Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2, Trail M2, Road N2, Road M3 - exposé

Yeah....I have a problem....

Since Chuckanut in March I've only been wearing Pearl Izumi E:Motion shoes. It started with the Road M3 and after running in them for a week in Moab I came back to the Pacific Northwest and immediately tried out the Trail N2 at a local shop. Done. Perfect for me. Purchased. 

More than eight months later and I've come up with quite a little collection of them.

LEFT, from top: Trail N2 (brand new), M2 (60mi), N2 (350mi), N2 (375mi).
RIGHT, from top: Road M3 (300mi), Road N2 (200mi) 
All the technical details can be found on the PI website or an online retailer like Running Warehouse. And if you're reading this you probably already know about their "dynamic offset" and all the other doodad advertisements they talk about. Just for a refresh, the "N" models are neutral, while the "M" models provide some midfoot support for mild pronation. 

Here I'll talk about some of the more practical things that someone wearing them is likely to notice, or not notice, and my opinion on the various models. 

Since all the E:Motion shoes have a "seamless" upper, I'll start there 

No, they are not seamless. They are seam-taped (same like a gore-tex rain jacket). You do not feel the seam that runs vertically between the midsole and the top of the shoe, about halfway down the foot, so this is just me being picky about language. It really makes no difference if it is seam-taped or truly seamless, you don't notice it. 

However, one thing you may notice is that the interior of some models does have some structural material built in. This is found in the Trail M2 and Road N2, and not present in the Trail N2 and Road M3.  

Clockwise from top-left: Trail N2, Road N2, Road M3, Trail M2. Note structural material in Road N2 and Trail M2; only mesh in Trail N2 and Road M3. All shoes have the one seam sufficiently taped. 
Does that structural material make a difference? Only a little, in my opinion. It may help retain the shape of the shoe a little, but I don't really notice it keeping my foot more secure. 

Some of the shoes have different mesh uppers too. The Trail M2 and Road M3 have the same material, which feels a little more plasticky. The Road N2 mesh feels the same, but is a little different pattern. The Trail N2, though, has a completely different mesh that feels more like a cloth material (it sort of piles if you wear it through devil's club, which I don't suggest doing). 

However, I think they all work equally well. I haven't worn a hole in any of the uppers and they all breath and drain water well. Yes, they do let trail dust in, but I think that comes hand in hand with draining well.

The Trail versions also have a wider forefoot with a more bulbous shape. The Road models are more torpedo-like, having nearly the same width from the midfoot through the forefoot. I have regular-width feet, so I haven't had any issues, but I've heard people with wide feet commenting that they fit narrow. 

I do not get blisters in these shoes, but I also use good socks (Drymax or Smartwool) and almost always use Bodyglide for long runs.  

Support (M) vs Neutral (N) and cushioning

I'm a mild heel striker (more on roads than on trails) and very mild pronator. So far, however, the Trail N2 works much better for me than the M2. Why? The M2, while offering support, is much firmer than the N2. The support really is a chunk of much denser, harder foam that makes up the midsole from just in front of the heel up to the forefoot. The heel and toes of the M2 is made up of a softer material. The Trail N2, though, is made up entirely of the softer material for the entire length of the shoe.

For me, it just makes it that much smoother to have the same, constant material for the length of the shoe. I like the M2, and have only put 60mi on it, so maybe it'll feel better after wearing it more. I do like the firmer feel in soft conditions (mud and snow) and the softer, N2, on harder surfaces. 

What about the road versions? Similar, I think, but both road models are firmer than the Trail N2. The Road M3 does have a similarly-firm material through the midfoot, where the Road N2 is one material throughout. The M3 does have more foam, and thus a little more cushioning, but I think it's slightly firmer than most shoes that fall into the well-cushioned category. The Road N2 is semi-firm, and feels good when I mix it up running on pavement, dirt/gravel city trails and a rubber track. However, running solely on concrete in them would be a bit tough for me as I like softer surfaces. 

The Trail N2 midsole is my favorite, hands down. I think it's weakness is snow as it's soft and harder to kick steps in, but everywhere else it's great. The other midsoles are good too, but the feel of wearing the Trail N2 feels different (better) than all the other models. 

And in terms of support, the Trail N2, M2 and Road M3 all are good. The Road N2 works well too, even with my very mild pronation, and I don't find myself wishing it had more support. It does feel like the one with the least support, though, for obvious reasons.  


The Road versions are similar enough. The picture below shows slight differences, but they aren't noticeable. I think they work fine on pavement, groomed city trails and a track. In the rain, on a steep, mossy street, though, I'd pay more attention.

The outsole rubber holds up pretty well on the road versions as there still is a ton left after 300 miles on the M3. The only noticeable wear is in the heel-strike area.  

Road N2 (left) and Road M3 (right). I usually strike just outside of center, and slightly on the heel, as you can tell from the wear in that area.
The Trail versions have nice outsoles: I don't find things stuck in the bottom and they grip really well in everything but hard snow/ice. My one issue is that where I strike they wear down very quickly if you have to cover a mile or two of pavement. If you're truly out in the mountains they are fantastic, but if they need to be used door-to-trail, and you heel strike, even a little, you'll notice that area wear down quickly. Nowhere else on the outsole will wear down, just your favorite heel striking spot. 

Left to right: N2 (new), M2 (60mi), N2 (350mi), N2 (375mi, first pair)
Seriously, the outsoles show almost no wear except the spot where I strike, and that's only if you run on pavement (even just a couple hundred meters will start wearing them down). I sort of wish a harder compound would be used in the heel, but the grip on the rest of the shoe probably can be attributed to the soft rubber used, so maybe it's just a compromise if you heel strike and sometimes have a couple miles of pavement to move over. I guess the other thing is, I don't slip in them either, even with the heel getting more worn down than other areas, so maybe it's just a little pet peeve for me. 

I get about 350 miles out of them

Once I start to get in that range the midsoles (more prominently on the Trail N2) starts to feel a bit dead. I haven't gotten there yet in the road models, though, and I could see them lasting a little longer as they already are more firm than the Trail N2 and I might not notice them firming up.

The rest of the shoes, however, are still in good condition. No material, seem or sewing failures. The toe protector on one pair of Trail N2 is starting to delaminate, but it's only for a 1cm section and it never was an issue for me.   

Other cool things 
  • Lace tunnels on the tongue of the Trail versions keeps the tongue in place and not shifting around.
  • Sausage-link laces (also trail version only) keeps them tied tight and not coming undone. 
There probably are some small tweaks that can be made, but overall I think they are very good, simple shoes. I wish the road versions were able to feel as good as the trail models, but for some reason their comfort level is a little behind the trail shoes. If I wanted to go through shoes really fast, I'd wear the Trail N2 on pavement as well as I think it's by far the most comfortable, regardless of the surface. 

Did I forget anything....?

  • I haven't tried the Trail N1, Road N1 or Road H3. 
  • I use "biosoft" insoles from Super Jock 'N Jill in Seattle in all of my running shoes. 
  • I average 40-60 miles per week (15-20 on road/city trails and 20-40 on real trails).


  1. As someone who has a wide forefoot, I will say these are comfortable in the forefoot area, even though they do have a 'narrow' toebox. I personally think it has to do with the material, as it stretches to hug the forefoot, and feels sock-like without cramming my toes too much. It's a great recovery shoe, and a mainstay in my rotation.

  2. I have 200 miles on my Trail M2s and I love them. I save them for trail runs over 15 miles, especially ones where I might be heel-striking down hills. Even after 50 miles, my knees and feet feel great.

    I'm now looking to pick up road shoes to replace my Kinvaras. I want something like the Trail M2, but more cushion for road/crushed trail runs 15-50 miles long. I need advice! Should I go with the Road N2 or the Road M3? I'm note really a over-pronator, but liked the M2 just to keep my form together late in races as well as the uneven nature of trails. I don't think I really need it in a road shoe. Help!

    1. Hi Michael, if you're in the US you can try sites like that allow 90-day returns so you can try both? Personally, I like the M3 road better than the N2. I prefer a little more cushioning, and I like the N2 on shorter runs, but if I'm doing anything over 10 miles on roads (or even hard crushed gravel), I opt for the M3. On the flip side, though, I love the Trail N2 more than the Trail M2, so I may just be an odd cat :) . I'm sure people do 20-50 mile runs in the Road N2, but I think it'd be a bit too hard on my body (especially lower legs). The Road N2 definitely has less cushioning than the Trail M2.

    2. Thanks for the fast reply Luke! I haven't really read a single bad review on the Road N2, but I've read a few bad ones on the M3s. Something about the cushioning abruptly becoming to firm as it compresses? I've done marathon distance road runs in my Kinvaras and I just don't want to beat my feet up anymore! I'll still do short runs in them to keep my feet in shape, but not long ones. I know I could order both, but I hate making a company like eat the shipping costs. I'd end up sending both shoes are dirt cheap right now on

    3. Also, looking at the profiles, it appears as if there is less of a curve to the M3s. Maybe due to the extra forefoot cushioning? Is that noticeable? I love the rock to the Trail M2s.

    4. I don't notice one having more of a rocker feel. Mostly just the little support in the M3 (same section of firm foam as the Trail M2) and more forefoot cushioning (and maybe a tad more heel cushioning). I haven't noticed any sudden or abrupt cushioning compression in the M3, but I did read about that in the pre-production models that testers wore back in 2012. You could always try the N2 and add a cushioning insole if it's not enough? I've never worn the feet have never felt beat up in either, just inside calf/shin from long asphalt runs in the N2. If you've been doing 26 in the Kinvaras, though, you'll probably be fine with either, and I think both give the same rocker feel, just one with a bit more cushioning and the same midfoot support you feel in the Trail m2.

    5. Oh that's right about the first batches being too firm. Hmmm, now I'm leaning towards the M3. Especially with you saying that the Trail M2 had more cushion than the Road N2. I'm coming from more minimal shoes, and I have some sort of mental block getting such a cushioned shoe (even though it's far from a turkey maximal shoe!). Bottom line is if I'm going to do occasional long road runs, I need to save my legs and feet from the pounding as much as I can!

    6. Yeah, both trails shoes have more cushioning than the Road N2, especially in the forefoot. Let me know how it works out!

  3. Can you tell me what you like about the bio-sole inserts? Why do you use them. Also, do these add to the heel to toe differential? Thanks

    1. Hi Dave, I haven't measured them, so I'm not sure if they add to the differential, but they definitely add a few MMs to the overall height. I have a pretty high arch and find the insoles to be much more comfortable for my feet. They also add a little cushioning, but it's the structure for my arch that I like. These are the ones I use: (though I get mine from a different shop)

  4. Well, I haven't had the best experience with the Road M3s. Due to poor trail conditions, I've been running almost exclusively in them on hilly roads. I noticed a red bump on the outside back of my right heel and didn't think anything of it. Some moderate Achilles tendonitis developed so I iced and ran through it, like usually do. I did a long road run and it got bad quick. After a short recovery run the next day it became apparent I was in bad shape. Thick, swollen red Achilles and my heel looked like someone hit it with a hammer. Dark blotchy red. My heel was very sensitive to the touch. After days of rest and icing my Achilles got a lot better, but the bursitis persists. 12 days off and avoiding shoes when I can. I got one run done in other shoes. I have little choice but to partially blame the shoes.

    I find the cushioning extremely firm and the shoe lacks flexibility. Maybe I put to many miles in too soon, but after 100 miles they feel the same. Also, looking at my Trail M2' the padding is only thick around the upper rim, and the heel slips past that into a paddles, rounded heel. The Road M3s have padding down into the heel area. That's probably what rubbed and irritated my heel.

    1. Yikes, sorry to hear that! I had a similar thing happy with the Salomon XT-Slab 4, as they have a very narrow heel. I could walk and run around barefoot but as soon as I put any pressure on the spot with my hand or shoes, it burned like crazy. Haven't had it happen with any PIs though; different shaped heels I guess!

      Hope it clears up for you soon and also that you can return the shoes.

    2. Does the heel padding of the Road N2 is more like the Road M3 or the Trail M2? I want to stick with this brand, and I need a long road shoe. Maybe it's not even the padding but a flexibility issue. So frustrated!

    3. I don't notice a big difference in the heel padding, besides the trail M2 which does seem to have a bigger heel collar than the other models. I think the road N2 is similar to the trail N2.

  5. With 128 miles on the M3s they've grown on me a little. But they're my least favorite PI by far. The rockered sole doesn't feel like the trail shoes, the smooth transition isn't there, and again, there's a lot of chunky sole for so little cushioning. Feels like a 12mm drop shoe too.

    On another note, I grabbed a pair of Trail N2s for only $37, but they were only available in 12.5 at that price, and I typically wear a 13. I took the chance. They came, and there is so little difference in the length, I was surprised. But the N2 feels narrower, a little more secure and my size 13 Trail N2s. They're seriously so close in length it's odd. Do you N2s fit snug than your M2s? My only knock against the M2s was I felt like I slid around in them laterally.

    Also, I'm thinking about getting Road N1s for short/fast road runs, crushed stone trails and track work. Do you have any experience with those?

    1. The trail shoes feel 10x better to me than the road shoes. They're just a different last, midsole material, etc. I wish the road shoes felt the same! I honestly can't tell the difference in drop between most shoes. Maybe Mizunos as they always feel really high-heeled to me. I don't notice much size/snugness difference in the trail versions, but I don't really wear the M2 anymore. I just love the N2 and it works for me well, so I'm sticking with them. Did the 100k in them and my feet were far better off than my legs. I haven't tried the N1, but have seen good reviews of them. I have a pair of Mizuno flats I sometimes use for speed/track work, and considering how often I do that I won't wear them out for a couple of years :) .

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  7. ust saw your thread..don't know if you will answer this, but I am trying to figure out a shoe to train for a half marathon in. I understand the N series is a neutral shoe while the M series is for support. I am seeing more positive reports in regards to N series, particularly N3 than I am with the M series. Do you have advice for which one will better serve me for pavement training? thanks

    1. Hi Sean, if you have the chance to try on both (either at a local store or by ordering a pair of each online and returning one) that may be a good idea? The N3 is on the heavy side but has a lot of cushioning. It may be "more" shoe than you want for a half. Maybe look at the N2 or M2 first. I recently raced in the N0 (not enough shoe for me) and use the N3 for hundred milers, on the other end of the spectrum. I'd look at the middle shoes first and then see if you need more cushioning/support, or less.

    2. Great thanks, I'll look into the N2 or M2. Besides training for the half, I usually just do 10k…would the M2 be overkill support for a shorter race?

  8. Or what about Trail N2 vs. road N2 for shorter 5-10k races?

    1. Depends on what type of shoe you prefer. I think the M2 would be fine for a shorter race, but it is a "daily trainer" type and not as light as a racing flat. I would not run a 5-10k road race in the trail n2; they won't feel as good on roads as on trails.

  9. Thanks Luke, I appreciate your advice. I think I'll try out the M2 for training purposes, then maybe switch to the N2 for raceday!