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March 23, 2009

Montrail Wildwood Shoe Review

"Oh, baby, baby it's a wild world ..."
- Jimmy Cliff, "Wild World" (video after post)

It’s not very often that a running partner asks me to run in his shoes - not in the figurative, “get a sense of what my life is like” sense, but the strictly literal, “here’s a pair of my shoes – go running in them please” manner that happened last month.

The occasion for such a request was my friend’s immediate dissatisfaction with his new Montrail Wildwood shoes. He ran in them twice, and experienced all sorts of problems. Since he and I have the same shoe size, he handed them off to me to see if I had any better luck. I figured it was a great opportunity to try a (nearly) new pair of shoes I was really interested in – and even if my I didn’t like them, I could use the opportunity for another gear review. (Have I mentioned before how much I love reviewing new products? Just checking.)

This review is also a companion piece of sorts to my New Balance 858 review (see right sidebar), where I described how I usually buy shoe models that are one generation old. The main reason for doing so is to find better prices - but an additional benefit is avoiding shoes that fall short of lofty expectations. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what happened with the debut version of the Montrail Wildwood.

I should preface all of the following remarks by saying that I absolutely love Montrail shoes. I’ve used several different models over the past 10 years, and I ran the entire Headlands 100 last August in one pair of Hardrocks. Montrail’s commitment to ultrarunning – as demonstrated with race sponsorships, a team of supported runners, and the Ultra Cup series - has always been strong, and they’re a company that I feel good about supporting.

So when I heard the buzz last fall about the new Wildwood, I figured it was only a matter of time before I tried a pair. The shoe was reportedly inspired by Portland’s Wildwood trail, a 30-mile gem featuring a variety of terrain - from asphalt to wide gravel to muddy single track to technical rocky sections. In other words, the Wildwood offers something for just about every trail runner.

Advance reviews of the shoe promoted it as a perfect hybrid for people who have to run a few street miles before reaching a trailhead – which is exactly what I do here in Carmel Valley from time to time. The Wildwood claims to blend the comfort of a road shoe with the toughness of a trail shoe – which sounds like a combination anyone would appreciate.

You can understand how I was eager to try it; you can also understand how disappointed I was to find that the shoe was a bit of a letdown.

The first thing I noticed when lacing them up is that they are incredibly wide – so much so that I checked the tongue immediately to see if my friend had maybe ordered a wide version by mistake. However, this was the normal “D” width. The toe box is intentionally roomy to provide space for swollen toes during ultras, and to prevent impingement on steep downhills – but in this case, it seems like there is way more lateral forefoot space than is necessary. The result was that my forefoot moved around much more than I wanted on technical terrain, and never felt comfortably supported.

The excess width of the Wildwood even extends to the rearfoot, as I had to cinch up the laces as tight as possible to make the upper feel snug and secure. Both times I wore the shoe, I stopped about one mile down the road to cinch up the laces a little bit tighter, because my foot was still moving around more than I cared for.

I wore the shoes for a 10-mile road-to-dirt outing to test their performance as a hybrid. On the asphalt, the Wildwood seemed reasonably cushioned for a smooth ride - but when I reached the dirt, it felt much less supportive than my typical trail runners. Eventually, the overall lack of lateral stability left me with some arch issues and forefoot pain after what should have been a routine run. As a point of reference, my favorite shoes for road-to-trail transitions are the Vasque Mercury or the Montrail Continental Divide; unfortunately, the Wildwood didn’t even approach these two models in regards to comfort or performance.

Before writing this review, I was hesitant about completely bashing the Wildwood, so I did a Google search for some other reviews. Reactions seem to be a completely mixed bag: some folks (most notably Runner's World) seem to love it, while others have similar findings as me. One point worth noting is that a couple of the favorable reviews indicate that the tester used orthotics or arch supports inside the shoe – which would not only correct the “too roomy, too wide” problem, but also provide extra support on technical footing.

Ultimately, the Wildwood isn’t the shoe for me, but I may be an exception to the general consensus. My body type (tall, heavy, moderate pronator) may not be the right profile for the shoe, or maybe the size I wore was a half-size too large. Or maybe it just wasn’t a good match (or - to use a phrase du jour - maybe the shoe's just not into me.) Your results may vary. If you’ve used these shoes and like them, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

My recommendation for anyone interested in the Wildwood is to try it on first, as you may need a half-size smaller than Montrail’s normal sizing. Or try a regular size with orthotics or cushioned arch supports. Or, if you’ve had a great history with Montrail products as I have, maybe you can wait until these shoes go on sale and take a chance – hopefully they’ll work for you better than they did for my friend and me.

On that note – and for anyone who REALLY wants to take a chance – if you’d like to make an offer on a gently used, low mileage, somewhat smelly pair of size 11 Wildwoods, I know somebody who can give you a very good price.


And on a completely random note: every time I ran in these shoes, I found myself singing the chorus of Jimmy Cliff’s classic reggae cover of the famous Cat Stevens song. The lyrics are close enough that “Baby it’s a Wildwood” didn’t seem the least bit ridiculous – but maybe that’s just me. Anyway … it gives me a reason to post the wonderful song below. (Click to play):

See previous product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


ratherberunning 3/24/09, 9:00 AM  

Silly nit-pickery from a Portland runner:

Portland's Wildwood trail *is* (about) 30 miles long, but it' 95% or more flat-packed single-track dirt (or, often enough, mud). The only asphalt is on one of four or five road crossings, there's no gravel at all, and there are maybe 100 yards total of rocky bits, if that. (Forest Park, where the trail is, does have lots of connecting trails that meet the mixed-terrain description.)

Dave 3/24/09, 10:29 AM  

I love my Soloman XT wings...I am just worried that I'm going to be 2/3 through an Ultra and the lacing system will break...still looking for the perfect shoe.

p.s. I love a snug fit on the foot...no sliding around!

Anonymous,  3/24/09, 10:54 AM  

finally, a song i understand and like. but bring back the Cat.
richard CV

olga 3/24/09, 2:46 PM  

Recently I tried out Fireblades and loved them - narrow heel, wide, but not too wide toebox, good support, low, light, great traction. I never tried Wildwood, they came after I left:) Honest review worth it, even if it's just your own opinion.

Backofpack 3/24/09, 4:04 PM  

I love reviews that aren't total "yes" reviews. But I don't like doing reviews, because I feel bad if I can't produce a "yes" review. I end up emailing the person who asked for it and asking if they really want me to do it. I'm a soft touch.

I love this song - but prefer the Cat version. Of course, I love all Cat songs. And aren't you thrilled I actually know one?

Dori 3/25/09, 12:30 PM  

Donald, I've seen you and I don't think you qualify as a "heavy" runner. Loved the Jimmy Cliff video. :-)

X-Country2 3/25/09, 12:45 PM  

I too love reviewing stuff. Interesting info, and I'm sorry they didn't work. Better luck next time.

Alisa 3/25/09, 1:11 PM  

The Wildwood Trail in Portland is pretty hairy in parts (I've only hiked it...never run on it). I'm not much of a trail person.

I wonder if they make these shoes in women's? I need a roomy toe box! I don't have trail shoes and am interested in trying out trails this summer when things are a little less soppy up here.

Rainmaker 3/26/09, 7:42 PM  

Thanks for the review. I appreciate that you tell it like it is. One of these days I met step over to the dark side of trail running...

Billy Burger 4/6/09, 12:15 PM  

Thanks for the review! I was torn between these and a pair of Hardrocks, but this helped my decision.

Anonymous,  5/9/09, 6:42 PM  

I require shoes in a 2E width and have noticed that there are very few in production. For this reason, the Wildwood might be suitable for me given that you have said that it is much wider than a D. What is bad for you sounds perfect for me.

Mimi 11/21/09, 8:56 PM  

Would you recommend this shoe for hiking?

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