UK Exclusive: The all-new Salomon Fell Cross SLAB
This is significant year in the history of Salomon trail and mountain running shoes. Firstly, the XR Crossmax entered the door-to-trail fray, and has been winning over runners in their masses in that search for trail shoe that performs on tarmac…
..and now, after almost two years of development, testing and prototypes; and after months of whispers and web-leaks, the trail and – more importantly for us here in the UK – fell scene is about to welcome a new shoe onto the market, a shoe which will for the first time ensure that Salomon has a shoe that is able to take on the ravages of the steepest races…say hello to the Salomon Fell Cross SLAB.
Of course, with their stealth-like appearance, low profile and lightweight nature they wont be the weapon of choice for all, however for me (an 11st skinny man) they have been faultless on almost all terrain over 6 weeks (and about 100 miles) of trail, forest tracks and heavy mud.
Designed in the Alps, tested on the Fells
I think we can safely say that this shoe has been a collaboration project. It is often the case these days that the good shoe companies will use their athletes to prototype and offer input in new products. However, having seen some of the collaboration going on between the Lakes and Alps with this shoe, I can tell you that Salomon have been listening, tweaking, adjusting and perfecting this shoe, with the help of top mountain runners Andy Symonds and Ricky Lightfoot.
“It’s been a real pleasure to worth together with Ricky and the Annecy HQ footwear team on developing this new shoe, the Fell Cross. For the Europeans “fell running” is a slightly bizarre concept, certainly an unknown quantity, “what, you race straight up and down mountains without following the footpath?”… “you have mountains in the UK?”… “what do you need all that grip for?”.
It’s been a great opportunity to answer some of these questions and get into the nitty-gritty of product development. We know what we wanted, but where do you start?
Over the last 12 months or so, Ricky and I have tested, trashed and provided feedback on a line of evolving prototypes and I can say that we’re now have a seriously good fell shoe. It’s light, comfortable, grippy and, of course, incredibly well wrapped up in a very flashy shell! Roll on the release…”
“As a mountain runner I have tried and tested every fell shoe on the market to find the “one for me” the one which fits me best and one I am most comfortable with when throwing myself down the mountain side.
Salomon have let me explore this aspect of the sport and take part in the development of a new and exciting shoe for the UK fell scene along with Andy Symonds.
We have developed this shoe over a number of months working closely with the Annecy HQ footwear team testing the shoe to its limit in the Lake District and at races such as the Mt Kinabalu Climbathon dubbed the “World’s Toughest” which is in Malaysia.
The Fell Cross has slowly developed and morphed in to what you see today and it promises to be “the” best shoe on the market for comfort, stability, grip and looks. I have finally found the one for me…”
That’s the elite’s view, but what do we think?
If looks could kill
First off, these shoes look grrreat. From afar you might mistake them for a Speed Cross shoe, and indeed the shoe is built on the same principles as the classic Salomon racer. However, get within 2 feet of this shoe and start to notice it is a little different from anything that Salomon have produced in the recent past.
You also realise that the profile of the shoe is much lower than the Speed Cross shoe, something those fell racers will be very happy with. With a stunning colour scheme of black and red, with a fade from front to rear, silver rubberised livery and those super-cool tongue tabs, wow. Nothing more to say really.
The construction of the Fell Cross is high quality (just what you would expect from Salomon SLAB product). Each seam, weld and overlay is perfectly done, and the feel is of a shoe that will last.
The uppers are one piece, meaning less opportunity for ingress of water, but also leaving for a highly comfortably inner, with less stitching. The midsole on these is pretty minimal as I have said, however the shoe is surprisingly cushioned on harder terrain when coupled with the forgiving studded outsole – more on that later.
The toebox is also improved in my view, and has a higher buffer than on the Speed Cross – great for those over-exposed rocks and roots.
And that good old Quicklace too, right?
One of my gripes about running shoes has always been the mile after mile of laces that accompany them out of the box. A fair few manufacturers who use laces, use too much lace. Why do I need enough to do 4 double knots? Anyway the tried and tested Quicklace system is employed here with noticeable changes to the the size of the slider (mush more compact) and what is known as the lace ‘garage’ – i.e the little pocket that the excess all stuffs into. That is also much reduced, meaning a less bulky tongue area.
One look at the outsole on this shoe and you will note that it is studded. Not just any old studs, but chevron designed with Contagrip rubber compounds. The studs themselves are pliable – and only time will tell on durability, but what I can tell you though is that after many weeks of usage the studs are still all intact and as grippy as the day they left the box.
The studs are nicely spaced giving good mud-evacuation too, something which mountain bikers will appreciate. There is nothing worse that your shoes weighing an extra 300 grams with half a field stuck to the bottom of your soles whilst negotiating muck and bogs, so it’s all about how quickly the stuff is thrown out of those nobbles (same can be said of an MTB tyre). Once you are free of the gloopy stuff in the Fell Cross the build-up of mud clears pretty quickly.
How low can you go?
Good question in these interesting times of barefoot and neutral / natural running. The heel to forefoot differential on the Fell Cross is 10mm / 6mm, meaning that there is 10mm of midsole at the rear and 6mm at the forefoot. If you are a Salomon fan the shoe takes a bit of getting used to out of the box, compared to your Speed Cross 2’s for example.
But as with a great sportscar, when you remove some of the cushioning and bulk, and add more speed, you feel the road a little more, which for some is a good thing. This in-touch feeling is especially beneficial on tricky ground though, with the precise nature of the shoe leaving you confident, especially on steep descents.
Part of the reason for this new lower profile is that the stability post synonymous with the Speed Cross shoe is removed and the EVA cushioning, called LT -Lightweight Muscle, has been reworked for a wider base and lower depth.
Also, one really nice part of this new shoe is the very plush and pliable achilles tab. When descending a steep hill, the pressure placed on your achilles as your foot plants and extends forward is phenomenal. So this soft ridge above the rigid heel cup is very welcome and works extremely well.
So now to the nitty gritty – do these babies work?!
When donning these shoes you first notice the snug fit that you get when pulling them on. Many of my peers talk to me about the Speed Cross shoe fitting like a slipper – well same here, but slightly more narrow across the midfoot. Though for those of you who don lightweight racers on a regular basis you should be more familiar with this sensation.
And fear not. Once you have got the shoes on and become accustomed to that snug feeling in the forefoot, the shoe almost molds to your foot as the run goes on.
The positivity you feel on the run with Fell Cross is really noticeable. Some may note that the feeling of rocks and cambers underfoot as a little off putting. Others (like me) will perhaps be of the opinion that unless it’s uncomfortable the more you feel the terrain, the more you feel the terrain, and that barefoot notion comes a little closer, but not too close – so that you remain safe in the knowledge that your foot is really well protected.
Still, as great as all the other aspects are of this shoe, the best is yet to come for me. I like to climb, my favourite terrain is super-steep, but runnable trails. And the Fell Cross devours them. I cannot really note an occasion when I have lost my footing on an uphill in these shoes, they really are crampon-like and the confidence that you get from each forward motion of the Fell Cross is just fantastic.
Would I buy ‘em?
It is a perfect time to raise the issue of cost at this point. In case you haven’t scrolled to the foot of this review already you might not know that these will cost £120. On first looks that might seem a lot.
So let me put it like this.
1. I know plenty of cyclists who spend a lot of money on their race and time trial machines. Many thousands in fact. They are specialist products, to do a specific job. And when you have a specialist product, to do a specialist job, that will not be used for everyday work-horse work, its costs more.
2. These are Salomon SLAB shoes – just take a look at this video. Those of you that know a little about manufacturing costs will note that when you have a product that takes a huge amount of research and development time, and will be limited in numbers when on-sale, it is reasonable to pay a premium price for it.
This is where I can hear you say “He doesn’t have to pay for them though”. Again, correct. But even if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have one of the only pairs of these shoes in the UK, and been lucky enough to test them on some of the most beautiful terrain in the UK, I would still desire a pair. Because they are a milestone shoe from Salomon, because they work, and because sometimes the finer things in life are worth paying that extra bit for.
The Salomon Fell Cross SLAB will be limited to 500 pairs in the UK and be available from Salomon stockists in August. Reserve yours now!