Think on Your Feet

Jul 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

From left: The Salomon's XA Pro GTX, Nike's ACG Air Thielsen, New Balance's 705, and the Adidas Response Trail 8

SALOMON's XA Pro GTX ($120) continues a legacy of shoes that thrive in slime, snow, rock, surf, and any other debilitating terrain you can throw their way. In this version, Salomon used Gore-Tex's more breathable XCR liner, but kept the one-pull Kevlar laces, trail-detritus-blocking gusseted tongue, EVA-cushioned midsole, and full-length protection and support plate between the midsole and outsole from earlier models. Underneath you'll find the race-proven rubber tread that's sticky inside for traction and tougher around the edges for durability and a moderate perceived weight. But since Gore's lining wraps the entire foot, the XA Pro GTX runs stiff—brilliant for a long wet trek, but too hard for a short dry run. (877-272-5666;

Aggressive muck junkies should consider making the NIKE ACG AIR THIELSEN ($80) their precision platform. This shoe offers a stiff polyurethane insert and reinforced forefoot web under the midsole for protection. A customizable lacing system and a midfoot girdle then work together to lock in your foot. Cover that with an integrated tongue-and-lace overlay that says "ixnay" to any debris sneaking past the ankle, and your feet will feel safer than Fort Knox. But all that security exacts a toll. Despite a light perceived weight and firm EVA in the mid- and rear-foot areas—excellent for stability and control on long runs, through mud and slop, or on traverses—the Thielsen lacks the smooth rebound needed for roadwork. (800-344-6453;
NEW BALANCE's 705 ($78) often plays third fiddle to the company's more expensive 800- and 900-series all-terrain shoes, an inequity that's yours to exploit. Thanks to multiple available widths, plus the same plush and stable platform found in the high-priced models, the 705 offers a perfect fit with a moderate perceived weight. The cushioning elastomer in both the forefoot and heel adds up to the most maneuverable and flexible shoe in New Balance's all-terrain bag—attributes that make this a worthy graded-hardpack trotter with adequate traction should the road unexpectedly turn into a rutted jeep trail. But even with a plastic arch for support and protection, the 705 is no scrambling shoe. (800-253-7463;

Having once ruled the off-road market, ADIDAS lost its way a few years back when it shifted gears and targeted style-conscious urbanites. Thankfully, the eighth edition of the firm's classic mud hopper, the RESPONSE TRAIL 8 ($80), will make runners rejoice again. The RT8 could well be called the XLR8, given its smooth ride and light perceived weight. It offers durable water-resistant mesh uppers, an EVA cushioning compound in the heel and elastic EVA cushioning in the forefoot, plus outsole lugs for reliable purchase on loose slopes. The tread is so grippy, it'll snag on plush pile carpet. Cushy yet firm, the shoe is well suited for one- to three-hour runs on hard-packed dirt or rocky trails. (800-423-4327;

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