Depending on the time of year, what features we have coming up at Gearist and release schedules of shoe companies, there are generally about 5 different models of shoes in wear testing rotation here at Gearist HQ. So how is it that we determine the protocol for testing these shoes and determining what we say about them? Here’s a bit of insight into how we get that done.
If a shoe is going to be part of a feature article on Gearist (for example, our “natural running shoe” feature coming out this fall) the first thing we want to do is to determine if a particular model fits into that feature, if it needs to reserved for another article or if it should simply be in a stand-alone review. [Note: ALL products on Gearist get a stand-alone review whether they’re in a feature or not] Once that is determined, we can begin taking a look at things like so:
Unboxing a pair of shoes is exactly what it sounds like; a photo gallery of us getting our first impression of the shoes (and the packaging) just the way anyone else would. We think this is important so that people can get a sense of what the companies want to portray through their packaging and messaging. If there are small details, we want to see them, determine why they’re there and see how it affects our perception of the brand itself.
Let’s face it, if you’re running in a shoe that’s carrying a bunch of extra weight over the course of a marathon – not to mention all the training leading up to that marathon – then you’re doing a lot more work than you might need to. Before we put on a shoe for the first time, we weigh them (and include a picture of the weighing in the unboxing) to get a sense of how they measure up to other shoes. Most often, companies will include weights of their shoes on shopping websites and those are a great barometer but they’re most often based off of the most common size (men’s size 9, women’s size 8).
“Drop” is the term that refers to the difference in height between the heel of a shoe and the forefoot/ball. Sometimes you may see it referred to as heel-ball offset or simply by the stack height (height off of the ground) of that particular shoe (for example: Heel (22mm), Forefoot (18mm)). We also try to determine if the sockliner plays any significant part in changing the functional drop of a shoe and if it does, we document it.
Why is this important? Well, your bare foot standing on a level surface has a drop of…wait for it…ZERO. The height of your forefoot off the ground is exactly zero as is the height of your heel off of the ground. That is how your body naturally addresses the ground and while there are still some big drop heights out there most, if not all, shoe companies are beginning to lower the drop of their shoes.
While you’d think that a size 10 is a size 10 is a size 10, that’s not always the case. Different brands have different lasts and different factories and those factories have different molds and have different manufacturing tolerances. Further, some brand WANT a shoe to run larger or smaller to allow the foot to work in a very specific manner. At the end of the days it’s no different that saying that a men’s large at Old Navy is different than a men’s large at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Basically, we need to determine if it’s a road shoe, a trail shoe, an all-terrain/hybrid shoe or a racing flat (we generally leave spikes and such to the track peeps). The manufacturer obviously has their own classification and, out of the box, that’s how we treat it. However, once we’re well into testing we often decide to take a shoe outside its comfort zone. For instance, maybe we’ll take a road racing flat onto some technical trail or maybe we’ll bring a hardcore mountain runner onto some suburban asphalt. Is it what the shoe is intended for? Probably not, but we also know that people won’t limit themselves to one road surface all the time either.
Materials and Construction
Innovative brands are constantly pushing the envelope with more versatile, more durable and lighter materials. We like to take a look and see if the material performs as advertised and if it can be improved upon. This includes taking a look at safety features such as reflective elements as well as how the materials and construction add to or take away from the functionality of the shoe.
To Sock or Not to Sock
Some people run with socks, some people don’t. We take at least a couple days to both just walk around and run sans socks in each shoe to see if going au naturel is practical or not.
Some people want to really “feel” the ground, others; not so much. We like to determine if a shoe allows the whopping amount of nerves on the bottom of the foot to truly communicate with the ground under our feet. This is partially why we take shoes on different surfaces because a smooth road can’t always provide the same feedback that a gravel road can.
Look, we’re not necessarily people who are going to be seen sitting beside the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, but we do know what we like. Whether its fashion is bowing to function or vice versa, you want, nay, need to know why a shoe looks the way it does. While you could likely care less about our opinion (you know what they say about opinions!), we’re still going to give our take.
Last but not least…how does it run…
We had to get there eventually! When we’re testing shoes we don’t just run in them once and call it a day. We want to get in as many miles as we can to really be able to write an informed review. So, we run no fewer than 50 miles in a pair of shoes and often much more. We also wear shoes just kicking around so as to get even more acquainted. After each run, we document the distance run, the surfaces we ran on and any thoughts or observations we had. We take our reviews very seriously because we’re runners (among MANY other things) and feel it’s a pretty hefty responsibility to let people know what they’re going to drop their cash on and then put on their feet for what will likely be hours upon hours of alone time.
So, that’s how we review running shoes! It’s not just put on some shoes and go, there’s a lot that we do to get into the nitty-gritty. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know!
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).