by Lisa Klinkenberg
Disclaimer: I have to say, before I say the rest, I have been partial to Salomon since first purchasing a pair of Speedcross 3’s for the Amesbury Spartan Race in 2012. So I really really really wanted to like these.
And I did. A lot.
That does not mean they are not without their faults, however. Let’s, as we all like to do, start with the bad news first…
Sensitive feet beware
An overall comfortable shoe with a surprising amount of cushioning for such good ground feel, the Fellraiser lacks a couple of key features for those who plan to do all of their running on very technical terrain. 1) No rock plate. While the absence of this hard mid-layer keeps the outsole pliable and responsive to surface changes on the trail, it also absorbs those particularly *sharp* surfaces, leaving soft arches and mid/forefeet prone to jabs and bruises. 2) Not a lot of ‘body armor.’The toe/instep look well-protected, but looks are a little deceiving here. Only a small toe cap wraps over the vamp, leaving the edges exposed to stubbing the toes. In addition, Salomon has chosen a much thinner material (almost a reinforced foxing) above the midsole rather than a denser rubber. While this keeps the shoe light and ventilated, I caught a pointy stick or two in the instep when footing got tricky on rugged trail. Not enough to slow me down, but enough to register an “Ouch!”in passing. So, if you have tender tootsies and make roots and rocks your staple, you may need some more reinforcements.
Note also, the Fellraiser has a completely separate, rather than integrated tongue, which means seams. I remained blister free through 5 miles of hiking over Wachusett Mountain, 11 miles of vicious up/down over the 7 Sisters, and a 6.6 mile trail run on mixed terrain (as soon as I could walk again after 7 Sisters), but there was definitely a little rub until everything settled in the right place. Just something else for the sensitive types to be aware of…
We all know “drainage”is a hot-button feature in the OCR world. We run through water and mud, and our feet get wet. So how quickly our feet get dry again matters (to a degree…wet socks are still wet socks). The Fellraiser falls a little short here as well. Light, airy mesh rather than a more water-repellent fabric (as found in the Speedcross) takes in water quickly, and a dense sockliner (Salomon’s proprietary OrthoLite(R) insole) – while comfy – keeps some of it slogging around in there for a short bit. Not far, but far enough to notice while waiting for enough footfalls to push it back out again through the mesh above the reinforced foxing. In addition, the mesh remained damp for hours afterward, requiring some intervention if you want dry feet for back-to-back runs/races.
If you’re looking for a door-to-trail option, or if your favorite runs involve long stretches of road or asphalt, this shoe is not your first choice. The Fellraiser is strictly a forest/mountain creature.
Now the very good news…
I have always believed that if you have to “break in”a shoe, it’s not the right shoe for you. Shoes, especially trainers, should be a good fit right out of the box. And, as already alluded to, the Fellraiser is a very comfortable shoe, even earning a 2013 “Fit Feel Ride Award”from competitor magazine for Best New Model.
Designed to be low to the ground and somewhat ‘minimal’(heel to toe drop is 6mm as opposed to the Speedcross’11mm), the Fellraiser maintains a soft ride for those who still want or need a little more cushioning under the forefoot. Would I wear these for 50 miles straight? Probably not, but for those aforementioned 11 vicious ones in the Mt. Holyoke range, I never once had to think about my feet.
As for fit, I found these true to size and accommodating. A square-ish toe box provides room for wider feet than the Speedcross, though the uppers feature the same TPU overlays that hug the feet securely when the Quicklace(TM) laces are pulled snug. Personally a big fan of these laces (no double-knotting required!), they stayed put throughout all three test hikes/runs, with the exception of my right foot after one exceptionally steep descent. A quick tug/slide/tuck, however, and I was back on my way in – literally – a few seconds. The soft collar doesn’t rub or gap, preventing hot spots over the achilles/under the malleoli (ankle bones) and keeping out dirt and debris. And, they breathe, keeping my feet noticeably cool – even when the rest of me wasn’t.
The outsoles…mad grip, dude. Aggressive chevron Contagrip(R) treads dig deep into muddy and wet terrain. This is where the Fellraiser truly excels.
Extending from edge to edge, the sole provides great lateral stability when cutting sideways or shifting gears. Almost crampon-like lugs under the forefoot, claw their way up slick inclines (and dry ones for that matter) without slip, and reversed pattern lugs aft deliver control on the quick descents when shifting back onto the heels. They are spaced to shed mud easily, preventing the build-up that can render other tread useless. And because the lugs are soft, they also grip sheer rock superbly. In fact, I could hear the “squick-squick-squick” of the rubber sticking with each step, giving me the confidence to pick up my pace on the trudge up and down the bolder faces of Wachusett, even where the rock was slightly wet. Awesome.
With the exception of road/asphalt, I have yet to find a trail surface where Fellraiser does not perform. Hard pack, soft pine, dirt, rock, grass, mud…
No matter how filthy I made these shoes, hosing them off (if copious mud) and tossing them into the washing machine (note: pull out inserts first) made them like brand new again. Air dry. It was that easy.
[The Salomon Fellraiser retails for $110 and is available in both women’s and men’s. For more information including product technologies/specs, check out http://www.salomon.com/us/product/fellraiser.html]