The pursuit of more gear isn’t going anywhere, and until we change how much we consume, the only real difference we can make in the environment is consuming products and supporting companies that are actively trying to make recreation cleaner and more responsible.
Allbirds is one of those companies. From its humble beginnings, a simple sneaker made with plant products and natural insulation, the San Francisco-based brand grown into offering lots of different options for footwear that makes a positive impact, one step at a time.
The brand's newest offering, released today, is the Trail Runner SWT. I had a chance to test out the shoe for a week before its launch. Here are my initial thoughts and quick takeaways.
The Trail Runner SWT Is Earth-Friendly
We all know there are too many acronyms in the outdoor space to keep track of these days (some with more meaning than others), but SWT actually stands for something. The Trail Runners are made with Sugar, Wool and Tree, in an effort to use more earth-friendly materials.
The upper is made from merino wool, a standard for the brand that infuses comfort into each step. It makes for a flexible shoe, and for those craving more stability and stiffness, it may be too soft for you. The underfoot feel is still dynamic and bouncy, but the flexibility of the upper does decrease the stiffness of the shoe.
Allbirds has always manufactured its laces from recycled plastic water bottles, and the Trail Runner SWT continues that trend. Carried over from the Dasher, the Trail Runner SWT features an odor minimizing ZQ-certified merino wool lining on the interior to help with natural moisture management and thermoregulation, plus SweetFoam midsoles, which provide cushion and rebound — without the need for an underfoot plastic plate which the brand says “sacrifices comfort, flexibility and sustainability.”
This Off-Road Shoe Is Capable — and Comfortable
New technical components include the Ripstop upper made with merino wool and recycled polyester, which increases durability while maintaining comfort, and a rugged FSC-certified natural rubber outsole. The drop is 7 millimeters, and the kicks weigh in at an average of 12.36 ounces.
I wore the Trail Runner SWT on my trail runs in Southern California, where the terrain is variable and simultaneously challenging and entertaining. Gravelly, rocky, sandy and muddy conditions can be found out here, as well as natural impediments including rattlesnakes, poison oak and crowds (which of the three is worst, I’m not sure). I was struck by the ergonomic fit of the shoe from the moment I put it on — the support under the toe box and heel are wide and forgiving, which came in handy when I was scrambling up and down rocks. The foot-hugging merino wool sock liner is cozy and flexible, and antimicrobial to boot.
The tread is one of the most interesting aspects of the shoe — it’s unlike a tread I’ve ever seen on a trail running shoe before. I thought it looked like macaroni noodles, but according to Allbirds, it more closely resembles a jelly bean. (So it's basically the Rorschach Test of the outdoor world.) The tread isn’t pasta- or bean-like for the sake of pure novelty; Allbirds says that unlike harsh, sharp lugs on traditional treads, these little noodles roll through nature, instead of clawing through it.
I tested this for myself, and after climbing a soft hill, I went back to inspect my footprints. They were more of a shadow of an indentation, rather than the gauges I’m typically used to seeing after attempting to gain traction in soft soil. So there seems to be some merit to the brand's assertion.
It Might Not Be for Everyone
Allbirds says you can run in the Trail Runner SWT sans socks. I tried it, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with sensitive skin. The merino wool is soft to the touch and comfortable for a day running errands, but for a trail runner, I felt more comfortable logging miles with socks to cushion and protect my feet.
It’s worth noting that Allbirds positions its Trail Runner SWT as a unisex shoe. Unisex styling is a growing trend in the outdoor and fashion space, but when it comes to the more technical aspects of gear, this can produce some pain points. Studies show there are significant differences between the male and female foot, including length and width. I didn’t have fit issues with the Trail Runner, but women (or men) with thinner feet may need to make up for the width discrepancy with a cushioned sock (or a different shoe altogether).
While the Trail Runner SWT does not have the waterproofing tech some other trail shoes boast, the ripstop merino wool/recycled polyester upper does have ample breathability. You’ll stay cool on runs, but you’ll be less stoked in particularly wet/muddy conditions. The SWT also lacks the bounce of a trail shoe like Hoka ONE ONE's Speedgoat 4 or an energy-returning plate like The North Face's Flight Vectiv. That said, this shoe is also less expensive than those options are.
Allbirds says its newest shoe has been tested on 2,000-plus miles by trail runners and hikers, in all kinds of conditions. I didn't get that far myself, but after a week with the shoe, I can confirm that with its combination of grip, flexibility, earth-friendly materials and unique design, it's ready to go the distance — in style.
The Trail Runner SWT stands up to other mid-range picks in terms of performance, and exceeds almost every other brand in sustainability and responsible use of materials.
The Allbirds Trail Runner SWT is $138, comes in core colors natural white and natural black, as well as limited-edition Telluride and Diablo colorways, and is available now.