Jon Webb (Montrail Factory Rep) the folks at Montrail contemplated the name change. That being said I must qualify my experience with both the old and new versions of the shoe. I have run around 250 miles in a size 11 old style hardrock. These miles include the first 20 of the Laurel Highlands Ultra and various other training efforts when I knew the terrain would be very rocky. I have run 80 miles in the Hardrock 09. These runs inlcude a 2 mile "test" run on a flat smooth grass surface, a 5 mile run on the same grass surface with some pavement thrown in, a 38 mile training run in the Massanutten Mountains, and the 2009 Promise Land 50K. The run on Massanutten was completed after a few days of rain had fallen and a lot of the trail was flooded with calf deep water pools and stream like flowing water. Massanutten is notoriously rocky and this run included a trip over the notorious Short Mountain. The running surface conditions at Promise Land consisted of around 7 miles or gravel road, 4 miles of nasty down hill single track, with 2 stream crossings, many miles of grassy fireroad, and over 8000 feet of elevation gain and loss. I feel these experiences qualify me to review the Hardrock 09.
Jon Web's review does a good job of describing the shoe in general and is worth a quick read. Jon points out that the Hardrock has a medial post for stability control, something that was not apparent to me upon inspecting the shoe and reviewing its data on the Montrail web site. Lets look at a few key areas and see how this new Hardrock stacks up to the old Hardrock:
- Weight: The new hardrock has an announced weight of 11 oz for a size 9, the old had an announced weight of 15 ounces for the size 9 - you may think this is not a big difference, but I believe that a pound on the foot is equivalent to 10 pounds on the back. I could tell a significant difference here.
- Breathability: I do not have enough wet experience with the old hardrock to comment on it, but the new version is highly breathable and dries pretty quick. I am used to running in trail runners that started as street shoes and were "beefed up" for the trail. Road shoe companies have a bad habit making the upper water resistant, thus the shoes get wet quickly and never dry. This is not the case with the new Hardrock. Even with my leather and foam orthotics my feet were fairly dry shortly after running through calf deep water. There was no sloshing around shortly after exiting the water as well. At Promise Land the stream crossings were a breeze and my feet were dry very quickly.
- Flexibility: The new Hardrocks are much more flexible than the older model. They have a different flavor of rock shield than the older version and feel closer to a road trainer than before. While on the rocks I could feel the rocks more than the old version, but it was not a hindrance. I prefer the feel of the new model as the stiff older model feels too much like a boot to me. The road running at Promise Land was a breeze and at no time did I think I was in a trail shoe. They are more than adequate to cover the few road miles you may encounter in training or racing.
- Size: I had to order a 1/2 size smaller to get a similar fit to the older Hardrocks. Try them on somewhere as other people have reported the sizes are similar to the older model.
- Lacing System: The new Hardrocks have a superior lacing system to other shoes. Montrail has done away with the traditional hole design and replaced it with a loop design. This allows for the lacing to adjust easier and distribute weight more evenly across the foot. I just tied them like normal and did not have to adjust the lacing tightness at any time. The laces stayed tied for all of Promise Land (I did remove and retie them once to clean rocks out).
- Cushion: Little to no cushion is present in the new Hardrock. In my opinion this is a desirable feature for a trail shoe. I have logged a few pavement miles with no discomfort, but unlike a beefed up road shoe I would not want to wear them to run a road race. They work fine for short pavement sections you may encounter in some trail races. (See Flexabilty bullet) At Promise Land I had a little pain on the ball of my right foot, no blistering just a little discomfort. This is not unusualy for me in any trail shoe.
- Traction: The tread pattern is not as aggressive on the new model as the old. Traction was good in the mud and on the leaves. I did take a hard fall on a flat wet rock as my foot slid out from under me as I pushed off. Traction on dry rocks was great. I had no traction issues at Promise Land.
- Fit: Out of the box the new Hardrocks feel great, with no real break in required. The only issue here was a slight rub on the seam above my little toe, due to a shallow toe box. It was just a nucence and never turned into a hot spot. I believe that if I trimmed the seam a little this issue would go away. I had no such issues at Promise Land.
- Durability: The shoes held up great over the rocks of Massanutten. I noticed a little wear on the heel strike region of the shoe after a few road miles. I suspect they would not hold up for a long time on the pavement. At Promise Land the shoes held up great and after 80 miles of trails and mud the shoes look like new after a good cleaning. I see no issues with durability.
- Medial Post for stability control (if you need this)
- Great draining
- Good traction
- Lacing System
- Traction on wet rocks
- Durability on pavement
- Possible toe rub because of shallow toe box
In summary I recommend this shoe as an all mountain running shoe that should hold up for longer races and training. Do not judge it based on the older versions as it is a whole new shoe.
Legend David Horton's Comments: At the Promise Land pre-race briefing Race Director David Horton commented on the new Mountain Masochist and Hardrock shoes. He thought it was pretty cool that Montrail named a shoe after his 50 miler (Mountain Masochist). He also stated that both shoes are great and the Masochist would make a good race shoe and the Hardrock is a super stable and durable shoe.
I require a medial post as I am an over pronator. I also have been wearing a pair of custom orthotics that require a wider base shoe to work properly and not cause blisters on my arches. Both the old and new Hardrocks worked well with the orthotics. This is one of the only trail shoes that I have successfully been able wear to accommodate my stability needs and swallow orthotics. If you wear orthotics and need some stability you should take a hard look at this shoe. After Promise Land I had none of my normal foot pain I experience after running a race. This is a real plus for the Hardrock in my book and if you wear orthotics they are definitely worth consideration.
I wore the Hardrocks for the 65 miles of Massanutten I completed and they worked great. I had a few hot spots, but no blisters or other external foot issues. The only problem I had was my little toe rubbing a little on the roof of the shoe on my right foot. When I changes shoes at 40 miles to another pair of 09 Hardrocks I had no toe issues. I also logged around 10 miles on hard or dirt roads and they worked great. I highly reccomend these shoes to any long distanc trail runner.
After Massanutten I decided to not wear the custom orthodics. I feel them made my feet week in general and I would have pain after walking around bare foot or in sandals. This issue has since gone away as my feet have regained the strength they lost while using the orthodics. This being said I was left was a few pair of the 09 Hardrocks. Wearing the shoes with the factory inserts left a little too much room for my heal to wonder. I would develop hot spots while running extended periods down hill. I decided to purchase a set of the moldeable Dean Karnazes Sole inserts. The inserts work perfect with the Hardrock 09s. If you like inserts then these are the ones to use. Here is a review of the Sole Inserts on irunfar.com.