Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine Review - All Mountain, Any Mountain, All Conditions

Article by Jeff Valliere

Salomon S-Lab XA Alpine
12.2 oz. US Mens Size 9 (unisex)
22mm heel/16mm forefoot = 6mm drop
Available Now from Salomon Here
I'm honestly not quite sure where to begin with the XA Alpine, as it is packed with such an arsenal of all mountain, 3 season (Fall/Winter/Spring) features that had me drooling upon first glance.  From the most immediately obvious built in breathable gaiter (with padded ankle protection), waterproof shell, Premium WET Traction Contagrip outsole, embedded carbon plate, crampon compatibility, stylishly sleek good looks, to what amazed me most....  Unzipping the gaiter to reveal Salomon's trademark blazing red S-Lab Sense upper nestled snugly within.


The technically advanced, yet smooth and simplistically functional upper of the XA Alpine is a work of art. Salomon seamlessly blends the best of two separate worlds into one shoe, essentially combining the performance and fit of the S-Lab Sense, with the sturdiness and protection of a competent, all mountain hiking boot .

The lower half of the upper is what Salomon refers to as a water resistant textile comprising of a ripstop mesh with waterproof coating.

The upper half is a lighter, more breathable and flexible material, but is not waterproof or really even water resistant. The zipper for the gaiter is taped, and extends far forward on the shoe to ensure ease of entry and zips high where it integrates into the snug ankle cuff.  The zipper tab tucks into a zipper garage to minimize damage or freezing in snow and cold conditions.  Although the lower half of the shoe is waterproofed nicely, I found the zipper, even though taped, to be a weakness in that it let in moisture, either in the form of wet snow or standing water.  In colder, more powdery snow however, I found it not to be a problem.

The protective synthetic toe cap is quite substantial, wrapping generously around the top forefoot edges of the shoe and integrating seamlessly and almost imperceptibly with the waterproof textile and outsole.  This is for sure one of the most protective toe bumpers I have ever seen in a running shoe and is somewhat reminiscent of a steel toe work boot, in that it gives the impression that it could withstand all but a large boulder landing on your foot.  Certainly sturdy enough for the average rock kick and crampon support, yet is unnoticeable when wearing the shoe.

Once unzipped, the inner S-Lab Sense Sensifit/Endofit upper is revealed, quicklace with lace garage, gusseted tongue and secure booty like fit.  The Sensifit upper is like no other in my opinion, as the custom like snug fit cradles and supports my foot comfortably for long hours on the trail.  Control and stability is also unparalleled.

Fit is true to size and the same as just about all Salomons that I have used in the past (snug and low volume).  I wore the XA Alpine with both a thin summer sock and a slightly thicker mid-weight Smartwool sock and they work well with each.  I would consider sizing up a half size if you prefer a thicker than mid weight sock and or/have a more voluminous foot.

The dual density EVA midsole with carbon chassis offers reasonable, yet very firm cushioning.  The XA Alpine falls into the mid range of responsiveness, which I actually found to be adequate on the uphills and reasonable on the flats and downhills.  The XA Alpine is quite stiff due to the carbon chassis, but still provide surprisingly good trail feel and articulation.  The stiffness of this shoe however, though perhaps not always ideal for spirited running, pays off in spades in rocky technical terrain, when edging and climbing on rock, or when using crampons.

The Premium WET Traction Contagrip outsole offers the highest level of grip on an incredibly wide variety of surfaces and conditions.  With rugged, deep, directional lugs and the WET Traction Contagrip outsole, the XA Alpine excels in quickly varying conditions as would be expected on high mountains summits.  They grab exceptionally well on dry rock, loose dirt, steep scree and climb like a top notch approach shoe with the toe section of the outsole designed for edging.

Wet traction is absolutely exceptional as well, particularly on wet rocks and in snowy conditions. Protection is as good as you can get in a trail running shoe, shielding the foot from the hardest of hits on the sharpest of rocks.

Despite a particularly slow start to Winter here in Colorado, with a little work, I was able to test the XA Alpine in a wide variety of conditions.  For a shoe that weighs ~13.25 ounces in my normal size 10, I was pleasantly surprised that they felt reasonably quick, responsive and performance oriented (OK, not really surprised, but for such a full featured shoe, they run really well).  I was able to get in a fair number of miles on my home trails between 5,300 and 8,500 feet, on some hardpack flatter trails, steep rocky trails, steep Flatiron slabs, steep gravelly off trail, steep pine needles in both dry conditions and on two days that were wet with a dusting of snow and the XA Alpine handled it all while inspiring confidence with each step.  I never slipped or faltered once, at least not on account of the shoe.  The temperature range for my testing varied between lows in the mid-30s F to 85 degrees F.  Over 80 degrees, I found the XA Alpine to be uncomfortably warm, but tolerable in the 70 degree range.  Below 70 degrees, I never once thought about how warm my feet were and were very comfortable down to the 30s.  I suspect that with a mid-weight wool sock, my feet will be comfortable into the teens or perhaps even a bit colder, but will have to update on that later.

I was able to find ideal test conditions on a recent run up 13,223 foot Mt. Audubon in the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness.  The route to the summit and back offered a little bit of everything, cruiser singletrack, dry technical rocky trail, wet technical rocky trail, mud, wet packed snow, powdery snow, short sections of hard ice and boulder hopping through a wind driven ground blizzard.  I was quite impressed with how well the XA Alpine performed on all but the hardest ice (where no shoe without spikes would grab anyways).  Particularly encouraging was hopping rock to rock repeatedly with wet, dirty and snowy feet, where the majority of shoes would slip, these hooked up with great confidence.  My feet stayed warm and dry the entire time, despite some postholing in the snow on the upper sections of the mountain.

Update 12/7/2016  Today I ran in the coldest temperatures since I have owned the XA Alpine, mid single digits in about a foot of fresh powder on my local peak, 8,144 foot Green Mountain in Boulder, Co.  I was out for 1 hour and 37 minutes and aside from my toes being a little cold at the higher elevations, my feet stayed warm and dry for the most part.  My socks and inner shoes were damp when I got home, not sure if that was perspiration, or some wetness got through the gaiter, likely a little bit of both.  Either way, they performed quite well during the time I was out.  Had I been hiking/going easier, or stayed at that higher elevation longer, I may have wanted a bit more insulated shoe, but overall was quite impressed.

Typical conditions above treeline

We do not yet have the proper snow conditions here in the mountains of Colorado for crampon use, but I did try out all of my traction options on the XA Alpine in the yard to see how they fit/flexed. The durability, stiffness and protective upper of this shoe lends itself to very good integration with crampons and I am confident that they will be adequate for several thousand feet of Spring couloir climbing without any issues or long stints in running crampons.

The XA Alpine is a true all mountain shoe and integrates some of the most desirable features from trail running shoes, approach shoes and hiking/climbing boots.  For longer, faster days in the mountains, in varied conditions where one may encounter anything mountainous environments have to offer, this shoe is the ideal pick , with the utmost in protection, performance, quality, durability, traction, control and stability.

At $250, I feel price needs to be addressed, as for me, that is a huge chunk of change to spend on a running shoe.  Is it worth it?  If you have the budget for it, I say absolutely yes.  Quality and performance is outstanding and from the best I can tell, it is quite durable and will last a long time.

La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX :  I have version 1 of the Crossover GTX, but have not tried the 2.0 version, however, my best guess is that the Crossover is the closest contender for the XA Alpine.  The Crossover is Gore Tex all the way to the top of the gaiter, which extends the waterproofing significantly.  The Crossover lugs are a bit deeper and pronounced, so may be a little better in snow and loose dirt, but I think the XA Alpine would have an edge with wet traction and smearing/climbing on rock. Weight feels similar, but the advertised weight of the XA Alpine is nearly an ounce less.  One advantage of the Crossover GTX is price, as it is at least $60 less expensive.

Saucony Razor Ice+:  I am currently testing the Razor Ice as well, but need more use in snowy/icy conditions to give it a fair and full review.  As soon as I have more miles in them, I'll post my full review here and compare a bit more with the XA Alpine.  From what I can tell so far though, the XA Alpine has far superior traction, support and durability for a wider variety of all mountain conditions.  The Razor Ice is a bit more plush/well cushioned, lighter and seems to be ideally suited for primary use on hard packed snowy trails and roads.

Jeff's Score:  4.7 out of 5
-.1 for high price tag
-.1 for weight, as these were a little heavier than I expected
-.1 for waterproofing, as I would love to see a waterproof gaiter and more resistant zipper

All Photos Credit: Jeff Valliere
The XA Alpine was provided at no charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the author's. 

XA Alpine is Available Now from Salomon Here

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Anonymous said...

Great review, thanks!! Buying a pair for sure, lots of 20% off coupons coming out as we approach Black Friday.

Serge said...

I bought these thanks to your review. Just spent 3 days up high in the gore range, and these shoes are incredible. I was moving between snow to rock basically the whole time and was amazed by the wet grip. It actually took me a little while to get used to trusting my feet in situations I would normally be tentative. Shoebuy has a 25% discount right now which you can combine with active junky to bring them to a reasonable price. Still expensive, but there is nothing on the market like these. More like foot equipment than running shoes. Thanks for the quality reviews. Your preferences and terrain are similar to my own, so I trust your take.

Eli said...

Awesome to see this review. I am extremely interested in your review of the Saucony Razor Ice compared to this shoe, especially for steep Boulder trails.

SG said...

Eli, I ordered the razor ice to compare and the gaiter material seemed pretty fragile and prone to tear compared to the salomon. Pretty easy to shred off trail. Also not breathable at all, whereas the salomon upper is. The xa alp is in a different league.

Eli said...

SG, thanks for that. How did the shoes compare in precision and nimbleness on technical trails?

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks for reading, glad the review was helpful. The Salomon definitely is the more durable shoe and certainly more versatile than the Razor Ice, as with the Salomon, you can confidently move fast on just about any terrain. Stability and control are amazing, but the ability of the outsole to grab anything wet or dry with quick transition is what really defines this shoe.

The Razor Ice is more niche I believe. Lighter and more geared toward actual running, (vs. off trail all mountain scree and bushwhacking with a bit of everything thrown in = XA Alpine), the Razor does indeed have a more flimsy gaiter/upper, which I see as built to keep out moisture instead of withstanding an off trail beating.

At this point, I have only used the Razor once, on a warm dry day, but the special Ice outsole material was not at all confidence inspiring on dry rock and the tread is minimal enough that I found it slid a lot in anything slightly steep and loose. This is not so much a knock on the Razor, more just a comment on its more limited range. As Eli knows, it is snowing today in Boulder, so hopefully tomorrow I can get the Razor out on some snow and ice. I think they will do really well on packed frozen trail and snowy road, but time will tell. Review soon to come.

SG said...

Eli, I only got the razor ice's to try on and compare before returning, but I have owned peregrine's in the past. The XA's are on the slightly stiffer side in order to accommodate crampons. They still feel pretty nimble, but not like a s-lab sense or anything. I'll probably run in them for some deep or icy days, but in general I think of them more for shoulder season backpacking and alpine adventures. Maybe I'll see ya'll out on those sloppy trails!

Yannis said...

Thanks a lot for your review and most importantly for the comparison with other shoes.
Do you think the La Sportiva Crossover GTX would be as good as the XA Alpine to deal with mountaineering crampons? The XA Alpine is supposed to have a carbon frame that makes the shoes better, but what is your opinion about that?

Thanks again for this great review !

Jeff Valliere said...

Hi Yannis, I think the XA Alpine is SLIGHTLY stiffer, but I think the Crossover 2.0 would do quite well also (though I have not spent time frontpointing in either).

Yannis said...

Thanks for your quick answer and your great reviews!

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