GoLite Sun Dragon Shoes
Test Series by Raymond Estrella
October 02, 2007
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Huntington Beach California USA
6' 3" (1.91 m)
200 lb (90.70 kg)
I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, and in many of the western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I have made a move to lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or fiancée Jenn.
Web site: www.golite.com
Product: Sun Dragon trail-running shoes
Year manufactured: 2007
Size: men's 10/10.5 US
Weight listed: 10.9 oz (309 g) Actual weight 13.4 oz (380 g)
The Golite Sun Dragon (hereafter called Sun Dragon or the shoe) is a light weight "high altitude racer" according to the manufacturer. The body of the shoe consists of a "NEOform seamless upper". The upper is covered by reinforced mesh and is very breathable. An exo-skeleton or framework of either very dense foam, or aerated plastic goes around the upper. It is squishy to the touch. It is not hard, but is quite flexible.
A blue and black knurled rubber-like protective rand goes around the toe. The same material wraps around the heel too.
The mesh covered tongue is padded and attached to the body with side gussets to keep debris out of the shoe. The ankles are padded too. At the back of the heel is a pull loop large enough to actually get my finger into.
The sole is very interesting. They call it an "asymmetrical vertical motion outsole" with "metamorphic suspension" that is supposed to "improve the body's stability above the ankle". The web site has a lot more information and claims but I will not go into it here. The sole has 9 lugs, or "claws" that stick out ¾ of an inch (19 mm). (Two more are part of the heel and toe sections) They have a hard surface for durability but are a soft material inside. They flex quite easily. The heel is the same way. It has a split in it running at an angle. It allows the heel to flex laterally when I squeeze it from the sides. The darker gray material between the footbed and the sole is very soft. The grooves seen in the pictures flex upon impact. They even flex with hand pressure
The blue material seen in the picture of the sole is a very hard plastic-type material. The company says that this is opposite the standard sole construction of hard material on a soft mid sole. Looking at the trail-runners from another company that I am wearing as I write this they are correct. Here is a picture of the soles.
The removable insoles are washable and, in another departure from what I am accustomed to, are "customizable". GoLite calls it the "PreciseFit system". Each insole has a spot of Velcro-type hook on the bottom at the toe. Four add-on front sections of insole (two for each foot) have the loop in the corresponding place and a tab that inserts into the main insole prior to pressing the hook and loop together. The main insole is marked with an icon for "wide" feet. One pair of the add-on pieces has an "M" for medium feet and the other thicker pair has an "N" for narrow. I have inserted the medium set. Here is a picture of them all with the insides and outsides showing.
The laces are made of Spectra-type cord. They run through eleven nylon loops and two eyes at the top.
The company calls these shoes "high altitude racers". While I do not race, I spend a lot of time at high altitude, as the following Field Report will attest.
I have worn the Sun Dragons on the following fastpacks or extreme day-hikes;
A 26-mile (42 km) climb of San Gorgonio that gained over 5000' (1524 m) of elevation. The temperatures ranged from 45 F to 72 F (7 to 22 C) and I was on surfaces ranging from packed dirt to sand, loose rock and scree. Starting pack weight (with 5 l/qt liquid) was 14 lb (6.4 kg)
A 24-mile (39 km) hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from Hwy 138 to Fish Creek Trail to San Gorgonio and down to the South Fork trailhead. It was the same conditions as the last hike.
A 22-mile (35 km) trip in San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. This trip saw temperatures from 55 F to 87 F (13 to 31 C), on trails that ranged from packed dirt to decomposed granite and loose rock. I climbed 4000 vertical feet (1219 m) on this one. Starting pack weight was 12 lb (5.4 kg)
A 42-mile (68 km) overnight backpacking trip in the eastern Sierra Nevada including summits of Mounts Muir and Whitney. The temps ranged from 36 to 75 F (2 to 24 C) and rain in the afternoon. I started with a 20.5 lb (9.3 kg) pack (with 3 l/qt of water). The trails consisted of sand, packed dirt, loose rock, boulders and solid granite. I climbed 9952' (3033 m) over the two days. Here is a picture of the Sun Dragon next to the USGS marker on Mount Whitney (14497'/4419 m)
I wore the Sun Dragons for one day around town to facilitate breaking them in. I needn't have bothered. These are hands down the most comfortable out-of-box shoes I have ever put on. There is not much in the way of side support so the whole shoe flexes with my foot. They breathe better than anything I have worn short of a sandal. The claws are very interesting to walk on. They make me feel like I am rolling as my step goes through the forward motion. They give quite a bit, yet they feel very stable.
The first day on the trail with them was much the same. I wore them summiting 11,499' (3505 m) high San Gorgonio. I wore a pair of Ingenius socks with them. They were very comfortable and stable. The soles did an excellent job of protecting my feet from feeling the rocks I was stepping on. The soft claws work great for that. They also ascend better than any sole I have worn on boots or shoes. I love climbing in these.
The inevitable rock-toe encounters were handled well by the toe rand, and the sole stayed grippy on wet rocks at creek crossings. Going downhill was a little worse though. The toe box is not that secure, as the NeoForm body is not very supportive. Kicking a rock while descending hurt! The Trail Claws that are so stable climbing do not feel as stable going down steep sections. They feel as though they are sliding more than other soles.
Even though we really cranked on this hike, doing it in 8 hours and 15 minutes including lunch at the peak, I had no blisters or hot spots form on my feet. I was impressed.
I was not impressed by the amount of wear already showing on the shoes though. The front of the soles are worn quite a bit, the ridges look to be near half worn down.
The next two hikes were the same hard charging type hikes with a lot of gain. Again I suffered no blisters or hot spots and the shoes were very comfortable. The stability of them in scree fields is awesome. The flex of the Trail Claws lets the shoe stay stable instead of tipping the way that my boots do.
And again after pounding through scree and rocks that left Dave complaining of bruised sore feet I was able to honestly tell him that I was not having any problems with it. And I am getting used to going downhill in them between the use of these and the similar sister shoe, the Trail Fly, that I have also used for three fastpacks. I am learning to land a bit differently to take some of the slam out of my landing. The last two hikes felt better going downhill, but it still is not as secure as a stiffer sided boot or low hiking shoe.
But my goodness are they wearing out fast. With just over 72 miles (116 km) in three days of use they were severely worn. The next trip to The Sierra Nevada finished them off.
Once a year I try to do a Ultra Light backpacking trip with Dave (who is pretty much UL). I try to get my pack as small and light as possible. This year I decided to wear the Sun Dragons as the weight was not going to be much more than a day pack when carrying a lot of water and protective gear. This was a first for me as I have always worn boots.
The Sun Dragons did fine for most of the trip. They were just as comfortable as before. Again I had no blisters or hot spots even though we kept a blistering pace. I had no slipping of my foot inside the shoes.
But the soles started slipping on rock. And when they got wet they were very slippery. I looked at them as we sat on a pass and saw why. The claws were separating and peeling back, one was completely gone. Plus the grippy surface was just about gone. (See picture below.) I climbed Mount Muir, which has no trail, just a boulder climb, and had the shoes slip quite a bit. Going down hill was worse. Two times I slipped off rocks at streams, and one bad slip off a boulder had me drop two feet (0.6 m) jarring my ankle pretty good. They also developed a tear across the right shoe (see picture at right) where it flexes when I walk. The left one did not though. I decided that it was time to put the Sun Dragons to rest.
I am very surprised that these have only lasted for five days of use. I am going to contact GoLite's customer support and see what they say about them. This concludes the Field Report, the following is the results of the last two months of testing.
I wore the Sun Dragons on a three day backpacking trip in the John Muir Wilderness in the eastern Sierra Nevada range in California. The temperatures ranged from freezing to 70 F (21 C), elevations ranged from 7800' to 11800' (2380 to 3600 m) although the Sun Dragons were only used at lower elevations and as camp shoes. Terrain consisted of dirt and exposed rock at the lower elevations and snow and ice up high. My pack weight at the start of the trip was 23 lb (10.4 kg).
As noted at the end of my Field Report I needed to contact GoLite about the shoes. I contacted Customer Service July 31, 2007 at 9:00 AM and talked to a rep. To make it easier to understand I emailed her a letter including links to both the Sun Dragon test and the Trail Fly review (unfinished). By 2:00 PM they emailed me saying that they were sending a pre-paid shipping label to send the shoes back to them, and requesting my address to send replacements for both pairs. Very impressive in my opinion, but then everything stalled.
The main person in Customer Service was great in dealing with me but the process kept getting lost. First my shoes were received then for some reason returned to sender. But they did not really go back to me. It took a while to get that figured out with Fed-Ex, then the shipment failed to process a couple of times. They finally sent a two-day shipment to catch me while I was in Minnesota and I received the new shoes on September 20th. They seemed identical to the original pair. I placed the Medium insoles in and tried to get some fast testing in before the October 2 ending date.
I wore them around the office again for a couple of days but the new pair needed no breaking in either. These things are great right out of the box.
I asked for, and was granted, an extension of my Long Term Report date to allow me to use the Sun Dragons on my last long hike of the 2007 season in the Sierra Nevada east-side. Unfortunately a freak September storm dropped four to eight inches (10 to 20 cm) of snow where we were going. Then the day we arrived we found that it was expected to have snow flurries that night. Discretion being the better part of valor I decided to wear my GoreTex lined boots, but for the sake of the test brought the Sun Dragons to use as camp shoes and wear on the trail if conditions warrant. A picture from this trip at a cool spring is at the bottom of this report.
I ended up wearing them to hike in for only 18 miles. (Besides the areas of snow and ice it was just easier to carry the shoes than to carry the boots.) But even with that limited use I can see wear already. They were just as comfortable as the first pair were. I had no blisters. I will undoubtedly use them for some dayhiking in the coming months and will post an addendum to this report to tell how many days and distance they lasted.
In conclusion I have to say that I am disappointed in the Sun Dragons only because of the durability issues. I love the way they feel, the support and traction of them. The Trail Claw idea is a great one in my opinion. They really do help take the shock out of rough terrain and climb like a tricked out Jeep 4x4. I will miss that aspect the most.
It is just that for me they would cost over $1.00 (US) per mile to wear. I hope that GoLite/Timberland get it figured out because I would really like to try these again in a longer-lasting version. My thanks to GoLite and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test these shoes.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.
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