The lightweight Wolverine Pulsar is designed for ultimate performance, comfort and fit during every outdoor adventure. Featuring patented Wolverine iCS (individual comfort system) technology, wearers can personalize their level of comfort for how they walk by simply adjusting the gel disc under the Pulsar’s performance OrthoLite footbed.
- Mesh upper with stabilizing PU overlay
- Wave mesh lining with GORE-TEX waterproof membrane
- OrthoLite footbed with performance arch support and X-40 fore-part energy pod
- Polyurethane midsole
- Vibram rubber lug outsole with performance arch stabilizers
- Cement construction
- Tested size 9
- Measured weight – 485 g (17.1 oz) each
- Forefoot width – 99.6 mm (3.9 in)
- Retail – $160
Wolverine has been in the shoe and boot business for over 100 years and is still going strong. The brand began as a work boot brand back in 1883 and has grown to incorporate outdoor footwear and apparel now. Their focus is on making the most comfortable footwear, guaranteed. That is what leads to this review. A while back, I did a review of the Fulcrum Boots, which had the iCS system. Well, these shoes do as well, and this system is totally focused on providing a customizable and comfortable fit. I will touch on that more below. I want to also thank Wolverine for providing the shoes for review.
The Pulsar iCS Shoes are a hardcore hiking shoe; therefore, I took them hiking in hardcore conditions. Makes sense right? I used them on hikes and climb around Central Oregon ranging up to 15 miles in a day. I did not experience much in the way of rain or wet weather but did get some good time in the snow. I also wore them both without a pack and with a pack to test the support.
The Design section of this review will be a bit longer and in depth about the design of the shoes. I do include some thoughts on the design, but most of this section is more technical. Scroll down to the FIT section if you are looking for more of my thoughts rather than the design elements.
The Wolverine Pulsar Shoes are a bit similar to the Fulcrum boots I tested a while back. At the core, they have the same technology, the iCS disc in the heel. iCS stands for Individual Comfort System. The iCS disc technology allows you to choose from several comfort settings shown to substantially reduce the force and torque on the body when stepping and walking. This is from a Michigan State University biomechanical study done in 2010. Since there is a disc in each foot you can customize the fit in each individual boot. The gel disc resides in a custom port underneath the heel section of the insole. To adjust the disc all you need to do is:
- Lift insole and remove the disc.
- Rotate the disc to your comfort setting.
- Set disc and replace the insole.
There are four different positions of the disc for personalized comfort. The cushion setting increase’s cushioning and shock absorption. The Inward setting is best for low arches or flat feet. It adds inward stabilization and will enhance the gait of an over-pronator. The Outward position is for higher arches and reduces stress caused by under-pronation (supination). It will provide outward stabilization to enhance your gait. The last setting is the firm setting. It will help return energy and keep you effortlessly moving forward. All these settings can be done by setting the disc into the appropriate port with the setting you want in line with the arrow on the port. Once set it will not slip or change unless you pull it out to do so.
The shoes have a mesh upper, wave mesh lining, and in between is sandwiched a GORE-TEX waterproof membrane. This makes the shoes 100% waterproof. Over the top of the upper Wolverine has used polyurethane overlays to add more structure to the upper and add stability. These overlays connect the sole to the lacing as the eyelets go through the top. In the back, there is a reinforced heel counter. As they are a hiking shoe, the toes have been covered with a durable overlay for protection from rocks and other trail debris. The lacing is standard by design with a durable cord lace for extra security out on the trail. It has an uneven texture to it to help it stay tied better with less slippage. One thing that is lacking from the lacing design is an extra eyelet at the top for heel lock lacing techniques. I generally do not use this technique, but I know a lot of people who do. The tongue is padded with a full gusset up the sides. This keeps the tongue in place while at the same time preventing debris and water from getting in.
The midsole is made of polyurethane. This adds cushioning while taking much longer to break down that a typical EVA foam. It does add some weight as it is a denser foam. Of course, this is only used in the front 2/3 of the shoe as the back portion is where the iCS disc resides. The Pulsar uses an OrthoLite footbed for slip in comfort. This footbed has a performance arch built in and an X-40 fore-part energy pod for increased comfort under the ball of the foot. The insole is removable for those who like to swap out their insoles for a different one. For the outsole, Wolverine has gone with a Vibram rubber lugged outsole. Vibram is known the world over for their high-quality rubber, and it seems like every brand now used them. The outsole has also incorporated performance arch stabilizers, which look to be made of a hard plastic like material to provide further stability.
The Pulsar Shoes have been made with a cement construction rather than the more common sewn construction you often see. This means the parts of the shoe have been glue together rather than sewn. It removes some bulk from the shoe and will be interesting to see the durability. The shoes currently come in two colors, black and blue. I tested the Blue color, and boy are they bright. When I climbed Mt Washington, two other climber up on the summit said they could see me coming from my bright blue shoes, and this was from a long way off. I must say they are a bit bright and while I would have rather had the black pair, I do not totally mind the bright color. Wolverine will be updating this color in 2013 with a Navy Blue version. As far as the materials used in the shoes, I have not found any evidence that any of it is made from recycled or sustainable materials. Corporately, Wolverine does support the Wolverine Foundation which raises awareness and support for the often misunderstood Wolverine. For these reasons, I gave the shoes a one in sustainability.
Foot Length (15%)
Foot Volume (15%)
Heel Width (15%)
Midfoot Width (15%)
Toe Box Width (15%)
At first glance, the Fulcrum shoes look big and bulky, especially when compared with some of the more minimalist options recently coming out. The Wolverine Fulcrum is by no means a minimalist hiking shoe and thus should not be compared to them. This is a fully cushioned supportive hiking shoe. I am usually a size 9, and that is what I tested in the Fulcrum. As I mentioned the shoes looked big, and I can say they do have a little extra length to them. I am on the bigger side of a 9 and still had a good amount of room in there, but I do not think it was enough to size up to the 9 ½. I think if you are in between sizes, I would definitely size up but otherwise suggest your regular size. The socks you wear will also make a difference on what size works best for you.
What truly makes this shoe look so big is the volume of them. I must say they have a lot of room on the inside. If you are a high-volume foot, then these are your shoes. I, being more of a medium volume had plenty of room on the inside which I found to be both good and bad. The heel felt like it was a good medium width but the midfoot was a bit too wide. This extra width made for an interesting conundrum. The toe box definitely has some extra width and height to it which I really like but with the sloppier fit of the midfoot it made it so the toes felt a bit sloppier as well. If the midfoot could have been a bit tighter, this would have secured my foot better while allowing the toes to splay well. I tried to use the lacing to tighten some of this up, but it struggles to adequately tighten the shoe up much around the ball of the foot. The high volume just makes it hard to accommodate enough change.
Now do not let this make you think the shoes are not comfortable because they really are. On hikes up to 15 miles I did not have a single blister or hot spot. I hiked, scrambled, and even climbed without issue. I generally paired the shoes with a slightly thicker sock to take up the extra room and this worked great. I even had some water soak in from the top once and with some damp feet I still had no comfort issues. The upper is a bit stiff, which I think can be attributed to the Gore-Tex membrane but other than that they feel great. If you do not remember my comments about the iCS when I tested the Fulcrum Boots. I felt like there was a slight ridge at the transition point from the midsole to the disc. In the Pulsar Shoes, there is no such ridge; the transition feels much more seamless. With the Pulsar Shoes, you will lose some protection for your ankle as compared to boots. The collar on these has a nice padding that felt great for me.
Water Resistance (20%)
The Wolverine Pulsar shoes work really well. Strangely enough I did not feel the entire benefit of the iCS system in the Fulcrum Boots, but I have liked it much more in the shoes. I think much of this is from the transition point between the midsole and the disc. In the boots there seemed to be a slight drop to the disc which made them feel a little less comfortable and took away from me feeling the full benefits (and differences) of the disc. With the shoes I can tell the difference between the different positions much more than I could with the shoes. The only other reason I could come up with is maybe the added flexibility of the shoes makes it more pronounced; I am not totally sure. I can say that I have really liked the cushioning in these shoes. There is plenty of protection from anything you may step on and even after a long hike my feet did not feel beat up. It is really cool that you can adjust the settings based on the needs of each foot and even change the setting at different points along the same hike if needed.
The shoes did indeed prove to be waterproof on my adventures. The best test I gave it was a late spring climb of Mt Washington where a good seven miles of my trip was in wet slushy snow. Not once did I have wet feet from the snow seeping in. The shoes also seemed to breathe fairly well. I think some of this is due to the extra room I have inside the shoes, especially in the forefoot. My feet never felt like they were hot and sweaty, which is a good thing. Hot and sweaty feet are stinky feet. The Vibram outsole had good traction in all conditions I put them through. I did not have any issues in the snow or ice, loose rock, or even doing some low 5th class climbing. I felt like the traction in these was excellent for most of what you will encounter. I did not get the chance to test these in a really wet forest setting like you may have on the other side of the mountains. I imagine they would have done just as well there.
The Pulsar shoes have had good durability thus far. They stood up well, for the most part, on all my trips. The toe covering helps, but I have scuffed it up a little. You can see some blue poking through on the picture of the toe. The other thing I have noticed about my particular shoes is that they do stain fairly easily. The upper over the toes has stained where the creases form when I was hiking. Not sure if this is from normal dirt on the trail or from the short section of forest fire burnout I had to hike through. Either way I was surprised to see them stain so easily. It is only slightly noticeable; you can barely see it in the pictures.
Overall, I liked the performance of the Pulsar shoes and especially being able to customize the cushioning. I do think fit will be a bit of an issue. I would not recommend these to people with lower volume feet. The laces do not do a well enough job of tightening down to accommodate a low-volume foot. On the other hand, if you have a high-volume foot, this may be the best pair on the market. There is plenty of room on these shoes. I ended up in my standard size but was really close to being able to size up. The iCS disc is what truly sets these apart. You can individually customize the feel and unlike the Fulcrum boots, I was able to feel the difference quite a bit. These shoes are good for a variety of activities, but I felt most at home on the trail with a light to medium pack. If you are looking for some waterproof hiking shoes with good support and lots of comfort, take a look at these. The Wolverine Pulsar Waterproof iCS Shoes retail for $160. I personally think you get what you pay for with these. They are solid, comfortable, and should last a long time. As always, your mileage may vary.
Pros [field name=iFrame]
- Adjustable comfort with iCS disc
- Wide forefoot
- Good traction
- Comfortable upper
- Wide through the midfoot
- Laces not able to tighten enough for lower volume feet
- Upper can stain easily
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