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Shoe Review: Merrell Agility Peak 5 ($140) - An All-Around, Off-Road Stalwart

When it comes to trail running shoes, every model is slightly different – just like every trail you might be running wherever you live. That’s a stark contrast to road running shoes, which are generally the same within the realm of certain categories. For example, everyday training shoes, performance trainers, marathon racing super shoes, etc. Sure, all road shoes fit, feel and ride slightly differently, but where the rubber meets the road, they’re pretty similar. 

That’s not the case with trail running shoes, but mostly because the surfaces you run on can vary quite a bit. If you randomly lined up a dozen or so trail running shoes, you’d find a dozen different shoes based on how the brands incorporate the outsole, midsole, upper features. In my long history of trail running, I’ve found that having the right shoe for the trail you’re running is very important to the experience you’ll have. But that’s challenging, too, because most trails have a wide range of features. Does that mean you need to have a quiver of trail shoes at the ready? Ideally, yes. However, if having two or three (or more!) trail shoes in your rotation isn’t an option, then you need one good and very versatile everyday trainer that has properties that make it capable of doing a lot of things very well on the terrain you run most often. Those properties include ample cushioning, good traction, and sufficient protection, plus above-average agility, breathability, and stability – without any glaring weakness. But that’s a rare bird, given the infinite types of trail characteristics you might encounter, not to mention the ever-changing weather conditions that can impact trails from day to day. 

I’ve wear-tested about 35 new trail running shoes since December, and the one I’ve found to be the very best at a lot of types of terrain – but not necessarily the very best for any one type of terrain – is the Merrell Agility Peak 5 ($140). It has everything I need for running most of the moderately technical dirt and rocky trails around Boulder, Colorado – however I haven’t yet tested it on the more rugged high-alpine trails that are still covered with snow. As you head to your local running store in search of your next pair of trail running shoes, it’s important to take into consideration the trails you’ll most likely be running this summer. But from my vantage point, the Agility Peak 5 is a very good all-around performer, and it’s another sign that Merrell has really up-leveled its trail running shoe game over the past two years.

What’s New: The Merrell Agility Peak 5 is a great update to a shoe that was already pretty good. It features a revised version of the brand’s FloatPro Foam midsole foam, which is a lightweight, medium-density compound that offers just enough softness without being mushy or unstable. The one-piece engineered mesh upper is more breathable and durable than the previous version, with better ventilation and reinforcing TPU overlays on the lower part of the sidewalls and around the toe bumper. The outsole is a lightweight web of Vibram Megagrip rubber that includes 19 chunky, low-profile directional lugs under the forefoot and 10 more under the heel. It also features an improved lacing system with recycled laces and lace webbing, and a premium recycled footbed that adds to the comfortable step-in feel. The new version has a 5mm heel-toe drop (down from 6mm last year) and it is about a half an ounce lighter, which is always a good thing.

Fit/Feel/Ride: The Agility Peak 5 fits true to size with medium interior volume and slightly roomier toe box than many trail shoes. I felt like it locked down and cradled my narrow feet with a secure, locked-down feeling in the rearfoot, but I felt the midfoot and forefoot necessitated extra snug lacing (and occasionally a mid-run adjustment to make them tighter). That’s not a knock against the shoe – which I think will be accommodating to a wide range of feet shapes – but more the reality of my narrow feet. The interior is soft and comfortable, largely because of the premium sockliner and fully gusseted, stretchy micromesh tongue that creates a cradling, wraplike fit.

The ride of the Agility Peak 5 is absolutely divine, one of the smoothest and most stable trail shoes I’ve ever run in. The midsole provides soft, semi-responsive cushioning, and the pliable rock plate embedded inside it keeps any awkward poke-through irritations at bay without limiting the easy-flexing demeanor of the shoe. This shoe doesn’t feel exceptionally energetic or bouncy like those with supercritical foam midsoles, but it’s lively enough for faster-paced running. It’s not marshmallow soft, but instead it serves up a cushy flow that’s reliably stable and secure. Plus, there’s enough protection in the toe box and sidewalls to run over technical, craggy rocks without putting your feet in harm’s way. 

Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s everything a versatile trail running shoe should be. It’s relatively light, it’s agile, it’s well-cushioned (but not a high-stack maximally cushioned shoe), it’s protective, and it’s fun to run in. The Agility Peak 5 is lower to the ground than a lot of trail shoes, which allows it to provide great proprioceptive“feel” for the trail for more precise footing. I enjoyed this shoe for running fast on smooth, flowy trails as much as I liked it for running slower with more meticulous footing over technical terrain. The Vibram outsole serves up amazing traction on rocks and dirt without hindering the shoes flexibility or accumulating mud or pebbles. The bottom line: I’ve purposely chosen to wear this shoe for most of my recent trail runs amid a stack of choices just because I like running in it so much.


Weights: 8.5 oz. (women’s 8); 10.6 oz. (men’s 9) Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm; 31mm in the heel/26mm in the forefoot 

Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it because it could very well be the only trail shoe you’ll need all summer, regardless of where you live. It’s versatile enough to run on just about any kind of terrain – smooth, dirt trails, semi-technical trails, rugged trails, dry trails, wet trails, gravel roads, and even sections of paved or concrete paths, if necessary. I’ve run a lot of laps in it on the technical trails of Mt. Sanitas with no complaints, and last weekend, I ran 8 miles on Mesa Trail in hot weather, and it proved to be sufficiently ventilated and comfortable.

Pro: This shoe also has D-ring and velcro gaiter attachments for after-market trail gaiters, so it could be a shoe you might consider for ultra-distance training and racing or a high-alpine peak-bagging shoe.

Con: After about two dozen runs on all sorts of terrain, it’s been hard to find any negative criticisms of this shoe. I have noticed some cosmetic wear and tear on the edges of the outsole, but nothing that has inhibited performance or suggested an overall breakdown of the shoe.


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