Pearl Izumi Peak XC
- less cushion
If you believe less is more when it comes to running shoes, Pearl Izumi's Peak XC trail runner could well become your favorite shoe.
The Pearl Izumi is not a high-support, pronation controlling shoe. It does not have a lot of cushion, or rigidity. Rather, it fits slipper-like on your foot, offering smile-on-your-face comfort with just enough protection from the ground to keep your feet happy. Take off running and enjoy the Peak XC's light and airy feel—the next best thing to going barefoot on the grass.
People often push their trail runners into pavement duty as well. Given the Peak XC's minimal cushion, however, I can't recommend it for concrete runners. Even walking on the sidewalk, you may find the XC a little too close to barefoot—especially if you're used to a shoe with a lot of cushion. Pearl Izumi calls this a race and training shoe in the 5k to marathon range. It's meant for serious business, and you'll want to take time to let your foot muscles adapt to it.
Trail-specific features include a forefoot bruise protection shank, flex grooves for enhanced efficiency, a heel crash pad, and a carbon outsole for grip and durability. This is certainly not the shoe I would take for any extended work on broken talus, or for that matter any significant time off-trail. Stay on the trail, however, and you'll love the Peak XC's spring and speed. Breathability and comfort, as you'd expect in such a light shoe, is also outstanding.
Let me mention once again that the Peak XC may strike some runners as flimsy. If you are used to the highly-engineered support of most modern running shoes, the XC will either feel refreshingly free to you or dangerously under-built. Running in the XC requires technique adjustments. You can still thump that heel if you insist, but the high-feedback XC rewards runners who switch to a more natural stride and do their own shock absorbing (I still say you should stay away from concrete).
A special note on fit: the '07 version of the Peak XC were manufactured one full size small. This has been corrected (I believe) for the current model year, but if your pair arrives and seems much too short, you'll want to bump one size up for the correct fit. I'm generally not a fanatic when it comes to running or running shoes, but the Peak XC has absolutely grabbed my attention. I like it so much I'm going to buy a few backup pairs (*discontinued).