Kilian Journet is considered one of the best runners and mountain athletes in the world. For the last 15 years, he has dominated the trail running scenes, winning all major championships and races across the globe including the 2022 UTMB race.
It was in the 2022 edition of the UTMB race when Kilian introduced the trail running world to his brand, NNormal, and this shoe, the Kjerag.
For the largest part of his career, Kilian wore Salomon shoes. His sponsorship ended with the brand and he sought to create his own brand.
He says of the new brand, “Born from strong beliefs and relentless research, Nnormal Kjerag is our highest-performing trail running shoe. Made by people as committed to protecting the planet as you.”
And of the new model, the Nnormal Kjerag, “Every runner at every level gets lightweight reactivity, high-speed comfort, extreme grip and stability. From training for your 1st VK to making the podium on your 50th 100-mile, Kjerag makes you uncatchable.”
Nnormal Kjerag – First Impression:
The NNormal Kjerag is a light shoe.
At just 200g it’s very much a shoe build particularly for races although Kilian himself says the very shoes in which he won the 2022 UTMB have covered 1500km!
So, in keeping with his mantra of sustainability, the durability of the shoe is an important selling point.
For such a light shoe you’d imagine it might not be very durable, but on closer inspection, there are a few features of the shoe that should help preserve its lift on the trails.
The Matryx fabric upper used Kevlar in its construction, a material best known for its use in bullet-proof vests!
Then there’s a Vibram sole and deep rubber toe bumper to provide both durability and protection on harsh terrain.
The upper is very much of a minimalist design, just a single-layer fabric with no additional padding except for the ankle and heel collar.
Inside the shoe there’s no insole or sock liner, your foot sits straight on top of the midsole. While NNormal says this helps with ‘feeling connected to the ground’, some may find it leaves a little space under the arch and around the edges of the foot.
Nnormal Kjerag – Tech:
One of the most important elements of a trail running shoe is of course the outsole. Here NNormal has ensured their shoe ticks the most important box for trail fans and chosen a Vibram outsole.
Vibram has a long and established history of manufacturing the go-to outsoles for both trail running and walking shoes.
The Nnormal Kjerag uses a Vibram Metagrip pattern sole which, can handle both wet and dry conditions, provides sticky-like traction, and is extra-durable.
Its flexible design helps when contouring, meaning the foot can easily adapt to the terrain.
The 3.5mm deep lugs, while not the most aggressive work well on varying trail surfaces and prove to be a good all-around choice.
This particular Vibram Metagrip sole also uses the brand’s Litebase material. This reduces the overall weight of the compound used by 30% by reducing the sole thickness (not the depth of the lugs), by 50%.
NNormal is using a new proprietary midsole foam in the Kjerag, EExpure, a new generation of foam specifically engineered for trail running shoes.
The EExpure foam does have a familiar appearance and feel, looking like a PEBA-based foam and having a similar underfoot performance.
The upper of the shoe has a Matryx Jacquard construction. This lightweight, breathable fabric is weaved from individually coated polyamide and Kevlar yarns. This provides an extremely durable fabric that can cope with the demands of the trails.
Produced in France, the fabric uses a dyeing process which reduces the amount of water used in its manufacture by at least 50%.
Nnormal Kjerag – Test run:
As always with trail shoes, the wide range of surfaces on which they find themselves can be very varied.
Some runners may run a mile or two on the road before they hit their local trails while others may be splashing through mud within their first few strides.
There’s never going to be a truly do-it-all trail shoe, so the options available can have a wide range of both cushioning and lug depth.
The NNormal Kjerag was made with races such as the UTMB in mind. Run on mountain paths and tracks, usually firm dirt and gravel paths. Covering over 100 miles and 10,000m of ascent it’s one of the most demanding races on the planet.
The perfect UTMB shoe needs to offer comfort, cushioning, and traction for over 20 hours on your feet!
Having won the race previously Kilian Journet knows what works for him, the real question or test is what works for the majority of the shoe-buying runners that line up beside him.
The Nnormal Kjerag is a race day model, as light as the latest road racing models, it almost feels a little too light to tackle the demands of mile after mile of trail.
The lightweight upper is a single-layer construction and feels very durable. Its Kevlar fibre construction clearly plays an important part here. Although the fabric itself feels a little stiff and bunches a little around my forefoot in the toe box area, it fits snuggly enough around the midfoot and feels secure.
A rubberised toe bumper wraps around the toes and up over the front of the foot. This should protect from the undergrowth and aid with durability further.
There’s zero padding in the upper or tongue, only a little around the ankle collar and heel tab. The heel tab itself is low so as not to irritate the Achilles.
So, the shoe is very clearly made with performance in mind.
The Vibram Metagrip Litebase sole has a familiar look to it, but being an off-the-shelf Vibram design that is to be expected and Vibram do make very good soles.
The midsole is a very interesting material. NNormal says it’s a new foam, EExpure (with no more details), but it has the appearance of a PEBA-type material and indeed under the foot the feel is also similar to that of many new breed road shoes.
Inside, there’s no liner to the shoe, so it does feel a little roomy under the arch and around the edges of my foot.
NNormal says this fit will reduce the chance of blisters. I’d be more inclined to say the excess room might make the risk of blister more, but that would only really be something that you’d discover after many miles.
I took to my local trails and purposely sought out a relatively dry, hilly route of stony and rocky terrain.
The initial fit concerns of the shoe did disappear quickly, but on the trails, I was perhaps more focused on staying upright and aware of the surface beneath my feet.
The cushioning is great. It’s soft and responsive and despite being just 23mm thick, it does cope well with both the climbs and descents I encounter.
Traction is also excellent, but again I chose a route without too much mud and it was a dry day.
My second run in the shoes was a long adventure, almost ten miles around the reservoirs near my home. This route takes in a rocky fire trail and mainly gravel footpaths.
This route was also much flatter than my first run in the shoe but I chose this to test the performance of the shoe at speed.
At a faster pace, the shoe excelled, and the responsiveness of the midsole was noticeable and welcome.
Nnormal Kjerag – Conclusion:
Kilian won the UTMB in a pair of these shoes, so we cannot argue with that. Much the same as Eliud Kipchoge ran a sub-2-hour marathon in a pair of Nike Alphafly.
That said, what works for one runner may not work for others and although this shoe is designed with the ultra-trail races in mind, personally I wouldn’t be venturing further than perhaps 13 miles in them.
The brand does now have other ‘training’ models that offer more cushioning and for many, these may prove to be the ones to go for if you want to emulate Kilian in some way.
For trail races, the Nnormal Kjerag is a great shoe, it reminds me very much of the VJ Sport Ultra 2. The VJ also has a Kevlar upper, exceptional grip and great cushioning, perhaps a little more cushioning.
The Nnormal Kjerag is light and durable and despite the lack of insole, it is very comfortable. (The upper is roomy enough to fit an insole from one of your other shoes should you wish)
As the brand’s top-tier performance model, NNormal have priced it as such and it’s probably a little too rich when compared to the competition, that said you are paying for the initial development and set-up of the model, so perhaps we may see a better-priced version in the future.
In summary, it’s a great shoe and I’ll continue to wear it on suitable courses, but as is always the case with trail shoes, each has its own, usually, very specific benefits depending on where you venture.