A pair of softly cushioned shoes with enough support/protection to work off-road in some instances and a unique Gore-Tex upper that (obviously) repels water while keeping cool.
Good water resistance
(Some) trail capabilities
Not (really) a trail shoe
Deep heel cup that’s not for everyone
As I’m someone who calls Southern California home, you might be wondering, “Why is he reviewing a pair of Gore-Tex shoes?” A better question might be, “Why would a company send a pair of Gore-Tex shoes to an editor who lives in Southern California?” This is the exact question I posed to myself when I opened the box of Brooks Ghost 13 GTXs. Because of this confusion, I’m embarrassed to admit the shoes went to the back of my gear queue because I had no interest in doing brutal trail runs (yes, we have brutal trails here in Southern California) with super hot and sweaty feet. I thought maybe I’d use them as hiking shoes when I visit family back east or when it was raining, or I had to slog through the mud to do yardwork (yes, we have yards here in Southern California—sometimes). But after looking at them longingly and admittedly thrashing the other shoes ahead in the queue over a period of weeks, I acquiesced and threw them on for a run. Read on for what happened next.
Brooks Ghost 13 GTX: The Basics
If you’re unfamiliar with the Ghost lineage, it’s a long one. The Ghost is one of Brooks’ most popular shoes because it’s a very smooth, soft shoe with lots of cushioning, but not so soft that it devolves into mush. With a 12mm drop, these shoes want nothing to do with the minimalist, low-drop, high road-feel shoes that were popular over the last ten years, but the presence of a pretty capable outsole and some structure through the midsole makes it tough to characterize as a “maximalist” shoe in the tradition of something like a Hoka. You don’t feel squishy in a pair of Ghosts. One of the biggest things that stand out in this pair of shoes is definitely the heel cup: It’s deep, and it wraps around the back of the heel in a way that’s actually very unusual. We’ll get to what that does below, but it’s worth noting in the basics.
Brooks Ghost 13 GTX: The Good
So once I finally got these shoes on my feet, I went out for a trail run (yeah, I thought they were trail shoes because they’re Gore-Tex and because they’re grey—so sue me). Within the first minute of the run, I landed right in the middle of a nearly ankle-deep puddle from some sort of burst irrigation pipe, I kid you not. It would have been a good idea to test them if I had planned it, but instead it was just frustrating. But rather than squish my way through the next ten miles, the shoes actually did their job and kept the water out. Both of my feet should have been soaked completely though, but neither were. So the Gore-Tex worked, but that’s no real surprise. The real surprise is that I continued to wear these shoes—on the road, but more often than not on trails—while temperatures varied from 60 degrees F to 90+. My feet never once got hot, and never once got sweaty. In and of itself, this is a pure miracle: that a pair of waterproof shoes could still ventilate well enough to do lots of hard work on savage trails and never feel like a pair of traditional Gore-Tex runners.
Upper aside, these shoes did a great job of cushioning on super severe downhills (on and off road) while not losing a ton of spring on the uphills/flats. I was super surprised with the responsiveness of these shoes, but it’s important to note that these are very very far from the carbon-soled springboards other brands currently use to catapult you around. The Ghost 13s are more of a protective, preventative soft shoe instead of a truly bouncy pair. On the flip side, you won’t wobble around like some extremely soft shoes; these have a reasonable amount of structure.
Brooks Ghost 13 GTX: More Than Looks
There’s not a lot to dislike in the Ghost 13 GTXs, and the fact that I’ve sprayed them with water, stepped in more ankle-deep puddles, plowed through some (manmade) mud, and even had some really really wet early morning runs through soaking grass makes me think the Gore-Tex upper in this pair will hold up super well to whatever you throw at it. I would say that despite the shoe’s aesthetics and Gore-Tex features, this is not necessarily a trail shoe. In fact, it’s not meant to be a trail shoe at all, even according to Brooks. Colors, waterproofness, and perfect cushioning/protection aside, the only thing holding back the Ghost 13 GTX from trail status is the shallow tread/lug pattern that works on many, but not all, trail situations. After using these on some very aggressive trails, I found that they hold up well on abusive rocks and off-camber sections (warning, these are not for you if words like “trail feel” and “proprioception” are important to you), but they struggled on aggressive, loose downhills and anything wet or muddy. So while you can’t say that these aren’t amazing at being trail shoes—because they’re not—they actually come pretty close in a lot of conditions.
The last big note on these shoes that doesn’t necessarily fall in the “good” category is that singular heel depth. Often, I appreciated the deep heel cup (in terms of deep towards the back of the foot) when it came to keeping the shoe firm and tight on my foot, preventing any slips on steep hills, but for anyone who might have a sensitive Achilles, that sort of severe wrapping up around the heel could be an issue. The heel is definitely something that some people may like, but it’s worth noting that it’s very very different than a lot of other shoes out there.
Brooks Ghost 13 GTX: Conclusions From Cali
The big shocker in this pair of shoes isn’t necessarily that they repelled water and weather—I’ve tried many shoes who do that well. The big surprise is that I was able to run with these through a very sweaty fall without foot overheating issues. This is a really important thing to note when you’re considering buying these soft-but-not-too-soft shoes with a durable outsole and a smooth ride. In the past I’ve avoided Gore-Tex footwear because I figured it doesn’t rain here enough to justify them, and I’d just end up hot wearing them on most runs. The Ghost 13 GTXs do a great job of being an all-around cushioned running shoe that works well on some trails, but works well in pretty much all conditions. If bad winter weather is a possibility at all, I’d recommend them for everything but their traction, and I’d feel comfortable knowing that you can use them through a warm spring and into a hot summer if necessary.