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Review: Salewa Ultra Train Hiking & Running Shoes

The Salewa Ultra Train is a light and agile hiking shoe or a capable mountain running shoe, depending on your preferences and needs.

The Salewa Ultra Train is a light and agile hiking shoe or a capable mountain running shoe, depending on your preferences and needs.

The Salewa Ultra Train is the shoe I hoped it would be, with one circumvent-able flaw. In the past month I have worn it on rugged backpacking trips in the Colorado Rockies, as well as on several trail runs and mild hikes to better understand its optimal range.

Review: Salewa Ultra Train

Some may find the Ultra Train to be a suitable mountain running shoe. I generally prefer more nimble models, however, like the Salewa Lite Train (review) or Salomon Sense Pro (long-term review), since nearly all of my runs start and finish with pavement and non-technical dirt.

Instead, I’ve found the Ultra Train to be ideal for high route-style backpacking: steep, uneven, and rocky footing with extensive side-hilling, boulder-hopping, scree skiing, and snow travel, both on-trail and off-trail. The Ultra Train is suitable for non-technical trails, too, but for that purpose I would be willing to sacrifice some of its precision handling for more underfoot cushioning.

The Ultra Train may be best compared to the La Sportiva Bushido. Both are light and agile hiking shoes, or capable mountain running shoes, depending on your preferences and needs.

Testing grounds in the Colorado Rockies, ridge-walking the Continental Divide at 12,000+ feet.

Testing grounds in the Colorado Rockies, ridge-walking the Continental Divide at 12,000+ feet.

Key specs and features

  • 10.1 oz, men’s size 9; 12.0 oz, men’s size 11.5
  • 8 mm drop
  • Stack height: 23 mm (heel), 15 mm (toe)
  • Neutral motion
  • Breathable mesh upper with reinforcing exoskeleton
  • Moderately aggressive outsole made by Michelin

The Ultra Train is true to size, at least in 11.5. I am also size 11.5 in Altra, La Sportiva, Merrell, and Salomon. It seems designed for an average foot volume. My foot is below-average in volume, and the Ultra Train is a bit oversized for it.

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The single flaw

The Ultra Trains feature Salomon-style quick laces, which can be an asset in time-sensitive events (e.g. ultra marathons) because they make for fast on/off and tension adjustments.

Unfortunately, my Ultra Train laces slowly loosen, presumably due to insufficient friction within the toggle. This results in increasingly lost control. The problem is most notable in technical terrain, when the shoe incurs the most lateral and fore/aft pressure. Of course, reliable control is needed most in such situations.

(Note: Not everyone seems to have this problem, per Vlad.)

There are three solutions:

  • Regularly re-tighten the laces;
  • Tie a slip loop over the toggle to prevent it from backing out; or,
  • Re-thread with conventional laces.
To prevent the quick laces from slowly loosening, tie a slip loop over the toggle.

To prevent the quick laces from slowly loosening, tie a slip loop over the toggle.

I’m annoyed by these “solutions” because they shouldn’t be necessary. Nonetheless, they’re effective workarounds. Conventional laces would be my ultimate pick. My experience with other brands is that the quick lace cord (a kevlar core with a nylon sheath) is prone to abrasion, especially in gritty environments like the desert; and the loop of excess cord can be snagged by vegetation if I am not wearing gaiters.

On a hiking shoe, I generally prefer conventional laces over quick laces. The quick laces can be snagged by vegetation, and they can fray, especially in gritty conditions.

On a hiking shoe, I generally prefer conventional laces over quick laces. The quick laces can be snagged by vegetation, and they can fray, especially in gritty conditions.

Besides its lacing system, I like everything else about the Ultra Train.

Outsole

The Michelin-made sticky rubber outsole is moderately aggressively and has extensive surface area. Its grip proved reliable on steep dirt, rain-soaked and hail-covered tundra, and granite talus and slabs.

The toe bumper lip is starting to peel away, which is fairly common. It can be fixed easily with some Aquaseal.

The moderately aggressively Michelin-made outsole is sticky and has ample surface area.

The moderately aggressively Michelin-made outsole is sticky and has ample surface area.

Testing traction on Parry Peak, a 13'er, which had been hammered by hail the afternoon prior.

Testing traction on Parry Peak, a 13’er, which had been hammered by hail the afternoon prior.

Midsole

The Ultra Train sits relatively low to the ground and thus offers precise handling in technical terrain. It has a stack height of 23 mm and 15mm at the heel and toe, respectively, and a drop of 8 mm. This puts it higher than the Lite Train (17 and 12), about comparable to the Salomon Sense Pro (23 and 17), and lower than the Altra Lone Peak (25 and 25) and Brooks Cascadia (27 and 17).

While I found the Ultra Train to be sufficiently comfortable for consecutive hours of trail hiking, it’s relatively thin EVA midsole cushioning will limit its use for big miles on non-technical trails. Intentional design tradeoffs, I suppose.

Forefoot stiffness

The Ultra Train has a forefoot rock plate. Its stiffness has proven helpful in kicking steps and holding edges on steep dirt and grass slopes, and lingering snowfields. It also partially compensates for the relative lack of underfoot cushioning.

My route towards Hopi Peak scrambled through the talus and then ascended the steep grass ramp on the left. In such terrain, the ability to hold an edge is critical.

My route towards Hopi Peak scrambled through the talus and then ascended the steep grass ramp on the left. In such terrain, the ability to hold an edge is critical.

The upper

The upper is a mix of mesh and synthetic leather. The mesh is very airy, to the degree that a strong wind can be felt in the toebox. This will allow the dissipation of heat and perspiration, and improve dry times. But keep the Ultra Train out of areas with fine desert sand like Escalante — they will become a sandbox.

The upper’s lower perimeter is wrapped with rigid coated fabrics. This wrap improves lateral control and resistance to abrasion and bumps, like when kicking steps or (accidentally) rocks. The wrap also increases water-resistance (by about a half-inch), but will trap more water after being submerged.

Overall

The Ultra Train is a solid pick for technical hiking and trail running. I plan to use it on several more end-of-season hikes in Colorado before the snow starts to stick next month. And barring something new and better, it will be go-to next season as well.


Disclosure: Salewa provided me with the Ultra Trains for review. This post contains affiliate links, which help to support this website.

18 Responses to Review: Salewa Ultra Train Hiking & Running Shoes

  1. Vlad September 19, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    Nice review, Andrew!

    I have quite opposite issue with my Salewa Ultra Train: laces don’t have any elasticity and I often lace them to tight and after a while I have to loosen them. But they’ve never loosened by themselves.

    These are now my favourite shoes for day hikes and short backpacking trips.

    • Andrew Skurka September 19, 2016 at 9:16 am #

      That’s good to know. Maybe there is an issue with my quick lace toggles.

      If yours are secure, I can definitely understand why they are your favorites. Mine are my favorites, even with the toggle issue.

  2. spelt September 20, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

    I ordered these to try after you reviewed the Lite Trains favorably, but the combination of quick laces and low foot volume made them not work for me. I need conventional laces to be able to crank down the instep separately.With the quick laces, getting the instep tight enough strangled my ankles. I did really like the tread (although my notes say “not sticky”–to be fair I was comparing them to Ultra Raptors, and LaSportiva’s rubber is a whole other class of sticky) and how low and level they felt without feeling poky in the sole.

    • Andrew Skurka September 23, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

      I would disagree with your “not sticky” assessment. I’ve worn many Sportivas and do not feel that these leave anything to be desired. Sometimes new shoes feel slick, however, as if there is a coating or film on the new rubber.

  3. Matt September 21, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    You can tuck the extra loop of lace into a pocket in the top of the tongue. Not sure if it will stay put there?

    I just ordered a pair of these, and they are surprisingly comfortable so far (around the house). I was having a hard time finding anything at REI that fit well and didn’t have Gore-tex. There were at least two pairs I tried that fit perfectly that were only available with Gore-tex at REI.

    • Andrew Skurka September 23, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

      It will stay there, but you end up with a big loop.

      Please report back on your experience with this shoe, thanks.

      • Matt September 23, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

        Tucking the loop of laces into the pocket in the tongue avoids the problem of having it snag on vegetation. There is less chance of snagging that way than with traditional laces. It’s an extra step, but not much slower than tying traditional laces.

        I hiked Mt. Sanitas in Boulder today with these shoes. I like them so far, but I haven’t used them enough to really comment on them yet. I was hoping to go backpacking this weekend, but it looks like a cold front is coming through with high wind, cold temperatures, and maybe some snow, so I don’t think it would be much fun.

        I felt the shoes loosen a little on the way down, but it might have just been the quick laces redistributing tension tightening the toe area and loosening the ankle area, rather than the tightening mechanism slipping. I haven’t had shoes with quick laces before, but I’ll pay attention to it.

  4. bruce October 8, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    thanks for another great review. like you, i have a narrow, low-volume foot. might it be possible to size down in this shoe? i’m able to in the sense pro, though barely. how does the length on these compare?

  5. RONEN YAARI October 10, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    Andrew, what are your thoughts on shoes that have ankle support. i need a boot for Hayduke trail in the GC and potentially the WRHR. I now wear Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D Trail Running Shoe. But i think i need a bit more protection for my wobbly ankles.

    What do you think of these:Salomon Men’s Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking Boot. — more protection and Goretex?

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N9W05XI/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2R2D9YU1CLRWQ&coliid=IDXDTDLCWVDLZ

    • Andrew Skurka October 10, 2016 at 8:43 am #

      If you are wearing low cut shoes now, I think you will miss them if you go back to boots. Plus, you will need to train for these trips, the WRHR in particular, and your ankles will get stronger during that process.

  6. scotty October 11, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

    I’ve been wearing salomon xa ultra 3d for several years now and love them as hiking and everything else shoe. Curious about how these compare. Just to see what else was out there I tried on ultra raptors, bushidos and lonely peak 3.0 and ended up with another pair of the Salomons.

    • Andrew Skurka October 12, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      If you “love” the XA Pro, you should stick with it.

      Personally, my feet swim in the XA Pro, and I need to change out the insoles in wetter conditions because they absorb water and “accordion” inside the shoe. Also, they are heavy, and I don’t find the grip to be exceptional.

      The Ultra Train are lower volume, stickier, and better for wet conditions.

  7. Bruce October 24, 2016 at 10:21 am #

    how would you compare the ultra train with the bushido, esp. for hiking but also for trail running? in terms of fit, i’m guessing the bushido would be a snugger fit for a narrow foot? what would be the equivalent sizes for you?

    thanks,
    bruce

    • Andrew Skurka October 25, 2016 at 11:08 am #

      My familiarity with the Bushido is only through second-hand experience and first-hand examination. Maybe they should send me a pair for testing.

      Assuming the Bushido sizing is the same as other La Sportiva models, I’m a 45.5. I’m a standard 11.5 US.

  8. Bruce October 29, 2016 at 10:00 am #

    they absolutely should! you wouldn’t have any experience with akasha or mutant, would you? or adidas trail shoes? i’m considering the ultra train (wish i could find a pair to try on), but i’m not too keen on quick laces, even at their best, especially with my narrow feet.

    thanks again,
    bruce

  9. Ian January 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    Thank you for reviewing these shoes! This is about the only good review I found to them online. I recently bought a pair of these and plan on thru-hiking the AT. I was wondering if these could work or, due to the thin mid sole, it would be better to pick up a pair of Brooks Cascadia 11’s. I had previously tried on the Salomon XA Pro 3D, but my low ankles would have bruised from constantly hitting the ankle supports. I could also try a combined system where I swap to the Salewa’s in Pennsylvania as the trails from there on out get very rocky from what I’ve read. Thank you for all the awesome information you’ve put up on this blog!

    • Andrew Skurka January 9, 2017 at 2:37 pm #

      The Ultra Train is a more capable shoe on technical terrain than the Cascadia, but the cushioning is thin and it’s not a great shoe for pounding out miles. In this respect I think the Cascadia would be better. Of course, they are only better if they fit your foot.

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