For the past few years my primary footwear for backpacking has been the Garmont ‘Trail Beast’ shoe which is supportive, has a wider than normal fit and is very resilient but isn’t that comfortable on descents. I have several pairs but as they wear out I was keen to find an alternative for my usual three season trips. I found the Salomon ‘X Ultra 3 GT’ Shoes on sale at £103.00 and bought my usual size 11 but importantly for my feet in the wider fitting. I have seen these shoes and the mid version for years but was wary as they are by repute better suited to a narrower foot. So the 2E width fitting looked like an option, particularly as my go-to review site outdoorgearlab had a great in depth and positive review of the shoe.
The X Ultra, its aggressive sole (centre) and the Trail Beast at rest in Southern France
My first impression was that the fit is snug but after an hour or so worn around the house I barely noticed this and, having now worn them almost continuously – casually and on a first seven mile outing, I am convinced these are an excellent shoe for me. Which is really good news as this model is the latest iteration of a Salomon classic, which suggests I will be able to buy these or something very like them in years to come whereas the Trail Beast isn’t currently available. I also wanted to try a shoe which, as long as the fit was good (the Ultra is snug) offered a few different features or benefits. The Ultra is a distinctly different offer to any of my previous shoes. Firstly it is lighter at 850 gm for a pair of size 11s (as compared to the Trail Beast at 1110 gm). Secondly it has deep lugs which the Trail Beast does not. This does provide great traction on loose ground or mud but in the wet on slippery rock the grip isn’t as good as a sticky Vibram sole. You do feel the bumps in the road with these and the lateral support is reasonable rather than great but the killer benefit is when you start walking down hill. These are excellent! Perhaps it is because they do narrow towards the toes (despite them being a wider fitting) or perhaps it’s the Quicklace system that equalizes when walking but the amazing comfort these offer on descents is just the best.
The ortholite insoles do a good job of securing the foot and the upper breathes well enough. The toes are as well protected as in the Trail Beast (unlike in the Terroc 330 shoe I had – now gone, which bruised both big toes so badly the nails fell off) and while I haven’t worn the Ultra in the rain and I’m sure they will be fine – but as with every other GTX lining I expect it to fail. I don’t get cold feet and have always found I walk my shoes dry. One benefit of the GTX lining I have found is the added warmth it provides in colder weather.
My first work out for the Ultra was a speedy seven mile foray in the Mendips (map below) which offered a nice variety of surfaces and inclines to give an initial idea of the shoe’s worth. The walk starts at the very Eastern end of Burrington Combe at Ellick House (Grid ref. ST49006 58014) and takes in Black Down and Beacon Batch (the highest point of the Mendip Hills), Dolebury Warren Iron Age Fort and a varied landscape in between of heathland, woodland and downland.
At then end of the walk I was pleasantly surprised. My feet felt fine. No pinching, rubbing or any other issue to note. In the Trail Beast I would have some soreness in the toes given the ground so I do think the Ultra is a really worthy replacement for my previous go-to. I do want to take these on a longer trip with a pack on to get a real sense of their worth or otherwise but so far so very very good.
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