SALOMON XT WINGS GTX
TEST SERIES BY KEN NORRIS
April 07, 2009
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kenjennorris at yahoo dot com
Redmond, Washington, USA
5' 5" (1.65 m)
170 lb (77.10 kg)
I have been hiking and backpacking for the past twelve years, going on the occasional overnighter or day hike. In the past year or so, I have begun night hiking and long day hikes (twenty miles [32 km] or more), with an emphasis on light pack weight and speed. These trips center on Washington's Central Cascades (terrain characterized by steep inclines and "moist" conditions) and the Oregon outback (areas classified as high desert).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Salomon Running
Listed Weight: not available via the website
Measured Weight: 27 oz (762 g); 13.5 oz (381 g) per shoe
Other details: this test series was conducted in a pair of men's 7.5 (US) shoes
If a product could be judged by its box, the XT Wings would be awesome. I literally did a double take on the graphics: they spell "Wings" with various pictures of the shoes themselves. The product itself inspires double takes as well. Labels cover the entire shoe, from heel (Gore-Tex) to toe (Gore-Tex, again), top (XT Wings on the tongue) to bottom (Contragrip), inside (OrthoLite) to outside (Pronation Control). Because the shoes are too new to be on the website, I can only speculate as to the exact materials behind all of these labels.
Most, if not all, of the shoe consists of synthetic materials -- no leather to be found. Much of the outer wear-heavy areas have a rubber coating, especially the toe cap. The OrthoLite sole comes from recycled tires. None of the "mesh" is a single layer (I can't see my feet through it). The weave of the mesh is particularly tight, formed in a pattern of small boxes. The eyelets of the lacing system are attached to a highly reflective zigzag pattern attached to the mesh. A quick pull on the laces reveals that this zigzag acts as the tension points for cinching the shoe around my foot.
Words do not adequately describe the lacing system, which Salmon calls "Quicklace." This lacing system boasts asymmetrical lacing, which, in theory, eliminates heterogeneous tension points throughout the laces. It looks like Salomon achieves such homogeneity by running the laces through eyelets that act almost like little pulleys. These little pulleys require a smaller lace (it looks more like tightly wound nylon string than a traditional shoelace).
This particular version of the XT Wings family has a gusseted tongue, presumably as a way to maintain waterproofness. The "lace pocket" at the top of the tongue is elastic in nature, making it easy to tuck the cinching device and extra lace into it. My initial runs have proven that this pocket successfully retains the extra lace and cinching device.
The inside of the shoe, aside from the contoured OrthoLite insole (which I discuss below), is composed of a synthetic material (though it is not smooth to the touch). I've found this interior material well suited to wool socks in that my socks do not slide within the shoe (as they do in another pair of Gore-Tex trail running shoes I own).
The sole of the shoe has a typical lug pattern from the heel to the tip of the toe cap with flexible "joints" between the gripping "plates." There is a large joint between the heel and forefoot. The heel portion has three deep channel-joints that come from distinct angles and move towards one another into the center of the heel. Trail gunk has gathered in some of these channels from my first forays.
The sole connects to the rest of the shoe by way of "AC Muscle" (if I'm deciphering the graphic correctly) -- a spongy material. Some of this muscle has a harder plastic overlay around the heel.
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The unconventional lacing system requires some explanation, which Salomon accomplishes with the graphic below. Pull the lacing system tight. Slide the cinching mechanism down against the top of the shoe. Then tuck the cinching mechanism and the slack into the pocket at the top of the tongue. This process is easy and fast. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reach an equal amount of tension across the top of the foot. The laces near my toes do not feel as compressed by the lacing system as the upper portion. I tried to remedy this disproportionate tension by pulling on the "looser" areas with my fingers while keeping tension on the system as a whole, but this did not make much of a difference. Perhaps some more experience with the shoe will make me a master at this process.
TRYING IT OUT
I have small feet, which makes finding a comfortable, functional shoe difficult, especially when retailers often do not carry my size even when a manufacturer makes that particular shoe in my size. In this case, Salomon makes the XT Wings in my size -- so much so that I could confidently order the shoe without trying it on, receiving a shoe that fits my foot correctly.
In terms of practical use, I have only had a chance to go on some mixed trail/road runs so far. They kept my feet warm and dry, despite the cold temperatures (37 F; 3 C) and standing water on the trails. I was also delightfully surprised by how well they shed mud. During the brief interludes on pavement between sections of trail, I've found the cushioning more than adequate. Our shortened days have forced me to run at night. The XT Wings feature a distinct reflection pattern that allows me to see the tops of the shoes with my peripheral vision while I run, fostering easier foot placement on the trail at night. They also have excellent stability, giving me confidence on uneven terrain during these night runs. I have encountered some "hot spots" around the outside balls of both feet. It feels like the contour of the insole is not exactly shaped to my feet. I'm hoping that this phenomenon will disappear as I break the shoes in.
In testing the XT Wings, I will focus on two aspects: 1.Comfort 2. Functionality
a. Do I develop any hot spots during my initial runs?
b. Do the shoes continue to fit well after getting wet?
c. Is there a break-in period? If so, how long is it?
d. Does the lacing system keep my feet snug?
e. Does the inner fabric slip when I wear wool socks?
f. Do I wish I had an after market insert or does the manufacturer's insole provide enough cushion?
g. How well do my feet breath?
h. How will the shoes fit as my feet begin to stretch during long hikes?
a. Does the waterproof material really work in Pacific Northwest conditions?
b. Does the traction give me the grip I need when temperatures drop?
c. Do the shoes transition well from wet trails to snow covered paths?
d. Do gaiters easily fit over the shoes and stay in place?
e. Do crampons easily fit over the shoes and stay in place?
f. Does the outer material resist abrasions effectively?
g. Do the shoes allow me to hike with the additional weight of an overnight pack?
I've found the shoes true to size, even though I have small feet. Mild hot spots have been an issue around the outer balls of my feet, but this was more of a problem on the first run than subsequent runs. The construction of the shoe appears solid and well suited to my trail running and light hiking. Extra cushioning has also made me more apt to try a little road running in between trails -- something I religiously avoid with a pure trail running shoe. I have yet to master the lacing system to my satisfaction, but the shoe has not slipped at all (I tend to like my shoes extremely tight -- even over tight).
This concludes my report. I would like to thank Salomon for the opportunity to test this product. Please come back in two months for the next report in the series.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The unusually cold weather and extreme flooding in the Seattle area preempted my planned overnight trips, so I was limited to trail runs and peak bagging. My routine trail runs take place at about 500 feet (152 m) with rolling hills adding variety to the landscape. I run a loop that is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long on trails that drain well, though they alternate between spongy places and packed gravel. Most of the time I run for about forty minutes, though I did manage some one hour or more runs. Temperatures as low as 10 F (-12 C) froze the moisture usually present in the ground, making for some . . . interesting runs. Add in two feet (61 cm) of snow -- the rare dry variety at that -- and my runs quickly went from training times to adventures in and of themselves. Then the snow melted rather quickly, which flooded the trails. Yes, I still ran. Yes, I was wet. Yes, I still loved every minute of it.
I bagged three of the four peaks I attempted. Two of these successes were on the same peak -- Tiger Mountain. Around Seattle, Tiger Mountain is more of a training route than a "peak," so I'm using the term loosely. The loop I take is around 5.5 miles (8.86 km) long with an elevation gain of approximately 2000 feet (610 m). It takes forty-five minutes to gain the summit via a virtually straight line up a ridge and another forty-five minutes to wind down the "normal" trail. A light rain (Seattleites would consider it more of a mist) fell during both trips. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s F (4-7 C) for both ascents. The trails were sloppy, demanding strategic foot placement.
The third successful peak bagging occurred on Mailbox Peak (yes, there is a mailbox at the top). Most guide books rank it as the most difficult ascent in the central Cascades: 7 miles (11.27 km) round trip, 4000 feet (1219 m) of elevation gain. It took around 3.5 hours up and back. We trudged through snow, both on the ground (about 1/2 foot / 15 cm) and in the air. Temperatures hovered around 30 F (-1 C). The trail before the top was damp but not soggy.
Now to the failed peak bagging: Mount Washington. Two feet (61 cm) of snow on the ground in Redmond translated to over four feet (122 cm) on Mount Washington in the central Cascades. The trail starts at 1500 feet (457 m) above sea level, and the summit peaks out at 4300 feet (1311 m). Thankfully, some intrepid souls had blazed a wintry track up to around 2200 feet (671 m). At that point we donned our snowshoes, post-holing for another 600 feet (183 m) of elevation gain. This short gain took us nearly an hour, even with alternating trail blazers. Howling winds ripping through snow-laden trees convinced us that living to see tomorrow was more important than bagging a peak we could easily revisit in the late spring or summer. In all, we logged probably 5 miles (8 km) and 1500 feet (457 m) of elevation gain in just over three hours. Shame, thy name is Mount Washington.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
During my trail runs, I have worn the XT Wings religiously -- rain, shine, snow, ice, whatever. I assumed that the Gore-Tex liner would ideally fit such wet conditions, and they lived up to this assumption. I have never felt the least bit of moisture, even in 18 inches (46 cm) of powder. During these snowy and icy runs, I often attached traction devices to the XT Wings. The shoes worked well with this system, allowing me to run on what would have been treacherous footing; the traction devices stayed firmly in place.
I even branched out from trail runs to road runs -- an activity I have avoided in the past because it always led to shin splints. The convenience of stepping out of my front door and logging some miles (4-5 miles/6-8 km; 300 ft / 91 m of elevation gain) prompted these experiments. To my surprise and delight, something about the XT Wings keeps me from shin splints. Any product that eliminates my excuses for not running receives high marks. Regardless of the trail conditions, the Gore-Tex liner does not pent up my body heat (like another pair of Gore-Tex trail runners I own does).
The downside of these runs, both on trail and road, is the fit of the insole on the balls of my feet. I've developed very thick, protruding calluses because of the contouring of the insert. After a few runs, these calluses no longer hurt, but they remain a barrier of defense. Tweaking the tightness of the lacing system has not seemed to help either, though the lacing system has proven snug in all other respects (like keeping my heel in place).
Both summits of Tiger Mountain illustrated another aspect of the XT Wings. Extremely muddy conditions can test the traction of even the knobbiest treads. I learned to trust my footing even in these creamy clay conditions; slipping was the exception, not the rule. It also did not clump on the tread, so I have never had to stop and pluck excess mud in order to regain a normal step. As someone who hikes in trail running shoes, I depend on my shoes to keep me from rolling my ankles even though they do not cover that part of my foot. The XT Wings have met this requirement on my Tiger Mountain ascents to the point that I confidently ran down from the top at night with just a headlamp to scout out the best footfall.
On Mailbox Peak I used low gaiters in conjunction with the XT Wings. The gaiters did not pull at the lacing system. In fact, they accentuated the system by pulling at lowest rung of laces. The clip even stayed in place on this part of the lacing system, despite the fact that this particular lace is not perpendicular to the clip. In six inches of standing snow and more falling as we ascended, I never felt the cold seep in. The snow that gathered on the shoes did not weigh down the XT Wings with moisture. A smile graced my face as I realized that the XT Wings are more than a "happy trails" shoe -- they perform equally well in strange elements like deep snow on exposed heights.
Conditions on Mount Washington prompted me to break with my previous uses: I wore the XT Wings as a part of my snowshoeing ensemble. I combined the XT Wings with short gaiters and full-sized snowshoes. Again, I did not have any moisture break past the barrier of either the shoes or the gaiters or the seal between the two. Having snowshoes attached to a trail running shoe was not the best fit on the icier portions of the trail because the extra width accentuates the movement of the shoes at my ankles. But in the deep powder (4 ft / 122 cm) this was not an issue: the XT Wings were stable and the snowshoes stayed firmly attached even when I was lifting up snow with my feet (we call this post-holing). The simple combination of wool socks with the XT Wings also provided plenty of warmth.
The XT Wings have exceeded my expectations, allowing me to run in what are normally "freakish" conditions in the Pacific Northwest: ever-present ice and deep snow. I've found them adaptable to traction devices and snowshoes, assuming that the trail is not too icy when used with the latter. And to my amazement, the support or padding or whatever has allowed me to run on roads, an activity I have not been able to engage in since high school due to the accompanying shin splints. Did I mention that they also keep my feet dry regardless of what's on the ground?
Though it may sound like I'm in the process of constructing a mini-shrine to Salomon, there is one downside: the fit of the contoured inserts to my feet. I've developed rather large, protruding calluses in order to compensate for this contouring. They do not cause me pain, but I would rather my shoes did not require them.
LONG-TERM TEST CONDITIONS & PERFORMANCE
My wife recently caught sight of my arsenal of footwear. Her eyes were drawn to the XT Wings, at which point she asked me how I've liked them. I replied, "I love them. If I had to wear them for the rest of my life, I would." In the back of my mind, I was recalling my most daring exploit in the XT Wings: the summiting of Mt. Ellinor (5944 ft / 1812 m) in Washington's Olympic Mountain Range. During the summer, I've heard that this summit is a family affair. During the winter -- the time of my ascent -- it entails negotiating a somewhat treacherous chute. Temperatures ranged from 45 F (7 C) at the trailhead to 32 F (0 C) at the summit. I added full length waterproof gaiters to keep the snow out of the shoes (they are cut low, after all), and I attached some microspikes to the tread (my companions donned crampons). Snow covered the entirety of the trip -- twelve miles all told. At the trailhead we met packed snow and ice. Despite the frozen contours, I did not twist my ankle wearing such a low cut shoe. As we approached the half-way point, my feet sank 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) in places. At no point did water seep into the shoes (I base this on the fact that I never felt cold water within the shoes), though the sweat from my feet was a factor (I changed my socks at the top, it got so bad). During our negotiating of the chute, at which point we had to "cut" stairs with our ice axes, I marveled at how well the combination of the Wings with microspikes matched my friends' more traditional combination of mountaineering boots and crampons. I consider my set-up preferable because of my increased range of motion and the lightness of the combined implements.
|Spikes over the Wings.
|At the summit of Mt. Ellinor.
Because of our extended winter with snow falling at two-week intervals, I've continued to trail run in the snow with the XT Wings at temperatures hovering between 32F-40F (0-4C). These snows are usually minimal, 3 inches (7 cm) at the most, though some have exceeded this amount (see the picture below). The Wings show little wear and tear despite such conditions. When paired with gaiters -- not even the waterproof variety -- my feet stay dry.
More traditional hiking has also proven an excellent application of the Wings. I climbed to the top of Poo Poo Point (1820 ft/555 m), a trail that climbs (1650 ft/503 m) in roughly 1.5 miles (2.4 km), with a day pack. I tried to set a brisk pace (I usually hike with a goal of seeing the destination as quickly as possible and enjoying the scenery during the scamper back to the car). The Wings fit snugly without any slippage at the heel during the climb up and not touching of the toes at the tip during the return journey. I even met trace amounts of snow -- an unexpected element that I simply laughed at, knowing that the Wings could handle snow with ease.
I have complained over the course of the testing that the shoes have produced wear points -- a.k.a. calluses -- on the outer balls of my feet. This fact remains true. But on a recent adventure race, all I could think about was how comfortable the insoles felt after wearing my mountain bike shoes for a few miles of hike-a-biking up hills. Prior to transitioning from my biking shoes, I had hauled my bike over my head through six inches (15 cm) of standing water and slipped my way up rain-soaked, muddy trails. Putting the Wings on, I sighed with relief and felt refreshed for the running portion of the next leg. I found myself sprinting from check point to check point as if I had just stepped off of the starting line.
Over the last few months, I've worn the Salomon XT Wings GTX over forty times, tromping through standing water with confidence, treading up snow-packed mountains, threading my way along muddy trails, traversing switchbacks with a full pack, and training on my paved running circuit around the neighborhood. In all of these cases, the Wings have never disappointed me. I have two issues with the shoes: the contoured insoles have created calluses and my feet have a tendency to overheat during long excursions. But the overall fit is so perfect that I consider the Wings the standard for my shoe size. The lacing system delivers equal tension. My heel stays put without any hot spots. The toe box provides an optimal amount of room and stoutness. I also have complete confidence in them regardless of my excursion. They handle surprises, like unexpected snow and standing water, as if they were made to do so . . . which they were.
I have some through hikes on the horizon that I know will be possible because of the Wings -- they allow me to confidently bring just one pair of shoes. Because of the overheating issues, I doubt that I'll wear the Wings when temperatures consistently reach 60F (15C) and above. But with snow in the ten day forecast (in mid-April no less), I won't have to worry about that transition for a while.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
This concludes my report. I would like to thank Salomon for the opportunity to test this product.
Read more reviews of Salomon gear
Read more gear reviews by Ken Norris