Since falling out of love with the trail shoes I’d run in for the past 10 years, I’d been struggling to find my new true shoe-love. It felt like I’d tried them all. Some were pretty, some comfortable out of the box, some were instant fails and never made it out of the house. Some showed much promise, but inevitably they all failed me when I was counting on them the most. Sore feet, black toe nails, blisters, tight calves, achilles, or just that inexplicable feeling of being sluggish (although I’m not entirely sure the shoes are to blame for that!)… I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever find the next great shoe.

A review of the Icebug Zeal-L RB9X by Sarah Murphy, Ultra Running Shoe Junkie.

Sarah running South Australia’s trails in her I/O Mongrel Longsleeve and Icebug shoes

With my current shoes nearing the end of their life leading up to the Surf Coast Trail Marathon in June, I was back to trawling the internet…surely there’s a brand out there that I haven’t tried yet?

Just when I’d convinced myself that there was nothing new worth trying, I remembered the sponsors of the Surf Coast Trail Marathon — Icebug Australia. It was time to find out what these bugs were all about.

A relative newcomer to Australia, Icebug is a Swedish company making “Footwear for the New Outdoors”. With a focus on obstacle course racing, orienteering and trail running, these are definitely performance shoes.

I chose the Zeal-L RB9X and ordered them the week before the race. The service from Icebug Australia was excellent, and they arrived a couple of days later. The shoes appear to run a little smaller than some other brands and I needed to size up by half a size after the first pair I ordered was too small. The fit is reasonably narrow, which is great for my foot as I find some other brands too wide. Andrew from Icebug Australia kindly exchanged them for me at the SCTM expo, and while I was at it, I also picked up a pair of the Mist RB9X.

The Zeal–L RB9X

The Icebug Zeal–L RB9X in it’s natural (and favourite!) environment

I’ve been running in the Zeal the past few weeks on my Saturday and Sunday morning runs in the Adelaide Hills with the crew from Goodfit Gym. The weather has been super cold but dry, following a week or two of rain, and I’ve run some fairly variable trail conditions from technical single track to fire trails, compacted clay, soft mud and bogs.

Out of the box, the Zeal look and feel a little different to other shoes. The upper fabric is a light, durable “non-absorbing” nylon textile. At first I was concerned about its stiffness, but this didn’t worry me at all running, and after just a few runs it softened up quite a bit. On those cold morning runs my feet have also felt comfortably warm – the perfect companion to my I/O Merino clothing.

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By far the best feature of the upper fabric is the ‘non-absorbing-ness’ (ok, that’s not a word). We’ve been running in the early morning, and it’s cold and dewy. Whilst running through wet grass has left the rest of the crew cursing their soggy socks, my feet have remained completely dry. Running through the mud and bogs around Jupiter Creek and Kuitpo was surely going to be a test, but despite the upper looking wet (and muddy!), surprisingly still no water made it through to my socks. Happy days.

Another feature of the shoes is the aggressive sole. The deep lugs are made from quite a hard rubber compound, designed for excellent grip and traction in sketchy conditions. On soft or slippery surfaces, these babies were amazing. Running on some of the hard packed clay trails in Cleland (South Australia) in winter can be like trying to run on ice, but in these shoes I haven’t slipped once. Running down soft dirt switchbacks from Greenhill felt light and fast, again with excellent traction. The soles collected a little bit of mud on the way down, but not in comparison to others in the group. The spiky bits on the lugs also remained clear of mud the whole time, which ensured they remained grippy.

As for how they perform on other, harder surfaces; I had no issues from a comfort perspective, but they do sound a little unusual underfoot. The hard rubber on the soles sound a bit like footy boots on a hard surface, and it’s a bit hard to sneak up on people. I found this mostly the case when running some bitumen transition sections between trails.

The good, the bad and the ugly…
(ok, there is no ugly)

The Good:

Love the non-absorbing (or semi-water resistant) upper and especially the grip on slippery terrain. Didn’t collect mud on soft, muddy trails or lose traction on hard compacted clay. On my 15-20 km training runs they have felt comfortable at all times and I’ve had no signs of sore feet or blisters.

The Bad: 

Not exactly bad, but I’m told I sound like I’m wearing horse shoes or footy boots when running on bitumen or hard trails. These shoes are definitely in their element on soft ground.

The Specs:

Weight: 220 g (size 8US womens)

Drop: 6 mm

Upper:  Non-absorbing nylon textile

Midsole: Lightweight EVA foam

Outsole: ‘Rubber 9 Extreme’ (RB9X)

If you’re after a light, grippy performance shoe for running on technical trails, mud and clay, I can highly recommend giving the Zeal RB9X a go. Their traction on sketchy winter trails is the best I’ve come across and dry feet at the end of a run is an added bonus.

Have I found the new running love of my life? Only time will tell, but the early indications are that I could be in this relationship for the long haul.

A few notes on the Icebug Mist-RB9X…I wore these on the Surf Coast Trail Marathon, straight out of the box. The open mesh upper was a bit of a risk given that 7 km of the course is along beaches, and it was a fairly cool winters day. My feet were pretty cold at the start, but warmed up quickly. Some sand did get through the mesh, but I found that it accumulated under the removable inner sole and didn’t bother me in the slightest while running.  Getting caught by a few misjudged waves along the beach proved that the shoes shed water quickly. They are also extremely comfortable, so I had no issues running 42 km in them without wearing them in. I can’t wait to try these in summer when the open mesh will no doubt keep my feet feeling cool on a hot day out running.

We did not receive a free product or any incentive to review this product. We reviewed it purely for your benefit in the interest of everyone enjoying the outdoors and their adventures more.

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