Salomon’s X Ultra line of hiking footwear is one of our long-time favorites for all types of uses from day hikes to lightweight backpacking trips. The new “3” was released in late 2017, and Salomon mostly stuck to the original script—changes include tweaks to the lacing system and a redesign of the outsole to improve downhill traction. We’ve put the shoe through everything from early winter conditions in the Pacific Northwest to summer in Patagonia, and feel Salomon has again hit the mark. It’s light, nimble, grips well on just about any surface, and will hold up through extended rough use. Below we break down the X Ultra 3’s comfort, weight, traction, waterproofing, durability, fit, and more. To see how the X Ultra 3 stacks up to the competition, see our articles on the best hiking shoes and hiking boots.
My first impression when slipping on the X Ultra 3 was that it felt a lot like a supportive trail-running shoe. It’s lightweight and moderately flexible, but also has nice padding in the collar and tongue, and the sculpted insole provides enough cushion and support to feel “just right” straight out of the box. The shoe is thinner underfoot than a traditional hiker like the Merrell Moab 2 or Keen Targhee III, but I never found myself wanting more isolation from the ground even over rough terrain and with a loaded down 38-liter pack. All told, the X Ultra delivers what I want for day hiking and lightweight backpacking: the feeling of a trail runner but with the added comfort and protection that you get from a hiking-specific model.
The X Ultra’s running shoe inspired design makes it one of the most aggressive hiking shoes on the trail. And the scales confirm that feeling: my men’s size 9 Gore-Tex model checks in at 1 pound 10 ounces. For perspective, that’s almost exactly the same as a waterproof trail runner like the Brooks Cascadia 12 GTX (1 pound 10.6 ounces), and it undercuts most of the hiking shoe market. Popular designs like the Merrell Moab 2 WP (2 pounds 1 ounce), Keen Targhee III Low WP (1 pound 14.8 ounces), and The North Face Ultra 110 GTX (1 pound 15 ounces) all weigh significantly more and feel clunky by comparison. You can save about 1 ounce by opting for the non-waterproof X Ultra 3 shoe, and the mid-height boot version is a standout in the waterproof hiking boot market at 2 pounds 1.4 ounces (also a men’s size 9).
Overall, changes from the X Ultra 2 to 3 were fairly modest, but Salomon did redesign its outsoles for improved downhill traction. This is seen primarily at the heel, which trades solid rubber for a series of gill-like cutouts to bite into the ground. Admittedly, we didn’t feel the old X Ultra 2 was ever really lacking in grip, but we’ve nevertheless been pleased with the new Contagrip outsoles. They’ve performed well in soft mud, hardpack dirt, and a decent amount of snow travel. And importantly, the rubber compound hasn’t deteriorated or chipped away even after hiking on granite.
Stability and Support
The X Ultra 3 won’t supplant a technical off-trail hiking or mountaineering boot in your gear closet, but it offers enough support for just about any day hiking or lightweight backpacking adventure. The shoe is pretty flexible underfoot, but the low-profile midsole and stable platform (Salomon refers to this as their “Advanced Chassis”) offers enough piece of mind for rocky trails. We’ve had our various X Ultras loaded down with 35 pounds of backpacking gear and have never had issues with rolled ankles. If, however, you prefer a stiffer boot for extended climbs or for carrying a heavy pack, we recommend upgrading to Salomon’s Quest 4D 3.
My X Ultra 3 GTX arrived in early winter, and over the past few months I’ve had ample opportunities to test its waterproofing abilities. From strapping it to snowshoes and MICROspikes to shallow creek crossings, the Gore-Tex lining has held up without a hiccup. One downside of a low-top waterproof shoe in general is that you’ll need to be mindful when stepping into puddles or moving water—if it seeps over the sides, the shoe won’t dry quickly. We’ve tested both the non-waterproof and waterproof versions of the X Ultra, and while we benefitted from the waterproofing feature on a number of occasions, we’d lean towards the $30 cheaper non-waterproof shoe for most summer adventuring.
One of the main reasons we prefer the non-Gore-Tex version of the X Ultra 3 shoe is breathability. The issues weren’t noticeable when wearing them in the cold—in fact, the waterproofing provided a helpful amount of insulation and protection in snow. But a warm stretch of weather while hiking outside of El Chaltén, Patagonia, left my feet a bit uncomfortable and hot by the end of the day. It certainly was tolerable, and the shoes ventilated better than cheaper waterproofing membranes that I’ve used in the past, but my sweat-prone feet prefer more ventilation as the mercury rises.
Along with trail comfort and support, durability is another area where the X Ultra outperforms a standard trail runner. Our previous versions of the shoe have had excellent lifespans, and with 4 months of consistent use with the “3,” I’m confident in saying the new model is just as good. The reinforced synthetic upper material protects the mesh from tears, the substantial toe cap has a few scrapes but is in excellent shape overall, and the tread is only just starting to show early signs of wearing down.
The low-top version of the X Ultra 3 includes Salomon’s signature Quicklace system. If you haven’t used it before, it’s easy to learn: grab the rubberized end and push the plastic tab towards your foot to tighten, and reverse the process to loosen (it’s also simple to loosen with one hand by pulling up on the tab). The laces snug evenly around the foot with a single motion, so it’s much faster to use than a traditional setup. Comparing the X Ultra 3’s system with our X Ultra 2 shoes, Salomon has added a 5th set of eyelets at the top (our X Ultra 2 has 4) and uses reinforced webbing for the 3 lower eyelets (the prior model only had webbing on the bottom set). The net change is minimal and I’m not seeing any signs of wear on the webbing, but the top eyelet does provide an excellent seal around the top of the foot to keep out dirt and debris.
We’ve worn a lot of shoes with a speed lace system from brands like Salomon and Adidas, and haven’t had issues with laces shredding or discomfort with the current designs. Yet it is a polarizing concept: I found myself needing to retighten my X Ultras a few times during full days of hiking—something I attributed to the laces loosening slightly—and those that need to fine-tune the fit may not like the single-pull concept.
I ordered my normal men’s size 9 in the X Ultra 3, and found it provided a snug and very comfortable fit. The sculpted heel locks you nicely in place on extended climbs (I haven’t had any issues with hotspots), and the length was great for not jamming toes on long descents. Where the fit may not work for some people is in the toe box, which runs fairly narrow. It ended up not being an issue for me even over long trail days and with a heavy pack, but those with wide feet will likely be out of luck with the low-top shoe. This is a common issue with a lot of Salomon footwear, but the good news is that the boot version of the X Ultra 3 is now offered in wide sizes.
X Ultra 3 Hiking Shoe vs. X Ultra 3 Mid Hiking Boot
As touched on above, Salomon makes an over-the-ankle boot variation of the X Ultra 3 that I’ve been testing as well. In most ways, it’s simply a taller version of the low-top shoe, sharing the traction system, the light but tough upper material, and athletic feel. Changes include the extra support and protection that comes with the extended, padded collar, and Salomon has also swapped the Quicklace closure for traditional laces with the boot model. The total change in weight for my men’s size 9s came to 7.4 ounces more for the pair. Those carrying a heavy load or hiking in areas where the extra ankle protection is needed will likely prefer the Mid, while the low-top is hard to beat for moving fast on the trail with its superlight feel. In the end, we think both are excellent options.
What We Like
- Both the shoe and boot X Ultra 3s are at the top of their respective classes in lightweight performance.
- Aggressive and nimble, but without compromising trail comfort, traction, and durability.
- Planted feel and solid toe, heel, and underfoot protection for rocky and rough hikes.
- There are now wide sizes available in the mid-height boot (unfortunately not the low-top shoe).
What We Don’t
- Gore-Tex version runs pretty warm. Those in dry climates or that don’t mind the occasional wet sock should opt for the non-waterproof model.
- The Quicklace system isn’t loved by everyone, and I found myself occasionally tightening and adjusting it.
- If you’re hauling a heavy pack or traveling over technical terrain, you’ll likely want a more substantial and protective boot.
|Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX||$150||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 10.8 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic|
|Merrell Moab 2 WP||$120||Hiking shoe||2 lb. 1 oz.||Yes (M-Select)||Leather / mesh|
|Keen Targhee III Low WP||$135||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 14.8 oz.||Yes (Keen.Dry)||Leather|
|The North Face Ultra 110 GTX||$120||Hiking/trail-running||1 lb. 15 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather / mesh|
|La Sportiva TX3||$135||Approach shoe||1 lb. 9 oz.||No||Mesh|
There are a lot of hiking, trail running, and approach shoes that aim to duplicate what Salomon has pulled off with its X Ultra line. But for us, the low top stands out as the best all-around hiking shoe on the market, and the boot is a perennial favorite as long as you can get a good fit (the new wide version of the boot will help). Among alternatives, Merrell’s Moab 2 and Keen’s Targhee III are two designs that we see again and again on the trail. In testing the Moab and Targhee, we were impressed with their high levels of comfort, reasonable weights, and stable platforms. They also have more accommodating toe boxes for those that find the X Ultra 3 to be too narrow. We have no hesitation in recommending the Keen and Merrell for average day hikes and backpacking trips, but both feel slow and clunky by comparison. They just can’t touch the X Ultra’s mix of athleticism, traction, and weight.
Another one of our favorite hiking shoes is The North Face Ultra 110 GTX. Interestingly, it’s advertised as a trail-running shoe, but we’ve found the 110 performs like a premium hiking shoe in just about every way: the upper materials are tough and durable, it has a burly toe cap for protection, and the semi-stiff platform is comfortable when hauling a full backpacking pack. Further, the new 110 has an upgraded tread design that grips well and doesn’t wear quickly (this was a problem we had with the old 109). If you prefer stability over weight, the North Face shoe could be your ideal option (for more information, see our in-depth Ultra 110 review). But the Salomon X Ultra 3 undercuts it by about 5 ounces for the pair, feels much nimbler, and doesn’t compromise in toughness.
There are a growing number of quality approach shoes hitting the market, and we’ve been particularly impressed with La Sportiva’s TX3. Despite being designed for climbers, the TX3 shares a number of traits with the Salomon X Ultra 3: it’s lightweight and comfortable, grips well in both wet and dry conditions, and the full rubber rand offers excellent foot protection. We have had issues with durability on the mesh upper material and La Sportiva doesn’t make a waterproof version, but we love the shoe overall (for more information, see our in-depth TX3 review). It is, however, more specialized than the Salomon. And if you’re spending more time on the trail rather than scrambling on rock, the X Ultra 3 gets the nod from us.