Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Door to Trail": the Salomon XR Mission

The Salomon website bills this shoe as the "door to trail" option; I couldn't imagine a shoe that I would be more about, given out-the-door adventure is my middle name. Now, I'm a girl, so it's no surprise that colors are what drew me to this shoe in the first place. And, in my defense, the Salomon XR Mission comes in some pretty attention-getting colors (check out the women's pink!). But I stayed for a longer look, and a fitting, because of the features. A neutral trail runner that is lightweight, comfortable, and promotes better running form was appealing. The shoe is lightweight and flexible. And, as a huge fan of Salomon footwear, it had the features I have come to require in a shoe: comfort, fit, and a really neat lacing system. The best part is they felt amazing on. I couldn't wait to get out on a run in them! Here I recount my first few impressions of these shoes on a variety of surfaces and over different distances, and I report on the good and the bad. If you would prefer just to get my take-home message about this shoe, just skip my run reports and scroll to the bottom of the page: The Bottom Line. 

My first "run" in these beauties was a comical mud/snow/ice mis-adventure in North Branch Park; I'm not sure what I was thinking there. (Before I left, I decided I would leave behind my sunglasses because the leaves would shade my eyes for, what leaves? And where did I leave my brain that day? Even Odin was worried about me.) I will tell you, though, that these shoes handle quite well a thin layer of leaves over solid glare ice as you're bushwhacking your way around trail-shaped glaciers.

Anyways, my first real run in these came in Connecticut; we took an extended leave to catch up with family and we took the opportunity to get out on the dry trails to our south (no glaciers there!). When we got there, it was sunny and warm, true Spring weather. I got out of the car, said 'Hello', and put on my running stuff. My favorite part about running is the simplicity: just shorts, shoes, socks, a shirt, and I'm off, into the woods. It's so simple and freeing to have no gear, just you and the woods. And your trusty dog. My first run was a favorite section of the Nipmuck Trail along the Fenton River, alternating between eastern hardwood and conifer forests. The greens of moss and hemlocks were beautiful; the naked branches against a bright blue sky were uplifting. As I leaped and hopped over streams, rocks, and logs, I felt like I was flying. I'm sure the awesome colors helped, too. And as my stride took me over leaves, fallen needles, soft ground, and mud, I felt like I was floating on clouds; light, airy, lime green clouds. My lungs felt clean, my legs felt long and strong; Odin and I were having a great time. My two favorite things about this shoe, other than the colors, obviously, are the flexibility and the spaciousness (there is good support around the arch of your foot, though not too much support, a nice fit around the heel, and plenty or room in the toe box). Both features allow my foot to expand and move as it was meant to, as opposed to shoes that rigidly hold your foot into a "supported" shape.

The next morning was cloudy, but I set out on an early morning run with Odin on the familiar loop at Schoolhouse Brook. This trail is rockier and has some wet spots, plus a long down hill. I wanted to see how the roomy toe box felt on a sustained downhill. The shoe felt nimble and airy, and I found myself landing more towards the front of my foot as I ran, just naturally, since the shoe has enough flexibility to allow your foot to maneuver and better support your landings as I hopped over rocks. My foot did slide forward in the shoe on the downhill, and I could feel the tight lacing system against the top of my arch - a little uncomfortable, but not awful, and certainly not enough of a drawback to outweigh the roominess my feet were enjoying.

On the third morning I took a longer run that mixed pavement, trails, and dirt roads all in the five miles between Tristan's and my childhood homes. I headed down Maple Road, to Spring Hill, and over to my first leg of the Nipmuck Trail - 50 Foot. On the first stretches of pavement, the shoe did not feel great and my feet hurt, but I thought this might be because I was just warming up. When I headed into the woods, it was like returning home and the shoe knew just what to do. We hopped together over rocks, ran through mud, and navigated old wooden bridges. I popped out of the woods a couple of miles later, back on to pavement. Again, this did not feel good, and I knew I was warmed up by now. I found this shoe is not made for pavement. My feet quickly grew sore under my arch (I actually got small blisters there) and my foot muscles quickly felt very sore. I'm not a technical nor experienced runner, so I can't explain what happens with this shoe on pavement, but my guess is that the minimal support and flexibility of the shoe don't match well with hard surfaces. A mile later, when my path turned to dirt road, I immediately felt better. And then, back into the woods, where this shoe truly excels. I had a steep climb coming up and I wanted to see how this shoe handles - the traction is rather innovative and impressive. And the shoe did so well, even on steep, leaf-covered terrain! I finished the run with a short paved climb up to T's parents' house and was overall highly impressed. After 5 miles in pretty new shoes, I felt great!

I continued to do a few more runs, including a nice long, all-trail run through the Natchaug State Forest with Tristan and Odin. Tristan got these shoes, too. As Tristan said, "This shoe has renewed my love for trail running!"

My only gripe about this shoe is no Gore-tex. I do like waterproofing, especially in the wet conditions we have up north in the spring and fall, when I do most of my trail running. However, after about 10 runs in these (including one where I sank mid-shin in mud), I can say that I actually like that these shoes are not waterproof. They dry very quickly and are highly breathable. I am now very much looking forward to running in these through all seasons and weather; a good pair of wicking socks will keep your feet comfortable and safe in wet conditions (definitely don't wear cotton with these if there is a chance you will get wet - that would be very uncomfortable and would cause blisters and raw-ness for sure).

The Bottom Line: This is a great shoe and is truly a door to trail shoe, that is, if your path to the trail is dirt. I found this shoe to be uncomfortable on pavement, even short stretches. There was a short period where my foot had to become accustomed to less support and structure, but now my feet and I are quite happy to have some extra room. I was worried to buy a shoe for trail running that is not waterproof, but it dries quickly and, when paired with a quality wicking sock, it just as comfortable wet as it is dry. This roomy, flexible, nimble, and airy shoe is perfect for dirt road and trail running!

These shoes are available at Onion River Sports in downtown Montpelier or you can find them at your local sports store (remember, shop local!). See you out on the trail!


  1. You said before you buys your trail running shoes bigger... so how'd you pick the sizing for this? And, my friend in Weymouth, the runner, said most people buy running shoes a size too big. I can't go smaller that's for sure in the other model of Salomon's I have. Love the first paragraph... Out-the-door is my middle name too! Weird!

  2. Haha, yes, out-the-door is many of our middle names! Good question on the sizing. I am normally an 8.5, but with Salomon's, both my hikers and my running shoes, I size up a half size. So, I went with a 9 and while it is certainly spacious, it is not too big by any means. The shoe is designed to be roomy, especially around the front of the foot, which is exactly what my feet need. If you get them, get the pink ones! (I wasn't brave enough to!)

  3. Yeah, I noticed your Goretex Salomons were way smaller than the XR Missions you have. I'd be curious to try 8.5s in this shoe. I've always got 9's in Salomon until recently I have an 8.5 in the XA Pro and it's fine.