THE RUNDOWN: The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 is a reliable trail steed in most conditions.

Surface: Trail          Stability: Neutral     Stack Height: Medium

This trail running shoe from Nike is an all-purpose workhorse with decent cushion, protection, and traction that delivers a smooth ride on a range of surfaces. It might not be a quiver-killer, but it’s a reliable go-to that delivers a responsive (and surprisingly comfortable) ride long into runs.

Weight: 9.45 oz (women’s size 8)

Offset: 8 mm

Heel/Forefoot: 28mm/20mm (women’s)

Midsole: Phylon foam, Zoom Air heel unit, rock plate

Outsole: Blown rubber waffle

Upper: Space mesh, Flywire cables

Price: $110

Photo Credit: Christine DiGangi

100 Miles In: The Review

Several of my trail buddies have been sporting and lauding this style since it launched last spring. The Wildhorse came highly recommended at my local running store, too. Praise about its responsiveness piqued my curiosity.

It’d been a while since I ran in Nikes and also since I first heard tales about this style. Legend has it that the model was inspired by an Oregonian runner (and eventual shoe developer) who held an unsanctioned but legitimate record up a steep 800-meter ascent on Steens Mountain. I’ve looked down that route—better described as a sheer face littered with loose rocks—from above and doubt I could do it in twice the time he did. But running in his shoes couldn’t hurt, and maybe even help me scale lesser slopes, right?

Out of the box, the Wildhorse 4 emerges like a sleek Nike thoroughbred should. A revamped upper resembles a work of modern architecture, with spans of Flywire suspended along an asymmetrical wrap that is molded over the midfoot and a thick textile the brand dubs Space Mesh. This all makes for a lot of material. When that’s taken in with the waffle tread and a moderate weight, the shoe gives the impression that it could handle some slop. What’s more, a nice step-in feel hugged my foot and allowed for moderate ground-feel, bringing me closer to dirt than the highly-cushioned models de jour.

The last fit my feet just right. The toe box accommodated my wide forefoot and the roomy heel cup fit my narrow heel (interestingly) without sloppiness. Even on longer-than-planned adventure runs, no hot spots sprouted.

The new upper, designed for midfoot stability, felt a touch restrictive and hugged my arch with a snug fit. A bulbous ankle collar turned out to not be obtrusive and perhaps helped fend off blisters. While all the material feels thick, it didn’t lead to any overheating or swamp foot. Plus it proved impenetrable by flora, even when bushwhacking along a rocky and shrubby ridgeline. Sure, my feet got wet and dirty, but they remained largely intact.

In the midsole, the Phylon foam feels average—not too squishy, not too firm. A pocket of Zoom Air in the heel, though, provides a nice landing pad. The forefoot rock plate, while rigid, didn’t protect against rock-jabs on descents. The blown rubber outsole and lugs grabbed gravel, loose dirt, and technical trails around the Pacific Northwest just fine. They were not quite sticky enough in rainy conditions; mud, wet rocks and slick roots proved too slippery.

After 100 miles, both the upper and outer materials held up without wear or tears. Even after 300+ miles, this pair didn’t bag out or sprout holes. Despite my running on both hard and soft surfaces, the outsole and tread also proved durable.

An update to the Wildhorse is slated for release in spring 2019. Hopefully the price point stays at the relatively affordable $110. It fits true to size in length and width and is available for both men and women.

Photo Credit: Christine DiGangi

There’s The Rub

In dry weather, the traction is solid. In wet conditions, traction is sub-par on slick roots and rocks, as well as in mud. I prefer a stickier grip, especially once the Pacific Northwest’s perma-cloud settles in during the fall.

While I found the ride comfortable on most surfaces, the first technical descent made my dogs bark. (I’ve been running with more cushion, which made it easier to bomb down hills.) I felt sharp and pointy rocks as if they were poking straight through the rock plate. It’s likely the snug midfoot fit, higher heel-to-toe drop, and/or tight lacing added to the discomfort, but it slowed me down. The next day, and on subsequent long or hilly runs, my feet were sore; but they gradually adapted to a more responsive ride.

Two additional issues cropped up for me. First, the laces on the Wildhorse are excessively long, even when triple-knotted. Eventually, I copied trail sisters and tucked the unwieldy loops back into the forefoot lace system. Second, a squeaky heel developed; re-arranging the EVA sockliner didn’t help.

TL;DR

If you can only afford one trail shoe, try this one. As deft at bushwhacking as doing strides on pea gravel, it’s a solid all-around trail shoe with average cushion, protection and traction. While a trail running shoe closet is optimal for those tackling varied terrain, the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 covers most trail running bases long into extra innings at a relatively low price point.