REVIEW: The Higher State Soil Shaker 2 Trail Running Shoes
Written By: Josh Westwood
Perfect for fell and mountain running, the Higher State Soil Shaker 2 has an 8mm drop, rugged outsole and ripstop upper that will have you tearing through the mud with ease, whilst offering maximum cushioning and ventilation. Lighter and more robust than its predecessor, the Soil Shaker 2 will have you running with efficiency and agility.
|Length||True to size|
|RATINGS (out of 5)|
|Value for money||5/5|
As runners, we are used to being confronted with technical jargon whenever it comes to buying a new pair of shoes. The top brands all have their own technology, the names of which can be seen flashed across the upper or printed on the outsole. But what if you are looking for a simple, affordable trail shoe that ticks the right boxes and doesn't blind you with tech-talk? The Higher State Soil Shaker 2 aims to provide just that.
Image courtesy of David Miller
I am often asked to provide a recommendation for a good shoe suitable for muddy terrain by runners who are just starting out. Since I use them all the time, I don't have a problem paying good money for shoes from some of the more well-known manufacturers, but to recommend a £100+ shoe to a novice runner always feels a bit ridiculous. What if they decide that the trails aren't for them? I was very keen to test the Soil Shaker 2 out to see how they fare. Currently selling on SportShoes.com for £39.99 (November 2021), that's two thirds (three quarters in some cases) cheaper than many top brand shoes, but are they two thirds worse than those top shoes, or do they simply represent incredible value for money?
This second incarnation of SportShoes' own brand trail shoe is available in a variety of eye-catching colours. I opted for Blue & Yellow as I've got a bit of a thing for bright running shoes, and they fit nicely into the colour scheme of my beloved Leeds United! However, there are less bright colourways available too if that's more your thing. The Soil Shaker 2 is designed for fell and mountain running, and they certainly look the part. My first impression is that they look quite 'plush' for a fell running shoe- there is noticeably more padding along the inner sides than you would normally find in a shoe aimed at this particular market. Excess padding and material tends to hold water, and this is something that most manufacturers try hard to avoid. It does look comfortable though! With new shoes I like to try the 'flex test'- seeing if I can fold the shoe in half so that the toebox touches the heel. A nice flexible shoe should be able to do this easily and shows that the shoe will not hinder the natural movement of your foot when going through its motion. The Soil Shaker 2 passed this test with flying colours! In terms of weight, my pair of UK 9.5 shoes come in at around 320g, comparable to similar models on the market.
Slipping on the shoe, the first thing I noticed was that the toebox is quite narrow. This is not necessarily a bad thing since a narrow toebox helps a shoe to feel precise when running on steep, rough terrain. After all, that is what this shoe is supposedly designed for. However, fans of a wide toebox may feel a little restricted here. The rest of the shoe feels snug and comfortable on the foot, and I was happy to see that a heel-lock system has been included in the design of this shoe as it's a feature I often use. I think a slightly longer lace might be useful here though, as you're not left with much spare after the heel-lock system has been used. Double-knotters like myself would benefit from a little extra. Support-wise, the shoe has a very neutral feel and provides no arch support which is quite common in this type of shoe. The insoles can be easily removed and replaced with supportive ones if you require.
The Soil Shaker 2 features an aggressive 8mm outsole tread, ripstop upper, gusseted tongue and reinforced toebox to protect against trail debris. All are pretty essential features on a fell shoe and ones that we would certainly expect to see from the more expensive end of the market. I was impressed to see a gusseted tongue on a shoe of this price point though- they're extremely useful for keeping debris out. The drop of 8mm is perfectly acceptable on this type of shoe. For those who are new to running shoes, the 'drop' of a shoe is the difference between the amount of cushioning at the rear and the front of the shoe. The less drop, the more 'planted' your foot will feel. A lower drop is generally favoured on fell shoes, along with a low amount of cushioning (or 'stack') in the midsole- something the Soil Shaker 2 also features. Low drop and stack combined bring you closer to the trail, maximise control and help to prevent rolled ankles!
Image courtesy of David Miller
So far, I've managed to rack up around 40-miles in the Soil Shakers on a wide variety of different trails and surfaces. On the whole I have to say I'm extremely impressed with what this £40 shoe can handle. I've tried to be extremely careful to judge the shoe for what it is and not keep comparing it to the top end offerings from other companies. SportShoes have not tried to position this shoe at that end of the market and neither should I. On wet, muddy trails the Soil Shakers provide plenty of grip from the aggressive outsole. My local Yorkshire Dales routes are always a good test of whether a shoe can handle the boggy stuff and I feel very confident using these shoes on this terrain. I even wore them for an extremely boggy trail race over in Lancashire and was very surprised by how confident I felt in them, in fact I pretty much forgot that I was wearing them at one point. However, I'm afraid wet rock is no friend of the Soil Shaker 2, and I found myself having to tread lightly here to avoid a slide. There is also not a great deal of cushioning or bounce to the midsole which makes running on tarmac and very firm paths not the most comfortable experience. Not surprising really- they're called Soil Shakers not Tarmac Tremblers! Nevertheless, this level of comfort on hard surfaces is similar to much more expensive shoes designed for the same purpose so I can't really grumble.
A big test of a shoe for me is how they hold up over a lifetime of being bashed around the muddy trails, soaked, dried-out, soaked again, left near the stove to dry, scrubbed with a brush and a variety of other real-world trials that they may face. With only 40-miles on the clock it's early days for my Soil Shakers, but the early signs are good. The ripstop uppers are spotless despite being well scrubbed and the outsoles show next to no sign of wear. The only warning signs are cracking appearing on the toebox coating where it meets the sole but, on further inspection, this looks like just the coating and not the upper material itself. My fears about water retention were confirmed during cleaning- the problem being confined mainly to the padded inner sections and the removable insoles. Not the end of the world though, and I can't say this was particularly noticeable during testing. I'll continue to bash them around and provide an update a little further down the line!
In summary, the Soil Shaker is fantastic value at this price point. I would happily recommend it not only to novice trail/fell runners, but also to those with more experience who are looking for an affordable winter training shoe. The little niggles I have with these shoes such as their grip on wet rock and their water retention are quite picky given the nature of what is being offered. If you want a great looking, comfortable shoe that is more than capable of taking on the boggy trails but don't fancy having to shell out a small fortune, I can confidently recommend the Soil Shaker 2. So in answer to my earlier question- is the Soil Shaker 2 two thirds/three quarters worse than the top shoes as their price might suggest? Absolutely not! Sure, if you want stickier grip on wet rock, and a slightly better all-round fit and lighter weight then go for something a bit less wallet-friendly, but at £40 the Soil Shaker 2 represents incredible value for money.
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