The Reviewer: My name is Brett Hornig and I have been running for 12 years. As well as being a Trails and Tarmac coach, I work at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, Oregon. Ever since I started running, I have always been fascinated with what makes shoes so vastly different, and have continuously been on the hunt for that perfect shoe.  I reached out to Pearl Izumi to see if I could try out the new Trail N3, and they were more than happy to let me test out their newest trail tank.  After many logged miles in the mountains, Pearl might have created the hail mary, go long, trail shoe we have been searching for.
One thing to keep in mind when reading this review, is that I am 5’8″, 130lb, and have a size US9 foot that is slightly on the narrow side (C width). I am a neutral, midfoot striking runner, so some things I describe about this shoe may need to be tweaked slightly depending on who you are and how you run.

N3Left.SideAbout the shoe – The Pearl Izumi Trail N3 is a new model to the well performing, reliable lineup of Pearl Izumi trail shoes.  The N3 is the tank of the bunch, and was meant for the long haul.  This shoe can absolutely take a beating mile after mile after mile.  Weighing in at 10.7 ounces in a US 9 (mine were a 9.5), I honestly expected them to be heavier.  Considering how much shoe you get, under 11 ounces is a very acceptable weight.  Making this shoe feel like a monster truck is the stack height.  At 26mm in the forefoot and 30mm in the heel, the N3 is definitely pushing into the maximally cushioned category.  The 4mm offset is unique because of Pearl Izumi’s Dynamic Offset technology.  Like the rest of their shoes, the highest part of the shoe is in the arch rather than in the heel.  The N3 is 4mm from heel to forefoot, but 7.5mm from “mid-stance” to forefoot.  This makes the shoe rather adaptable from a heel-striking or mid-foot striking standpoint, and it made for a very smooth ride whether going up or down.


Some extra room in the forefoot, hence the crinkling by the bottom eyelet

The Upper of the N3 did not disappoint.  Fully seamless with strategically placed overlays, I had no issues with hot spots or uncomfortable rubbing.  There is just enough foam in the tongue and around the ankle collar to feel secure, but without sacrificing volume.  I had to lace the shoes up to the top eyelet for a more secure fit, because the N3 was a little wide on my feet.  The shoe has a plastic heel cup that adds stiffness and security to the shoe, which keeps the back half securely anchored under foot.  The tongue is a classic build, just sewn into the shoe by the bottom eyelet.  Pearl put three loops on the tongue that the laces go through to keep it from sliding around, which worked great and kept everything in place.  The mesh is a single layer and the holes are just small enough to keep most dirt and debris out.

N3FrontThere is a toe bumper that is basically a double thick overlay that did its job of protecting my toes.  The extra stiffness of the toe bumper helps create the higher volume forefoot that I know is a huge plus for those spending long days on the feet.N3leftmedialThe fit of the Trail N3 is very relaxed.  This shoe isn’t meant for speed, but rather for going far.  The wider and higher volume forefoot made for great wiggle room in the toes, and allowed for some foot swelling during the later miles of a long run.  While I never had any heel slippage, I was never really able to get a super secure fit throughout the arch, but that was alright for my slow and steady days.  I tried doing some faster running on more technical and twisty single-track, but the width of the shoe caused me to move around too much in the front.  If you tend to need a rounder toe box and like a less constricting fit, the N3 checks all those boxes.  N3lugheightBelow my feet lays a single density of “1:1 Energy Foam”.  I couldn’t find a full breakdown of what the Energy Foam consists of, but it is pretty dense and has a soft, yet responsive feel.  There is also a forefoot rock plate that is made out of a semi-hard plastic.  This rock plate combined with the thicker midsole definitely erased all fear of bruising my feet during a run.  I did a few long runs on some sections of the Pacific Crest Trail where I usually have to watch my footing, but in the Trail N3, I just bulldozed everything in my path and it was awesome.  Somewhat unavoidable with the higher stack height and rock plate, but all of these features made the shoe quite a bit stiffer than other shoes I have used in the past.  There was definitely a bit of a break in period for me, where it took about 50 miles of running for the midsole to feel like it was becoming a little bit more flexible.  N3newbottom1 n3newbottom2The outsole of the Pearl Trail N3 is full length carbon rubber with multi-directional lugs.  I was worried at first about the lugs under the forefoot being too small and wearing out quickly, but they turned out to be just the right size for durability and grip.  Any bigger and they wouldn’t have dug into the ground as well.  The rubber compound on the N3 is awesome.  Super grippy on dry and loose terrains, and were even able to hold their own on packed snow as well.  The only time they didn’t perform well was in the mud, and that was because the lugs weren’t tall enough to grip that far into the ground.  Pearl Izumi’s previous Trail N1 and N2 both had small outsole lugs on the outside of the forefoot and I would always wear them down way too fast.  I’m glad Pearl changed their outsole pattern to a much thicker lug all the way around the shoe.

One of the many beautiful trails in Southern Oregon

One of the many beautiful trails in Southern Oregon

Ideal Terrain for this shoe would be dry trails.  I did many runs with the N3 along the Pacific Crest Trail where I encountered some rocks, loose decomposed granite, and some smooth dry sections.  The longer the run I went, the better this shoe felt.  Long and slow is the name of the game for the Pearl Izumi Trail N3.


Outsole after almost 100 miles

Durability – I obsessively logged every mile in this shoe, and at the time of writing, I ran 98 miles in the N3.  Seven of these miles were on road, and the other 91 were on trail or dirt road.  I totaled 18,000 feet of climbing and tested the shoes for 14 hours 30 minutes.  After all this use, they are showing hardly any wear.  After almost 100 miles, they in fact, feel better than when they were new.  I imagine I will get quite a few miles out of this shoe, as it is only now starting to really feel broken in and hitting its sweet spot.

Overall, I was a skeptic at first with all the bulk and stiffness, but as the shoe broke in, I became a fan and loved spending many hours in the mountains in the Pearl N3.  If you’re in need of an accommodating shoe that was built with the ultramarathon in mind, the Pear Izumi Trail N3 should be a serious consideration.  $135 dollars for this shoe is very reasonably priced considering how durable this shoe is, and that it could easily be a do everything shoe for the frequent trail runner.

Competitor Shoes:

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 – $130

Saucony Xodus ISO – $130

New Balance Leadville v3 – $125

Next up for review at Trails and Tarmac is the Brooks Pure Grit 5

Author: Brett Hornig

Now for the fun part!  Participate in the Trails and Tarmac 2016 Western States Endurance Run prediction contest, and you could win yourself a pair of the Pearl Izumi Trail N3.  Correctly guess (or whoever is closest) the Men’s and Women’s individual winner and their time will get a Pearl N3 shipped right to their door.  Contest closes Friday, June 24th, so get those predictions in!