Salomon S-Lab XA Pro 3

Can you say cream of the crop? The Salomon S-Lab XA Pro 3 shoes were developed for elite adventure racers, top trail runners, and mountain marathoners who might tick off a 40-mile backcountry session on any given Saturday.

And now they’re available to you, starting later this month, at a mere $70 per shoe. Yes, that’s $140 a pair.

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Indeed, until now these ├╝ber mountain runners were only handed out to pro athletes, with a select small quantity available on web sites like argear.com and backcountry.com (the latter of which had only six pairs remaining in its stock last I checked).

The Gear Junkie here got an exclusive test pair shipped out in January, and I’ve been running in them ever since.

What makes the XA Pro 3 so special? Essentially, Salomon (salomonsports.com) took its successful XA Pro 3D shoe design and streamlined its weight by 15 percent, changing the toe bumper and other exterior details.

Salomon also added an integrated gaiter, something I personally love.

The result is a go-anywhere shoe with breathable mesh uppers, a cincher lacing system, and a not-too-aggressive outsole that nicely balances speed with its grip on the terrain.

The XA Pro 3 shoes are extra stable on bumpy, variable terrain, with a somewhat flat-footed feel that keeps the shoe from rolling. The mesh uppers breathe well, but they don’t keep out any water. Instead, the shoes naturally squeeze out and drain water as you run, allowing racers to slosh through streams and puddles with less concern.

The integrated gaiters are made of a stretchy nylon material. They close tight with Velcro, keeping sticks and pebbles out of your shoes.

In my tests, the XA Pro 3 shoes were near-perfect for off-trail events, like orienteering and adventure racing. Rough trails and mountain terrain are optimal mediums for the XA Pro 3 as well.

The shell of the shoe feels like a tiny force field on your foot, protective but not bulky. The gaiters worked well, keeping all detritus at bay.

For road running these shoes are a no-no. To me they felt too flat for pavement, keeping me on my heels, with little of the cushioning support that my knees needed. Even on flat dirt trails I would pick a different shoe.

But for the terrain I’m more a fan of running through — the woods, mountains, hills, screefields, meadows, and swamps — the XA Pro 3’s get the job done, and then some.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see http://www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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