The Vasque Ultra SST, or “ShapeShifter Technology,” hit the market this month, and I got my hands on a pre-release review pair to test on the trails around Denver. Long story short, they sketched me out and also ring in at a hefty $170, a high price to pay for trail shoes.
Super-cush trail shoes are all the rage this year, with models from several top manufacturers coming to market this spring. The opposite of the barefoot shoe movement of a few years ago, the high stack height of the new designs use materials that keep weight reasonable even with massive soles.
While I’ve run hundreds of trail miles over the last two years and events such as the TransRockies Run, UROC 100k and Jupiter Peak Steeplechase, this was my first experience running on a super-thick soled shoe, so my opinion should be seen through the lens of someone used to a more minimal sole.
Putting the SST through its paces on easy, buffed-out mountain bike trails, I was pleased during climbs but not at all happy on descents or flat terrain.
The shoe does a great job of conforming to the contours of the trail and buffering the foot from impact, but it does so at the price of proprioception and stability.
When purposely stepping on large, pointy rocks, I barely felt them through the thick soles. But with so much material underfoot (and a sloppy fit even on my wide feet) my steps were far from sure.
The shoes left me unimpressed on fast downhills. Even with a high-tech upper that seemed a good fit, I felt significant slop in the forefoot and had to fight to keep my ankles from rolling and stay on course.
In my first 5-mile test run, I rolled my ankles twice, once on each foot, during downhill sections, and while neither instance resulted in injury, both were way too close to sprained ankles for comfort.
I don’t entirely blame the footwear. But having run at least a thousand trail miles in the last two years, I can’t remember rolling my ankle more than a couple times total. Twice in one short run raises red flags.
It may be that I am unfamiliar with the incredible stack height of this shoe, opting to normally race and train in shoes with minimal soles.
For those more familiar with thick-sole shoes such as the Hoka, the Ultra SST could be an option. The shoe does keeps its promise of incredible shock absorption and trail conformity at a remarkably light weight for so much material. But for the masses of trail runners, this shoe at best falls short of a great performer and at worst is downright spooky. For most, I’d steer clear. —Sean McCoy
The Gear: Vasque Ultra SST
Where To Test It: Mountain trails
Who’s It For: Trail runners looking for an alternative to the Hoka
Boring But Important: The massive stack height gave me trouble and led to two rolled ankles in my first test run. I also got some weird blisters under my arch, a fit problem that the company said has been addressed in the production model (I tested a pre-production sample).
Important Specs: The Ultra SST weighs 10.6 ounces per shoe (size 9 men’s). The stack height of the “shapeshifter” sole is 28mm in heel, 22mm in toe, for a 6mm drop. The shoe uses a BOA closure system in place of laces.
Made In: China
Killer! The thick sole softens rough terrain.
Flaw: The shoe is unstable on downhills, allowing for forefoot slop and rolling ankles.
First Impressions: Scary. The shoe lacked stability and puts the foot so far above the ground that running feels like a Russian roulette of injury.
Who Should Buy It: Runners who need to try everything once.
Contact Brand/More Beta: Vasque Ultra SST
—Sean McCoy is managing editor. Our “First Look” column highlights new gear arrivals at GearJunkie.com. Photos © Monopoint Media LLC