2002 was the last time I wore a boot while hiking. That was the year I completed my first thru-hike of the Northville-Placid trail, and the experience motivated me to re-examine the equipment I used. Inspired in part by a US Army study that showed that wearing 1 pound on your feet was roughly equivalent to carrying 6 pounds on your back (in terms of energy use), I decided to start by changing my shoes – I wanted something faster and lighter.
So I dumped traditional boots for trail runners, and have not looked back since. I now wear this style of shoe on almost every outdoor adventure I go on… long or short, flat or steep… I even wear them in early winter conditions with crampons. Yet finding what I would consider the perfect trail runner has been hard.
Earlier this year I picked up a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3d Ultra GTX Trail Running Shoes (from REI) and over the last 3 months I have worn them everywhere. While jogging around neighborhood streets, while trail running, and on a peak bagging day hike. They are comfortable enough, and nice enough looking, that I even wear them around town as casual footwear. They have become my do everything pair for shoes.
Good Balance Between Weight and Stability
Weighing in at around 28.5 ounces, these are not the lightest trail runners you can find, but they have struck a good balance between weight and stability. The protective toe and heel caps do their jobs without being restrictive and the 3d Advanced Chassis gives the sole a stable but responsive feel.
I suppose the best way I can put this is that I rarely have to think about these shoes while I wear them. They are just doing their job, letting me enjoy whatever it is that I am doing. This is especially true on trails where, unlike other trail runners I have owned, they are stable enough that I do not find myself paying too much attention to foot placement or constantly worrying about rolling an ankle.
Dry Feet are Happy Feet
Several features are built into the shoe to help protect you from moisture, both external and internal. The uppers are made of a breathable mesh material, the inner booties are constructed from Gore-Tex XCR, and the polyester linings are designed to wick moisture away from your feet. This mirrors the moisture transfer systems found in a lot of high end outdoor clothing, and in my experience it works rather well. I have yet to wear them in a full downpour but they have done a good job of keeping my feet dry and happy in both hot and moderately wet conditions.
Lacing system is not a gimmick
I admit it – I am an old school lace and double knot kind of guy. I have hated almost every attempt to improve on this classic system. Tops on my list of gimmicks that annoyed me was the move to round synthetic ripcord type laces. I just could never get them to hold a snug fit.
So it was with some hesitation that I decided to try the Kevlar Quickfit lacing system found on these runners – it looked unnecessarily complicated and was using the round synthetic laces I had trouble with. However, I was quickly won over after just a few tries. The lacing mechanism is a bit like a belay device in that it allows the laces to move in one direction only, with no slip back. This overcomes the problems I had with getting a tight fit with other shoes, and makes “tying” your shoes a simple tug of the laces. To “untie” the shoe, you hold down the release mechanism and tug again. Adjustments on the fly couldn’t be easier… if you feel like the shoe is too tight or too loose you can fine tune the laces with the shortest of pit stops.
As you can see, there is a bit of lace left over when you tighten this system – and unlike conventional laces, you do not have the option to triple up the knot in order to take in the slack. The shoe deals with this by providing a pouch in the tongue where you can tuck in the excess, if you don’t it can bounce around and be a bit of an annoyance.
The Perfect All Around Outdoor Shoe
The Salomon XA Pro 3d Ultra GTX is such a versatile shoe that it is now my casual road shoe, my trail runner, and my hiking ‘boot’… and I am yet to be disappointed with it in any of those activities. I will say, however, that if I was anything other than a casual road runner that I would probably want something a little more light and flexible, but for my purposes this shoe does it all.
I think the best compliment I can pay these trail runners is that I plan on buying a second pair to keep as backups. I’ve found the perfect shoe for my needs – and with the way manufacturers alter products from year to year, whether they need to or not, I want to make sure I have an extra pair in the closet in case I lose or wear out my current ones.
The best trail runners I have owned. Light, stable, versatile… they do everything I ask them to, and have even warmed me up to modern lacing systems.
Light enough for casual road running, yet sturdy enough to protect my feet and ankles on the trail. Excellent moisture protection. Simple, no hassle lacing system. Nice enough looking that I wear them casually around town.
Price, at $135 these are some of the most expensive trail runners I have seen.
Where to buy:
- Amazon.com has some for as low as $129.95