We interrupt this barefoot running series to bring you … a traditional shoe review!
Truthfully, talking about traditional footwear isn’t really a disruption; as I’ve mentioned in my training updates, only a small percentage of my overall mileage has been barefoot. Most days, the barefoot miles are tacked onto the end of a longer run in the trail shoes I’m reviewing here, or the road trainers I’ll review next time.
Like many of its competitors in the field, Patagonia is one of those companies with a long history of involvement in other outdoor sports, who have turned their sights to the booming trail and ultrarunning business in recent years. To date, the Release (and its Gore-Tex counterpart) is the only model in the company’s trail running footwear line.
Patagonia was founded by Yvon Chouinard, a southern Californian who spent his formative years participating in and contributing to the sport of rock climbing. As a young man he frequented some of the most famous climbs in Yosemite, Canada, and the Alps, and eventually started manufacturing climbing gear out of his parents’ garage in Burbank. Patagonia was launched in 1972, with an early emphasis on outdoor clothing and climbing gear. While their capilene garments have been longstanding favorites of many ultrarunners, the company is a relative newcomer to the world of footwear.
(Somewhat related tangent #1: to this day, mountain climbing remains the company’s passion – as evidenced by their spectacular seasonal catalogs, featuring descriptive essays and breathtaking photography of climbers on the most formidable peaks in the world. Even if you don’t like receiving catalogs in the mail, you should sign up for Patagonia’s catalog for a 4-times-per-year dose of mojo. Trust me, it’s that good.)
(Somewhat related tangent #2: On its website, Patagonia has one of the most thoroughly documented company histories I’ve ever seen. If you’d like a much longer read on the company’s origins, development, and philosophy, click here.)
Chouinard is a passionate environmentalist, and throughout its history Patagonia has taken a leadership role in protecting our natural resources. They are a major contributing partner towards numerous environmental causes, and are deeply committed to a whole series of global climate and ecosystem initiatives. This social responsibility carries over to the production side as well: any customer can go to this website and track the global impact of Patagonia products from design to delivery. The company has won several honors for its environmental practices, such as the “Eco Brand of the Year” in 2008.
So while it’s true that Patagonia has a bit of a reputation (“Patagucci”, “Pradagonia”, etc.) for high-priced gear, bear in mind that purchasing Patagonia products supports some very worthwhile global causes - and the overall quality of their gear is generally outstanding. Which brings us back to the Release.
Reflecting Patagonia’s southern California roots, the Release, according to its webpage, was built to traverse the Backbone Trail, a 67-mile traverse of the peaks and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s marketed as something of a multi-purpose shoe, targeting light hikers and adventure travelers as well as ultrarunners. The terrain description of the Backbone Trail - lots of steep 500-1000’ climbs, with minimal flat terrain in between - sounds an awful lot like my normal stomping grounds in Carmel Valley, so I figured these shoes would be an ideal companion for long climbing days.
Thankfully, I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve found the Release to be a fairly durable and comfortable ride for all the trail conditions I’ve tested it on this summer.
As far as the specs go, there’s nothing really eye-catching to grab your attention, but Patagonia focused its attention in all the important areas. The upper is quite breathable and is treated with DWR (durable water repellent - the same stuff they use on water-resistant jackets) to help seal out water when you go splashing through puddles or streams. It has a Dynamic Fit Lacing system with loops that are separate from the instep, which custom-wraps the upper around the forefoot. There’s an Ortholite footbed to wick moisture and neutralize odor while adding to the cushioned feel.
On the underside, the Release uses a Vibram outsole (See? I told you nearly everybody uses Vibram) imbedded with rubberized spikes for improved grip and traction on sketchy terrain. (The tread pattern is supposedly different for men’s models and women’s, but this feature seems like a stretch; do men and women really need a different gripping pattern?) The midsole of triple-density EVA provides pronation control, and also demonstrates Patagonia’s eco-friendly approach to craftsmanship, as it uses recycled EVA from discarded running shoes. Stability is further enhanced by an arch bridge through the midfoot. Finally, there’s a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) shock plate to distribute impact pressure across the sole. The entire shoe weighs 14.5 oz.
Seems like I've written about Vibram before ...
After a short breaking-in period, the Release felt very comfortable through the upper, while solid and responsive enough underneath to perform well on my hilly, moderately choppy terrain. I’ve compared some other brands of running shoes to sports cars, and others to SUVs; using that same metaphor, I’d say that the Release is more like driving a Toyota Camry: there’s nothing especially flashy about it, but everything is well-built and works exactly as it’s supposed to, to the point where you don't even have to think about it. These shoes will keep your feet well-protected and give you a nice dependable ride for as many miles as you’d like to travel.