Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keen A86 - Confidence for my Feet

Gear Review - Keen A86 Trail Shoes

EDIT 2/13/12 - I still love wearing these shoes.  The soles are probably a little more spongy than I made people believe, but that's ok.  The one complaint that I have it their typical life.  They only last between 135 and 150 miles.  Then the area right below the "N" in Keen shown below opens up.  I've had 3 different pairs of these shoes and they all 'blow out' in the same manner.  I talked to a Keen representative at the StumpJump 50k and he laughed when I complained saying the same thing happened to him.  Anyway, I wanted to make sure everyone knew that... Back to the existing review:

Keen, a Portland area company known for their closed toe sandals with the triangle exclamation point logo on the toe, have ventured in to the realm of trail running footwear with the A86 and in my humble opinion have offered a fantastic shoe.  The A86 is a minimalist shoe with a low heel-toe drop, light weight and firm midsole.  Trail Runner Magazine has given the A86 the "Editors Choice Award" in the May 2011 issue.  Because this shoe has been heavily reviewed and acclaimed, I'm not going to give a lot of details about what can be found on other sites, I'm only going to provide details about my experience with them, my likes and dislikes.
Sorry about the super white legs!

Initial reaction:
When I pulled the shoes out of the box, I was very pleased with the weight of the shoes.  I believe they are about 8 ounces.  In addition, I'm the kind of person that has a pretty loud personality, so the bright colors and appearance of the shoes was something that I liked.  I don't mind drawing attention to my feet, since that takes the attention away from the rest of my body...  I initially thought the lacing system wouldn't hold the shoe firmly enough on my foot.  The lacing doesn't go up very high on the foot or ankle and made me think that my heel would be slipping around.  Fortunately that wasn't the case.  The S-lacing system is really nice and keeps the shoe on my foot without pressure points.  The toe box isn't really wide like a New Balance Minimus, but my feet don't feel cramped either.  I've got pretty wide feet and really short toes, so finding shoes that fit that combination can be tough.  While the sole is firm, it is also quite flexible.  The sole will flex and contour with the foot while on the trail.

I put about 35 miles on the shoes so far in varying environments.  From the first run on a dry dirt trail to a 20 miler in the rain to a 5K trail race, the A86s have performed well.  The "lugs" on the bottom of the shoe are great for gravel and dirt, including rock hard dry trails.  The wet, rainy 20 miler had some pretty sketchy portions of trail but my feel felt comfortable and confident on both the up and down hills. During my 5K race, my heel did pop out once when running though thick, heavy, shoe sucking mud, but before my next stride it was right back in place.  Because there isn't a lot of extra sole and the shoe doesn't flair out much on the heel, my shoe didn't get trapped in the mud.  I am primarily a midfoot striker I don't land on the heel of my foot which helps me keep light fast feet on the trails.  During the long run my feet felt comfortable without that "floating" feeling some really soft shoes provide.  I was able to stay true to my running form.  However even when I was descending down the ¾ mile long downhills and had the occasional heel strike, I wasn't punished by a rock jab to my heel.

Light Weight
Bold Colors and Look
Low Drop Sole
Firm sole is protective while still providing feedback
Great Fit without being too tight
Dry Trail Traction and feel - no pressure points on the sole

Lugs might not be long lasting on abrasive trails/pavement
3mm lugs don't have great heavy mud traction
Not a great first minimalist and low drop shoe for a runner due to the firm heel

Summary -
Since I've began running heavily at the beginning of this year, I wasn't really sure what kind of shoe I wanted.  I've had a few different styles of shoes, anywhere from an Asics GT2150 to a Vibram KSOTrek.  The Keen A86 still gets the looks that I've been accustomed to by wearing fivefingers, but give me a confidence on the trail that I've never had before.  I can finally power down some of the long downhills without worrying about stepping on a rock or rolling an ankle.  The A86 is a perfect fit for my current running style and I'll be wearing them on my first trail marathon in San Francisco.  Simply put, these shoes give me confidence on the trail without blinding my feet to the experience of running off road.

Hoosiertrailrunner Rating:
5 out of 5 ears of corn


  1. Nice review. Do they run true to size?

  2. Yes. Of course as I mentioned my feet are strange. I ordered size 10s and the fit was great. I believe the keen website mentions going up a half size if you are flip-flopping between two.

  3. I went up a half size, and they fit great.

  4. I'm an 11.5 in most shoes including the NB Minimus trail. Were you able to find them anywhere locally?

  5. Dan, I got mine online. Altec I believe. The don't have them at blue mile, but haven't been to athletic annex.

  6. mine are red yellow and silver and the rock!!

  7. Nice review. I have been testing ut a pair recetly for my own site and have liked these quite a bit. The only thing I noticed is that in the toes area the shoe cuts in a little early on my big toe. I think if they made these with a slightly wider toe box these would be amazing. Still a great shoe so far and I hope to have my review of them in the next week or so.


  8. yeah portland!!! ok maybe that isn't the most valuable comment in response to your post...

    so, cool stuff, friend! i have been saying this forever... i want to get into running! but alas my motivation is negligible, so i'll live vicariously though you haha!

    ~L Klick