Salomon is a brand synanomous with mountain running and trail running. Top ultrarunning athletes from all over the world win big races while wearing the infamous red and white colors of S-Lab. At that level of skill and competition, a small edge can be the difference between winning or coming in second; however for most of us non-super-humans, the S-Lab lineup is more like fancy footwear with diminishing returns – and in some cases they’re probably the wrong shoes for us. With the introduction of the S-Lab X-Series however, Salomon may just change that! In this post you’ll find a rolling review of the X-Series and some thoughts on Salomon’s “CityTrail” concept along with a little back history.
S-Lab X-Series Specs at a Glance
- Type: Mixed Road / Trail
- Stack: 23/15mm
- Drop: 8mm
- Weight: 266g (9.45oz) Size 12 US
- Appearance: The Hotness
- MSRP: $160
CityTrail… City Trail??
Salomon is a trail running shoe company, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they didn’t just do something boring… like introduce a road shoe. Instead they introduced a new concept, CityTrail (without a space). Wait, what the hell is that?? This video does a pretty good job of conveying their vision. In a nutshell, it’s about taking some concepts from mountain running and applying them in an urban setting, such as seeking routes with good vertical, and looking for off-the-beaten-path paths. Frankly, I intend to abuse the hell out of these shoes on the trails.
You may want to just skip to the rolling review at this point. This is my take on how the X-Series sit in Salomon’s current lineup of shoes. S-Lab is synonymous with racing shoes. All of Salomon’s best tech goes into these. They’re red black and/or white, signaling your badassness to all who see you wearing them. You’re getting the idea here.
Take the Sense Ultra for example. Aimed at runners who intend to run far and fast on the trails. Their relatively light weight, barely-there cushion, and low drop (19mm/15mm, 4mm drop) are sure to tempt minimalists/masochists. A neutral and responsive shoe to be sure. For conditioned runners who are competing in races, the Sense Ultra is probably a fine shoe choice; they can suffer a little on race day if it means nabbing a CR. For those mere mortals… well, we’d probably prefer a little more cushion, a little more rock protection, and maybe a wider toe box.
Until now, there was not really a “common man’s S-Lab”. The Sense Mantra (I and II) were pretty close to what is today’s X-Series. The Sense Mantra III arrived with the X-Series and it is no longer the shoe it once was in terms of design nor fit. The X-Series definitely feels like an even better Sense Mantra. All of the usual S-Lab secret sauce is poured into the X-Series so they fit and feel amazing. What really makes these shoes great (for me) is the wider toe-box. We’re not talking Altra-wide, but Salomon has put a really nice toe box on this one, which will almost definitely be a widely appreciated design change compared to a shoe such as the Sense Ultra.
Even though the X-Series have more cushion than the Sense Mantra’s, they have better groundfeel in the mid and forefoot (possibly thinner rock plate). Despite riding a little higher they actually feel lower to the ground, crazy stuff! Overall they just feel very fast, nimble, and very responsive. This shoe is a clear upgrade over the Sense Mantra – the only question is: how well will they do on trails?? That will be answered as I purchased them with the sole intent of taking them trail running! (see rolling reviews at bottom).
Here’s a photo comparison to backup the above observations…
Outsole Profiles – Click any thumbnail to compare.
Side Profiles – Click any thumbnail to compare.
S-Lab X-Series Rolling Review
I paid $95 on Amazon. I would have bought
2 pairs multiple pairs if I realized how good of a deal that was and how much I was going to like them! If you find a bargain, pounce on it.
Out of the Box
The fit right out of the box was comfortable, and coming from my Sense Mantra 2’s, somewhat familiar. My feet really love Salomon’s EndoFit so of course these fit like a glove and feel great to me. The upper is high quality seamless, light, and very comfortable. The toe box is similar to the Mantra 2 toe box, but a little bit of stretch in it from the upper improves the fit. The midsole feels like it has a decent amount of cushion and the shoes have a nice amount of longitudinal flex to them. Even though the outsole does not look like something for the trails, I’m very stoked to get these onto lots of dirt and rocks…
First 50 Miles
The first 50 miles flew by pretty quickly. My longest run during this time was an 18 mile trail run. On the trails the X-Series are feeling very good. Super nimble and the groundfeel is incredible, even better than the Mantra 2’s, which are not bad themselves. My gut feeling is the X-Series have a thinner ProFeel Film (Salomon’s rock “plate”) than the Mantra’s which contributes to good groundfeel despite a taller overall stack. Rock protection is just ok; I hit a few sharp rocks that I felt on my forefoot so foot placement on the trail is something I will have to pay attention to. The cushion in these shoes is most apparent when running roads. Everything feels buttery smooth. Overall – So far so good. I will continue to use them on the roads and trails and report back at 100 miles…
At 100 Miles
My longest run in the X-Series is now 32 miles, about half of which was rocky fire roads and the rest was soft and sometimes muddy fire trails. I’m settling into the the shoes as far as rock protection and groundfeel are concerned. I’m finding that the shoes offer good enough protection for me from all but directly landing on the tip of a pointed rock. The X-Series are not designed to handle mud and they feel slippery through muddy sections. They don’t have any lugging so that’s to be expected. I wouldn’t want to run any steep muddy hills in them, but everything else has been just great. My toes are still getting used to this toe box, so I’ve needed some strategically placed moleskin to prevent blisters. I think this will get better with time. I’ll have more to say about my toes after 150-200 miles I’m sure, as well as any other points of interest that crop up. Stay tuned!
At 200 Miles
The shoes have held up well and all my initial observations are pretty much unchanged at this point. I feel like these shoes have a lot of life in them still. My longest run to date is 36 miles of rocky fire roads and trail. My only negative observation at this point is I’ve been getting some blisters on the tips of my toes… I’ve never had that happen before, that may in part be why. My toes need to toughen up a bit apparently. My hunch is that the stretchy material of the toe box allows for them to splay more freely when in contact with the ground, thus creating a splay and contract motion which could be leading to some rubbing. I still think time spent in the shoes will cure this as my toes toughen up. Other than that, it’s all good!
At 300 Miles
I just picked up a second pair of X-Series to rotate into my runs and will start breaking them in soon. Comparing tread wear with fresh from the box shoes was a nice surprise… not much wear to note! I’m planning to wear them while running the NFEC 50k in a few weeks (unless it rains much, then I will have to switch to something with a bit more traction for the mud). Nothing I have put on my feet since owning these shoes has been remotely as comfortable.
Final Verdict ~ 350 Miles
I ended up running the San Francisco North Face Endurance Challenge (50k) in my X-Series and had a great run with zero issues on the trails. As for comfort, they’re just enough shoe for me for 50k trail runs, maybe up to 50 miles. Some elite runners have worn them at events such as LA Marathon, Western States, and Hardrock… so there’s that. I elected to wear my fresh pair at the NFEC 50k. With 350 miles on the first pair, the midsoles just don’t feel as cushy. The shoes are still in very good shape though and I’ll keep using them for shorter runs. Contagrip is amazingly durable stuff with minimal treadwear so far (check out the photos below) and the uppers are good to go. The non-aggressive outers never let me down on the trails, though I admitedly pushed them beyond their intended use with muddy trails and steep, loose hills. Salomon has really come up with a good balance in the X-Series when it comes to comfort (ohhh that toe box!), weight, responsiveness, and versatility. It just leaves me wondering if they’ll give us something similar but with a “trail” outer… who knows, but I will hope!
(quick update, still running in this pair with about 500 miles on them)
- Comfort: Once my toes adjusted, they’ve been great. Midsole is starting to pack out after 350 miles.
- Durability: Super durable on “typical” trail conditions.
- Drain & Dry: I never ran though any streams in them
- Grip On Roads/Solid Rock: Very good
- Grip On Loose Rock/Gravel: Good on all but the steepest grades
- Grip On Wet Surfaces: Very good
- Grip In Mud: Not good
- For racing use? Yes, this is their forte.
- For training use? As long as I can get them at a decent cost I’ll be training in them… plenty of cushion there for me and I really like these shoes.
- For use as hikers? Probably not. I’d give it a shot if it wasn’t for the cost. I’d be concerned about the durability of the upper taking them on rough trails, bushwhacks, rock scrambles, scree fields, etc… Comfort-wise they’d probably be fine, especially for anyone who hikes in minimal shoes these will feel like a real upgrade.
- Try this link for another very good review of the X-Series
- Ginger Runner has a good video review of these shoes, although I disagree with him on points of weight/protection/comparison to maximal shoes.
The X-Series was replaced by the S-Lab Sonic and Sonic Pro, the latter of which is probably closer in terms of design to the X-Series (very similar). The Sonic’s are stiffer shoes overall and I actually prefer the X-Series. The new Sense Pro is also worth a look for a similar~ish shoe.
About the Author’s Running Style/Locale
I’m typically a front of the mid-pack runner. I run fire roads and single track in the Marin County area, including Mt. Tam, the Marin Headlands, and all the under-respected hills north of there. Long runs on this hard-packed stuff can leave the feet fairly beat up. The surface consists of loose crushed rock, jagged bedrock, and hardpacked dirt. A typical run for me is 9-15 miles with anywhere from 1500-3000 ft of climbing. My “long” runs are in the 20-30 mile range, usually with 4000-7000 ft of climbing. I occasionally do trail runs/races in the 50 mile to 100k range. When I find a shoe I like, I tend to stick with it for as long as possible. I prefer shoes with 4-6mm of drop; I haven’t really adapted to zero-drop footwear. I also like a shoe right in the middle as far as cushion goes; I need to feel the trail under me. Essentially my shoe quest has been to find shoes that have feel nimble and responsive, yet keep my feet from getting beat up by the rocks and distance. Hike It. Like It.