Expectations Exceeded, Skepticism Silenced
I’ve always been skeptical of the lacing system that Salomon uses, perhaps like most, I’ve been trained to be comfortable in the standard. Considering the amount of shoes I’ve done reviews on over the years, and how often new “innovative” styles come and go, it surprises me that I’ve eluded Salomon, and many other footwear brands with similar lacing systems this long. Of course outside of sneakers, I’ve used similar systems but the Salomon system at first glance seems to be on the under-prepared side for shoes meant to handle the weather and rough terrain of trail running. Whatever it is, there has always been a sort of comfort for me in being able to actually tie my shoes.
My skepticism about the Kevlar QUICKLACE system was silenced immediately the first time I wore the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX. The incredibly strong lacing system is about as simple and lightweight as can be, and possibly more effective than any I’ve ever worn. Not only is the QUICKLACE system simple and effective, Salomon covers all the details by including storage pocket of sorts. The laces tuck nicely into the pouch on the top of the tongue to avoid any inconveniences of snagging on any brush along your journey.
In the previous trail shoes that I’ve run in or hiked in, they have a tendency to feel bulky when first slipping them on. I’m sure you can relate to the difference, it’s like a pair of dress socks versus a wool sock for the winter, they’re just different. With the XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX, slipping them on your feet for the first time is the farthest from what most would consider a trail shoe would feel like. The cushioning is instantly impressive when you first take steps in the shoes, and there was really no need for break in time at all. After the first run along the local river trail, the shoes felt as comfortable as those casual shoes that I have been wearing for months, which has never been my experience with trail shoes. Trail shoes often need more than a handful of wears to break them in to an acceptable comfort level.
The comfort of the XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX can be attributed in large part to a system that Salomon calls SENSIFIT, which envelopes your foot to create a formfitting and comfortable feel. The Ortholite insole on the XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX is a combination of an EVA heel cup which further magnifies the envelope-like fitment, and reclaimed tire material which puts a smile on tree-hugging recyclers faces like mine. Despite appearing like it may be a rough and rugged ride for your feet, surprisingly the minimalistic insole and triple density Energy Cell EVA midsole is on par with the comfort of some of the top running/casual running shoes that I’ve worn. With these being so comfortable, it might seem that the comfort may come at the sacrifice of ruggedness or durability. It most definitely does not.
Being that this version in the XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX, GTX short for Gore-Tex, is designed to handle the elements, I headed to Monte Rio California where there is plenty of wind, water, trails, and sand near the Sonoma Coast State Beach, that would test some of the features of this Salomon design. One of the most intriguing elements to the design of XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX is the tongue. Although the fitment and comfort benefits from the slightly overlapping design, the overlapping could easily allow trail debris in between the tongue and the upper. Salomon’s gusseted tongue design does an excellent job of addressing this issue. By adding “gussets” to each side of the tongue, they can keep the tongue attached to the upper, completely closing off the path that dirt and debris would normally take to finding its way into your shoes where it can cause discomfort and blisters. The gussets also serve the purpose of allowing the tongue to move outward when you put the shoes on. The tongue is one of the many simple details that really help make this Salomon a great shoe.
The XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX is traction is superb, and when used for their intended off-road expeditions, I am not sure they’re could even be any improvements in this department. Even in some of the windy and rainy conditions that I encountered, these feel solid. The combination of the aggressive tread pattern and the company’s 3D technology makes these some of the most capable trail shoes out there. When combined with the blanket-like fitment, the XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX seems to respond to every demand you can require of it. You’ll never have to have a thought as to whether your shoes will find stable ground, which will allow you to stay focused on the path ahead.
If there is one thing that leaves room for improvement. The shoes get a little warm. Breathability was noticeably less than desired. Although the Ortholite insole is supposed to help with moisture management, the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX still had my feet wanting some air even in the rain. This can likely be attributed to the Gore-Tex upper, as I didn’t experience any moisture from the rain or river making its way inside of the shoe, it makes me believe that not much is going to escape once things warm up inside. After the first handful of runs, I switched to an Under Armour Heat Gear 3 sock which helped quite a bit, but all in all it’s a minor downside to the overall impressive Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX.
To sum it up, the Salomon XA 3D Ultra GTX surpasses its expectations as one of the premier trail running shoes on the market. With only one noticeable down side, these offer quality, comfort, stability, protection from the elements, and superb traction for taking your running off the beaten path. Unless Salomon one-ups themselves prior to December, these will undoubtedly be on my feet for my next trail challenge, The North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon that takes place just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the Marin Headlands, which should speak volumes for how impressed I am with these shoes.
*Performance Review shoes provided by Eastbay*