Salewa's radical new walking shoe is new this spring and features a radically curved sole unit developed with Vibram and called the 'Rolling Gait System'. The idea is that the aggressive toe-up design increases underfoot contact on steep ascents and the upturned snout helps to propel you forward. We're intrigued both by the idea and the slightly mad looks.
- £125 / 790g (pair 42.5)
- Mesh and fabric uppers with Gore-Tex waterproof lining
- Speedlace system
- Additional toe and heel protection
- Two-row lacing system
- Overlapping tongue construction
- Take-off Technology toe / Vibram Rolling Gait System
Woah! At first look the Speed Ascent looks pleasingly eccentric with its exaggerated upturned toe, curved sole, bright alpine colours and unusual double-row lacing system. It'd be easy to write it off from the looks, but as Hoka One One demonstrate, you can't always judge a foot by its cover. Or something like that.
The Speed Ascent is designed for fast walking on steep alpine terrain and the sole unit was developed with Vibram. Called Rolling Gait System, the idea is that the aggressive curve to the sole helps you roll forward, a bit like the rocket on some stiffened mountaineering boots, while the, erm, Take Off Technology toe gives you optimum toe-off.
Imagine the shoe on properly steep alpine climbs and you can picture the shape of the sole increasing initial contact with the ground as you power your way uphill, maybe…
Not content with the unusual sole, Salewa has also gone to town on the uppers: for a start there's a speeding lace system for rapid adjustment, but that's not all. Slightly lower down are a second set of lace anchoring points so you can increase hold by swapping some of the lacing points for lower ones.
To do that you'd have to dismantle the speed-lace system, presumably by cutting and refastening. We're not sure you'd need to anyway, the fit is described as 'alpine' and it's pretty close both in the forefoot and outback where there's excellent heel hold.
The wrap-round fit is also helped by a tongue that's folded only at one side giving a smoother internal profile. It's all very clever stuff and it does seem to pay off in the glove-like fit of the shoe. The speed-lacing works well by the way and there's a dedicated elastic loop to stop the excess flapping about and an auto lock on the grip seems super secure which isn't always the case.
But what you're really wondering is how on earth they feel like to walk in and more specifically, how will a shoe designed to work specifically on steep alpine trails feel on more undulating UK trails. And will people laugh at your shoes?
We went for a quick wander in an effort to find out... Fast forward an hour and we can tell you that initially they do feel slightly odd, mainly because of the upturned toe, there's simply a different 'lift-off point' because of the aggressive upturn. They do walk with a real zing though, not so much if you're just meandering along, but step on the walking gas and there's a fluid roll to your stride.
In an effort to see how they feel on steeps, we sought out a double chevron road climb - one that hurts our calfs running up it - and walked up it briskly. On the constant steep incline, the shoes actually felt really natural and grippy. And when we go back on the flat, we realised we'd adjusted to the shoe to the point where it felt quite natural, but at its best at a fair clip.
Otherwise we noticed fit for us - broad forefoot, narrower heel - was excellent. Snug and secure with no slip or heel lift. There's a sort of medium level of cushioning, fine on hard surfaces but not overly squishy. And there's plenty of underfoot stiffness.
When we first saw the shoes, Salewa UK's Ben Malcolm told us that they were designed to feel best on steep terrain and our initial try seems to bear that out. That said, a lot of steep UK hill and mountain paths are actually stepped rather than a constant road-type gradient, so they may not be directly comparable. They should though, be good for steep grassy slopes and hardpack trails that would normally force you onto your toes.
We're still intrigued. After an hour's potter the shoes no longer felt quite so odd underfoot as we got used to the distinctive rolling motion of the sole unit and our steep hill test suggested that they do feel happiest on this sort of gradient as well as when moving fast enough to take advantage of the sole's distinct rocker.
So they might just be an ideal light but sturdy choice for faster walkers. We'll let you know how they cope off road and whether the relatively modest outsole lugs are happy with damper conditions too, but initial signs are promising. And no, no-one laughed at us - at least not openly.
Available in men's and women's versions, with and without Gore-Tex for £130 and £110 respectively - www.salewa.com