You can always tell when a car review on Top Gear is going to end well, when they start with all the negative points first. Well, here goes for the new shoe from Mountain Bear- the Ground Control.
The website boldly states ‘We’re the best off-road shoe in the world’. That is quite a statement. I had to try these shoes out to see.
Out of the box, they look like the team at Mountain Bear tried to poach a designer from Salomon, but had to settle with one from Hi-Tec. They are not a ‘good looking’ shoe. Does that matter? If used correctly, they will shortly be absolutely covered in mud anyway.
Aside from the basic first impression, the shoe seemed strong and well built, offering protection in all of the right places and a very well padded heel for the ankle. The sole felt a little hard when bending the shoe, but it was hard to tell until they were on my feet and running.
Mountain Bear is a UK company who design and manufacture their own shoes right here in England. You can instantly tell that they have significant experience and have put together a shoe that would be at home on the fells as it would on the mountain. In fact, I would expect 80% of their sales to be for fell runners with the Ground Control.
Initially when I put them on they were very comfortable. Lacing them up on my drive, I could feel the lugs underneath the sole but not in a way that put me off running on a hard surface before I reached my cross country route. The laces are very thick and tough and held the shoe firmly in place- essential as this is primarily a winter shoe that would soon be buried ankle deep in thick mud.
There is a lot of room in the toe box and whilst firmly in place, my toes did not feel restricted as they have done with other shoes intended for similar terrain. The heel is incredibly well padded and after just a mile I felt like they were broken in and in their element.
I am not sure the exact drop, but I would estimate by feel at around 4mm and it certainly suited my forefoot strike and was an easy transition from my other low drop shoes.
The upper has a water resistant coating, and this helped with keeping rain out but was no match for surface water on the saturated ground. However, as quickly as the water seeped in it went back out and was not trapped in the way I have found with some Gore-Tex, fully waterproof shoes. As shoes like this are built for terrain where they will get saturated, I don’t see the water resistant upper as a selling point as it quickly becomes irrelevant.
The main thing I loved about the Ground Control was the grip from the rubber sole and thick lugs. These are angled to support forefoot grip on climbs and heel striking for downhill sections and slipped very little. The only criticism is, the same as most shoes, they do little for grip on cambered terrain during a sideways slide. I would like to see the outer lugs positioned to try and minimise this as I felt myself sliding once or twice. Regardless, whether running down a boggy hill or tarmac road or stony path, the grip was outstanding.
The other main benefit was simply how comfortable these shoes were. For a minimal thickness sole visually, they felt a lot more padded than they are. First impressions were this shoe would suit for a 10k or maybe half marathon race, but no further. Having run 50 miles in them last week (over several days) I think now that they would be good for a race up to 50 miles and will probably be my starting shoe of choice for the Winter 100 in October.
With a few tweaks I believe Mountain Bear have a template for not just a great winter shoe, but a shoe for ultramarathons that would rival anything by Salomon, Scott or Pearl Izumi. If the lugs were reduced a little, the upper refined to be porous like the Salomon Sense Ultra and the sole padded a little further I genuinely believe this would be a contender for an awesome 100 mile mountain/ summer ultra shoe.
In summary, you could go and pay nearly double for the Inov8 Mudclaw- which is a far inferior shoe in every sense, or you could buy the Ground Control and have a smile on your face from the moment you lace them up. I cannot recommend this shoe enough and buying direct from the Mountain Bear website, they are under £60. A bargain for a fantastic shoe.
Buy it here: http://www.mountainbearuk.com/shop/