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Shoe Review: Saucony Ultra Ridge GTX ($190)

By Brian Metzler

Once you start running, it’s easy and fun to begin identifying as a runner. It doesn’t matter what level of runner we are or how fast we are, we’re all “runners” who enjoy the physical, mental, emotional and community benefits of running. But as much as we’re all runners, we’re not just runners. We all do a lot of other activities and sports that range from riding bikes, swimming, skiing, playing golf, going to the gym and hiking. And if there’s a recreational pursuit that’s even more accessible to most people than running, it’s got to be hiking. It should come as no surprise that the best aspects of modern running shoes – responsive cushioning, a comfortable interior and reliable traction – are now being implemented into hiking boots. And it’s a reason why several running shoe brands are getting into the hiking game.

Modern hiking boots are more flexible, less rigid, lighter, cushier, grippier and more comfortable than the old-school boots you might still have stashed in your basement or garage. While you can still find well-made, traditional leather hiking boots made for backpacking and rugged mountain trails, Saucony’s new Ultra Ridge GTX is a performance-oriented boot built for hikers and trail runners who are seeking the same comfort, agility and handling of their trail running kicks for exploring more rugged trails or “peak bagging” on high mountain summits. I’ve taken these light and cushy boots out on numerous outings this spring – including up 14,439-foot Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado. If you’re a runner who also enjoys hiking on moderate to extreme terrain, the Saucony Ultra Ridge GTX is definitely worth a look.

What’s New: The Ultra Ridge GTX is a brand new shoe that’s built on a lightweight trail running platform with some of the best components in Saucony’s arsenal of materials. It incorporates the same soft and responsive PWRRUN PB foam in its midsole that’s found in some of Saucony’s top road and trail running shoes, including the best-selling Endorphin Speed 3. It also features a waterproof, mid-cut Gore-Tex upper to keep your feet dry and protected against mud, water, and trail debris. Lastly, it has a similar super-grippy PWRTRAC outsole – with an array of aggressive 4.5mm lugs – that Saucony puts on its Xodus Ultra 2 trail runners. It’s the same quality construction you’d expect from Saucony’s trail running shoes, only it’s intended for a slightly different application.

Why It’s Great: It’s great because it feels and flexes like a running shoe, but it’s sturdy and protective like a hiking boot. While that might seem like the obvious intent of a shoe like this, it’s easier said than done. Several other running shoe brands have come up short in their attempts to create this kind of athletic-minded hiking boot. The Ultra Ridge GTX serves up the soft and energetic sensations of Saucony’s light and agile Peregrine 13 trail running shoes with all the protection, traction, stability and support you need hiking for long hours on soft dirt trails or technical mountain trails. And yes, it’s sturdy and secure enough for backpacking.

Fit-Feel-Ride: The Ultra Ridge GTX fits true to size with a medium-volume interior and plenty of wiggle room for the toes in the forefoot. The integrated tongue and lacing system (which includes a speed-lacing setup around the ankle) provides a wrap-like feel that secures the foot to the chassis of the boot. The step-in feel is very cushy, comfortable and connected, in large part because the soft, padded tongue is integrated into the upper—it’s not a gusseted tongue, it’s actually built into the upper—and the high-top design provides copious amounts of cushioning around the ankle without putting pressure on the Achilles tendon (thanks to a semi-articulated heel collar). That secure and cozy fit is key to this shoe being able to provide a high level of agility on variable, uneven terrain that’s covered with rocks and gravel. On wide-open flat trails and fire roads, the Ultra Ridge GTX feels like a comfy cruiser or a trail running shoe with a lot of energy return in every stride. On more technical terrain, it feels like a lightweight, supportive boot capable of nimble and very stable footsteps.

Why You’ll Love It: You’ll like this shoe for the fit and traction it provides, but you’ll love it because it’s light. At just 12 ounces for a men’s size 9 and 11 ounces for a women’s size 8, it weighs less than 2 ounces more than some of Saucony’s popular trail and road shoes. (But it’s about half the weight of most traditional hiking boots!) Plus, it’s a shoe that actually feels even lighter when it’s in motion out in the wild. That lightweight vibe helped me overcome the considerable fatigue I was experiencing on my hike/run down from 14,000 feet, and it also contributed to my ability to make precise foot placements on technical trails without stumbling.

Saucony Ultra Ridge GTX

Weights: 11.0 ounces (women’s 8); 12.0 ounces (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm (32.5mm in the heel, 26.5mm in the forefoot)

Pro: I love the Ultra Ridge GTX for its agility and versatility. I have used it as a pure hiking boot on mild, mostly dirt trails, but I’ve also taken it up high-altitude peaks with rugged rocky (and sometimes snowy) trails (and routes that disappear and require off-trail travel over big boulders). I’ve also used it as a pure trail running shoe, and quite frankly, it can hold its own without any egregious complaints. Yes, it’s a little bit “too much shoe” for typical trail runs and the high-top design and extra materials makes it feel warmer in mild conditions. However, it’s a great shoe for running technical trails in cold weather, and I really loved it while running on snowy trails and roads after an April snowstorm.

Con: As much as I like this boot a lot more than leather hiking models, the top of the upper of the Ultra Ridge GTX doesn’t offer the same protection as traditional, leather boots. The upper is made of engineered mesh with a few synthetic overlays and a reinforced toe box – similar to most trail running shoes – but it’s not as protective against errant rolling rocks or sidewall abrasions that are common in rugged mountain hiking. That said, it provides at least as much protection as most trail running shoes, and, overall, the pros greatly outweigh the cons. I’ll definitely keep this shoe in my quiver for a wide range of adventures this summer.


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