TAYLOR: There are a couple of things that Speedland co-founders Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon will always be questioned about. First, it’s their pricing model. I know this is the number one thing for them, because I personally get more messages and comments about the price of their shoes than anything else. Most questions come from people with an acute case of sticker shock, never mind whether or not those same folks are actually planning on buying the shoe. So are they complaints, or justified concerns? After all, this is a $275 trail running shoe. But it’s also $100 less than the last Speedland shoe. But then it’s still a $275 trail running shoe. Let’s see if it’s justified in the Speedland GS:TAM.
The second question is what can justify the first and, honestly, it’s what matters most: is this a premium quality shoe? There’s no doubt that no trail shoe on the market, even Norda, comes close to the build quality and attention to detail that is found in a Speedland model. It’s functional artistry. Both the Speedland SL:PDX and SL:HSV have claimed our Best In Gear awards in the past. Don’t get me wrong– $375 is a steep price tag, but the gear you get for that price brings such a unique running experience that no other shoe can claim.
And that’s what I think needs to be communicated when it comes to brands like Speedland or Norda. These are not mass-produced, corners cut, slap-some-lugs-on-a-road-shoe-and-call-it-a-trail-shoe pieces of footwear. These are singular trail designs honed for (sometimes) years by a couple partners who wanted to put the absolute best into a shoe. And hopefully someone buys it. Because, truth be told, Nike or Adidas or Hoka are never going to do it. At the end of the day, they have shareholders to report to, and a 2,000-unit run of a hyper-premium trail shoe isn’t exactly budging the bottom line, and is, quite frankly– a waste of their time. And all that time and work and development and sourcing on a small scale adds up. So no, you’re not going to get that type of shoe for under $250. It’s literally not possible, especially in 2023. I mean, even Atreyu just jacked the cost of their basic trainer up to $120, a nearly 50% increase over their Base Model, and it just has a layer of outsole rubber. It now costs as much as a Saucony Kinvara.
In any case, all of that brings us to the third commission for Speedland, the GS:TAM, a shoe that’s already garnered a ton of attention both for its looks and its ringing endorsement by Freetrail’s Dylan Bowman, one of the most respected figures in the trail running scene. This new model is a very different design compared to their first releases. It’s a high-stack behemoth that boasts an internal midsole, external midsole, a Boa Fit System with duel-direction Boa Li2 dials, soft mesh upper, Michelin outsole, and optional Carbitex plate. (The Carbitex plate is interchangeable with past models and vice versa.)
This release of the Speedland GS:TAM is special to me as I had heard about and seen early versions of the shoe on Speedland athlete Don Reichelt at the Leadville 100 (where I also paced for him). We spitballed our thoughts on Speedland at the time; our main proposal was that we needed to see the same quality of the SL:PDX in a shoe that could take you the full 100 miles without regret. I know this was the core goal in Speedland’s development of this shoe, as the early Speedland models lacked the comfort needed (or at least wanted) for distances greater than 50 miles.
Even at $275, the Speedland GS:TAM would be an investment for many. Based on the number of questions I’ve received about it, the price tag is a little more approachable and maybe digestible enough for previous fence-sitters to consider the purchase. Would I pull the trigger? Let’s discuss.
Photo courtesy of Speedland
TAYLOR: The most noticeable change this time is the step away from a full Dyneema upper. What replaces it feels just as good but in its own way. Speedland’s high-tenacity woven mesh brings a much softer and breathable feel to the Speedland GS:TAM. As much as I love Dyneema’s consistent feel and indestructible nature, this swap was so worth it.
When spending hours upon hours on foot, comfort needs to be one of the highest considered measures. The woven upper checks that box. It has a cage-like layer on the exterior that has helped with foot hold and durability. Adhered overlays run the rim from the midfoot, around the toe box, and around the Boa dials. So, I really don’t anticipate the upper blowing out.
The overall fit of the Speedland GS:TAM feels slightly wider than the last two, but the general shape is consistent. A nicely structured/fitting heel, snug midfoot, and a toe box that leans more toward the anatomical shape make for one of the best-feeling fits in the industry. This fit is a hard one to compare to any other shoe because it’s so unique. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Mont Blanc, and Brooks Caldera 6 have similar on-foot feels.
Boa’s Performfit wrap is a game-changer in such a shoe. It’s one of the components most integral to the Speedland equation. Like in their first two commissions, the Speedland GS:TAM joins the ranks of some of the most secure and, therefore, one of the most performance-oriented shoes on that market. Even with a stack of 37/30mm, this shoe will outperform most any shoe available on the trails, let alone others in the high-stack trail category like the Hoka Mafate Speed 4, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Nike ZoomX Zegama, and Brooks Caldera 6.
A couple more dual-Boa options have sprouted up over the last year with the Altra Mont Blanc Boa and La Sportiva Jackal II Boa, but neither feature the dual-direction Li2 dials found on the GS:TAM. And because of the aforementioned shape and known collaboration between Speedland and Boa, the Speedland GS:TAM is simply one of the best when it comes to functional lockdown.
The ability to adjust two separate dials for any situation makes a world of difference. For example, I went on a run from town, to a nearby trailhead, to the road again. In the beginning, I could keep the lacing somewhat loose in the first segments going uphill on the road to the trail. As soon as I hit the trailhead, it was so easy to reach down for a couple of clicks on the dials, and bam, I was good to go. A couple more clicks, and now I’m tuned for slightly more technical or downhill. Because the Speedland GS:TAM has Boa’s Li2 dials, I was able to simply turn the dials the opposite way to find the fit for the road again. There was no need to completely undo my lacing to adjust.
Let’s go back to foot security for a moment. Like the other Speedland offerings, this one also has a drop-in midsole made of medium-density Pebax. The rim of the insole is “cupped.” The foot slips right into a cockpit that keeps it from sliding around on the dicey stuff.
As for feel, that medium-density insole is met with a plush and reactive exterior beaded Pebax midsole to create a rather unique but seamless underfoot experience. It rounds out to a 37/30mm stack with a medium/soft feel that gives the sensation of being well cushioned, moderately responsive, and naturally stable — all things I would look for in a shoe from this category (especially for those long ultra distances).
The combination of foams is surprisingly resilient too. Typically there are at least some compression lines after the first few runs in any shoe — not this one. Many have asked if I think this shoe will last over the 500 or 600-mile mark, and many will see those miles and more.
Midsole geometry adds so much to the Speedland GS:TAM running experience. For starters, there’s natural stability. By “natural,” I mean there are no obtrusive posts or blocky heels to provide stability. You’ll notice a little bit of bubbling on the midsole, a strategically shaped wider platform that gives a certain sense of control on various terrain. I found that adding the Carbitex plate gave me an extra sense of torsional stability, which I appreciated over the long run. The extra $35 for the Carbitex plate is so worth it. Of course, if you’re already a Speedland owner, you can swap your old one into this one.
There’s also a toe-spring (rockered toward the toes) that provides buttery smooth toe-off on various terrain and paces. This is a large part of why this shoe’s transition from road to trail is very successful. It’s also the reason why picking up the pace is a non-issue. Again, adding the Carbitex plate improved the experience by bringing a subtle but noticeable amount of zip.
A Michelin Fiber Lite outsole provides some nice all-around traction. The 4.5 mm diamond-shaped cuttable lugs bit into dirt, mud, and more. It’s tacky enough to keep its hold on rock and wet pavement. Even though it is not full-coverage like Speedland’s first models, I didn’t feel any hindrance in performance.
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TAYLOR: Like its predecessors, the list of negatives is a heckuva lot shorter than the good in the Speedland GS:TAM.
One aspect that could be major for a few is the lack of support on the medial side of the shoe — I’m looking at you folks who might need arch or medial ankle support. I felt this ever-so-slightly in both the SL:PDX and the SL:HSV. I think the higher stack and softer foam bring it to light in the GS:TAM. There’s not a lot of structure to the upper as you move away from the heel. Extending that structure to the medial side of the midfoot could potentially help dipping of the arch and midfoot. This was most noticeable when running in off-camber terrain, like traversing the side of a hill, the inside foot on a hard corner, or when the lacing was loose.
Both the Boa wrap and Carbitex plate are components that helped this case; however, when tightening up the Boa enough to where I would get zero dipping, I could feel the laces digging into the top of my foot a little bit.
The last is fairly trivial. A weight of 12.3 oz. for a US M10.5 is not ungodly (that’s also with the plate in the shoe, a US M9 without the plate weighs around 10.7 oz.), but it does weigh more than most of its competitors. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Hoka Mafate Speed 4, Hoka Speedgoat 5, Nike Zegama, Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280, Saucony Xodus Ultra, and the Altra Timp 4 all weigh an ounce less (or more).
You also pay a lot less for those shoes, too… but performance is less.
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Speedland GS:TAM Conclusion
TAYLOR: One thing to understand about Speedland’s approach to shoe design is that it’s such a multi-tiered running experience where the various components feed into each other to give a high-performance outcome.
This is the highest-performance max trail shoe on the market. The fit and security are second to none among max cushion offerings. It’s customizable with the plates, lug trimming, and fit. I mean, this is what you would hope for and expect out of a $275 shoe.
My ideal date with the Speedland GS:TAM would be a long run through a few valleys and over some mountains. Perhaps, stop at a few quaint places to eat and drink (ya know, aid stations). Personally, this is a shoe I would reserve for important long runs and long ultra race days. Take the Carbitex plate out, and you can easily use it for your easy miles too. It can handle it all, and I would be happy to do it all in the Speedland GS:TAM if I had that kind of money.
You can pick up the Speedland GS:TAM now for $275 by using the shop link below.
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