I got a chance to try on a pair of the Salewa Speed Ascents this week, and wanted to post a quick preview of the shoe. For readers of this blog, you’ll remember that I featured this shoe in my 5 Most Exciting Lightweight Hiking Shoes for 2015 post. As much as I loved the look, details, and quality of the Speed Ascent, the fit wasn’t a match for my feet. The problem for me was in the toebox, where my big toes felt compressed against the hardcap toe protector. In most shoes, I would have gone up to a 12.5, but Salewa does not manufacture mid sizes above a 12. The Salewa fit is a bit of a mixed bag for me. A size 12 worked well for the Wildfire approach shoe, but 11.5 worked better for the Mountain Trainer and Firetail EVO. I think a major reason for the discomfort I found with the Speed Ascent was due to the toe spring, or rocker shape. The length felt great overall, it was just the big toe area that made me take these back to REI. Nevertheless, I really loved everything else about the Speed Ascent from what I could tell by trying them on, and would suggest you try on a pair to see if the fit works for you.
The upper of the Speed Ascent is truly an ambitious piece of footwear technology. The double row of lace grommets allows for the wearer of the shoe to dial things in with many different options. I didn’t alter the lacing, as I felt the standard setup was more than adequate. I really liked the speed lace that comes standard with the Speed Ascent, and it’s the first speed lace I’ve found that compares to Salomon’s . The tongue of the shoe is fully gusseted. It’s similar to the spiral tongue of the La Sportiva Mutant, with the difference being it’s attachment on both sides of the shoe. The heel counter is rigid, which I really like, and cupped my heel without any hint of discomfort. As you can see, the only breathable mesh is though the midfoot. I didn’t get a chance to take these out on the trail, so I cannot attest to their breathability or water drainage.
The toe cap on this shoe is very burly and very protective. It’s similar to what you would find on a hiking boot, and not the softer caps I’m used to from trail runners. Had the forefoot of this shoe fit my foot a little better, I may have liked it. Given that the fit was off for me, I felt it might be a precursor to some future skin irritation. Still, the quality and craftsmanship is top notch here, a theme you’ll see repeating if you get to see the Speed Ascent in person.
You can see the rockered profile in some of the pictures above, and the picture below will give you an idea about the degree of toe spring. I tend to like flatter shoes, but if you’re a fan of toe spring, these shoes could work very well for you. The fit of the rocker is a function of the upper, but it’s composition is associated with the midsole which I will briefly touch on below.
The midsole of the Speed Ascent is made of a fairly firm foam. It has a similar feel to the XA Pro 3D in regards to sole firmness. Much like the Pearl Izumi E motion series, it’s hard to get a feel for the heel to toe drop on these due to the rocker. The shoe feels very well balanced and has a torsionally rigid platform that almost effortless stayed balanced. When first trying on shoes, I like to stand flat footed and attempt to roll my ankles. Some shoes roll easy and others are near impossible. This shoe is on the end of the spectrum near impossible. Some of that may have to do with the Rolling Gait System. You can see the plastic lips that come up from the outsole. I don’t know for sure, but I think it may run through the midsole as one piece. I really like the stability this is able to offer without adding in an overly pronounced arch support. When standing flat the toe spring forces your toes up slightly. These shoes are made for hiking fast though, so that slight discomfort is not an issue. It’s a bit like the toe spring feeling you’ll feel in a pair of road racing flats. Aside from the discomfort of fit, this shoe felt great when I was on my toes. It was here I could feel in-tune with fast packing DNA of the design.
The outsole is a very sticky, low profile, Vibram creation. I tried it out on a few indoor surfaces and it felt very grippy and supportive. It will be interesting to see from other reviews how these shoes handle sloppy conditions, as they’re not very aggressive. The great trade off you get when foregoing lug depth and aggression, is the addition of added longevity. It’s always hard to say, but these outsoles look like they can handle at least 500 miles of trail without much of a problem.