KEEN is known for a lot of things: exceptional support, bullet proof toe guards, good wide lasts, solid traction, and great customer service. However, they have never been known for anything minimalistic.
Well, like a lot of other forward thinking companies, KEEN is wanting to put their best foot forward (yuk-yuk-yuk) towards minimalism. Enter the A86 TR.
(As an aside – I think it’s important to mention that nowhere, at no point that I can find, does KEEN ever specifically market this shoe as a “minimalist” shoe. They do not explicitly brand it “barefoot”, they simply market it as a “light and fast trail running shoe”. To that end, it is amazing! And, therefore, anything that fits perfectly into minimalism on this shoe is truly just a bonus!)
KEEN introduced their A86 TR to resounding applause from trail runners everywhere and recently they were kind enough to pass on a pair to me to review for you guys.
The A86 marks KEENs first shoe in the ‘minimalist’ category. They did a lot of things right.
KEEN, I believe, made a wise decision in sticking to their market and going after trail runners and not road racers. As you know, trail runners have been asking many companies to come out with a ‘middle ground’ shoe as they desperately wanted the lightweight shoe and to push towards minimalism, but still wanted a little more support and a little less ground feel for technical trails (you might say they wanted to a shoe that would be as minimalist as comfortable instead of as minimalist as possible).
The A86 TR fills this spot quite well.
· The A86 is a light shoe (weighing in at about 9oz) – much lighter than traditional shod shoes.
· It has an excellent glove like fit, especially considering the design of the shoe
· KEEN has created an amazingly breathable shoe in the A86 – the textile mesh provides excellent air flow both in and out of the shoe
· Perhaps the best part of the shoe is the sole. The “3mm multi directional lugs” are amazing. The traction (on trails, in mud, on rocks) is second to none! I felt more sure-footed in these than any pair of hiking boots I’ve worn – truly an excellent design
· The sole is very flexible!
· Ground feel is close to zero, but that’s not a fault, it’s by design. The sole itself is quite thin and it doesn’t have excessive padding and sports no extra hyped up support or protection.
· The stack height, even for a racing flat, is quite low (9mm under the toes and 15mm under the heels).
· I have heard some people complain about the lace design - I, personally, really like the aesthetics of the “cool” lacing design, but also appreciate the functionality of being able to choose the level of “snugness”
· Another + for this shoe is the fit. I like that it has a narrow “snug” heel and then it widens as it goes forward. The toe box is wide (all the way out to the end of the toes-not just where the toes join the foot) and allow for fairly good toe splay, though not quite as wide as some of KEEN’s other shoes.
So, on the conclusion end:
I really appreciate what KEEN has done with this shoe and I think it fits a large (and growing) segment of the market – those wishing to transition into minimalism. I didn’t mind the traditional ‘shod’ look of the shoe, I didn’t mind the cushioning/stack height (as it was perfectly done to provide just enough to minimize ground feel on technical trails and still provided excellent flexibility and natural foot flex), and it met all of my other minimalist shoe requirements except for one thing. The heel to toe drop. As most of you know, that is my single biggest sticking point on any shoe. The 6mm drop is ½ the drop of a traditional shoe and will be a great improvement for a lot of people, and also, therefore, makes this shoe an excellent transition shoe. However, for me, the 6mm heel-to-toe drop was just too much for my knees, my form, and my taste (as someone who runs, walks, hikes, hangs out, and works in Nothing but zero drop shoes – 100% of the time).
What I see is a fantastic technical trail shoe, one of (if not) the best 1st round minimalist shoes by any major shoe company, and I am hopeful for more (zero-drop) minimalist shoes from KEEN!