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Karhu Mestari Run Review: Stable Neutral and Comfy
By Matthew Klein

A brand previously not well known in the US, Karhu has made a decent push both in their footwear and lifestyle lines. I have spotted a surprising number of my students wearing Karhu lifestyle shoes and have often wondered if they know the extensive running history of the brand they are wearing casually. Making shoes for over 100 years, the Finnish brand most recently came to the US strongly through Fleet Feet with several different training shoes and eventually a trail shoe. Things went quiet for a bit, then finally, something new emerged. Although slightly lower stack than other offerings, Karhu has made the move into a maximally cushioned training shoe. While it might be a bit lower than others it makes up for it with a plush and rockered ride that feels vastly different than prior shoes from the brand. Not only is the shoe "bear"-able, but they have quickly become a favorite for both easy runs, walking and standing.



ABOUT THE SHOE

Karhu Mestari Run
Price: $159.95 at Karhu
Weight: 12 oz, 340 g (men's size 9), 9.6 oz, 272 g  (women's size 8)
Stack Height: 33 mm / 25 mm
Drop: 8 mm
Shoe Purpose: Daily Training Running/Walking/Standing Shoe

Pros: Comfortable fit, smooth rockered ride, plush cushioning
Cons: Heavy


The Karhu Mestari is a more maximal running/walking shoe that offers a plush and rolling ride. A comfortable upper provides a just-right fit that comfortably stretches to your feet. A sturdy sole sits on the bottom, providing a highly rockered and plush ride that feels lighter than it weighs. Best for easy mileage, recovery runs, walking and long days of standing, the Karhu Mestari offers a comfortable fit when you need to be at ease.

SIMILAR SHOES
: Hoka Bondi 8, New Balance Fresh Foam More v4
PAST MODEL: None (Debut)




FIT

The Karhu Mestari Run fits me true to size in my normal US men's 10. The width feels average at first with a normal volume. There is a somewhat noticeable toe guard at the end of the shoe that almost made this shoe feel short but it broke in after one run. Once I spent more time in these, the mesh began to have more stretch, providing a comfortable fit that got out of the way on the run. The midfoot fits normal to slightly wide with a gusseted and moderately thick tongue. I did have to tighten down the laces a little for a secure fit but did not have to lace lock the shoe. The heel fits normal to slightly wide with a stiff heel counter and a ton of heel collar padding. There is enough padding that I did not notice the heel counter at all. Those with sensitivities to counters should be fine unless they are highly sensitive. The security of the upper is average. It does best for easy efforts and walking. I have tried to pick up the pace and I did notice a little bit of heel slippage. Once I tied down the laces more this was fine. The inner liner is extremely comfortable against bare skin. My only hesitation for suggesting this shoe for sockless wear is the toe guard. However, given that it breaks in and going sockless provides a little more room, it should be fine for most. 


Doctors of Running Checklist

Is This a Good Shoe for Walking: Yes
Is This a Good Shoe for Standing:
Yes
Is the Forefoot Flexible: No
How Flexible is the Shoe: No
Is This a Good Heel Bevel:
Yes
Recommended for Haglunds
Recommended for Sockless: Yes
Durability Expectation: Above Average





PERFORMANCE

The Karhu Mestari Run is a comfortable rockered shoe that work best for easy runs and walks thanks to its weight. The midsole (Aerofoam) feels cushioned and moderately soft underfoot. The material underfoot feels compliant, meaning it compresses well, but not resilient (bounce back). The 12 oz weight (men's size 9) is noticeable. I suspect it is a little lighter than that as my size 10 weighs 12.2 oz. It didn't feel nearly as heavy as I suspected, which may be due to how well-rockered the sole is. There is an 8mm drop listed that with the rocker is not that noticeable. The heel bevel is perfectly posterior-lateral, making for smooth heel transitions. The Karhu Fulcrum, essentially a half-length plate/shank, stiffens the midfoot and creates an easy transition. The forefoot is quite stiff but this is not noticeable while running as the forefoot rocker is also smooth. The transitions are slower and comfortable, which combined with the weight make it best for easy/slow runs and walking. I walked and stood all day in these shoes for two weeks prior to running in them and found them to double as excellent comfortable daily shoes. The good cushioning, balanced ride, stable neutral design and appropriate rocker make it a great shoe for those who stand or walk for long periods.

As smooth as the transition is, these are not meant for faster running as the foam and weight do not respond well to even moderate pace pick-ups. As relaxed as the ride is, the outsole is serious business. There is extensive outsole rubber that I have been unable to make a dent in after 25 miles. I expect an above average amount of durability out of these. However, these should be kept on smooth dry roads. I have found the outsole slips on wet road and the gap to showcase the fulcrum can catch large rocks. So as long as you stay on smooth, dry surfaces you should be fine.

STABILITY


The Karhu Mestari Run is a stable neutral shoe. There are no traditional elements of stability but the sidewalls, rockered ride and wider sole more than make up for this. The Mestari run features fairly large but well-integrated sidewalls on the medial and lateral sides of the shoe. The lateral sidewalls is mostly in the midfoot while the medial one runs from the heel into the forefoot. The sole features h a posterior lateral heel bevel that gently guides the foot in and a well-rockered forefoot than eases you forward. The base of the shoe is on the wider side with a midfoot that does not narrow too much. The Karhu fulcrum, an internal shank that stabilizes and cradles the foot, sits especially in the midfoot and provides plenty of appropriate rigidity and guidance forward. All these come together without being obtrusive, yet provide a stable neutral ride. This was immediately apparent to me and despite the weight, has been a shoe that I quickly came to trust for longer efforts.



Thoughts as a DPT: What Makes a Good Walking Shoe? 
By Matthew Klein

To provide information to those who do not run or are reading reviews for walking, we recently have been attempting to reference which of the shoes we review may also be good for running. Technically, any running shoe can be used as a walking shoe other than track/xc spikes. Many of the trail shoes we review also make good hiking shoes, particularly for those wanting something lighter. Many individuals come to specialty running stores looking for shoes for walking and make up a large percent of "running" shoe consumers in the US (and elsewhere). Like using shoes for running, individual preferences for walking shoes can vary greatly. Some may like less cushioning while others may want more cushioning. 

Assuming you are not looking for a minimalist shoe, a good walking shoe should have adequate cushioning, a fit with enough room (or even a little extra) and either appropriate flexibility or an appropriate rocker geometry for slower running/walking. Most people tend to prefer softer/more cushioning as evidenced by the popularity of maximally cushioned shoes in not only the running world but the walking/casual world as well. Shoes like the Karhu Mestari, Hoka Bondi, Altra Via Olympus 2, ASICS Nimbus 26, etc are popular among walkers for their higher cushioning properties that people tend to like when on their feet for long periods. With the higher cushioning levels, appropriate rocker geometry is important to make up for the lack of flexibility. These shoes should have appropriate rockers at the forefoot that make for a smooth transition. They should not be too stiff and the front transition should be easy. Heel rockers are helpful, although with the lower impact forces in walking compared to running, people may be able to get away with a smaller heel bevel (Sasaki et al., 2006; Swain et al., 2016). That said, an appropriate, comfortable heel transition is still important. Finally, the fit should be comfortable if not slightly wide. People can spend just as much time if not more during walking than running, so foot swelling throughout the day is still something to consider. For walking, given the slower pace, aggressive security/lockdowns are not as important. A wider toe box and slightly wider fit can be helpful to provide adequate room during walking. People should not be "swimming" in their shoes, but a little extra volume and width, especially for the toes, is a great option. 

Overall, the differences in shoe choice between running and walking are not that different. Comfort is still key, particularly when it comes to fit. How the sole rides can be a bit different, where weight and softness may be more tolerable to many given the lower muscular actions required to lift the foot/shoe during walking compared to running. The fit should be comfortable if not a little wider given that people will often wear walking shoes for hours on end. The more anatomic the forefoot is the better as long as the person finds that comfortable. The biggest differences come from the person searching for the shoe. For those looking for one, remember comfort, transitions, cushioning and fit are key. For those helping these individuals find a shoe, also remember those things and be creative when you need to. 

References:

Sasaki, K., & Neptune, R. R. (2006). Differences in muscle function during walking and running at the same speed. Journal of Biomechanics39(11), 2005-2013.

Swain, D. P., Kelleran, K. J., Graves, M. S., & Morrison, S. (2016). Impact forces of walking and running at the same intensity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research30(4), 1042-1049.




RECOMMENDATIONS

Although I tend to prefer lighter shoes, the Karhu Mestari Run is my favorite Karhu shoe to date. I don't feel the aggressive fulcrum, which has caused me mild patellofemoral pain in previous Karhu shoes due to how quickly the knee is pitched anterior. The transition is smooth and the upper is comfortable. These do great for their intended purpose and work well for both walking and easy running. My suggestions are for the entire Karhu line. The entire line is far heavier than they need to be and weigh at least an ounce if not more compared to similar shoes that often have an even higher stack height. I am amazed the Mestari Run weighs as much as it does at 33mm / 25 mm of stack height. They have done a great job making it feel like it is taller with the good cushioning and rocker. All these things can be done so much lighter with so many different foams out there. So I would encourage Karhu to start looking into newer foams to drop the weight. Outside of that, the Karhu Mestari is actually a great shoe, but may have difficulty competing with other brands outside of the casual runner/walker market. 

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE MESTARI RUN?

Yes, for a specific purpose and group of people. Those looking for a comfortable, plush, rockered walking and standing shoe will find something that easily competes with other shoes like the Bondi, More v4, and others. Those looking for a light shoe that can handle a variety of paces will not find it here. This shoe goes one speed and that is easy. It is a little niche as on the running spectrum given that its weight holds it back from doing anything but slow runs. The cost is fairly in line with other premium cushioned shoes and the durability may justify that price. I do want to encourage Karhu to learn from this shoe in terms of rocker geometry and optimal use of the fulcrum as it is the smoothest shoe from them I have experienced. Now the weight needs to come down. 




GRADES

Matt
Fit: A- (Normal fit with slightly wider heel/midfoot. Mesh stretches well)
Performance: 
B (Heavier but well-rockered and comfortable ride. Best for easy runs/walking)
Stability: A- {Stable Neutral} (Good sidewalls, rocker geometry and appropriately stiff midfoot)
Value: B+ (A more premium easy/walking shoe that is in a similar price range to others. A little overpriced given the more moderate stack height but the cushioning does deliver)
Personal: B+/A- (Extremely comfortable for walking, standing and easy runs. Not a shoe for fast things but it doesn't pretend to be)
Overall Design: B+/A-

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Running Shoe
Price: $159.95 at Karhu

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FURTHER READING
Max cushion offerings

Adidas Ultraboost Light - The 23rd ultraboost features Light Boost to help cut 2 oz from the trainer
Asics Novablast 4 - Update to everyone's favorite cushioned ASICS
Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 - Now a super maximal stacked shoe over 40mm!
Asics Gel-Nimbus 26 - New upper and outsole add comfort and grip
Brooks Aurora BL - Brooks experimental project offers a look into the future
Brooks Ghost Max - Brooks new maximal rockered shoe that's also ortho-friendly
New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 - A new midsole update softens the ride of the premium trainer
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trainer v2 - Shoe reduces stack to make a nimble max ride
Newton Isaac - Newton's first high cushion shoe!
Nike InfinityRN 4 - ReactX highlights a big change to the shoe, along with deconstructing past models
Nike Invincible 3 - Updated to improve stability, this max cushion trainer evolves for v3
On Cloudeclipse - On's new highest stacked trainer
Puma Magnify Nitro 2 - A higher stack of NITRO and a flatter geometry highlight this max trainer
Salomon Aero Glide - Salomon brings max stack to their lineup with this new offering
Saucony Triumph 21- The excellent Triumph from last year gets a new upper that dials in the fit for an excellent overall ride
Saucony Triumph RFG - Triumph's sustainable sibling sacrifices almost nothing in the process
Skechers GORun Max Road 6 - A totally new redesign for this max cushion shoes
Topo Atheltic Atmos - Topo's new highest cushion traineer

Find all Shoe Reviews at Doctors of Running here.

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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, Santa Barbara, Danbury and Stevens Point areas, we 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 Karhu for sending us pairs.  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 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.

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Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

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Asics Gel-Nimbus 26

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