Monday, November 06, 2017

Salomon XA Elevate Review: Handles all terrain, at any speed with exceptional aplomb, protection and comfort.

Article by Jeff Valliere, Larisa Dannis and Sam Winebaum

Salomon XA Elevate
Weight: Test sample in US M9:  10.7 oz/304g
              Production: 10.4 oz/295g (US 9M) 9 oz./255g (US 7W)
Stack Height: 25mm/17mm (8mm drop)
Lug Height: 5mm
MSRP: $130
Available December 2017 at REI in the US, general distribution March 2018

Intro:

Jeff: The XA Elevate is a versatile, rugged, all mountain shoe It has a a secure internal Endofit upper
grippy outsole with aggressive 5mm lugs, Salomon Premium Wet Traction Contagrip rubber compound, a forgiving, yet precise fit and exceptional breathability. 

The XA Elevate is about a quarter ounce heavier than the Sense Ride and appeared to me at first glance to be somewhat redundant, but the XA Elevate sets itself apart with more forgiving cushion, better protection (much credit to the thicker Profeel film rock plate), better traction and a more stable ride.

Though cushioning is on the firm side, it offers a level of rock protection and stability that is hard to beat.  The firm ride essentially goes unnoticed in mixed terrain, but was somewhat evident at faster paces on hard, smooth surfaces (i.e. roads, cement paths or bulletproof compacted dirt).  The moderately aggressive tread, coupled with Salomon’s premium wet traction Contagrip rubber compound helps the XA Elevate to excel in a wide variety of terrain and conditions, no matter ones running style. 
Sam: The XA Elevate comes out of Salomon's more hike focused XA line. Don't be fooled by its hiker vibe this is one heck of a versatile trail runner. I found that the XA Elevate was able to handle everything from steep, slippery, rocky and rooty New Hampshire trails taken hiking to smooth single track on the run, even roads are just fine. It has an exceptional ride  due to its long smooth flex and its responsive yet cushioned if firm ride. The only place it was a bit labored for me was on very steep climbs taken running due to the front stiffness.


Upper:
Jeff: As is the case with the majority of Salomon shoes, the upper is about as good as it gets for me.  Salomon, as always, really does a great job with the upper, striking a combination of confidence inspiring foothold, comfort, fit, breathability and quality/durability.  The XA Elevate is a shoe where I never really think about foothold, since the upper does its job so well, no matter how steep the terrain, the speed, side hilling or rock hopping.
Fit is true to size and though the XA Elevate has somewhat of a performance fit suited generally toward the lower volume foot, the ability to adjust the laces to accommodate a wider range of feet is only rivaled by the Sense Pro Max within the Salomon lineup.  Fit is true to size, heel hold is excellent, forefoot room is enough for splay and swell without feeling insecure or sloppy in technical terrain.

The internal Sensi Fit overlays (“innerlays” in the case of the Elevate) are very comfortable with no pressure points.  The customary Endo Fit inner stretch bootie is eliminated. Lacing with the Pro Max and Sense Ride can be tricky, requiring multiple on the run adjustments depending on terrain, but not so with the Elevate, where I am able to achieve proper snugness on the first pull of the quick laces and not have to adjust them again no matter the speed or terrain.  The open mesh on either side of the shoe covering the Sensi Fit overlays is quite airy and well ventilated.

Larisa: I found the XA Elevates to run a little large. I typically wear a men’s 9.5 in Salomon shoes, but opted to size down to a 9 for the XA Elevates. Echoing Sam’s comments, the XA Elevate upper just might be my favorite in Salomon’s 2017 trail shoe lineup. The heel is remarkably stable which provides confidence and excellent lateral stability on technical descents. The toe box is roomy but not overbearingly so, letting my toes to splay out naturally while still providing structure. However, the highlight of the upper for me is the precise midfoot fit.

I love the Salomon quicklace system, but I’ve occasionally had issues with the laces digging into the top of my foot. The XA Elevates tongue is wonderfully plush, which completely eliminates this problem. Since the upper provides so much protection over the foot, I’m able to cinch the laces down a little more than I can on other Salomon models. This enables me to obtain the secure midfoot fit I look for when running in the mountains. I’ve not once felt the laces nor had to adjust them, even on very steep descents.

Sam: This is by far the best upper on a 2017 Salomon trail shoe for me and I have run in the Pro Max, Sense Ride, and Sense Ultra this year. I was sent a half size up and generally wear heavier socks in trail shoes. Fit was just fine but at true to size would have been yet better.  The fit is just roomy enough for the trail shoe purpose.

I too found the quick lace far easier to lock in and leave than in the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra. In part due to the thicker tongue and side wing padding allowing me to cinch it tighter than I would have been able to with the other two at the start and let it stretch a bit as the run progressed to a  good comfortable fit.
Big changes from prior Salomon designs with this upper. whose design mirrors Salomon's upcoming Running Avenue road shoes (RTR preview here).  

After many years of external Sensi Fit overlays and an internal Endo Fit stretch bootie the mid foot hold are now mostly internal laminated straps instead of external ones and are faced by a very strong fish net like outer mesh and on the inside by a very, very fine dense mesh. This area is totally breathable and we expect will drain well.

The internal Sensi Fit overlays are tied into the lace loops and backed on the foot side  by a freefloating black internal flap extending down about an inch. We assume this is to prevent Quick Lace and eyelet pressure we had no issues keeping the right lace pressure, even at half size up, without lace pain over the foot.

A stretch gusset stretches between the 2 sides of the shoe to wrap the foot. It is effective in the mix in place of the internal Endo-Fit found in most Salomon performance shoes with no pressure around the arch as I sometimes felt in Endo Fit shoes.  We can assume the gusset will also help prevent debris from entering. The vertical strip with the shoe name sits on top of the tongue and is attached to the tongue near the blue tab the bottom of the lace garage. Even attached to the gusset, the tongue does have a tendency to rotate, and strangely only on one shoe, but we didn't feel this until we looked down on the run and noticed.
The front of the shoe is roomy and pressure free with an effective toe bumper that is not as long on the lateral side as the Ride's, some felt pressure in the Ride there and is a bit firmer than the Sense Ultra's. The overlay over the big toe in these last two is gone in the XA Elevate.
Midsole:

Jeff; Though cushioning is 25/17, it feels more forgiving than the close in stature Sense Ride, with the dual density Energy Cell+ EVA, vs. the EVA with Vibe inserts.
The Profeel film in the forefoot offers amazing protection, where nailing sharp rocks and roots at just about any speed or angle is nearly without consequence.  Though cushioning is not particularly deep or plush (such that you may find with a Hoka), the moderately firm cushion helps aid in protection in rough terrain and is more than adequate for just about any distance.
Sam: The forefoot offers considerably more protection than the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra. The ProFeel as Jeff says above is clearly thicker and firmer to the touch than in the others and thus highly effective on rocks.  I found the forefoot more cushioned on all surfaces if firmer with the heel firmer than in the other two but still cushioned. The flex is longer but a bit stiffer than either the Ride or Ultra.
Salomon XA Elevate

The midsole is Salomon Energy Cell+ EVA in two densities.  The midsole is moderately firm but in no way a brick so the XA also feels just fine on the road if a bit slappy and with a firm, stable and very fairly cushioned heel and an ideal blend of stable cushion upfront.  

There is no Vibe, vibration reducing insert (RTR article about Vibe here) in the Elevate. A Vibe heel insert would help soften heel shock vibration somewhat as it does in the Sense. 

The firmer density layer wraps the heel, is above the outsole and extends up to the first line in the midsole shown in the picture above and below. This firm area contributes to the stability of the heel area on all surfaces. While part of the outsole a small thicker piece of outsole extends up the midsole as a stabilizing element at mid foot.

When comparing the midsole of the XA to the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra 2 we see the following:
Top to Bottom: Salomon XA Elevate, Sense Ride, S/Lab Sense Ultra
  • XA Elevate puts firmer EVA only at the heel so the emphasis is on stability at the heel. It has the most substantial front rock protection Pro-Feel layer and is the stiffest while at the same time, and surprisingly the smoothest transitioning on all surfaces for me in a stable directed way. The outsole wraps up slightly over the midsole at mid foot for some extra stability there. 
  • The Sense Ride puts its softer EVA (purple layer in photo above), which is about the same firmness as the XA's softer foam, at the heel then extending down to above the outsole with the orange foam above slightly firmer but not as firm as the XA's heel EVA.  A Vibe vibration reduction insert at the heel of the Ride takes the edge felt in the XA off but also overall makes the heel slightly less stable and less responsive for me. The result is a ride slightly more focused on comfort and agility
  • The Sense Ultra is the softest of the 3 overall for me. It has a dual density midsole with essentially a softer lateral side and a firmer medial side. It is focused on long run comfort and trail feel with the least forefoot protection.
Larisa: Jeff and Sam have covered the technical aspects of the midsole far better than I could! From a testing perspective, what impressed me most about the XA Elevate midsole is its versatility. I took the shoes out on longer runs that included a bit of everything – mountains, smoother trail, and even a little paved bike path. I was impressed by how seamlessly they transitioned between all three.
Larisa Testing the XA Elevate in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
The XA Elevate is noticeably firmer than that of the Sense Ride and S-Lab Sense Ultra, and a touch less firm than the S-Lab Wings 8 (my other go-to Salomon mountain shoes). The firmness is one of the features I loved most about the shoes. When combined with the secure upper fit, it provides a confidence-inspiring stable feel on rocky trails.

What surprised me most was how smooth the shoes felt on pavement. The XA Elevates are an excellent option for those like me who often run routes that encompass a wide variety of terrain.

See our reviews of the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra here and Sense Ride here

Outsole:
Jeff: One of my favorite features is the Premium, Wet Traction Contagrip Outsole with slightly deeper lugs than the Ride and Ultra (5mm vs. 4mm), which is enough to add a little extra bite in loose terrain and allow for longer tread life, without feeling obtrusive on more mellow surfaces.  Traction is amazing on just about any surface, wet or dry and is confidence inspiring.  With about 70 miles on the XA Elevate, I have observed better than average tread wear, despite the relatively harsh terrain I frequent.

Larisa: The XA Elevate traction is excellent on dry terrain. However, I did have some issues with the shoes slip-sliding on wet, slabby rock here in New Hampshire. Interestingly, I’ve also noticed this in the S-Lab Sense Ultras but not in the Sense Rides or S-Lab Wings 8, even though all four shoes use the Wet Traction Contagrip outsole.


Performance/Recommendations:

Jeff: Despite the stiffness of the shoe, the XA Elevate, being of a somewhat compact design with excellent protection and a secure upper, all contribute to exceptional agility in technical terrain.  There is enough flex and proprioception to read the terrain well underfoot, yet with enough protection to blast through rock gardens, hop across talus fields and negotiate steep, technical loose off trail conditions.

I mostly tested the XA Elevate in the foothills above Boulder, Colorado, primarily on rocky, technical trails, with a good bit of technical off trail use, sandstone slab scrambling, talus hopping, steep, loose hillsides/gulleys, as well as some up tempo smoother trail and road running.  I was also able to run in the snow some and they performed surprisingly well.

Though the XA Elevate is not designed as a speed demon, as the runner looking for maximum performance on race day may look to the lighter, more flexible and more performance oriented S Lab Sense Ultra, but if you are not counting every gram, want to save $50 and would like more protection and versatility, the XA Elevate deserves serious consideration.  That said, it runs lighter than the 11 1/8 oz. weight in my US size 10 would imply and the stiff outsole provides a bit of response instead of a hiking shoe sort of feel.  The XA Elevate will handle just about any speed well, from hiking to tempo runs and is an ideal training shoe for a wide variety of terrain, up to 50 miles for many (or further) and can also easily pull double duty as a race shoe for many.

I think if somebody were to take all of my trail shoes and tell me to select one pair to keep, it would be the XA Elevate.

Larisa: What surprised me most was how smooth the shoes felt on pavement. The XA Elevates are an excellent option for those like me who often run routes that encompass a wide variety of terrain.

Sam: While really a 2018 shoe first on sale at REI in December,  the XA Elevate is the most comfortable and versatile trail shoe I have run in 2017. It has a superior upper to its 2 stable mates the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra with more consistent overall support, no quick lace bite, and an adequately roomy toe box. The new internal Sensi Fit and gusset wrap my foot perfectly.  Despite its weight,10.7 oz/303 g in my sample 9 with production slated at 10.4 oz,  I agree with Jeff it runs lighter than its weight.

When I first saw them at Outdoor Retailer (RTR Salomon 2018 preview) then received them, and before actually running in them, the wrap around outsole at the mid foot, full coverage outsole and stiffness had me thinking more hiking shoe than trail runner. And yes they are superb fast hiker on even the roughest terrain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Yet, on the run, and especially on smoother terrain they transition to toe off very easily with a slight rocker effect.  I have even actually even enjoyed running roads in them,  I struggled a bit on steep uphills while running them, the kind of stuff where fast walking is also a choice as there is less front flex than its cousins or shoes with a very pronounced but less protected very front of the shoe such as the La Sportiva Mutant (RTR review).

I appreciated the extra heel area stability from its slightly firmer than its stable mates heel foam at the rear.  The only other 2017 shoe I ran with such bombproof stability was the Merrell Agility Peak Flex (RTR review), a shoe leaning a bit more towards hiking overall than the Elevate. When the firmer heel, substantial rock protection, and relative stiffness up front are all combined this is one confidence inspiring shoe, if a touch less agile than the other Salomon discussed here. Slow old me, particularly on downhills I tend to lean towards stability vs. agility in a non race trail shoe.

Bottom Line: The XA Elevate is a superb new addition to the Salomon line. It is more protective upfront and has a more secure upper than either the S/Lab Sense Ultra or Sense Ride although this comes at a bit of a weight penalty. Its versatility for all forms of trail running from the most technical to smooth, even some roads, can make it a one shoe quiver for those seeking a highly protective, comfortable and decently fast shoe for all surfaces and conditions, except maybe all out fast shorter racing.

Jeff’s Score:  9.9/10
-.05 for what some might feel to be not as plush as preferred cushioning, perhaps a bit slappy at faster speeds on harder surfaces
-.05 for not having the more typical for Salomon booty style foot wrapping tongue
Larisa's Score: 9.85/10
-.05 for lack of Vibe insert
-.1 for outsole grip issues on wet rock
Sam's Score 9.8/10
-0.1 for stiffness up front, some grooves in the outsole and midsole would help
-0.05 for lack of Vibe insert
-0.05 for rotating tongue

Editor's Note:
Larisa recently won the Javelina Jundred in Arizona  with a time 16:32, 7th overall.
See her RTR Racer Story here
She chose the Salomon Sense Ride over the XA Elevate and explains why here:
"I ended up going with the Ride for three reasons: 1) the Vibe insert (I do hope they add one to the XA Elevates!), 2) having run the VT 50 in them - which is primarily on smoother trails, like Javelina - I knew they'd hold up to the terrain and distance, 3) the mesh the upper is made of seems quite porous. I didn't want to risk blister/foot issues due to desert sand getting in my shoes."

Comparisons:

Salomon XA Elevate vs. Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra (RTR review here) - For a race or PR scenario, I would choose the S Lab over the Elevate due to it's lighter weight, more race oriented secure upper and overall agility, but for any day to day training, the Elevate dominates due to its better protection, more forgiving fit and deeper lugs for all around better traction.

Salomon XA Elevate vs. Salomon Sense Ride (RTR review here) - Both are awesome shoes, but for the rocky and steep variable terrain I frequent, I prefer the added protection and deeper lugs of the Elevate.  I also have to adjust lace tension on the Ride at least once during most runs.

Salomon XA Elevate vs. Salomon Sense Pro Max (RTR review here) - The Pro Max with maximal cushion and even more accommodating fit would be better for all day grinds and 100 milers on mellow to moderate terrain, but the Elevate reigns supreme when the going gets tough and technical.

Salomon XA Elevate vs. Saucony Peregrine 7 (RTR review here) - Both have great protection and dry traction, the Peregrine is a bit lighter and quicker, but the upper is not nearly as secure and wet traction/all around traction pales compared to the Elevate.

Salomon XA Elevate vs. Salomon S-Lab Wings ( RTR review here)
Sam: Both heavy duty shoes, the Elevate is more comfortable all around, underfoot it is less firm and its upper is far roomier while the foot is still well held. The S-Lab Wings is lighter by a solid half ounce, but a significant $50 more expensive.

Salomon XA Elevate vs. La Sportiva Akasha (RTR review here) - The Akasha was my favorite shoe last year and the Elevate is very much in the running for this year.  The two are comparable, the Akasha has slightly softer, more plush cushioning, so may be favorable for longer outings.  Traction is amazing on both, but I think the Elevate is slightly better and has better protection under the forefoot.

Salomon XA Elevate will be available December 2017 at REI, general distribution March 2018.

See our reviews of the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra here and Sense Ride here
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere and Sam Winebaum
For our bio see our Reviewers Bio Page here

The XA Elevate was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Visit our Index Page here for over 70 in depth 2017 shoe and gear reviews
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6 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

NCmtnman said...

You guys are killing it with your reviews. I enjoy the end where you compare all of the shoes in a short comparison.

I am a bit lost as this shoe comes from the XA line. Is this really an XA shoe or more along the lines of what the Sense Ride is designed to be? I know you can run in it but the direction that Salomon is taking is a little confusing to me.

sam winebaum said...

Thanks NC,
Don't worry about the naming conventions. This is a high performance run shoe that can hike over rough stuff no problem. It a bit more shoe upfront than Ride and also for me a bit more stable overall and especially at the heel, Not sure where XA is heading as a part of Salomon, might have something to do with distribution channels . A few years ago Salomon had the Synapse which was a fast hiker/runner. that ran outstandingly well,. They have RA Running Avenue in front of their new upcoming road shoes, also outstanding so maybe a new naming "A" naming convention.
Sam, Editor

Michael said...

Any chance on Running Avenue reviews coming out soon?

sam winebaum said...

Michael,
Very soon on Running Avenue. Only shoe we have at this point is RA Sonic.
Sam, Editor

SG said...

Good to see a more cushioned tongue. The thin, non breathable tongue on other salomons is a design flaw IMO. Doesn't do a good job of dispersing lace pressure and traps moisture. I really want to like salomons because of the excellent grip and good foot shape, but I definitely turn my ankle in the sense pros and xa alpines, and don't in other shoes. Anyone else have this problem?