Rating: 4 / 5
Plain black SpeedCross 2, purchased on clearance at REI in summer 2011.
Executive summary: I LOVE these things, but they're a bit narrow for my forefoot ( would be -1, but should work for some people), and the aggressive sole has some minor downsides (-1).
These have been my go-to shoes for nearly all of my trips since this summer. I have worn them on a dozen trips covering somewhere around 180 miles. I have used them alone, with Dirty Girl gaiters, with OR Rocky Mountain Low gaiters, with some old Threshold high gaiters, and with BD Contact Strap crampons, wearing mostly light and sometimes medium-weight merino wool socks. They have seen bare dirt, duff, mud, dusty trails, lava flows (alas, not of the molten variety), gravel, scree, talus, fresh snow, old snowpack, bare bedrock, glaciers, bog bridges, snow-covered and wet logs, and a teensy bit of pavement. They've been up Washington mountains like Adams, Baker, Maude, Pyramid, and Olympus.
The tread is really aggressive, but simple.
+ It provides traction like whoa! on mud, dirt, and consolidated snow.
+ It is reasonably well cushioned and firm. Occasionally I notice (in a bad way) an annoying rock, but I have not hit any parciularly painful ones.
* The tread also gets pretty good purchase on rock up to moderate steepness, but I suspect the lack of greater surface area limits it somewhat (the lugs are small and tall, meaning there's much less rubber in contact with rock than on a more traditional tread).
- The tread is bad on wet wood, wet/icy/mossy rock, and other similar smooth slippery surfaces. Of course most treads suffer here too, but I think that again the lesser surface area of the tall lugs makes the SpeedCross even iffier on these surfaces.
- The aggressive tread is uniform all the way to the edge of the outsole, meaning there is no flat edge along the inner or outer sides of the foot. I found this in convenient when trying to find purchase on the one low 5th class pitch they've seen.
+ The heel lacks the comically ridiculous flare of the heel on the XA Pro 3D Ultra and is narrow enough to fit crampons like the BD Contact Strap. The crampons work quite well actually (with flexible center bars)
* The sole is kind of narrow (narrower than XA Pros...) which makes the shoe feel a little more nimble but a little less stable.
+ Durability has been great so far, but I have stayed off tended towards softer surfaces, though with a healthy does of rock. (Only about 200 yards of pavement total. Pavement would make those lugs disappear pretty quickly.)
The upper is a very dense mesh.
* It's less breathable and a little slower to dry than mesh on some other trail runners like Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra, but still pretty good.
+ It also tends to keep a little more grit out due to the denser weave.
+ It is more water-resistant than mesh on my XA Pro 3D Ultras (though not saying much).
+ It works well in snow, taking on minimal water due to the dense mesh (at least until around/above freezing).
+ With medium wool socks, my feet stayed warm (though slightly damp over time) in fresh deep powder in the 20s, hard rain, and wind in the 30s on a glacier, etc.
+ WIth light wool socks, they stayed warm (but eventually damp) on snowpack at warmer temperatures and some fresh snow right around freezing.
+ The do dry out while walking if conditions are dry enough. They even dried reasonably while walking on snowpack/glacier during the day after rain had stopped.
+ Durability is excellent so far. Not a single sign of stress on the uppers despite plenty of rock, root, and scraping, and a couple of accidental crampon swipes. Much better than the mesh on my XA Pros.
+ The heel seems narrowish, which I find nice: my heel is going nowhere, very secure, even though it looks a bit shallow from the outside.
+ The standard Salomon kevlar lacing is there. I like it. Some people don't. This instance is symmetric.
- The forefoot is quite narrow. In fact, it is too narrow for me. Long days put pressure on my little toes. They get red, but don't blister interestingly. The biggest "knuckle" joint on my big toes can feel a little odd after a long intensive day in these (like it's been compressed inward, not surprisingly).
- My toes (and toenails) occasionally catch on the inside of the toe bumper, which is mildly painful (maybe not painful, but it feels like it might rip the nail off -- I did have mild trouble with separation of the nail due to this on one big toe, but not serious)
+ My foot does not slide around at all.
* Fits best with a light sock. Medium will fit, but leaves no room to play...
Despite the narrow forefoot and downsides of the aggressive tread, I have continued to wear these for almost all of my trips this year, since they do so well on snow (I've seen a lot of it) and mud, dirt, etc. and they stay attached to foot so well. If I'm careful on long days, the narrow forefoot can be managed to avoid issues. However, I could not put down several intense days in a row. Too much beating on the forefoot.
For someone with a narrow forefoot and no need to step the edge of the foot on very narrow footholds on rock, these would be amazing shoes for rugged stuff. If you'll stick to mostly trails, get something with a less aggressive tread, but go for these for steep/snow/largely soft-surfaced off-trail etc.
Supposedly the SpeedCross 3 is a little wider. I may try it. The La Sportiva CrossLite/Leather look similar, but perhaps with a little less padding.