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Saucony Endorphin Trail Review

By Chief Editor Matt Klein

EDITORS NOTE: The Endorphin Trail is currently facing a RECALL. Please contact Saucony if you have purchased a pair.

The Saucony Endorphin Collection, already in its second iteration, has been a big success since its release. The Saucony Endorphin Pro has repeatedly been a favorite among those looking for a plated distance racer. The Saucony Endorphin Speed has been immensely popular as a workout/lightweight trainer. The Saucony Endorphin Shift wasn't even supposed to be part of the Endorphin collection, yet has been a favorite for those looking for a durable and reliable training shoe. The Endorphin Trail carries PWRRUN PB and Speed Roll tech to the trail. The result is a max cushion trail/ultra ultramarathon shoe that while protective, may not be exactly what many people were expecting. 

Saucony Endorphin Trail | $159.95
Specifications (per Running Warehouse)
Weight: 11.1 oz / 315 g (men's size 9) 9.9 oz / 281 g (women's size 8)
Stack Height: 36 mm / 32 mm 
Drop: 4 mm 
Classification: Max Cushion Trail Shoe


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

The Saucony Endorphin Trail is a maximalist ultramarathon trail shoe built for those taking on tough terrain and ultra distance trail events. A very durable sole and upper provide a high level of traction and protection on technical terrain. The thick and durable upper keeps debris out, creates a snug ride up front locking in the forefoot very well with more room in the midfoot and heel. A large amount of PWRRUN PB creates a firmer and stiffer ride that ends up being protective with a hint of responsiveness. This does come at the cost of weight that delegates the shoe to training and ultramarathon paces. Thus, those looking for a heavy duty trail/hiking shoe will do well to take a look at the Saucony Endorphin Trail.



FIT (LENGTH / WIDTH / COMFORT)

The initial step in feel of the Saucony Endorphin Trail is that it fits slightly short in my men's US size 10. However, this it actually fits relatively true to size once the upper opens up and fits short initially due to the quick fit trail sleeve, FORMFIT upper and significant toe guard. It does take a half mile to mile for this to break in. Those between sizes may want to go up a half size. The forefoot fits snug, although it is also quite secure. The heel and midfoot fit more normal to slightly wide, so the laces do need to be locked down a little more initially. There is no last eyelet, so lace locking is not possible. Security wise the shoe handles turns well due to the large number of reinforcements on the upper and the secure forefoot. The heel is a little wider, so I have had some mild heel slippage. I have resorted to tying the laces down tighter, but this gets better over longer runs when feet start swelling. The tongue is part of the upper, so there is no chance of sliding. There is a significant and hard heel counter in the rear portion, but there is some cushioning in the heel collar to offset this. Those sensitive to stiff heel counters should be a little careful, particularly as the shoe breaks in. The upper is very thick and durable. I have taken it on fairly rough terrain and have not any issues with tearing. Sockless running is not an option in this shoe given internal stitching, so make sure you have some socks on. Overall, the upper is thick and protective, fitting snugger in the forefoot with more room in the heel and midfoot. 



PERFORMANCE (RIDE / SPEED)

The Saucony Endorphin Trail features some similarities to its road cousins: the midsole is full length PWRRUN PB, the ride is quite stiff (no plate though) and the forefoot has a clear amount of toe spring. That is where the similarities end though. The Endorphin Trail is very stiff out of the box and it took me almost 15 miles to break the shoe in. The PWRRUN PB midsole is firm and stiff especially on road. As the midsole breaks in it becomes subtly more responsive, but this sole is more about protection. There is a significant amount of toe spring that starts a little later, providing a bit more of an aggressive toe off. The shoe feels most comfortable landing farther forward due to the heel being only slightly beveled. The outsole grip is fantastic, making long and steep climbs secure and fun.

Despite the weight, this shoe shines most on long or steep climbs due to the toe spring and grip. The lack of a major heel bevel makes it slightly clunky on flat roads and downhills unless you land more forward or are running on softer trails. The heel has broken in with time, but the best part of the shoe is really the front half. I have taken this shoe on gravel, single track trail, soft dirt, mud and technical trails. The Saucony Endorphin Trail handled all of those fairly well, although it can feel weighted over long miles. There is a 4mm drop in this shoe, which I did notice initially given how stiff the sole is. This has gotten better as the forefoot and toe spring breaks in, but be aware it is certainly a 4-6mm drop shoe.

Durability wise the outsole barely has a dent in it and the lugs are doing great after 35 miles. This is despite some road use, which is not recommended as the Endorphin Trail feels extremely clunky on road. There is a ton of outsole rubber that is extremely durable. Use-wise, the Endorphin Trail is best for longer efforts where protection is needed and speed isn't. At 11.1 oz (almost 12 ounce in my men's size 10), the weight is noticeable. It certainly has strengthened my hips and I don't notice it as much when I get into a groove on uphill, but I cannot pick up the pace in this shoe. The Endorphin Trail is not an uptempo shoe but rather a long distance running and hiking shoe for some. I have enjoyed it most on long consistent efforts where I don't want to worry about my feet. 



STABILITY 

While the Saucony Endorphin Trail is a neutral shoe, there are elements that make it both stable and less stable. The stiff and firmer sole (despite being PWRRUN PB) provide a high level of stiffness longitudinally (front to back) and torsionally (side to side). The last is very wide and the forefoot is locked down in the upper quite well. The traction in the forefoot and heel dig into dirt/gravel extremely well. There is plenty of sole flare along the length of the shoe However, the level of stiffness and lack of midfoot traction make the transition through the midfoot less stable at warm up and slow speeds. The stiffness is so significant that the forefoot can be a bit resistive to transitioning through. Since the body takes the path of least resistance, during the warm up, that transition through the midfoot for me is into more pronation. This makes the shoe feel uncomfortable at warm up paces, but more comfortable at normal training paces. This combination of factors makes this shoe naturally stable at normal paces, but fairly neutral most of the time due to almost being too stiff. 




THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

It is interesting that Saucony did not add a rock plate or any plate to a supposedly uptempo trail shoe, particularly one in the Endorphin line. Based on my experience in the shoe, I completely agree with their decision given how stiff and firm the sole is already without one. We have discussed this several times on here recently, but midsoles/soles can be plenty stiff without a plate. Plates primarily serve to stiffen the sole and can increase either longitudinal bending stiffness, torsional bending stiffness, or both. This exact same things can be increased through many other methods besides this. Stiffer midsole materials (which PWRRUN PB wasn't supposed to be?), increased stack height, stiff outsole rubber, no flex grooves and more can all add to how much or little flexibility and/or stiffness the sole has. In the case of the Endorphin Trail, the tall stack height and thick outsole rubber together seem to stiffen and firm the ride up a significant amount. This is even with the +30 mm of PWRRUN PB, which may be a different density than that of the Endorphin Speed / Pro. The point of this is that one should never assume the ride of a midsole without taking into account all the other factors that can influence ride and comfort.



The challenge with the Endorphin Trail is that with a ride this stiff, the whole shoe needs to be rockered. As we have discussed before, there are three natural mechanisms in the foot and ankle that allow for efficient forward motion (Neumann, 2016). The heel rocker, ie the curve at the calcaneus bone, the talocrural joint, or the midfoot rocker and the forefoot rocker, whereby the toes extend to allow the rest of the body to naturally progress over them. All of these rocker mechanisms efficiently allow the body to roll forward with less effort. With higher stack height or stiffer shoes reduce the abilities of these rockers to function. Thus they have to be replaced with different components in shoes. While the Speed Roll takes care of the forefoot rocker (ie rolling off the toes), the heel and the rear portion of the midfoot rocker need some work. The clunkiness in the heel may be due to the combination of the lack of a significant heel bevel and how stiff the sole is. The stiffer a shoe, the less the natural rockers of the foot and ankle can work. Thus, it is the responsibility of the shoe company to make sure they can adequately replace those mechanisms if lost. That is why I repeatedly talk about heel bevels, particularly in these stiff maximal shoes. Part of the function of the heel rocker is to help with the transition at initial contact if you land at the heel and smoothing out impact as you start forward progression. Having less of a rockered heel may make impact a bit more clunky. If you land farther forward on your foot, this will not be a problem as the Speed Roll does a decent job for transitioning off the forefoot. For those that land farther back, the transition may not be the smoothest. 


References

McLeod, A. R., Bruening, D., Johnson, A. W., Ward, J., & Hunter, I. (2020). Improving running economy through altered shoe bending stiffness across speeds. Footwear Science12(2), 79-89.

Neumann, D. A. (2016). Kinesiology of the musculoskeletal system-e-book: foundations for rehabilitation. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Nigg, B. M., Vienneau, J., Smith, A. C., Trudeau, M. B., Mohr, M., & Nigg, S. R. (2017). The preferred movement path paradigm: Influence of running
shoes on joint movement. Med Sci Sports Exerc49(8), 1641-8.



RECOMMENDATIONS

While the Endorphin Trail has grown on me, I am confused on many fronts as to what this shoe is. It isn't light enough to be a racing shoe, in fact it is the heaviest shoe in the Saucony Trail line up. It has an Endorphin name, but it is not a fast shoe. The Saucony PWRRUN PB is not soft, but the amount of foam is certainly protective. It almost feels like the Endorphin Trail took the place of the Exodus, which now weighs half an ounce less and has PWRRUN+ foam, which is surprisingly bouncy. What I think many people were expecting was an Endorphin Speed for the trail. A lightweight, bouncy, fast trail shoe. If this is not the focus for a future Endorphin Trail, I hope Saucony will consider making another Endorphin Trail shoe that fits this concept.

My main recommendations are in the rearfoot. There is very little, if any bevel. This makes bombing hills or long down hills a little rough as a heel striker. Smoothing this out just a little more would dramatically improve the ride and efficiency of the Saucony Trail. Also given how stiff the sole is, making sure the sole is appropriate rockered is important. My other suggestion is to add some security to the rearfoot upper. The forefoot is locked down as mentioned, but I kept getting a little slippage in the rearfoot particularly with more aggressive climbs. While the upper does accommodate swelling, I think that slippage needs to be addressed as that could cause problems over extremely long training runs or races.

My final minor suggest is how stiff the midsole is. I was hard-pressed to truly believe this midsole is the same as the Endorphin Pro and Speed. It is incredibly stiff and firm until the shoe warms up. Part of this probably comes from needing to refine the rocker, but I am amazed also how stiff it is without any kind of plate. I think most people will come to this shoe looking for some bounce, which reducing the firmness of the PWRRUN PB might accomplish. 



WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

The Saucony Endorphin Trail is for those looking for an extremely durable and tough trail running/hiking shoe for long runs, challenging terrain and long climbs. The Speed Roll in the forefoot and lack of a significant bevel makes it best for those who land a little farther forward. The upper is tough, with additional security in the forefoot and a little extra room in the rear. The PWRRUN PB midsole is firmer and the ride is stiff, although it warms up a little with additional miles. This is not a shoe for those wanting a fast and lightweight ride as the weight is far too heavy to consider this for faster racing. Those who want a protective/tough ultramarathon trail shoe will be right at home in the Saucony Endorphin Trail. 



GRADING (SHOE CATEGORY)

Matt
Fit: B (Great lock down in the forefoot that initially feels too snug but breaks in. Heel and midfoot allow for swelling, but heel slightly loose. Good protection overall)
Performance: B-
(Extremely heavy at 11.1 oz. Decent forefoot transition with clunky forefoot. Excellent grip, but limited to long efforts at a steady pace. Can handle technical and difficult terrain.)
Stability: B+ (Stable concept, but too stiff at points, which may exaggerate any abnormal motion)
DPT/Footwear Science: B- (Good application of using stiffness to create protection without a plate, Speed roll is effective in forefoot, but the lack of a significant heel bevel in such a stiff and high stack shoe is disappointing)
Personal: B (This shoe is oddly growing on me but is far too heavy for me to consider for anything I associate with the Endorphin line)
Overall: B- (A heavy duty hiking/long distance trail shoe for those that want a stiff and protective ride with an extremely durable upper and sole. )

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FURTHER READING

Compare
VJ Ultra 
- Brand new cushioned trainer from the obstacle running brand VJ
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 - Powered by graphene material, the ultra g is a flexible long range trail runner
Hoka One One Torrent 2 - A trail racing favorite among Hoka fans. Nimble, but cushioned
On Cloudultra - Firmer, long range cruiser from On
North Face Flight Vectiv - Carbon plated racer meant to barrel down trails
North Face Vectiv Infinite - Ultra stable, cushioned trail running for long distances
Brooks Caldera 5 - Cushioned trail running classic

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TESTER PROFILES:


Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

Dr. Matthew Klein is a 150 lb male with notable PRs of 14:45 for 5k and 2:32:44 for the full marathon.  He typically runs 70-100 miles per week and trains at a variety of paces from 8min per mile recovery runs to 4:40 per mile 1k repeats.  He prefers firmer and responsive shoes with snug heels and medium to wide toe boxes.  The stability guy of the group, he also prefers a little stability in his footwear. However, as a researcher, clinician and running shoe aficionado, he will run in anything. 

David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing, 

Nathan Brown PT DPT MS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Masters in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

Dr. Brown is a 155 lb male with notable PRs of 18:18 5K, 39:25 10K, 1:29:01 half marathon, and 3:54 marathon. He typically runs between 20-40 miles per week at a variety of paces from 7:30-8:30 min/mile for recovery runs to 6-6:45 min/mile for tempo runs. He typically prefers shoes that provide some cushioning underfoot but still maintain a more firm and responsive feel. Current goals for 2020 are to break the 1.5 hour half marathon and 3:30 marathon.

Bach Pham MS
Marketing and Social Media Manager
Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology

Bach Pham is a 140 lb male with PRs of 23 5K, 52 10K. He typically runs between 25-35 miles per week at a variety of paces between 8:30 (tempo) -10:00 (recovery) min/miles. He typically prefers shoes that provide some mild to firm cushioning underfoot that is lightweight and responsive. Currently his goals are to complete the half and marathon distances.

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your
local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at Saucony USA for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. 
We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run run as well as a warm up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

NEXT: SUPER SHOE DISCUSSION, PODCAST EP. 52

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