I have been meaning to put up a thorough review of the Salomon S Lab Fellcross for quite some time. I was reasonably close to wearing out a pair and thought that it would be worth while to wait until that pair was fully consumed before posting thereby enabling a “cradle to grave” assessment. Well, the time has come- I have finally worn out my first pair of Fellcross, after about 1100 km. The following will be a review of:
- the performance of the shoe as new
- aspects of use through a fall, spring, and a full summer season
- the durability and long-term comfort
I first received a pair of Fellcross in August of 2011, just as they came available here in the US. Interest in this shoe was sparked because of the aggressive lug height, the low drop (4mm), the minimalist nature, the highly protective lower part of the uppers, and their relatively light weight (ca. 260 gms (about 9 oz)).
The transition to “low drop”
Transitioning to a low drop (0-4mm) shoe from a “normal” drop (10-12mm) shoe is tricky and, for most, painful. This is due primarily to the additional stretching of the achilles tendon inherent in running in low drop shoes. The drop will encourage a mid-to-forefoot strike, significantly increased use of the calf in a primary way, and activation of the achilles tendon-plantar fascia “spring”. The “spring” is what minimizes the very high transient impact forces that can lead to structural injury. Heel striking serves to maximize these same forces.
A slow progression of volume in the low drop shoe will help in transitioning, however most (including myself) will ramp up the volume too quickly and end up with some level of achilles tendonitis or, worse yet, achilles tendonosis. What is important is to allow the achilles tendon to slowly lengthen and accommodate the additional stress over a period of time commensurate with your body’s ability to adapt. This will be different for each individual. For me it took a rather structured 5 week period to properly transition to pain free running in the low drop shoe. This 5 week period of structured transition came after I initiated a classic case of achilles tendonitis due to too much volume too quickly and then 3 weeks of very low volume hiking/running in 11mm drop shoes to allow for the tendonitis to heal. All of this can be avoided by simply mapping out a transition period and modifying it as appropriate. A small amount of tendon pain is expected but if you are limping out of bed in the morning or limping when you get up after an extended sitting period, then you have some level of tendonitis. This is when you must back off of the volume in the low drop shoes. Being sensitive to the level of pain in the achilles tendon and associated adjustment should allow for a transition without much if any issue.
The Salomon S Lab Fellcross was developed specifically for fell running common in the British Isles. This type of running is over very rough, often steep, and typically wet and muddy terrain on trails or through open country. Races may or may not be marked and therefore navigational skills are an important part of this sport.
Salomon worked closely with expert fell runners and applied their significant knowledge of mountain running to design the Fellcross as an ideal fell running shoe. Based on what I have read, it would appear that they have succeeded.
I live in the arid western US Rocky Mountains and one would be correct in wondering why this shoe would be of interest to a runner in such conditions. Well, much of our upland country is very “fell-like” with respect to the roughness of the terrain and the harshness of the vegetation. There are also sections that exhibit considerable wetness and muddy conditions, particularly in and around the higher alpine lakes. Many of the lakes are in transition to swamps and eventual disappearance due to the long-ago retreat of glaciers. Unlike the alps, most of the Rocky Mountain glaciers are gone and all that is left are lakes, swamps, and wet areas that are maintained only by yearly snow pack. Given these conditions, it turns out that the Fellcross is a very nice shoe for running in the Rocky Mountains.
As mentioned earlier, the Fellcross is a “low drop” shoe and, in fact, was the first low drop offering from Salomon. The low drop S Lab Sense (also 4mm drop) has since debuted and Salomon is about to offer a low drop training shoe the Sense Mantra (6mm drop). The Fellcross is the most minimalist of the group, meaning that it has the least amount of cushioning with a 9mm heel and a 5mm forefoot. The more cushioned Sense has a 13mm heel and 9mm forefoot and the, likely plush, Sense Mantra has a 16mm heel and a 10mm forefoot.
In my S Lab Sense review I stated the following about the Fellcross:
“Being a natural fore-foot striker, I switched from the Speedcross 2/3 to the Fellcross last August (2011) and have been training in them since. I always felt like the heel was getting in the way of my stride and, after using these lower drop shoes, I discovered that I was right. In addition to the low-drop, the Fellcross is very low to the ground with a 9mm heel and a 5mm fore-foot that yields very nice proprioception. The widely-spaced aggressive lugs give great traction in both soft and muddy conditions coincident with good mud release. As they were developed for Fell racing, the off-trail performance is also remarkable. These have become my basic training shoe and I have gotten quite good wear out of them. They are also light at 260 gms for my size US 7′s, compared to 320 gms for the Speedcross equivalent.”
I now have about 1100 km (about 650 miles) on this pair of shoes and just this morning started to feel a bit of slip on previously very steady sections. A quick inspection of the soles revealed that the lugs are well worn (gone in some places) and it is time to retire this pair. This is really quite good wear out of a pair of light weight, minimalist running shoes and, in my mind, more than justifies the $170 price.
The build is very high quality and I can confidently say that the shoes are nearly indestructible. The stitching is nicely done, the polymer “wrapping” at the lower section of the upper is well laminated and quite protective. After 1100 km, the uppers are hardly worn other than a bit of material breakdown at the high flex line.
These shoes are considered to be in the light weight category at about 260 gms (about 9 oz) for these US 7’s. I noticed a big difference in weight from the 320 gm Speedcross and began to understand exactly how important weight is. This observation was put into complete focus when I began running in the S Lab Sense, an ultra light shoe. Going forward weight will be a primary consideration for me when choosing shoes as it has a surprisingly large impact on both speed and comfort. Weight really matters!! Alot!
The fit is a bit narrow but I found that within about 15-20 km of use my foot was nicely accommodated within the structure. I have never felt any discomfort due to the narrowness. This may be a result of stretching of the upper or minor deformation of my foot or some combination. Regardless I have felt very comfortable in these shoes from day 1 and this has not changed for the life of the shoe.
As usual, the speed laces do a very good job of snugging the shoe around your foot and I have experienced no slipping issues within the shoe and no incidence of blisters. The padding around the ankle does a good job of helping with support in this area without being particularly apparent.
The only sign of wear on these shoes (other than the sole) is a minor amount of fabric breakdown on the right shoe at the high flex line where the forward “toe cover” is stitched into the side gusseting polymer. There is no affect on performance of the shoe.
The outsole is perhaps one of the best features of this shoe. The deep, widely spaced lugs are grippy outstanding performers in most conditions including, of course, wet, wet/muddy, rocky, uneven footing, and off trail. But they also perform exceedingly well in dry soft pack, dry hard pack, scree, and particularly on snow. The only grip issue with the shoe is in stream crossings with algae covered rocks and to some extent in stream crossings with just clean rocks. In both cases the grip is marginal at best and sometimes non-existent. One must take care in stream crossing or you may end up wet or turn an ankle. The origin of this issue lies with the very small contact area afforded by the widely spaced deep lugs. While this design is ideal for mud-release it is not optimized for wet grip. I noticed that as the lugs wore down the grip became better but is was never at a level that would be considered “good”. The Salomon Speedcross 2/3 have this same issue, although to a lesser degree owing to the less widely spaced and shallower lugs on the Speedcross.
The proprioception is very good and was the best I had experienced prior to running in the S Lab Sense. These shoes give you great trail feel and the potential issue of sharp rock bruising never materialized. This is likely due to a combination of the deformability of the sole and the deep lugs leading to good accommodation of typical sharp rocks.
The outer right foot heel lugs are essentially gone and the forefoot lugs on both feet are about 85% gone. The shoes, however, are still runnable but given the slippage I am starting to experience I think that it is prudent to retire these shoes proactively.
I truly enjoy running in these shoes. They have been comfortable from day one, and continue to be even up to their last run this morning after about 1100 km of use through summer, fall, and spring. I have had these shoes in wet, wet/muddy, hard pack, soft pack, scree, off-trail (through some pretty abusive sagebrush and heather), and stream crossing conditions. They perform exceptionally in all conditions except for stream crossings where grip and drainage/drying are issues.
These shoes provide a very nice combination of light weight, traction, proprioception, and facilitation of a more “natural” running style. This latter aspect takes some time for adjustment but once you have made this transition, you will not likely be going back to a “normal” high drop shoe. Although not as light or as slipper-like as the S Lab Sense, the S Lab Fellcross is a shoe that is truly a part of your foot rather than being something that is on your foot. As such it currently represents the best “training” companion to the S Lab Sense as they have the same drop and and very much the same trail feel. The S Lab Fellcross has become a basic training shoe that I rotate with the S Lab Sense for day-to-day running.
$170. A bit pricey but given the durability that I have experienced the price is not a factor in deciding on whether or not to purchase these shoes.
Awesome grip in wet and mud, great trail feel, low weight- but beware the stream crossings.