Are These $375 Trail Runners Worth It?
We put tough, dirty miles on these new customizable trail shoes that are generating buzz for their price tag — and find they deliver, with premium comfort and performance.
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Dial your preferences and float over the trails with precise agility — as though your shoes were tailor made to fit not just you but also your local terrain, providing no-compromise performance. With options to adjust flex, fit, drainage and traction, the SL:PDX becomes quite literally the shoe for you. We found that Speedland delivers, with a shoe that let us run in complete comfort and with total confidence.
This is a completely new concept that uses modular components, crafted with the best of everything available on the market, to construct a no-holds-barred trail running experience. The founders applied decades of shoe development, absent the usual commercially-driven overrides, to orchestrate a performance shoe that is more “equipment” than “apparel” so that the user won’t feel any hesitation running their best. A “small batch” approach to manufacturing – only 1,200 pairs are being made in the first run of production — guarantees an attention to detail that you can feel.
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This Is the Shoe for You If …
You consider your trail shoes to be an extension of your body and training and don’t want to compromise. You spend so much time and effort directed at marginal performance gains that you are willing to invest the additional cost to purchase a shoe that will allow you to push the envelope — because it provides the best fit and performance, and allows you to be your best. And you like really nice-fitting shoes.
Testers were wowed by the performance of SL:PDX, even on non-Portland, Pacific Northwest trails for which the founders designed the shoe. The more technical the trail, the more the shoes showed off, whether on sandstone-riddled, dry mountainous singletrack, deep sand, rocky washouts, or even over “open prairie, thrashing through knee-high grasses with every step uncertain on the knobby tussocks.” Whatever the terrain, testers raved, “They showed off in every context.”One tester observed the shoe felt “like it was made just for me” and performed with “sure-footed agility” and “reliability” on a wide variety of surfaces. Glowed another tester: “They are the most comfortable, and probably most capable trail shoe I’ve ever worn.”It wasn’t any one quality that shined through, but rather, the combination of innovative aspects that came together to leave such positive impressions. The shoe’s many options to personalize the stiffness, lugs and fit means it easily morphs into different rides, even allowing you to adjust some of the fit and feel on the fly. But, apart from the ability to customize, the premium materials and design make your feet smile.The upper is made of knit Dyneema, a Netherlands-based fiber that is reportedly 15 times stronger than steel, and, they say, gets its positive attributes through long-molecule chains and tight intermolecular bonding. Whatever that means, it feels both durable and comfortable, wrapping the foot in a stretchy mesh, while plush padding around the heel and multiple straps over the instep hold your foot securely.
Add to that the unique precision of not one, but two, BOA Fit System dials that secure the wrapping support straps — one for the lower part of the foot and the other for the upper. The dual BOA Li2 wheels let you literally dial-in the precise fit to optimize comfort and security for your foot shape and preferred hold on different parts of the foot. For the first time on a running shoe, these dials are also multidirectional, allowing you to either advance or back off tension click by click, which we found exceptionally useful for creating the right tension on each and for adjusting the fit on the run as terrain conditions changed or our feet got sweaty or swollen.The 3mm Michelin textile web outsole is both grippy and quick to shed mud, with aggressive lugs that can be clipped to match your form and the terrain. You can also open drainage ports for runs with water crossings. The flexible sole wraps around underfoot terrain and provided excellent traction on firm or soft footing, wet or dry.
Inside, you step down into a contoured layer of Pebax foam — think super-shoe soft, bouncy and resilient — that serves as both sock liner and the top half of the midsole. Lying between it and the thin, flexible EVA bottom platform, you find a removable Carbitex carbon-fiber plate. Removable because it is stiff in one direction and flexible in the other, allowing you to easily flip it over and adjust the ride. The “stiff” side still flexes quite easily but provides a powerful, energy-return pop on toe off. Turn the plate over and you get more of a free-flex feel with the plate providing a bit of stability — or remove the plate completely if you prefer a more minimalist feel for the ground. Note: Unlike clipping off outsole lugs which is a permanent modification, you can flip these as often as you like to match the terrain or how you feel that day.
However they are configured, we felt sure-footed and swift in them. “My biggest impression was that I didn’t need to hold back, because they made me feel confident in my landings and stability,” said one tester. Another praised the ride for being “both close to the ground and completely cushioned — a remarkable combination of stability, balance, comfort and trail feel.”
Downside? We did have a weed snag and pop a BOA dial out, releasing the tension — but to be fair, we were going through pretty thick stuff, and resetting the fit with a quick turn of the dial was far easier than retying a lace. Also in terms of fairness: no testers did a really long run in them yet, and if there is a weakness that might reveal it, as these shoes ride best when dancing over terrain at a good pace. But the Pebax foam will coddle your feet for as long as your stride will hold up and we’re anxious to give it a go at the soonest opportunity.
A bonus: the upper is stitched to the sole, for durability and because this “Dyneema moccasin stitch” makes the shoe easier to recycle, given there is no toxic glue for sealants. Speedland keeps with the green theme (and color) through a give-back program that invests 10% of its profits to outdoor programs that will be selected with the help of its athletes.
Worth the price tag? That’s hard for us to decide for you, but one tester bought a full-price pair for his significant other, and they will no doubt be the pair we reach for when heading off road in the coming weeks and months.
None, really. The closest might be TNF Flight VECTIV, Saucony Switchback 2, La Sportiva VK BOA, Salomon S/Lab Sense 8 Soft Ground