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Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 and M2 Women’s Shoe Review

olgak_articlesIt is almost too late to share my opinion on Pearl Izumi shoes I had received almost a year and half ago, but since I do have an opinion, and they are still the under-dog where trail running shoes companies are concerned, I decided it is worth it.


Sometime in the Spring of 2013 I was fortunate to receive two pairs of the Pearl Izumi Project E: Motion series trail shoes – the N1 and M2. I had a great experience with a couple of pairs of PI road shoes and had good friends on the PI running team swearing by the shoes. And so the slow and long testing began.


From the first try, both shoes seemed a touch on the bulky side. I was used to (not quite minimalistic but) more of a low-to-ground and very flexible shoes (La Sportiva Crosslights and Helios). Despite that initial feel, they also simultaneioulsy felt light and easy to bend. Maybe there IS something to it.

Project E-Motion

The idea behind the design of the shoes in this project was to create the shoes which had the ever-changing difference between heel and forefoot (a.k.a. the heel drop) depending on the point of the motion (striking the ground, landing midsole, rolling side-to-side, and pushing off). Note, it does advertise the heel drop as a range from 4 to 7.5mm.


Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1

The lighter of the two pairs, it weighs in at 8.9oz (women’s size 8). “N” stands for neutral stride. The Upper appears to be made from one piece with no seams anywhere and is a very breathable mesh. Not only can you run in hot weather and not be overwhelmed as your foot’s temperature rises, this very mesh also easily drains water as you cross creeks (or are simply caught in the heavy rain). The tongue, even though is padded, didn’t hold much water either but provided enough softness if you like your laces firmly pressed and tight. The toebox is pretty roomy – one of the best features I am always looking for. For this reason, one can buy these shoes true to size without the need to get a bigger one to make sure your feet fit – whether because your feet are wider or because they swell up on the run.



The midsole of the N1 is an Energy foam. I used these shoes for up to 22 miles on both trails (either soft dirt or rocky Texas ones) and roads. There was enough cushioning no matter how hard-packed the ground is. I never felt the pounding yet at the same time the flexibility of the sole was superb when the need comes to step on the rock/stump/etc. If you simply try and twist the shoe while holding it in your hands it wouldn’t give an impression of being so bendy, but this could be because the shoe itself is rather wide in its build.



Which brings us to the outsole. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of huge lugs of some trails shoes, however, it did hold well on slippery slopes, steep downhills and some rocky technical terrain. Maybe it is due to the rubber they used but the verdict is – good stuff and non-obtrusive.


Pearl Izumi EM Trail M2

The pair with an “M” stands for midfoot stability. The numbers (either ‘1’ or ‘2’) describe the amount of cushioning in the shoe. So M2 is not only the shoe that stabilizes side-to-side motion of the foot during the run, it also provides a greater “pillow” feel on the run which makes it a shoe of choice for either a whole 50-100 mile run for a runner who does not weight 120 pounds, or for a lot of us who get tired in those 100 milers and tend to be more “sloppy” with the foot control. And since the whole line of E-Motion is using a similar last, the foot should not feel the difference of the switch.



But let’s get back to the M2 shoe description.

The upper is just as in its sister pair described above:

  • breathable
  • seamless
  • durable
  • with toe protection that is not overly huge

The tongue is wide and sits deep and does not move which is a nice feature. The toebox is wide, maybe even wider than the N1 but it does not feel like you can swim in it with your toes. Yet you can totally move up and down and around and have room to swell.


The midsole does have rock protection which is enough to not feel sharp objects, but also has some “ease and go” over obstacles. I believe from what I read, there is a different thickness of foam used in the midsole which provides the benefit of motion control: less dense in the forefoot and the heel.


The outsole has a similar low drop as the N1 and grips well to most trail conditions.

Both shoes N1 and M2 have a heel that is cupped in and holds well. The ankle has some padding added to it, but not too much. I also have to say that I absolutely loved the lacing system – these new laces are twisted in a way that you never have to double-knot. No matter how long you run and how wet or dry the run is, nothing gets untied. Best thing!


My Verdict

Great shoes. Very well thought out.

  • Awesome for a long haul yet reasonably light.
  • Durable and flexible.
  • Enough cushioning but still gives a low ride.
  • Wide toebox.
  • Great lacing system.

I am taking the M2 for a 93 miles Wonderland trail backpacking trip around Mt. Rainier and N1 for Grindstone 100M race in Virginia (and my husband Larry is a complete convert to M2 for everything and anything trail throws at him, on his 3rd pair now).

– Olga King

Talk PI

  • What are your thoughts on the EM series from Pearl Izumi?
  • Is there are particular model you really like for different terrain? (Rocky, well groomed, wet, sandy, etc)

If you are interested in the Pearl Izumi EM series, you can purchase them at Running Warehouse (Shoes, Packs, Clothes, Lights, and more…plus 2-day free shipping!).

[The Pearl Izumi tread was provided by Pearl Izumi. The honest review was completely our own. The Running Warehouse link is an affiliate link which provide a small commission to us (at no cost to you).]

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

2 Responses to “Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1 and M2 Women’s Shoe Review”

  1. on 30 Sep 2014 at 10:45 am Jonathan

    I love my PI road and trail N2’s. I switched from the Cascadias because they didn’t grip enough for me and my feet would be sore for a bit after a race. The souls on my trail versions just grip better, especially over wet and rocky surfaces. I, too, love the laces on the trail version, but the laces on the road versions come undone if I do not double-tie. They are put together very well and worth the price. The toeboxes are roomy and not ramped like a lot of shoes and leave my feet feeling great after an ultra. Been in my PI’s for a year and haven’t been happier.

  2. on 01 Oct 2014 at 9:04 am David Hanenburg

    Great insight Jonathan! Dig the added grip experience. I am going to give a pair of the PI trail shoes a try for Cactus 50.

    Thanks for sharing!

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