As most of my runs lately have been of the muddy, off-road variety, I’ve completely trashed my much-loved, heavy duty New Balance 471s and consequently have had to go looking for something to replace them.
I’ve got plenty of lightweight trail shoes lying around the house, but really wanted something a bit more substantial to deal with some of the rockier trails I’ve got on my running schedule. So I sought a little advice from those nice folks at fitnessfootwear.com, who recommended the Merrell Moab Ventilator.
Once out of the box , my first impression of the Moab was that it looked more made for walking than running. It’s certainly not a super-light shoe in the vein of my Salomon XTs for example.
But with a whole bunch of rocky runs including the Lakeland Trails series on my summer schedule, I’ve been looking for something that gives my feet just a little bit more protection. And the Moabs certainly do that, with a chunky, grippy sole, plenty of padding all around the foot, and solid toe and heel protection, not to mention a bellows tongue to keep stones and mud out.
They also offer a very ‘fitted’ feel as soon as you put them on, even for skinny feet like mine: not to mention plenty of spring from the Vibram sole and ‘Air Cushion TM’ underfoot. Not quite like putting on a new pair of road shoes, but not too far off.
Anyhoo. While the latest in Merrell footwear was pushing all my buttons in the kitchen at home, that wasn’t really what I got them for. So, after having tried them out on an 8 mile hike in the Lake District, where they performed supremely well as trail walking shoes, I tried out their trail running capabilities on a 12 miler that incorporated 4 miles of pavement, 3 miles of rolling sand dunes and 5 miles of beach featuring soft sand, hard-packed sand, tide-ridged sand and also, crucially, a long section of mud flat.
Hitting the Road
Obviously, these aren’t road shoes, but quite a few trail runs feature paved or hard-packed sections, so it seemed fair enough to see what the Moabs were like on the paved route to the beach. And I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised.
The thick Vibram soles and internal cushioning certainly soaked up more of the pounding than I’d been expecting them to, and my old knees had no complaints at all.
The Moabs also felt fairly flexible and neutral underfoot, which was a surprise, bearing their somewhat rugged construction in mind.
Hitting the Dunes
While it’s nice to know that these things have got a bit of road cushioning going for them, that’s really not what I got them for. So the first real test showed up when I left the road and hit the dunes.
These were pretty steep, featuring soft sand that gives very little grip in any other shoe I’ve tried. But I have to say that the Moabs dug in well, and offered sufficient flex in the forefoot to make the really steep stuff marginally less hellish than usual.
They also did the job when I left the dunes and took a couple of miles along the ‘Velvet Trail’, which at this time of year is a pleasant mix of mud and moss. Ordinarily, I’d have been sliding all over the place here, but the Moabs dug right in and gave me the confidence to plough along this muddy stretch much faster than I’ve ever managed wearing anything else.
At the half way point I cut onto the beach proper to try the Moabs out on a variety of mud and sand surfaces, just to make sure that there wasn’t too much that the soles couldn’t deal with. Again, they performed well from a grip point of view, but by the time I’d gone 9 or 10 miles, the structural solidity of the shoes was beginning to tell slightly, and I found myself wishing I had something a little bit more lightweight to change into. Particularly as, having gotten the shoes pretty wet and muddy, the moisture that all the padding had absorbed was making them fairly heavy.
Pros v Cons
I got the Moab Ventilators because I wanted some super-rugged trail running shoes that could deal with the toughest trails, but still keep my feet fairly cool. Well, they absolutely do the job in that respect, as they’re rough, tough and boasted great ventilation qualities right up to the point I immersed them in 4 inches of sludge. Which means that I’ll almost certainly keep these shoes for some of the tougher trails on my schedule, such as Hellrunner and the Lakeland Trails series.
On the downside, these are not particularly light shoes, and I wouldn’t recommend them for the fleet of foot, or for anything but the toughest of trails. In short though, they’re pretty good for what I have in mind; so all in all, when you want something really tough for around £65, these are the business.
– Slip Lasted Construction
– Dura Leather/Breathable Ventilator Mesh Upper
– Breathable Mesh Lining
– Breathable Ventilator Bellows Tongue
– Rubber Toe Bumper/Heel Counter
– 7.5mm Narrow Gauge Webbing
– 4.5mm Anatomical Footbed
– Nylon 6.6 Injection Molded Arch Shank
– Compression Molded EVA Footframe
– Q-Form™ Triple Density Compression Molded EVA Footframe (women)
– Air Cushion® Midsole
– 5mm Sole Lug Depth
– Merrell Multi-Sport™ Sole/TC5+ Rubber