The shoe does so many things well. Trust me, if some horrible fate befell my shoe collection and I came home to a closet on fire, I would hope the GTX was the one shoe that survived the flames. This would effectively guarantee I had a shoe for any run. I highly recommend the Mizuno Wave Rider 20 GTX. It is a “jack of all trades,” and this is exactly the reason why it’s been so easy for me to overlook the fact that it is a “master of none.”
- Super comfy
- Impact protection
- Lacks breathability
Mizuno Wave Rider GTX review
One of my favorite English idioms is the expression “Jack of all trades.” This is a figure of speech used to describe a person who is well versed in a number of skills, sometimes at the cost of expertise in any one particular skill. In some respects, this can be viewed as a positive. However, this is not always the case.
So how does this apply to footwear? I’m sure you aren’t reading this review for my literary analysis of idioms, so I’ll explain. As a runner, I am always weighing the pros and cons of every shoe that I consider purchasing. Immediately, I begin considering things such as the shoe’s weight and the materials composing its construction.
Oftentimes, the shoe I chose to purchase is serviceable in many different ways. However, on occasion, I look for a shoe that does one thing exceptionally well, even if this comes at the cost of other aspects of the shoe’s performance.
If I’m preparing for a race, I chose a specific variety of shoe. If I am preparing for a marathon, I chose a specific variety of shoe. If I am preparing for a hike, or trail run, I chose a specific variety of shoe.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 20 GTX is really good at a bunch of things.
I believe I saw one reviewer reference it as the “Swiss Army Knife” of shoes, and I am tempted to agree with that assessment.
A Swiss Army Knife does a lot of stuff right. It serves as a good knife, good scissors, good bottle opener etc. However, while a Swiss Army Knife is an effective, all-purpose tool it does not excel in any one particular realm.
The Rider 20 GTX is billed as a trail shoe. In this respect, it is a very serviceable choice for outdoor trail running. However, the effectiveness of the GTX is not limited to trail running. It works perfectly well as a road shoe. This is not necessarily a good thing.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while I considered running in the shoe on numerous occasions, I never actually preferred it over any other in my arsenal, especially for trail running where I religiously turn to the Salomon Speedcross 3.
The following review is my attempt at explaining that while I never quite converted to Mizuno for serious trail running, I was still very impressed by its performance and was always thankful to have it in my closet.
A comfortable shoe
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Mizuno makes a comfortable shoe. The quality of Mizuno shoes is truly exceptional. Some time ago, I finished my test of the Mizuno Wave Sky.
Throughout the review, I was raving about the construction of the shoe and the quality of the materials. Most of what I loved about the Wave Sky is exactly what I love about the Wave Rider 20 GTX.
As much as I hate to be self-referential I find it important to quote from my Wave Sky review, “Just when you think you understand everything about the shoe, you learn that there is so much more. So many different parts of the shoe lend themselves in unison to the comfort and performance of the final product.”
Well, my opinion on Mizuno shoes has not changed since then.
Cloudwave is impressive
Truly, Mizuno’s Cloudwave technology is something that continues to impress me. For those who don’t know, “Wave” is the elastic plate that extends across the bottom of most Mizuno shoes.
There are various configurations of Wave that lend themselves differently to the overall performance of each shoe. Most noticeably, the Cloudwave technology in the GTX directly contributes to softer cushioning, while continuing to provide a responsive feel.
Once again, Mizuno does not disappoint. The shoe is super comfortable. This was the case during my first run, and it continues to be the case today. Pleasantly enough, the Cloudwave technology provides this added cushion without compromising too much on the weight of the shoe.
U4ic Midsole and U4icX Heel
Understandably, the proprietary Wave technology is usually what gets all the attention in Mizuno shoes because of how much Wave contributes to the performance of the shoe. However, it is the U4ic cushioning that most directly impacts the comfort.
As with the Wave Sky, the comfort of the shoe owes much to the U4ic and U4icX compounds used in the midsole and heel respectively. While the Wave Sky uses U4icX cushion in both the midsole and heal, the Wave Rider 20 GTX has a U4ic midsole with a U4icX heal.
So, what are the differences in the materials?
U4ic is a foam-like compound that provides protection from different impacts, which is functionally similar to foams like EVA. It is roughly 30% lighter than Mizuno’s AP+ material (Mizuno’s highly durable, highly cushioned midsole compound).
So essentially the U4ic material makes for a lighter shoe without any loss of comfort, durability or performance. The U4icX compound is essentially the exact same compound, but with a higher rebound.
For reference, think of “rebound” as energy return, or the bounce in your step during your strides. Thus, the U4icX does exactly what the U4ic would, while providing a more energized ride.
I always like to make a separate section for impact reduction apart from the “comfort” section of the shoe. As I see it, while the two may seem similar, in reality, the two can often be mutually exclusive.
What I mean to say is that comfort, to me, can be described as how the shoe feels on the foot. Impact reduction (while it can benefit greatly from materials in place to ensure comfort) is how the shoe handles the weight of the runner and minimizes the impact on joints, ligaments etc.
For example, I have a pair of house slippers that are super comfortable. Now if I ran in these slippers for more than a few feet, I’m sure I’d break something. My favorite running shoes, on the other hand, are not as comfortable as my slippers, but moderate the effects of my strides and the impact on my joints.
Some of the impact reduction in the GTX unsurprisingly comes as a result of the Cloudwave plate. The Wave configuration serves to guide you to your next step and makes for a ride that is soft, smooth and responsive, subsequently minimizing impact.
What adds to this impact reduction (you guessed it) is the U4ic midsole and U4icX heal.
The shoe wisely implements an articulated (two parts) heal which aids in impact reduction while ensuring a smoother ride, added cushioning, and the “rebound” we discussed earlier. These parts in unison guarantee longer run with less pain afterward.
Durability and Resistance to Elements
So, as you may, or may not know, the Wave Rider 20 GTX is the rugged, outdoorsman twin to Mizuno’s Wave Rider 20. In many ways, both shoes are functionally identical. However, when it comes to the outsole, it’s the slight differences that truly differentiate the two shoes.
The outsole of the GTX uses a slightly different blend of rubber than the Wave Rider 20, which Mizuno calls the all-terrain outsole. Surprisingly enough, the “all-terrain” designation is not an exaggeration.
The outsole is suitable for a variety of different surfaces and terrains. The outsole of the shoe is actually a mix of two different rubber blends, which lend to the durability, comfort, and flexibility of the shoe (more on this in the flexibility portion).
Furthermore, the outsole also boasts a debris resistant underfoot construction. This is to ensure that during outdoor runs, or runs in nature, nothing will get lodged in the bottom of the shoe.
Overall, I find the material a pleasant (and effective) addition. It is quite durable, and also provides good traction overall.
Upper of the Mizuno Wave Rider GTX
The upper of the Wave Rider 20 GTX is also very durable. Remarkably, the shoe is practically impervious to damage and abrasions. I have been running in these shoes outdoors for almost 2 months and I have yet to notice a single imperfection in the upper.
Frankly, this is baffling to me. Furthermore, and most importantly, the upper is also waterproof.
Now when I say waterproof, I’m not exaggerating. The GTX is not “water resistant” and masquerading as waterproof. In this shoe, you can actually dip your toes in the water, keep them submerged for 5 minutes, and emerge with your socks still dry.
That is not a sales pitch. That is my actual observation, having dipped the shoe in water for 5 minutes. This is accomplished as a result of the Gore-Tex Jazz waterproof membrane, which serves to resist elements without compromising on fit. The membrane also provides a surprising amount of flexibility.
Concerning the flexibility of the outsole, the shoe uses a carbon rubber near the heel of the shoe. This provides added durability at the cost of weight and flexibility.
However, at the front of the shoe, a blown rubber used on the outsole. This is essentially a rubber expanded with air producing a lighter more cushioned feel. This addition also adds more flexibility to the shoe.
The upper of the shoe is mesh, which allows for excellent flexibility, especially in an all-terrain shoe.
This isn’t to say that it is an objectively flexible shoe, but compared to most trail shoes, it allows for incredible mobility. The Gore-Tex membrane is remarkably flexible considering the fact that it is water-proof.
The Wave Rider 20 GTX provides a decent amount of protection. I say this because as trail shoes go, protection is usually exceptional. In road shoes, protection takes a backseat to flexibility, breathability etc.
The GTX provides a decent amount of both of those things but doesn’t necessarily excel at either. The midsole protected my feet admirably thanks to the aforementioned U4ic foam and Wave which limit the effects of an impact. The Gore-Tex upper is also remarkably resilient to the elements, which protected my feet from rain, as well as debris.
The Gore-Tex Jazz waterproof membrane weighs the shoe down a bit. Naturally, along with resistance to the elements comes some added weight to the shoe.
Furthermore, the all-terrain outsole also adds to the weight of the shoe making it heavier than its twin brother, the Wave Rider 20.
That being said, the added weight is not excessive. In fact, compared to other trail shoes, the GTX is surprisingly light.
As previously stated, the Cloudwave and U4ic foam protect feet from impact and damage. However, in unison, the two compounds work together to guarantee impressive stability. Unless I was being reckless, I felt my foot locked in place and considered the risk for a twist or a sprain relatively minimal.
This was not always the case, however, as when venturing onto more challenging paths, the Wave Rider 20 GTX truly shows it limitations (more on that in Cons section).
However, with a combination of the Cloudwave redirecting harsh impacts, and the U4ic foam providing excellent shock absorption, all of my strides felt relatively smooth. This resulted in a more stable run.
I actually really like the look of the Rider 20 GTX. It is a shoe that is not afraid to be bold with its color schemes. As it is a trail shoe, I also appreciated how the reflective upper adds to visibility. In terms of the design, the shoe is not revolutionary, but still attractive.
Unfortunately, the available color schemes are limited. As of writing this review, the only available color scheme for a size 14 shoe is the yellow and orange combination, which I actually love. Naturally, this is a matter of personal taste, so whether the style of the shoe is a pro or a con is up to you to decide.
So, you’re probably wondering why I have left performance until the end of the pros section. Reading through the review at this point, you should notice that it is obvious that I really like the Rider 20 GTX. I have been very much impressed by how well it performs as an all-purpose shoe.
However, within that compliment actually lies my most resounding criticism: the shoe has not glaring flaws or exceptional strengths. While you can use the shoe for any type of run you wish to use it on, its performance in every setting is consistently great. That’s unfortunate, as I was hoping for Mizuno to develop a strong “outdoor identity” for this shoe.
Midsole vs Heel
Frankly, I am disappointed that in the GTX the U4icX compound is only included in the heal. As previously stated, in the Wave Sky the U4icX midsole is present throughout the midsole as well as the heal, which provides a plush feel while also maintaining firmness and energy return.
Unfortunately, by the time I started running in the GTX, I had already logged many miles in the Wave Sky. Perhaps if I had run in the GTX before trying out the Wave Sky I wouldn’t have noticed the differences in the cushion and responsiveness of the shoe.
In all fairness, both shoes could be very similar in terms of comfort and performance. I resign myself to the possibility that the differences I noticed concerning the responsiveness of the midsole could be as a result of knowing that the U4icX material was not present throughout the entire shoe.
This should come as no surprise, but as a trail shoe, the Wave Rider 20 GTX is not possessed of tremendous breathability. I hesitate to consider this a con, as most trail shoes suffer from the same problem. Besides, the cost of having a shoe that is practically waterproof is limited breathability.
That being said, expect to have some overheating issues. For me, this wasn’t ever a big problem, as I made sure to limit the duration of my trail runs, and rest intermittently over the course of the entire trek.
Thankfully the Ortholite liner provides extra cushioning along with bacteria and odor prevention in case overheating leads to sweating.
Surprisingly, the drop on the Waver Rider 20 GTX is very high at roughly12mm. Personally, I have noticed that shoes with higher heals provide less lateral stability. This is even the case when running on flat terrain, let alone through trails.
As the GTX is considered a trail shoe, I find the heal toe drop excessive. I would prefer something a bit more in tune with a minimalist shoe for better ground feel and stability.
So, depending on how much money you’re swimming in, the price of the shoe will either seem reasonable or excessive. Normally, the Wave Rider 20 GTX retails for $150. In my opinion, that price is a little steep.
However, as the new Wave Rider 21 GTX was recently released, the opportunities to find the shoe at a cheaper price are numerous. At the moment, I believe the Mizuno website is even selling the shoe for around $70.
That being said, go buy the shoe now! I truly believe that if you find this shoe anywhere for under $100, you should purchase it immediately.
The Wave Rider 20 GTX does so many things well but has no sense of what to excel at. What does this shoe want to be, and why should I choose it over any other shoe on the market?
Generally speaking, every shoe I own excels over the other in one particular realm, be it weight, stability, traction, cushion, responsiveness etc. The GTX is an exceptionally versatile shoe. Truly, I’m shocked at just how well it performs across different terrain and environments.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a shoe that performs exceptionally in every situation (although the GTX tries really hard to).
Ok, so this is perhaps the most difficult part of the review to write. It should come as no surprise that a review of ANY shoe is ultimately subjective.
However, there are certain objective qualities that make for an excellent shoe. The GTX possesses all of these qualities. The amount of time and consideration that has gone into designing this shoe is evident.
The team at Mizuno obviously cares enough to put out the best product possible. I understood this to be the case while I was reviewing the Wave Sky, I understand it to be the case now. In the Rider 20 GTX, I ran on treadmills, tracks, roads, and trails. The shoe performed well in every setting.
However, while the shoe’s versatility is commendable, it is not necessarily desirable. By the end of my time with the GTX, I expected to have a sense of what environment the shoe performed the best in. I still don’t know. This is what holds the shoe back from being truly remarkable.
Honestly, every criticism I could level against the Wave Rider GTX could be considered a positive by any (or every) other reviewers. Many will disagree with my feelings about the purpose and performance of the shoe.