This is the best shoe for downhill running I’ve ever worn.
Now that we’ve opened up with a rather short and to the point opening statement for this review, let me explain and tell you about the myriad of thoughts going on in my head with this shoe.
You may have read our Nike Free review many moons ago, bemoaning the fact that Nike really needed to make a trail version of the Free – if they did, the trail running world would be their lobster (yes I know it’s Oyster!). For years, Nike hasn’t really played at all in the trail scene, but boy what an entrance they’ve made with these. Welcome the Nike Zoom Terra Kigers. Before we smack head-first into the review, let’s pause and take stock of the various trends we’ve seen in trail running shoes over the last few years and explain where the Kiger fits.
Before the minimal bandwagon came along, it’s probably fair to say that we didn’t care much for a ‘type of shoe’… we pretty much ran in whatever felt right and for the most part I guess we still do. Then along came the minimal brigade and for the most part, quite a few of us jumped on board. I was one of those and I do still believe in the notion of less is more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a minimal fan, but for the longer stuff and being of the slightly larger variety of runner than the whippets up front, I was getting a little sick of bruised heels and battered feet.
So one way of looking at it is that we have two kinds of extreme, with some rubbish in between.
Of course, it’s all about personal choice, but this is where I think trail running shoes will be heading as far as ground feel and heel/toe drop are concerned – a halfway house of sorts. Ultimately what I want is a good, fast running shoe that won’t make me wince when my heel hits a rock. Take a bow, the Kiger, a relatively light-weight but not overly cushioning shoe that allows for a ‘soft’ feeling of the ground.
In plain English – I can bomb down the hills without fear of sharp stones penetrating my oh-so sensitive heels, but get enough ground response to know what’s under foot. Let’s delve deeper.
The Kiger upper
When you open the box you immediately see that the Kiger is a blood brother of the Free. Similar upper, half-tongue and the same foam-like cushioning that makes wearing these shoes a dream. Having spent most of the last 18 months in very minimal non-cushioned shoes, pulling on these ‘slippers’ was a little strange. I felt like I was wearing moon boots and one of the first things to worry me, when striding off in these ‘Cinderella shoes’ was whether or not my knee pain would return from the increase in cushioning and slightly larger heel to toe drop (4mm in case you’re wondering – I’m used to 3mm or nothing at all).
Fortunately, my fears were just those and didn’t venture into reality – although I did notice more ache in my achilles than normal. Whether or not that is directly related to the shoe or not is debatable, given my left achilles always aches.
The Kiger is very much like the Nike Free 3.0, but on steroids. It has a very smooth inner and is very flexible throughout, but still with a supportive heel, it is by far the most comfortable trail shoe I have – and I have many. There is no rock plate in the shoe, but the Kiger has a full-length rubber outsole making any notion of a rock plate redundant. It also has a surprisingly large toe box too. Not as big as the Altra brand of shoes for example and indeed, it was one of the other concerns I had with this shoe when seeing it for the first time. Would the box would be big enough?
My feet splay all over the place and I like them to move around when I’m running – I hate that ‘boxed-in’ feeling with running shoes. My regular sized shoes are somewhere between a 10.5 – 11UK and for the Kiger’s, I’ve gone up to an 11.5UK and I’m glad I did – I’d even consider a 12, so it pays to make sure you know what sizing you need prior to ordering any of these if you’re going to.
Another consideration is whether to go sockless or not in the Kiger. Technically you can, but I prefer to wear socks and have done so for all of my running in this shoe to date. In my view there’s no point risking it unless you have feet of steel and can be sure that there’s not one part of the shoe that’s going to cause you some grief somewhere at some point along the way mid-run.
The Kiger outsole and cushioning
While the upper of the Kiger has been moulded from its Free cousins, it’s the outsole that has been given a rather unique look. Like many people I’m sure, I’ve used the Nike Frees as trail shoes in the past, which is fine when you’re on nice wide open fire trail, however it’s a little challenging once you get onto the technical stuff. The Kiger has been given a fairly rugged outsole with lugs similar to the Cascadia and akin to the cross-country style of shoe you might expect to see in the Lake District in the UK.They’re not full-on lugs as such, but there’s enough to give you the traction and grip you need when you’re ‘toe-ing’ it uphill.
I am however slightly dubious of shoes and their ability to grip in both the wet and the dry. Here in Australia it’s summertime, which means little or no rain. My initial tests with these shoes have all been in dry conditions over both some easy flat fire trail, but also over some more technical descents too. The grip in the dry is fantastic, which makes me slightly nervous as to their ability in the wet. Generally when one is good in one type of condition, we see flaws in the opposite. However until we get a deluge of rain here, I’ll have to wait to find out. All I’ll say is that in the dry over loose rock and slightly technical terrain, you can simply bomb down the trail with confidence – so much so that I was setting Strava records all over the place in my first run in them 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re not the root cause of the recently acquired ‘crowns’ – that’s just training!
The Nike ‘Zoom’ in the title of the shoe is due to the cushioning of the shoe, which is part of the Nike Air family, and—like its siblings—it’s lightweight and durable. The Nike Zoom cushioning is fairly thin (although not quite in the same league as the minimal bandwagon shoes), and thus it brings the foot closer to the ground and enhances stability (apparently), especially during multi-directional movements, so says the marketing blurb. However, it’s after impact that the fibers inside the pressurized air unit of the Zoom technology bounce back into shape, and that provides the very responsive feel you get from the trails and why it’s such a joy to bomb downhill in these bad boys.
If you haven’t already guessed, I love these shoes and I’ll be wearing them for the upcoming Six Foot Track marathon in March. I was dubious about them, particularly the responsiveness you want and need when you’re trail running. I like to feel the ground, but I also don’t want to feel every single stone underfoot for the best part of 4-6 hours either. I think this shoe has created the perfect balance of both worlds. Shoe choice is such a personal thing, and I’m sure those who already have the Kiger have found something they don’t like about it – I’m sure I will after more use. All I know is that I’ve had these shoes a week, have put around 10 hours into them already and I can’t fault it on the trails. I can’t believe that more people aren’t wearing this to be honest. So if you’re like me and want something that gives you good trail feedback, yet provides that bit of cushioning you require at times, you wouldn’t go far wrong getting hold of a pair of these. As mentioned above, size wise, I’d recommend going 1/2 to a full size up on your regular shoe, but it pays to try before you buy.
For those who want to ‘geek’ even further… here’s the geeky deets:
- Nike Zoom units in heel and forefoot for low-profile, responsive cushioning
- Dynamic Fit technology with integrated Flywire for an adaptive, supportive fit
- Compression Phylon and Cushlon midsole foams create a dual-density cushioning system for a lightweight, responsive ride
- Strategically placed lugs with sharp, crisp shape for enhanced grip
- Single-layer engineered mesh upper for support and ventilation
- Rounded, anatomical heel for more natural range of motion
- Environmentally-preferred rubber Waffle outsole for multisurface traction and durability
- Reflective elements for enhanced visibility in low-light conditions
- Weight: 8.6 ounces (men’s size 10)
- Mesh inner sleeve wraps the foot for a plush, comfortable fit
- Strategically placed overlays at upper for targeted support
- Moulded sockliner for underfoot support