ROBBE: What do you get when you cross an aqua shoe with a minimalist trail shoe with an unconventional lacing system? Something unusual for sure, but also the Saucony Switchback 2. Part water moccasin, part tri shoe, part something the guy who sells healing crystals at the local farmer’s market would probably wear.
Saucony has been putting out straight fire this entire year, so I’ve been trying to get my hands on anything I can. The Switchback has been attractive to me ever since the Switchback ISO version last year, probably because that was around the time my wife started using essential oils. Also, because I like being the “weird shoe reviewer” over here at Believe in the Run. Sometimes it works out (Deckers X Lab), sometimes it doesn’t (HOKA ONE ONE TenNine).
Anyway, I’ll let Ben break down the shoe a little bit more for you.
BEN: The Saucony Switchback 2 is an update on the original Switchback that keeps a lot of the same design principles, but gets a thorough overhaul. At its core it’s a minimal trail shoe, but that gets paired with a very distinctive upper and lacing setup which results in a fairly unique offering.
Starting at the top – it’s still a BOA closure system, but now it’s moved completely off to the lateral side of the foot. The prior version had the BOA wander off to the side, but the actual fibers were down the top of the shoe in a more conventional lacing configuration. The old version resulted in a “normal” looking shoe. The Switchback 2 gets a very unique appearance because of this change and ends up looking a lot like a slipper or water shoe. The upper still remains a neoprene type booty internally, but the top of the foot is held by a full over-the-foot wrap in a single piece.
Moving down to what’s under the foot – the midsole has been updated from EVERUN to PWRUN+. This is a pelletized TPU and it’s a bit lighter (and newer) offering from Saucony. The stack height sits relatively low at 22mm in the heel and 18mm in the forefoot. Under the midsole sits another new addition to the shoe, a braided nylon “rock plate”. I put that in quotation, because it’s not a solid plate (retains quite a bit of flexibility), but it does provide some added protection. On the bottom of that is the PWTRAC outsole (with cutouts for the rock plate to show through). The outsole is full heel-to-toe coverage and quite tacky. The lugs are omni-directional (and there are a lot of them), but rather minimal at only a few mm tall.
ROBBE: I had never tried BOA lacing on a running shoe before, but I have been to a roaring twenties party with lacy boas, and that was cool, so I felt up to the task.
Let me say, I dig the BOA. Dialing in (literally) that perfect fit is so satisfying, especially coinciding with that “click” sound. Call it my running shoe ASMR. Combined with the sock-like upper, I loved the fit of this shoe. It felt really perfect in a simplistic way. In many ways, it felt like I was wearing a neoprene bootie liner with an outsole on it.
Combine that upper with an extremely flexible outsole and “rock plate” and you have a very adaptable shoe that molds to any surface. Now, I actually don’t think the PWRTRAC outsole on Saucony’s trail shoes is that great of a compound; Vibram MegaGrip is leaps and bounds better, but PWRTRAC still fares better than Nike trail, in my opinion. This shoe isn’t meant for super technical terrain, but the low-profile lugs on the Switchback 2 work fine for mild trails.
Because there’s not much to this shoe, it’s a fast shoe (as long as you don’t get it wet). At 9 oz., it’s one of the lightest trail shoes you’ll find, and with that locked-down upper you can really rip it in this shoe.
I know I ripped on this shoe a little bit in the intro, but I like the aesthetics of it, which was one of the reasons I wanted to try it. I think it’s different and interesting and stands out among the typical trail or running shoes out there.
BEN: Out of the box the Switchback 2 is a bit of a head turner due to the unique look. In addition to the wraparound upper and BOA system, the outsole is really eye-catching as well. I found the overall build quality on the shoe to be excellent and feels inline with the price point. The BOA lacing really works well in most cases. It’s a really quick slip in and crank down to get your foot locked in. I found the wraparound had plenty of security for holding my foot in place and didn’t didn’t come loose during the run. Afterwards it’s a quick pull on the knob and then the shoe can be slipped off.
The overall fit of the shoe is another win for me. It’s a true to size feeling, but with ample toe space, something that I really appreciate in any shoe. I found the shoe to be comfortable and I think the fit should work well for many people. I used the shoe in a variety of surface conditions, including pavement, packed dirt, crushed gravel, rocky trail, and mud. The shoe does an admirable job moving between all of these but isn’t a particular standout in any of them, and can be challenged in overly muddy conditions where the lugs get completely packed. Luckily my experience was that they were able to clear themselves out with additional running pretty quickly.
The PWRUN+ midsole cushioning actually ends up feeling pretty soft and comfortable on step in. When paired with a low stack height and flexible rock plate it gives a ride that provides plenty of ground feel, and is not a stiff feel. In general I think this is a good thing, but this may depend on the runner and the intended use. The reason it can be a challenge is almost completely due to the low stack height. This ends up being borderline of too much flexibility and/or too little cushion. For an overly long run, or extremely rocky/technical course I think the level of protection will be limiting. The shoe really conforms to the surface and has a “natural” feeling, so this may be a preference to some, but probably not all. With all that being said, I thought it feels really light on foot and is definitely an enjoyable shoe to run in (with the right conditions and duration).Shop Saucony – Men Shop Saucony – Women
ROBBE: Let me start by saying, if there’s one thing the Switchback 2 isn’t, it’s a water shoe. Or a shoe that performs well in water. Or heat. Any of those outdoor elements that makes a foot uncomfortable. Now, looking at the shoe, you would think otherwise. But looks can be deceiving. I traipsed through a creek early on in a trail run, and let me say– regrets, I’ve had a few.
I thought it would drain well, but dunk this thing into some H2O and you’ll find it holds more water than an Olympic swimming pool. Once that water gets in, it’s not getting out. I literally had to take both shoes off and pour the water out, and the soggy upper just turned into a paperweight. As you can imagine, it gets pretty warm as well.
Now, clearly this is meant to be a minimal trail shoe, so I don’t know if I should list this in the bad column– but it’s a harsh ride. On technical terrain, even with the flexible rock plate, you can feel everything. If you really love ground feel (as in, you’d leave your wife for it), then I can’t imagine a better shoe. You’ll have more feelings than a lovesick teenager listening to The Cure’s ‘Distintegration.’ If you want any level of cushion in a trail shoe, stay away.
BEN: It looks weird. Yeah, I’ve been saying it’s “unique”, but the bottom line is that a lot of people are going to find the appearance to be rather odd. It will get attention (even in the black/gray color combo) and not necessarily in a good way. Of course, this doesn’t change how it performs, but it may be a turn off for some.
Taking more things from the “Good” column and flipping them to “Bad”– the BOA lacing. This might be a nitpick but I don’t like how the only option to “loosen” is to simply remove all tension and start over. Tightening is very granular and click-by-click, but once you go too far you just have to try again.
Already mentioned above, but the midsole/outsole combo rides the line of versatility but also limited use case. It’s best for the shorter to medium runs on medium to moderate terrain. If you want something leaning towards a “barefoot” feeling it can be stretched to a broader use range, but for the average person it’s likely going to be a little light on underfoot protection. I used it for up to two hours on dirt trails with some very rocky sections and I made it out unscathed, but near the end I was definitely considering if this was the right shoe choice for the situation.
Circling back to the upper, it’s not breathable. It’s just pretty well sealed off. This ends up doing a good job keeping feet dry if running through wet grass or very small puddles, but also means the shoes run hot during the summer. And probably more importantly can result in some very soggy miles if you run through any large amount of water. My runs took me on a couple stretches of ~1ft deep water and I quickly gave up any hope of my feet drying back out before the end of the run.Shop Saucony – Men Shop Saucony – Women
ROBBE: This shoe was certainly made for a very specific subset of trail runners/lifestyle people. Those who want a very secure and comfortable fit, with a more minimal feel. I do think it’s a “fun” shoe. It probably works best as a lifestyle shoe, or a very fast and short trail shoe. I wouldn’t take this out for more than a 10K run unless you’re really adapted to this type of shoe. We know there’s still Vibram FiveFinger fanatics out there. If you’re ready to retire from the super weird life, but still want to retain a bit of oddness, this shoe could work for you.
BEN: The Saucony Switchback 2 attempts to pack a lot of technology and updates into a near-minimalist trail shoe package. It does an admirable job of this, but still ends up being somewhat limited in use case. The shoe is well constructed, fits well, comfortable, and works great in the right situation. The ground feel and stability are excellent. The BOA setup results in a bit of an odd look, but it’s useful and could be leveraged to other shoes. The updated midsole foam is a good change, but by keeping it so light and flexible means it really needs the right person for this shoe to check all the boxes. With a little more foam underfoot, I think the versatility would take a big step up. But if you’re in the market for a sleek, low slung trail shoe, this is a solid option.
We wish you could give you a link to buy it, but it’s currently not on sale at Saucony.com or anywhere else. However, you can buy most other Saucony models (and last year’s Switchback) at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Saucony – Men Shop Saucony – Women