Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 6 Review
Cons: A tad heavy, not super sensitive, narrow forefoot
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Wildhorse 6 fills out the heavy and burly end of the Nike trail running shoe lineup. We think of it sort of like a Jeep, compared to a sedan (Pegasus) or sports car (Terra Kiger). It combines a lot of underfoot foam, offering both protection and springiness, with a very burly upper that protects the foot well and somehow manages to top the charts in our water drainage tests. The final piece is the aggressively lugged outsole that features lugs that manage to wrap up and around the heel on the sidewalls of the shoe, giving you a shoe that will stomp through any sort of terrain.
While the overall purpose and intent of the shoe remains the same, almost everything else about this shoe is different. The old waffle patterned outsole is replaced with larger lugs that are spaced further apart. In the midsole, the old Phylon foam combined with air pockets has been ditched in favor of a React foam combined with a segmented rock plate in the forefoot. The fit of the upper is quite different as well, with a bit of a narrow forefoot, but much more space vertically through the forefoot and midfoot. The tongue is no longer padded, and is instead now a thin strip with tiny lace pads. Most noticeable is the collar around the ankle that effectively keeps out dirt. Taken as a whole, we think the new version is a massive upgrade over the last one.
Foot protection is without doubt the strength of this shoe. Underfoot you will find a thick layer of Nike's React foam, which we think feels a little bit stiffer than the EVA foam found in Hokas, but which also lends a bit of springiness to the stride. There is an 8mm heel-toe drop, so heel strikers have that extra counter of foam to ensure that they can land with impunity. While there is a segmented rock plate in the forefoot, designed to offer some protection while still being flexible, we admit that we found it hard to notice. Regardless, the effect of the thick foam underfoot is that these shoes make a great choice for pounding down long steep descents without worrying where you land.
The upper is made of breathable mesh in the front and thick ripstop in the whole back half of the shoe. Overlaying much of the mesh is thin film that protects the most high wear spots. It also has a fabric collar around the heel and ankle opening, designed to help keep out debris. We've tested other shoes that attempted a similar design, and have found that this one works better than all others. We were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked this feature.
We think the new tread design on this shoe is a significant improvement from the previous version. It now uses a combination of high wear rubber in the heel, with a slightly softer and stickier version in the front. Spaced throughout the sole are cleat shaped lugs that vary in size depending on their location, with sharp edges for added bite, that do an effective job of preventing the buildup of mud. The lugs are roughly 5mm deep, and have a tangible flat surface on top, for added friction on hard surfaces. While there are many reports online of Nike's rubber not sticking well on wet surfaces, we tested these shoes during months of low precipitation in desert and mountain climates, and so can't report well on their grip on wet rocks. What we can say is that they bite well on soft mud, snow, and grass, and for us perform every bit as well as most of the top contenders.
This shoe has an 8mm heel toe drop, and a fair amount of foam underfoot, distancing your foot from the ground that it is landing on. Perhaps it's no surprise that we don't find it to be the most stable shoe out there, and in particular the high heel has us worried about rolling ankles. Overall the landing platform is not the widest, and the edges of the heel are even rounded off, worrying us a bit. The good news is that we found the fit to be snug and excellent at keeping our feet securely positioned in place, with no sloppy slippage while running downhill or across angled slopes.
This is a comfortable shoe if you have narrow feet, and even works pretty well for average width feet. We find the length to be spot on size wise, but wish that the forefoot was a bit wider. Our average width feet required some loosening of the front few rows of laces to allow for a little more relaxed fit up front, otherwise we felt the upper squeezing us after 30 minutes or so.
A big issue we had with the Wildhorse 5 was the low volume fit on top of the feet, where the padded tongue and tight design had our feet bursting out of the tops of the shoe, and feeling squished by the laces running over them. That effect is now completely gone, with the vertical volume feeling spot on. We experienced no discomfort from the laces running over the tops of our feet, even with a very thin and minimally padded tongue.
With so much material in the upper, we were surprised to find that these shoes crushed our water bucket test, where they were easily the top scorers when it came to water retention. If you are like us, and love to stomp through the creeks and streams without breaking stride, these shoes will suit you well.
Our size 11 shoes weighed 23.9 ounces. This is an increase of roughly 0.8 ounces per shoe, and they are now one of the heavier designs in our review. The math is backed up on the trail, where they feel a bit heavy and noticeable, and so won't be the first choice for those who only appreciate the most nimble shoes.
You shouldn't expect to feel a lot of trail beneath your feet while running in these shoes. In fact, we recommend you simply stomp on whatever happens to fall beneath your feet, cause that's where these shoes will shine. That said, they still allow for a bit more trail feel than the even thicker Hokas. The they tip the scale way more in favor of underfoot protection.
The price of these shoes has crept upwards slightly in the last few versions and fall in the middle of the spectrum — roughly average — for trail shoes today. Since they are protective and durable, and perform fairly high in our overall rankings, we think they present a solid value.
The Nike Wildhorse 6 has been completely redesigned, but retain their same basic character. These shoes are a fantastic choice for those who value foot protection above all else, and like to run on rugged trails without having to worry about damaging their feet. They are comfortable, secure, and drain water really well, and now have an outsole that will keep you gripping the ground, even off trail.
— Andy Wellman