There are times as a running shoe geek, especially as a trail runner when the terrain and shoe of choice come together in a perfect match. Such moments are not always attained but when they are, provide a moment outdoors full of joy and help enhance an already blessed situation.
Salomon Speedcross, now in 4th iteration, is a shoe created with a specific terrain in mind; rugged, technical, rocky, muddy, and sometimes snowy, most likely with a hefty dose of elevation thrown in. As such, it is an easy shoe to match with a given terrain (or at least easier).
My relationship with the Speedcross, however, is a little more complicated.
I had previously owned Speedcross 3 and put over 100 miles in them over one season. Notably, the mileage was achieved in just 4 runs, with 20 miles the shortest and 30 miles the longest outing.
As one might surmise, they are comfortable over the long distances. All the runs were also during the English Winter, a time when the trails are wet and muddy. The shoes were perfect for the conditions with their aggressive lugs.
And then the upper ripped. The rips appeared on both shoes, on the medial side, where the foot flexes. I got in touch with the retailer. They sent me not a replacement pair as I had hoped but a refund, no questions asked.
It helps I suppose that Salomon provides a 2-year warranty on their shoes (excluding, of course, normal wear and tear) but it was disappointing nonetheless to have such rugged and robust looking shoes fail so early, especially when they had been working so well for me.
The failed upper on Speedcross 3
That was over a year ago. The shoes were gone but not forgotten and as Winter approached again I thought back to the enjoyment I got out of them while they lasted.
So when Salomon introduced the Speedcross 4, I felt I had to give them another go, this time hoping for a longer-lasting relationship.
Enter the Speedcross 4 CS
They are, of course, not the same shoe, but a variation on the theme.
While preserving the essence of the previous model, the new version was lighter and had slightly different lug configuration.
While still aggressive, the lugs were slightly wider and more spaced apart than in the previous version, reducing the likelihood of tripping up on the lugs and for better mud-shedding.
I also opted for the "CS" version, which incorporates the ClimaShield membrane for enhanced water resistance. But many of the same features from the earlier version remain, including the SpeedLace, plush tongue and heel cup, Ortholite insoles, lightweight Muscle midsole, and the 10 mm drop.
Loving the bright colorway!
On the feet, the feeling was familiar, a snug and secure yet comfortable fit.
While some observers cite the narrowness of the shoes, both in versions 3 and 4, as someone with wider than average feet, I didn't find them too restrictive. In fact, with the shoes likely to be employed more often than not on technical terrain, I preferred the snug fit which helps minimize the feeling of "sloppiness" when precise footing is called for.
With about 1/3 of the upper sheathed in a durable synthetic overlay, the shoes offer ample protection from the wet and mud. I did, however, find the CS membrane noticeably less breathable than the normal upper, so made a mental note to save these for outings in the proper cold and wet weather.
Aggressive lugs – only little wear shown after 50 rugged miles
Tested in Chamonix
I took them out to the trails in and around the town of Chamonix in the French Alps.
On arrival, we were greeted with a dump of snow which provided perfect conditions for taking them out. The feet eventually got wet in the ankle-deep snow, but perhaps later than if I didn’t have the CS membrane.
We made our way up a steep dry riverbed to hit one of the traversing trails and ran to Le Brevent, one of the many ski-lifts in the area. There were no surprises with the shoes – the grip was surely and feet protection tank-like.
The only unexpected element was that the wet Ortholite insole tended to slip under the heel and bunch up mid-foot. I had heard of this happening to others with the Speedcross 3, but this was my first experience with it.
To be sure, it was annoying, but not a deal-breaker, since it appeared to happen only when the shoes were soaked through and during sharp descents, and only in the right foot in my case.
Ortholite sockliner is comfortable but bunched up when wet
Following that initial 8 mile test run, the next day was a longer outing of 17 miles, taking in the Mont Blanc Half Marathon route up to La Flegere and back to Chamonix along a varied course which included tarmac out of town, groomed dirt track up to Argentiere, grassy fields into Montroc and the long undulating rocky traverse along the "balcon" up to the ski-lift.
Again, the shoes felt and performed great across the varied terrain and I felt pleased with the shoe choice. Despite the absence of a rock plate as such, the feet felt well-protected thanks to the robust 20/30mm stack height along with the aggressive lugs.
Along the Mont Blanc Half Marathon route
On the third and final day of our short visit to Chamonix, we tackled the Vertical Kilometer route. The VK is essentially a 4 km track straight up the mountain to Le Brevent from Chamonix town center, and for the average athlete like myself is more of a 90-minute slog than the 30-40 minute sprint it is for the elites.
The terrain would be the most technical that we'd come across on this trip and included some sections near the top which required scrambling and use of steps and handholds.
The shoes, on this occasion, felt a tad over-engineered and not as nimble, but this was to be expected given the nature of the route.
It basically confirmed my previously established view that the shoes were ideal for the longer runs when you're expected to move at a more moderate pace, as in a mountain ultra.
With a trip to Seoul planned for early December and along with that the chance to run sections of the 157-km long circular route around Korea's capital city known as the Seoul Trail, there was only one shoe really which was a contender for the hilly terrain and wintry weather conditions.
While all of the mountains which surround Seoul and through which the trail passes are less than 1000m high, this is more than made up for its undulating nature, with a typical 10-mile route throwing up around 1000m in accumulated ascent. Not too different from what one might expect in the Alps!
Over two days I covered about a quarter of the circular route, over terrain which included once again tarmac to the trailheads, wooden steps, snow-covered exposed granite, dirt tracks, and straw-matted stretches. Again, the shoes performed admirably, and I vowed to return at some future point to tackle the rest of the Seoul Trail.
Mention must be made of the impressive grip on wet rocks and traction in dirt, mud, and snow. The foothold was so secure that at no time was I wary of slipping or taking a tumble.
While Vibram's Mega Grip compound used on many trail shoes, including on certain models from The North Face and Hoka is widely considered the best for traction, I found Salomon's Contagrip just as impressive.
As mountain and trail runners know, good grip is priceless in terms of the reassurance and safety it provides.
After having covered over 100 miles on them over a wide range of terrain, I feel (again) that the Speedcross are best suited for longer runs on technical (but not too technical as in the vertical km) mountain trails, dry or wet.
Its robust build provides ample protection for toes and feet, while a snug fit along with sticky grip is reassuring and allows one to focus fully on the trails with no distractions.
I would, however, look elsewhere if looking to go fast or over super-technical routes which require scrambling, as the shoes simply do not supply the kind of flexibility and responsiveness such circumstances demand.
While the slippage of the insole when wet was an annoyance, it hasn't happened since that time in Chamonix when the snow was ankle-deep, and it won't be that often that I'll be running in conditions where the shoes are likely to be soaking wet.
Having said that, I do have a couple of ultras coming up in the wet and cold (and mud) in January and February, and already know that I'll be using these for them, even with the possibility of the insole slippage. As mentioned earlier, it's not a deal-breaker.
In all likelihood though, the shoes will be put away come Spring, because the CS membrane will probably be too hot on the feet once the ambient temperature warms up. By then I'd likely have put over 250 miles on them and will have an update on how the upper on the 4th iteration holds up relative to that on Speedcross 3.
But for general Winter running, I need look no further.