RW Takeaway: For a debut model by a company that doesn’t play in the athletic footwear space, we’re genuinely surprised by how this running shoe performs.
- Using environmentally friendly materials, the Tree Dasher is a departure from how running shoes are traditionally made
- The midsole is comfortably soft yet stable
- The shoe is a bit heavy and the heel a little clunky
Type: Road Running
By now, you know Allbirds, the maker of those über comfortable casual kicks that look like you might be able to wear for running. Confusingly, those shoes were named Runners, but weren’t really running shoes. They are cozy, however, and come with a merino wool upper or one made from eucalyptus tree fibers.
Now, Allbirds is getting into the sport side of footwear, launching the Tree Dasher, its first real running shoe. Here you might be wondering “Can this company really build a legitimate running shoe?” It’s a fair question, given its lack of experience. For what it’s worth, we asked the exact same thing back in 2012 when Skechers started making running shoes, yet today they’re making award-winning models that are embraced by runners at all levels of the sport.
To find out, I got a sample of the Allbirds Tree Dasher before they were announced and hit my local streets. To be clear: This is just a first look, not a full Runner’s World review. I’ve only been able to run in the Dasher a couple times before their official launch. Plus, we can’t gather up our usual group of wear-testers to get the shoes on their feet, and our shoe lab is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, I have an extensive history of wear-testing hundreds of pairs of shoes over the past decade, so I will give you my early thoughts, until we can put it through a thorough test process.
A Sweet, Sugarcane Sole
I’ll admit, I was really skeptical about a foam made from sugarcane instead of the typical petroleum products that make up traditional midsoles. SweetFoam, as Allbirds calls it, is the same material it uses in its Runners, and it’s surprisingly capable of absorbing impact. It feels reasonably soft—not like a squishy foam that would immediately pack out, nor denser stuff that is overly hard (what you usually find on debut models, to be honest). Thankfully, they were protective and well-cushioned, because my legs have been beat up from a couple big weeks (172 miles over the previous 14 days).
Without lab data to really support how the foam absorbs impact—or extensive on-the-road testing to see how long it lasts—my perception is that it feels on par with shoes like the Brooks Ghost and Saucony Ride, both middle of the road trainers that work well for most runners, most of the time. The platform underfoot feels similarly set-up. Allbirds says the shoe has a 7mm heel-to-toe drop, and my experience suggests that feels about right. My chronically tight and grumpy Achilles didn’t complain about the drop like it would if it were closer to zero, but the shoe doesn’t have that “falling forward” sensation you get from a higher offset, either. Again, though, that’s something we’ll find out once we can get staff back in the lab.
My lone gripe, and it’s a small quibble, really, is that the heel feels a little clunky and the midfoot transition a little slappy. I’m a heel striker—as are about 95 percent of you reading this, by the way. And a little heel strike is okay. But, when you touch down in this shoe, it makes a bit more of a “thud” sound than other performance shoes. This is likely due to the broad flat sole and the wide patch of natural rubber back there, combined with a really large patch of outsole that covers the entire forefoot and lacks any flex grooves. It doesn’t really detract from the ride of the shoe—I didn’t feel like I needed to shift my stride to get it to perform—but I did turn up the volume on my AfterShokz headphones so I didn’t have to listen to myself stomping on the pavement.
An Unconventional Upper
You might think the use of eucalyptus fibers would be the most novel thing about this upper? Well, it’s a big change, sure, but notice there are no logos, no overlays, no graphics. It’s a refreshing departure from some shoes that have gotten pretty loud lately. The one-piece knit has a two-color design and a slightly stretchy fit. The shoe is available in half-sizes, and I found it runs true to my normal shoe size. I loved the shape of the shoe: It’s snug through the midfoot but opens up generously across the ball of the foot, and the last doesn’t cut in much on the big toe side of the shoe. It’s a comfortable fit that would likely remain accommodating even on long runs. (I didn’t go farther than 8.25 miles on any single run, but had no discomfort on those runs.)
If you do have any fit issues, you might not like the four eyelet setup. Those hard little Cheerios-like loops don’t leave a lot of room for adjustment. You don’t have many holes to skip or tweak for custom lacing techniques, and there isn’t the top eyelet you’d use to do heel-lock lacing if you’re slipping (but you could always punch your own).
Then again, the snug upper almost doesn’t require laces at all. It’s bolstered by a thin micro-fiber saddle on the inside to help hold your midfoot in place. The combo does a good job making you feel secure, though I did notice a little more stretch than I’d prefer when taking hard corners quickly.
So, Who’s It For?
I could see a lot of runners reaching for this shoe. If your routine involves other gym equipment after a few treadmill miles, it’s a no-brainer. The Dasher is going to deliver plenty of protection and performance in a stylish package.
But road racers should give it a look, too, especially for easy runs. It’s not a lightweight shoe, so you won’t be wearing it for race day or intervals. My men’s size 11.5 weighed 12.2 ounces—that’s about an ounce heavier than the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 v10 and two ounces more than our budget favorite Reebok Forever Floatride Energy 2.0. But for any other days, it’ll look hot while you’re running those recovery miles.