The Salomon S-Lab Speed is an update to the Fellcross 3 which I reviewed a while back and they are essentially a Fell / Mountain running shoe that is primarily intended for use on soft ground. I was generally very positive about the Fellcross 3 and considered them to be the best fitting and best quality Fell racing shoe I have ever tested but had problems with grip on wet rocks and a bit of instability on hard ground due to the narrow footprint.
What’s with the name? Well, it’s basically a re-branding of the Fellcross line of shoes and my understanding is that the ‘Speed’ was chosen over ‘Fellcross 4′ to avoid pigeon-holing them as a fell running specific product. I can understand why Salomon might want to make a change like this but it seems strange to me that they picked ‘Speed’ when they already have the ridiculously popular Speedcross range as I could imagine that might lead to a bit of confusion.
The main difference between the Speed and the Fellcross 3 is a welcome redesign of the outsole and a new rubber compound for increased grip on wet rocks. The weight is almost exactly the same, there are some subtle changes to the welded overlays on the upper and Salomon have also opted for a new colour scheme with a simple black design replacing the red / black of the Fellcross.
As you would expect from a Salomon S-Lab shoe, the build quality of the Speed is almost impossible to find fault with. At an RRP of £145, they come in at 50% more than an X-Talon 190 and whilst you can see where a significant amount of that money is going, it’s still a lot of cash for some running shoes. As soon as I took them out of the box, the first thing that I inspected was the outsole. You can clearly see how the classic Salomon chevron design has been modified to provide additional surface area for increased grip on hard surfaces and it reminds me a bit of a Mudclaw. A potential downside of this is that there is now not much room between the lugs to allow mud to clear but you can read more about this in the ‘performance’ section below.
The fit of the S-Lab Speed is indistinguishable from the Fellcross 3 in that it is very snug indeed around the midfoot with an exquisitely shaped toe box which provides fantastic security without crushing your toes. For me, it works outstandingly well for running fast over steep and uneven ground, providing unmatched levels of security and confidence. It’s less suited to longer or more sedate runs when the snugness of the fit around the midfoot can become constrictive and obviously isn’t going to work for wide-footed runners but for technical races with duration of up to about 2 hours, the fit is pretty flawless in my view.
I don’t think I was alone in having problems with the Fellcross 3 when confronted with wet rock and other hard, slick surfaces. It really was a bit like Bambi on ice at times and this restricted when and where they could be used. I was pleased to see that Salomon had taken steps to resolve this issue with the Speed and the new rubber compound and increased surface area on the end of the lugs has produced a tangible improvement on wet rock and roots. The narrow footprint is still there though and like the Fellcross, I find that this can make them feel a bit tall and wobbly on smaller, loose rocks when compared to something like an X-Talon. I think this is also due to the fact that they aren’t as flexible which means that the outsole doesn’t quite mould around lumps and bumps but instead, gets sort of tipped-over by them and this contributes to that slight feeling of instability and loss of grip. The nett result of this is that whilst the lug design and compound does offer a more traction on hard, slick surfaces in comparison to the Fellcross 3, I still find myself feeling ever-so-slightly tentative over wet or loose rocks and the like. This could be due to the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time running in Inov-8’s over the last couple of years and it’s skewed my perception a bit so I’m really interested to hear the opinions of others on this issue. Please leave a comment below!
On soft surfaces, it’s a different story altogether and the grip is very good. Referring back to the Inov-8 benchmark, I would say that on wet grass or deep mud, they sit somewhere in between an X-Talon and a Mudclaw. My concern about the shoes ability to clear mud proved unfounded as they shed it surprisingly well. An advantage of the small footprint is also that even when they do clog up, the total volume of mud stuck to the shoe tends to be less than some of their competitors so the additional weight isn’t as noticeable.
The upper provides excellent levels of foot protection and really is a peerless design and whilst there isn’t a rock plate, the outsole / midsole offers enough insulation to ensure that the risk of injury from sharp objects is minimal. Whilst on the subject of the cushioning, it’s perfect for soft ground and the majority of fell / mountain / cross country-type terrain but harsh and unforgiving on hardpack trails or tarmac. This is of little consequence as the Speed is clearly not intended to be used in these circumstances.
The Speed is outstanding for race-pace running and really inspires you to tear it up. If you are already a fan of the Fellcross line of shoes, you will absolutely not be disappointed and I think that newcomers will be blown away by the quality and the fit (assuming you don’t have wide or high-volume feet ).
When used in conditions where they excel, i.e fast running on steep, soft, technical ground the S-Lab Speed really is tough to beat and in my opinion, the best shoe currently on the market. The security and the protection offered by the upper provides unparalleled confidence and the build quality is exquisite. On mixed terrain including wet or loose rocks, the Speed is defiantly an improvement over the Fellcross 3 but it’s not quite as versatile as something like an X-Talon. So overall, I think it’s an incredible shoe to have in your fell running armory but it’ll probably need to sit alongside a couple of other options for you to chose from based upon conditions. An awful lot of people tend to do this anyway but I guess it comes down to whether you feel that you can justify the cost in the case of the S-Lab Speed. I should also point out that although the RRP is high, a number of retailers are offering them at significant discounts now get they’ve been around for s couple of months and I’ve linked to some examples below. I for one will certainly be hanging on to them.
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Got any thoughts to share about the S-Lab Speed? Have a question? I’m especially interested to hear your experiences on the durability? Please leave your thoughts below!