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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Salomon XT Wings GTX Shoes > Test Report by Roger Caffin
|Initial Report 29-Nov-2008
I started bushwalking at 14 and took up rock climbing at University with the girl who became my wife and my permanent walking partner. Ski touring and canyoning followed. Winter and summer, we prefer long hard trips by ourselves: about a week in Australia, up to three months in Europe/UK. We prefer fast and light in unfrequented trackless country. We would be out walking, skiing or snowshoeing for at least three months a year. We have now moved to lightweight gear, much to our backs' relief. I designed and made much of our lightweight gear myself.
I am also the maintainer of the Australian aus.bushwalking FAQ web site www.bushwalking.org.au/FAQ/.
|Year of manufacture:
|Country of manufacture:
|China or Vietnam
|UK: 10, Eu:44 2/3, US:10.5
|440 g (15.5 oz)
|Salomon Running ContaGrip over EVA foam
Product Claims and Description
The Salomon web site uses some sort of Flash display which makes it very hard for a customer to save any information, although apart from some buzz-words the web site does not give a lot of information about the shoes.
The shoes are fully synthetic, with 'strategically placed textile parts'. The textile parts are 'water resistant'. There is a solid rubber toe guard at the front. The soles are Salomon 'Contagrip', which I assume is meant to distinguish them from the well-known Vibram sole. There is a 'triple density EVA' foam layer between the sole and the interior footbed. The shoes come in several colours: mine are 'black', but there are also versions with red and yellow trim.
There was a swing-tag which extolled the virtues of 'OrthoLite', which is supposed to provide 'comfort from the inside out', but I was left unsure what this means. The web site says the sockliner is 'OrthoLite', but it is the footbed in the shoe which bears this label. The footbed has a central thickish foam section with a flange of thinner soft rubber around it. There is a logo on the side of the shoe which says 'Pronation Control'; the web site does not explain this.
The shoes are meant to be waterproof, with the web site saying 'Climadry bootie construction keeps your foot dry for at least 8 hours, in the weather conditions under which the product is expected to perform for this category'.' However, it would seem that there was a late change of plan as the shoes bore a GORE-TEX swing-tag at delivery. There is also a very small GORE-TEX label on the side of the shoes. The fabric sides of the shoes seem very thin, but the outer fabric layer is tightly-woven and seems tough.
Finally, the 'asymmetrical lacing' system uses very thin cord with a cord-lock at the top, and it seems this is meant to be their 'Quicklace' system. The explanation on the web site is not very useful. I gather this is meant to substitute for tying a bow - although why this might be better is not explained. There is a cute little mesh pocket at the top of the tongue, into which the cord-lock is meant to be inserted. The ends of the laces down at the front of the shoes have crimped loops anchoring them: I hope these hold up!
Putting aside all the marketing jargon, these are low-cut synthetic joggers with what looks like a good lugged sole. The lacing system with its cordlock seems to work in the house, but what it will do in the bush is something I will have to test.
One thing which does please me is the entirely synthetic construction. There is no leather at all, to get water-logged, crack and shrink. To explain: a pair of Salomon Extend Lows we used for a 3-month walk in France in 2007 had leather trim, and after being wet for about a month the leather trim shrank badly when the shoes finally dried out. The reduced shoe volume almost crippled my wife in one or two days. The absence of any leather in the construction is now something we insist on.
The fit of the shoes seems to be just wide enough for the length of my feet. As I have very wide feet this is a hard test, and someone with narrow feet might find the fit too wide. Fit is a very individual thing. How the lacing system will handle the often extreme movement over rough terrain is something I will have to find out. This is especially important as the shoe is quite low cut: there is no large ankle section to keep the shoe on. I will be relying on the lacing to keep the shoes on. But, that is how I like my shoes.
Field Report - 10 February 2009
Field Test Conditions & Locations
When trying out any new walking shoes it would be very reasonable to take them on a short easy day walk first, just to check that they do fit reasonably well. In this case I did the opposite - I took them out of the box and straight onto a tough 4 day walk in the Kanangra Boyd National Park under severe conditions with my wife. There were several reasons for this: they turned up just two days before the trip; I have previously worn similar Salomon joggers for three months in France with satisfactory results, and these ones seemed to have about the same fit. OK, I was taking a risk. I did take several different thickness socks 'just in case', and I did check that there was no bulging 'arch support' in the footbed to damage the tendons under my feet.
Our walk started out very easy, on part of the 'Six Foot Track' descending from about 1190 m (3,900') down to Jenolan Caves at 760 m (2,490'). I had some reservations as we went down this: the XT Wings GTX shoes are probably about a EE fitting, while I take a EEEE fitting. This meant that my feet were a little too wide for the shoes. I could feel that, and I could also feel that my little toes were bumping up against the end of the shoe. This was not good. After thinking about this for a while as I walked, I decided to stop and tighten the shoe laces up a bit in the hope that this would stop my foot from sliding so far forward. Hopefully this would keep my toes from bumping into the front end of the shoes. It could also have the undesirable effect of squeezing the sides of my feet a bit more. Whether the cord-lock on the laces would hold the extra tension was something I was not sure about.
Well, tightening the laces to what was probably a more realistic tension did seem to keep my toes from hitting the front end of the shoes, and I didn't notice the laces losing significant tension on the way down the hill. The shoes did not feel much tighter across the ball of my foot either. The latter result, albeit counter-intuitive, is often the case when the foot is held further back in the shoe by tighter lacing. Loose lacing is not always a good thing, especially downhill. So far, so good. Jumping ahead a bit, I found that the cord-lock did seem to hold the tension fairly well for the whole day. I don't think I had to tighten the laces during the day more than once, and that not by much. I could not feel the tight laces across the top of my feet either.
From Jenolan Caves (a tourist site) we started off down the Jenolan River. I had allowed about three days to reach the junction with the (larger) Coxs River: three days of rough trackless river walking, through three granite gorges. The photo above to the right shows the start of the river valley, before it got difficult. (I carry the camera, so it's usually my wife in the photos rather than me.)
Later on the valley got narrower and it became more difficult to stay on the river banks. This is very common with river walking around these mountains. At first we could jump over the river on round, water-smoothed granite. The aim is to not fall in; the requirement is for shoes which have a high degree of friction on the sole and which allow a significant amount of movement of the ankle to conform to the rocks. I don't think I would try this sort of thing with big leather boots - they are just too clumsy. Eventually we had to wade; we knew this in advance of course, it's just that one always tries to keep one's feet dry as long as possible. If there are only one or two river crossings and the bottom of the river is soft sand then taking our shoes off each time may be realistic. In the end, we would have waded across and down the Jenolan River hundreds of times on this trip, and the bottom of the river was all large stones. We don't take our shoes off under these conditions; we rely on the rand and the toe cap for protection as we slide our feet around under water seeking stable footings between the rocks. Fortunately the recent rains meant that the water was not very cold, but the rocks underwater were often slippery.
The outside layer of most joggers is pretty tough, but the inside surface has to be a bit softer. One does not want to damage this inner layer of course, and with a GORE-TEX membrane inside the structure this becomes doubly important. River walking has a bad tendency to fill one's shoes up with sand and gravel, which can be very damaging to the lining, not to mention the socks and even one's feet. For this reason, while river walking we normally wear gaiters which fit fairly closely around the shoes, with a strap under the shoe to keep the fabric tight against the shoe. It helps if the sole of the shoe lets this strap fit in place neatly. This arrangement is shown in the photo here. The blue fabric at the lower part of the gaiter is proofed Cordura, but the black part is unproofed Cordura. (No brand for the gaiters: they are an MYOG item.)
The trip was not only river walking. We reached the Coxs River early on the third day - one day ahead of schedule. We walked up it on the bank for a few kilometres (a couple of miles) and then went straight up the face of the Slaughterhouse Gully Spur to the top of Black Range, a climb of just over 700 m (2,300'). The bottom section of this climb is extremely steep, almost 45 degrees in fact. We were seeking little footholds on the patches of grass and toeing holds into the loose scree. A slip here would have been ... 'unfortunate'. I was able to 'feel' what I was standing on through the soles and adjust my ankle for best traction. A rest at the top of the first part of the climb was very welcome, both as a rest and because it meant the angle of climb got easier. The rocky terrain on the spur above was just as rough - sharp rocks but dry.
Most of my light-weight walking shoes (typically Dunlop KT-26s) are very porous, so that any water which gets inside can drain straight out again. This is great for river walking. These Salomon XT Wings GTX shoes have a GORE-TEX membrane in the shell which stops water from coming in - a great idea for walking in the snow for instance. But as is well-known, there is one great big hole in this membrane - where the foot goes into the shoe. So what happens when I go river walking in these shoes? Well, it turns out the answer is not so simple, at least when I am wearing the gaiters shown above with the waterproof lower sections. In shallow water the shoes block any ingress, but that only works when the water is very shallow as the shoes are low-cut. In slightly deeper water a little gets in, but it has to get past the waterproof part of the gaiters. If the water is deep enough it comes in through the non-waterproof part of the gaiters - or over the top.
Of course water does get in, but once my socks were wet I found that the water around my feet stayed mostly warm. The fit of the gaiters and shoes meant that there was little flow of water through my socks and shoes. That's fine, but it also meant that what water did get inside my shoes, into my socks, did not get squeezed out as I walked. This is very different from what happens with my non-waterproof shoes, which drain rapidly with every foot-fall. And that means my feet, once wet in the morning in these shoes, stayed wet for the whole day regardless. The photo here shows the consequences late in the afternoon: very soggy wrinkly feet! But they weren't sore: I was able to leave the XT Wings GTX shoes on for a while during each evening with no problems.
It has been claimed by some that wet feet automatically lead to blisters. I had wet feet for three days, but I had no blisters. The claim is a myth, but one that is hard to kill. To be sure, I would not normally wear waterproof/breathable shoes such as these on a river trip, but they worked. The most excellent Darn Tough Vermont socks I was wearing (from a previous BackpackGearTest.org test) probably helped a bit too.
OK, I did wear the shoes on some short day walks later on, but those walks did not really 'test' the shoes and told me nothing extra compared to what I found out on the walk down the Jenolan River. However, there was negligible wear detected from the extra day walks. The shoes are lasting well.
Field Test Findings
This is an interim summary of some highlights based only on the Field Test period.
Long Term Report - 14 April 2009
Later Test Conditions & Locations
I took the Salomon XT Wings GTX on several day walks during the Long Term Report period. One good one I shall describe in detail was a 'day' trip over Mt Solitary, an isolated mountain in the middle of a valley near Katoomba, a tourist town in the middle of the Blue Mountains near Sydney. The day was in the low 20s C (around 70 F) but the humidity after recent rain was very high - well over 80%. Altitude ranged from 150 m (490') to over 900 m (2,950'). Another walk I shall describe was a three day walk up and down the Barrington Tops, from about 320 m (1,050') to 1,425 m (4,670') in a whole range of weather conditions.
I put 'day' in quote marks for this walk as we started at 8:00 am and finished at 20:00 pm, some 12 hours later. It was a rather long day: we (my wife and I) had attempted a complete loop of the entire valley, and almost succeeded. I have since seen this trip described as a weekender. I mention this because it meant I was walking flat out for 12 hours, which is a rather severe test of any footwear. Well, yes, we felt it was a severe test of our feet and legs too.
The cordlocks seemed to hold well enough. On the very steep descent off the end of Solitary Pass (left hand end of the massif in the photo) I felt my feet had moved forward in the shoe slightly, but considering the steep angles of descent that was not bad. I did not feel that the cordlock had moved very much, if at all.
We were travelling over rough rock and loose surface cover for a lot of the way. The photo to the right here shows a descent gully down the face of the mountain, a combination of rough rock and loose mulch. The angle is about 45 degrees, which is rather steep for walking. The lugged soles and the rubber seemed to grip quite well on this dry stuff. Later on, descending very steep dirt, they gripped just as well. (That means sliding down the hill would have been easy enough unless care was taken, but we didn't slide.)
I had mentioned that these shoes were really a little narrower than I like - perhaps an EE fitting rather than the EEEE fitting I find most comfortable. With heavy leather boots this would lead to much pain and suffering, and blisters too most likely, until the leather had adapted to my feet. (Long experience with leather boots in the old days.) The much softer shell of these shoes allowed the side of the shoe to bulge out and adapt to my feet much more easily, as shown at the left of the photo below. This is a right foot, and the bulge beside my little toe is clearly visible on the left side of the photo. All the same, by the end of the long day my feet were a little tired from being squeezed. Fortunately no blisters developed, but I don't get blisters these days anyhow.
Salomon seems to be rather keen on what they call 'Pronation Control'. This seems to mean that they have taken steps to prevent you from walking on the inside or outsides edges of your feet. A visit to an up-market sports shoe store will explain a whole lot more about these terms. "You vill valk vith your feet sqvare!" The theory sounds great, except that I really do not believe that trying to coerce someone into walking in a different manner from what their bone and muscle structures would normally dictate is any good for them. In fact, it seems rather foolish (or worse) to me. As part of the 'pronation control' measures used, Salomon have made the heel on these shoes hugely wide, as shown at the right in the photo. In addition, I have a small feeling that the heel width on the shoe part (above the heel structure) is not very great. It does not look very wide in the photo.
I did not have any big problems with the width of the heel molding in the field. I did not notice any special 'pronation control' effects either, but I walk fairly straight anyhow. So I can't really say whether the very wide heel has any effect either way. What I can say is that by the end of the very long day, and into the next morning as well, my heels did feel a little more tired than normal. Perhaps my heels were being squeezed inwards a little, or perhaps it was just a very long day.
Finally, the soles of the shoes have had only a little wear compared to what they should be capable of handling, and indeed there is very little wear showing either on the tread or on the rand. This is just as expected.
The Barrington Tops are effectively a small plateau top towering way above the surrounding flat country, created I believe by volcanic action. This meant that for most of the time we were on basalt country, and basalt country can have sticky mud and very luxuriant vegetation. This is very different from the region around the Jenolan River or Mt Solitary. The weather was a bit of everything.
We started way down on the flat land on the Williams River at 320 m (1,050'), and spent the sunny morning walking up the river on a tourist-grade walking track through incredible rainforest. Fortunately the ground was not too waterlogged, but our shoes and gaiters quickly got muddy. However, traction was fine except on the sawn timber bridges - they were slippery for any footwear!
Then we started to climb up the Corker Track to Mt Corker, on an old 4WD track. This too had its moments as it was so steep and was all basalt rock and mud. ('Corker' is right!) But the shoes gripped fine. We finally reached the top at 1,425 m (4,670'). Now Barrington Tops are some distance N of Sydney, and the vegetation verges on sub-tropical despite the altitude. The jungle on either side of the track was fierce. We camped at Wombat Creek, and I was pleased to find that my socks were only a bit sweaty.
Overnight the weather changed: the clouds moved in and enveloped the plateau. All the grass and bushes were wet. We headed off up the track to Careys Peak and its rather ramshackle hut, and very soon had wet trousers. My feet stayed fairly dry, but Sue was wearing some non-GTX Salomon shoes and her socks were soon wet through. There may be something in this waterproof membrane idea after all. From there we went along the rim of the plateau to Mt Barrington. Both peaks gave us excellent views of the inside of the cloud.
We went north for a while as the weather slowly improved, but that turned out to be boring as the track we were following developed into a heavily graveled road for cars. I find walking on car roads very hard on the feet and the soul. So we cancelled that plan and instead went to Junction Pools, where the car road ended. From there we went over Aeroplane Hills. The track over the Hills was just a faint pad through long wet grass, and the cloud moved in again to add a bit more moisture. It wasn't really raining: we were just inside a cloud. Actually, it's a really nice track. By the time we reached Black Swamp to camp the fog was thick: there is a broad open swamp land behind the tent but it was completely hidden. By now of course our trousers were wet. Sue's socks inside her non-waterproof shoes were squishy, but mine inside the GORE-TEX membrane were only a little damp.
I inspected the inside of my shoes to see whether they looked dry or not. Well, they did look mostly dry, but I suspect the membrane was leaking slightly at both sides of the front of the foot. There were distinct wet patches there. The location of these patches are illustrated in the photo here. (This is a simulation of the damp patches, not an actual photo.) These damp patches could have been due to condensation, but I really doubt it. In one sense this is disappointing, that the much-vaunted GORE-TEX membrane should have failed so quickly, but I am not really surprised as I never believed the claims of how good the membrane was anyhow. After all, inside the shell of a walking shoe has got to be one very harsh environment for friction and abrasion!
What I did notice when comparing my shoes with Sue's Salomon Extend Low shoes (now obsolete) was a very significant difference in weight. There seems to be more padding in the Extend Low shoes than in the XT Wings GTX shoes, and this padding was saturated. Water is heavy, and my shoes were much lighter than Sue's. It was really noticeable, and the reduced weight is good.
The next morning was fine, although everything was wet and muddy. We headed off back to the Corker Track and the 1,100 m (3,600') descent. Now going uphill is one thing, but descending a huge drop like this does place a different and fairly harsh load on a pair of shoes and the feet inside them. This is because my feet were now being pushed forward all the time, into the front of the shoe. If the shoe doesn't fit the foot under these conditions then some toes are going to suffer, and badly. This is where the width of the shoe matters, and these shoes were not really wide enough for my feet.
Once we were going seriously downhill I found that the casual way I had done up the cordlock on the laces in the morning was not good enough. The laces were not tight enough, and my foot was sliding too far forwards. So I stopped and pulled the laces up a bit tighter, to hold my foot back more towards the heel. Well, as usual, I overdid this slightly, and I found that the top of my foot-arch was now being hammered slightly. I could actually feel the individual laces across my foot. So I stopped again and slackened off the cordlock by about 3 mm (1/8"). That was about right for the rest of the descent.
I have made a bit of a thing about this for two reasons. The first is that the shoes were soft enough that they could deform to handle the slight width deficiency - that has been mentioned above. The second reason is the use of the cordlock on the laces. I was very doubtful about these when I received the shoes: 'just another gimmick' was my reaction. Now I am not so sure about that. There is no reason why knots and bows should be the pinnacle of design for shoe laces. Making small adjustments in a controlled manner with knots is not that easy, but with the cordlock I was able to make a very deliberate adjustment of about 3 mm (1/8") in a very short time. In short, the idea seems to work very well.
At the end of the descent I had slightly tired feet (but my knees were OK). I think that the tiredness was due to the slight width mismatch during the descent, but it was not really a problem. Otherwise the shoes were fine: the outer fabric looks untouched and the tread still hasn't shown any significant wear.
The last photo above shows the lining fabric on the inside of the shoe: a sort of fine black and white polka-dot pattern. This lining fabric looks innocent, but is actually rather important. I mentioned that I had found my foot sliding forward a bit when going downhill, and that I had rectified this by tightening the lacing a little. This is correct, but what this statement conceals is the way the lining fabric interacted with the surface of my Darn Tough Vermont wool-blend socks (also reviewed here at BackpackGearTest.org). The lining and the socks sort of stuck together a bit. Not a lot, but certainly quite enough to help prevent my feet from sliding around too much in the shoe. This is a very good thing in my experience.
I found that with just light nylon liner socks my feet could slide around a fair bit: the two fabrics did not grip together. I only did this in the evening after setting up camp, but the difference in 'grip' was really noticeable. It is strange that the marketing spin for shoes rarely mentions this fabric or the effect, but it is worth checking on any new shoes. It does also mean that sock selection can interact with shoe selection - but this is perfectly reasonable.
The shoes seem pretty good for walking, and have served me well. The GORE-TEX membrane seems to leak already, but not badly. The lacing system is rather good. Other points are as follows.
The shoes are a fraction too narrow for me really, so when this Test is concluded I shall pass them on to my wife Sue, whose feet are just a bit narrower than mine. Sue has reminded me of this promise several times - perhaps that is a good overall summary.