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Hands-on Gear Review
Salomon Speedcross 4 Review
Cons: Hot, insole slips when wet, unstable due to high heel height
Bottom line: A mountain and skyrunning monster.
The Speedcross 4 is Salomon's long-awaited update to the bestselling Speedcross 3, long one of the most popular trail running shoes in the world. For those runners who loved the 3, you will surely love the 4 as well. No shoe features such incredible traction on virtually every surface as the Speedcross, and the new update has changed the famously aggressive lug pattern for the better. Except for the modified outsole and a lower cut design around the heel and ankle, this shoe remains largely the same as it has been for many years. Designed for serious mountain running, it can handle rough terrain better than just about any other shoe in this review, but by no means is it flawless. Read on to see what we liked, and disliked, about this unique shoe.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017 - Side-by-Side Tests
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Speedcross 4 is a tough shoe to compare to other trail runners, as it seems to be designed more for true mountain running, like is popular in Europe, than it is for trail running, like we tend to gravitate towards in the U.S. But ask any runner who has spent time in these shoes whether they like them, and you are paradoxically going to hear one of two very different answers: people either love them, or don't want to wear them. With its' incredible traction, this shoe easily grips well on rock, snow, mud, and when wet. Its huge lugs bite into steep dirt, steep grass, and in general perform very well when the going is steep. But, in the past at least, the lugs were soft and very quick to wear down or rip off entirely.
Without a rock plate it features a very sensitive forefoot, but the stack height under the heel is huge, making it unstable and laterally tippy. The quicklace system with garage in the tongue is the quickest and easiest lacing system in our review, but the laces prove to be easy to break and not easy to fix. While the shoe is seemingly designed for wet conditions, it also doesn't drain well and getting it wet causes the insole liner to move around and scrunch up. While few would argue that these shoes are very comfortable, it is up to the individual to decide whether they match their running desires.
The Speedcross 4 does not have a forefoot rock plate, like many of the shoes in this test, and relies instead on the EVA cushioning to absorb blows to the foot. In the forefoot, the amount of cushioning is minimal, giving it great sensitivity for running uphill, but not a ton of protection. Paradoxically, the heel has a ton of cushioning under it, making it nicely absorptive and protective for heel-first downhill running. While this combination might sound great, it makes this shoe the least stable in our review, which we will discuss later under stability.
In our experience of running with the Speedcross 3 for many years, much of the protection and shock absorption in this shoe seems to come from the 6mm lugs themselves. As they wore down or ripped off, the shoe became more low-profile and far more sensitive, while at the same time felt much less protective. The outsole rubber on the Speedcross 4 is clearly more durable than the 3, so with luck this shoe will not change its dynamic so rapidly as it wears down. As it is, we awarded these shoes 7 out of 10 for protection, roughly in line with the New Balance Leadville v3 or the Saucony Peregrine 6.
These are hands down the best shoes you can buy for traction, and thus we gave them a 10 out of 10. Salomon has even addressed some of the issues with the 6mm lugs on these shoes ripping off, and for the Speedcross 4, the rubber is obviously harder and more durable; the lugs themselves are now smaller, and there are only full arrow lugs on the outsole, not some that are cut in half on the edges like the older model sported. The Contagrip rubber used in this single piece outsole has also been updated for better traction in wet conditions. Simply put, it is far more aggressive and grippy than even the very best of the rest, like the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4. During our review period we did not notice much wear at all on the 6mm deep lugs, which was always one of our biggest complaints. Nice work Salomon on making a good thing even better.
We think that the Speedcross 4 is the least stable shoe in this review, with many things going into this assessment. Anecdotally, the 11mm heel-toe drop makes these shoes tippy and easy to roll an ankle in side to side. The forefoot is very low, and the heel is very high, which doesn't provide a flat and stable landing platform. Adding to this dynamic is that the very tall lugs flex and move under the weight of the foot, making the platform one lands upon further off the ground, and more shifty, if that makes sense. The shoe is quite narrow in both the forefoot and the heel, eschewing the recent push among many shoe makers to widen the forefoot for more stable landing and push off. Finally, while the cut of the upper around the heel and ankle is now lower, this also means that the upper grips the foot slightly less in these areas, allowing even more lateral movement. 5 out of 10 points.
Upon putting the Speedcross 4 on your foot, you might notice how comfortable it feels. There is padding in all of the right places and the sure lace system secures your foot snuggly within the upper without pinching or rub points. The heel fits great and the shoes are sized just right. That said, we could only award 7 out of 10 points for comfort, due to a few other concerns. One is that this shoe is very narrow compared to most, and this affected how our foot felt on long runs. Our wide feet actually start to stretch and flatten out the upper, which then starts to overflow the midsole platform of the shoe. The shoe also doesn't breathe very well and leads to some seriously sweaty feet.
While it is slightly better than average at not absorbing water, and also at shedding it after a five minute jog in our water test, one of our biggest complaints is the insole liner. When wet, this liner seems to absorb a lot of water, and then when running downhill, it slides forward within the shoe and bunches up in the toes. We have experienced this literally countless times with the Speedcross 3, and also had it happen the very first time we wore the Speedcross 4 while pacing at the Hardrock 100. The only way to fix this is to stop, remove the shoe and the liner, adjust the liner carefully, and put the shoe back on. For these reasons, we couldn't call this shoe as comfortable as ones like the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 2 or the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3.
These shoes weighed 23.3 ounces for a pair of Men's size 11 straight out of the box. This was about average for this review, and so we awarded them 7 points. The shoes with comparable weights were the New Balance Leadville V3 and the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3.
It was hard to come up with a grade for these shoes in terms of sensitivity, because they are simultaneously thin and sensitive in the forefoot while fat and ultra cushioned in the heel. In the end we chose to draw the line down the middle, and award them 7 points, similar to the ASICS GEL-FujiTrabuco 4 Neutral. While running uphill in these shoes, they feel sensitive and responsive, in a good way. But while running downhill, they feel sort of like tipsy clunkers, and not in a very good sense. This two-faced issue with the shoes is one of the reasons we don't like them as much as our highest rated shoes.
These shoes are designed for serious mountain running, and that is where they will excel. Any application where traction is tricky, whether it is mud, snow, grass, steep trail, or steep rock, these shoes will shine.
The Speedcross 4 retail for $130. This price is on the higher end of our spectrum. In our opinion, we have a lot of shoes in this review rated higher than these, and so would probably prefer to spend our $130 on one of those pairs. However, many people are very loyal to these shoes, and for those folks, this probably presents a great value.
The Salomon Speedcross 4 is a brand new update to a very popular shoe. It is comfortable, protective, and has absolutely amazing traction. However, these good qualities come at the cost of stability, which we found to be quite poor compared to the competition. Many mountain runners will love this shoe and be quite willing to work with its faults, but for normal trail running we recommend something a bit more stable, like The North Face Ultra Endurance.
— Andy Wellman
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