Xero Shoes has released a successor barefoot style trail running shoe to the Mesa Trail I. I tested out the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II for over a month on varied Colorado running trails and have used the Mesa Trail I extensively for over a year. Whether you are wondering how the Mesa Trail 2 compares or, are contemplating a Mesa Trail running shoe for the first time, this summary should be helpful.

What is the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II?

A red Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II shoe floating in front of a fence
The Mesa Trail 2 is sportier than version 1

Xero Shoes is a Colorado-based barefoot style shoe company which famously appeared on Shark Tank but didn’t do any deals. The company has since grown in popularity and the shoes are now widely used and sold. Hikers, trail runners, road runners, gym rats, and everyday people are finding zero drop shoes to be more comfortable, natural, and strengthening than shoes with thick soles and large heel to toe drops.

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II at left (red) and Mesa Trail I at right (green)

Quick background: Why minimalist and barefoot style running shoes?

The general philosophy of barefoot shoes is to let the foot, arch, achilles, and calf have the greatest and most natural range of motion. This means lowering the heel to be level with the forefoot and introducing flexibility into the shoe so the wearer can have a full range of motion.

Proponents of minimalist shoes claim benefits such as flat arches correcting, ankles strengthening, and even pain reduction such as knee or back pain. Another benefit of barefoot style shoes is a low heel-to-toe drop and thin soles keep feet flat on the ground, so rolling an ankle may be harder to do than with a thick soled shoe which can lever the ankle more easily.

Having run in minimalist shoes off and on for about a decade, I can attest to stronger feet and lower legs when using the shoes consistently. In fact, I’ve played basketball in minimalist shoes for years and have never been injured. Popular physical trainer Ben Patrick attributes his near miraculous knee recoveries to barefoot style shoes combined with clever range of motion exercises.

Now that we’ve covered the underlying philosophy, we can compare the Mesa Trail running shoes.

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail Features

Style

The Mesa Trail II is a good looking shoe, unlike some minimalist running shoes.

Sure, style isn’t exactly a feature, but I want to start with it because the Mesa Trail 1 wasn’t a great looking shoe — so let’s address the look. Another runner described v1 as “ugly”, and another runner said my shoes looked like climbing approach shoes.  I didn’t think v1 was a great looking shoe, it had a pill shape which did look a bit odd. However, it was a very good shoe from a performance perspective.

All of this to emphasize: Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II is a good looking shoe — some might even call it sporty! I’ve got a red and black combination and don’t feel self-conscious in public. Then again, I’ve also run and hiked in Vibram Five Fingers, so that’s not saying much!

If you had v1, you’ll appreciate the new colorways, stylistic toe guard, and adjusted look of the heel. Good changes.

Soles and Traction

The Mesa Trail 2 (left) and Mesa Trail 1 (right) tread. Not how the lugs on v1 have started to wear down on the edges of the shoe. This is after a good amount of running on steep and gravelly terrain.

Xero Shoes picked a smart tread philosophy with the Mesa Trail 2, and it shares the same tread as Mesa Trail I. The lugs are low profile enough not to be a hinderance on road surfaces, but aggressive enough to deliver nice tack on gravely routes and rocky traverses.

Each May, a friend and I attempt to summit a nearby  ridge five times per week. The routes ascend 2000 feet, are very steep, gravelly, and rocky. Many “tall” shoes do not fare well, but I’ve had success in Mesa Trails because the low and flexible profile gets my foot flat to the ground and the sole does a good job sticking to the terrain. When the traction does lose grip, it’s nice to still be flat to the surface.

The best compliment for the Mesa Trail II soles and traction is that I don’t even think about them when running most trails because they simply work. For those who remember it, the Mesa Trail tread reminds me of the traction on a shoe I used to like called the MT110, popularized by Anton Krupicka and New Balance.

Lacing

A red pair of Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II
Mesa Trail 2 laces work and have plenty of length, an improvement over v1.

The laces on the Mesa Trail 1 were too thick, clunky looking, and short. It was hard to double knot the lace on my size 14 shoe. Once the shoes were laced, they did hold, but it was hard to lace them up.

The Mesa Trail II laces have been improved. They still have a look which isn’t exactly sporty, but they seem thinner, more compressible, and have enough length. Lacing up the Mesa Trail II is easier and an improvement over version 1. Additionally, the shoes have a clever “Huarache” lacing system which snugs a couple sandal inspired overlays down to the foot when adjustable tabs are pulled. It’s a little hard to tell how much the huarache system matters, but my midfoot is locked down in both shoes.

Toe Box

Finding the right width toe box is highly dependent upon the shape of a person’s foot. For my Sasquatch foot, most shoes are too narrow in the forefoot, and I often have to buy a width (if one is available). However, some shoes are much too wide for me. For example, a 2W New Balance shoe fits, but a regular Altra shoe feels like a cavernous, sloppy mess in the forefoot as my foot does not feel locked down and energy seems lost in every step. Others swear by Altras, so preference and fit are obviously individual.

The Xero Shoes Trail Mesa 1 forefoot felt spot on straight out of the box. From my very first step, the shoe felt like it fit without sliding around and each step during a run was efficient and snappy — none of the dampening slosh and wiggle of maximalist shoes.

The forefoot of the Mesa Trail II did fit right out of the box, but it felt a little bit roomier and the outside of the forefoot had a spot which worried me for the first couple of days. There is a clear laminate that runs around the shoe, just above the sole. It’s a nice idea for increasing durability of the uppers and keeping debris out of the shoe. However, when my forefoot would bend, the laminate would pinch and create a little hot spot on the outside of the forefoot. After a few runs, this broke in and has been a non-issue.

Whether the forefoot has more room on the Mesa Trail II, I’m not certain, but there is just a tiny bit of play.

Toe Protection

The toe guard on the Mesa Trail I was very effective at protecting my toes from rock and root strikes. The style of v1 looked a bit goofy, but the toe protection worked quite well.

I can confidently assure readers the toe guard on version 2 does a good job. I’ve snagged toes on rocks and roots leading to awkward airplane “trying not to fall” maneuvers and my toes came out unscathed everytime.

Uppers

Mesa Trail uppers (v1 left, v2 right). The material is light, breathable, and has a good lateral support framework.

The uppers on both version of the Mesa Trail have been excellent. Version 1 felt a tad “puffy” when pulling the shoe on and version 2 had the temporary laminate concern I mentioned above, but the running experience was excellent.

The uppers of the Mesa Trail 2 are thin and breathable, but they are sturdy at the heel and toe while being snug across the midfoot due to the huarache framework and lacing. My foot doesn’t feel like it will roll, and didn’t when landing on off camber obstacles.

Once I hit the trail, especially with a friend, the shoes don’t come to mind and overheating hasn’t been an issue because they breathe well.

These are minimalist trail running shoes so I don’t recommend running them through deep snow and slush conditions — the uppers will soak and so will your feet. However, I have run them through light, unpacked snow and they did well. The key concern here is cold, but this is an end of the spectrum type concern — the uppers are great for many types of runs.

Best Terrain for Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II

Ruby shows the way down the trail.

The Mesa Trail 2 should be thought of as a good all purpose trail running and training shoe, but not a shoe for extreme conditions. Rolling terrain, gravel, road, rooty, and even some scrambly rock conditions are ideal, but packed ice, deep mud, heavily vegetated, or severely cold conditions will test the limits of the Xero Shoes. For the majority of runners, all purpose should cover most days!

Ruby checks out how the Mesa Trail shoes did in the mud. The forefoot shed the mud nicely, and the arch area collected some mud and gravel.

In Colorado, I can confidently run in Xero Shoes Mesa Trails in the mountains and around the neighborhood, it’s only the bad weather days or thorny bushwhacks which require a more protective shoe.

Who Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II are For/Not For

Don’t try the Mesa Trail II if you:

  • Have a very narrow foot
  • Want a cushy and highly supportive shoe

Try the Mesa Trail II if you:

  • Want to test out barefoot, zero-drop running and hiking
  • Like feeling flat and connected to the terrain
  • Need an all-purpose, three season minimalist running shoe
  • Want to experiment with improving foot health by letting the foot experience a more natural motion

Conclusion

The Xero Shoes Mesa Trail 2 is a great option for experienced and newer barefoot style runners and hikers. Wearers will get many of the benefits of minimalist shoes without going out to such extremes as a shoe like Vibram Five Fingers which tend to look a bit weird and are often so thin, a bad step on a quarter-sized rock can be quite painful.

Xero Shoes is a fun company with interesting and creative products. I can highly recommend trying out the Mesa Trail II.