For a shoe with no midsole the Mesa Trail will suit a surprisingly broad set of runners. It is a smartly designed, modern but uncompromising take on a minimal shoe for barefoot/natural runners. If you’re keen on minimalist shoes and feeling the ground beneath your feet, you’ll love the comfort and agility of this shoe.
- Superior traction
- Featherweight design
- Exceptional feel for the trail
- Minimal protection
- Only for experienced barefoot-style runners
Since the zenith of the barefoot running movement, Xero Shoes has continued to evolve the category of minimally designed shoes for the dedicated core of enthusiasts. If you’ve ever opined that some of the bigger shoe companies spend too much on product styling you won’t be similarly aggrieved at XeroShoes Mesa Trail. They are aesthetically functional. It’s not really until they’re on your feet that the excitement levels rise.
The hyper-agile Mesa Trail is the most footloose and fancy free shoe for trail running the brand has ever made. They’ve chosen a subtly foot-shaped last to build these on that will please most runners. The upper is soft and comfortable and the eyelet chain, a mixture of punched holes and webbing, does a great job of securing the mid-foot. It has a low-to-the-ground construction that is essentially a 5mm flexible rubber outsole, an interior 3mm foam layer and a 2mm insole (made from a closed-cell foam, which won’t gain weight when soaked) that’s cushy, breathable and removable.
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The Mesa Trail is exquisitely comfortable for such a sparsely cushioned shoe, but the interior feel is bolstered by a thin breathable, moisture-wicking lining. This shoe provides exceptional feel for the trail, which, depending on your experience with barefoot shoes and the surface you’re running on, could be a good thing or a big of a challenge. The outsole is made from durable rubber with multi-directional 3.5mm lugs that serves up great traction and a tad bit more protection, while the reinforced toe bumper provides security against stubbed toes. The rubber compound is not tacky; this can cause grip issues on hard wet surfaces but, as a positive, should result in a long lasting outsole.
• RRP: $120 (US)/£105 (UK)
• Weight (per shoe): 215g/7.6oz
• Materials used: Durable rubber outsole, engineered mesh upper, moisture-wicking interior lining
• Drop: 0mm
• Compatibility: A 3-season minimally designed barefoot-style trail running shoe ideal for a variety of types of terrain
On the trails
We tested the Mesa Trail shoes on two continents. Our U.S. tester took them on a variety of smooth and technical trails all around Boulder, including the namesake trail that runs under the iconic Flatirons rock faces that give the city its identity. He also ran up and down Mt Sanitas and Bear Peak, two of the highest summits on the western horizon line, while wearing these shoes. Meanwhile our British test pilot took them for multiple spins on tough trails in the Peak District of Northern England.
Xero Shoes builds all of its shoes on the principles of natural running, allow the ability for a runner’s feet to uninhibitedly interact with the ground. The Mesa Trail has been designed for light, fast and agile running on a variety of trail surfaces, from smooth dirt to technical, rocky routes. It offers a good blend of comfort, cushion, agility and protection to create a modern barefoot running experience.
All of the materials used in the Mesa Trail are lightweight, but, more importantly, they’re super functional elements that work in concert to develop an optimal interaction with the ground. The midsole-outsole chassis is decidedly thin but it still offers sufficient or ‘just enough’ protection from rocks, roots, gravel and other obstacles on the trail.
The stretchy, mesh upper is comfortable and very breathable, yet sturdy enough to keep the foot from sloppy movements on the trail. The laces are integrated into midfoot overlay straps over the saddle that snug down each foot without hindering natural flex and movement patterns. Grip is good, but we did wonder if the compound could be stickier.
Keep in mind that running in minimally designed shoes takes some know-how and experience, and if you take most pairs of barefoot shoes out for the first time, you’re bound to endure some awkward landings and get some “stingers” from pointed rocks and roots. But the design and materials of the Mesa Trail smooth out the ride and allow a runner to focus on the intimate interaction between their feet and the trail.
Brian is an award-winning journalist, photographer and podcaster who has written for Runner’s World, The Times, Outside, Men’s Journal, Trail Runner, Triathlete and Red Bulletin. He's also the author of several books, including Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and loves to run, bike, hike, camp, ski and climb mountains. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of running shoes, completed four Ironman triathlons, as well as numerous marathons and ultra-distance running races.
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