Review: Allbirds’ First Proper Running Shoe Impresses With Performance and Versatility

We took the brand's new Tree Dashers out for a test-drive

Updated January 12, 2021 2:26 pm
allbirds running shoes

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The Allbirds sneaker that started it all — which took in six figures in five days on Kickstarter, and became the favorite shoe of dads, co-founders of rideshare startups, people who fly on planes — was called the Wool Runner. It was a bit of a misnomer when it dropped, not that anyone really cared. The sneaker wasn’t built for running, it was designed for everything else. It was a sock-like slip-on with a malleable footbed, assembled from the Merino wool of New Zealand’s happiest sheep.

Allbirds arrived at the crest of the 2010s’ direct-to-consumer revolution, when brands like Away and Shinola and Warby Parker had started making waves by promising better wares, with restrained logos, often constructed with a cause in mind. Think: the environment, one-for-one giving, urban renewal. Ironically (if somewhat inevitably), these labels became recognizable, desirable, billion-dollar companies unto themselves. Allbirds has shops in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, and Tokyo, and a legion of loyal fans, most of it built on the back of that original sneaker, which more than one friend — plus a cousin — has described to me as the “perfect everyday walking shoe” over the years.

Still, Allbirds has continued to evolve. The brand now makes high-tops, boat shoes and slip-ons. It’s added the fibers of eucalyptus tress to its manufacturing processes. And most recently, it released an actual running shoe, not just one in name. It’s called the Allbrids Tree Dasher, and when I first heard about the shoe I was dubious. What could Allbirds possibly contribute to a space long dominated by Nike, Adidas, Brooks, Saucony, New Balance, and ASICS? (An industry, I should add, that’s getting more crowded as of late with the emergence of On Running and Hoka One One.) What good could even come of daring to veer into that lane? Why vie for track workouts when you’ve already got travel days on lock?

allbirds tree dashers

Spoiler: after a couple weeks of test-driving a pair of Tree Dashers, I can confidently attest that Allbirds’ gamble paid off. All of the questions outlined above, shocker, were not lost on an international brand’s well-compensated R&D team. Allbirds reports testing prototypes of its first running shoe throughout a year-long period, with over 50 participating professional and amateur runners, to the tune of thousands of miles. That sort of due diligence is the industry standard, and runners (pro or not), are highly sensitive to equipment that they feel may interfere with their running economy, or reignite an injury. For this particular shoe to make it to the finish line, it had to win over a lot of people.

And now, it’s won over me, too. Out of the box, it doesn’t look like a running shoe. It just looks like a new sneaker from Allbirds. It’s handsome, with a speckled mesh upper, those raised, rounded eyelets and thick laces. If anything, the good looks are somewhat distracting at first; it’s easier to imagine lacing these up for a casual date night than relying on them for hill repeats. But there is tech in these shoes. The outsole is flared to encourage stability, and features studded rubber traction pads; heel strikes are cushioned with sole base made from sugarcane. (It’s aptly named SweetFoam.) In fact, natural ingredients can be found all throughout the shoe, as if showcasing a blend of the brand’s greatest hits: the upper is made from eucalyptus and superfine Merino wool, while a chunk of wool at the heel is meant to lock in the foot.

I don’t how they did it, but that Frankenstein-ing of wild resources (there’s even castor bean in the sockliner) came together to create a very capable running shoe. I was most impressed by how the Allbirds Tree Dasher moves with you. Since the upper is one unit, instead of a stitching of disparate pieces, I didn’t feel any friction or register any blisters after a couple four-milers with the shoe. Now, that lack of structure might spell problems if you have a history of wobbly ankles. It’s hard to get this shoe laced up too tight. But it really depends on how you deploy the shoe. I wouldn’t recommend heading to the oval in hopes of a PR in them, anyway. At 10.6 ounces (the majority of the weight coming from the meaty heel), it’s better suited for longer, slower runs.

Or walking your dog. Or catching the bus. Or traveling to Spain. After all, they’re Allbirds. That versatility is why you bring home a pair in the first place. Allbirds understands this, and won’t make you return your Tree Dashers if you don’t log 40 miles a week in them on Strava. Ultimately, this is a novel shoe — a great option for new or returning runners, and a legitimate option for serious runners who tend to travel. For instance, I tend to go for a five-mile run whenever I arrive in a foreign country. The Tree Dasher is built for that, but you can throw ’em on for museums and botanical gardens later on in the day. (It can even be thrown in the wash, FYI.)

The lasting influence of a shoe like this, meanwhile, may extend beyond its own purview. As Allbirds has proudly promoted, this shoe is practically carbon neutral. The brand displays logs of its products’ carbon footprints in charts that look like Nutritional Facts labels, and before the brand purchases carbon offsets, the Allbirds Tree Dasher’s footprint stands at just 9.0 kg CO2e. That’s impressive, and has been a wake-up call for big dogs like Nike (which has recently started beating the sustainability drum, hard), and Adidas, which, lo and behold, is actually currently developing the lowest carbon emitting shoe ever with Allbirds.

For now, though, that title belongs solely to the aptly named Allbirds Tree Dasher, which contains the world’s first carbon negative green EVA. Midsoles are normally built with an assist from pretroleum. In the end, as is tradition with Allbirds, you’re left with options. There are 15 colorways to choose from. Pick up a pair for the environment, for travel days — and this time, with peace of mind — for your next run.

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