The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is a trail shoe, a category that’s kind of hard to define due to the many ways it can present itself. Many offerings, like those provided by running companies like Altra or HOKA One One, focus on keeping weight low and providing a cushioned, low-impact ride. Others from more “traditional” hiking brands like Merrel or Oboz function like stripped-back versions of their mid- and high-top siblings, using the same technologies and designs while attempting to increase articulation and in theory reducing weight.
But the X Ultra 3 GTX takes a different path. Of course Salomon’s mountain credentials are beyond reproach, making all manner of traditional boots for hiking, skiing, and snowboarding. But they also have a foot in the running game, with dedicated running lines including footwear and apparel.
So this shoe represents an attempt to bring those two worlds together, giving us a shoe that’s both light and adaptable, but also protective and supportive. It could be the ideal one-shoe closet if it’s able to do all that. But it’s a tall order to fill.
First thing’s first, let’s get the most important part out of the way. How does it fit? The X Ultra 3 GTX, like pretty much every other Salomon, fits a little narrow. Not shockingly so, it’s still well within the range of a “standard” fit. But like La Sportiva or Nike, Salomon’s lasting can leave people with a bit wider of a foot feeling uncomfortable, even if they’re not quite a 2E/Wide size normally. That isn’t a flaw, per se. There are at least as many people who need narrower footwear as there are people who need wider ones. But if you’re in the latter group it’s definitely worth trying these on before you buy them, or at the least double-checking the return policy before you check out.
What’s less easy to forgive though is the Quicklace system. Using a low-friction drawstring, with a stuff sack-like spring closure that is simple to use. Tightening the lacing is easy enough, but stowing the lace (by tucking it into a pouch built into the top of the tongue) is such a finicky process it doesn’t feel like you actually gain any time over a traditional lace.
And in exchange for that dubious benefit, you potentially give up future repairability. Replacement lace kits do exist, and they’re available from Salomon directly. But unlike traditional laces those kits aren’t normally available at convenience stores, big box stores, and may not even be in stock at whatever outdoor shop is closest to the trailhead when you notice you’ve popped a lace. And due to the design decisions necessary to make the Quicklace system work, you cannot jury-rig a standard lace to work with this shoe, even temporarily.
It’s not a deal breaker, obviously. But the potential for a broken lace to leave you stranded in an untieable shoe makes the Quicklace system feel like “innovation” for innovation’s sake rather than a substantive benefit to the wearer.
Another curious feature of the X Ultra 3 GTX is indicated by those last three letters in the name. If you’re the type of person reading reviews before buying trail shoes, you’ve already got your opinions about GORE-TEX, so there’s no need to waste anyone’s time telling you what it’s for and how dry it can keep your feet in wet environments. You know that already.
But paired with the low-top design of the X Ultra 3 GTX, it feels slightly out of place. Despite the fully gusseted tongue, the waterproof-breathable protection doesn’t even go above your ankle bone. More than adequate for shrugging off a bit of dampness, and pretty good at keeping mud out. But as soon as you’re facing any kind of standing water, the benefit disappears. Not even from over-topping, just the natural slosh and splash of walking through water is going to send water up, and into the shoe.
Once again this isn’t a flaw. The shoe is doing what it was designed to do, be lighter and still provide protection. But practically speaking, if you’re looking for protection you’re better off with a full boot, simply because it will protect more. If your priority is lightness, it feels like you’d be better served by the (non-waterproof) Salomon X Ultra 3, which provides the same performance with a lower cost and even better breathability, since you’re going to get wet regardless of which pair you’re wearing.
Feels like a shoe, supports like a boot
Now that those concerns and quibbles have been discussed, we can focus on what this boot does well. Specifically, it’s the thing that makes it feel and hike differently than every other trail shoe on the market.
This shoe supports like a boot.
Of course we’re not talking about the ankle-cradling “support” that old-school hikers and people with a history of ankle injury appreciate about traditional hiking boots. Thru-hikers have been preaching the anti-boot gospel for years now, claiming the support and protection provided by high-tops to be a myth, and not worth the added weight and restriction. By virtue of you considering this shoe we’re going to assume that their evangelism has convinced you.
No, the support we’re talking about doesn’t happen at the ankle, it happens under your foot. Working together the Advanced Chassis Construction and Energy Cell midsole work to give you a stiff, supportive platform that’s ideal for logging massive mileage on difficult terrain. Especially compared to similar shoes, which draw more from the flexible high-cushion world of running shoes, it gives you a feeling of confidence when scrambling up a rock field or traversing a tricky shelf trail.
The support is so good in this shoe that it’s one of the only ones, hiking or otherwise, that hasn’t needed an aftermarket insole to support my consistently hard-to-please arches. And all that work is being done by the midsole, since the OrthoLite insole is no more supportive or impressive than any other basic foam insole.
All told, the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX Shoes ($149.99) gives hikers an option that gives them more comfort and articulation than a traditional boot, while still providing the support and stability of a boot for improved comfort and endurance on difficult terrain. The only caveat in recommending this boot is potential buyers should really consider the non-waterproof X Ultra 3 if they’re not absolutely certain they want the increased cost and decreased breathability of this Gore-Tex version.