Monday, September 11, 2017

Salomon XA Elevate-First Runs Impressions Review with Comparisons to Sense Ride and S/Lab Sense Ultra

Article by Sam Winebaum

Editor's Note: RoadTrailRun will have an in depth review for the XA Elevate soon where I will join with Jeff Valliere, running trails above Boulder and Larisa Dannis, hammering long technical runs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
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 12/1/17 at REI in the US, general distribution 3/1/18

We first saw the XA Elevate at Outdoor Retailer where it was Salomon's big introduction along with the S/Lab Sense Ultra 2 (preview article here). It was for sure flashy and low slung looking but stiff flexing  it felt it had more hiking vibe than run vibe. It joins the line up sitting just above the Sense Ride (RTR review here) in overall cushion and protection and just below the Pro Max with its higher stack but lower height lugs RTR (review here).

First Impressions 
Salomon kindly sent us a sample and first trying them on underfoot they did feel like a hiker with prominent support under the arch, lots of noticeable cushion and protection upfront, a very secure upper hold and somewhat larger lugs than the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra 1.  

Our sample was half size up from true to size and a touch roomy with medium weight socks. We would go true to size in thin socks and likely half size up if you plan to run them with heavy hiking type socks. 


Big changes from prior Salomon designs with this upper. whose design mirrors Salomon's upcoming Running Avenue road shoes (RTR preview here).  
Top to Bottom: Salomon XA Elevate, Sense Ride, S/Lab Sense Ultra
After many years of external Sensi Fit overlays 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 with no pressure around the arch.  We can assume it 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 notice 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.

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.  
The firmer density layer wraps the heel, is above the outsole and extends up to the first line shown in the picture above and below contributing to the stability of the heel area on all surfaces. While part of the outsole a small thicker piece of outsole extends 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 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 .
The XA has a full Premium Wet Traction Contagrip outsole. The lugs appear are 5mm so all mountain and all terrain worthy. 
When comparing the outsoles of the XA to the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra:
Left to Right: Salomon XA Elevate, Sense Ride, S/Lab Sense Ultra
The XA with 5mm lugs appears to have slightly higher lugs, maybe 1mm higher than the Ride at the heel with the Sense Ultra having lower lugs than the Ride.
Outsoles and midsoles work together as a system. The key difference is seen in the flex grooves on Ride (center above). The Ride is more flexible than either of the others with a far more distinct flex point near the front of the shoe at the first groove ahead of the mid foot. It climbs steep somewhat better than the XA when running uphill but also is less protective and somewhat less stable overall. The Sense Ultra has a flex more similar to the XA than the Ride with both having a longer flex, the Sense Ultra having more snap to the front closer to the front than the XA.  
The 2017 XA Enduro (RTR did not test) shares underfoot and outsole platform with the XA Elevate, including lug height, but has the older style upper with a high debris cuff. It weighs about 0.5 oz more. 
A final comparison might be the Salomon Pro Max (RTR review) which while having a higher overall stack has Vibe reduction front and back and lower lugs. The Pro Max is the stiffest of all the shoes here, plenty protective and cushioned but not nearly as agile on all surfaces as the XA. Its upper is the older style with external Sensifit with strangely for such a distance oriented shoe a thin tongue which causes Quick Lace bite. 

First Hike and Runs Impressions
Prior to my first run I took them for a hike... a short 2000 vertical quite rocky 2.4 miles to the top of Mt Hale in New Hampshire. Typical technical White Mountain trails and if a trail running shoe is stable enough for those trails it can go just about anywhere.  
I was not disappointed at all. It was more cushioned and with a far more accommodating yet secure upper than another Whites worthy Salomon, the S-Lab Wings (review here).  Traction on the wet granite from the Premium Wet Traction Contagrip was outstanding. 
I then took them out on my usual test loop of more moderate single track with many turns, some rocks and roots, some short sharp climbs but all runnable at decent paces while paying attention. The 6 mile loop even includes about 1.5 miles of pavement. I often run shoes on these trails to closely compare for our reviews and had done so with the Sense Ride and Sense Ultra.
I was surprised. The hike vibe disappeared. The transitions were super smooth, the downhill feel and stability from platform and upper impeccable if a more muted trail feel and less agile but more secure and confident than the Ride and Sense Ultra. Fine by me! The cushion on the firm side and protection was just right. On steep uphills the relative stiffness of the forefoot made them a little more awkward than the others to run but break into a fast walk and the hike vibe comes back just where it should.
The biggest surprise was when I hit the mile or so road section to the finish. While somewhat slappy due to the firm heel midsole layer, lugs and stiffer forefoot the road running was incredibly smooth. At their weight, in the class of the "premium" road shoes, they were as good as any expect maybe the upcoming Saucony Triumph ISO 4 if on the firmer side in comparison. And they had no problem getting up to speed. I had the fastest finish on this section ever. OK... maybe I was decently rested but still far faster than ever before in a trail shoe.
My third run was a race recovery run on a mix of smooth trails and roads. Sore at the start, I want to go on beyond my 6 miles. All surfaces handled were handled with aplomb.  
For me the XA Elevate, at least so far, is the pick of the Salomon litter while waiting for the upcoming S/Lab Sense Ultra 2 (RTR 2018 Salomon preview article here). Sense Ultra 2 should increase forefoot support, cushion and durability with a PU insert and likely will increase its upper support by incorporating 2 external straps. Salomon athlete Francois D'Haene, the athlete inspiring this shoe, recently won the UTMB in a pair.

S/Lab Sense Ultra (RTR review here)
Sense Ride (RTR review here
Pro Max (review here)

Stay tuned for our full XA Elevate review with Jeff Valliere and Larisa Dannis.
For Sam's 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!
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Anonymous said...

I believe both Kilian Jornet and Francois D'Haene wore Salomon MESH shoes for UTMB. From what I have read, the Sense Ultra 2 gains weight over version 1, making it quite heavy for an "elite" racing shoe.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
While I can't now find them I saw pictures showing that at least for a portion FH wore the Sense Ultra 2. Kilian no question was wearing a form of the MESH. Yes Sense Ultra 2 is heavier by 0.9 oz/26 g but more protective and supportive it seems likely a good choice for this year's UTMB. Our preview with pics and details here
Thanks for reading!
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the follow up Sam. I just saw the pictures on irunfar's coverage and thought Kilian and Francois shoes looked the same, but I could be wrong. Thanks also for your great gear reports. I don't mean to be negative about the Ultra 2, seeing as I haven't even tried them yet. With the changes they seem like they should be in the XA line and not the S-Lab line. I'm just a huge fan of the Ultra and am hoping they're not changed too much. (I stocked up on 4 pairs during the Salomon Labor Day sale just in case). In the past, I can't think of any other shoe I've liked better after it was made heavier regardless of new technology etc. Here's hoping I'm wrong.