My favourite shoe from Merrell so far has been the All Out Peak. This shoe was made primarily for the USA market, and difficult to find in Canada where I live. I picked up a pair last year ago on a visit to the USA and promptly threw them into circulation on my training and racing schedule. While it isn’t an obstacle racing shoe specifically, I took them through hell and back and they are still going strong.
The follow up to that shoe is the Agility Peak Flex from Merrell. It really isn’t a revision of the All Out Peak at all. Instead it’s a complete replacement for the all out peak. This is the new top of the line trail runner model.
Looking at the Agility Peak Flex, you may find yourself intrigued by the appearance of the shoe more than anything at first. It looks almost organic – the anthropoid midsole design references some of the natural structures of the foot, as does the outsole itself, which is ridged and divided to mimic the natural flex points and musculature between tarsals and metatarsals. It’s a distinctive and seemingly intuitive look. The shoe comes in a range of attractive colours, and I’m a sucker for the Merrell red. I personally love the design.
When in use, it’s a shoe of two very distinct halves.
Flexibility and Agility are things that are both referenced in the name and design of the shoe, however in reality I found the shoe to be fairly stiff. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I found the All Out Peak to be similar in stiffness through the forefoot and I loved that shoe to death.
The Agility Peak is not a brick – but there seems to be more flexibility in the forefoot along the length of the shoe rather than across it, and less flexibility than you might be expecting overall given the name. It’s a fairly firm ride on the toe off. This means that they climb well, delivering good energy return, and the forefoot also comes to life on faster, more technical downhill sections.
The firmly cushioned heel stack provides good control and shock absorption. It’s a 6mm drop shoe, with a smaller stack height than Salomon Speedcross 4 (11mm), but just slightly more than Saucony Perigrine 7 (4mm). It’s not the height that feels so different though. It’s the firmness of the cushioning that makes this such a different ride. Less height, but denser foam.
Grip is excellent, with a tonne of bone shaped skeletonish lugs across the forefoot. It leaves cool looking footprints! The compound is Merrells M+ select rubber, which seems to deliver the promised traction on lots of different surfaces, but it is wearing just a little quicker than the seemingly invincible Vibram Megagrip compound seen in other Merrell trail shoes. The tightly spaced, shallow 5mm lugs would better suit this shoe to drier runs, but they do shed mud well when required due to the flexible nature of the front end.
There’s a lot of complex things happening here, and it takes some time to get used to, but I see what Merrell have tried to do. I found myself trusting it more and more and using these features on my long training runs. It’s a fusion of a few rationales. The Agility Peak Flex seems to offers a rewarding blend of adequate heel cushioning and responsive, flexible forefoot control, with the stiffness contributing to good energy return for longer slower trail runs, and a protective rock plate that does the job well. These things can take you to the top of a mountain and back without a problem.
The upper mesh is breathable and comfortable, with a rubber bumper covering some of the more vulnerable flex points on the upper. There is quite a lot of TPU shielding around the arch and outside of the foot as you would expect from a trail shoe made for the mountains. This adds weight, but is very protective. Throw in a rubber toe cap and the shoe weighs in at 11oz per shoe, so it’s not super light.
Merrell Omni-Fit™ lacing system: provides a good fit. The lacing system works nicely and the flat laces pull through strings that are attached to the tongue and the upper. Ingress of debris is pretty minimal, and I haven’t had problems with them coming undone mid run, or undoing them when muddy or wet. The Hyperlock™ molded TPU heel counter seems to be more open than that found on the All Out Peak – which is supposed to improve ankle mobility during sharp turns. I did initially have some issues with the heel slipping upwards out of the shoe, but engaging the extra ankle lock eyelets fixed the problem.
Drainage is excellent on the shoe, should you get them wet. I wore them through a Spartan Race in Montana which was extremely wet and muddy. They held up incredibly well through that course, which basically had everything from wet singletrack, muddy pits, rocky climbs and steep descents. Full immersion to drained out occurs within 200m or so. There’s a lot of mesh that lets water out, without needing any specific drainage holes.
I did initially have some issues with some of the outsole pushing through into the shoe and digging into the arch area of my foot just behind the ball of my foot, however this issue seems to be mostly unique to myself, as many people I have spoken to have not had this issue. For me, the issue gradually went away as I broke them in. Now that I’ve put over 50 miles on this shoe I can confirm that they seem to run true to size and I have no blisters or hotspots on longer runs with them.
Great for trail running in the mountains, cross training outdoors or trail running in loose dusty or dry conditions. They grip well in the wet and drain well. They offer a stable, but firm ride – which may be too stiff for some, but provide good energy return for me. They are a little heavier than some other options out there, but these offer a superior balance of cushioning and control over a range of conditions.