Monday, February 20, 2017

Review Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2-Highly Responsive Long Racer with Vibration Attenuation.

Salomon recently introduced 3 road running shoes Sonic trainer (review here), Sonic Pro 2 performance trainer (review coming soon)  and S/Lab Sonic 2 long haul road racer.
Top to Bottom: Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2, Sonic Pro 2, Sonic 
Basic Stats
The S/Lab Sonic 2 is available online in the US including Running Warehouse here. The Sonic Pro 2 and Sonic is available at select speciality running stores in the US (list coming soon) and some online and speciality retail in other countries.

The three models share many common traits and represent a logical progression in cushion and response from training to racing.  They all have a similar firm and stable, responsive yet largely vibration/shock free and energetic ride. While all road shoes, Salomon's long time and storied trail running heritage is reflected in the design. Not to be mistaken these are not trail shoes but all the models can be easily go from door to trails without compromising road performance.

They share the following key technologies implemented somewhat differently for each shoe's purpose:
  • Salomon Vibe technology which combines a firm high rebound Energy Cell+ midsole with vibration attenuating Thermoplastic Polypropylene (TPP) inserts in the heel of all shoes and in the forefoot of the Sonic. (see our full description of Vibe here)
  • Full coverage Contragrip outsole over a Pro Feel midfoot chassis in a system designed for geometric decoupling and smooth transitions.
  • Sensifit overlays wrapping the foot and tying into the laces
  • stretch bootie EndoFit sock like inner support in the Sonic 2 and Sonic Pro 2 to gently and effectively help support the midfoot without resorting to straps or heavy overlays
S/Lab Sonic 2 Review

Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
Clearly the star of the line is the S/Lab Sonic 2. It was designed in Salomon's famous S/Lab where craftsmanship and technology come together to create special shoes for special athletes in running, nordic, and ski mountaineering, 
PC:Paksit Photos
The Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 were designed with input from Max King, World 100K road champ, 2:14 marathoner, 6th in the Olympic Trials Steeplechase in a PR, World Mountain Running Champion, with I think some obstacle course championships thrown in and  according to this Competitor article all in the the last few years!  Last week he won the US 50K Trail Championships. Clearly an incredibly versatile and top level runner who trains and competes at the highest level on all kinds of roads, trails, and tracks. 





Max was kind enough to share what he was looking for in his long haul race shoe with Road Trail Run: "For me the fit is superb and the ride and ground feel are smooth. I was looking for something to race road marathons and ultra marathons in so it needed a good mix of being lightweight with enough cushion to absorb the hard miles. It satisfied both for me. I also used a version of it for Comrades last year."

We totally agree with Max!
We think the S/Lab Sonic 2 is an ideal "marathon pace" shoe. By this we mean that while you can find snappier road flats and softer performance trainers, its blend of high response, cushion and upper comfort is ideal for fast, hard long miles.

Upper/Fit
The Sonic 2 fits me true to size but unusually for me and certainly unusually for Salomon with thinner socks I could see sizing down half a size. Obviously Max King has "American" and not "European" feet!  The upper is beautifully crafted of very soft,single layer very breathable mesh with thin flexible overlays which wrap the foot without any pressure anywhere. Keeping in mind the Sonic 2's purpose, marathons and ultra marathons, often in heat, the fit is roomier and more relaxed than a typical race shoe. 
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2

Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
The thin tongue is minimally padded. It is integral to the interior EndoFit bootie. The stretchy EndoFit sleeve, also a feature of the Sonic Pro 2 and Salomon's S/Lab trail shoes, gently but decisively holds the foot in place over the platform without having the upper resort to heavy midfoot overlays or straps.
The sockliner is a thin flat EVA and is glued down in the front but not the back. 
The exterior Sensfit overlays tie into the laces. They are thicker and more extensive on the medial side (first picture below than on lateral side (second picture). This is all relatively speaking as the Sensifit overlays are thinner and more flexible overall that typically found in a race shoe.
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2 Medial Side
The lateral side has thinner and fewer Sensifit overlays.
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2 Lateral Side
The heel counter is high and firm. I get great stability in the heel area even when tired, reminding me somewhat of the Brooks Asteria but without resorting to a firmer heel midsole insert as Asteria does. The rear of the shoe heel counter construction allows the front to be more minimal and less constricting than a normal race shoe without compromising foot hold and allowing more flexibility up front. A great approach for a heel striker like me, and most as we all end up on the heels in the later miles.
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
The toe box is wide and soft for a race shoe with a fairly high, firm, and extensive toe bumper to hold all that soft mesh in place around the foot. Works brilliantly!
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2 Toe Box
The laces are very thin and flat. If I had one criticism is that the laces could be a touch more substantial or the tongue a touch more padded as they bite a bit over the lace up but then again thicker laces might take away from the seamless sock like secure feel of the rest of the upper.
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
Midsole
The midsole is made of a single density of Salomon's high rebound EnergyCell+ EVA. It's firm and trail worthy but... EnergyCell+ foam is only part of the cushion and response story.
Salomon S/Lab Sonic 2
At the heel Salomon inserts Opal, its very soft TPP material. Softer than TPU, this 6mm insert is designed to attenuate tibial vibrations. It works and very well indeed for me!
A Salomon bio-mechanist explained to us at the Running Event (see article here)  that the forces measured during stride are generally made up of 50% shock, 15% rebound, and 35% vibration. Vibration is a huge component of the input load and is mainly made up of tibial vibration. Beyond the muscle, skeletal and nerve impacts there is also the perceived comfort impact of reducing vibration.

The S/Lab Sonic 2 and Sonic Pro 2 have 6mm thick Opal inserts in the heel only. The trainer Sonic has a 12mm insert at the heel and a 6mm insert in the forefoot.

The Opal insert while not replaceable is not glued into the heel cavity. Opal sin an interesting twist also seeks to also reduce the vibrations of shear or side to side forces.  As it is not glued into the cavity in the midsole, this so has to provide less interference for its movement under load or have any interface of glue between it and midsole. The reduction in side sheer side forces is noticeable on the run as is of course the reduction in vibration from vertical forces. Vibe is subtle and effective and in our view is not a gimmick!

Salomon Vibe Technology as in the Sonic
Does Opal and the Vibe technology work together as a system? Absolutely in our opinion. Unlike more conventional race shoes' firm EVA's such as New Balance Revlite, there is noticeably less shock vibration transmitted and for me usually such firm midsoles don't work. With the Sonic 2 I get snappy firm response with far less shock discomfort. Clearly a different approach from bouncy TPU or TPU based midsoles such as Boost, Everun, and Altra's EGO.  

Outsole
The outsole is Salomon's Premium Wet Traction Contagrip and plenty of it. So great wet traction and lots of durability. At approximately 30 miles I see only slight wear on one heel. 
The outsole appears to have dual density rubber with firmer rubber at the high wear heel areas. It is geometrically decoupled to smooth transitions. Under midfoot we see Salomon's ProFeel protection and stability chassis, which is similar to adidas's Torsion or Salming's Torsion Efficiency unit but more minimal as it is thin TPU film rather than the firm plastic plates of the others.  The result is a smoother more subtle transition to toe off than the adidas in particular with great stability and direction forward even when tired. It is may be a touch less dynamic than some races shoes, more flowing and smooth than snappy  and thus more suitable for me for "marathon pace" than all out 5K or 10K pace.

The Sonic 2 has a distinct toe spring at the level of the last lace loop which appears after running 20 or so miles, in a very similar location to that of the Adios Boost 3 or Boston 6 and it is a toe spring location I prefer to those further back, say for exampl,e the flex point of the Saucony Freedom ISO. Forward of the toe spring area the Sonic is fairly stiff. It does take 20 or so miles to break in the flex as they are initially stiffer. So, don't take them out of the box and race them without a few miles on them.

Ride
The ride is firm and responsive with noticeable heel shock and vibration attenuation from the Opal heel insert. The Sonic 2 is perfectly comfortable and suitable as a daily trainer for those who like a firmer ride but shines at marathon to half marathon pace for me. The transition is very smooth, flows along and the response off the road is noticeably snappy and well distributed over the outsole. At slower paces the transition is a touch more labored. I have recorded the lowest ground contact times from my Scribe Pro pods in the Sonic 2 of any shoe I have tested. While certainly firm my legs after hard efforts have not been nearly as trashed as I would expect. 

Recommendations and Conclusions
The Sonic 2 will be as of right now, but you never know what might come next, my 2017 race shoe for 10K to marathons, for most sub marathon races replacing the adios Boost or Boston 6.  I will train in it as well. It's comfortable, roomy for a race shoe yet with a secure upper. It should be ideal for warm weather races and wet conditions. The response is outstanding. This shoe is ideal for  "marathon pace" and somewhat faster running. Even though "firm" the blend of the EnergyCell+ EVA, the Opal insert, and the full coverage Contagrip outsole makes for a comfortable fast shoe for long distance racing, exactly what Salomon created it for.

Sam's Score 9.85 out of 10
-0.1 for high high price but you get what you pay for: a durable, beautifully crafted and light road racing masterpiece
-0.05 for sizing. At true to size it may be a touch to roomy for a race shoe for many.

Sonic 2 Available now from Running Warehouse here. (unisex sizing)
One on Each Foot Testing: RIGHT S/Lab Sonic 2 LEFT Sonic Pro 2

Comparisons
Sonic Pro 2 (review soon)
The Sonic Pro 2 is identical in stack, midsole, and outsole to the S/Lab as far as I can tell. It has a heavier, more dense mesh upper and Sensifit overlays. Instead of the flat thin EVA sockliner of the S/Lab it has a conventional Ortholite sockliner It weighs 0.7 oz more and costs $40 less. As a performance trainer it is most fine. However, and I am not sure exactly why, but suspect a combination of the lighter weight, thinner sockliner and softer more flexible upper, the S/Lab is noticeably livelier, snappier in transition while only being ever so slightly less cushioned feeling front and back. 

Sonic (initial review here)
The trainer Sonic has a similar firm ride but noticeably more Opal cushion front and back reducing vibration and shock yet further. It is heavier by almost 2 oz and is  $50 less. It's more heavily built upper makes it a great door to trail option.

Salomon Sense X-Series (review here)
I ran the predecessor X-Series a lot on both road and trail preferring it for trail. It was just to firm for me on the road. Its upper is considerably snugger and has a quick lace. The Sonic 2 is a far more comfortable and versatile road racer. 

Salomon S/Lab Sonic 1 
I did not run the S/Lab Sonic 1 but see it has considerably more Sensi Fit overlays and no Opal inserts.

Adios Boost 3 (review here)
Both have a relatively relaxed midfoot fit for race shoes. The Sonic 2's upper is better executed overall. The heel ride of the Adios is softer and while firmer the forefoot ride of the Sonic 2 is less tiring as it is more flexible in front of the flex point than adios. The firm quick response of the Sonic is in sharp contrast to the soft slower compression of the Adios meeting its Torsion plastic and outsole then rebounding back.  The toe flex is in about the same place in both with the adios stiffer forward of the flex. While I have not yet raced the Sonic 2, my fast runs in them tell me I will prefer the Sonic.

Boston 6 (review here)
Many of the same comments as for the Adios as to response. The Boston has a nice well held engineered mesh upper front contrasting with its plastic banded mid foot saddle, so a tale of two supports. The Boston is more flexible than either the Adios and Sonic 2. The Sonic 2 fit is all of a piece if a bit roomy. The Boston maybe a bit more suitable for a very hilly marathon course. 

Saucony Freedom (review here)
Completely different rides with the Saucony having a soft and springy ride and a very unstructured heel unlike the Sonic 2.  As my form gets sloppy later in hard, long runs I prefer the Sonic's stability and snappy response.

Hoka Hupana (initial review here)
The Hupana has an equally smooth transition but it clearly softer. It rebound is noticeable, steady and slower than say Boost without the pop of the Sonic. The Sonic is definitely a firmer ride and has a somewhat less supportive but more comfortable upper than Hupana's dense knit. Hupana is a better choice for slower miles as a light and cushioned trainer, Sonic for speedier race and tempo miles.

Salming Distance D4 (review here)
Probably the closest match all around. The Salming has a similar firm ride but.. transmits considerably more shock and has a less comfortable upper. 

Altra Escalante (review here)
Another close match. Both have great roomy uppers. While softer, the Escalante has a distinct rebound and is stable due to its combination of lots of firm outsole rubber and bouncy EGO midsole. I would reach for the Escalante for at 10K up to a half but will go with the Sonic 2 for half and above. I do need some heel drop as the miles go on and Escalante is zero drop.

Brooks Asteria (impressions review here)
Both have stable heels and very comfortable forefoot areas. The Asteria with its dense EVA insert is firmer in the heel. It has a very flexible flex point forward of the Sonic's so relatively stiff overall  Nod to the Sonic here. 

Nike Zoom Streak 6 (Peter Stuart's review)
Two completely different race animals. With a very narrow heel landing and very stiff flex with little  toe toe spring due its long plastic plate, the Zoom Streak favors mid to forefoot strikers with good form. It will do you few favors as your form falls apart. A fast shoe but I take a pounding in them. Haven't run the Zoom Elite 9 yet but likely a closer comparison (Peter Stuart's Zoom Elite 9 review here).

The S/Lab Sonic 2 was provided at no charge by Running Warehouse and Salomon. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

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S/Lab Sonic 2 is Available Now from Running Warehouse  US 
Unisex Sizing here

Shop all of Salomon including the new Sense 6 and Sense Trail Vests at Running Warehouse US  
Men's here Women's here

S/Lab Sonic 2 and Sonic Pro 2 are available from Running Warehouse Europe
Men's here Women's here


Saturday, February 18, 2017

IceBug Anima5 Review - Secure, Studded Grip for Ice and Varied Running Conditions

by Jeff Valliere

IceBug Anima5
9.9 oz./280 grams US men's size 9
28mm heel/20mm forefoot
19 carbide studs
$184.95
Available in both men's and women's models

IceBug Anima5 
Icebug is a Swedish brand, specializing in winter traction and is best known for their models with Bugrip, which features carbide studs embedded in the lugs to provide secure traction on icy surfaces.  I have been running in IceBugs for 5 or 6 years and they have become one of my most reliable, go to winter shoes.  When offered to review the newer IceBug Anima5 Bugrip, I was more than eager to put them to the test.The Anima5 weighs in at 11 5/8 ounces for my US men's size 10, which is quite a reasonable weight for a water resistant, well protected, studded winter shoe.  It feels even lighter than that both in the hand and on the foot.


Upper:

The upper of the Anima5 is a water resistant material called Weather Shield.  I find this material to be not quite as water resistant as Gore Tex or eVent, but it breathes a little better and I found it to keep my feet adequately dry in all but the wettest conditions.  The mesh material is nice and flexible right out of the box without any stiffness or break in period.  The overlays do a great job holding down the midfoot, the heel counter holds nicely and is just the right height.  The toe bumper is substantial, but somewhat flexible.  Fit is overall true to size, but I found the forefoot to be quite voluminous, even with a thick winter sock.  I am able to maintain control in most scenarios, but there is a LOT of space between the top of my foot and the roof of the shoe, as there is just too much material there.

IceBug Anima5 
The sturdy toe bumper will ward off most rock kicks.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
The heel collar is moderately padded, is a perfect height and the heel counter holds the heel very well.  The tongue is also moderately padded and comfortable, though not gusseted.  A gusseted tongue would be a nice touch on a winter shoe, although I never found it to be problematic.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
Midsole:
The midsole is made of an injection molded lightweight EVA, which provides a nice, soft feel without feeling overly squishy or spongy.  This soft and ample cushion is especially welcome, as conditions are typically hard ice and rock when I select this shoe.  I found that my feet are very comfortable even after 3 or 4 hours of running on hard surfaces.  Response is middle of the road, as I find that the Anima5 can easily handle fast paced running, but does not necessarily inspire it.
IceBug Anima5 
Outsole:
The outsole of the Anima5 is the main attraction of this shoe, featuring 19 strategically placed, non removable or replaceable carbide studs atop deep and aggressive lugs.  The rubber compound is cold specific and on it's own gives very good traction.  I really appreciate that the studs on the Anima are so plentiful, as they provide great coverage no matter how you step on slick surfaces and the two studs at the front of the shoe provide excellent purchase at toe off.  The somewhat short studs on the Anima5 are not at all obtrusive when running on bare ground, rock or pavement, but are adequate enough to penetrate hardened ice.  Having put untold miles on previous pairs of Icebugs, several different models, I can attest that they are extremely durable and I find that I will wear out the shoe before I wear down the studs.  Through their normal lifespan, I have found that the studs hardly dull at all, nor do they fall out.
IceBug Anima5 

The heel also has great coverage with 6 studs, plus one in the center of the shoe under the midfoot to cover those awkward missteps, or straddling a log.
IceBug Anima5 
Recommendations/Performance:
Icebugs work very well on consolidated, well packed snow, icy trails and especially on quickly changing mixed conditions where one would not want to be bothered putting on supplemental traction, taking them off, or risk dulling supplemental traction on rock and bare ground.  They are also great when trails and roads get coated with freezing rain or a widespread sheen of ice.  With the lower profile studs, the Anima5 excels when intermittent dry pavement may be encountered, as they do not feel awkward, aside from the scratching noise that they make.  One other great benefit of IceBugs is that when it is warm, they shed snow quite well, where often on days where the snow is tacky, snow can ball up under the foot when using supplemental traction.  
Though the Anima5 is not the fastest shoe out there, I find that with it's light weight and moderate response, that it is a versatile enough shoe to accommodate a wide variety of winter running paces on varied surfaces that would be otherwise less possible with most conventional shoes.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
Typical winter ice on the trails in Boulder, often 15-20+% gradient.  The Icebugs handle these conditions with no problem.
IceBug Anima5 
Comparisons:
IceBug Anima5 vs. Salomon Snowcross:  I have not used the Snowcross, but the Salomon has 9 studs vs. 19 for the Anima5.  The Snowcross has a built in gaiter, which is very nice on a winter shoe, but also weighs more.

IceBug Anima5 vs. Inov8 Articclaw 300:  I have also not used the Inov8, but it is close in weight, cushion, stack height with just a few less studs.  Probably the closest competitor for the Anima5. 

See our winter run/hike traction guide here for a comparison of varied traction options.

Jeffs Score:  9.7/10
-.2 for bulky/voluminous upper in the forefoot.
-.1 for tongue not being gusseted.

Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The Anima was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

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In Depth Altra Running Escalante Review:Fire!

Article by Peter Stuart and Patrick Caron with Sam Winebaum


Altra Running Escalante
Altra Running Escalante
Editor's Note: We are thrilled to offer this joint, in depth review of the Altra Running Escalante road running shoe. 
Patrick Caron is a 19 year old Boston area Altra Ambassador who set the New England ultra scene on fire in 2016 with 14:51 100 mile and 6:14 50 mile victories among several others. No slouch on the road he was the top 20 and under finisher at the 2016 Boston Marathon, 2:46. He averages over 100 miles per week of road and trail running, mostly in the Altra One. Patrick works in a running speciality store so he sees and fits lots of shoes.
Peter Stuart is a frequent contributor to Road Trail Run focusing on performance trainers and racing shoes. He is a masters runner on the "late side" of the 40-49 age group. One of the strongest masters in the Los Angeles area he has a recent sub 3 hour marathon and a 1:21 half marathon.

Altra Running joins three emerging running shoe trends big time with the Escalante:
  • knitted or highly engineered mesh uppers
  • a lifestyle look in a light performance trainer
  • most especially, innovative midsole materials with bounce and claimed energy return
The Escalante has a catalog weight of 8.2 oz/232 g men's size 9, 6.5 oz/182 g women's 8. Sam's size 9 beats the catalog weighing in at 8 oz.
The stack height is 25mm heel/25mm forefoot so the same stack height as the Instinct/Intuition. All Altras are Zero Drop from heel to toe. 
The Foot Shaped toe box is of course on board with the last following that of the Torin 2.5 and Superior trail shoe. It is intended to fit in the Altra line between the Instinct and Torin.

Retail $130. Available now in Men's and Women's styles and Fit4Her gender specific women's fits from Altra here, at other retailers at bottom of the article and at your local running store.
Altra Running Escalante
First Impressions
Patrick: My first impressions of the Altra Escalante is that this is one slipper-like shoe! With an eye-catching appearance and a soft, smooth feel on the foot, I was eager to test these out, even if we just got dumped with 20+ inches of snow here in New England!

Altra Running Escalante
Upper/Fit
Patrick: The overall fit of the Altra Escalante is terrific. Having received a pair in a men’s size 9, I would have prefered an 8.5, which is the same size I wear in the Altra One 2.5, my go-to shoe and the shoe I often use as a baseline for comparison. Altra recommends to go half a size up from your normal size in the One 2.5, so I would assume it makes sense for one to do the same in the Escalante. According to several friends who have worn a wide variety of Altras, they have found the sizing comparable to the Superior 3, the Torin 2.5, and the Lone Peak 3 (three of Altra’s most popular models).
Altra Running Escalante
The upper of the Altra Escalante is fantastic as well - fully engineered knit uppers seem to be all the rage these days, and Altra already seems to have mastered this in their first shoe to include this feature. The closely-knit material holds snug to the midfoot while maintaining the toe-room that Altra’s have come to be known for, although it is much more of a sock-like fit than other Altras I have worn. The upper really hugs the foot nicely all over, but never feels constricted in any way. The upper is similar in many ways to a Nike Flyknit, although much softer and overall is more comfortable. It’s a fairly thick material, and with a snow-filled winter in New England this year, it’s been providing some extra warmth, although I’m not sure how that will carry over in the warmer months.

Sam: I was sized half a size up but with thinner socks could have gone true to size, especially as I expect the knit to stretch a bit. The knit is very dense and soft, almost feeling like a soft shell jacket. Escalante has a sock like fit with great support too. There are no seams at all, the entire upper is one knitted piece, beyond a strip at the heel holding the two sides together. Even the unpadded tongue is knit and comfortable. While I am in cold climes now I suspect it will be a warmer shoe,
The toe box is soft and minimally structured with some stretch. The dark knit up front is not significantly firmer and appears to be only for some wear protection.
One might wonder if the foot is well held with such an unstructured front of the shoe.  It is and superbly so as at mid foot, on the inside are two approximately 2" long fairly substantial overlays applied to the inside on both the lateral and medial sides.
The heel collar and achilles collar are very well padded and supportive. There is a flexible, thin but present heel counter. I am a heel striker and like a heel counter and missed it in for example the Saucony Freedom ISO (review here)
Altra Running Escalante
Peter: I would say half-size up for sure! I'm half-size up in Instinct too. I haven't found them to be any warmer than other shoes, they've been nice and cozy in lots of rain. I do find the fit a little bit sloppy. Took a minute to get the heel locked down, and there's a bunch of room in the forefoot. Overall they're a decent fitting shoe and the materials are good. I wish there was just a hair of padding in the tongue as I have to lock down the laces pretty tight to get the heel locked.  
Midsole
Altra Running Escalante
Patrick: The newly introduced Altra EGO midsole is the real big news with the Altra Escalante. Currently, the Altra EGO midsole is only in two Altras, the Escalante and the recently released King MT (a more rugged trail and OCR shoe). As Altra describes it on their website, “by using a secret blend of compounds, Altra EGO offers the holy grail of running shoe cushioning, comfortable and soft, yet lively and resilient. With increased responsiveness and thinner cushioning, Altra EGO combines a closer to ground feel with the comfort of a plush ride.” Sure, there are a lot of catchy words within that summary, but they all held true when it came time to test them! 
With a stack height of 25mm (being zero-drop, it’s 25mm in both the heel and toe), the Escalante falls in-between the One 2.5 (23mm stack height) and the Torin 2.5 (28mm stack height). The new order of cushioning from least to greatest in Altras neutral lineup is now the One, the Escalante, the Intuition, the Torin, and then the Paradigm. I personally feel like the Escalante is up there in cushion with the Torin, although with a much livelier feel, great if you’re looking to pick up the pace or just have a little extra spring in your step. Also, by having a lower stack height than the Torin, the Escalante has a similar amount of flexibility to the One, with a bit more cushion all around.

Sam: The heavy magic is in the midsole outsole combination. Escalante features Altra's new EGO midsole. EGO is not pure EVA or even from what I can tell a minor blending of EVA and rubber or other compounds. In a clue it is Altra says it is designed to perform "better and more consistently in extreme temperatures" and "have long term durability to maintain excellent cushioning and energy return properties". This sounds a lot like the claims made for adidas Boost and Saucony Everun TPU based midsoles. In terms of softness to touch the Escalante seems a touch softer than Boost and about the same as Everun but as the Boost "popcorn" of expanded TPU are larger the cushioning feels about the same as Boost and a bit softer than Everun. It is definitely softer to the touch than the RMAT in the Hoka Hupana, my 2016 shoe of the year.
On the run the midsole is certainly soft, and comfortable without being energy sapping, bottoming out or mushy. It is very lively in a comfortable way.
But the midsole is only part of the story of how it actually all works and feels on the run...

Outsole

Patrick:  The outsole of the Altra Escalante features the company’s FootPod Outsole, which “follows the natural construction of the human foot for maximum flexibility and a responsive ride.” There is a lot more black, durable rubber on the Escalante than the One 2.5, and this helps protect the Altra EGO midsole from breaking down quicker over time. It also gives the shoe more grip and traction when the conditions get rough. Also, unlike the One 2.5, which can pick up pieces of gravel on occasion in-between the different sections of the outsole, the Escalante does not have this issue.


Sam: The Escalante outsole is dense, firm rubber arranged in a what looks and feels like it is in a stride and wear dynamics correct layout and one that due to its coverage, thickness, and firmness one that does an excellent job stabilizing the soft EGO.
I find Escalante more stable than Freedom ISO from Saucony and so far as stable as say a Boston 6, maybe more stable. The rebound is more lively and energetic (don't forget the outsole)  than Everrun, Boost or Skechers 5GEN and the feel a bit softer but a touch less smooth than the RMAT in the new Hoka Hupana which relies 100% on a single slab for cushion, stability, and wear.  It is somewhat less responsive but should be for me more comfortable under foot for daily miles than the new Skechers GOmeb Razor.
In terms of cushion the forefoot cushion and easy flex is just the way I like it. 25mm of EGO up front getting into the super cush range of maximal shoes such as Hoka but... here it is flexible and lively as Altra uses Inner Flex grooves in the midsole and wide spacing of the quite full coverage, stabilizing outsole rubber.  The forefoot ride and feel is livelier for sure than the Torin maybe not quite as snappy as the Impulse but more comfortable.
Altra Running Escalante
Peter: I agree that the shoe is soft. For me it is right on the verge of bottoming out. I've had a strange experience nearly every run (5 so far) in this shoe. When I start out I think "Wow, these are too soft and they're about to bottom out, ugh". By the end of every one of those runs I've thought "Hmm, these feel smooth, light and fast".

Ride

Patrick: The ride of the Altra Escalante is a unique one. Having already put plenty of miles into this shoe, I feel like I could go forever in it. It’s light enough that I don’t feel much of anything on my foot, and the cushion to weight ratio is extremely high. The Altra EGO midsole is very soft and spongy, although it maintains enough firmness and pop to help increase turnover and speed. I’ve also been impressed by the grip of the shoe, especially with the roads around me being a mess lately due to a couple of recent snowstorms. If I had to choose, I prefer the Altra One 2.5’s ride in general, although much of that has to do with the fact that I generally wear very minimal, lightweight shoes for all my runs and races (whether it’s road or trail). That being said, I think the majority of people will prefer the Escalante, and I think this shoe is a huge step forward for Altra, as it’ll appeal to many runners today due to its remarkable performance as well as its sleek, stylish look.

Peter: The ride of the Escalante is interesting. As I said above there are times I feel it's too soft and on the verge of bottoming out, and other times that I feel it's just right. Overall it's a smooth, flexible and pretty enjoyable ride. There is a good amount of cushioning and very little forefoot fatigue. The standout of the ride for me has been the grip of the shoe in wet conditions. The rubber on the bottom of the shoe grips every wet surface I've hit like an Iguana. On the down-side, I really notice the strain on my calf muscles in this shoe. It's definitely zero drop.

Sam: I have only run once in the Escalante, 7 miles at a slower tempo pace for me of 8:48/mile, Then I sent them on to Patrick.
As described in the marketing, the first run was fast and springy especially in the forefoot, more springy and fluid than Freedom ISO with less of a sense of bottoming out and then some heel instability and we are talking a zero drop shoe for the Escalante and not a 4mm drop as for the Freedom ISO.
I really think the firm outsole rubber under soft EGO helps pull together the ride and deliver the "fast and springy, yet comfortable and soft" in the shoe.  It is also a more flexible shoe than Freedom and Boston 6 and certainly the Hupana.
At a very light 8 oz for a 25mm stack of cushion the Escalante also challenges the Hoka Hupana, Clayton and Clifton along with the Skechers Performance GOrun 5 and GOmeb Razor and Saucony Kinvara in the low weight to overall stack or Sam's Ratio-adding forefoot and heel stack and dividing by weight.
As Escalante is a Zero Drop shoe there is for sure some sense for me as a heel striker with poor form of "missing the heel". I miss the heel a bit more than in the Torin 2.5 which has 3mm more foam all around in the midsole, about equivalent to the Altra Impulse (my 2015 shoe of the year) with its firmer foam and 2mm less heel height. 
As I always say when writing about Altra... I wish they included "training heels". I cut the rear of an old sockliner into a 2" section and put under the supplied sockliner but didn't do so for my first test run in the Escalante and everything felt fine. 
If you are not used to Altra Zero Drop geometry it is recommended to start with low mileage and moderate paces to get your legs and feet conditioned to t zero drop. For some runners like me, the zero drop is no issue in terms of soreness or injuries, for others it takes some getting used to.
As I did with the Impulse I would not hesitate to run a half marathon in the Escalante and I ran some fast, for old me, halves in the Impulse.
Altra Running Escalante Photo Credit Patrick Caron
Conclusions and Recommendations:
Patrick: As a friend of mine put it, the Altra Escalante is like the dark horse of shoes - “ a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds!” Having worked in running speciality for the last year and a half, I’m really excited about the potential of this shoe, and can see it rivaling many of the top shoes on the market today.
Peter: Overall I really like the Escalante. It wouldn't necessarily be my top shoe of the year, but it's a solid offering from Altra and definitely my favorite Altra so far.
Sam: The Escalante takes Altra into new directions. The knit upper execution, foothold and comfort is excellent. The new EGO midsole and outsole combination does, in my view, move Altra towards that "holy grail" combination of fast, springy, comfort, and soft in a big way.

Patrick's Score 9.75/10
-0.25 for breathability/ability to dry (the tightly knit upper of the Escalante seems to hold onto water and wasn’t as quick-drying as other Altra’s I’ve worn, but this past week has also brought New England lots of snow, resulting in an increase of icy puddles that are difficult to avoid)

Comparisons: 
Altra Escalante vs. Altra The One 2.5 (review here)
Peter: Both of these shoes are in the 'barely there', flexible light and simple shoes. Running in them side-by-side shows the Escalante to be MUCH softer and more protective than the One. It's a little more shoe and I'd be way more likely to take the Escalante out for a bunch of miles.
Patrick:As I stated earlier, the One 2.5 is my go-to shoe, from everyday training to race day. The Escalante is designed to be a more cushioned, yet more responsive version of the One 2.5, with a similar lightweight feel. It is noticeably more cushioned than the One 2.5, and its springiness helps aid you in the later miles of a run, whereas the One 2.5 has a totally natural feel to me, as if you are not wearing a shoe at all. The Escalante will certainly prove to be more durable and hold up better over time, especially since it has more outsole coverage than the One 2.5 (although expect more outsole coverage in the One 3, which is being released in May 2017).

Altra Escalante vs. Hoka One One Hupana (review here)
Sam: The Hupana has a snugger upper  all over for sure. It's ride feels more cushioned at the heel at all paces despite having the same stack there as the Escalante and no firm rubber with about the same cushion but lower stack but stiffer flexing in the front. The Escalante is more dynamic in its cushion, quicker to compress under load and quicker to return while the Hupana has an overall smoother feel with a more gradual compression and return. Hupana may more versatile as a daily trainer and up tempo runner as its ride feels about the same at all paces while Escalante leans towards the race and up tempo side and is wider fitting. 



Altra Escalante vs. Altra Instinct 
Peter: Very different shoes. The Escalante is like the lighter, more flexible little brother of the Instinct. Sizing and fit are very similar, with far less material on the Escalante. The Escalante seems like a no-brainer here if you want to go a little faster. The instinct if you want pure cush.

Altra Escalante vs. Skechers GoRun 5 (review here)
Peter: These are VERY similar shoes, executed quite differently. They both feel soft, they're both pretty flexible and they both work for slow and fast miles. That said, I prefer the GoRun. For me the GoRun transitions better, is quicker off the toe and is overall a better fit. While I've felt like I may be bottoming out in older versions of the GORun the 5 has been a great improvement.




Altra Escalante vs. Saucony Freedom (review here)
Patrick: The Escalante is a lighter, more flexible shoe than the Freedom, with a slightly softer feel underfoot and a more fluid transition during foot strike and toe off. The Freedom has a bit more snap to it though, and has the extra 4mm of heel for someone who might not yet feel ready for a zero-drop shoe. Also of note is the fact that the Escalante has a price tag of $130 as opposed to $160 like the Freedoms, and for two shoes that are very similar, this can make all the difference.
Peter: Escalante and the Freedom are also similar in many ways. They are both light and flexible. I mostly prefer the Freedom, except for one major issue. Over 8 miles the Freedom tends to leave me with a fatigued forefoot. The Escalante certainly protects the forefoot more, but it's fit and ride are a bit sloppier.
Sam: While the Freedom is fast and easy to run it has a soft somewhat unstructured heel when compared to the Escalante. Up front Freedom is stiffer and not as easy to transition for me. For easy going fun the Freedom, for moving things along the Escalante. 

The Altra Escalante was supplied at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credits: Patrick Caron, www.jonfrederickphotography.com, and RoadTrailRun.com

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Salming EnRoute Review and Comparisons: Comfortable, Light Trainer with a Soft Heel and Agile Forefoot

The EnRoute represents a new direction for Swedish brand Salming. Retaining the trademark Exo Skeleton upper, mid foot Torsion unit and great ballet line flex geometry the EnRoute takes the brand in a new direction with:
  • a new softer foam midsole, Recoil
  • more flexibility than previous Salming running shoes
  • a more relaxed fit and roomier toe box and a less structured upper than the Distance D4  
The result is a comfortable lighter daily trainer with a wonderful soft and agile forefoot held back somewhat by heel softness.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Stats:
Approx. weight US size 9 men's: 9 oz/255 g
Drop: 6mm
$150. Available now in men's and women's models

Upper and Fit
Since we're talking about a Swedish shoe why not show them off on some ice! 
The fit is true to size as was the Salming Distance D4 but with the EnRoute the fit is more relaxed overall The fit is broad and high volume at the mid foot and almost all the way to the front of the shoe. The very front is somewhat pointy with a soft but substantial toe bumper and overlay over the toes. I would be tempted to size down half a size for my narrower feet but for the pointy front.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The upper is 3 layers:

  • on the outside a very small gauge net like material
  • below air mesh net a somewhat denser mesh than the outer mesh with large holes for breathablity. This layer is attached to the tongue to create a bootie construction
  • Between the inner and outer layers  Salming's Exo Skeleton of straps that connect from from each yellow lace loop to the midsole locking down the foot without excess pressures at mid foot. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The result is a soft, foot conforming hold with no hot spots or heavy overlays in the way. The fit is of the relaxed variety but perfectly adequate and comfortable but for sure not the more race like fit of the Distance 4.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The tongue is puffy without a lot of structure in the lace up area and below that towards the toes still fairly thick, soft and unstructured. Quite frankly the top of the tongue is a bit much visually but Salming makes good use of all the surface above lace up for cool branding: EnRoute name and of course a Swedish flag! The heel counter is substantial and firm.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The fit and volume is clearly more accommodating than the more up tempo and race focused Distance D4.
Comparison LEFT Salming EnRoute RIGHT Salming Distance D4
Midsole and Outsole
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The midsole is a new blend called Recoil. Recoil feels like Altra new EGO midsole but in combination with the outsole softer is not quite as lively or with as much rebound, so more shock absorbing than responsive. It feels a bit like Skechers 5GEN as in the new GOrun 5 with a bit less vibration and shock transmitted.  It has less rebound than adidas Boost and Saucony Everun. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Upfront the feel when combined with the Torsion Efficiency unit and Torsion Guide System (TGS)  geometry is agile and smooth to toe off. I really like Salming's TGS which is defined as  "the distance from heel to the ball of foot (62% of the shoe) has been designed with extra stability, which ends in the so-called “ballet” line, a 75° angle." 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The approach, similar in some ways to adidas Torsion system, gives noticeable impulse at transition and direction to toe off. I felt the same effect in the firmer Distance D4  but with the EnRoute the feel is softer, less tiring but none the less still agile.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
It is at the heel where something is off for me. While pleasant and cushioned something is making this heel striker sink and stay back there longer than necessary.  I seem to remain longer and deeper into the heel than the front of the shoe calls for.  The EnRoute has what appears to have even less heel rubber than the considerably firmer and more stable Distance D4. 
LEFT Salming EnRoute RIGHT Salming Distance D4
My suspicion is that the lighter than normal coverage of outsole rubber and its softness, softer than most outsole rubbers, combined with the sharp rear bevel has me lingering on the heel especially at slower paces, shades of the Hoka Clifton. The answer to liven things up might be firmer, broader or deeper heel rubber coverage, less of a central opening to the midsole, and less bevel, 

The Altra Escalante does a particularly good job in this respect over its soft midsole and even the Freedom ISO with its soft Everun squares off the heel making the transition quicker. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Ride
The EnRoute has a pleasant, easy ride. It is soft and cushioned from the upper to the ground. There are no sharp edges and no harshness. While the front of the shoe is wonderfully agile it takes a bit to much effort to get there for me. The EnRoute would benefit from more and firmer heel rubber to liven things up and speed response off the heel. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Conclusions and Recommendations 
The EnRoute is a comfortable well cushioned shoe with more comfort and cushion than its 9 oz weight might indicate. The pointy very front of toe aside, it is beautifully built and should be friendlier to higher volume feet than many competitors in the sub 10 oz category.  Forefoot and mid foot strikers may find the ride more lively and fluid than heel strikers. The toe off is fantastic with plenty of direction combined with flexibility and cushion. All it needs is some snap and rebound towards the back of the shoe, maybe a touch of additional firmness overall in the midsole outsole combination to liven things up to make it a great light daily trainer.

Score 9.6 out of 10
-.3 for heel softness and slow off the heel transitions
-,1 for high price 


Comparisons
Salming Distance D4 (review here)
The D4 is clearly a faster, firmer, snugger fitting shoe, more racer than trainer and is 1.4 oz lighter at 7.6 oz.  Overall the upper on the EnRoute is more comfortable and broader if a bit less secure. Underfoot, I prefer the snap of the D4 for faster miles and races but for comfortable easy miles would reach for the EnRoute



Saucony Freedom ISO (review here)
The Freedom ISO is more fun to run, bouncier but stiffer flexing and not very stable towards the heel as it has no real counter as the EnRoute does. The Freedom ISO upper is less structured and overall the Freedom is a harder shoe to "tame" but that is part of its fun. The EnRoute is a more versatile as a daily trainer.







adidas adizero Boston 6 (review here)
The Boston 6 overall tames its soft Boost midsole better than EnRoute through a thicker, broader outsole and the plastic Torsion system most notably at the rear of the shoe where the EnRoute has none. Towards the front, the EnRoute's Torsion Efficiency Unit and ballet line flex is smoother, more natural feeling than the Boston's pronounced toe spring approach. The Boston skews more towards racing than the EnRoute and I would race 10K and up in the Boston but not the EnRoute. EnRoute would be a better choice as a trainer for slower runners especially if they are not heavy heel strikers.


Hoka Hupana  (review here)
The Hupana is smoother, softly cushioned and stable despite its relatively soft RMAT midsole outsole combination, no outsole rubber at all. At 8.2 oz it is also almost an ounce lighter than the EnRoute. No contest for me, the Hupana is my preference. Those with wider higher volume feet or who run in very warm condtions could find the EnRoute open mesh upper more accommodating and comfortable than the snugger Hupana's dense knit upper.




Brooks Launch 4 (review here)
Slightly heavier than the EnRoute and more lumbering in ride the Launch has a more supportive conventional upper. Not nearly as lively and dynamic upfront as the EnRoute, the Launch has a firmer yet well cushioned heel with plenty of outsole rubber. Not as much fun to run for sure as the EnRoute or the others above but at $100, $50 less than the EnRoute it is a better value for money.





Altra Escalante (review here)
The new Escalante does a great job balancing a soft high rebound midsole with stability and off the heel transition, even more strikingly so as the Escalante is zero drop whereas the EnRoute is 6mm. Escalante accomplishes this feat with far more and thicker outsole rubber at the heel and the stronger rebound of its EGO midsole. The upper is equally accommodating at mid foot and is foot shaped, broad at the front a very soft knit with no pointy feel. Zero Drop is not for everyone and despite the superior 25mm of cushion upfront the EnRoute front of the shoe ballet line transition is still tops. As with the Distance D4 the Escalante leans more towards racer and up tempo shoe than the EnRoute.

Sam Winebaum is the Founder of Road Trail Run.
The EnRoute was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.


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