Article by Sam Winebaum
Karhu Ikoni Trail ($155, $160 water resistant)
The Ikoni Trail is a new max cushioned heavy duty trail runner from iconic brand Karhu of Finland which was founded in 1916.
Karhu’s history in running and track and field goes way back.. All the way to the 1920 and 1924 Olympics where they were on the feet of the javelin gold medalist and most notably the “Flying Finns” including Pavel Nurmi who won 5 gold medals and eventually a total of nine. Heck they even came up with what is now adidas 3 Stripes logo which they sold to little known adidas in 1952 after those Olympics where Karhu shod athletes won 15 gold medals including those of Emil Zapotek… for the equivalent of 1600 euros. (Source: Karhu)
Roll forward many decades and Karhu is still at it! For quite a while their key technology has been their Fulcrum system and that is after they came up with the first patented air cushion in 1970 and more recently fits based on millions of foot scans by retail partners.
I reviewed the Ikoni Ortix way back in 2018. It was a fine and lively road shoe but nothing since from Karhu.
When Karhu proposed the Ikoni Trail and I was immediately intrigued. Max cushioned at 37mm heel (measured) / 32mm forefoot (spec 5mm drop) it features the Fulcrum to stabilize and roll you forward at transition and especially noted a highly pronounced toe spring (curve up) created by the lower denser midsole foam wrapping up at the toe and also acting as a very stout toe bumper. At first glance the geometry promised smooth propulsion for this big shoe running and also walking .
The upper was striking as well with a very solidly reinforced rear transitioning to soft pliable mesh at midfoot held by a gusset tongue and internal overlays and finally most interestingly a very soft toe box area with a highly asymmetric lacing system.
The massive outsole with 5mm lugs promised great grip but also contributes to the shoe’s weight of 11.61 oz / 328 g (US8.5/EU42) in my US 8.5. Alot for a modern “trail runner”. What was it? A “near hiker”, a tech trails monster, a mellow highly cushioned cruiser, even ultra shoe? While one run to a great extent I think it is all of these.
Superb upper combining plenty of rear hold with an easy fitting yet secure front comfort
Combination of ascending Fulcrum plastic shank and big toe spring is effective to roll this big shoe through the stride on flats and uphills
Combination of softer rebounding top foam and lower firmer foam delivers a well cushioned yet very stable ride.
Smooth flowing and flexible, despite stack and weight
Plenty of inherent rock protection
Should make an excellent walking, hiking, and fast packing option
Weight..at the upper limits of practical for daily trail runs
5mm lug outsole is overdone, adds to weight and makes the firm ground ride firmer than it could be at the heel on hard surfaces.
Sample: men’s 11.61 oz / 328 g (US8.5/EU42)
Full Stack Height: men’s 37 mm heel (measured) / 32 mm forefoot, 5 mm spec drop
Available now at our partners Fleet Feet HERE as well as Karhu. $155
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Sam: What a fine trail shoe upper and an unusual one. Created using over 3 million runner foot scans and it shows in its generous yet very secure fit. It is clear Karhu took that data and created an upper that accommodates a variety of foot shapes while remaining trail secure and very comfortable.
As in any trail shoe a key element to get right is the rear and midfoot hold. Here one can think of the fit as a progression from extremely secure heel hold from the very rigid but quite low heel counter moving to the mid foot’s light and pliable mesh including three elements of support.
We have a thin but lightly padded wrap around tongue with full stretch gusset with Karhu logo “M” underlays on both sides peaking through to the outer upper.
Upfront one of the softest and most accommodating toe boxes I can recall in a trail shoe and one of very decent effective width given the very soft thin and pliable mesh.
Clearly on its own this mesh would be inadequate in hold for a trail shoe and maybe even for a road shoe but Karhu does two very neat things to give the room and comfort yet secure the front.
The wrap up toe bumper made of the lower midsole material is vertical (no over the toe pressures) and very, very stout. The toe bumper also creates the toe spring and so far not only is effective in propulsion but due to the geometry I have also not noticed it bothering my dodgy big toenails although my runs have not been on the steeps as of yet.
Also key the asymmetrical final “belay” lacing” which draws the foot towards medial toe off and keeps the toe box’s soft super pliable mesh and all from feeling in any way sloppy.
I do worry a bit about side flex point mesh durability over time but we’ll see.
The fit is true to size and should accomodate up to wider feet due to the soft unstructured mesh up front. Narrower feet should be fine as well due to the belay lacing’s adaptablity but very narrow feet may find a bit less front security on more technical terrain. Everyone should be pleased with the midfoot and heel hold.
The water resistant version features a inner water resistant membrane bootie whose brand is not specified for a mere $5 more than this version which should make the Ikoni WR a warmer winter snows and sloppy conditions option as the regular upper is very breathable.
The midsole is Karhu’s Aero Foam Trail compound in a dual density with the top layer softer and more rebounding than the lower firmer, stabilizing and rock protecting dark blue layer.
The lower layer not only is cushion and protection but serves to stabilize with a short rising piece at the medial rear and a longer raised piece on the medial side as shown below.
In terms trail stability the lkoni is very stable and despite its high 37/ 32 stack and relatively narrow platform while on smoother hard surfaces in combination with the Fulcrum and a relatively narrow platform delivers directed almost arrow-like guidance to the front toe spring toe off.
The lower layer also serves a key role upfront creating the toe spring and very stout toe bumper which not only for sure protects toes but also gives the pliable roomy upper very good front structure.
The toe spring effect, in combination with the plastic “ascending” Fulcrum piece and the flexibility point just as the front bumper ends ahead of midfoot, gives the Ikoni a very distinct easy flow forward and toe off and at any pace for such a big shoe. It reminds me of Saucony’s SpeedRoll. Often big trail shoes are lumbering and hard to move along to toe off but not so here .
The cushioning is for sure forgiving at the first layer with some bounce although it is somewhat muted by the firmer foam below and the big outsole. Also notable the lasting board is a beaded expanded foam.
While plentifully and forgivingly cushioned from the midsole, and this is felt, all the rear rubber thickness at the heel gives a quite firm landing feel on pavement and hard surfaces but not on nearly as much so on trail. I wish for a little bit of tuning there.
Upfront everything is just about right with that smooth flow forward, plenty of cushion and protection and that smooth roll forward to toe off with deep cross shoe grooves in the midsole and with a final toe off impulse from the clearly felt toe spring
The outsole has 5mm multi directional lugs. There is an area at midfoot with lugs of exposed lower layer firmer foam. To pressing, the lugs are very firm but fortunately except somewhat at the heel the outsole, as it is podular and flexible, does not deliver an overly harsh on firmer surfaces but there is no mistaking it is a trail shoe in at the road feel.
The forefoot has 3 very deep narrow grooves into the midsole which clearly help give the ikoni good flexibility.for such a big shoe. They play well with the more rigid front bumper. Without them I bet the shoe would be very stiff.
My running was on mostly dry surfaces but did include leaves, rocks and some roots and everywhere grip was excellent. I will update the review after finding wetter terrain, rock and mud.
I do think while confidence inspiring in look, and so far capabilities lower profile lugs would improve the versatility towards smoother trails and lower the shoe’s weight and I doubt would impact grip.
Ride, Conclusions, and Recommendations
For sure Ikoni is not a light riding shoe given its weight, big stack height and big rubber but it is a confident smooth riding one. Very stable and secure, the Ikoni, given its Fulcrum “kicker” and toe spring, transitions more easily than most other big shoes I have tested and does not linger even at slow paces. It climbs very well and is easy to toe off on the flats. All unusual characteristics for such a big shoe with massive rubber coverage.
As I ran mostly smoother forest trails and some pavement, I could not help but think it should also be a solid hiking and fast packing choice and no question a great walking choice.
The rear hold is boot like in security without being overly high, the midfoot secure, the platform very stable and the toe box has plenty of splay room and for sure is comfortable. And it is also available in a water resistant version
I do wish it was lighter, at least an ounce (28g) lighter, as the weight is felt so for sure it will not be a fast day trail shoe but for a stable and secure, smooth flowing big shoe, a hard thing to pull off, it is excellent. Lighter it might be a top contender in the ultra space. At $155 (and $160) in the water resistant version, value is strong.
Comparisons in Brief
Hoka Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)
For sure lighter considerably lighter, almost 2 oz lighter with a narrower fitting upper and less effective toe off geometry, the Speedgoat still rules due to weight on technical terrain. If the pace is slow and the days long or multi day I would pick the Ikoni over the Speedgoat for its fit and easier to roll geometry.
Inov 8 Trailfly G300 (RTR Review)
Another massive shoe weighing about the same as the Karhu, it also sits between runner and hiker for me. The Trailfly has a somewhat softer heel feel and conforms to terrain a bit more effectively due to its rear hinge and softer outsole and its design but has a more laborious toe off. More testing to come to see how the Karhu rubber measures up to the excellent graphene infused outsole of the Inov-8.
Saucony Xodus 10/11 (RTR Review)
Saucony’s big shoe saw considerable changes including far lighter weight for its 2022 version, the Xodus Ultra so the comparison is to the older 10/11. The Xodus has a liviler softer ride due to its more energetic foam and is more versatile despite actually weighing slightly more . It can go anywhere technical the Ikoni can but has a better smooth firm terrain and even pavement ride.
The review will be updated after more testing and we also hope to have a multi tester review soon.
The Ikoni Trail is available at our partner Fleet Feet HERE and also direct from Karhu
Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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