Salomon S-LAB ULTRA Shoe Review

It has been a while since I slipped on a Salomon shoe for my daily runs. No particular reason, sometimes when testing shoes, I find a real winner and then that becomes my shoe of choice. I wrote last year how I loved the Nike Wildhorse 4, I still love them, and they go everywhere, I would say that they are my ‘go to’ shoe that handles a little of everything with loads of comfort, security and all in a great looking shoe. 

I have always been a fan of the Salomon S-Lab Sense both in normal HERE and SG HERE (soft ground) versions, however, for me, they are just a little too minimalist for everyday running and longer runs.

The S-LAB ULTRA is a shoe that may well be a game changer for Salomon. 

To clarify, Salomon fans are already happy with the Sense shoes and its variants, however, I cannot tell you how many times I have had messages asking me to feedback to Salomon the need for:

  • Wider toe box
  • Higher drop (8mm)
  • More cushioning
  • And all the same goodies that made the Sense such a great shoe.

Well, the S-LAB ULTRA is the shoe! 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

It’s that classic red colour that Salomon utilize so well and at first glance you know it is a Salomon shoe. It’s a good-looking shoe, the fade between red at the front and a darker colour at the rear is ‘sexy,’ if a shoe can be sexy?  

The first thing you notice are two straps on either side of the outside of the shoe. It makes the shoe look a little heavy and somewhat over engineered. This is a protective Skin guard – more on that later.

 The toe box is visibly wider, beefier and well protected.

 

The cushioning is visibly deeper both at the front and rear. This is, as Salomon says: “Energysave® foam insert in the forefoot adds long-lasting cushioning and protection from rocks and rough ground, while ENERGYCELL+ foam in the bottom unit ensures a smooth, consistent ride.”

The grip looks pretty classic for a Salomon trail shoe. It’s red, with a standard trail lug that is not too aggressive. So, this shoe is obviously not designed for mud, it is a hard trail shoe that can be used on a multitude of surfaces, be that wet or dry. It is, “an all-new Contagrip® outsole, with premium wet traction and reverse lugs on the heel area, delivers confident grip, especially on the downhills.”

At £160 a pair, they aint cheap!

On Salomon’s website, they say the usage is ‘Racing Only’ but I have to disagree, this is a brilliant day-to-day comfy shoe that can handle pretty much anything with comfort, road too! Maybe this advice comes based on the price and they would recommend another similar Salomon shoe for day-to-day and keeping the S-LAB Ultra for special occasions… nah! If they are that good, use them I say! But the Salomon Sense Ride has an 8mm drop with 19/27mm cushioning and a similar outsole and they are £50 per pair (£110) cheaper. So. It is worth considering a training/ racing combo? – HERE

THE SHOE

 

Cushioning is excellent with 18mm at the front and 26mm at the rear, this provides an 8mm drop which for me is the perfect drop for longer runs. It’s a light shoe, but not super-light. A UK8 comes in at just under 300g. In a UK 9.5 (my size) it weighs 340g which is exactly the same as the SCOTT KINABALU HERE – there actually is a great deal of similarity in these shoes. My Nike Wildhorse 4 though are 290g in the same size, so, if I was a weight freak, the Nike’s win hands down!

I always say this about Salomon shoes and two things always stand out:  

The lacing with the storage pocket.

ENDOFIT internal sock liner.

 The ENDOFIT is just so awesome, it hugs the foot, holds it, secures it and keeps it protected. It is perfect. Other shoes come close, but I think Salomon ‘just’ win each time. Nike Wildhorse 4 has something similar, it is awesome and, in all honesty, why I love the Nike shoe so much. The other shoe that is similar is the VJ XTRM HERE. Actually, the ‘new’ reinforcing on the outside of the new S-LAB Ultra does a very similar thing to the Fitlock on the VJ.

 

The new straps on the outer of the shoe are significant, there is four of them, two on each side. Two lower, two higher – the laces pass through them and when you pull the lace tight, they bring the shoe in tighter in four key points, in addition with the sockliner, the foot is held firm in one of the most reassuring and comfortable grips I have experienced. 

The laces are classic Salomon. You pull them tight, slide the toggle down and then stuff the excess in the little ‘garage’ at the top of the tongue – so simple it is ingenious.

The inner of the shoe is pretty much seamless, so, if you wanted to go soulless you could. 

The heel box is plush, padded, really comfortable and holds the foot firm.

The toe box is wider and has an excellent toe bumper to protect against the terrain.

This shoe has been designed with a great deal of influence from Francois D’Haene and you can see why. He runs long, and he needs a shoe that can handle long hours on his feet, provide comfort, toe splay, cushioning and grip without losing many of the aspects of what has made the ‘Sense’ range so popular. 

The upper of the shoe is a breathable mesh with Ortholite Impressions which add structure and reinforcement to the shoe.

Midsole is cushioned and really is excellent on longer runs. Combined with the 8mm drop this is a great shoe for those who are running 80km and beyond. The combination of compressed EVA and Salomon’s EnergyCell make them very comfortable but not spongy. At all times, the S-LAB Ultra feels firm on the ground, allowing you to feel the ground but still run with precision.

 The outsole is classic Salomon. However, the S-LAB Ultra has a ‘new’ Premium Wet Traction Contagrip that works really well on a multitude of terrain, wet or dry. There is a Profit Film in the chassis of the shoe which protects against rocks and sharp objects – it is rock plate! 

IN USE

Slipping the S-LAB Ultra on you immediately notice how comfortable they are, the ENDOFIT just does its job perfectly and you can use them around the house without laces, they are that comfy and reassuring. Pull the laces and you feel your foot held in one of the most comfortable and tight embraces. It is so reassuring. I do not like sloppy shoes and my foot moving around inside the shoe – no chance of that here. BUT the laces are had to adjust, it’s all or nothing! However, I find this system preferable to the BOA system which adidas are using – at least I can pull my laces really tight in the Salomon. 

At the front end the additional room is very obvious in comparison to a pair of Sense.

The cushioning is also noticeable, you get that wonderful slightly bouncing feel when walking around.

On road they provide great comfort and grip and for sure, if I had to run large road sections in a race or training, I’d have no worries using this shoe. On hard pack trail they do a great job providing feel for the ground but not at the compromise of protection. The outsole is aggressive enough to grip when it is required. In mud they are pretty useless, the lugs are just not aggressive enough so keep that in mind. On grassy banks going up or down, they were great. On wet grassy bank in the wet they did slip once or twice – nothing crazy and I never fell over. On rock, grip is excellent in the dry but just a little compromised in the wet. In comparison to the Nike Wildhorse 4 in the wet, Salomon’s grip is superb, the Nike’s are a liability! 

The S-LAB Ultra is a solid all-rounder – be that road, trail, rocks, sand or whatever. It does nothing brilliantly and nothing bad. It’s a solid shoe for the long game, hence the Ultra title. To provide a scenario, I would say a S-LAB Sense is a Formula 1 car for shorter, faster and more aggressive races, whereas the S-LAB Ultra is better for Le Mans 24-hour race.

CONCLUSION

The S-LAB Ultra is for those who require a shoe that can handle a little of everything in a cushioned 8mm drop shoe that has great looks. ENDOFIT is just brilliant but I am well aware that not everyone likes it; I love it! The laces do the job brilliantly, again, not everyone like this type of lacing because of the lack of adjustment. The lugs are middle of the road and for some, may not be aggressive enough and despite the ‘wet traction’ name, the Contragrip is still not 100% in the wet. For example, inov-8 has the new Graphene and Sticky Rubber outsole and that really works. At £160 they are expensive, which is maybe why Salomon recommend them for racing? There is a great deal to like in the Salomon S-LAB Ultra and they have been used regularly by me as my ‘daily’ shoe for my 8/9 mile run as I have a whole mix of terrain that includes 2-miles of road, canal tow path, forest trail, gravel path and a little mud – the S-LAB Ultra handles all this superbly. I travel a great deal and these shoes provide me a simple solution as to what shoes to take as I know I can pretty much do anything in them. They are solid shoes and recommended. 

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Adidas Terrex Skychaser Shoe Review

It has been a long time since I did a run in Adidas shoes. When I did a great deal of road running, Adidas was one of my go-to brands but when I headed to the trails and mountains, I defected to other brands such inov-8, Salomon, TNF and so on.

I’d heard lots about the ‘Boost’ technology and was keen to try it. I was a little sceptical about this (what looks like polystyrene balls) Boost technology would withstand the battering that trail brings, but hey, Luis Alberto Hernando has done well with them huh?

The TERREX SKYCHASER is not the lightest shoe on the market, not by a long way at well over 300g for my UK9.5. However, I was pleased that the shoes were ‘true-to-size,’ I the past I had always found Adidas sized small.

The fit is definitely narrow, but not very narrow, in the toe box area and there is plenty of protection with a really great toe bumper for protection – invaluable on rocky terrain. The lacing is  via a narrow cord that is pulled tight from the top and then an adjustable stopper retains the tension – it’s very similar to what one sees on Salomon shoes. The excess cord can be stored under a small elastic loop towards the bottom of the lacing section.

The upper has the classic Adidas ‘three-stripes’ on the sides and these also act as the lace-loops from which one pulls the lacing tight. This holds the foot in place and keeps it secure.

The tongue is attached to the upper (my preferred method) as this not only reduces what debris can enter the shoe but also it allows the foot to be held more secure and it also increases comfort. Iv’e said it before and I will say it again, this is the way it should be for all run shoes in my opinion.

The shoes cushioning comes from ‘Boost’ technology and it’s reassuringly cushioned without being spongy. You can see that the insole has a chunk of orange and blue added, this is Adidas’s ‘Pro Moderator’ technology that adds medial and lateral support with additional stability in the midsole. I run in ‘neutral’ shoes and I was worried that these additions would spoil my experience of the shoes – it didn’t! For sure, it provided me with a different feel on the trail and mountains but what I did like was the reassurance it provided when the going got tough – the shoes felt rock solid.

The upper is breathable but most definitely resilient. The Terrex Skyxchaser could  definitely be a lighter shoe with a different upper, however, Adidas have obviously decided that this shoe is for tough outings – they don’t want the upper falling apart and in testing, I have to say it’s extremely durable and resistant to abrasion. You’ll also notice the upper has a darker orange colour, this is welding which also adds the increased support of the shoe.

As a cyclist and triathlete, I always chose Continental tyres but this is the first shoe I have used with the legendary German rubber as an outsole – I was impressed! Yes, the outsole didn’t disappoint and the compound provided great grip on dry and wet trail and rocks, it was excellent. The grip profile would make the Terrex Skychaser a great ‘all-rounder’ allowing cushioning and comfort on some road, hard-packed trails and should conditions become wet, the Continual runner really does its job. The profile can handle mud but should conditions become very sloppy, the outsole profile and lug depth is not aggressive enough to provide the grip that say an inov-8 Mudclaw would provide – that comes as no surprise and is not a criticism.

IN USE

Heading out on the road for my first run, I was struck by how the shoe felt on unforgiving tarmac. The Terrex Skychaser gave me a plush ride with the Continental outsole doing a great job on the hard stuff.

I had purposely chosen routes that involved a multitude of terrain to test the Terrex Skychaser and with Skyrunning courses to hand, this is where I have used these shoes for the last few months – from steep grass banks, hard and dry single-track, scree slopes, boulders, fire-trail, some snow and ice and river sections with slick rock.

In a nutshell the Terrex Skychaser handled all this extremely well with the highlights of the shoe coming with excellent cushioning without a loss of feel from the ground beneath my feet, excellent and reassured grip from the Continental outsole and a snug plush feel from the sock-like fit.

A 6mm drop worked well, for me, my sweet spot is 8mm as I find this to be preferable when I am on my feet for longer. With 4mm and 8mm now being many peoples choices, 6mm sits well as a compromise.

Like I said, I prefer neutral shoes and although this shoe has plenty of ‘extras’ to control my foot, I never found that I was being over controlled, something that I could in a La Sportiva shoe – read HERE.

Cushioning is good without losing feel, 23.5 at the rear and 17.5 at the front makes them ideally suited for a runner who needs some additional protection or who prefers a plush ride.

The overall fit of the shoe is narrow and when the trails are technical and you need reassurance that is a positive. However, if you need a wider toe-box, this is probably not the shoe for you.

It wasn’t an all-singing and all-dancing story. I found the heel box just wouldn’t hold my heel in. When climbing, my heel constantly was coming out of the shoe – a real irritant and a recipe for disaster in regard to performance and the increased risk of blisters. In a conventionally laced shoe, I would have re-laced my shoes and I would have almost certainly used a ‘lace-lock’ method (here) at the top of the lacing to secure my foot. You can’t do this with the Adidas as it does not have two eye-holes at the top and… This brings me to my second issue – the ‘speed-lacing!’ I know many love it and when it works it works, however, with the Terrex Skychaser I just couldn’t adjust the lacing so my foot felt comfortable with the correct tension and adjustment in the places that I needed it. I would that I had to tighten the lacing so much to retain my heel in the shoe that after 15-20 minutes my foot was aching on the in-step due the tension and pressure on the foot. I also found that lower down where my foot bends, I had effectively reduced the width of the shoe and therefore I was getting some pain and discomfort around my toes and metatarsals. I took the shoes off, loosened the laces and then put he shoes back on trying to leave the lower loop lose and wide, the middle lace-loops tight but not too tight and then the top two loops tight and secure – I sort of got to to work but it all felt compromised.

CONCLUSION

Loads of positives on this shoe but ultimately for me, it’s not a shoe I would use. I say this with regret as I loved the grip, the durability, the overall comfort but the heel box and the lacing made using the shoe a compromise. Because of the heel box, consider trying a half size smaller – it may do the trick? However, you may well find the shoe is then too narrow in the toe box.

Adidas Terrex Skychaser Shoes

The North Face #TNF Ultra Endurance Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3919A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the TNF Ultra TRII, I said then that TNF are really getting their act together with run shoes. The recent products from the brand have continued to impress and the addition of the ULTRA ENDURANCE adds another quality shoe that offers runners another option to tackle the trails. The current TNF line up is as follows:

ULTRA TRII read my review HERE

ULTRA CARDIAC read my review HERE

ULTRA MT read my review HERE

and the ULTRA ENDURANCE

In a review toward the end of 2015, when I compared many leading shoes against each other (not all shoes I must stress) the Ultra Cardiac very nearly took top honours, it was just pipped by the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac. (Read the review HERE).

If I did that review now, I strongly feel that the battle between the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac and the TNF Ultra Endurance may well be even closer but the Supertrac would still get the nod from me due to the outsole which is extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces, overall comfort and flexibility.

To provide some clarification, we need to look at the current TNF line up and see how (in simple terms) the shoes are to be used so that you can decide which shoe is for you:

ULTRA TRII – Is a dry trail, light and fast shoe for a runner who like a more minimalist feel. Cushioning is 8mm/ 16mm and It has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA CARDIAC – Is a cushioned trail/ mountain shoe that feels plush, fits snugly and works well and on dry trail, wet rock and very moderate mud. Cushioning is 12mm/ 20mm and it has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA MT – Has an aggressive outsole and is designed for off-road use in mud, mountains and demanding terrain. Cushioning is 9mm/ 17mm and it has an 8mm drop.

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3927

Enter the ULTRA ENDURANCE – 9mm/17mm with 8mm drop.

This new shoe from the TNF brand sits somewhere between the CARDIAC and MT and as you would expect, has an 8mm drop. I like this! But then again I would… I am a real fan of 8mm drop shoes and as I have said many times before, this drop sits in the perfect middle ground that can work for most people. TNF have obviously thought about this and hence the continuity between the ‘ULTRA’ range. It’s also fair to say that as the name suggests, the ‘ULTRA’ shoes are designed for running longer and therefore 8mm will be more forgiving.

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3960

Slipping the shoe on, it does feel different to the CARDIAC but more similar to the MT. This primarily due to the gusseted tongue which is secured within the shoe – this holds the foot firmer and in addition reduces the chance of debris getting in the shoe. It’s a winning combination that I love.

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The front (toe box) is wider than both the CARDIAC and MT and therefore allows the toes to splay a little more. Protection at the front is excellent with a very reinforced toe box bumper that will definitely protect against all those unplanned collisions with rocks, stones or other debris.

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Heel box is plush, padded and holds the foot secure and has FlashDry technology.

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Key features of many TNF shoes is ‘Snake Plate’ and the ‘Cradle,’ these two elements are present here in the Ultra Endurance and add to the overall benefits of the shoe.

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Snake Plate adds protection to the forefoot of the shoe and protects against rocks/ impact and so on, TNF vary the plates from one shoe to the next depending on what they consider to be necessary. In other shoes this would be called a rock plate.

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The cradle is designed to hold the rear of the foot more secure and stable.

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The upper is breathable and most importantly seamless, therefore reducing the chance of rubbing, hot spots or the chance of blisters. The upper is welded TPU with suede overlays.

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The outsole is Vibram Megagrip which is making an appearance on countless shoes in the trail world. I need to clarify here that Vibram don’t only make one Megagrip outsole (see here). They do many variations, so, please check! A classic example is the outsole on say the TNF ULTRA CARDIAC and TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE – they use Megagrip but they each have three different variations of the product. The Ultra Cardiac having a more subtle version, the Ultra Endurance a more aggressive outsole for mixed terrain and to draw comparisons, the Scott Kinabalu Supertrace (has a special Scott outsole) that is basically just aggressive, extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces.

For example:

Ultra Cardiac outsole:

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraCardiac-7017

Ultra Endurance outsole:

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3946

Scott Kinabalu Supertrac outsole:

©iancorless.com_ScottSupertrac-5061

Cushioning in the Ultra Endurance is single-density compression folded EVA which does a great job of allowing you to feel the ground but provide enough cushioning for a long day out.

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3937

IN USE

The upper is seamless and snug and the gusseted tongue is a real pleasure which holds the foot firm. The toe box feels noticeably more roomy in comparison to say the Cardiac or MT.  The shoe feels relatively light but not super light. You really feel as though you are wearing a shoe that will take a battering. This in many respects is reflected in the shoes name, Ultra Endurance.

8mm drop for me is perfect, it provides a drop that allows me to run longer and when I can’t keep my form, the extra height allows for some compensation. As I mentioned above, this is obviously something that TNF have really thought about and the whole ‘Ultra’ range of shoes has an 8mm drop. This is also great as it means I can seamlessly move from one who to the other shoe without having a shock. A clear example of this is that I have been doing road runs in the Ultra TRII and I have been out in the really muddy stuff in the MT.

The shoe works well in mud but it’s not an out-and-out shoe for muddy trails, better get the MT if that is what you need. The Ultra Endurance is a great trail/ mountain shoe that works well and transitions from a multitude of surfaces. As I mentioned above, I believe it would give the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac a run for it’s money as a potential best ‘all rounder!’

To emphasise a point, if you were looking to but just one shoe that could handle many terrains and provide you with happy and many days out on the trail, then the Ultra Endurance would be a good place to start. It’s not a great road shoe, but it will gladly provide a cushioned and responsive ride for road sections between trail. It’s not an excellent performer in very muddy conditions but it does provide some grip that will allow you to progress. Where the shoe excels is when all these elements combine, say on a long training run, long hike or a race when you may well be mixing from road to trail, to rocks, to mud, to scree and so on, here the Ultra Endurance works so well.

It’s a shoe that excels of dry trail, rocky trail (wet or dry) and some road. It has actually become a real favourite when travelling when space is limited and I need a ‘one shoe does all’ scenario. Feel for the ground is good and has improved the more I have run. The first few runs felt a little hard and flat but the shoe bedded in nicely. The Vibram® Megragrip sole is as mentioned, almost becoming a standard feature on trail shoes. the version applied to the Ultra Endurance compliments the shoe perfectly.

Grip in mud is compromised, it always is in a shoe that is designed for trail. That is not a criticism as the shoe is definitely designed to be an all rounder. If you need out-and-out grip and a shoe that will just be used for soft-ground, mud, fells or other messy terrain, you’d be better looking at the TNF Ultra MT or a fell shoe from say inov-8 – the Mudclaw 300 for example is a great off-road shoe.

The heel box holds the foot secure with no slipping. It’s snug and reassuring.

The relatively seamless upper and sewn in tongue really holds the foot secure and has given me no hot spots. It’s a real bonus and it’s great to see that TNF are incorporating this more. For anyone who has used a Salomon S-Lab shoe with ‘endofit,’ a gusseted tongue really is just so much more comfortable. Although the TNF version is different to the Salomon version, similarities can be drawn.

The shoe has a neutral fit as does all the TNF ‘Ultra’ range and so therefore you could add an insert or orthotic if required. Drop is 8mm. Sizing is true to size, I take a UK9.5 in most shoes and my Ultra Endurance is UK9.5. However, due to the wider toe box the shoe does feel different to the Cardiac or MT so you may want to just make sure by trying in-store.

This is not the lightest shoe on the market but I don’t think that is really an issue. It’s not trying to be the lightest. What it does, is offer cushioning, protection and longevity in an attractive package that will last for many days, weeks and months. The colour-way of blue and yellow also looks pretty swish.

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3952

Conclusion

This shoe is a great all-rounder and may well be a perfect ‘one shoe’ purchase for anyone who is looking for something that can do many things well. It excels on dry trails and loose surfaces such as scree, stones, sand etc. Grip from the Vibram sole is good on wet rocks and the shoes transition from trail to road well and the cushioning allows for plenty of happy miles.

The Ultra Endurance can handle mud as part of a mixed terrain trail run but if you wanted an out-and-out shoe for muddy trail, this is not it. It’s a really solid shoe with some serious toe protection, a plus for anyone heading out into mountainous terrain.

I have been working with and running myself in harsh, rocky, desert like terrain in Lanzarote, La Palma and so on and I think the Ultra Endurance would potentially make a great shoe for someone participating in a multi-day race like the Marathon des Sables. The combination of features sits well, the slightly wider toe box, protection, grip and cushioning all combine to make it a great shoe for such an adventure. I will feedback on this after the 2016 Marathon des Sables where I will test the shoe daily.

To draw a comparison, I think those runners who have enjoyed the inov-8 Race Ultra 290 will find the TNF Ultra Endurance very appealing. The plus side being the TNF who has more grip.

The TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE alternative colour-way

The-North-Face-Ultra-Endurance-Shoes-SS16-Offroad-Running-Shoes-Silver-Grey-Pompeian-SS16-2

The inov-8 RACE ULTRA 290

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The downsides are minimal for me. It’s a slightly heavier shoe and I have touched on the reasons why above. Longevity in TNF shoes has been an issue in the past so I will hold judgement on this and feedback. Currently after 100+ miles of mixed terrain, the shoes are holding up well with no issues.

The North Face say: With its Vibram® Megagrip outsole, Snake Plate™ forefoot protection and Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ stability, the Ultra Endurance will keep you tearing up the trail without tearing up your feet. CRADLE™ technology provides extra heel stability on uneven terrain, a gusseted tongue keeps loose trail debris out, while the rigid-yet-flexible ESS Snake Plate™ delivers on lightweight, heavy duty forefoot protection.

▪Welded TPU and suede mid-foot support overlays

▪Molded-TPU toe cap for protection

▪Gusseted tongue for protection from trail debris

▪Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ heel-stability technology

▪Single-density, compression-molded EVA midsole

▪Vibram® Megagrip outsole for durable sticky traction in all conditions

▪ESS Snake Plate™ forefoot protection

▪Cushioning 9mm front/ 17mm rear

▪8 mm offset

▪Weight per shoe 260g+/- for a UK8

▪Approximate Weight Pair: 510 g

TNF Technologies explained:

Snake Plate™

The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.

Vibram® Outsole Technologies

The North Face® collaborated with Vibram, long respected for quality and durability, to create various outsoles (Vibram® Humbolt Outsole, Vibram® Mikeno Outsole, Vibram® Walsh Outsole, and Vibram® Rubber Outsole Compound) with superior traction, stability and protection.

Ultra Protect™

A shank plate for torsional rigidity and consistent underfoot feel.

The North Face Hyper-Track Guide

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The North Face have always had a mixed response in the ultra and trail world with it’s running shoes. Some people love them, others are indifferent. The original Single Track model had many features of merit and had a strong following (I was a fan). However, runners like Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Seb Chaigneau wanted a lighter shoe. The Single Track Hayasa was born (Review here).

Hyper-Track Guide iancorless.comP1010121

The new Hyper-Track Guide in many respects combines aspects of both shoes in what is arguably, The North Faces’s best shoe yet. Read on.

The Hyper-Track Guide are lightweight and like other manufactures the shoe appeals to the market of door-to-trail.  In addition, these shoes may very well fit a gap in the market in terms of ‘drop’. The Hyper-Track Guide with an 8mm drop nicely fills a space in the market between other models such as the Salomon Sense Ultra (4mm) and Sense Mantra (6mm) but other manufacturers such as Scott, are still producing shoes with a conventional drop. I have to say, Scott currently have the T2 Kinabalu for trail and some road running and it is setting the bar by how I judge other shoes it performs so well.

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As the above image shows, a lower drop promotes a forefoot run style.

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The ‘Cradle Guide*‘ helps cushion the impact and canters the heel. The forefoot facilitates the natural supination phase and provides cushion through the force peak.

*The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.

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Many conventional trail and road shoes have a drop of 11mm or 12mm and the current trend for improved ‘forefoot’ running is pushing manufacturers to address the need in the market for lower drop shoes. However, a lower drop isn’t for anybody and if you are a definite ‘heel strker’ you will want to ease your way into using any shoe with a lower drop. The Hyper-Track Guide may very well make that transition easier if that is what you require. At 8mm it offers a ‘middle ground’.

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The sole of the shoe certainly offers more grip in comparison to previous models. Is it enough? Well, if you are heading out in the mud; no!. When a shoe has a selling point as ‘road and trail’ use a compromise is going to be made. The Hyper-Track Guide will work perfectly on hard pack trail or rocks and of course, should you wish to run on the road, it can handle that too. But as soon as you get to mud, the sole has nothing to grip with and you slide.  The sole has strategically positioned rubber pods in the outsole to give excellent grip on slick terrain and resistance to abrasion. Certainly on wet road or rocks it does the job well.

iancorless.comP1010110

iancorless.comP1010109

The upper is extremely breathable like other models in the The North Face range, on a cold or wet day the shoe can feel a little chilly. But that also means that should you be running in the heat, these shoes will be exceptionally cool. They are also great if you run through any water, they drain very quickly. Lightweight is a key feature and this has been maximised by having a ‘sandwich mesh’ upper. The shoes have no sewing or seams. That has to be a good thing as this reduces any potential rubbing. The upper also has TPU welded support overlays to hold the foot in place when in the shoe. This does provide added security to the foot and for such a minimal approach you can feel it work.

The sole has the key Cradle Guide feature as mentioned above. This helps or should I say ‘guides’ the foot through the three phases of the foot strike; impact, mid foot and toe off. Cushioning, stability and protection for ‘any’ foot on any terrain is what The North Face say but ultimately this shoe suits a neutral runner that is already a mid to forefoot striker OR it suits a neutral runner who wishes to progress from heel striking to mid foot striking. In use the shoe feels a little ‘stiff’ in comparison to other shoes and I put that down to the ‘Cradle’ working but also firm cushioning. IF you need that guidance the Cradle Guide may well be a good thing. If you are mechanically efficient, this may well be a little irritating at first. However, the longer you run and the more you feel the benefit of the cradle. So, ultra runners may find that as fatigue hits, the Cradle Guide may very well be a nice addition to help maintain good form. Cushioning is 16mm at the rear and 8mm at the front.

In Use

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The shoe sizes a little large in my opinion. All my previous TNF shoes have been UK9.5 and the Hyper-Track Guide definitely has more room. The toe box has adequate room. But on a first run I did feel my foot move, particularly in the heel area. Laces are superb. They have an elastic stretchy feel and really do hold the foot in place and don’t come loose. The upper with no seams is spot on and breathability is excellent. Weight is 287g for a UK9.5 and this compares well to other comparable shoes.

On the road the shoes felt a little uninspiring. They lacked zip. However, if I started to lift the pace the feel and response certainly became far more pleasurable and responsive. But ultimately they felt hard and at slower speeds I felt as though I ‘slapped’ the ground. What it did encourage was light contact with the ground, so, I thought about my technique all the time while using them. On hard trail the feel was better providing the trail was hard, rocky or sandy. If I went to into mud then the sole offered next to no grip. But, the shoe is not designed for that type of trail. I am merely pointing out that this shoe has restrictions and if you are looking for one shoe to do all then this may well not be it.

So, my impressions are very much around this shoe being used for racing or faster sessions. Of course the term ‘racing’ is relative if we are looking at ultra running, so, if you plan to use this shoe for longer events, you may want to make sure that it will provide the comfort you need over extended periods. The Cradle Guide will certainly help with this.

Jez Bragg used this shoe extensively over the Te Araroa trail, so it does show that you can really run some long distances in them.

Quick rating:

The upper is form-fitting and flexible which made for a snug and comfortable fit in the fore and mid foot areas. The heel felt a little loose but it is possible to adjust the feel by adjusting the lace configuration. Laces are superb.

The Hyper Track is a stiff shoe. The stiffness of the sole almost makes this shoe uninspiring at times, particularly on pavement at lower speeds. Running fast in this shoe is when I felt most comfortable. The 8mm drop gets you on your mid to forefoot and you really think about technique.

The upper is light, breathable and holds the foot well. It has no seams and therefore reduces the possibility of rubbing.

In my opinion it sizes a little large so I would recommend trying the shoe on.

Weight is light at 287g for a UK9.5

Best use – Faster running on hard pack trail

Links:

The North Face HERE

Salomon Fellraiser

Andy Symonds and Ricky Lightfoot very much pioneered the Salomon Fellcross, as the inside of the shoe says ‘Designed in the Alps‘. They tested the shoe and made tweaks to the design that would ensure that a shoe came to the market that was perfect for the job!

Salomon Fellraiser

In 2013, a Fellcross 2 is certainly on the cards but fresh from the Outdoor Retail Show in the US the Salomon Fellraiser has emerged. Due SS 13?

Low to the ground? The Fellraiser is lower to the ground and apparently more flexible than previous models in the Salomon range. A 7mm drop (tbc) with a supposed12mm of cushioning at the front and 19mm at the back, this shoe will certainly become popular on muddy and gnarly trail. It has aggressive traction and a contragrip outsole with a fast drying and lightweight upper.An EVA midsole should provide great feel and enhance quick transition from one foot to the other.

UPDATE 1st Feb

Many thanks to Gripmaster who has been testing these shoes, he has confirmed the ‘drop’ at 6mm with forefoot cushioning at 6mm and rear cushioning at 12mm. He says “the new profile is quite cool, better on rock than the fellcross 1, so more usable in the alps that way..”

Is this ‘the new‘ Speedcross? Who knows… it certanly seems as though it is an offering in the ‘Speedcross’ arena. Certainly, the lower drop, if confirmed, will be appealing. But I have already seen new colourways of the Speecdross 3 for 2013 so this almost certainly will be an addition to the Salomon range.

It’s also lightweight, current stats are showing 230g for a UK8.5 (tbc)

Of course until I get my hands on a pair of shoes, look at them and test them, I can provide no more information. Rest assured, news will soon follow.

Salomon Website HERE