I finally relented and gave the most talked about new shoe company in OCR (Icebug) a chance. After browsing through the plethora of models that Icebug offered, I realized I needed assistance in choosing the right model for me. My racing friend, Rob Butler, known to many as the devilish designer of Shale Hill Training Center referred me to his wife Jill, who operates their official Icebug authorized test center. After describing my foot dimensions and desires in a shoe, she recommended the small carbide-tipped, Icebug Spirit 4 olx, which has aggressive traction, fits a narrow foot, and contains a firm heel cup.
When I pulled them out of the box a couple of days later, my first impression was that construction-wise, the teal green Spirits lie somewhere between a Salomon and an Inov-8 — not as heavy as a Salomon Fellcross, but with more durability and support than the Inov-8 X-talons. They have a minimal 4 mm drop and weigh just a fraction over 10 ounces. They fit snugly on my narrow feet with a toe box that I describe as neither wide nor narrow. I broke them in over a few short miles before putting them into battle at the Indiana Spartan Sprint and Mud Guts and Glory.
After Mud Guts & Glory, which had a good mixture of trail, mud, water, and hills, I had all the information I needed in order to provide an accurate review. Here it is. I will wear these shoes again and again. Traction up and down hills was as good (and probably even better) than any shoe that I’ve worn before and that includes a long list of inov-8s, Salomons, and Reeboks. There was no slippage whatsoever and the Spirits quickly earned my trust on treacherous terrain. I was looking for a shoe with some support due to a couple of structural imbalances (one fixable, one not) that always leaves my knees and IT bands tight. The Spirits did the trick despite the fact that the terrain put tremendous strain on the lower body.
The one area in which the shoes fell short is water dispersion, meaning there was no water dispersion at all. As another rep recently told me, the shoes were designed to keep water out so there was no design for getting rid of it. That may work in trail running, but not in hardcore obstacle racing. Water and grit found their way in and stayed like an unwanted house guest. This is fixable though, and I will soon be drilling a few small drainage holes to counter the aforementioned issue.
Final summary: outstanding support for a lighter shoe, out-of-this world traction, best for narrow feet, poor water drainage.
There is currently a debate regarding whether the small carbide tips are considered “spikes” and therefore, disallowed at some races. While they are nowhere near a spike, the issue is whether they can potentially cause damage to obstacles and/or other participants. Some races and race directors have no issue with the tips, but others do, so it is best to confirm with the race director regarding any stipulations regarding shoe type.
Icebug has a range of models with or without the carbide studs, including the Zeal, which many are adopting as their shoe of choice. I always recommend racers find the shoe that works for them specifically. An Icebug model may or may not be the shoe for you. Be on watch for Icebug to develop an even more OCR-specific shoe in the future. As soon as they do, I will be trying it.