running gravel roads and smooth dirt paths, those models haven’t been ideal for running semi-technical and rugged mountain trails.
Craft’s new Pure Trail, however, hits differently. It’s softly cushioned, stable, energetic and versatile. It has a bendable rock plate in the forefoot that is not designed to increase forward propulsion; it’s mostly there to enhance protection without inhibiting the shoe’s flexibility. Ultimately it does seem to contribute to the lively ride, if only because it doesn’t overly dictate how a runner’s feet move through the stride cycle while on uneven trail terrain. But this shoe is more about its cushy midsole foam, wide, stable geometry and do-everything versatility.
What’s New: Released in early September, the Pure Trail is an entirely new all-mountain running shoe aimed at a wide variety of trails and surfaces. It’s built on the simple but effective componentry of a durable, semi-tacky outsole, a soft and responsive midsole and a breathable mesh upper that keeps a runner’s foot locked down. It doesn’t have a carbon-fiber propulsion plate, but it does have a flexible plastic rock plate embedded in the midsole of the forefoot that, along with the thick, responsive midsole, helps mitigate the sharpness of pointy rocks underfoot while also softening the impact with the ground.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Pure Trail mostly fits true to size with a high-volume interior that is wider than most trail running shoes from the arch to the forefoot but also a tad shorter. Runners with wide feet will appreciate the extra room, but runners with narrower feet might find themselves really having to crank down the laces to get a secure fit. The step-in feel is soft and smooth, thanks to a high-rebound Ortholite sockliner on top of the thick layer of soft, responsive supercritical Cr midsole foam. The flexible plate in the forefoot keeps underfoot “stingers” at bay without creating unwanted lateral torque or a tippy sensation that shoes with rigid full-length propulsion plates are known to produce. The dynamic structure of the featherweight one-piece TPU mesh upper is breathable, supportive and airy while working in concert with the thin, reinforced tongue and moderately reinforced and padded heel cup to keep my feet locked down to midsole/outsole chassis.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s stable, durable and reliable for smooth trails, rocky trails, loose gravel and wet surfaces. The wide shape of the outsole/midsole chassis helps create a feeling of inherent stability while still offering the soft, easy-flexing flow of the neutral. I have enjoyed it on trails that alternate between a wide variety of surfaces – rock, dirt, roots, grass, gravel, etc. – because it offers plenty of comfort, flexibility, durability, cushiness and traction. I found it similar to the Brooks Cascadia 17 and the Salomon Thundercross shoes, only lighter and more agile.
Craft Pure Trail Specifications
Weights: 8.5 oz. (women’s size 8), 10.8 oz. (men’s size 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm (35mm in the heel, 29mm in the forefoot for men; 36mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot for women)
Why You’ll Love it: In a word: versatility. The Craft Pure Trail does everything pretty well without any glaring faults. Could it be slightly lighter? Yes. Could it be slightly more energetic? Yes. Could the upper be more stretchy and pliable? Yes. But the sum of its parts (and positive aspects) create a greater-than-the-whole situation and result in a versatile shoe that feels good and is capable of running well on almost all types of terrain.
Pro: This midsole foam serves up a cushy and resilient sensation in every stride, similar to an everyday trainer you might wear on the roads. I found it to be soft, lively and flexible, and it allowed my foot to bend and move naturally. The energetic midsole foam is one of the best I’ve experienced in a trail running shoe. It’s on par with the nitrogen-infused foam of the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280, only a little bit softer.
Con: The fit and the upper might be tricky for some runners, so I’d highly recommend trying it on before buying it. The wide and relatively short toe box creates a unique puzzle that might not work for all foot shapes.