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  trailrunning > gear reviews > Salomon S-Lab XT6 Trailrunning Shoes
 
XT6 intro image   SALOMON S-LAB XT6 TRAILRUNNING SHOES
Review date:   01.11.2013
Cost (HK$):   HK$1,500
Product code:   354563
Product type:   trailrunning shoes

 

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INTRODUCTION
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XT6 bench
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Fig. 1: The S-Lab XT6 out on the trails.

The first Salomon S-Lab XT Wings were released in 2008 and were immediately embraced as a classic trailrunning shoe. These shoes offered really great foot protection and cushioning. At the same time they offered a really fun, responsive run. Subsequent editions of this shoe have merely confirmed it as a favourite of trailrunners worldwide.

The ‘Wings’  has now gone, but the S-Lab XT shoes themselves are still going strong and are now in their 6th edition. These are not a lightweight or minimal shoe. My S-Lab XT6 size UK10.5 weigh in at 363g each (726g for the pair). They are well protected, well cushioned and have a heel to toe drop of 10.5mm. They are perfectly designed for long training runs or long races. But as well as this, they are also pretty nifty on shorter runs. Especially rugged, technical trails where you want to attack the trail aggressively and know that your foot will be safe, secure and happy throughout.

I have been putting a pair of Salomon S-Lab XT6 shoes through their paces for about a month now. Here is my review.

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STRUCTURAL DESIGN

A glance at the Salomon website reveals a bombardment of slickly named technologies which have been implemented in the construction of the S-Lab XT6. I have tried to get a more tangible grasp on what this all means.

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XT6 lateral
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Fig. 2: The S-Lab XT6 in lateral view.
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XT6 medial
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Fig. 3: The S-Lab XT6 in medial view.
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The upper is made of a durable mesh which is seam free. This upper is breathable (not waterproof) and very tough. I have put S-Lab XT shoes through some seriously tough trails throughout the years and have never ripped the upper of an S-Lab XT shoe (I have ripped the upper on both S-Lab Sense and S-Lab Sense Ultra by comparison).

Welded to the upper is Salomon's Sensifit system. This has been designed to hold your foot in place without creating hotspots or pressure points. The Sensifit system consists of specifically shaped, TPU overlays which are welded to the mesh upper. They are very flat and essentially become part of the upper itself. TPU stands for thermoplastic polyurethane and is a type of plastic which has high strength and also elasticity. These TPU overlays cradle the foot at appropriate places along the sides and front and back and are ultimately attached to the lace hole attachments. When the laces are tightened the TPU structure encloses your foot and holds it securely in place, akin to a venus fly trap closing in on its prey.

The laces are tightened using Salomon's Quicklace system. Basically you draw the thin, strong laces through a plastic dongle to tighten or loosen them. Once you have your desired fit, the dongle and superflous amount of lace are tucked away in a lace pocket found in the tongue of the shoe.

It is worth noting that even though the upper is seamless it is not totally without bumps. The lace hole attachments, which are part of the Sensifit system, are stitched onto the upper of the shoe. The body of these lace attachments is quite a hard, rugged material - and this results in hardish bumps on the inside of the shoe which are definitely noticeable when you run your fingers along the inside. I will be referring back to this point in the IN USE section.

There is a reassuringly strong protective TPU toe cap at the front of the shoe. No messing around with this - you know this will protect you from some hard collisions on the trails. In my mind this is exactly how a toe cap should be.

Inside the shoe, your foot rests on an Ortholite insole. This is a low, foam insole which facilitates air flow and moisture wicking and also inhibits odor and fungus. Attached to the Ortholite insole, extending from the middle to the heel there is an EVA heel cup which helps to hold the foot in place whilst running. EVA stands for ethylene vinyl acetate. This polymer is also known as foam rubber and it offers excellent cushioning and also support.

The rest of your foot is surrounded by Salomon's Endofit system. This is an internal sleeve which surrounds the foot and is meant to give the shoe a sock-like quality. The tongue of the shoe is also flatter and more flush with the foot than on the previous S-Lab XT5 shoe. Endofit technology enables the shoe to be worn with bare feet, although personally I would never run in the S-Lab XT6 without socks. As far as I can tell, the addition of Endofit technology is the only difference betweent the S-Lab XT5 and XT6 shoes.

Burying down beneath the Ortholite insole we reach the midsole. Initially there is a very thin EVA layer which is sewn into the shoe. This just separates the midsole from the interior and makes sure we can't play around with it. Seems sensible to me.

We now encounter the Agile Chassis System. This is a springy plastic skeleton which runs the length of the shoe and has protrusions at various points. It is placed between the insole and the AC Muscle 2 layer of EVA. The idea of this is to protect the foot, hold it in place and to maintain a good running form even when you are tired. I think it is also designed to harness the energy in your stride, through its springiness, and to give you more oooooomph on the trail (yes, that is a technical term!).

Below the Agile Chassis System and above the outsole is the layer of AC Muscle 2. This is an EVA foam which is light and cushioned and reputedly has twice the durability of an average EVA foam. This is responsible for soaking up much of the roughness of the trails and delivering a smooth ride to your feet.

At the middle of the medial side of the midsole is the Pronation Control post. This is basically an area of EVA which is firmer and less bouncy than the AC Muscle 2 EVA (mentioned above) within which it is contained. The idea behind this is that is prevents pronation (the weight of the foot leaning towards the inside edge of the sole). This is particularly useful when you are fatigued and trying to maintain a good running form.

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XT6 outer
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Fig. 4: The S-Lab XT6 outer sole.
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The outsole is made of Contagrip HT. This is a combination of more than 20 ingredients designed to create the right balance between grip and durability. The lugs on the shoe are shaped like a bird flying overhead with outstretched wings. They are designed to shed mud and dirt by placing and orienting them at specific places and angles on the shoe.

The overall height of the midsole goes from 20mm at the heel to 9.5mm at the toe, giving a 10.5mm elevation drop. It is worth noting that overall the midsole and outsole are quite wide, with a flared heel. Thiswill to give a more comfortable ride and also more security on the trails although is not necessarily conducive to speed.

It is also worth pointing out that the shoe is very solidly and well constructed. All materials used seem to be strong and well manufactured.

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VISUAL DESIGN
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XT6 train
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Fig. 5: Waiting patiently to run.

The Salomon S-Lab XT shoes have long enjoyed a striking and colourful design. The first ever S-Lab XT Wings were bright red with some silver diagonal stripes on them and the subsequent generations have progressed from there taking in the tiger-like markings of the S-Lab XT4 and the bright red, once again, of the XT5.

The S-Lab XT6 have no real dominant colour. The upper is red at the top, interspersed with white stripes and then a black at the base of the upper, also interspersed with white stripes. The soles are red and black and white. Personally, I do not like the visual design of the XT6. For me, it lacks cohesion. It is gaudy and generic. As mentioned, many of the S-Lab XT shoes have been brightly coloured. But previous generations managed to integrate cohesion into this design - as if they were shoes with a plan. The XT6 lacks this cohesion. It is like a Lambourghini that someone has painted bright pink. Shouting loudly and desperately for attention. There is no subtlety there. By comparison, I found the previous generation XT5 to have a much clearer design concept (see Fig. 6). Yes, it was a bright red shoe and very noticeable, but it also had some subtlety in its well thought out red and black colour scheme, with the way the black Sensifit blended well with the red of the upper it was attached to.

Branding

Personally, I believe a product should speak for itself. I have no desire to buy a product simply because of the brand that manufactures it. I do not want to buy something to show off. I want something that is well designed, functional, and useful. A well made, premium product advertises itself without the need for blatant, distasteful branding.

There seems to be an obsession in the modern world with companies shouting their own name louder and louder and plastering their products with their own company logo. But I feel differently. I think a beautiful product is just that. A beautiful product has no need for a demonstrative logo or brand name plastered all over it. And as a general rule, I think it is fair to say that many trailrunners would prefer to eschew commercialism and marketing in favour of a great product. Please note - I am not trying to imply that this means all products need to be bland and refined. Bright colours, aggressive markings - bring 'em on. I just don't need a huge 'SALOMON' plastered all over everything.

And unfortunately that seems to be what is happening. Each successive generation of the S-LAb XT shoe seems to have more and more overt branding. The marketing department are clearly exerting their influence on the designers, who I can only assume, from a purely aesthetic point of view would prefer less branding. So why? Why should I pay HK$1,500 for a premium trailrunning shoe and then have to put up with the comapany name all over it lending a cheap and distasteful look to an expensive product. Why? I am not advertising your shoe Salomon. I want to wear it and use it and ideally I would like it to be aesthetically pleasing to me - your customer. And if it is a good product and well designed then others will notice and ask me what it is and I will tell them who manufactures it.

The S-Lab XT6 shoe has 'Salomon' and 'S-Lab' in bright 1cm high white lettering on a black background on either side of the heel. It has a white 'LAB' on the front right of the shoe, a 'Salomon RACING PRODUCT' on the tongue and an 'S' once again on the tongue. It has a 'sensiFIT + endoFIT' on the Sensifit on the medial side of the shoe and an 'ACS' and a 'CC2 Muscle' on the lateral midsole. And really, there are not many shoe manufacturers that are this blatant about advertising their own product on their own product. I don't particularly like the overall design of the S-Lab XT6 compared to previous generations of the S-Lab XT shoes and all this blatant branding / marketing / commercial pandering to the masses just leaves me cold. Yuck.

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XT6 design
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Fig. 6: The XT6, XT5 and Speedcross 3 shoes on the left. The shoe with branding removed on the right. Which do you prefer?

PS. On a quick diversion. For me the black Speedcross 3 is one of the most beautiful shoes Salomon has ever designed, but they have utterly ruined the integrity of the design with a grotesque 1cm high silver 'SALOMON', a 'Light Weight Muscle' sign and also an 'M&S Contagrip' sign all on the lateral side of the shoe. (The 'Speedcross 3' on the medial side of the shoe is actually quite restrained). Why is this necessary or even acceptable? I am not a Salomon advert and I don't want to look like a walking Salomon brand victim. I just want to use and enjoy your product and if possible, I want the product to look amazing too. By paying quite a high price for said product I feel I should be absolved of having to advertise it.

Fig. 6 shows the S-Lab XT6, XT5 and the Speedcross 3 shoes as they currently look on the left hand side of the photo. On the right hand side are the same shoes with the Salomon branding removed. Which do you prefer? I think as paying customers, we deserve to have a say in this. No more branding!!

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IN USE
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XT6 flying
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Fig. 7: S-Lab XT6 flying on the trails.

Before starting this section I should point out that I have a foot of normal width with a high arch. I run with a neutral stride and generally a midfoot strike. I have based these comments on running with the S-Lab XT6 shoes for about 5 weeks.

You need to squeeze your foot into the shoe slightly, as the Quicklaces, Endofit and Sensifit create a snug opening. Once on, your foot feels comfortable and secure. There is a reassuring solidity about the feel of the S-Lab XT6. Like a pair of velvet handcuffs they lock your foot into place gently and yet, you know your foot will stay put. As you tighten the laces, the Sensifit system wraps itself around your foot evenly and comfortably and gives a brilliant, secure fit. It really does hold the entire length of your foot in place brilliantly and comfortably. There are no noticeable hotspots or pressure points. The Quicklace system is amazingly easy and intuitive to use. Tighten them using the dongle and then tuck them away in the lace pocket hidden in the tongue of the shoe. Done.

On the Trails

The mesh upper / Sensifit combination and toe box protect your upper foot well. Brambles, rocks and stray branches all slide off the mesh upper leaving no impression. Small stones and mud and gravel struggle to find a way into the shoe and the toe box is a reliable companion at the moments when you miss or mistime your stride and thud into an opportunistic rock or branch etc..... This shoe feels like a protective friend.

The XT6 is quite a heavy shoe. But it does not feel heavy when you are running with it. All parts of the shoe's structure seem to have some form of useful function and the whole shoe integrates beautifully into the running experience. The Agile Chassis System gives a great rigidity and whippy bounciness to the shoe and really does help to maintain a good running form. This may be partly due to the fact that the skeleton of the Agile Chassis System extends to the sides of the slightly flared heel. The AC Muscle 2 EVA absorbes the undulations of the trail well and gives a really fun ride - not too hard, not too soft. The combination of midsole and outersole protect your feet from hard bumps and undulations on the trail really, really well. The ride feels painless and comfortable.

The XT6 are a well cushioned shoe but they do not alienate you from the trail. In fact, on my own trailrunning I think they have the opposite effect. They are so secure and protective that they give you the confidence to run naturally in scenarios where otherwise maybe you wouldn't. Take as an example a sustained, technical, rocky slope that is not too steep and can potentially be run fast. In a lesser trail shoe I never really fully extend my stride on these slopes. There is always a slight sense of apprehension about sharp rocks and bumps underfoot and so I inhibit my natural stride, take shorter steps, land slightly more on my heel, never absolutely fly. With the XT6 you soon realise that on slopes such as this you have the freedom to run naturally. Attacking the slope and giving your foot its full range of natural motion. Taking longer strides and landing on the mid / forefoot. The XT6 shoes free you up to run with abandon on trails where you would normally have to take technical considerations into account.

Throughout the run, the shoe holds your foot in place securely yet comfortably. Even on longer runs the shoe just continues to ride nicely as though you are in your first few km. The Quicklace system works brilliantly. Once the shoe is on and you are comfotable with how the laces are tightened - they stay like that. Simple. I love the fact that once you have adjusted the shoe at the beginning of the run you know you can just run without having to worry about further adjustments along the way.

One thing I should add, is that whenever I have a slight niggling injury or feel a bit tired I always go for my S-Lab XT shoes. Always. These shoes have a reassurance about them that is unlike any other trailrunning shoe I have run in.

Heel to Toe

I like both the relatively thick 20mm heel to 9.5mm toe cushioning and the overall 10.5mm heel to toe drop of the XT6. There is currently a great clamour for a lower heel to toe drop on shoes but I have never really understood this. As a midfoot striker I do not find it easier to run with a lower heel to toe drop. As with all midfoot strikers my heel still hits the floor, and I enjoy having a higher heel as this slight elevation gives me the impression that my foot is moving forwards more naturally and helping my forward momentum - like running down a very, very slight slope or leaning forward ever so slightly. As with many things regarding running shoes, this impression is due to a whole swirl of subjective physical and mental feelings I have regarding running shoes. There is no way of refining this into a logical algorithm of rightness or wrongness. When it comes to running shoes, I always believe that primarily you need to search for your own ineffable feeling of 'rightness'. Any external advice or logical interpretations of your running form etc..... are secondary to this.

Terrain

The Contagrip HT outer sole provides good grip and allows you to run comfortably on a wide range of terrain. I would say these shoes are more suitable for dryish weather and are a real all rounder in terms of capability. Running excellently on mud trails, technical rocky trails, grass and also allowing a good transition to concrete paths and roads. I do not find the XT6 particularly good to run in during rain and wet weather. In particular, rocky trails can become extremely slippery and precarious, but this is true regardless of the trailrunning shoe you happen to be wearing. They are not really suitable for traditional cross country running with wet, slippery muddy slopes and slippery grass - for this the lugs on the bottom of the outer sole are not deep enough.

Long runs and racing
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XT6 snacks
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Fig. 8: S-Lab XT6 relaxing and enjoying delicious snacks after a long run.

One of the great things about the S-Lab XT6 is that they allow you to run .... and run .... and run. The shoes seem to encourage a strong, secure stride and also good running form. They ride the trails so naturally and effortlessly it just feels great to run in them. I have done a couple of 35km+ trailruns in them and when when fatigue sets in they really are just rock solid. I think this is due to the excellent cushioning on the shoe and also the really supportive structure around your foot. They provide a good platform on which to move your tired legs. I love this reliability. I always use S-Lab XT shoes for races over 30km, they just come into their own. But I do not think they can be discounted for shorter races on account of their weight and solidity. As I mentioned earlier, the XT6 shoes allow you to run naturally and fast on technically challenging trails where otherwise you might feel apprehensive or reluctant to fully let go. So for shorter, technical, rugged courses these would be a brilliant race shoe.

Problems
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XT6 lace
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Fig. 9: The lace hole attachments are hard on the inside of the shoe.

During the testing of these shoes I only really encountered one problem. The upper of the shoes is seamless but as I mentioned earlier, underneath the areas where the lace holes are attached to the upper (Fig. 9) there are hardish bumps on the inside of the shoe that you can clearly feel when you run your finger over them. After running with the shoes for about two weeks, the front left lace hole attachment on the left shoe had created a hotspot on my foot just above the joint of my 3rd toe due to the pressure of the lace hole attachment pressing against my foot whilst I was running. I stopped using the XT6 shoes for a week and the problem disappeared. But this does show that despite the fact that the uppers of the XT6 are seamless, there are still points where they can press against your foot and cause sensitive areas.

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PROS AND CONS

A quick synopsis of what I consider to be the pros and cons of the S-Lab XT6 shoes:

PROS

1. Really well made. Top quality materials and manufacture.

2. The upper, Quicklace and Sensifit give a very secure, reassuring feeling when the shoe is on. Your foot and the shoe remain in place comfortably during the run.

3. A great running experience. The shoe supports and protects your foot and encourages a good running form.

4. The outer sole allows you to run on many different types of terrain.

5. On technical trails this shoe gives you the confidence to run naturally.

6. Amazing for longer runs. The stability and ride of the shoe on runs over 30km are just amazing.

7. The Quicklace system remains locked in place throughout your run and your foot remains secure and comfortable even on really long runs.

CONS

1. The lace hole attachments are quite hard where they are attached to the inside of the otherwise seamless upper. Future designs could try to find a way of reducing this.

2. The visual design of the shoes is not really cohesive. Also, Salomon has gone branding crazy and for me this ruins the aesthetic appeal of the shoes.

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CONCLUSION

Please bear in mind I am just expressing my honest, personal opinion.

The Salomon S-Lab XT shoes are the best trailrunning shoes I have ever run in. For me, it really is that simple. And the XT6 is no exception to this rule - they are amazing. When you put the shoe on and tighten the laces your foot feels secure and happy. As soon as you start running, you realise how different to other trailrunning shoes the XT6 is. It just feels more secure, more stable. It holds your form in check like a railway track and the cushioning and protection allow you to run all types of technical ups and downs with absolute freedom and wanton abandon. You sense this shoe wants to be out in nature with you. Getting muddy and dirty and exploring technical trails with frivolity and joy. The Salomon XT6 is a brilliant trailrunning shoe. If you have run in previous S-Lab XT shoe generations then you will love this latest update. And if you have never tried S-Lab XT shoes ..... then you should. Simple.

 
9/10
 
9 stars
 
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