Project E:Motion represents a complete re-design of Pearl Izumi’s top-end shoes. Using rockered soles called Dynamic Offset, Pearl Izumi has stepped up their game big-time. I’ve been so impressed with the overall performance of the new EM Trail N1’s that I can confidently call them this year’s benchmark.

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 Features:

  • Dynamic Offset technology for a lively and smooth ride
  • Low 1mm drop and a combination of shock absorbing and energy return foams
  • Neutral with minimal midsole
  • Forefoot rock plate
  • Self-cleaning aggressive lugged sole
  • At 9.6 ounces, it’s light, yet cushioned and protective enough for ultra marathons
  • Bonded seamless toe cap protects feet from rocks, roots, stumps and other trail hazards
  • Seamless upper uses bonded technology for structure and durability
  • Insole has a deeply cupped heel that securely cradles the foot
  • MSRP: $115
Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 Review - Hiking in El Yunque National Forest

Hiking in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

My Experience

These were quite the introduction into Pearl Izumi’s running shoe line. While I’ve had the privelidge of running in nearly every brand of shoes, I had yet to try a pair of Pearl Izumi’s. As luck would have it, my time came just as they were introducing an entirely-new design philosophy in their running shoes called Project E:Motion. The core of the new line is called Dynamic Offset, which works in a similar way to other rockered sole designs, but with Pearl Izumi’s own twist.

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 - Dynamic Offset Outsole

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 with Dynamic Offset

One of my all-time favorite trail running shoes are the Brooks Cascadia 5’s and one of the main reasons why I liked them so much was due to the rockered sole. There’s just something about that style of outsole that works well with my mid/forefoot strike. I feel like the shoe just propels me forward with less effort on my part. So, just like the Cascadia’s, the new Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1’s feel natural and comfortable on the trail.

I used the N1’s on a variety of local trails and even brought them along for some fast-paced hiking in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. Under all the trail conditions I’ve thrown their way, these shoes have performed fantastic.

When lacing them up, the first thing I noticed was the unique ribbed laces. As I pulled them tight, I thought it was a bit odd pulling the notches through the eyelets, but as I used them more, I appreciated the adjustable nature of the ribs for pinpointing pressure throughout the laces. Those same ribs also kept knots in place much better than standard laces. Very simple, but something that makes a big difference.

Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 Review

Seamless Uppers Provide Exceptional Comfort

The seamless uppers cradle my feet in perfect comfort. While there isn’t much structure to the uppers, the bonded support system provides just enough support to keep the shoe in place in varied terrain. I’d say that the uppers are made for normal to narrow feet. My flat arches and average width feet were treated to a glove-like fit. As, expected, the mesh design provides amazing breathability, but can prove chilly while on windy, 40-degree runs.

While the N1’s are relatively minimalist, they provide the perfect amount of trail protection. The combination of the rockplate, midsole and outsole provides the perfect balance between protection and trail feel. Surprisingly, not all shoes can boast that characteristic, but the N1’s have it nailed. The only miss regarding trail protection is the lack of a gussetted tongue. Unfortunately, the standard, detached tongue allows trail scree and debris to enter at will.

Traction has proven to be superb on everything but wet granite rocks. A softer durometer rubber might improve traction on rocks, but could make the shoes slower on hardpack. I’ll take it as a minimal tradeoff because these shoes are very fast in all conditions.

Long-term Update (9/13/13): Still absolutely loving these shoes and grab them at every chance I can get. They continue to offer an excellent ride with comfort and traction aplenty. 

The Good:

  • Fast on the trail
  • Ultralight without being overly minimalist
  • Excellent traction in most conditions
  • Rockered Dynamic Offset outssole provides a smooth stride
  • Uppers breathe exceptionally well
  • Great trail protection
  • Ribbed laces stay put

The Bad:

  • Tongue doesn’t have a scree guard, so you’ll get plenty of debris
  • Pretty narrow last (good for me)
  • Slips a little on wet granite slab

The Bottom Line

The N1’s have made quite a first impression on me. My first go at Pearl Izumi trail running shoes has me completely enamored by their function, comfort and capability. It’s easy to say that the N1’s are this year’s benchmark in trail running shoes.

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About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Jason, I got a road pair, fell in love and promptly bought the trail version one month later. That rocker transition is just so smooth…

  2. Hey – I own a pair of Trail M2 and Road M3.
    The Trail M2 fits perfect and are really comfortable.
    The Road M3 have a more narrow toe-box than the trail. This was a big mistake by P.I. because it gives pressure on the small toe.

    • I too am a fan of wider toe boxes and find it odd that some companies don’t allow the toes to spread out more naturally. Sometimes I have to upsize a little more to gain that room, but ideally more companies will just build them with extra wiggle room.

      I didn’t have any problem spreading out my toes in the N1’s and found them to be awesome overall.

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