Pearl Izumi Trail N3 Review

September 29, 2016
Pearl Izumi Trail N3
Pearl Izumi Trail N3 Pearl_Izumi_N3_0.jpg Pearl_Izumi_N3_6 Pearl_Izumi_N3_7
Security of Fit

The Good

  • Responsive cushioning
  • Seamless uppers
  • Lightweight for a maximalist shoe
  • Smooth & stable trail feel

The Bad

  • Undersized lugs
  • Ineffective toe guard
  • Durability concerns on upper

The Pearl Izumi Trail N3 is the company’s burly, cushioned new addition to the E:Motion line of trail runners While it looks and feels as substantial as other maximalist shoes, the N3’s light weight, comfortable fit, and buttery smooth trail feel make it stand out in this category.


Pearl Izumi’s trail line is split into three neutral models (N1, N2 and N3, with increasing levels of cushion) and one motion-control model (M2), all built on their proprietary E:Motion rockered midsole. The new N3 is the most recent addition and Pearl Izumi’s first extension into the maximalist niche, which is primarily occupied by Hoka and Altra. However, while the Trail N3 shares the stack height of other maximalist shoes, it’s light weight (10.7 oz for men’s size 9), flexible sole, and smooth feel on the trail set it apart. The cushioned, protective sole is paired with a comfortable, seamless upper that’s wide enough to accommodate foot splay and swelling without feeling sloppy or uncomfortable. The Trail N3 is a terrific choice for ultramarathoners or other runners who spend long days on the trail, and it’s versatile enough to handle a variety of surfaces and conditions. Our wear-testers were impressed with the fit, comfort, and durability, although some had concerns about how the relatively small lugs performed in wet and muddy conditions. One wear-tester was impressed enough to use the Trail N3s for a 50K on his second run in them.

Our wear-testers praised the Trail N3’s comfort straight out of the box and on the trail. The no-stitch, seamless upper is comfortable and fits true to size. Even after long hours on the trail, the N3s uppers didn’t create any hot spots or pressure points. The midfoot and toe box are roomy, but as one wear-tester noted, “they have a single-piece mesh upper with synthetic overlays that help support the structure of the shoe and minimize internal movement.” The propriety Energy Foam midsole has a 31mm rear stack height and 23mm in the forefoot, which gives it both substantial cushion and enough drop to feel comfortable after five or six hours. (The Hoka Challenger ATR, for comparison, has a 31/26mm sole.)

While one wear-tester confessed that the Trail N3 wouldn’t be his go-to for speed workouts, the question is how it fares at speed over distance. Here, the rockered midsole construction and light weight encourage an efficient midfoot strike with quick turnover. Another wear-tester felt that the lack of aggressive lugs on the outsole hampered his speed on some trails. As he noted, “The Trail N3 does not provide confidence going into more technical sections at pace.” 

Security of Fit
The no-stitch seamless upper and overall shape of the Trail N3 was commended by our wear-testers. As one put it, “they were perfectly snug where I needed and gave my feet room to be happy. Unlike other shoes, the mesh gave me enough protection and breathability without too much stretch.” One wear-tester observed slight delamination of the overlays on the lateral side of one shoe, but it did not affect fit or performance.

Built for ultramarathons and other long days on the trail, the N3 sacrifices some quickness and agility for cushion, protection and comfort. Our wear-testers were divided on this compromise. To some, the weight was a necessary concession for performance during multi-hour runs. On the other hand, as one wear-tester put it, “the Trail N3 is lackluster navigating the rockier trails.” 

The Trail N3’s rockered, well-cushioned midsole feels lively and responsive on a variety of surfaces (including pavement). Some high-stack maximalist shoes suffer from a dead feel, lack flexibility in the forefoot, or virtually eliminate any sense of trail feel. The Pearl Izumi Trail N3, on the other hand, runs like a much more traditional, lower-stack shoe.

With a cushioned sole and flexible forefoot rock plate, the Trail N3 excels on a variety of trails and conditions, including rocks, roots, sand, grass, gravel, and smooth singletrack. One wear-tester had concerns about the depth of the outsole lugs, however, nothing that this is a solid shoe that deserves to be paired with a beefier, more aggressive tread, especially for wet and muddy conditions. Others disagreed and suggested that more aggressive lugs would negatively affect the Trail N3’s performance on other types of trails. There was a consensus that to make sense on the Trail N3, a burlier outsole would need to be paired with other protective features like a beefy toe guard and lateral side overlays, all of which would add substantial weight.

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