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Hands-on Gear Review
Salomon X Ultra Low II GTX Review
Cons: Quicklace system not for everyone, average ankle protection
Bottom line: This shoe is nimble and aggressive for hikers who like to pick up the pace.
The Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX is a beast on the trails. It's a high-functioning hiking shoe, yet the snug fit is reminds us of trail runners, and it can behave like one, too. We found ourselves picking up the pace in this model, especially in the flats and downhill sections. With superior traction, it eats up any terrain it crosses. Its waterproofing also proved to be top notch, with a higher-than-average flood level and great water repellency. This model is stiffer than several others, yet still comfortable after many miles of rough trails. Some people might not enjoy the Quicklace system, but we liked its convenience. If you're taking off on longer backpacking trips and want a bit more support, we recommend a close look at our Editors' Choice Award winner, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, which provides more ankle stability. However, if you're moving light and fast, this Top Pick for Speed might just be what you're looking for.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The X Ultra Low II GTX fits snug, especially on the sides. Hugging our feet, they feel aggressive and very supportive, comfortable for miles over rocky trails. Where other shoes led to sore feet, these shoes simply crush rough terrain. It's a little stiff out of the box, and comfort increases over several uses. Foot protection is excellent in these shoes. The toes are covered with thick rubber, great for kicking in steps in loose sediment and snow. The leather section of the upper provides additional protection on the sides of the feet. There isn't much wiggle room in the toes; it's less spacious overall in comparison to other models. If you have wide feet, we recommend trying them on first or purchasing from an online company with an excellent return policy.
This shoe incorporates a Quicklace system, which has its lovers and its haters. Some users claim they are unable to keep them tight. To test this, we tightened the laces and then tugged on them below the plastic lock, trying to pull them loose. They didn't budge. The Kevlar laces slide easily through the four eyelets (the lowest eyelet is webbing, the upper three are metal). More than traditional laces, these equalize in tightness as you walk, which might cause some users to sense they are loosening. This does reduce pressure from the laces on the foot, eliminating hot spots. The tongue also offers cushy comfort. It's easy to pull these on and tighten the laces. For an optimal fit, use one hand to tighten the lower section, and one to tighten the top section simultaneously. The top of the tongue has a mesh pocket to stow the excess laces in. Sayonara, flopping laces! Although this system is controversial in some hiking circles, we like them on the Salomon's, making them very convenient to remove sediment or pop in and out of a tent.
The convenience of a Quicklace system is obvious. But, this type of system does not allow you to vary the tightness of different sections of the upper, as you can achieve with specific tying techniques of traditional laces. It should be mentioned that the average hiker doesn't use such tying techniques.
The upper breathes well, preventing our feet from steaming under high activity. The perforated Ortholite insole promotes air circulation underfoot and is comfortable too. It stays sufficiently cool in warm weather, but like most waterproof shoes, it isn't the ideal candidate for hot weather hikes.
Weighing 2 lbs and 1.5 ounces for a pair of size 11.5's, this shoe isn't the lightest on the market. It does, however, have a good reason for the weight — excellent foot protection and a bomber outsole. The combination of relatively low weight, great traction, and foot protection makes these shoes suitable for short trail runs and speeding through easy sections of a trail.
The stiff outsole of this Salomon model delivers great lateral stability, assisted by the molded shank between the mid and outsoles. The 4.5-inch max forefoot width also provides a solid foundation on uneven terrain. While its ankle collar height falls in the middle of the pack, this shoe feels quite sturdy underfoot. The forefoot maintains enough flexible to be nimble, creating a great combination of support and speed. The stiffness does reduce sensitivity, though, which mainly comes into play when scrambling or climbing.
The X Ultra 2 GTX is an absolute beast when it comes to traction on various surfaces. We struggled to find an area where the proprietary High Traction Contragrip outsole didn't excel. It features lots of deep lugs with nine to 13 edges on each one, resulting in solid purchase on a variety of surfaces. It handles dry rock very well, trailing only the dry rock expert, the Vasque Juxt. Mud and wet rocks present no problem, and we were able to climb uphill in snow and loose sediment with minimal slippage on this trickier terrain.
The large brake lug located at the back of the outsole is helpful when moving downhill in loose and slippery terrain, resisting the heel from sliding out. We are confident taking these shoes on-trail and off at any speed. The only minor drawback of this outsole lies in its climbing ability. This shoe smears but doesn't edge very well.
From walking a pet to running across talus, this shoe is ready for a wide range of undertakings. It's comfortable enough to use on flat and smooth trails, and adequately aggressive to crush through rough and steep ones. With ample support and great torsional stability, it can handle light backpacking trips. If you're moving fast and light, these shoes are a great ally.
In comparison to our Editors' Choice winner, the Salomon model performed better when fast hiking and running, while the burlier and wider The North Face Ultra 109 GTX handled heavier loads better. Both shoes are versatile, with minor differences in strengths.
From the ground to the top of the waterproof tongue gusset measures 4.75 inches, which is high for a hiking shoe. The Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane does its job and doesn't leak. The polyurethane-coater leather and synthetic textile upper repels water well. After several months of testing, water continued to bead off this model during stream crossings and springtime puddles. We were glad they didn't absorb water and become heavy and therefore didn't think twice about getting these shoes wet.
This shoe is aggressive and fun, which often leads to more rigorous use. As the shoe continues to flex, especially at the forefoot, it could lose its resistance to absorbing water. Keeping the shoe clean and treating it regularly with a DWR spray will increase its life as an expert water-repeller.
Salomon has built a durable shoe in the X Ultra 2 GTX. The large rubber toe cap that protects the toes also prevents wear on the leather and synthetic upper. In all the high flex point areas (common locations of wear), the stitching is reinforced with double seams. The dense rubber on the outsole will also outlast the softer rubber found on the Juxt and Ultra 109 GTx. The exposed midsole will likely suffer from minor abrasion when it bangs against rocks and plunges through gravel but won't affect performance.
Our main concern with this model's durability is in the Quicklace system. The laces themselves are Kevlar, and we expect them to hold up well over time. The patented plastic locking mechanism at the top of the laces, though, could have a shorter life span. With more moving parts (it has an internal gear), and the potential for plastic to crack or break, this system creates a problem not inherent in traditional laces. If the locking mechanism breaks while in the backcountry, you will not be able to tighten the laces. With traditional laces, a torn lace can usually be re-tied and function sufficiently until you're able to purchase new laces. We only foresee this problem of a Quicklace system failure happening in very rare circumstances, but the potential remains.
If the Quicklace system breaks, you can buy and "install" a new set for $10 with six color options. We say "install" because it is a much more complicated process than threading a textile lace through eyelets, as there are several of pieces involved.
We love wearing these shoes everywhere. Whether wet or dry, fast or slow, and on nearly any terrain, the X Ultra 2 GTX delivers top-notch performance. They are especially good when you increase your pace to cover ground quickly. We also liked them for casual use. They slip on and tighten quickly, which is ideal for running in and out of the house for yard work or errands in town. If you're only hiking light trails, though, these shoes are overkill. For more relaxed hikers that prefer groomed trails and don't take off running, a shoe like our Best Buy winner Keen Targhee 2 is less expensive and more appropriate.
Costing $145, these are far from the cheapest option. However, they are only $20 more than our Best Buy winner and provide much more utility. These shoes are convenient, versatile, and perform well in any hiking terrain, making them a high value. Many hikers will see the extra cash as a worthy investment for a high-quality shoe. If you're embarking in an extended backpacking trip with these shoes, consider purchasing a replacement set of laces to bring along.
— Ross Robinson, OutdoorGearLab Review Team
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