This post is as much about the shoe development process as it is about the final shoe product. For several months now, I have been interacting with Skechers Performance in an informal advisory role for shoes in development. This has been a fun process for me, as I have been able to learn how a shoe is tweaked and improved before being released. The first shoe that I have had major input on in terms of design has just been released, so I am finally allowed to talk about it! So, here is the story of that shoe, the Skechers GObionic Trail.
The Shoe Review
The GObionic Trail was released on May 1, and falls in the minimalist trail running category of shoes. Here are the key features of the shoes:
- Resagrip outsole (a hardened version of Resalyte) intended to provide a combination of durability and flexibility
- Watershed mesh upper treated with a hydrophobic chemical
- Lugged outsole
- Either 4mm drop (with insole) or 0mm drop (without insole)
- 7.9 oz weight (based on my scale, men's size 9)
What Skechers understood about what this shoe should be is that trail running benefits from a couple of key factors: Simplicity and Ground Feel. The final product is a good reflection of both through a combination of a minimal approach as well as a design that isn't over-engineered.
The minimal approach shoes up in the overall profile of the shoe. They are basically flat (much more flat than the stock photos lead you to believe), and can be a true zero-drop shoe without the insole. They do feature a fair amount of cushion, on par with other GOrun models like the GOrun 2, but they have a stack height that is low enough to the ground that I never felt out of contact with the terrain. Also, the outsole material is a good combination of flexibility and resiliency (see additional information about the outsole development below). The Resagrip material is somewhere in between foam and rubber in terms of stiffness, so it doesn't break down too fast, but it does still move with your foot over rocks, roots, and pavement, among other surfaces.
I tested the shoes on all surfaces, and in multiple seasons. They performed the best on traditional trails (dirt, mud, gravel). They were still very grippy on grass (dry and wet), and they even felt good on pavement. The only surface that wasn't a good match was snow-covered pavement, where they had a slight tendency to slip. This may have been due to the hardening of the outsole in the cold. For trail running and racing under normal circumstances, these performed as well as any other trail shoe I have tested or owned.
The ride was familiar compared to other Skechers shoes. They have a wide toe box, and like the road version of the GObionic, they allow your forefoot to splay as needed to manage the terrain.
The upper has some stiffness to it due to the water-repellant treatment, but doesn't hinder the ability of your foot to move and breathe. The shoes do repel water quite well. I was originally concerned that they would also retain water due to this treatment, but I found out through testing (and especially when crossing streams in the shoes), that they drained plenty fast. Best of all, the upper materials are all synthetic, so they never absorb water and get heavy. The tongue of the shoe took some work to get right, and the final version features the same flexible tongue as the GObionic.
As mentioned in the title of the post, I wore these shoes (actually, the final test round version) when I ran the HAT Run 50k this March. That race features a combination of single track, grass, pavement, gravel, and 4 deep stream crossings. I picked these shoes because they are versatile. They feel as good on hard roads as they do on trails, and they grip in the mud just as well as any other shoes. I was very pleased with their performance, and I credit a good shoe choice as one of the reasons that I was able to win the race.
The Design Process
This was the fun part for me. Before explaining further, I just want to say how much I respect that Skechers truly "gets it." Not only are they involving athletes in the design process, they are actually taking feedback and incorporating it into the next round of the shoe. This leads to a better product. The rest of this post is about the process, and how this particular shoe evolved over time.
I got my first sample pair of shoes and took them for a spin. As you can see from the photo, the original design featured a foam outsole. My initial impression was that the shoe had a great fit and ride, and offered the ground feel and grip that I was looking for in a trail shoe. However, it was apparent pretty quickly that the foam choice for the outsole was going to wear down way too fast. So, I snapped some photos (the image here is after about 40 miles), kept running in the shoes, and then snapped some more photos.
What I liked about the process at this point was that I got feedback immediately. After sending in the photos, the Skechers rep was quick to agree that the foam wasn't holding up very well, and so they agreed to make a change to the material for the next round of the shoe.
The first round of the shoe also featured a more traditional upper material that was softer than the final version of the shoe, but not treated with a water-resistant chemical.
I also noted that the sock liner had a tendency to bunch up inside the shoe, so that was also noted by the product team as something to fix for future rounds of the shoes. And while these shoes weren't perfect, I still liked to run in them and ended up logging over 300 miles in them before the foam was too broken down for good use.
The second round sample of the shoes had some major updates. This version had the Resagrip outsole, which did a remarkably better job of holding up. In fact, I still like to run in this round sample after several hundred miles.
Skechers also worked out the sock liner issues by beefing up the insole from 2mm to 4mm as well as adding some non-skid texture to the underside.
Finally, the second round sample featured the mesh upper that you see pictured. This made the shoes more breathable.
I was personally pleased with the performance of this shoe, and my only feedback at this point was that the new sock liner was a bit too firm for my liking. I wore these shoes to run the Frosty 25k race on a combination of groomed trail and pavement, and I was pleased with how they performed when running fast. Aside from the sock liner, I felt these were ready for prime time.
For the next round, Skechers introduced the Watershed treatment to the mesh upper, with the intention of beefing up the water-resistant capabilities of the shoe. They also fixed the sock liner once and for all, with a slightly softer version than the 2nd round sample. As far as I could tell, everything else was the same, so I went ahead and took the shoes for a 12-mile spin on a combination of road and trail.
When I got home, I noticed a problem. The hydrophobic treatment had made the top of the tongue very stiff, to the point where it cut into my shin/ankle when running. Everything else about the shoe was great, performance-wise, but the stiff tongue was a new liability that resulted from trying out a new improvement.
I actually took a pair of scissors to the tongue and cut the entire top section of it off, because I wanted to keep running in the shoes. My MacGyver version of this round was the shoe I used at the HAT Run, and they performed very well without any irritation issues.
Of course, Skechers wasn't happy with a tongue that caused cuts, so they decided to swap in the normal GObionic tongue for the final version. This solved the last remaining problem, and they were approved for production.
Final Round and Impressions
As you can tell from my review, I think Skechers hit the nail on the head with this shoe. I personally eschew anything that has too much going on when it comes to trail shoes. I want something that will keep me from slipping, won't weigh me down, and will stay as dry as possible no matter the terrain. In all of these categories, this shoe performs. I'd just as soon wear it to race a trail 5k as I would a 50k, and I think that others will find the same thing when they try them out. In my opinion, if you want to get your hands on a solid trail shoe that will perform, give this one a try.
NOTE: At time of publication, I cannot find any of these for sale online. Check out the Skechers site for availability. I'll add links to the best prices as they become available.