Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2 review


Welcome, to what I think is one of the most exciting reviews I have had the privilege to write to date. Ever since I started reviewing minimalist trail running shoes and apparel back in 2011, I have been looking for the 'ideal' in what to wear on my feet to battle the harsh conditions that trail running throws at you. I soon came to realise that, depending on conditions being either wet and muddy, or dry and rocky, whether summer, or winter, there is likely to be TWO different trail shoes to help us conquer the trails and fells that lay ahead of us. 

With the discovery of the Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS which seemed to meet all my requirements for a natural feeling, light, minimalist trail shoe for dry weather and summer conditions, I was left searching for a more durable and grippy shoe for harsher, wet and winter conditions and longer runs. Enter the Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2!


Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of running in the Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2, and I have had some serious fun in them. The Fellcross 2; an evolution from the original Fellcross 1 (http://caveman-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/salomon-s-lab-fellcross-1-review.html) is best described as a secure, durable and superbly gripping extension of your foot ideal for wet, muddy and winter trail and fell running conditions. So, rather than keep you guessing as to whether or not these are a good buy or not, I just cannot resist in giving the game away by telling you that, for the serious trail and fell runner, the Fellcross 2 are worth their weight in gold.....

Salomon say:
Designed for ground feel, soft conditions and to be lightweight
"New, low, light and featuring an improvement on an already monster grip, the S-LAB FELLCROSS 2 continues to dominate as it was designed for racers, by the world's top fell running racers."
Features:
  • Lightweight mid feather construction: my UK 10.5 weighs around 260g (ligher than the Fellcross 1)
  • Low profile: 4mm differential (9mm heel and 5mm toe) with fell running last
  • Salomon Quicklace and lace storage pocket in the tongue: for that world famous easy and fast on-off fitting and securing with the single kevlar string fed through friction free eyelets and securely fastened with the non-slip fastener
  • SensiFit: form-fitting, it holds and cradles the foot securely in place like an extension of your foot
  • TPU protective toecap: protects the toes from rocks and roots 
  • Contagrip: M&S (mud and snow) Chevron non-marking improved monster fell grip
  • Tongue cover: mesh over the tongue stops debris entering the shoe
  • Compressed EVA minimal midsole puts your foot nearer to the ground whilst providing a small amount of cushioning for longer, rockier runs
  • OrthoLite Sockliner: comfort from the inside out, it provides a cooler and drier environment for the foot inside the shoe
  • Ripstop, tough, abrasion and water resistant upper: to tackle the harshest of fell and trail environments
  • Tough surround from the toe box through to the heel: a carbon-fibre looking tough material protects the areas of the shoe that mud and debris would normally damage

To help you understand how these shoes perform I will score them 1 - 10 (1 = low, 10 = high) on 10 categories which encompass a good minimalist trail and fell shoe, giving them an overall score out of 100:


1) Weight: 9/10
My pair of UK10.5's weigh in at around 260g, so a very lightweight shoe considering the toughness of the material and the monster grip. The only way to reduce weight further would be to lower the differential to 0mm and reduce the material used in the uppers. But this would have to be done very carefully as the tough uppers are one of the features that make this shoe so great, and many people may prefer the 4mm drop on longer runs.

2) Ground Feel: 8/10
With only 5mm cushioning at the forefoot and 9mm at the heel, the ground feel is very good considering the strength and durability of this shoe. The Contagrip M&S grip does reduce ground feel on harder terrain when the lugs are unable to dig deep into the ground beneath your feet, but on wet and muddy runs the ground feel is a perfect balance between minimalism, traction and durability. The new design of the lugs on the Fellcross 2 has improved ground feel on harder terrain over the original Fellcross 1, but could still be improved slightly by lowering the differential to bring the heel closer to the ground. I have also discovered that removing the Ortholite Sockliner significantly improves ground feel, and for me, comfort and fit.

3) Protection: 10/10
The very tough upper materials have withstood everything the trails and fells have thrown at them. Combine this with the protective toe bumper, the solid rubber outsole and the mesh cover over the tongue area and your foot is certainly left well protected against rocks, roots and trail debris.



4) Natural foot position: 6/10
The Fellcross 2 are classed as a low profile, lightweight racing shoe, with a 4mm differential from heel to toe. Due to the 4mm drop I have to deduct 4 points (one for each mm differential) as this is how I have judged past minimal shoes. Although the low profile certainly gets you closer to the terrain, in my opinion, an ideal shoe would put your foot in as natural a position as possible with no heel elevation, allowing it to work just as nature intended. I do understand that 4mm is often accepted these days to be around the ideal mid-ground between a natural foot position, good levels of ground feel and a small amount of cushioning for descending and long distance races and runs, and I do find these shoes to be very comfortable, especially in soft trail conditions, but I still personally believe a 0mm drop would be ideal (for me anyway).


5) Natural shape of foot: 8/10
The Fellcross 2 fit like a glove; rather like an extension of your foot. They wrap your heel and midfoot securely in the shoe. My feet are quite wide at the forefoot and so I find the fell racing last of the Fellcross 2 to be a little on the narrow side towards the front of the shoe, but they are an improvement on the Fellcross 1. This would not even be an issue if you have narrow feet.


6) Comfort: 8/10 
The Fellcross 2 fits like a slipper; the SensiFit system wraps your foot firmly but comfortably inside the shoe holding your foot well and truly in place. It feels as though your foot has developed a tough extra skin whilst growing some crazy aggressive lugs underfoot. After experimenting with both the Fellcross 1 and 2 I have decided that not only is the Fellcross 2 an improvement in fit over the Fellcross 1, but that the best fit for me is achieved by wearing thin trail running socks and by removing the Ortholite sock liner. This 'custom fit' approach has enabled me to accommodate a wider forefoot, improve ground feel and keep my feet warm and free from blisters and hot spots (a problem with sockless running in the Fellcross 1). The only improvement on comfort in my opinion, would be the introduction of a slightly wider forefoot/toebox.

7) Grip/Traction: 10/10
The grip and traction provided by the Fellcross 2 is what this shoe is all about. Put the Fellcross 2 in wet, grassy, muddy slop and you just cannot fault the grip. Fact! The new, more aggressive and updated Contagrip chevron pattern that juts out the bottom of the sole and tears apart any soft terrain it comes into contact with will certainly maximise your chances of staying on your feet and off your backside in wet conditions. I thought the grip of the earlier Fellcross 1 was excellent, but this really is an update worth investing in. Not only is the grip in mud improved, but there is much needed improvement on wet rocky trails and hard surfaces with significantly less slip. Also, I am pleased to say that after many weeks and a fair few kilometers on various trail surfaces, the Fellcross show less signs of wear and tear in comparison to the Fellcross 1's, therefore suggesting that the Fellcross 2, as far as the soles and grip are concerned, will likely last a little longer.

Improved grip of the Fellcross 2
The Fellcross 1 grip
8) Durability/Quality: 10/10
After weeks of heavy use in muddy conditions the uppers still look brand new after a good clean! They show no signs of wear and tear. The lugs have begun to show some signs of use, but this is expected after multiple uses in very demanding weather and trail conditions. Obviously, due to the protruding weapon-like lugs, the life of the shoe is reduced if you always wear the Fellcross 2 in very rocky conditions, but then you would probably opt for a different, more appropriate trail shoe to match the conditions such as the Salomon Sense 2 or Ultra. For wet and soft conditions, durability and quality of the Fellcross 2 is perfect.


9) Pricing: 8/10
At a RRP of £130 this isn't a cheap shoe. But, as I said on the review of the Fellcross 1, "you are purchasing a top quality racing product and not just an everyday 'throw away after a few months' daily runner". I do, however, think that, due to the improvements on the Fellcross 2, it is a better value shoe than its predecessor. And sadly for us, the consumer, quality comes at a price. Would I buy it again? Yes I would. I simply have not found an alternative anywhere near as good as the Fellcross 2.

10) Design: 10/10
You make your own mind up, but I have no hesitation in giving the Fellcross 2 a well deserved 10/10, even when it is covered in mud!



TOTAL SCORE: 87/100

Conclusion:
I have no issues in saying that the Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2 is the best wet weather and soft ground trail and fell shoe I have ever had the pleasure to wear, test and run in. The improvements on the original Fellcross 1 have left the Fellcross 2 as a perfect all-round wet weather racing and training shoe in terms of grip and durability for both fell and trail use. They have become my go-to winter training and racing shoe, and in the past few weeks I have simply alternated day-to-day between the Fellcross 1 and 2, allowing a day for each pair to dry in between runs. Every run is a pleasure and both pairs never let me down, even though the Fellcross 2 is a slightly more pleasant running experience.

Would I buy these shoes again? Yes I certainly would, unless Salomon can manage even further improvements in a Fellcross 3! I thoroughly recommend the Fellcross 2 for anyone looking for a durable and comfortable soft ground shoe with plenty of grip and might. You won't be disappointed.....

Happy running
CavemanClarke

Testing the Fellcross 2 on Walla Crag, Derwent Water
Two happy Fellcross customers in The Lakes
Additional information about Salomon S-Lab products:
Salomon Lab (S-Lab) is a process of making dedicated products to meet the individual fit and performance of the Salomon International Team. Athletes and designers work together, through every step of the process, because a millimetre or a gram is ultimately the difference between gold and silver.

Salomon has worked with athletes to develop head to toe products for adventure racing and trail running for more than a decade. This collaboration between engineers and athletes gives Salomon a unique ability to develop the most innovative trail running products available.

And while the S-Lab process is focused on winning, the products it generates are your assurance of pure performance. Products that enable you to realise your goals, and find your own freedom.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting, will have to try these when my current pair die. Have you ever reviewed the Mizuno Wave Harrier? I ended up buying these and really like them but they're the only trail shoe I've used. They served me very well at the very muddy Major series 10k earlier in the year. I looked at the Innov8 mudclaw but decided they were too extreme for most conditions.

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    1. Hi Eddie,
      I haven't reviewed the Wave Harrier, no. Are they good? What is their heel-toe drop? In my experience, if you find something you like, and your not getting injuries or pains, then don't change anything!

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    2. Hi Eddie, just to add my thoughts, the Mizuno Wave Harrier was one of the first shoes I tried when hitting some of the more extreme trails, as it was recommended to me by a local independent running shop. I like the fact that the toe box is nice and wide, and I still think it is a very competent shoe for general trail running, but I really found it wanting when it came to off-trail and extremely muddy trails and fells.

      I have not tried the new Fellcross 2, but the old version of the shoe is really grippy and can add some extra confidence, especially on slippy ascents. The only real downside for me was that the original Fellcross was quite narrow, even more so than the Speedcross 3, so it would be interesting for me to see if that has changed at all with the new version.

      Just for the record, when the going gets really tough, I current opt for the Inov-8 Mudclaw, which is absolutely amazing on steep and muddy descents, but really doesn't like hardpack or mixed trails (but that's not the kind of terrain it was designed for).

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    3. There is also the new Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra SG which I am currently trying out ready for a review. These are far wider and more comfortable than the Fellcross with the grip of the Speedcross, so well worth a try if you found the Fellcross narrow.
      Here is what my first impressions were:
      http://caveman-clarke.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/salomon-s-lab-sense-3-ultra-sg-first.html

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  2. Sorry, have only just seen your reply! Thanks for you link to your other review. Looks like the S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra SG's should definitely be a shoe to try out for myself.

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    1. I'm loving them! Well worth a try in my opinion.

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