Feeling the ground
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Feeling the ground

Plenty of toe room

New Balance 873: Light, protective, comfortable all-rounder.

Likes: Great combination of comfort and ground feel. Wide toe box (available in EE) lets toes spread out on the climbs and doesn’t jam them on the descents. Foot is nested low, providing good ground contact. Fairly light at 13 ounces but feels almost weightless due to a comfy, minimalist upper. Burly toe rand for rock protection. Weird, undulating laces (they get alternately fatter and thinner) simply don’t come undone. A plastic midsole plate fends off sharp objects. Dark color hides dirt well. Lace-loop web wraps around the heel, gluing the shoes to your feet. Fine for running from street to trail. (Note: The 873 replaces the similar 872 model in early April.)

Dislikes: No fabric loop on the heel, which is useful for pulling on the shoe and hanging it up to dry after a muddy run.

Price: $90. (800) 253-7463; www.newbalance.com()

How about a dance?

Inov8 Mudroc 280: Minimalist off-road racer from Britain.

Likes: Light and fast at 11 ounces (in size 9.5). Low-profile design with sparse cushioning has great ground feel. Cool-looking black/florescent lime design ideal for post-race disco dancing.

Dislikes: Pointy and narrow forefoot cramped my little toes in general and all toes on downhills. Coated canvas toe shield offers minimal rock protection. No loop on heel.

Price: $90. (877) 88-inov8; www.inov-8.com()
Dial up your laces

North Face Arnuva 50 Boa: Do-it-all trail and street runner with unique dial lacing system.

Likes: Innovative Boa lacing system lets you “tie” the shoes with a twist of a dial on the heel. No laces to come undone — a huge benefit. Good cushioning and grippy sole make it a decent trail runner and very good street shoe. Light at 12.5 ounces. Cushioned shoe, with good — not great — ground feel, – la Inov8 or New Balance. Heel loop included.

Dislikes: The price.

Price: $125. (866) 715-3223; www.thenorthface.com()