Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jeff Valliere's 2017 Trail Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

by Jeff Valliere

A good handful of shoes that I have worn throughout 2017 had me thinking at the time "this could easily be my shoe of the year", then another great shoe would come along, then another, then another, completely throwing off my calculations.

When I look back at my 2016 favorites, I marvel at how much difference a single year has made.  In March, though very early in the year, I was absolutely, positively sure I would go with the S-Lab Sense Ultra, a reasonably light, race ready long distance Salomon shoe with added cushion and an incredibly awesome upper and fast ride.

Then came the Salomon Sense Ride, not quite as light or the super dialed upper of the S Lab Sense Ultra, but it was pretty darn awesome, sharing many S Lab features for $60 less.

Then along came the Speedgoat 2.  A touch apprehensive after a really bad experience with the SG1, I was left in awe at home much the shoe had improved, sharing nothing in common with version 1, except for the brand and model name.

After that, a string of awesomeness with the Scott Supertrac RC, Salomon XA Elevate, La Sportiva Uragano/Tempesta and the Salomon Speedspike CS.

Click on links to go to Jeff's full reviews of his gear of the year.

Favorite Race/PR Trail Shoe of 2017:

A flip of the coin between the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra and surprise late entrant, the Scott Supertrac RC.  Both are reasonably light, fast, responsive with enough protection/cushion and have an amazingly dialed upper.  Traction on both is amazing and the Scott Supertrac RC has grip on varied surfaces that defies logic.  When I just want to run fast or shoot for a PR on varied, technical terrain, I'll reach for either one of these.

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
Scott Supertrac RC
Favorite Cushioned Long Distance Shoe:

Hands down the completely revamped Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 takes the cake.  Relatively light for all that this shoe offers, the Speedgoat 2 with it's rockered outsole is very fast and responsive with gobs of cushion for all day comfort.  Despite the high stack height (32mm/27.5mm), the SG2 is remarkably stable and has very good traction.  This shoe is just made for long distances, but is just as good blasting technical trails and screaming downhills.

Favorite Winter Shoe:

The La Sportiva Uragano improves upon the Crossover GTX, implementing the same great outsole, but shaving some weight by using a lighter upper with more streamlined elasticized gaiter with external laces.  Though the outsole and last are virtually the same as the Crossover, the Uragano feels quicker and more nimble, in part because of the lighter weight, but also because of the more free and flexible upper/gaiter combo.  A must have for those sloppy, snowy slippery winter runs.

Great Value:

The $120 Salomon Sense Ride strikes an excellent balance between performance, quality and value, sharing many features and attributes with the $180 Salomon S-Lab.  Though the upper is not quite as dialed as the S-Lab, it would otherwise be hard to tell the difference in a blind test.

Favorite Shoe for Ice:

OK, this could go under Winter shoe, but with 15 razor sharp carbide studs in each shoe, the Salomon Speedspike CS falls into a separate sub-category.  Long a fan of the studded Icebugs, the Speedspike CS improves upon the concept with a much more performance oriented upper and even more pronounced lugs and studs.  Confidence on ice and varied slippery, icy terrain is tough to beat.

Favorite all Around Shoe:

Salomon XA Elevate - This shoe could slip into just about any of the above non Winter categories, as it does everything just about as well, but is not quite as cushioned as the SG2, or quite as light and quick as the S Lab Sense Ultra or Scott Supertrac RC and is $10 more than the Sense Ride.  But, I find myself gravitating toward the XA Elevate on my daily runs more than any other shoe in my rotation.  It is stiff and slightly on the heavy side, but I have put in some of my fastest runs in this shoe.  It has amazing fit, yet is comfortably accommodating.  Protection is the best out there with a super stiff outsole/Profeel film rockplate, yet remarkably is not tippy when running fast in technical terrain and hopping rock to rock.  Cushioning if firm, but adequate for long daily training runs without feeling beat up.  And, an improvement over many of the other Salomons such as the Ride, Sense Pro Max, S Lab Sense Ultra, the Elevate has 5mm lugs vs. the more common 4mm.  That does not sound like much, but I notice the difference in loose junky terrain, not to mention is adds to the already excellent tread life.  If I had to pick one shoe out of my entire collection to keep if I had to sacrifice all of the rest, it would likely be the Elevate.

Other Awesome Stuff:
Click on links to go to Jeff's full reviews of his gear of the year.

Naked Running Band
The ability to carry a phone, water and other essentials around your waist, nearly unnoticed and bounce free, the Naked Running Band has joined me for just about every run this year and breathes new life into shorts I previously overlooked for lack of pockets.  A must have for any runner (and cyclist).

Julbo Aero Zebra Light 1-3
Not new for 2017, but I reviewed them in 2016 alongside the Zephyr with the Zebra 2-4 lens.  Both are amazing glasses, though I found the darker 2-4 lens a bit dark in the woods on all but the most brilliantly sunny days.  The Zebra 1-3 lens darkens plenty good enough for most sunny conditions and is better in my opinion for quickly changing light conditions and especially in colder temps.  Light and unnoticeable on the face with no fogging or getting drippy with forehead sweat, these glasses are hard to beat.

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Vest 5L/8L
Light with good carry capacity, improved soft flasks and ease of accessing a lot of gear while on the go, this is my first choice when I need to carry a moderate amount of run gear.

Ultimate Direction AK 3.0 Signature Series Ultra Vest  
When I am looking for a more sturdy vest to carry a bit more gear and heading to the higher peaks, the UD AK 3.0 is a great choice, with adequate carry capacity, secure zippered pockets, lots of accessible pockets on the front and belt, pole carrying and bladder compatible.  This vest is bombproof and easy to stay organized without losing stuff on the trail.

Dion 121 Race Snowshoes 
Bob Dion runs an amazing operation out of Vermont, building an array of high quality modular snowshoes to fit just about anyone's Winter running/hiking needs.  The 121 is stunningly small, fast and light, yet still race legal.  Even the small size does well at backcountry use, as they have decent float and are so light, you never even know you are carrying them when you have to.  One of my favorite gear tests of the year.

Garmin Fenix 5X
I used Garmin GPS watches years ago, then became a die hard Suunto convert.  I have recently had the opportunity to review the Fenix 5x with Topo US 24k map bundle here in the Colorado mountains and am wildly impressed.  While I appreciate the accuracy and reliability of Suunto, Garmin, with the newer Fenix 5 series has made an obvious leap ahead.  Sure, the 5x is a bit large on my skinny wrist, but is comfortable enough for me to wear 24/7 without issue.  The vast array of features, tracking, activities, customizable widgets, watch faces and apps, wrist HR, 20 hour battery life, smartwatch functionality, as well as built in maps on the 5X, makes for an unbeatable combo.  Not to mention, with the Sapphire screen and stainless bezel, it is both durable and great looking.

Columbia Caldorado Outdry Jacket
 Light, waterproof, durable, packable/compressable with a great fit for layering, the Columbia Light Outdry is a great choice to keep in the pack when going light and the weather could go really bad.

See Sam Winebaum's Best of 2017 article here
See Peter Stuart's Best of 2017 article here

For Jeff's bio see our Reviewers Bio Page here
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Disclosure: Products covered in this article were provided free of charge for review purposes. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

For Sam Winebaum's 2017 Shoes and Gear of the Year click here

Watch our YouTube Channel for 2018 Run Previews and Wearable Tech Reviews HERE
Visit our Index Page HERE for over 80 in depth 2017 shoe and gear reviews

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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

can you compare the speedgoat 2 and the speed instinct 2?

whichever of those, and the sense ride, goes on sale first is probably
my next shoe.
have the s lab sense ultra but it seems wrong to wear it out
for everyday running. though i did get it on sale.


Dan said...

Anon, Jack Rabbit has the Sense Ride on sale for $60! I just got a pair at full retail (well, minus gift card) and still ordered another pair; couldn't pass up the deal.

Thomas Venney said...


Mitchell Jacob said...

Actually, This is where my trail shoe choices seem to be heading as well. For basic trail runs on a bunch of really varied terrain (hardpack dirt, rocks, tree roots, mud, and terrain common in the midwest and appalachians), what would you recommend? I really just want a daily trail shoe that feels fun to run in, but could also be used for ultras in the future.