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September 28, 2010

GoLite Amp Lite Running Shoe Review

For all the hype surrounding minimalist and natural footwear lately, there’s a noticeable lack of options for runners wanting to transition gradually from traditional footwear towards minimalist shoes.

Interestingly, it took my wife of all people to point this out to me: she’s watched my progression towards minimalist running for long enough to be intrigued by the idea – and considering that she thought I was insane at this point last year, that’s significant progress - but she’s smart enough to be wary of just strapping on a pair of Vibrams or moccasins and resuming her normal running routine. So a few months ago she sought my advice (yes, occasionally it happens) and asked whether there were any running shoes out there with a flat platform for midfoot strike, but a traditional midsole and upper for cushioning and comfort.

My answer was something along the lines of, Um … hmm … I … you know … I’m not really sure. So much for looking like an expert.

In my defense, the reason I couldn’t think of anything is that there really haven’t been any shoes on the market with those specifications – at least, not until just recently, with the arrival of the BareTech series from GoLite Footwear. The Amp Lite is designed as a trail running model, and the Micro Lite is a women’s-specific version that also debuted this fall. Both of them will be reviewed here – I’ve mentioned before that my wife’s on the R&R payroll, right? – beginning with the Amp Lite today.

GoLite Amp Lite

Before we jump into the review, a point of clarification: the GoLite Footwear company based in New England is a distinct entity from the GoLite company that makes camping and athletic gear in Boulder, CO. It’s the same brand, complete with the same logos and everything, but two separate business operations. If that makes any sense.

The shoe company has dabbled in hiking and outdoor athletic footwear for some time now, but the BareTech line represents a full paradigm shift away from built-up, overly constructed designs and towards endurance sports models that are more lightweight and promote natural foot motion. The Amp Lite a transitional step in the company’s progression toward a true minimalist shoe: the Tara Lite (see this post for a preview), scheduled for release next spring. It’s fitting, then, that the Amp is also a great option for runners looking to transition gradually toward true minimalist running.

Ventilated mesh upper, protective toe cap
From the outside, the Amp Lite looks like any other trainer, and at 11.8 oz, it will never be mistaken for a anything remotely minimalist – but that isn’t really the point with this shoe. The structural differences aren’t apparent until you actually put the shoes on your feet.

Complicated (but effective) laces
About that “putting them on your feet” part: the Amp has a unique internal lacing system that I found somewhat challenging and cumbersome to operate. The laces twist around each other directly over the top of the foot, and are incorporated into something called a TPE cage system that adjusts the tension across the arch as you pull on them. The resulting fit is comfortable and quite secure, and is designed to hold your heel in place better and prevent your foot from sliding forward on descents. Eventually I got used to the system, but it definitely takes a few practice laces to remember which way to pull at each eyelet.

Assuming you get them on your feet properly, you’ll immediately feel the Amp Lite’s distinguishing feature, in that there’s no drop from heel to toe through the midsole – it’s 20mm thick in both regions. The official term for this is a “zero-drop” midsole, and the Amp is currently the only traditional-styled trainer that offers this (even Newtons have a slight heel to toe drop that’s offset by large forefoot lugs on the outsole).

Three insole options
GoLite offers three insole options with each shoe: you can use the insole as is for a normal fit, or the thicker or thinner options which make the toebox area more or less roomy. True minimalist runners prefer a nice wide toe box that allows the toes to spread out, but someone transitioning from standard footwear may be more comfortable with the standard insoles. The insoles also have a bit of an arch support built into them – which is a drawback for pure natural runners, but a comfort for transitional runners.

The zero-drop structure allows you to run with a midfoot or forefoot strike, but habitual heel strikers can also use this shoe while tinkering with their form. While there’s essentially no ground feel through 20mm of midsole, GoLite’s Soft Against the Ground (SATG) technology makes it feel like there’s a firm surface underfoot at all times, instead of having the cushioned feel of traditional trainers. SATG basically turns traditional footwear construction upside down: the soft part of the midsole is closest to the ground to absorb shock, and the firm platform helps rearfoot stability while providing the feel of hard terrain that minimalist runners crave. The overall effect isn’t nearly as good as actually feeling the ground, but it’s a nice compromise considering there’s so much midsole beneath you.

Crossover outsole
Under the midsole, the Amp features a Crossover outsole that is designed as for all-purpose road and trail running. It has GripStick rubber for traction on slick surfaces, and is formed with wedge shapes that help with shock absorption and stability on hard terrain. GoLite markets this shoe as a trail runner, but the tread isn’t so knobby that it’s out of place on the roads, so jogging through the neighborhood to get to the trailhead isn’t a big deal.

Considering that this is their first foray into the natural running arena, GoLite has put together a very compelling shoe with the Amp Lite. It offers some nice innovations that are new to the market, and achieves its goal of being an intermediate step between traditional and minimalist shoes. From that standpoint, the shoe is a success. My biggest question is whether this particular niche is big enough for the shoe to be a long-term stalwart in the running shoe industry.

After all, at some point most “transitional” runners (or as I like to call them, the bare-curious) will gravitate fully towards minimalist footwear, or revert back to traditional trainers. The Amp is too much shoe for the first group, and not enough for the second. Throw in the fact that it's designed primarily for men - as mentioned, the women’s equivalent will be reviewed here this fall – and you can see how this shoe won’t be threatening Nike for market share anytime soon.

Personally, I hope it sticks around for a while, because I think it serves an important purpose in a way that no other shoe on the market currently does. Hopefully, that will be enough for the Amp Lite to succeed.

GoLite’s Amp Lite retails for $109 with free overnight shipping from Endless.com as well as other online vendors.

*Product provided by GoLite Footwear
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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Kim 9/29/10, 2:20 AM  

Thanks for the review. I am on a never ending search for a minimalist shoe that is rugged enough for the more technical trails I run and bought my Vibram Treks and love them but habitual stub my toes on roots and rocks so need a 2nd alternative for the more hazardous trails.

These look interesting so will do more research.

RD Jim 9/29/10, 6:41 AM  

I've switched to racing flats for my off trail "street" workouts (which are few).

Andy 9/29/10, 8:37 AM  

(Disclaimer: I've no affiliation whatsoever with either) The nascent Altra Running is about to come out with a number of zero drop options, as well as a VFF-like shoe with a toe box. Throw in Merrel's upcoming barefoot line and the "transitional" space is about to get competitive.

JBK in CA 9/29/10, 10:33 AM  

Hey Donald, your timing is perfect. I was just wondering whether there was a lower profile shoe for trail running. I suppose I will make the foray into Vibrams at some point, but I doubt I will ever become exclusively minimalist. What I want is less shoe than I currently wear.

Donald 9/29/10, 6:48 PM  

Kim: thanks for stopping by, and good luck with your search.

RDJim: Your street flats are probably more minimal that the Amp Lite.

Andy: I'm looking to have an Altra review lined up once they're released. I agree that they look interesting.

JBK: a topic for a future run ...

Boris Terzic 9/29/10, 7:09 PM  

Can do just re-do the lacing to standard?

Nice review.

Donald 9/29/10, 9:19 PM  

Boris: you can, but then you lose the benefit of the TPE cage securing your foot in place. I eventually got the hang of the laces just fine.

Elise Lowerison 10/1/10, 2:56 PM  

I just came across your health and fitness blog. Your article about the new Go-Lite shoe was especially interesting. I especially liked your comments about transitioning from the traditional shoe to a minimalist shoe. I am adding you to my favorites. We're in the same industry, the business of encouraging health and fitness. We market a product called The AbStand: http://www.theabstand.net. We would love for you and your readers to check out our ab workout product. Any feedback would be appreciated as well. Thanks!

Jeremy 12/2/10, 11:34 AM  

@Andy, thank you for the mention! @Donald email us your info and we can see what we can do to get that lined up. We are looking to provide an all around running solution with Zero Drop Foot Shaped shoes.

Altra Running

Mark R Johnston 1/31/11, 2:24 PM  

I was interested in a low drop shoe so I could maintain my minimalist footwear gait, but I needed much more traction and protection for running the winter trails around Salt Lake City. As was mentioned, these shoes are not minimalist; they are more like light hiking shoes, but because they have a low heel, they don't mess with my gait when I run, they make a very good winter trail running shoe. They offer a higher level of foot protection from snow-covered rocks, and the rubber sole offers good grip in muddy/icy conditions, where shoes without lugs become skis. I like their roomy toe box. Their insoles have more arch support than I like. Overall they are the best I've tried so far for a technical trail shoe.


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