While there’s no doubt that trail running shoes come in all shapes, sizes and flavors, the new 9.81 Escape (made by Garmont) trail running shoes are without question some of the most unique trail shoes I’ve worn. At first blush, they look more like low-top baskeball shoes than trail runners. The softshell uppers and simple, low-profile treads will make you scratch your head in wonder.

It’s with that impression that I embarked on my adventure, or maybe I should more aptly say escaped on my Escapes on the local singletrack trails for a trail running beat-down. I showed no mercy and found where the Escapes shine and where they fall short–alas, no shoe is perfect. Lets see how it all panned out on the trails.

9.81 Escape by Garmont Trail Running Shoe Review

About the 9.81 Escape Trail Runners

9.81 is a new brand under the Garmont umbrella. Both shoes in the initial 9.81 lineup (9.81 Race and 9.81 Escape) are built for long-distance running on mixed trails. These shoes look different from nearly any other trail running shoe on the market, but they are built on Garmont’s years of experience making boots and shoes. Most notably, the anatomical lacing pattern, which is carried over from Garmont’s boot line, that cradles the upper foot via strategically-placed laces.

You may wonder a little about the name, 9.81… it’s derived from the amount of days (9.81 days) it took a team to run 718km (446 miles) from Volpago, Italy to Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Here are the details on the 9.81 Escape from the source:

  • Supportive EVA top layer midsole wraps around and under the foot. Pronation control and stability are enhanced.
  • Structured bottom layer midsole system which integrates the Tri-Axle Chassis® and Carbon Duo® stabilizers to control motion, absorb shock, provide rebound and comfort and resist compression set.
  • Tri-Axle Chassis® provides variable thickness TPU structure, designed to provide specific functions in various locations. Heel Zone – maximizes rebound by storing energy on impact and returning that energy as you move forward towards toe-off. Forefoot zone- matches the biomechanical structure of the foot, stabilizing and protecting from underfoot impacts.
  • Carbon Duo® stabilizers keep the foot on its center axis, and provide gradual midsole compression on each step.
  • 3D mesh, durable and solid mesh, placed into right points if you need wear protection and wrapping
  • 3D mesh and lining quick drying and breathable
  • Synthetic leather structure for wrapping and wear resistance
  • Grip lining with special heel counter support with slow memory pad
  • Protective liquid rubber toe cap and heel counter
  • Asymmetrical rapid lacing system (ADD philosophy)
  • Gusseted tongue
  • Ergonomic webbing system for fast fit and comfort
  • Different fits for men and women
  • Colors: Silver, Orange, Green, Red & Black
  • MSRP: $99.95

Garmont 9.81 Escape Trail Running Shoe Review

9.81 Escape Review

At first glance, these shoes look like low-top basketball shoes, but don’t be fooled by the low-profile treads and softshell upper… these are made for running on dirt and pavement, not the hardwood. Yes, styling is very different from most trail running shoes on the market, but the guts of the package comes from years of experience, so I trusted Garmont’s brains and expertise to build a functional, albeit different-looking shoe.

One thing that hung me up initially is the sizing. These things run VERY SMALL. I initially received a size 10, which fits my foot 90% of the time, but not so with the Escapes. So, I received a size 10.5, which was still a bit snug, so I exclusively wore my ultrathin Lorpen socks throughout the duration of the test.  For serious use, I’d likely go with 11 or even 11.5’s in these for a proper fit, so keep that in mind.

On the trail, the Escapes do offer surprising traction in spite of their low-profile treads on top of the single-piece rubber outsole. But, they do show their limits on steep, loose terrain or when things get wet and sloppy. You’ll want to stick to hardpack trails for the most part.

With the included Ortholite liners, my flat feet screamed for more support, so I opted for a pair of Superfeet Black insoles in their place. The extra support was welcomed and the low-profile design maintained a nice overall shoe fit, but did reduce some of the cushioning provided by the stock liners. It’s always a give and take… support or cushioning… sometimes you can have both, but oftentimes you have to choose.

The thin softshell exterior maintained a high level of breathability while always blocking the chill of early-morning wind.

Cushioning was ample for mixed trail and road pounding. However, forefoot protection is lacking on these shoes. On rocky terrain, I could feel the sharp edges of every rock in the trail. Over the course of a short 4 mile run, the balls of my feet were aching. A little more substantial footbed from Sole, Superfeet or Spenco could help take that edge off.

Stability was good overall, but I felt like the anatomical lacing pattern on the forefoot could be a tad more aggressive to better cinch that area and keep the forefoot in place on steep declines. Speaking of the laces, I loved the quickpull lace design. One pull of the laces resulted in a locked-in and even fit in the uppers.

Good 9.81 Escape

  • Lightweight design
  • Rapid lacing system cinches evenly with a single pull
  • Softshell outer fabric sheds water/wind yet still breathes
  • Unique design stands out in a sea of trail runners
  • Surprising amount of traction from these low-profile treads

Bad 9.81 Escape

  • Sizing runs 1-1.5 sizes small (10.5 was still quite small for me and I normally wear a 10)
  • Forefoot protection is lacking… don’t run on rocky trails
  • Loses traction on steep, loose, rocky or muddy terrain
  • One-piece outsole rubber doesn’t flex as naturally as split sole designs

Garmont 9.81 Escape Trail Running Shoes Review

Bottom Line: 9.81 Escape Trail Running Shoes

These are a unique entry into a crowded trail running market. They aren’t the most versatile trail runners on the market, but they do have their place and it’s on smooth, dry or tacky trails. The lack of adequate forefoot protection and minimalistic treads are the limiting factors here… the fit and materials quality is solid as is the fit provided by the single-pull anatomical rapid lacing system.

Buy Now: Visit Zappos.com to Purchase 9.81 Escapes

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.

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