Sweated & Vetted: Victory Sportswear

The factory in Massachusetts that makes Victory Sportswear’s running shoes hasn’t changed much since the 1980s. In the early days, the company – which is one of the oldest still-operational sneaker manufacturers in the US – catered to hikers tackling the Green Mountains and the Catskills, plus this new breed of suspicious marathon runners who wanted lighter, faster footwear. New ownership in 2013 took Victory Sportswear in a fresh direction, but, importantly, made almost no changes to the core line.

Victory Sportswear focuses on two models – the burly Trail Runner and the leaner Speed Shoe. Both models are made about an hour west of Boston in Fitchburg, MA, a town of just 40,000. Stephen Keoseian, the company’s owner and chief shoe-maker, sent me a pair of navy / gray Trail Runners to wear-test. I spent four weeks hiking and running around northern Wisconsin, and overall, I’m pleased to say that their retro charm is matched by serious durability and performance.

The uppers are constructed from thick pigskin suede for support and structure, and nylon mesh panels for breathability. The Trail Runner has a reinforced bumper (the leather panel across the front of the toe box) and a 2” wide strap on both the lateral and medial sides. The tongue is a simple mesh-sandwiched piece of ¼” foam, with a bit of extra padding near the top. There’s also some extra foam padding in the heel collar as well. And although Victory Sportswear’s retro runners lack the seamless inner bootie of more modern trail shoes, I didn’t have any trouble with the seams rubbing or chaffing.

One of the only issues I had with the uppers was the stiffness and inflexibility of the heel cup, which is higher than average and quite rigid. I suspect this is necessary for the reverse flare foxing that connects the rear third of the uppers to the midsole, so a more flexible heel cup may not be feasible with Victory Sportswear’s construction methods.

The Trail Runners are combination board & strobel lasted, which means the rear two-thirds of the shoe is board-lasted with a stiff molded piece for stability, while the forefoot has a traditional strobel last to save weight and improve front-end flexibility. The result of the rear board last and rigid heel cup is a stiff rear end paired with a much more flexible front third. Some runners will appreciate the support and structure this type of construction provides, while others may find it too firm and inflexible.

The Trail Runners have a dual-density EVA foam midsole. The front two-thirds is made with softer, more responsive white foam, while the rear third is made with harder, more supportive gray foam. Since most runners strike the ground heel-first, this gives the shoes stability where it’s most needed. The outsoles are full-contact, high-durability blown rubber made by SoleTech, a company out of Salem, Massachusetts. I kept looking for signs of wear in the spots I tend to grind off first (the outer edge of the heel and inner edge of the forefoot), and I only noticed the faintest hints of abrasion. That’s impressive durability.

One substantial advantage of reverse flare foxing is that Victory Sportswear’s shoes can be resoled, which is virtually unheard of for running shoes. The cost is $80, and most shoes can be resoled up to four times. I saw so little wear on my outsoles after four weeks that I suspect it would take a year or more of daily wear to grind them down.

From top to bottom and heel to toe, I was impressed with Victory Sportswear’s high-quality construction, durable materials, and thoughtful details. US-made running shoes are rare in the first place; discovering a pair with this level of quality and the option to resole is an absolute treat.

Jason Brozek is an ultramarathon runner, lapsed Ironman triathlete, and professor at a small liberal arts college, where he teaches courses on sustainability and international politics.