Shoe Classification: Natural Trainer
Weight: 11.8 ounces (size 11.5 us)
Price: $114 at Zappos.com
GoLite is a company best-known for manufacturing hiking and other outdoor gear. I was immediately intrigued when I learned they were producing a series of shoes that utilized a zero-drop heel-to-toe differential (the difference in height between the thickness of the sole at the heel versus the front or forefoot area). A zero-drop sole is a fundamental basic requirement of a shoe that allows runners to run with a natural gait.
GoLite is in the process of developing an entire line of shoes that will appeal to minimalist shoe runners. The most promising shoe in the line appears to be the Tara Lite, a shoe that promises to have many of the essential qualities that constitute a good minimal shoe. The Tara Lite, as of the time of this writing, has not been released.
I contacted GoLite to inquire about the Tara Lite. They shared some information which I will relay in a future post. While waiting for the Tara Lite to be released, GoLite sent me a pair of Amp Lites to test and review. I was somewhat hesitant as the shoe is not marketed as a minimalist shoe. It is essentially a modern trainer with a zero-drop heel. Since my preference is to run barefoot, shoes are merely tools that provide some degree of protection. Generally speaking, the more substantial the shoe, the less I enjoy it. This looked like a very substantial shoe.
When the package arrived, my prediction was accurate. This was a substantial shoe. From the outside, it looked like a typical running shoe you may find at the local Foot Locker. The colors were neutral and design was simple and unassuming. The tread was slightly aggressive for road running, but the shoe is marketed as a trail shoe.
The insoles are an interesting feature. Not only do they offer some padding, but they are divided into a forward and rear section. The shoe can be configured in a variety of ways to match the width of your foot. This was a helpful feature… if you like insoles. Per my custom, I removed the insole before testing.
I was eager to test the shoe, so I slipped them on and laced up. Once my feet were secured, I immediately noticed two things. First, there was a soft ridge intersecting the sole at the arch. It definitely was not arch support as it traversed the entire foot bed. As a test, I put the insoles back in. I could not feel this soft ridge. I am assuming the ridge is designed to keep the sectionalized insole in place. Since I did not like the cushioned feeling of the insole, I removed it again.
The other element I immediately noticed was the heel drop. The sole is definitely flat. Waring such a substantial shoe with a zero drop heel is interesting… it is as if your brain cannot comprehend a full-size trainer without a raised heel. GoLite hit a home run in their decision to completely eliminate any heel. I give the designers credit for this ballsy move… far too many companies are compromising by offering a slightly raised heel which ruins many potentially great shoes.
My initial “walk around the house” test revealed about what I would expect. The shoe did not offer any sort of ground feel or proprioception and it felt heavy. Since I had a busy day planned, my running test would have to wait.
After about a week, I was finally able to take the Amp Lites for a run. I was expecting a disaster. I expected the heavy weight and lack of ground feel to completely disrupt my normal running gait. I was expecting the arch ridge to irritate my foot. After only about 100 yards, I was pleasantly surprised.
The shoe did not feel as heavy while running as it did walking around the house. It was still heavy compared to the bare-bones minimalist shoes I prefer. After a few miles, my legs were definitely fatigued from the unfamiliar weight of the heavier shoe. Still, the shoe felt lighter than all of the motion control or stability trainers I’ve tried over the years.
The arch ridge that was left after removing the insoles was a non-issue. I could feel it initially, but soon adapted to the feeling. Since the ridge completely compressed, it did not affect my gait or cause any noticeable pains. I suspect most runners choosing this shoe would leave the insoles in, which would make the ridge a non-issue.
The zero-drop heel worked like a charm. I was able to maintain my normal gait at a variety of speeds, uphill, and down. The zero-drop heel was enhanced by the relative hardness of the sole. Other shoes in the same category (i.e. Newtons) have a notorious “squishiness” that feels awkward. The feel of the Amp Lite sole is roughly analogous to running in tire-soled huaraches. There was no ground feel, rather it felt like you had a continuous hard, smooth surface under your feet. For a barefoot/minimalist runner, this is a HUGE benefit. The density of the sole and the resulting function vault this shoe to the front of the class.
One area of potential improvement is the width of the toe box. Like most shoes produced today, the Amp Lite has a narrow toe box that does not allow the toes to splay. For me, this limits the shoe’s effectiveness as an option for long runs. Without the toe splaying action, the “running reflex” which triggers the sequence of muscular contractions necessary for proper form is limited. This results in premature fatigue, which artificially limits long run potential.
The upper, while well-constructed, could be more breathable. I did wear the shoe for a longer run of about 8-10 miles. During the run, my feet became very warm. The sweat generated kept the shoes very damp.
Even though the Amp Lite is in a class of shoe I do not use, I was generally impressed. This shoe is a functional success. I would not recommend this shoe to barefoot or minimalist shoe runners, as this is not the demographic the shoe is designed for. The shoe would be ideal for a runner progressing to a natural running style, but has no interest in abandoning the protection of a traditional trainer.
For me, the real joy of this review is whetting my appetite for the Tara Lite. This shoe is designed to be a true minimalist shoe. After seeing the successful design features of the Amp Lite, I am convinced GoLite is on the right track. It is becoming obvious some shoe manufacturers are listening to the pleas of the barefoot crowd, and GoLite is definitely on this short list.