I'll readily admit that after discovering barefoot/minimalist running late last summer, that I can sometimes become too focused on what the "right" kind of shoe is appropriate for running. However, I am not a hard core bare footing purist, nor a total shoe snob (I hope!). I really am more focused on how to run naturally, with minimal impact and injury, and the best styles and gear to do that.
I do my best to keep an "open mind" when it comes to running style and gear, only because I learn something new every week, and my thought process is "if it works for you, then go for it!" etc. Personally, I've run barefoot, and with very minimalist huaraches (Invisible Shoes, Bedrock Sandals), and minimalist shoes including Merrell, Vibram, kigo, and VivoBarefoot. Most of these shoes share common traits of having a zero drop, minimal soles, light weight, and flexibility.
That being said, I've branched out recently, testing out the Dart Lite trail running shoe from GoLite. When I first reached out to GoLite, I wanted to see what they had to offer in a minimalist trail running shoe. GoLite made it very clear that the Dart Lite is not a "bare foot minimalist" running shoe by any means, but that they do believe in the natural running style, and have modeled this shoe to support that.
GoLite developed their "Bare tech" technology to support a natural running form, but with the protection of a traditional trail running shoe. The Dart Lite is a 0mm drop shoe, but with more substantial stack height of around 24mm total, as compared to a thinner minimalist running shoe. As noted by GoLite ,"Our Zero Impact shoe is based on our belief that footwear should complement the design of the human body and that feet work best when they stay flat. We also know that feet need protection from rocks and roots on the trail. The zero drop last promotes a natural stride, with a soft midsole, offering full protection from the terrain."
In addition to the zero drop, the Dart Lite also features GoLite's "Precise-Fit" system. As you can see above, the insole comes with different sizers to accommodate narrow, medium, and wide feet. Initially I started with the medium set, but ended up fitting the shoe with the narrow set up.. but I'll get into that later when discussing my running experience.
Now, for a more traditional trail shoe, the Dart Lite is actually more flexible than I expected, especially considering the thickness of the sole. Also, this was right after I got the shoe, and it has actually softened up a bit more since I've put some miles on them. You won't be rolling this up into your pocket, but it certainly isn't locking up your foot in a cast either.
The soles on these shoes are pretty cool actually... I liked the grippy tread pattern, and there is a certain softness to the sole that can come in handy on the trail. GoLite calls this outsole a "Sticky Gecko", with over 300 hair-like lugs to provide that sticky type of grip, and 2 different densities of EVA. Granted, if you are a true minimalist runner, you may not like the extra cushion, but again, that is a personal preference. The sole uses GoLite's SATG technology, or Soft Against The Ground. The stiffer more firm part of the sole is below your foot, while the portion closest to the ground is softer and absorbing, the goal being a shoe that better absorbs trail impacts.
As for other specs... the average weight of these shoes is around 11.4 oz, with a breathable mesh and synthetic upper. The lacing system is fairly standard, and the laces hold well and allow for decent adjustment.
Ok, finally... how do they perform? Since I have been running in minimalist shoes for some time, I was curious what it would feel like to move back to a more traditional shoe. I know I can't stand to even wear my old ASIC's with the super thick heel and motion-control. The Dart Lites were a pleasant surprise, primarily because of their zero drop construction. I felt comfortable and stable in them. Granted, the thicker stack height limited the proprioception considerably, but I expected that.
My first run out in them was 4 miles, mostly on the roads. I like to run the first time in new shoes on the road, and shorter distances just to get a feel. Overall they felt great, however I did develop a hot spot on one arch, that turned into a small blister by the end of the run. This concerned me when I felt it, and I think part of it had to do with striking harder. Even though I maintained a mid-foot strike, I think I was hitting harder, primarily because the softer cushion allowed me to. Also, I think I was sliding around a bit in them. I did wear Injinji Outdoor Series lightweight socks.
The next several runs I did were trail runs that were 6-7 miles. Before these though, I did a few adjustments. To counter for the potential sliding, I moved to the "narrow" fit insole configuration, and went to a normal weight Injinji. This had me fitting snugger in the shoe, for less movement. Next, while running, I had to consciously focus on a lighter foot strike... ignoring the urge to pound harder. So, after that first run, no more hot spots or blisters! As I noted above, the thicker cushioned sole doesn't allow for much ground feel, however the zero drop design and relative flexibility in the shoe certainly separates it from a traditional running or trail shoe (aka foot coffins). The SATG tech in the Dart Lite certainly made rougher sections like the trail above smooth and comfortable, yet I still felt enough stability to not feel like I was going to falter from not feeling the ground. Granted I did take a spill on this run, but it was more from not paying attention, than it was the shoe. I did strike a root pretty hard, and the toe/upper on the shoe did a good job of protecting from any foot damage. The traction was decent on these.. more so with the soft grip on hard rock surfaces and I had no issues on loose gravel etc. However I am not sure of how they will perform in mud or snow, as I can't seem to find either at the moment, but, as with other reviews, I will look to circle back with an update in a future post on the long-term performance. Also, I did notice the weight of the shoe, as it is certainly heavier than my minimalist trail running shoes. However, I chalked it up to getting a better workout! But seriously, there is a trade off for better cushioning/protection and weight.
Above is another shot from one of the trail runs in the Dart Lite. I do love trail running!
Ok... here is my summary/recap of the Dart Lite from GoLite Footwear:
- Zero drop
- Comfortable (Once you dial in your fit and sock combo)
- Customizable (using the Precise Fit system)
- Good trail protection (cushioned sole using the SATG technology).
- A bit heavy for me
- Lack of good proprioception (ground feel)
- Tread may not be aggressive enough for some conditions (TBD)
- Not a good choice if you are looking for a true minimalist shoe
Although for me personally, these are not the ideal trail running shoe, I did discover that I really like them as a walking/hiking shoe. I love the combination of a zero drop shoe, but with extra cushion and comfort. As a hiker/walker, I think these would allow for a lot of mileage with not a lot of foot abuse. That being said, these could also be a great fit for someone in a traditional stiff, steep drop trail shoe that is looking to shift to a more natural running style. My opinion is that going barefoot first is the ideal transition, but I know that it really is a matter of personal choice. If you are in a traditional shoe, and want to go zero drop, but not full minimalist, the Dart Lite may be a good choice for you.
On an exciting note, I've learned that GoLite is going to introduce a new trail shoe in August.. one that is designed to be more flexible, and with more ground feel. I think it is great that they are moving more towards a minimalist style shoe. I certainly feel they have the potential to design such a shoe, since the quality of construction in this shoe is very high. The Dart Lite retails for $115 on the GoLite site, but I think if you shop around you can find them in the $90 range, putting them in decent price range for quality trail running shoes.
Again, if there is anything I missed mentioning, or if you have questions/feedback.. let me know!