I was so excited to take delivery of the new Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine trail running shoes just in time for a trip to run in the mountains around Chamonix in mid-September.
They look badass! When would you wear them?
These are shoes designed for moving in the mountains, in the high alpine, where routes are steep, the rocks can be loose, slick and technical, and the weather unpredictable. They’re not just for trail running, but are designed to be lightweight, protective and durable when worn for a multitude of alpine activities.
What the photos don’t show is just how well-made and comfortable they are. Check out the video for a better look at them! Essentially, they incorporate Salomon’s lightweight and comfortable S-Lab sense trail shoes with a super-grippy outer sole, and waterproof gaiter.
I must admit, as a ‘normal’ trail runner with a love of mountains (but certainly no great mountaineering experience or skills), I felt a bit intimidated by the technicality of these shoes – could someone like me justify wearing them for my days out in the mountains?
Expanding my playground in the mountains
As it happened the perfect day arrived for me to take the XA Alpines out for their first wear in the alps – it was a very wet day when I geared up in waterproofs and my shiny new Salomon Alpine shoes and we hit the trails up the mountain.
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I spent our run actively seeking the wettest, slipperiest rocks I could find, to test out the grip on the shoes. I wasn’t disappointed – I’m not particularly confident when moving on slippery/loose terrain and I didn’t slip or even lose grip once with these on. This included moving through streams and up loose piles of rock. Apparently the toes and edges are so strong that you can even climb with them, although I didn’t get to test this out for myself.
I have also worn the shoes to run on forest trails, where I could test how they fared on tree roots and how agile I could be in them when skipping between the roots and uneven forest terrain. Although the shoes are primarily aimed at use in higher alpine terrain above the tree-line, it was good to test how they felt in other areas. I certainly didn’t feel as agile as I do when running on these types of trails in my S-Lab Sense Ultra trail shoes, but it was good to know that I could put my feet anywhere and they would grip and be protected pretty much wherever they landed.
Regardless of where I wore them, my feet felt great in them, and even on wet days like experienced in Chamonix, they stayed warm and dry – one of the keys to happiness and comfort on the mountains, in my book.
The downside with wearing the XA Alpine shoes is that they are, and feel, bulkier than my normal running shoes. This is pretty obvious, but does mean that I wouldn’t feel comfortable, say, wearing them out for a run in soaking wet and wild conditions on the trails at home, as I’d feel a bit like I was running in wellies (warm, light comfortable and dry wellies, mind you). This is a bit of a shame, as I had hoped that they could be great for wet, soggy runs back home, but actually I think after more than a couple of hours it would become hard work running in them in the wet, if you’re trying to maintain some speed.
This means that their use is probably more limited to the alpine environments that they were designed for, or at least in the UK to our wilder hills, mountains and fells, where the terrain is technical enough and the conditions can be harsh enough to justify them.
An alternative to hiking boots?
I would definitely also wear them in place of hiking boots, ie not just for running, given how much more agility and grip they offer than my mid-level hiking boots. They’re also more comfortable than my hiking boots so definitely makes sense for me to choose the shoes for hikes. I would actually go as far as to say, if you’re thinking of buying hiking boots for the mountains, consider these as an alternative, especially if you’re planning on moving quickly, fastpacking or doing day-trips rather than hiking around with a heavy rucksack on – they may well be a better option, and at £200 RRP their price is not dissimilar from the price of a good pair of boots.
I would definitely also wear them in place of hiking boots, ie not just for running, given how much more agility and grip they offer than my mid-level hiking boots. Helen
Many thanks to Salomon who sent me the XA Alpines to test out. I’m loving seeing all the innovative products these guys are coming up with so it has been a pleasure having the opportunity to get out and try out some of this exciting new mountain kit and share my thoughts with you, lovely Trail and Kale readers.