Friday, August 30, 2019

Salomon X Alpine Pro Review

Article by Jeff Valliere and Sam Winebaum


Introduction
Jeff:  The Salomon XA Elevate was my favorite shoe of 2017, as I find it to be ideal for the majority of my bread and butter runs, 1-2 hours, straight uphill, then straight back down, always technical, often loose and sometimes off trail, or even better, a day of rock hopping talus above treeline in Colorado.  I appreciated that the XA Elevate has an amazingly dialed, secure, yet comfortable fit, stable, protective, low center of gravity and amazing traction. I feel ultra confident when wearing them. When I first saw the XA Alpine Pro at Winter Outdoor Retailer, it was clear that it had much in common with the XA Elevate, but even more refined for rough mountain use.  The outsole is improved with a nice firm, sticky rubber section under the forefoot for edging on steep rock scrambles, a beefed up front toe bumper and protective overlays to guard from rubbing and abrasion, particularly around the medial instep.


Sam: I was with Jeff in having the XA Elevate as my favorite trail shoe of 2017 for its great combination of protection, support, traction, and surprising response on smooth, firmer flatter terrain.  When I first saw pictures and descriptions of the X Alpine I thought it might be closer to an approach shoe than a trail runner. I could see right away that the upper would likely be roomier and at the same time secure. Salomon shoes always has very secure uppers but often a snugger narrower toe box but here I could see a combination of very secure rear and mid foot and somewhat more rounded toe box with softer overlays behind the front toe bumper could make this a very comfortable shoe.
Pros
Jeff/Sam:  Protection, traction, fit, stability, predictability, foothold, low center of gravity, flexibility
Sam: 
An absolutely amazing upper which combines total security with comfort front to back. The medial mid foot panels are brilliant.
Finally a more flexible Salomon trail shoe.


Cons
Jeff:  Response, very firm ride at speed on hard surfaces
Sam: While I understand the purpose of the front climbing zone solid rubber, I felt it was somewhat in the way on smoother terrain, a bit front heavy. I also missed a touch of ProFeel film protection behind the totally protective climbing zone. 
Stats
Estimated Weight: 10.9 oz / 309 g (men's US 9)
Sample Weight: 10.6 oz /300 g (men's US 8.5), 11.4 oz/322 g (men’s US 10)
Stack Height: 24mm heel / 18 mm forefoot, 6 mm drop
$160. Available now.
Watch our Initial Video Review


Tester Profiles

Jeff  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 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.

First Impressions and Fit
A Sam: The X Alpine is a very cool looking shoe with its contrasting Halloween colors medial and lateral sides. 
The fit is true to size with a secure fit at all times and plenty of toe box room. I was a half size up in the XA Elevate with its stiffer front overlays and here at my true to size I am more comfortable.


Jeff:  The XA Alpine Pro with contrasting orange and black upper looks very sharp.  The shoes feel a bit on the heavy side, however once on my feet, feel lighter than the weight would suggest.  The toe box has somewhat low overhead, but I never found it to be an issue, nor do I even notice while running.  The toe box is a bit more generous than many Salomons, however is not so wide that it compromises foothold and security.  Overall fit/length is true to size and consistent with the Salomon line of shoes.


Upper
Jeff:  The upper consists of a little bit of fine mesh and the rest is mostly just one big welded overlay with areas of protective cladding to ward off rock kicks, bumps, slides and scrapes. 
Add to that, the XA Alpine Pro also features the ultra comfortable and secure Endofit inner sleeve construction, Sensifit security and a protective mud guard to protect from water, mud, snow and for increased durability.
The wrap around toe bumper is quite protective and substantial, with plenty of outsole extending far over the front of the shoe for added protection and grip when scrambling.
The upper, midsole and outsole mesh seamlessly, creating a very purpose driven tool for mountain terrain and off trail abuse.
The heel counter is rigid, secure and protective, without sacrificing performance or comfort.
The heel collar is well padded and firm.  I find the heel hold and comfort to be exceptional here.  Of course, like the majority of Salomons, there is a nice clever lace garage to store the quicklace pull tab/mechanism.  I think I have said it enough times that I take it for granted, but Salomon really nails the quicklace application (is actually, in my opinion, the only one to pull it off), providing fast and secure lacing, with no lace bite.
The tongue is moderately padded, providing enough protection from the laces and is at an ideal height.  In the photo above, you have a clear look at the Endofit sleeve, which adds an increased level of comfort and security.
On the medial side of the shoe above the arch are more layers of protective cladding for warding off rock hits and scuffs when working through talus, rock gardens and scrambling.  
Though I rarely bump in this area, it still happens and I am thankful to have the added protection.
Sam: Jeff has covered the upper very well. I was particularly impressed with the total mid foot to rear security. I attribute this to the the two stage heel and achilles collar padding (photo below) and to the use of the supportive and protective medial cladding. Never once did I feel that the upper wasn’t up to the task at hand or started to give when the underfoot platform was pushed or at sharp angles. And at the same time I never felt the upper was a constrictive straight jacket at mid foot or squeezed my toes to perform. 


Midsole
Jeff:  The Energy Cell midsole, while on the firm side and only moderately responsive, is ideally suited for this application, providing maximum protection and stability on rocky, uneven and unpredictable footing, the XA Alpine Pro is always predictable and stable.  While not plush in feel, I find this midsole to be supportive and comfortable over the course of multiple hours and only feel slightly limited when running downhill at my fastest speeds on very hard pack, such as pavement, concrete or impenetrable dirt. The ride at higher speeds on hard surfaces can feel a bit harsh, but not overly so and I am not concerned, as that is not necessarily what this shoe is built to excel at.


Sam: The Energy Cell midsole with Advanced Chassis is quite dense in feel to provide that stability on technical terrain as Jeff says above and to provide under foot protection as, unlike most Salomon trail shoes, there is no ProFeel protective forefoot film here. The result of no ProFeel and the pliable behind the toe bumper front overlays delivers, as far as I can recall, a more easy flexing Salomon trail shoe except maybe the Sense Ride 2 where the flex is further forward. The resulting ride is quite firm, firmer than the softer midsole XA Elevate but not nearly as harsh up front as the lower profile far stiffer Sense Pro 3. Definitely not plush or with the response of the XA Elevate, I found them decent in cushion on harder surfaces even occasional pavement.  This said the cushion, response, midsole protection balance here is designed for technical mountain terrain where it is outstanding. 
A 13 mile hike on almost 100% rock of all sizes, shapes, and angles in the White Mountains of New Hampshire had me secure and comfortable underfoot at all times. I do sense a bit of thinness of protection on pointy rocks hits between the lugs  behind the climbing zone rubber up front due to absence of the ProFilm protection but will easily trade that for their climbing ability and their flexibility and agility on rock and loose terrain.


Taken on my usual test loop of forest trails with all kinds of terrain from hard pack dirt, to rooty rocky single track, to some pavement, the midsole was more than adequate in cushion and protection. I found enough dense response on firm smoother terrain even pavement but did sense the climbing zone’s extensive very front rubber as well as a touch of far forward weighting given all the rubber very slightly getting in the way of fast toe offs on the smoother terrain.  


Outsole
Jeff:  Another highlight for me, the outsole of the X Alpine Pro is one of the best, if not the best I have used for a multitude of on and off trail applications.  The Contagrip TA compound is very grippy on all surfaces and adheres exceptionally well on wet or dry rock, slabs and the aggressive (but not overly so) lugs dig into loose dirt, mud and any off trail scruff you may get into.  Though the lugs are pronounced and aggressively shaped, they do not feel obtrusive on hard surfaces such as rocks, hard pack or pavement. A nice addition to the X Alpine Pro is the climbing zone, an area in the forefoot modeled after climbing/approach shoes to provide maximum grip for smearing and edging.  For protection, Salomon has included their Advanced Chassis in the midsole to add a high level of protection without sacrificing stability, motion control or (much) response. While initial catalogs indicated a Carbon Edging Chassis, Salomon confirmed to us that there is no carbon chassis in the X with the midsole’s Advanced Chassis providing the stability on edge. Additionally, I am finding durability to be exceptional, with very little (if any) wear after 30 or so very rough miles.


Aggressive multi-directional lugs abound, however they essentially go unnoticed while running, until you need them.
The climbing zone in the forefoot of the shoe is amazing and I really appreciated this feature while being stormed on as I was scrambling exposed, down sloping, 3rd class slabs on Longs Peak.
Looking up at the Loft between Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.  The X Alpine Pro was the ideal choice for this rocky and rough terrain, where I encountered a long trail approach, lots of steep scree/talus and rock hopping, then precarious, exposed class 3 ledges, allfurther complicated by rain and hail.  I felt confident, stable and protected with each footstep.
Sam: Grip has been outstanding on all terrain. With the minor exception of the climbing zone very slightly “in the way” on flatter, hard surfaces terrain at faster paces, the relatively large lug surfaces are not really noticed, don’t catch, and of course provide lots of sticky grip on steep angled rocks and slabs. 


Ride

Jeff:  For faster running on moderate to easy trails, the XA Alpine Pro can feel a touch on the firm side, though not uncomfortably or prohibitively so, but would simply not be my first pick for casual use or up tempo speedy runs.  On it’s intended terrain however, that firm ride is a huge advantage, lending itself to supreme stability and control.


Sam: The primary purpose here is high steep mountain terrain and the ride there is outstanding in its agility, stablity, and protection. This said the ride on smoother terrain, not the focus here, while on the dense and firm side is, as on the steeps, super stable and protective top to bottom. I was surprised to set a Strava segment PR on a very twisty only moderately rocky and rooty section of essentially flat terrain in them. 

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff:  The X Alpine Pro was at the top of my most anticipated new shoe list for 2019 and it did not disappoint. Building upon the greatness of the XA Elevate, the XA Alpine Pro adds upper protection, a slightly wider toe box with no sacrifice in security/control an improved outsole for greater versatility in mountain terrain and increased forefoot flexibility while maintaining excellent protection under foot.


Though the X Alpine Pro is not feathery light or notably responsive, I do find them to feel reasonably light on the foot and are a very fast and lively shoe when pushing hard in rough terrain, especially off trail where the surfaces are loose, when rock hopping, traversing/climbing/descending slabs, sidehilling, etc….  Stability, security, traction and predictability are the areas where the X Alpine Pro excels most, then add in all day comfort, protection, quality, durability and you have a winning combination.


Jeff’s Score:9.6 /10
Ride: 9 (30%) Fit: 9.9 (30%) Value: 9.5 (10%)  Style 9.5 (5%) Traction: 10 (15%) Rock Protection: 10 (10%)
My only minor knock on the XA Alpine Pro would be the firm midsole, which under most circumstances, when on the terrain where this shoe excels goes unnoticed, I think it still could be softened just slightly to add a bit of comdfort and versatility.
Smiling as this is the only rock free stretch on the Crawford Path in New Hampshire.
Sam:  While the X Alpine is focused on the steep and rough side of trail running it is not an approach shoe, climbing shoe, or hiker. It is an agile, totally secure and protective trail runner top to bottom with the key climbing features the front climbing zone rubber and the stout front bumper. It differs from climbing focused shoes, and even many Salomon, in having a surprisingly comfortable upper and roomier toe box yet at the same time an upper package that is at the same time one of the most secure uppers I have ever run with total hold to the platform. Credit here to the upper design with its medial side support overlays, a great heel and achilles hold and behind that stout climbing zone rubber and wrap up front bumper and rounded comfortable toe box with pliable overlays. Also quite unique for Salomon it has no ProFilm so it is quite flexible up front while elsewhere torsionally rigid as it should be. While the midsole is quite dense and firm, it is not overly harsh. While softer as Jeff says might be welcome I would worry about the stability on the intended primary terrain. 


While seemingly somewhat “specialized” to the most technical terrain X Alpine is in fact quite versatile, with of course that lean towards the technical. It is also a great fast hiking shoe. It runs easier stuff just fine and I really appreciated the flexibility, upper comfort, and confidence inspiring ride at any speed and on any terrain. What might I suggest as changes? I wonder if a somewhat lower profile outsole might reduce weight overall and that slight sense the climbing zone rubber up front is in the way and the toe off area front weighted, especially on smoother, flatter terrain. 
Sam’s Score: 9.3 / 10
Ride: 9 (30%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 9 (10%)  Style 10 (5%) Traction: 9 (15%) Rock Protection: 8.5 (10%)

Comparisons
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Salomon XA Elevate (RTR Review)  
Jeff: The XA Elevate has a slightly more narrow fit, particularly in the forefoot, but both shoes provide a very secure and dialed in fit.  Rock protection is about the same, though the XA Alpine Pro is not as stiff as the Elevate in the forefoot. Traction is quite comparable, however the Alpine Pro with climbing zone is superior on rock slab/scrambling, where the Elevate has the slight edge in loose stuff given slightly more lugs in the forefoot where the smoother climbing zone resides in the Alpine Pro.
Sam: The XA Elevate is somewhat lighter, stiffer, and has more of a rocker profile. As such it is faster and smoother on easier terrain and road. It does not climb as smoothly and easily as X Alpine. Its rock protection is slightly superior just behind the toes and its cushion slightly softer. I was size US 9 in Elevate, US8.5 in X Alpine with a more comfortable front fit. The X Alpine upper is clearly more comfortable, more spacious up front and yet more secure for me. 


La Sportiva Bushido 2  (RTR Review)
Jeff: Probably the closest competitor/comparison of any shoe.  Both shoes provide confidence inspiring locked in fit, stability, improbable traction on slabs, wet rock and just about anything else, with great outsole durability and versatility.  Both are quite protective. I would say the Bushido 2 has an edge in cushioning, feeling a bit more plush/comfortable when running faster on hard surfaces and is slightly more protective under the forefoot.  The X Alpine Pro has a slightly wider forefoot.
Sam: I would agree with Jeff that the Bushido is slightly more plush underfoot and that the X Alpine has a wider forefoot. The Bushido upper is denser and snugger in feel overall. I would say that as the foot is able to move and adapt to terrain more easily without ever losing its interface to the underfoot that the X Alpine overall is not only more secure but more agile.   


Tecnica Origin LT and XT (RTR Review)    
Jeff: The Origin LT has a superior fit due to the custom molding process and is a lighter, more lively shoe, with slightly better underfoot protection and more forgiving cushion.  Both have exceptional grip and all mountain versatility/capability, yet the XA Alpine Pro has a more protective and rugged upper and a more aggressive tread for better traction in loose terrain.  Though the Origin has a better, custom molded fit, the XA Alpine Pro has a more locked in midfoot and a slightly wider toe box.(Size 9.5 in Origin vs. 10 in X Alpine Pro)


Sam: I tested the slightly higher stack, more overlay reinforced XT. The custom molding of the rear of the XT leads to a more precise not as bulky feeling heel area fit whereas the X Alpine relies on padding to achieve the fit there. I prefer the heel fit feel of the XT. Further forward the X Alpine foot hold is not only slightly roomier all the way to the toe box but also somewhat more secure. I was size 8 in Origin vs. 8.5 in X Alpine Pro.


Underfoot, the XT has a more comfortable ride with more cushion, if also dense but not quite as dense or firm as X Alpine’s with slightly more bounce, decent flexibility and more rock protection as it has a flexible front plate along with a small diagonal plastic stability element at mid foot.  The insole with its flexible custom rear plastic plate and front molded EVA provides a more continuous feel of foot to platform but is not quite as very rough terrain adaptive as X Alpine. The lower profile Vibram MegaGrip outsole is more versatile with plenty of any terrain grip but does not have quite the super technical capabilities of the X's. Overall, while also a mountain run focused shoe, Origin XT which weighs the same as the X Alpine, is somewhat more versatile as I would run it further and on more varied terrain. 
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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9 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following.

Anonymous said...

I was really hoping for a cheaper gaiter-less XA alpine but without the carbon chassis it doesn't look so good anymore. In my opinion Salomon messed up the development, the marketing or both. Even the name XA or just X, the carbon chassis would have given superior rock protection and maybe afforded a more forgiving midsole.

Jeff J said...

Hey guys want to give a shot comparing this shoe to the Ultra Pro? XA Elevate is to narrow and both the Ultra Pro and X Alpine seem more accommodating in the toe box. TA Contrgrip on the X Alpine and MA on the Ultra Pro. Salomon is so confusing. I believe the Ultra Pro has higher stack/more cushion but actually could have less protection??
Please just spell it out since you all have tested the Ultra Pro also.

Thanks,
Jeff in MA

Jeff Valliere said...

Jeff J, both have excellent traction on most usual terrain, but X Alpine Pro is superior the more extreme and rocky the terrain becomes. X Alpine Pro has less cushion and is also more firm. The X Alpine Pro has a wider fit than many Salomons and is perhaps similar to Ultra Pro (more accommodating also), but the upper materials of the Ultra Pro are more pliable and forgiving, where the X Alpine Pro is more durable and secure.

Basically, for general trail cruising and longer distances, then Ultra Pro. For shorter distances, rough, rocky, rooty trails, wet surfaces, off trail, scrambling and high alpine environments, then X Alpine Pro.

Em said...

The whole "true to size" thing is starting to become a misnomer. I would rather you guys compare the sizing to other shoes from the same brand.

Since Salomon switched from China to Vietnam their sizing has been "off", all of their shoes seem to be a half size larger. Do these fit like the Predict RA (half size down from usual Salomon Chinese last sizing) or more like the old S-Lab Ultras made in China? Are these X Alps made in Vietnam? If so, I'm betting they run large for Salomon.

Or, a better way of talking about sizes could be to have the actual foot length or Brannock device size of the reviewers. Some of us can't try on these shoes at a local store because they don't carry them and we'd like to not have to order 2-3 pairs to nail sizing. Just a thought...

Jeff Valliere said...

Sorry for the confusion Em. Personally speaking, when I say "true to size", I guess I am using that loosely to mean that if I wear size 10 in 95% of all shoes, the fit of x shoe being reviewed is consistent with all of those other shoes, no matter the brand. If there are variances within a brand, then I try to address that as well (and also factor in sock thickness when necessary or variances for Winter shoes and waterproof uppers). To confuse things even further, I have had different pairs of shoes from the same brand, same model, but different manufacturing run fit different and have also had different measurements on different measuring devices, anywhere from 9 3/4 to 10.5! Figure that one out.... :)

Thanks again for reading and the constructive feedback.

Em said...

Jeff, no worries.

The shoe sizing/fit game seems to get more and more confusing daily. I measure 12.5 (AA) on Brannock and wear anywhere from an 11.5 in chuck taylors to 13 in Salomon and Hoka Speed Goats.

If these are made in Vietnam I bet they run 1/2 size larger than the Chinese Salomons.

Unknown said...

Hi
What are the black and red Salomon socks?
Thanks
Alex

Tobit said...

hey Jeff & Sam.
I have a question around the maximum distance in this shoe - I have a 100 miler next June (I know, I'm planning ahead, its the UTS100 https://apexrunning.co/events/utsrace#description if you want to check it out), and its a combination of technical ridge running, grade 1 scrambling, and forest paths and trails. I'm already trying to figure out what shoes, with the Speedgoat Evo a front runner, but there is something about the X Alpine Pro that would serve parts of this course really well, so I'm curious on your views for it on longer distances. As an aside, Ive run 30 miles of in the the XA Elevate, and they were great on the technical stuff, but I did with for a bit more cushion on the easier paths and tracks. Also, any other shoe suggestions to be gratefully received!