Friday, March 08, 2019

Saucony Swtichback ISO Review: Innovative, BOA Enabled, Agile, More Minimal Trail Runner

Article by Canice Harte, Dom Layfield, Jeff Valliere, and Sam Winebaum
Editor's Note: We welcome Canice Harte in his first review. Canice is a long time running and outdoor industry executive based in Park City, UT. He is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100 and Western States 100 as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles. Beyond ultras and adventure races, Canice has competed in traditional road races and triathlons.

Saucony Switchback ISO ($140)
Sam: The Switchback ISO represents a totally modernized take on the minimal trail shoes of old. It features a relatively low 21mm forefoot / 17 mm heel stack so a 4mm drop, plenty of flexibility, a barely there upper with no heel counter, and has minimal rock protection- all hallmarks of an earlier era when many danced on rocks near barefoot. The modernized part comes from:
  • a TPU based Everun midsole, a resilient, fairly firm foam with a slight bounce,
  • a low profile dual density outsole with  a dense coverage of many different lug sizes and many gripping angles,
  • a sleek engineered mesh ISOFit upper with subtle yet effective overlays,
  • and of course inclusion of a BOA lace free, spin the dial closure system.

We set out to discover the best uses of this intriguing new entry, its strengths and weakness on the trails and some roads of Southern California, Colorado, Utah, and New Hampshire. Our team ran on snow covered trails and roads, dry pavement, dirt, mud, and steep technical trails,

Tester Profiles
Canice, 50 is an ultra and adventure racer based in Park City, UT.
Dom 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 61 with a recent 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR.  He runs about 40 miles per week on New Hampshire and Utah roads and trails.

Dom, Canice Jeff & Sam:  
  • Eye-catching futuristic shoe design
  • Lightweight
  • Spacious fit
  • Flexible, neutral shoe with excellent ground feel.
  • Convenient quick to lace and adjust BOA lacing system
Dom: superb water draining and low water absorption, also useful for water sports, rafting etc..
Sam and Jeff: Ideal single extra shoe for active travel, day to day, office, walk the dog use

Dom, Jeff, Canice & Sam:  Lacking protection for rough trails
Dom & Sam:  Fit may be too spacious (Dom felt shoe much improved with extra footbed added.)
Canice:  Somewhat stiff feeling upper
Dom:  BOA lacing system!  (Has both pros and cons.)
  • Despite stout medial overlays connected to the BOA system, lack of a heel counter is felt
  • Overly firm heel on any hard surface, that low heel stack is really felt
Sam and Jeff: While loaded with tech, features, and focused utility the price is steep

Official Men’s 9.8oz (278g) | Women’s 8.8oz (227g)
US M8.5 sample weighed :8.9 oz  / 252 g
US M10 sample weighed 9.6 oz (273 g)  [Dom]
Stack Height: (21 heel /17mm forefoot, 4 mm offset) [According to Running Warehouse]
Stack Height: 22.5/18.5 [Saucony catalog]
$140. Available now.

First Impressions and Fit
Dom:  In muted black and gray, the Saucony Switchback ISO has a purposeful pseudo-military look to it.  I thought the shoe was unobtrusive, but I found a lot of people commented positively on my shoes while I was wearing them, so I guess I’m atypical -- or just insensitive to what people notice.

The most obvious feature of the shoe is the BOA lacing system.  Personally, I see both good and bad aspects to this. For casual use, the BOA lacing is certainly handy (“Look Ma, I can tighten both shoes at once!”), and it looks pretty fly.

Dom:  I was struck initially by the general roominess of the fit, both in the forefoot and midfoot.  Also by the generally lightweight and stripped-down construction.
Padding on the tongue is minimal (albeit with some carefully placed rubbery overlays to stop the wire-like laces cutting into your foot).  
Padding around the heel collar is also minimal.

Jeff:  Out of the box the Switchback ISO looks sleek and is on the lower, more minimal end of the spectrum, especially given its plentiful, but low profile lugs (particularly when compared side by side with the Peregrine ISO).  

The BOA lacing appears to be a nice touch in this particular application. I am never quite sure what to expect with unconventional lacing systems. Though I find myself rarely being interested in black shoes if given the option of a lighter or more interesting color, the black/grey colorway of the Switchback ISO looks very good here and have been my defacto wear to the office and anywhere else shoe, along with running them.  Initial impressions of the shoe are that it is very light, a bit roomy in the toe box and possibly a little too minimal and unprotected for the rocky trails I frequent.

Canice:  When you first open the box you can’t help but notice the BOA lace system, and then once you pick the shoe up you’ll immediately think it feels light and flexible. It has a very minimal feel and as you explore the shoe you’ll notice the attention to detail in the design and quality of the build. The initial fit is roomy in the forefoot yet it has a nice heel pocket that holds you securely in the shoe.
Sam: Sleek, sophisticated looking, with a low profile fast look and feel. There is a tremendous amount of subtle visual depth to the black and gray upper and its overlays. The side showing lugs, not sure how functional they are, and very muted green outsole contrasts brilliantly with black and far better than the very usual black and white seen so frequently today. The fit was true to size but quite spacious overall. The BOA is easy to adjust on the go, and easy to snap down and twist to get moving in a hurry. Pull the dial out and you are out of the shoes super quick.

Sam: Swtichback ISO has a beautiful, highly detailed woven mesh upper with Saucony’s ISOFit system of straps structured and connected by translucent overlays to the lower upper.
Closure is via the BOA system which my fellow testers will explain further. I found the BOA effective to secure the foot and adjust on the go. Gone are the days of stopping for a minute to relace. Just reach down and twist to tighten.

In particular I liked how Saucony used stout ISOFit connected overlays on the medial side which the BOA dial draws in towards the lateral side to provide support. I only wished for a touch more substantial heel counter in the Switchback to really lock the rear down.

The Switchback ISO has Saucony’s FormFit system as most all 2019 Saucony are receiving starting with the Ride ISO and Triumph ISO 5. It is an integration of sockliner, Everun topsole and more contoured midsole side walls to mesh with the sockliner and top sole.
Well there is no Everun topsole here just a mesh top board as the entire midsole is Everun. The sidewalls are only minimally raised. While I could clearly feel a nice consistent more rounded and natural fit between foot and platform in Ride and Triumph, here things feel and actually look flatter under the sock liner. It is still a good interface but maybe Saucony is pushing the tech branding a bit far here.

Dom:  Like the rest of the shoe, the upper of the Switchback is conspicuously spartan and stripped down.  Even so, the Switchback remains a neat-looking shoe. The primary material is a dense, inelastic single-layer mesh that feels tough, and is showing no signs of wear in testing.  
The gray mesh is printed with black markings (Saucony logo and concentric rings radiating from the Boa knob). This makes the shoe visually striking without adding weight. The mesh is topped with lightweight translucent overlays reinforcing the lacing web and heel collar.  
There is also a stouter, black overlay that forms a somewhat insubstantial toe bumper and wraps around the forefoot like a conventional rand.
Dom:  Notably, there is no heel counter to speak of.  
The rear of the shoe is extremely flexible, with no stiffening elements.   I see this as a plus, as I find heel counters to be frequently too high and too stiff, making a shoe feel cumbersome.  That said, I have a narrow heel, and did find that the rear of the shoe was spacious and consequently a little loose and insecure.  The heel collar, too, is quite minimal, with only a thin strip of dense foam set slightly below the rim to prevent heel lift.
Dom:  For me, the BOA lacing is a mixed bag.  Firstly, the positives: there’s no denying it looks pretty cool.  You can tighten the shoe with one hand. There’s no need to worry about double-knotting your laces to prevent them coming untied.   Increasing the lace tension is super-quick and convenient: just reach down and turn the knob a click or two -- no need to untie to get a little extra midfoot hold.   Similarly, releasing the laces to take the shoes off is instantaneous and effortless. Downsides: Tightening is easy, loosening is harder -- you need to fully release the tension, and then start tightening all over again.   During cold weather, I frequently find that I want to adjust my shoe laces, but my hands are too numb and clumsy to tie and untie the laces. I had hoped that the BOA system would solve this problem at a stroke, but in testing I found the knob to be slippery, hard to grip in the wet, and next to impossible to operate while wearing gloves.  (Why couldn’t they make it squarish, rather than round?) I would also be concerned that the mechanism might freeze up in snow, or get jammed with grit in very muddy conditions. I also don’t know if I’d trust the system in long, remote races: if the string broke, or ratchet slips, it’s hard to see how it could be jerry-rigged.

Dom:  Perhaps due to the roomy last of the shoe, I found that I needed a surprisingly high amount of tension in the BOA strings to hold my foot securely.  And because the strings are comparatively inelastic (lacking in stretchiness), the window between too loose and uncomfortably tight was small. The extra room in the shoe could be perceived as a plus if you have particularly high-volume feet, or if you like to tinker with footbeds to fine-tune the fit of a shoe.  I experimented with adding an extra footbed and found that noticeably improved foot retention, as well as providing a hair more cushion.

Dom:  One remarkable aspect of the Switchback’s upper is that all the materials used (including the laces) absorb very little water.  Consequently I found that the Switchback is perhaps the best shoe I’ve ever used in really wet conditions. The shoe retains almost no water, drains quickly, and dries out (at least to the point of not feeling sopping) in mere moments.   It would actually make a capable water shoe for rafting etc.

Jeff:  The upper of the Switchback ISO is superb, with a very clean and modern look, the upper is well wrapped in Flex Film welded overlays and the ISO Fit floating cage integrated with the Boa lacing system is an effective combination.

Fit is true to size and though it feels a bit roomy at first, the Boa lacing snugs up securely.  I am often a bit hesitant about non traditional lacing systems, but the Boa lacing is absolutely amazing in this application and I find it to be very easy, fast, quite secure and combined with the thin, yet protective tongue, unobtrusive.  Like Dom, I too worry about performance when freezing up or dirty and of course durability over time and especially on an important race situation if it broke (which is why I stick to traditional laces on very important runs/racs), but in testing at least has not been a problem.  I have a 6 or 7 year old pair of Vasques with Boa that are really beat, but the Boa still works as well as the day I got them. I also agree with what Dom is saying about not being able to back off the tension without releasing all the way, but the process is still very fast and much quicker than laces.

The ISO Fit cage with large medial midfoot “wing” connecting to the top lace eyelet adds to the security and stability of the shoe.  The heel collar is thin and flexible, but offers great hold and support despite the minimal nature. The toe bumper is also somewhat thin and malleable, but has not yet been an issue.

Though a light shoe, the upper materials are not wispy by any means, but are somewhat thick, durable and high quality feeling, which seems counterintuitive given the overall low weight and minimal nature of the shoe.  Since I am testing in cold winter temps, I am unsure as to whether or not the thicker upper will translate into being warm when the temperatures rise, but I don’t think so, as ventilation seems to be very good.

Canice:  My initial impression of the upper was that it looked durable but I wondered how breathable it would be. Turns out it’s quite breathable. I now have a little over 60 miles in the shoe and because it’s currently Winter in Park City I’ve been traveling to Salt Lake City to find dirt and I was surprised how much I felt the Winter air.

The upper is flexible however I can’t help but wish it was a bit softer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll gladly run these shoes into the ground and love every mile, but if they were just a little softer I would love them.

The BOA lace system works great. They’re easy to secure with a turn of the wheel and to get out of the shes you just pull the wheel away from your foot and they pop open. You’ll notice as the shoes break in you’ll tighten the system a bit, but it’s easy to find your fit.

The Switchback has a bootie tongue which is great for keeping rocks and debris from entering your shoe. The challenge can be that gusseted tongues can get a bit fat yet the Switchback remains minimal yet comfortable thanks to strategically placed foam.

Sam: Switchback has full length EVERUN TPU midsole with a stack of 21 mm heel,17 mm forefoot. This clearly less stack than its road Everun cousin the Freedom ISO 2 which checks in at 24/20. Everun here is quite firm and responsive, more so than in the higher stack road trainer Triumph ISO 5 with less noticed bounce than Triumph and firmer at the heel than Freedom ISO 2. The characteristics of the foam and its resilience should make the midsole more long lasting than EVA but more testing will tell.

I ran on hard packed snow and roads in my pair. On snow the firmness and flexibility were ideal while on snow covered roads despite the firmness the grip was outstanding. On an indoor track it was a firm and rough experience at the heel yet at the forefoot the flexibility made for a lively almost race flat feel.  Of course, get on rockier terrain and the thin forefoot will be felt but as dancing shoes if you are quick on your feet, no longer me, they should provide lots of feel and agility.

My midsole bottom line is that there just isn’t enough of it. This midsole with 4 mm more at the heel and 2 mm more at the forefoot would extend the range and utility but..Everun is dense and heavy so weight would be added to the shoe.

Dom:   Consistent with the philosophy of the rest of the shoe, the sole stack is flexible and doesn’t contain any superfluous stiffening shanks.  Given the shoe’s low stack height and weight, the Switchback provides decent protection and has excellent trail feel. Off-road, the ride was really pleasurable -- although in rocky terrain I found myself being keenly aware of sharp points and wanting more protection.  If your trails are smooth and soft, you will love this shoe. On road, I found the ride distinctly harsh.

Canice:  The midsole of the shoe is so directly connected to the “Ride” that it’s hard to talk about the two separately. One of the challenges in a “minimal” shoe design can be getting the balance of freedom of movement and flexibility with the need for cushion and protection. One of the things I love about the Switchback is that Saucony achieves this balance. This is subjective so one may prefer a bit more one way or the other but in general, you’ll have plenty of ground feel and avoid the pain of pointy rocks ruining your day. The furthest run I took these on was 18 miles and my feet felt fine during and after the run.

Jeff:  I find the midsole to be relatively well protected and well cushioned for it’s stack height and it is lively and responsive.  As Canice mentions, Saucony achieves an impressive balance of ground feel and protection here. The Switchback ISO contours well over the terrain without feeling too thin or vulnerable, unless running on excessively rocky trails with sharp and pointed rocks, where I found myself having to take a bit of added caution to avoid the sharpest points.  Overall though, protection and cushion were much better than I expected for such a slim shoe.

Sam: The outsole is PWRTRAC tacky rubber. It is dual density with the green areas somewhat firmer. Almost of all of my running in them was on snow and snow covered roads and traction was superb with plenty of grip and never a sense of big lugs underfoot, just heel to toe secure grip.

Dom:  Like the rest of the shoe, the outsole of the Switchback is innovative, looks striking, and performs well.  The pattern of densely-spaced small lugs gave a smooth ride without pressure points, gripped well in all the conditions I was able to test.   The rubber was occasionally unexpectedly slippery: I once found myself landing on my backside after sliding off a wet railroad tie. It’s hard to say at this point whether any shoe would have gripped better.

Canice:  I really, really like the outsole of this shoe. I tend not to run deep lugged shoes unless needed as a personal preference so take this with a grain of salt but the outsoles gripped the Utah dirt and rocks perfectly. In a wetter climate I may look for deeper lugs but at full speed extending to wet rock in front of me I felt comfortable knowing I wouldn’t slip. Great grip and traction all round.

Jeff:  I am very impressed with the outsole of the Switchback ISO.  Though the low profile and multiple lugs provide great traction on smoother surfaces, both wet and dry, they surprised me a bit in the wet, snow, mud and slush.  Though on sloppy days I’ll gravitate toward a more deeply lugged shoe, there were times while running in the Swichback that I was sure I was going to skim across mud, frozen surfaces and packed snow, yet they held surprisingly well.  

Grip was also surprisingly good in loose, off trail conditions.  Though I was not slipping and sliding like I thought I may with such minimal lugs, there were times where I was wishing for a bit more bite, though I concede that the Switchback ISO is intended for more moderate terrain.  Either way, the lug shape/configuration is impressively effective for being so low profile.
One caveat however is that they do not shed mud well!

Canice: If you like a minimal shoe that has some good protection under foot then you’ll love these shoes. If you’re still rolling in a barefoot style shoe then this will likely be on the “built up” side, but the Switchback is a shoe you’ll definitely want to try on.

Dom:  There’s no doubt that this is a minimal shoe by most runners’ standards.  It doesn’t offer a lot of cushioning; the shoe is very flexible in both the sole and the upper. Materials are relatively lightweight, and the rock protection is limited. On foot, the shoe feels similar to the Nike Terra Kiger or the Under Armor Horizon BPF.   For most of us, I think this a good thing, but if you’re used to motion-control, or generally stiffer, reinforced shoes, the Switchback could be a nasty surprise. Personally, I really enjoyed the neutral ride, especially on smoother trails.  On-road, however, the Switchback felt harsh and unforgiving.
Jeff:  Definitely not a cushy casual ride, but for the size/weight/minimal nature of the shoe, it is an active and lively shoe, ideal for those looking for more trail feel without beating themselves up in a true minimal, unprotected shoe.
Sam: On snow truly an outstanding nimble ride. The flexibility and outsole grip has them climbing very well with great stability underfoot from the solid dense Everun. While I did not do crazy hard technical stuff in them, the roomy upper even with BOA well cinched felt a bit out matched. On the road and indoor track the firm heel was noticeable, really noticeable at slower paces, but as the pace picked up had me thinking solid race flat feel considerably more stable and secure than Freedom 2 and with a liviler forefoot feel for sure.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Dom:  The Switchback ISO feels futuristic, with the BOA system substituting for conventional laces, and innovative materials and construction throughout.  It is a lightweight, neutral, and flexible trail shoe that provides excellent ground feel and modest rock protection. That made it very much to my taste, but it may not please runners who want or are accustomed to more substance and structure in a shoe, or who run on rough trails.
The fit of the shoe is spacious throughout -- forefoot, mid foot, and heel -- so much so that I felt that the shoe felt much more secure after I slipped in a second thin footbed.  This also provided an extra little bit of rock protection that I felt the shoe lacked.
Dom's Score:  9.5/10  -- Overall, an innovative and excellent shoe.
Lacking in rock protection. 
Overall fit may be too roomy for some. 
Ride felt a little harsh on pavement.

Canice:  The Switchback is a great lightweight minimal shoe with a wide forefoot and lots of flexibility. The upper is breathable, durable and looks sharp. The BOA lace system is nice to have but not a “must” have.
Canice’s Score: Solid 8+
Given the quality of the build and the performance of this shoe at a $140 price point it’s a solid 8+ for me. If the upper we’re a little softer and/or the price a little lower I would bump the score up. All in all this is a great shoe.

Jeff:  The Switchback ISO is a surprise hit for me and I am most impressed by the fit, comfort, light feel and great traction on all but the most loose terrain.  The susceptibility to sharp rocks makes me take pause, especially given the almost exclusively rocky trails I run regularly, but once the trails melt out, I’ll for sure be reaching for the Switchback ISO more and more, particularly when I am running more moderate trails.  The Switchback ISO is quick, precise and nimble, stable and secure at any speed and is quite versatile.

I really appreciate the versatility in fit, as I can wear it all day to the office without feeling confined and leave the Boa laces loose or slightly snug and they slip on super easy for trips to the mailbox, taking out the trash, walking the dog or travelling and being efficient through security.  The fit will also accommodate a very wide range of feet with range the Boa laces help accommodate. As roomy as they feel for casual use, I have found that even with my slim foot and strong preference for a secure upper for steep technical terrain, the Switchback ISO snugs up quite well and I have had no security issues.
Jeff's Score:  9.8/10
-.1 for lack of rock protection
-.1 for price, though this price is reflected most likely because of the Boa system, which so far has performed quite well.

Sam: This intriguing shoe packed with innovative features really does update the minimal trail runners of old. Beautifully executed with a wonderful upper (missing a heel counter sorry Dom) and effective BOA for easy on and off and adjustments finally an ISOFit which works well for me.
This said except for short fast efforts it is not a heck of a lot of shoe for me on trail or firm ground due to its dense firm Everun and low heel stack.  On hard packed snow, snow covered slick roads, and grassy damp courses it is an ideal and super fun to run choice. 
Where Switchback really shines is in its overall utility is as a do anything lightweight super classy looking new option.  By do anything I really mean some running yes, but as an ideal travel and every day shoe where multiple activities are in the mix from dinner, to roads and trails, to even as Dom found out watery activities. It is likely going to be my “other shoe” on our 13 day trek across Switzerland in May.  Dare I say also about the best and most versatile "lifestyle running shoe yet?
Keep going Saucony! Now for a model with more overall stack (and slightly more  drop), a heel counter and a bit less volume, and I think it would be a homerun as utility, for the let’s not forget quite steep price of $140, would extended.
Sam’s Score: 9.4/10
-0.5 While the overall "around the edges of running" versatility is outstanding, and the low weight and agility admirable, the ride, especially at the heel is firm on hard ground. More stack and a touch more drop please.
-0.1 The BOA is effective but that great woven upper and well executed ISOFit could maybe be lower volume with a touch of stretch, and add a heel counter.

NB Summit Unknown (RTR Review)
Sam:  A close comparison. The Summit Unknown is narrower on the ground and more protective up front as it includes a rock plate. It’s upper is snug and more any trail ready if a bit narrow up front. It also has a 10mm drop vs 4mm in the Switchback and its extra of 6mm of heel stack at 27 mm,  even as Revlite is slightly firmer than Everun, is really appreciated not only on trail but road where it shined for me as a hybrid.
Jeff:  I find the Summit Unknown to be a bit more responsive, protective and overall better for more technical terrain, but the Summit Unknown gave even my narrow, low volume feet blisters which was a bummer, because otherwise the Unknown is a hit.  The Switchback, while not as protective, is still a performer and the fit is secure, yet still relaxed and can accomodate a much wider range of feet.
Salomon S/Lab Sense 7 SG (RTR review) And Sense Pro 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff:  The S/Lab Sense SG is lighter and even more agile and competent in more complicated and especially looser surfaces, but the Switchback is a bit more versatile overall and doubles as an everyday shoe that you can run in.  S/Lab is also a race only shoe, mostly due to its extreme minimal feel and durability concerns. Sense Pro 3 for me was tricky with a very narrow and tippy feel, even though it is much wider than the S/Lab Sense SG. If the shoe works for you, it has much better protection and traction than the Switchback, but the Switchback is much more stable.
Sam: I second Jeff’s comparisons. I will say I found the SG more protective overall, and slightly less harsh on firm terrain at the heel. Its wider spaced lugs clearly made it a better performer in mud. Sense Pro 3 I entirely agree with Jeff’s assessment.
Topo Runventure 2 (RTR Review)
Dom:  The Runventure 2 was another shoe that shares the Switchback’s characteristics of being light, flexible, low-to-the-ground, and low drop.  It also makes do without much of a heel counter. I felt that both shoes needed a little more underfoot protection. Hard to call a winner here.  RV2 perhaps a little more forgiving on road, but lacks wow factor of BOA.
Hoka Torrent (RTR Review)
Sam: The Torrent has more ample and softer heel and forefoot cushion and more aggressive traction. It’s upper is roughly equivalent in his front support and more supportive at the rear. The Torrent will go further for me.
Dom:  The Torrent, although far from a stiff shoe, is much stiffer than Switchback, which feels altogether more minimal.  The Torrent is more conventional in construction, and has more cushioning throughout, particularly in the heel. Torrent also has substantial (I think too high and stiff) heel counter vs none in Switchback.  Torrent is more suitable for longer runs, but doesn’t feel as nimble or provide such great trail feel as the Switchback.
Jeff:  As mentioned above, the Torrent has more tread, protection, cushion, but comparable agility.  I would pick the Torrent more often over the Switchback, but that is mostly because I run more rough terrain.
Altra Superior 4 (RTR Review)
Dom:  Both are lightweight and flexible, trending toward the minimal.  The Superior 4 is squishier underfoot, which is more to my liking than the firmer ride of Switchback.  YMMV. Grip is better in Switchback. Trail feel excellent in Switchback, but Superior 4 is outstanding in this respect.   Superior 4 secures midfoot better. Rock protection is a wash: Superior 4 has less without rock guard, more with it inserted.  
Canice:  The Superior wins on comfort and the Switchback wins for durability. I also give ground feel to the Switchback but they’re close
Under Armour UA Horizon BPF (RTR Review)
Dom:  Horizon BPF offers a snugger fit throughout, and more substantial (although still flexible) upper.  Horizon forefoot slightly narrower. Both have firm ride that can feel harsh on pavement. Horizon is 20 g (0.7 oz) heavier per shoe.
Sam: Concur 100% with Dom.
Saucony Peregrine ISO (RTR Review)
Canice: It’s hard not to compare this to the Peregrine as they’re clearly from the same family and you could find yourself choosing between the two. If shopping for shoes I would also try on the Altra Superior, Nike Kiger, and Topo Runventure.
Jeff:  Peregrine is much more substantial with more cushion and tread, but with that a bit of a weight and agility penalty.  
Nike Terra Kiger 3, 4  (RTR Review)
Dom: These have a similar feel to them.  Both lightweight and flexible trail shoes.  Both feel a little unforgiving on pavement, but come alive on the trails.  Switchback obviously has BOA lacing vs conventional in Kiger. Kiger last is a better match for my foot.   Kiger has more rock protection. I should also note that Kiger runs a little small, and I typically move up ½ US shoe size; Switchback runs a little large (high volume, certainly).
Canice:   The Switchback and Kiger are very close to each other on ground feel. The Kiger is a bit softer in the upper but the Switchback has a minimal feel the the original Kiger had.
Sam: I found the Kigers to be more cushioned at the heel than Switchback ISO, if firmly so. I find the Switchback to have less forefoot protection but better ground feel.  I found Kiger just about right in fit and security for dry mellow trail conditions but without adequate support in wet steep conditions as the upper seemed to stretch. While not quite as secure the Switchback upper did not stretch.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credits: Dom Layfield, Jeff Valliere, and Sam Winebaum
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Mac said...

Great review, gang!

I would be very interested to hear your comparisons to the OG Freedom - which I love - and the Freedom 2 - which I sold, lol - since all 3 have the full length Everrun outsole.


Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Mac,
While I don't have my Freedom ISO with me here in UT with Switchback you get a far more secure and effective upper, a firmer heel due to the lower stack (as mentioned), and for me a more agile forefoot as it is flexible but less cushioned than Freedom. Yes the lugs are somewhat more noticeable in their presence and grip than Freedom's outsole which I didn't care for in either version. If they added some stack to this exact shoe and especially to the heel to make it a 6mm drop it would be a mighty fine road runner / hybrid / trail runner for me.
Sam, Editor

Jeff Valliere said...


Greg S said...

Tried these, had to return as i wanted these to be my go to trail shoe coming from Altra Superior 4.0 . Some items mentioned, but worth bringing up

1. Boa is one directional, they make two directional versions (my bike shoes) and ones with squarer tabs for much easier on the fly adjustment, Pure cost cutting

2. Forefoot cushion ends much sooner towards toe than Freedom ISO (1/2), meaning if you toe off like crazy there is little cushion that far up and it will feel weird. I got blisters on these as a result

3. It is far roomier than the road Freedom ISO versions even with thick socks. The road versions lock down better, while this is a touch too roomy. Still true to size as the road versions and other Altra's/Saucony's/Nikes

4. Forget any technical trails, the rocks will blast your feet to death esp around ball of foot. Mine were throbbing after hitting some rock gardens. Prob a great grass, mild trail, snow shoe as mentioned

5. Given the plasticy feel, they crease a little so you have to break them in to make them fit better. Still think fabric is better

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Greg,
Thanks for your valuable insights. Tend to agree with most all but not the upper comparison to Freedom. Yes while roomier mainly I think to non stretch in last mix Switchback has a far superior upper for me especially with BOA in the mix. I found Freedom toe box quite cramped and heel hold stability pretty awful I tend to be a heel striker so that may explain differences between us.
Sam, Editor

Greg S said...

I will say the traction was pretty amazing on this shoe. So wanted to like this esp with the even lacing boa.

Telemarker said...


Did you try adding an extra footbed to your Switchbacks? I found adding a thin one helped enormously in taking up the excess room in the shoe. As a serendipitous side-effect, it also improved the rock protection slightly. For me, this tweak transformed a flawed shoe into an excellent one.

In this case, I used Superfeet Carbon insoles, but if you're anything like me, you'll keep a pile of old footbeds of different thicknesses and materials that can be used to fine-tune shoe fit. I have a pair from Inov-8 that are very thick, and I use these to substitute for original footbeds to give a shoe more cushioning. Another reason is that the footbeds that come with some shoes are made of a foam that compacts over time (older Topo footbeds were particularly poor in this regard): I often switch these out for footbeds made from the blue Ortholite-type foam that I have found to be more resilient.

You could also try the StoneGuard inserts from your Superiors.

If you tinker with Switchback fit, let us know if anything works for you.

Harkawal said...

Hi , I own the Salomon sense ride and after 4-5 miles , the liitle pinky toe starts rubbing.
How does the forefoot width compares ?

Sam Winebaum said...

Sorry to hear about that. Which version of Sense Ride? With version 1 I could well see that happening. With version 2 (review at link below) less so as toe box bumper overlays are now less rigid and upper softer and more pliable.. I think you might find the toe box more accommodating in Switchback but caution that as it is flexible, as is Sense Ride, up front there pressures might still occur.
Sam, Editor
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Unknown said...

Awesome Review! Just found your site! I appreciate that you spoke to the shoe's water performance. I've been looking for a trail runner that can serve as my paddling/wet hiking shoe. I think this may be worth trying!

Rocky L

Rocky L said...

Do you have recommendations for other trail runners with good water/drainage performance like the Switchback? I'm happy with my regular trail runners, but need something that drains and dries really well for paddling excursions.

Thanks for your thoughts,

Rocky L

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Rocky, I don't paddle but think Switchback would be a fine option. The engineered mesh upper is thin although it does not have any overt drainage features. Salomon makes a "water runner" the S/Lab XA Amphib

Ben said...

Dom, sounds like your impression of the shoe is pretty much identical to mine, including your observation on the shoe being too spacious (hence your use of a second footbed). Couple of questions on that front:
1) Just to clarify, you added the second footbed without removing the original?
2) How do you choose a footbed? I am a neutral runner who runs mostly in 4mm drop shoes (I've run Kinvaras since Kinvara 1). I don't want any added drop from the footbed (seems that many/most have a built in drop?), nor do I want any added support. I just want something that adds a bit of rock protection and customizes the fit a bit as you mentioned.