The name of this shoe – Salomon S-Lab XT 5 Softground – is as much a mouthful as the shoe is foot-full. With a true-to-Salomon high-end MSRP of $170, your wallet will probably be the only thing not full when you have had your share of these shoes. I put in a couple hundred miles in these shoes this past winter and early spring, and found them to be overwhelmingly worth 17,000 pennies.
Hot off the Salomon production line is version five of the S-Lab XT and, seriously, what doesn’t this shoe have? Let’s begin with that, as the list is short. As you can tell at first glance, we’re not talking about a minimalist shoe here. We’re talking about a shoe with moderate-to-high levels of protection, stability, and cushioning, but a slicked-out, tricked-out version of such so that it turns up lighter weight than its non-S-Lab kindred spirit, the XT Wings. Per specs, a S-Lab XT 5 in men’s 8.5 is 11.6 ounces (330 grams) while the XT Wings 3, the latest and greatest in that line, runs 377 grams. It’s, otherwise, approximately a lightweight bulletproof vest for your feet, which makes it applicable for anything from an ultra-distance mountain run to a long ultramarathon race. As a reminder, all of Salomon’s S-Lab shoe lines are unisex.
And now, onto what this shoe does have, starting from the top down.
The upper has a toned-down color way from its fourth iteration, with black being the dominant member of the scheme instead of red. But don’t worry, that quintessential S-Lab fire still streaks through the upper.
The upper’s textile is finely woven, with the intention of keeping debris and light splashes of water and raindrops out. I’ve spent a decent amount of time running in flippy sand with these shoes without gaiters. My feet don’t end these types of runs completely debris-free, but pretty dang debris-minimal.
The upper is seamless on the inside for a rub-free experience, which is an awesome touch in the S-Lab lines. Instead, medial and lateral support is derived out of exterior overlays instead of interweaves. Those support overlays, Salomon’s Sensifit harness, are identical to those of the fourth edition of this model. The harness’ colors have been changed so that, on a cursory look, they appear less robust than their predecessors. But not to worry as I have found that the harness is the same and it functions just like the previous model.
The upper has a toe cap that isn’t too thick and bulky, but still protects your piggies when you stub them on a rock or root.
Finally, you can’t miss the Salomon Quicklaces, which folks either love or hate, and the tongue-based lace garage for them so you don’t trip yourself while running.
An Ortholite footbed/liner is used, like in almost all Salomon shoes. Notable to these Ortholite footbeds are a decently developed heel cup. Salomon says this is meant to provide a smidge more rear-foot stability, but I can’t vouch for this as I switch out the liners for a particular aftermarket insole that my feet love. (FYI, I use the aftermarket insoles in every shoe in which I run.)
The midsole is posted for stability. Gasp! Right? When was the last time we talked about posts? So not cool right now. A post is a post is a post; overpronators (whether this be your natural state or a result of fatigued musculature over very long and difficult distances) unite over posting! Salomon also says their midsole contains their Agile Chassis System and version two of their AC Muscle. The effect of this trio, says Salomon, is cushioning out of the chassis, stability from the post, and a high-quality return through the muscle. I’ll mention cushioning in the “Overall Impression” section below, as I think it’s delivered through both the midsole and outsole, but I can feel and appreciate both it and the post-delivered stability in this ride.
There is a lot going on in the outsole. Salomon’s Softground lug size and pattern, as well as its decreased density make the sole ready to claw through mud but also shed that which it treads through. However, the good folks of Salomon contrived this outsole, what they call their Contagrip, and it’s a perfect combination for finding traction in snow, on ice, through mud, and on other slippery surfaces like wet rocks and roots. While I sometimes collect mud and snow in the treads of my non-S-Lab XT Wings (even the highly improved outsole of model three), this hasn’t happened in the S-Lab XT 5 Softgrounds.
Did you notice the flare on the shoe’s heel? Stability and more heel surface area to contact the earth is what this flare offers. Let me tell you, I can’t get enough of the extra stability created from this flare during that last couple miles of a long, mountain run.
And, finally, the shoe has a 10.5mm drop produced by the offset between a 20mm heel and 9.5mm forefoot.
The last shoe I tested out of the S-Lab XT line was the S-Lab XT 4’s (with the regular, not Softground, outsole) (iRF review). Quite honestly, the feel of my foot in the upper is identical in these two models. I have a long, slim, low-volume foot and this upper and sole silhouette are just perfect for me. I have room to spare in the toe box for splaying my toes on tech-y terrain. Salomon just isn’t into making shoes for wide or high-volume feet (yet?), so if you have either, these shoes probably won’t be for you.
I’m a Quicklaces fan and always have been. Over the years, I’ve learned that for fast workouts and racing, I need to manually cinch the Quicklaces first about halfway up my foot to get the perfect fit around my toes before cinching again at the ankle. On normal or long runs, however, I enjoy the extra forefoot room afforded by just pulling my Quicklaces tight from the top.
The biggest difference I note between the two models is the sole feel. The S-Lab 5 Softground have an obscene amount of cushioning right out of the box. However, like most Salomon shoes, the sole compresses a bit during the first 50 miles of running, acquiring a more natural ride. On the roads, I didn’t care for the normal-outsole S-Lab Xt 4. The harder-density outsole made for slappy, unhappy feet there. But with the S-Lab XT 5 Softgrounds, I can put in a couple miles on roads, slickrock, or just plain frozen-solid terrain without that same slapping.
And, finally, oh those outsole chevrons, how do I love you for the way you let me run without hindrance on whatever Mother Nature threw at me this winter and early spring. I feel as if I should knock on wood to say this, but I haven’t fallen while wearing them yet.
So, the takeaway, tough shoes for tough runs if you like a hardy exoskeleton on your feet. It isn’t going to give you the ground feel of more minimalist shoes; more like it’ll protect you entirely from whatever’s out there. The price tag is high, but on par for what Salomon charges shoe-department-wide. In my opinion, they are worth that weight in gold for happy feet running high mileage on iffy winter terrain.