Even hikers living under a rock must be taking notice of the movement toward wearing trail runners instead of traditional boots. The promise of increased mileage and improved agility through lightweight footwear is hard to ignore. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve seen the cool hiking kids with their shiny new sneaks, and my feet wanted in. Based on a friend’s recommendation I chose the Salomon SpeedCross 3 Trail Running Shoe. And now — amen, brother — I’m converted.
This review is based on the following outings:
- An 11.2-mile hike of North Twin and South Twin mountains in May where there was still a lot of snow and ice on the trail
- A two day, 21.1-mile hike on the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail through the Carter-Moriah range on a rain-soaked weekend
- Tough Mudder Boston, a 12-mile obstacle course over Gunstock Mountain Resort
- A 9.3-mile hike over Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington
- A two-day, 35.6-mile hike of the Pemi Loop
The first step on the SpeedCross 3’s Ortholite insole feels like walking on a memory foam mattress. Add to this that the bottom tread is softer than I expected, and these shoes are eerily quiet when traversing hard surfaces. Another out-of-the-box surprise was how warm they felt from the tight-knit mesh. One feature that came as advertised is the overall weight. I haven’t actually weighed the shoes—Backcountry.com lists them as weighing 626 grams for a size 9 pair—but they feel light.
These first impressions raised a slew of questions: How would the cleat-like tread perform on steep rock surfaces? Would the tread wear quickly? What about water retention? Is it possible to be too light—how would my feet feel after a day of pounding over rocky terrain? And the main concern when considering hiking in a trail runner—would there be proper ankle support?
- The break-in period for me was non-existent. I began running and hiking in these immediately to no ill effect.
- The Quicklace system, a drawstring-type approach to shoelaces, enables the shoes to go on and come off quickly, which is great for airing your feet during breaks. The drawstring is very thin but durable, and it doesn’t loosen with wear, holding feet in place throughout the hike. I haven’t had a blister since I began wearing these shoes, and the lacing system is likely a significant factor. There’s also a pocket on the tongue to tuck the lace into, keeping it from getting caught on anything.
- Contrary to conventional wisdom that more surface area provides increased traction, the cleat-like tread’s performance is superb. I find myself rock hopping and climbing steep rock surfaces with increased confidence. Mud is no match for the treads and during the Tough Mudder I was often scampering past people slipping and sliding all over each other. Snow was no problem as well, and the grip was decent on dirty or grooved ice. Smooth ice (as expected) is slippage city.
- The tread wear has been what I would consider normal for the usage.
- Having lighter shoes has made a difference on longer hikes. On my Pemi Loop hike I put in 24.5 tough miles on the second day, more than I’d ever hiked in a day and a significant amount considering it wasn’t the result of a cumulative thru-hike buildup. This is more a point in favor of hiking in trail runners in general, and in this same vein I found I was able to get better toe grips in cracks and crevices than I can with boots.
- While I noticed my feat got hot in these shoes on the initial wear, this never seemed an issue when running or hiking. What the tighter knit mesh gives up in breathability to other trail runners, it makes up in preventing mud from seeping through. Solomon also makes gaiters that can be worn with these shoes. I haven’t had a real problem with debris, but a couple pebbles have snuck in so I’d probably consider getting these if I was planning a long hike.
- Most importantly I haven’t had any increased ankle issues. Yes, I’ve gotten a few stingers from rolling my ankles a couple of times, but these all occurred near the end of the day when fatigue was highest, which is to say it was equivalent to what happens when I wear boots.
Alas, the SpeedCross 3 is not perfect:
- Water retention is higher than what one would expect from a trail runner; however, these shoes drain better than a traditional hiking boot. Salomon also sells a waterproof Climashield version, but I subscribe to the Dr. Ian Malcolm theory that water will find a way, and thus couldn’t justify the additional expense.
- When the shoes were completely soaked—as in walking through water hazards wet—during the Carter-Moriah range hike, the insole in each shoe disconnected and repeatedly bunched up in the toe. This occurred under about 200 pounds of repeated stomping pressure on vertical terrain. The following weekend the issue reoccured in one of the shoes during the Tough Mudder. I haven’t had any issue with this happening on dry outings.
- The Quicklace drawstring is susceptible to getting clogged with mud.
- The terrain can really be felt in these shoes, which is typically a plus, except when traversing many jagged rocks. My feet got sore on the Mt. Washington hike, and to do that one again I’d probably switch back to boots.
- As crazy as this may sound, another issue is that the SpeedCross 3 inspires overconfidence. It is possible to slip in these shoes—it’s just less likely.
The Salomon SpeedCross 3 Trail Running Shoe is a lightweight, versatile trail runner that performs brilliantly on mountainous excursions — hiking or running. I’d buy them again.