I'm sorry. I've been so busy running in the Skora Phase that I nearly forgot to write a review for you! But, an extended experiential running period is good, because, with slightly less than 200 miles of wear, the Phase is proving to be a highly durable and reliable shoe.
And, lemme tell ya, this shoe is awesome! (Too much already?)
The passionate runners at Skora introduced the Phase along with it's leather-ized comrade, the Core, back in the spring of this year. And, after running quite a few miles in the Base, I was eager to try the Phase; especially since the new RO2 last promised a wider toe box than that of the Base and Form.
Skora recently created a fantastic shoe comparison chart that indicates the feature similarities and differences of each shoe model. So, you may want to reference that as I describe the design elements of the Phase that stand out most.
An Inspired Box
As, I removed the conspicuously functional shoe box from the shipping box, I noted that the Oregon shoe company persists with its affinity for contemporary design. It's almost a misnomer to say that the Skora shoes arrive in a box. It's more of a container, really, something you don't want to throw away, something you'd purchase all by itself from IKEA:
"oh, look, honey, look at this container!"
"What's it for?"
"Look at the magnetic closure feature!"
"Fine, whatever. It's only two dollars."
"Ugh! Next time we shop here, you can just stay home!"
"Good! Fine! I told you I didn't care which end tables you wanted!"
"That's just it! You don't care! I'm showing you this beautiful box for stuff. And, you don't even care!"
Ooh and Ahhh
Having just tossed my pair of Bases into the closet before opening the aforementioned "box", the Phase immediately impressed me with it's lighter level of heft and streamlined profile. At a modest 7.2 ounces (in a US men's size 9), the Phase is certainly not the lightest shoe out there. But, it's light enough, in my opinion — minimal while not entirely eschewing its shoeness.
Moving along with the first impressions, I was at least ten shades of happy when I tested the Phase's flexibility. This is a flexible shoe, my friends! And, as you know, flexibility is one of my favorite features in a running shoe. I don't know why, exactly, I just like being able to control the shoe with my foot rather than the other way around.
Skora attains this flexibility in the Phase by continuing with the zero-drop platform and removing the midsole. That's right, you've got a single-piece outsole, some comfy fabric stuff, and an optional 3mm insole separating your feet from the ground.
Using the RO1 last as a starting point, the designers, perhaps, shaved a millimeter off the outsole and insole when creating the Phase (and Core). This gives us a stack height of 11mm with the insole and 8mm without. And, surprisingly, I really feel the difference in proprioception.
Additionally, the single-piece outsole, comprised of Injection Blown Rubber (IBR), is slightly less dense than the rubber outsole on the highly durable Base and Form. So, while this new outsole substance increases overall shoe flexibility and decreases weight, you probably will not get over 1,000 miles out of a pair of Phases. (I could be wrong about that, though!)
Basically, I am so impressed by the Phase's flexibility and midsole-free design, I rank it with the Merrell Vapor Glove or Inov-8 Bare-X 180 in terms of running as unencumbered as possible. That's good!
Consider the Ground
Skora's consideration for ground feel didn't stop when the midsole was omitted. The insole is something quite special. I haven't researched the material used, but, something about the removable insole affords it a density that feels like a much thicker barrier than it actually is. So, when the insole is in place, you feel as if you have a totally different, albeit quite minimal, shoe. The Phase is like two shoes in one!
But, no, this is not a cushy shoe, by any means. So, by "two shoes in one", I don't meant that it's your long-run, tired-legs, weakened-form shoe and barefootesque shoe rolled into one. I am simply saying that the Phase without the insole is rather close to being barefoot, while adding the insole makes the shoe more like a firm racing flat.
Either way, this is a shoe for runners who enjoy and respect the ground beneath their feet. The ground is not the enemy. (Spider webs are the enemy! F'ing spiderwebs! Gah!)
The outsole further intrigues us with it's rounded heel and slightly concave form under the forefoot. The arch has a nice curvature to it, too, which emphasizes the shoe's flexibility. Clearly, this modeling is meant to mimic an actual human foot rather than provide a platform for it. And, it works quite well for me.
Without going so far as to quote myself, I'll mention that I wrote in my Base review that I would be curious to see what that shoe's outsole would look like with some of the heel area shaved away. Well, this is it. The Phase designers dramatically improved that rounded-heel concept this time.
I mean, the heel works very well as it is in the Base and Form for a lot of people. But, I just wanted less of it. And, I say that it works better for me in the Phase, because there's so much more proprioception to go along with it. Thus, I have enough of a sense of the ground to enhance the rounded heel's function instead of wonder what's going on down there.
Some people have, understandably, been dismayed by the button-like logo thing on the bottom of the heel. It was more pronounced in the Base than it is in the Phase. So, I've not been bothered by at it all with this pair of Skoras. And, I'll maintain that the button is undetectable when running unless you happen to be putting a lot of pressure on your heels. Is this an intentional form-correcting feature? I don't know for sure.
As you inspect that photo of the Phase's outsole, you probably notice that there are a fair amount of grip-enhancing nubs and crevices (for a road shoe). This design makes the Phase a very good option for smooth or rough surfaces. Although the rubber is not a sticky sort, the shoes provide great grip, especially while climbing the hilly roads on my running route.
And, sure, you could wear them most anywhere. But, the thin sole will have you feeling every rock and root on a technical trail. So, you'll want to use your best judgment when it comes to terrain. As for me, I use them on pavement and easy, hard-packed trails.
Symmetry and Function
From above, the Skora Phase is striking in its creative challenge to symmetry. The diagonal lacing structure complements the sans-tongue construction. And, the reflective, laminated overlays create a unique, highly visible pattern, especially when observed with both shoes side by side.
In fact, the reflective overlays and ultra vivid toe bumper make the Phase one of the most low-light friendly shoes I've ever worn. Being a predominantly early-morning runner, I find that these safety features are important.
(And, just recently, Skora released the Phase-X, which takes reflection to a whole 'nother level!)
The air mesh upper breathes well. Its weave is somewhat closer together than that of other mesh-upper shoes I wear. So, it's not the coolest shoe in my arsenal. But, I ran throughout the hot, humid, North Carolina summer without issue. (And, if I think a shoe is too stifling, I'm gonna tell you!)
Fewer seams in the upper and "stitch-down construction" on the interior allegedly mean that the Phase is more than accommodating for people who prefer to run without socks. I've worn the shoes without socks but didn't run in them sockless, because I'm a baby when it comes to blisters. I will attest that the interior feels good against bare skin with or without the insole.
I definitely find that the RO2 last is better suited to my foot shape than the RO1. The toe box is well-proportioned but not sloppy. (I am told that the Skora Core has an even wider toe box than the Phase, by the way) And, the mid-foot and heel stay in place on my foot very well.
One of my personal qualms about the Base was that I had difficulty securing the shoe around my upper foot and ankle. However, I am happy to say that the Phase provides for more fit flexibility on my feet. I attribute this success to the presence of laces and a very grippy heel/ankle collar. Thus, the Phase holds fast to my upper foot and ankle while allowing my forefoot and toes to expand as necessary.
I wear the same size (US men's 11.5) Phase that I wear in the Base. I consider my normal running shoe size to be a 12. So, shoes that "fit large", like the Skora Phase or Base, work best a half size smaller on my feet.
If someone asked me about the Skora Phase in person, I'd sum up this review like this:
It's a great shoe. It's well made, fits very nicely, and provides excellent feel for the ground on two different levels. I use it as one of my go-to shoes when I don't "need" extra cushioning.
Then I'd start answering questions about "the minimal thing", and the person would probably lose interest.
But, that's the gist, folks! I like the Phase a lot. And, now is a great time to snag a pair for yourselves, because the SS13 models are on sale all over the place as Skora makes way for the new colors coming out soon. For instance, you can find your own Phases on Skora's own site or at OptimalRun.com (affiliate links are nice).
Feel free to ask questions in the comments.