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Hands-on Gear Review
Salomon Speedcross 4 Review
Cons: Hot, insole slips when wet, unstable due to high heel height, very narrow
Bottom line: A very popular mountain and skyrunning monster.
Released in 2016, the Salomon Speedcross 4 was the long-awaited update to the bestselling Speedcross 3, one of the most popular trail running shoes in the world. The model remains unchanged for 2017. No shoe features such incredible traction on virtually every surface as the Speedcross 4, 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. While its sensitive and nimble feel have endeared it to countless runners, it is also highly unstable, quite narrow, and doesn't handle water very well. As a mixture of really great attributes combined with some quite poor ones, it once again falls right in the middle of our comparative rankings.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017
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 dirt, snow, mud (although it suffers a bit when wet). Its massive lugs bite into the steep dirt, steep grass, and in general, perform very well when the going is steep.
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 quick lace system with lace 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. Few would argue that these shoes are comfortable, but 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 some 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 more durable than the 3, so one should not expect its dynamic to change so rapidly as it wears down. As it is, we awarded these shoes 7 out of 10 for protection, roughly in line with the similarly cushioned Altra Lone Peak 3.5 or the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4.
In the past we found these to have without a doubt the best traction of any shoe we had ever worn, but this year these shoes were one-upped by the similarly aggressive but slightly stickier Inov-8 Rocklite 290. As such we gave them the second highest score, 9 out of 10. Salomon has addressed some of the issues with the 6mm lugs on these shoes ripping off, with rubber is obviously harder and more durable than it used to be.
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, but this was the one area where this shoe simply didn't stick quite as well as the Roclite. Regardless, it is far more aggressive and grippy than even the very best of the rest, like the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4.
We think that the Speedcross 4 is the least stable shoe in this review, with many things going into this assessment. Anecdotally, the 10mm 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. These feelings are backed up by the numbers, as the 30mm stack height in the heel is more than any other shoe. It is also 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 platform. 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. For these reasons, we could only award it a paltry 3 points out of 10; we encourage runners with ankle rolling or spraining issues to take a look at a more stable shoe, like the Nike Wildhorse 4 or the super low to the ground Altra Superior 3.0 first.
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 snugly 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 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 Ortholite 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 countless times, and also had it happen the very first time we wore these shoes 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 plush Hoka Challenger ATR 3 but thought it was about the same as the similarly shaped Brooks Caldera.
These shoes weighed 23.3 ounces for a pair of Men's size 11 straight out of the box. This was on the heavier side for this review, and so we only awarded them 4 points. The shoes with comparable weights were the New Balance Leadville V3 and the Vasque Constant Velocity.
It was hard to come up with a grade for these shoes regarding 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, the same grade that we awarded our best overall trail running shoe, the Nike Terra Kiger 4. 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 perfect 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 the 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 trendy shoe. It is comfortable, protective, and has 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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