The XR Crossmax running shoes represent the first time that a company has made a shoe that is capable at performing on roads as well as trails. Salomon first announced the shoes back in 2010 and both the Guidance and Neural versions have been going from strength to strength this year as more and more runners are making the switch away from two pairs of shoes towards a single pair or hybrids that can cope with both the roughest of terrain and the hardness of the road.
One first impression, the XR Crossmax doesn’t quite look like a fully fledged trail running shoe but a toe cap and grippy sole mean that is doesn’t quite flit into the road running category of shoes either. Upon closer inspection the ample heel support and rigid structure mean that the shoe definitely resembles something more rugged but you would be hard pressed to categorise them as trail shoes just on a casual glance.
The first thing that you notice about the XR Crossmax shoes is the very aggressively shaped and extensive grip on the outsole. Arrow shaped lugs line the shoe not just on the underneath, but they also follow the sole as it loops towards the front of the shoe and virtually curls right around the toes. These arrow shaped lugs are what keep your glued to the trail as the stop you slipping backwards in all but very rough conditions, especially during toe off in loose sand or gravelly conditions.
The heel grip of the shoe is more for support than traction (although it doesn’t do half badly on the traction front either). I found that the mid and heel section of the grip were good at encouraging a smooth toe to heel transition that you just don’t get in other trail running shoes. The smaller and more rectangular lugs meant that when I was running over rocks and jumping onto ledges, there wasn’t any feeling of instability as my foot found traction the moment it hit the rock without having to slip around a larger lug as is the case with conventional road running shoes when they meet the trail.
The upper of the shoe has been made with the long distance road runner in mind and is build for comfort as well as support. There are no seams or pressure points in the upper which means that the tendency for blisters and rubbing is reduced. Obviously, if you are going to be doing some serious trail running you want to have a shoe that keeps your foot as stable and snug as possible so as well as making sure that you have the right size to begin with, having a shoe where there are no obvious zones of pressure is always a winner.
The fact that the shoes dont have any conventional style laces might set off alarm bells in some peoples minds as what kind of a shoe can claim to hold your foot in place without any laces? Well the stretch-mesh upper does a great job of flexing when you slip the shoe on and then hugging your foot firmly in place when you pull the ‘one pull’ Quiklaces to tighten. The Quiklaces act to tighten the shoe around your foot and don’t come undone mid stride. Any excess lace tucks away into a special pouch on the top of the tongue to prevent catching when out on the trail. Not having any conventional laces flying around when running through woodland is a great way not to lose a few places in a race when you have to stop and re-tie your them!
Another aspect of the shoe that very much indicates that this is a shoe built for the great outdoors is the EVA heel cup. This does exactly what it is supposed to do and that is it keeps your heel (and therefore your entire foot) firmly planted in the shoe. It also provides support and motion control, which lets face it, along with grip is what you pay your money for when it comes to a trail shoe.
Anyone who has previously run in the XT Wings will be more than happy with the upgrades that Salomon have made to the XR Crossmaxs. Weighing in at 12.7 ounces compared to the XT wings 13.5 oz means that the XR Crossmax shoes are at the lighter end of the trail running shoe spectrum. The high support and durability of the shoe means that it is never going to be possible for the kind of weight savings that we are seeing with the 10oz natural running shoes at the moment, but you cna really feel every ounce saved.
Anyone buying the shoes with purely road running in mind should probably re-asses the kind of shoes that they need and go for some conventional road running shoes. If you spend more time on the hills or trails than you do on the road, or even if you do lots of mountaineering and need a supportive day shoe, then the Salomon XR Crossmax shoes should be a high on your list of contenders. Although slightly clunky to use on the roads, their reduced weight, new grip pattern and extra support means that these shoes are really at home off the road and should be treated accordingly!