I decided my review of Salomon's XA Pro 3D Ultra trail runners hikers will be mostly with pictures. I think photos can explain the performance of these shoes better than my description could. But first some back story.
I went to High Country (an outdoor retailer here in Atlanta) and met one of the crew there named Joey. I told him I'm looking to get out of my hiking boots and lighten the load on my feet during the warmer months, heavy leather boots are good in winter, but when it gets warm they are like a sweaty ball and chain on your feet. I've been hiking the Jacks and Conasauga rivers for at least ten years now with an ultra-light load just wearing a pair of Chaco sandals, and figured my gear loads when hiking up in the mountains aren't much heavier. On mountain hikes in warmer months I carry maybe 18-23 lbs., so why not do away with the heavy boots? I was kind of sceptical at first because Joey suggested not a pair of lightweight hiking shoes, I figured he would show me some high top sneaker/boot hybrids, but a pair of trail runners, the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra. I wasn't sure about using trail runners for backpacking, but Joey told me he uses them for approach hikes, carrying his rock climbing gear up steep trails. I've carried many packs full of climbing and caving gear up steep hills so I understood right away the correlation to mountain backpacking. I tried them on and they were so comfortable, stable and lightweight that I decided to give them a try and bought them. I knew from hiking with sandals my ankles were tough enough, but just how well will these Salomon trail runners perform as hiking shoes........ with a backpack on............ in the mountains?
I set out on my mountain hike in Pisgah North Carolina on the Art Loeb trail with my pack weighing around 25 lbs., it was a little cool for may so I had packed extra clothes. It had been raining for two days so early in the hike the XA Pro 3D Ultra's got their first taste of water.
I found the XA Pro 3D Ultra's to have excellent grip on whatever surface they encountered. In the slick mud there was no slipping. The XA Pro's dug down, got good traction, and the mud didn't stick to them. That was an early indicator I'd like these shoes, since my hiking boots are always collecting mud in the soles.
I was very impressed no mud was sticking to the bottom of the XA Pro's, even after this thick mud.
The Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah, NC is very diverse. The trail can be compacted dirt, loose dirt, eroded out trenches, loose rock, hard rock, mud, water or a combination of all the above. The trail can be steep to normal but is classified as strenuous. The XA Pro's just seemed to tear across the terrain, feeling so lightweight yet amazingly sturdy and supportive. The soles are hard so you don't feel punished by the ground but flexible enough to absorb, roll, and bounce over the rough terrain.
These photos show the diversity of terrain encountered by the XA Pro 3D Ultra's on their very first trip ever. The Salomon's did not disappoint in the least.
I was purposely hard on the shoes. Because I couldn't believe trail runners would hack it as backpacking shoes I stepped in every bit of water I could, didn't try and avoid the tricky parts of the trail, let them rub against the sides of rocks, etc., all to see how much the XA Pro's could take. Another benefit of wearing trail runners as opposed to larger sized boots or hybrid boot/sneakers, is the XA's have such a small profile you can step almost anywhere. Those spaces between rocks you boots won't fit in, or the small ledge on a boulder your boots would not fit on and slide off of are just two examples of the flexibility a smaller shoe like the XA Pro 3D Ultra gives on the trail.
The XA Pro 3D Ultra's transitioned well, like from this compacted trail to the boulder field seen far up ahead.
If you step into deep enough mud or in water your feet will get wet wearing the XA Pro 3D Ultra's. I assume during a prolonged rain or on a trail turned river during a storm your feet will probably get wet. I didn't buy the Gortex version of the XA's so I don't know how those shoes would do against water getting in. The Gortex versions seem a bit contradictory to the purpose of wearing a shoe like the XA Pro 3D Ultra. The Gortex would restrict airflow making the shoe hotter to wear and possibly harder to dry if water gets inside. But that is speculation, what I do know is the XA Pro's will take in water.
Your feet will get wet! Especially when you purposely walk through the middle of this!
Getting your shoes and feet wet does not slow down the XA Pro 3D Ultra's.
Here is what they looked like after going through the mud field pictured above.
Instead of getting a whole lot of mud inside the shoe you'll notice the rubber toe rand and bumper caught a lot of the mud. You can also see from the pictures above that no clumps of mud are stuck to the shoes. I don't know why but these shoes seemed to shed mud, it just wouldn't stick. The XA's didn't get completely submerged walking through the mud field nor did my whole foot get wet because the water wasn't so deep, but after going through the mud I did get a large amount of water in the toe/top of my foot area of both feet. I got a large enough amount of water inside the XA Pro 3D Ultra's to make my socks squishy and give the shoes that feeling of water oozing underneath your feet from the shoes insoles. They even squeaked for a minute or two. In this situation and every time I got water inside the XA Pro 3D Ultra's over the two day period they were always dry within five to seven minutes, that goes for feet, socks (Teko's) and XA Pro 3D Ultra's. Now this wasn't any prolonged exposure to water, and like I said my feet were never totally submerged either, but I did get partially wet feet about seven or eight times on my trip.
There will come a day when the XA Pro's are tested in wetter conditions and when that day comes I'll supplement my review.
Getting back to the versatility of the XA Pro's, while they were still wet from the mud field pictured above I scrambled right up this rocky portion of the trail with no slippage.
When I got back to the parking area after two days on the trail the XA Pro 3D Ultra's still looked relatively clean and new. The kevlar laces never got wet and had no visible wear.
Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra Trail Runners are my new warm weather backpacking shoe. I like going light in summer and these shoes are a perfect addition to my personal philosophy of fast and easy backpacking. My legs and feet felt and stayed fresh the whole trip. I personally feel the XA Pro 3D Ultra's really made a difference in keeping down the amount of leg fatigue on the steep trails.
I want to thank Joey at High Country for hooking me up with these hiking sneakers.
I will update the review as I wear the XA Pro 3D Ultra's throughout the summer.
I continued using the XA Pro 3D Ultra shoes up until the last day of October 2009. On that October trip I was wearing the XA Pro's as I hiked Wolf ridge trail in the Smoky Mountains. It was raining practically the whole drive there from Atlanta, and from the moment I left the car at Twentymile ranger station until I reached Sheep pen gap campground the rain continued to fall. The XA Pro 3D Ultra's got soaked and so did my feet. Good thing I had on wicking liner socks and synthetic/wool socks on over those so at least my feet were warm. I'll have to admit that I was probably at the shoe's limitation as far as weather and season are concerned. The XA Pro 3D Ultra's cannot stand up to constant rain or the tide of water that can flow down a trail in a downpour. There was a real possibility that I could have been caught by the cold weather and suffered because of my cold feet. Fortunately I had dry liners and socks to change into and by setting up my tarp along with my tent I stayed out of my shoes and sheltered from the rain during the dark hours. The second bit of fortune came the next day when not only did the rain quit but the sun came out along with a gentle wind. And now I can praise the XA Pro's again because they dried on my feet within around two hours, while I dried out the rest of my stuff and packed up camp. By the time I was hiking down the mountain the shoes were dry. So, my analysis remains the same, I still believe in these shoes and will continue to wear them. If your are hiking in snow, or extreme cold (below freezing) or the weather report calls for heavy rains, especially prolonged rains (more than 3-4 hours) leave the XA Pro 3D Ultra's at home and wear boots. But for any other hiking venture I'll wear the XA Pro's over boots any day.