Up to this point, Saucony's overall presence in the trail-running scene has been noticed about as much as the extra who played "Gladiator #299" in the movie 300. Not exactly noteworthy stuff. Previous "Trail" shoes from their collections have amounted to little more than heavier-soled versions of their road shoes with darker coloring. No effort had been made to start from the ground up and really key in on something (anything!) that trail runners really need. Brooks has made this effort with the Cascadia (now in its 4th version), and New Balance has tried multiple angles in this field, most recently with last year's successful (and super-light) 800 and now the new 790. Both the Cascadia and 800/790 have thoughtful and innovative elements that make a trail runner realize these running shoe companies are able to deliver competitive products along side their mountain-running counterparts like Montrail, Vasque, La Sportiva, etc.
.....and now, finally, I'm happy to announce that Saucony is legitimately stepping up to the plate to give trail runners a worthy offering. Here's my review of their shoe that very well may hit a home run with ultra-trail runners all over the country this year: the Saucony Xodus.
Let's talk details. First, don't attempt to take photos of this (or any) shoe on top of a fancy placemat after you've actually worn them outside. You'll find the cushioning in the heel to be a bit lacking while your wife is beating you over the head with it. That said, once it's on your feet, you'll notice one nice carry-over from the Saucony road shoes: a soft and cushioned ride from their Pro-Grid system. It's the availability of this type of mid-sole cushioning that puts the Xodus ahead of most models from "trail only" companies like the Montrails and Vasques of the world. "But Dan," you say, "those companies are waaaay ahead in terms of the outer sole grip and toughness, and that's what really matters on rough terrain." Well, that's an excellent point, and I'm happy to report that the good folks at Saucony completely agree with you. So much so, in fact, that they went out and formed a partnership with the kings of all outer-sole makers: Vibram. Here's what the bottom of the Xodus looks like:
Yes indeed, that's TWO Vibram logos you see...and after your first mile you'll be wondering why they didn't stick on three or four more. They're that good. Most notably because of their traction, but also because they're really really really light too! No one agrues about the quality of Vibrams soles, but the weight they add is usually a detriment to folks who want a faster/lighter trail shoe. Saucony solved this problem by limiting the Vibram portion of the sole to just the outer 1/8" to 1/4". The rest of the bottom is composed of Saucony's super-light mid-sole and Pro-Grid cushioning layers. You can see the 3 layers in the photo above (black, gray, yellow)...and again here in a rear angle:
So now that we know the bottom of the shoe is legit, how about the rest? Well, I've got even more good news on that front. Let's start with the front of the shoe. Saucony has developed their own dirt/debris-impermeable material to keep your little piggies from being covered in grit and mud - Check out the silver fabric that essentially runs around your entire foot:
You can see it continuing through the breathable holes in the black mesh on the side here too. I can't vouch for how well it breathes in the hottest of hot conditions, but early returns prove it to be better than the comparable material in the Vasque Aether Tech SS shoes I've been wearing much of this spring.
Underneath the silver shield lining, the Xodus keeps your foot firmly in place with both an inner sock-liner (which I usually hate, but this one is flat-out excellent) and a reinforced outer support system called "Arch-lock", shown here:
Not to dump on the Aether Tech SS too much, but this extra support (without adding much more weight) is exactly what keeps the Aether limited to a "50 miles or less" shoe in my mind, where the Xodus is better suited to keep your feet from falling apart during 100 milers and beyond.
With all the serious stuff out of the way, now how about some gimmicks?! Saucony stepped up with a couple semi-useful offerings for us in the Xodus...if nothing else, it proves that they really are trying to be innovative in their trail shoes, and I definitely appreciate the effort. The first thing they included was a pocket on top of the tongue for you to tuck your laces into. Sort of like how we all used to stick our milk money in the zippered pouch of our 'ROOs when we were kids, only this pocket is upside down for ease of lace-tucking. The other cool addition to the Xodus is this handy clip sewn in for your gators to latch onto. Not that I ever had a problem looping my gators directly onto the laces, but this is a nice touch...and who knows, maybe it will keep your gators from pulling on the laces and tightening up your toe-box by a centimeter or two. Either way, I applaud the thought, Saucony...well done.
So there you have it: The Saucony Xodus in a 500-word nutshell. I for one am quite impressed. It lists at $100, but you all know better than to pay retail...check out Holabird Sports to get them for $79 with no tax and free shipping. The fit is true-to-size, and the toe-box is roomy enough to fit any swollen piggies in the late stages of a 100 miler. Oh, and they weigh in at about 12oz. for my size 11.5s, and for some reason they feel even lighter than that.
In closing, I highly recommend! ...and no, Saucony doesn't pay me, sponsor me, or even return my love-letters. I just wanted to spread the word on a great shoe I think many of us can benefit from in our trail races this year!