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|
|Complicated (but effective) laces|
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|
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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