The $375 Trail Shoe: Speedland SL:PDX Review
NOTE: Speedland is a client of Big Run Media, Believe in the Run’s parent company. However, none of the below reviewers are a part of Big Run Media, nor involved with Speedland in any capacity. As always, our reviews are written in exchange for product samples, and no compensation was provided to any of our reviewers.
TAYLOR: Trail shoe after trail shoe comes to our door. We test them. Some we love, a few we hate. What often stands out to me is that in almost every shoe, no matter the design or function, ‘x’ and ‘y’ are done really well, but ‘z’ gets neglected.
Companies defend the shortcomings by noting that particular models are made for a specific terrain or purpose; however, I don’t think that should necessitate a degradation in quality. The real deal is that many shoes are tied to dysfunctional large branding schemes, industry standards, and other guidelines. There are a few exceptions, but oftentimes, a shoe itself becomes so watered down to “fit” with the brand that it misses its mark on what trail runners want or need.
That may all be changing with the Speedland SL:PDX. Founders and industry veterans Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon spent their entire careers designing shoes and managing product lines for top brands, but because of budget limitations and consumer targeting, were never able to create a product that had a wish list of components in it. In their words: “A product that features the best of the best of the best, built with no compromises.” So they set out on their own to create that exact trail shoe, or again, in their words – “equipment.” They liken the SL:PDX to a pair of ski boots or high-end cycling gear. Something that will allow you to harness every ounce of the sport it was designed for, which in this case, is trail running.
What did they come up with? It’s a premium shoe with a very premium price tag – an idea that hasn’t been touched often in the trail running world … especially not in this way.
As the miles piled on in the SL:PDX I was reminded of many shoes like the Saucony Mad River TR, The North Face Flight Vectiv, Topo Athletic Ultraventure, Salomon Ultra Glide, La Sportiva Cyklon, and the Merrell MTL Sky Fire.
The Speedland SL:PDX aims to be the absolute best trail shoe on the market. It has amassed a lot of hype – and skepticism – because of that claim. The main questions are: Does it live up to the hype? And is it worth it?
ALEX: Taylor laid out the history and vision of Speedland, so I’ll give you a rundown of the features in the shoe… er … equipment.
Buckle up, ’cause it’s quite the list. For starters, it is carbon-plated in that it features a removable Carbitex plate, featuring an asymmetrical flex – stiff in one direction and flexible in the other. To date, I believe this plate has only been used in one other running shoe – the adidas Adizero Pro. That was a shoe we didn’t love, mostly because adidas Lightstrike foam sucks. And if you glossed over that first sentence – yes, you can remove the plate with a simple twist and lock feature as part of the also-removable midsole.
The SL:PDX also features a proprietary (for now, anyway) BOA Li2 Fit System with what appears to be BOA’s most advanced technology to date. The system utilizes two dials, which has never been done in a running shoe, in conjunction with a PerformFit Wrap (think straps that go over the midfoot for a super-secure lockdown). The BOA Li2 dials are also the company’s most low-profile to-date, for those concerned about clunking them against rocks on the trails. Oh, and very important to note – the dials are multi-directional and micro-adjustable. Previously, BOA dials only tightened down in one direction (this version is found in the La Sportiva Cyklon which is often referenced in comparison with the SL:PDX). In that shoe, if you want to loosen the BOA, you need to pop out the dial, which loosens the whole fit, and then retighten the entire system. The micro-adjustability of the SL:PDX allows for quick adjustments on the go.
Dyneema (a fiber 15x stronger than steel) is woven into the BOA lacing and is also used as the moccasin stitch holding the upper and outsole together. Dyneema is also used in the upper material for added durability.
Speaking of the upper, it’s a ripstop mesh that is lightweight and breathable. Probably the most straightforward part of the SL:PDX construction.
We also can’t forget the Pebax SCF midsole, which Speedland says is their own concoction of Pebax which hasn’t been used before. For the less-educated, Pebax is what is found in most super shoes these days, including the Saucony Endorphin Pro and Nike Vaporfly.
Oh right, and the Michelin wrap outsole, which is very “mountain-bike tire-like” with 6 mm lugs that can be trimmed to fit your terrain (though, good luck convincing yourself to cut up a pair of $375 shoes).
MATT: I’m always excited when a new pair of shoes arrive for testing (I mean, who wouldn’t be?). As of late, there have been a few models that ratcheted up my excitement level a bit higher than usual. When I got word that I had a package en route from Speedland, I think it’s fair to say that things went ‘ding’ like the bell on that carnival hammer game.
Knowing the backstory about the SL:PDX, this was the shoe I was most curious about. However, I was unsure if it was even real, having never seen a pair in the wild. Well, it’s in the wild now and I can assure you that they are real as hell.
Like Taylor and Alex said, the SL:PDX is a bold and unique attempt at creating a high-end trail shoe that can do everything, and do it all well. Premium materials at a premium price, for sure, but if the performance lives up to the hype, Speedland will have no shortage of customers lining up to place orders.
STEF: We are living in a carbon-plated world and it was only a matter of time before a company stepped up to the plate with a Nike-level concept of the ever-popular Next % and Alphafly – but for the trails. Yes, The North Face has done carbon plates in the Vectiv, but nothing like this with all the components listed above. Speedland is the new kid on the block, but with a whole other level of experience and wisdom that went into the development of this shoe. Let’s chat about this high-end, highly-customizable piece of trail running equipment.
TAYLOR: Dialed. It’s the one word needed to explain the SL:PDX. I’m not only talking about its lacing system either. Every single important detail is absolutely dialed in on this shoe.
What’s great about this shoe is that we get to do the actual dialing-in of this shoe. It’s more customizable than a Papa Murphy’s pizza. About every aspect has the adjustability to fit each runner’s needs.
The BOA Li2 Fit System takes this to the next level as it has an individual dial for the upper foot (around ankle to midfoot) and one for the lower foot (midfoot to top of toe box). It’s similar to what you may find on modern cycling shoes. For foot security, it just makes sense. Mix in a Dyneema knit sock-like upper and this is hands down the best fit I’ve ever felt in a shoe. The BOA system is simple, quick, and precise, and kept my foot comfortable and secure over any terrain. People love talking about carbon plates, but the fit of the upper has been overlooked for too long. Nothing I’ve tried in the past compares to the fit of this SL:PDX upper.
Here in the Rockies, most of my runs go up on the way out and down on the way back. My shoe fit preference is to have something that feels fairly secure but still has some breathing room on the ascents. With the SL:PDX, when I reached the top, I could reach down quickly, turn the dial a few ticks, and my shoes would feel like (no lie) just an extension of my foot. No more need to take a sit-down break to completely untie and re-lace for bombing long descents.
I’ve seen a couple off-the-cuff comparisons to the also-solid La Sportiva Cyklon, and while that upper is nice with the single BOA dial, it’s just not the same as the SL:PDX. There is nothing like the fit of the SL:PDX, because you can actually get that forefoot lockdown to where the shoe feels like an extension of your body. The Cyklon has great lockdown at the top of the foot, but the tension dies off at the forefoot, or at the very least – can’t be preciesely dialed in, because it’s too far from the dial at the top of the foot.
The sock-like upper sat light and secure on my foot too. Dyneema knit is the specific upper material. It is comfortable and soft and can take on the most rugged terrain. It felt like a mix between the engineered sock-like mesh on the North Face Flight Vectiv and the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 3, but more comfortable and more secure. Part of the upper (over top of the foot and ankle) is a single layer soft knit, whereas around the forefoot and heel more woven layers are added to bring about the extreme durability and comfort combo. One of the really nice things about the upper is that the box is accommodating, but not too wide. So it offers room for toe splay, but you don’t slide around (thanks to that aforementioned forefoot BOA dial).
Even the outsole is customizable. The SL:PDX takes Saucony’s idea from the Mad River TR (another BOA shoe, btw) to the next level with an ultra-grippy, full-rubber Michelin outsole with 6 mm lugs (3 mm if you cut them down). You can clip the lugs to your desired shape and depth for your particular terrain. I chose not to cut mine for the sole personal reason of wanting the outsole to last as long as flippin’ possible. I want to wear this shoe forever. The outsole stuck to every single surface encountered on the trail – wet rocks and roots, chossy shale, and just about everything in between. Super solid. You can also clip drainage ports on the medial side of the midfoot to allow for water drainage from the wrap outsole. In fact, Speedland advises on doing this out of the gate if you’re going to encounter wet terrain.
Onto the never-been-done-before stuff. Rather than putting most of the cushion in the form of a midsole, a highly specific Pebax-based insole is used. This is where the bulk of the medium-soft cushion is. It hits a middle ground of having a good amount of cushion and ground feel (28 mm rear stack, 23 mm front, 5 mm drop) which is a hard combo to hit precisely. You can even take the whole insole out if you’re looking for an ultra-minimalistic experience every now and then, though I doubt you would want that.
A lot of questions I’ve received about the SL:PDX have centered around the Carbitex plate. Yes, it’s the real deal. Without the plate, the shoe runs much like a Topo Athletic Ultraventure with a softer cushion. It can hang on any terrain and has a daily-trainer type feel underfoot. Add the plate into the recipe and this becomes a seriously fun shoe. What’s pretty cool is that since it’s so easy to get these on and off with the BOA system, it’s also easy to just switch the plates in and out, literally mid-run. Want a more propulsive feel on the way out and a more cushioned feel coming back in? Remove the plates in less than a minute, throw them in your hydration pack, and you’re on your way.
To be honest, the propulsion factor isn’t extreme. There is a noticeable amount of responsiveness as compared to when the plate is out. It bounces along the trail really smoothly and naturally. The protective and stability properties of the plate really help this shoe step it up another notch. The Carbitex plate is fairly flexible with bending it down the middle, however, it becomes much more rigid when trying to twist it side to side. Since most steps on trails aren’t in a singular plane of motion, this reactive stability (or adaptability) from the plate adds a whole lot to the overall package in terms of comfort, ride, and confidence. It’s really a quality no other shoe can boast.
ALEX: First things first: the SL:PDX is a great-looking shoe. I love the simplicity of the mint green colorway that extends to the outsole. It has a sharp look that absolutely pops out on the trail; in my opinion, this is one of the best-looking shoes on the market. Thank you Sppedland, from the bottom of my heart, for not going out of your way to make a women’s version in pink.
Prior to actually holding this shoe in my hand, I falsely assumed that the shoe would be stiff and heavy. I blame the BOA Li2 Fit System and my past experience with cycling shoes for this misconception. I was very wrong. The shoe weighs just under 10 oz. for a women’s size 8.5, with just the right amount of flexibility. While we are on the topic, that BOA system is absolute gold. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. It is simple and effective: turn clockwise to tighten, counterclockwise to loosen, pull to release the whole thing. With normal trail shoes, I find myself spending way more time than I would like stopping to adjust my laces, searching for that Goldilocks fit. This system makes it quick, super precise, and easy. It is hands-down my favorite part of this shoe, I have never achieved such a great fit and can see this being super beneficial over the course of a long race to accommodate varied terrain, swollen feet, and different socks.
The sock-like upper is breathable and soft and contributes to the great fit; there are no pressure points or rubbing around the heel.
I am going to be honest, at first, I was a little overwhelmed with the shoe before me. Never before have we been able to customize a running shoe for such a tailored experience on the trail. Luckily, the shoe is accompanied by a 19-page user guide that can be accessed via the Speedland website. The Carbitex carbon plate, Pebax SCF midsole, and cuttable lug system all provide a menu of options to customize your ride.
The Carbitex carbon-fiber plate is removable and adjustable: it is stiff in one direction, and flexible in the other. While it still flexes well in either direction, the responsiveness of the stiff side is notable.
The Michelin textile web outsole combined with the contoured Pebax foam is bouncy and resilient. The low stack height offers ample ground feel and a stable feel.
MATT: Wow. The SL:PDX is a thing of beauty. My biggest concern with testing the shoe was debating whether or not I should fake a review and just put these in a showcase. Alas, duty calls, so I got ‘em dirty. The level of detail and attention to the small things are obvious right away. The shoe looks unlike anything else on the market; in fact, it bears more of a resemblance to a cycling shoe than most the trail shoes in my collection.
Sticking with the cycling theme, they couldn’t have picked a better color for the SL:PDX. As a kid I always loved the trademark “Celeste” color of the Bianchi bikes, and that was the first thing I thought of when laying eyes on what Speedland had created.
First impressions are sometimes misleading, but as I piled on the miles, it was obvious that this shoe was the real deal. Right out of the box, the fit is amazing. The shoe is the perfect combination of comfort and secure. The BOA Fit System provides unparalleled flexibility to make on-the-fly adjustments based on terrain or the demands of your run/race. I found that I typically started out my runs with the fit a bit looser, then after a few miles of cutting and climbing through the trails, I’d bend over quickly and tack on a few extra clicks to really lock things in. This method also is great for ascending/descending as Taylor mentioned.
Parts of the upper are constructed of a Dyneema knit material with a sock-like/booty fit. Combined with the BOA system, these shoes really feel like they are part of your body. The closest comparison for the upper may be the North Face Flight Vectiv, but that is really where the comparison ends.
What I initially thought might be the downside was in the midsole, and more specifically its ability to be a shoe that could hold up over long distances without destroying the legs. The midsole looks so minimal that I was concerned this shoe would be amazing out of the gate but limited to shorter courses. What I couldn’t see from the outside of the shoe was the combination of a Pebax-infused insole and a custom Carbitex plate.
Both inside components are removable, allowing a customizable approach to the ride and feel. I found that keeping both layers intact provided me with the best overall set-up, but knowing that I have the ability to customize is a bonus.
I preferred to retain the Carbitex plate in conjunction with the midsole, and found it provided a perfect combination of cushion, ground feel, and power.
Finally, the outsole. Back to my cycling theme– with Michelin rubber and tacky, grippy 6 mm lugs (uncut), this was like having a pair of knobby mountain bike tires glued to the bottom of my feet (minus the weight!).
The grip was top-notch, providing a secure ride across a variety of wet and dry terrain. The lugs are “cuttable blocks” that can be customized to match the local terrain, and there are drainage ports on each shoe that can be cut to optimize drainage (you should do this by the way).
For lack of a better description, this shoe just felt like a weapon attached to my feet … fun, fast, responsive, locked in.
STEF: I think the first thing that stands out about this shoe (and brand) is their signature minty green goodness. I personally love the color and how it stands out against dirt and rugged terrain. I’ll admit, I was initially skeptical of the BOA Fit System on these shoes solely due to the fact that I’ve actually never run in a shoe with a BOA system before. After running in the shoe, I fully recant my skepticism.
The system dual-dial BOA system feels and functions like a true luxury product. I was able to tweak to the exact tightness and midfoot lockdown that worked for my foot, and once I locked the dials, the fit did not shift at all on my run. With the dual-direction, micro-adjustment dials, it’s extremely easy to loosen and adjust them on the go. I personally like the 6 mm lugs on the SL:PDX due to the types of trails I run on – but Speedland also gives you instructions on how to trim the lugs to your preference, as well as the option to trim/open drainage holes if you’re staring down multiple creek or stream crossings in your next trail race.
The grip of the Michelin rubber felt tacky over larger rocks and stable over more loose gravel. I also felt confident over wet rock. Lastly, the carbon plate. This shoe is meant to go fast and the multi-directional carbon plate in the SL:PDX does not disappoint. It felt very easy to pick up the pace and there was no break-in time for me in these.Shop Speedland SL:PDX
TAYLOR: Of the many “hot topics” of the SL:PDX, price point is definitely the point of contention. At $375, the SL:PDX is nearly double the next most expensive trail shoe on the market. It’s even a Benjamin more than the Alphafly. That said, the Vaporfly/Alphafly race shoes are only supposed to last a couple hundred miles at most, while Speedland is claiming 400-500 miles for the SL:PDX, so dollar-per-mile I guess you’re actually coming out ahead of the high-end road racers.
TBH, I could never afford this, and that kind of pains me. But Speedland is also clear on saying that this shoe isn’t for everyone. I could never afford a Mercedes Benz G-Class Wagen, but I sure wouldn’t hate to drive one. And I’m sure a Jeep Wrangler can handle the same roads.
On the flip side, like a luxury vehicle, it lives up to what it wants to be. It’s made of premium materials and performs to an equivalent level. So, what kind of price do you put on such premium goods? It’s not for me to say. I know people will pay, and if they do, they’re at least getting an excellent product that performs at the same level of its lofty claims.
Regarding the weight, 11.7 ounces for a men’s 10.5 is the only average thing about this shoe. It’s hard to even call it a negative, because the SL:PDX doesn’t feel that heavy while running. Maybe later iterations will slim this down a little bit.
The drainage is not super great because of the Michelin wrap outsole that almost acts as a canoe with its one-piece design. Speedland (and myself) are recommending you snip the drainage ports from the outset if you suspect you’ll be dunking these at any point. That said, once the water exits the outsole, the mono-mesh upper does a good job of shedding and not retaining water.
I’m also going to throw in this section that this shoe is strictly made for the trails. It ran fine on gravel and pavement, I guess … just don’t waste it on these surfaces, though. It longs to be free in the woods and on the rocks.
ALEX: That price tag. I think my biggest fear in testing this shoe is that I would like it so much that I would want a second pair. At $375 per pair, it is not a shoe that is accessible to most.
One way I can see the price being (slightly more) justified is if they hold up to more miles than the average trail runner. To be determined.
The upper is protective enough for most of my training although it does not offer the protection that I look for on loose technical terrain where the chances of loose scree tumbling over the top of my foot increases. I also prefer a little more underfoot protection for 100+ mile races and events. The lug system is aggressive and over the course of a long day, especially on hard-packed trails, I start to feel these though the bottom of the shoe. To prevent this, I would consider consulting the User Guide, and trimming those a bit.
MATT: So, the obvious call out here is that, just like any top-end product, there will be a price tag ($375) that comes with it and creates a barrier for a portion of customers. I’m sure there will be plenty of critics that point to the cost, but is this really any different than high-end models found in other industries? The problem is when the performance does not warrant the cost, and the consumer (of any income bracket) finds they got ripped off. But that is definitely not the case with the SL:PDX.
My only knock was that because of the price, and how much I loved the shoe, I was hesitant to take full advantage of the customizable options. I refrained from cutting the lugs at all as I was afraid that I would encounter a need for a more aggressive set-up in the near future and would be remorseful. This may not be applicable to most Speedland consumers, as I think that if dropping $375 for a pair of shoes does not give you any pause, then you won’t lose any sleep over hacking up the lugs and outsole a bit to get a truly customized set-up.
Finally, I just need some expert advice from the guys at Speedland on cleaning these uppers, because they are just too pretty to muck-up!
STEF: I’ll get straight to what the most negative comments are going to be about this shoe: the price. At $375, they’re definitely something in the splurge category – and unfortunately, inaccessible for some. That said, I do feel that Speedland is targeting a specific niche for this shoe, and that’s a high-end, highly individualized piece of racing equipment.
I’m not a cyclist by any stretch of the imagination, but the SL:PDX does remind me of a high end item that a competitive cyclist would have in their tool kit. In terms of the shoe itself, I don’t have any complaints about the fit or features like the heel to toe drop (5 mm). I don’t see this shoe functioning as a 100 mile+ race distance trail shoe, and it would be cool to see a future model of this shoe have a beefier cushioned option for that purpose. I could see runners racing well in these up to the 100k distance.Shop Speedland SL:PDX
TAYLOR: This entire package comes together for the best-of-all-worlds experience for a trail runner. Many trail running shoes can do one or two things really well. The Speedland SL:PDX does it all to the highest degree. It’s an incredible shoe that will undoubtedly change the industry standard. Yes, you’ll absolutely pay for it, and for most human beings, $375 is no joke. To tell the truth, if it weren’t for this gig, I would never get the chance to slip my feet into these. But I’m here to tell you that ignorance isn’t bliss in this case. I’ve run in over a hundred different trail shoes in my time as a reviewer, and I can tell you that this is a game-changing piece of gear. If you run trails often and are serious about it, take some extra time to consider the SL:PDX. Gather up your birthday money, Christmas money, and your weekly allowance. It’s just that good.
ALEX: The Speedland SL:PDX is an innovative shoe that looks great and feels even better. It offers a comfortable, customizable ride that can handle any terrain. The BOA Fit System combined with an intentionally designed upper provides the best fit I have ever experienced.
While I fully recognize and appreciate the attention to detail and the high-quality design and manufacturing of this shoe, the price tag on this one is unfortunate. While it still seems too steep for me, if you do splurge on it, know you’re getting a great product.
MATT: Speedland boasts about its top-end high performance and I have to say – it 100% backs those claims up. The SL:PDX is an amazing all-around shoe that is truly at home on the trails. I can’t wait to push the limits in the future on some new routes and longer distances.
The price tag will be a limiter for some, but if you have it in the budget or want to save up, I highly doubt that you will be disappointed in that decision. I find it hard to see how, price tag aside, there will be a better all-around trail shoe on the market this year.
STEF: I was super excited to test these shoes, as I’ve never run in a carbon-plated trail shoe before (I think most of us haven’t). They certainly lived up to the hype and it felt effortless to ratchet down the pace over varied terrain. I understand the price tag shock of the SL:PDX, but also understand the role Speedland is shooting for: a high-end piece of sporting equipment. These shoes truly feel like every detail was addressed and fine-tuned with care. I’m excited to see where this new brand goes.
You can pick up the Speedland SL:PDX for $375 by using the shop link below.Shop Speedland SL:PDX
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Thanks very much for great reviews. How is the fit, true to size? Also I have a wide foot, how will these go? Cheers. Tim.
Fit is true to size! Should accommodate a wide foot as long as it’s not overly wide. I believe they offer free returns as well.