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A Running Review? The Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Running Shoe

As wide as my interests range, as an athlete, I tend to consider myself a cyclist, first and foremost.  It’s not important to me to distinguish between mountain biker, cyclocrosser, gravel grinder or whatever.  Bikes of all varieties appeal to me.  (Some varieties considerably less than others; track and downhill MTB aren’t exactly my cup of tea.)  Occasionally though, I lace up some shoes and go running.  Sometimes it’s training for a triathlon.  Sometimes it’s training for cyclocross.  Sometimes it’s just for the sake of running through the woods.

Thus I run.  And to run, I need shoes upon my feet.  (I did read Born to Run and enjoyed the heck out of it, but I don’t do the barefoot thing.)

I usually end up with trail running shoes.  Why? I do run on trails sometimes.  I probably log half of my running miles on a treadmill though.  I like the way they look better than “normal” running shoes.  Part of it is probably the reason that most people drive 4WD vehicles. “Someday,” they think.  “Someday I might need to save a baby seal during a blizzard and really need 4WD!”

My North Face Singletracks were starting to bother my feet in a lot of areas.  The laces dug into my instep.  The support bands dug into my foot just behind the ball.  Bits of the shoe were starting to come apart.

To the Internet! For newness!

Columbia’s outlet site had the Conspiracy Vapor shoes for half price.  Bonus: they came in black and lime green, a colorway that’s currently a favorite of mine.  I couldn’t find any reviews on them, which bothered me (but not enough to prevent me from buying).  Click, ship, wait.

I have been pretty interested in the minimalist running thing since I read Born to Run, but was afraid to jump in.  I have struggled with shin splints a lot in my running history and was really concerned about how my body would react to these.  To be honest, I wasn’t even really planning on  using them as running shoes.  I was going to buy these for casual shoes and buy some Under Armour Speedform Apollos when my running season (aka: “Winter”) rolled around.

As a casual shoe, the Vapors are adequate.  For day-to-day existence, they get the job done.  They’re comfortable to walk in, don’t get too hot and are certainly not heavy on your feet.  I do have two gripes.  First is that the laces are too long.  When I tie the shoes, both the loops and the tag ends of my laces graze the ground.  Further, because of their very minimal sole and 3mm drop, my pants end up being too long and I tread on them.  I don’t like cuffing pants like some hipster, but it becomes a necessity with the Vapors.  If your pants break higher than mine or you wear shorts way more often than me, they’re a good choice.

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The Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Running Shoes

I did want to try them out on a run, for the sake of thoroughness.  Yesterday I laced up and headed out for a quick 3 mile jaunt over a variety of surfaces: tarmac, grass, gravel, singletrack and so on.  I felt very awkward for the first hundred yards or so, but quickly adapted to the new shoes.  There is clearly more jarring on the pavement than with more heavily cushioned shoes, but not enough to abandon the shoes.  When you run on gravel, you’ll feel the big stones on your sole, but the shoe bends with your foot around the stone.  On the clumpy grass of a local soccer field, I was a little concerned about rolling an ankle or something.

The shoes really shined when I hit the singletrack.  The trails were wet from a ton of rain and were covered in various places by wet leaves and wet pine needles.  The Vapors declared these of no concern and ran on.  There were a couple of wet boardwalks the shoes were similarly unconcerned with.  Running over the baby head rocks required a lot more effort to remain stable, as the shoe lacks that heavy-duty sole of most trail shoes.

The OmniGrip lugs on the sole grip tenaciously, even to wet surfaces.
The OmniGrip lugs on the sole grip tenaciously, even to wet surfaces.

Whereas I went out the door worried about running in the Vapors, I came home convinced they would make a better running shoe than casual shoe.

The shoes fit tight and pretty true-to-size (I wear a 10 pretty consistently in most brands).  I would expect to get a solid year of running out of them (due to my inconsistent running schedule, I usually get about a year out of most running shoes).

Considering my last pair of Columbia running shoes were stability shoes with a ton of cushioning, the fact I can run comfortably in these speaks volumes as to they quality and versatility.  If you are at all interested in a more minimalist shoe for trail running, the Conspiracy Vapor is pretty good.  I would rate them much higher than the North Face Singletrack 2.  If you’re just looking for a shoe to wear around town, I would look elsewhere — especially if you have to pay the full $80 retail price.