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SHOE REVIEW: Speedland SL:PDX

Our intrepid reviewer, Ian MacNairn, gives the new shoe, created in Portland, Ore., two thumbs up

The Speedland SL:PDX is possibly the greatest trail-running shoe ever created. I had the great opportunity to run in, train with, and test the shoe over the past few months, and its prowess was evident not only in its fit and hyper-performance, but also in the thoughtful craftsmanship. For me, the nuanced details demonstrated the builder’s engagement with the culture and craft of trail and ultrarunning.

Weight: 292 g

Drop: 5 mm

Stack height: 28 mm

Price: $477

Speedland is a small company based out of Portland, Ore. The creators come from a shoe design background with Nike, Puma and Under Armour. Their wealth of knowledge is evident in the SL:PDX, which is based around the concept of being perfectly suited for the trails and terrain around Portland. Only 1,200 pairs were produced, which allowed the brand to craft some unique features into the shoe.

Photo: Matt Stetson

The shoe is designed to eventually be re-soled (though this service is not yet available), and, at the end of its life (i.e. once the uppers are also shot), Speedland invites runners to return their shoes to Portland, free of charge, where they will be deconstructed and recycled–which goes far beyond most shoe brands’ commitment to environmental sustainability.

Speedland’s Dave Dombrow (left) and Kevin Fallon. Photo: Ian MacNairn

The upper is the most comfortable and customizable of the shoes I have worn. The toebox is wide, and similar in shape to the Altra toebox, wrapping the foot in a breathable, seemingly indestructible Dyneema mesh. In multiple months of wear, I have no holes or tears forming, nor are the seams blowing out, which is unusual for me. The shoe fits like a sock and feels more integrated with my foot than any shoe I’ve worn, partly due to the dual-BOA “lacing” system, which allows for a much more accurate fit compared to shoes with laces (or even a single BOA), and the BOAs allow for quick on-the-run adjustments with the flick of a wrist and the spin of a dial. This feature came in handy during long runs on varying terrain requiring varied shoe tightness. In short, Speedland has the fit of the SL:PDX dialled in.

Check out one of the world’s most expensive trail shoes

Photo: Matt Stetson

The midsole has a removable Carbitex carbon plate. This allows for a more rigid structure and better propulsion, or a more malleable midsole when not inserted. I found the plate to be supportive and protective when I was running on gravel and rock, and it enhanced energy return. Outside of the Carbitex plate, the midsole is constructed from comfortable EVA and Pebax SCF foam. For how low-profile the shoe is, the midsole feels thicc!

Photo: Matt Stetson

The heel-to-toe drop is 5 mm and the shoe has a very lightweight feel (292g for US men’s 9). Despite the comfy midsole, I wonder about how comfortable the shoe would be over 100 miles or more. That said, for hard and fast runs, technical trails, sub-ultra and ‘short’ ultra distances, this would be a go-to shoe for me. The outsole is made of Michelin rubber, with lugs that are designed to be customized by the runner for the season and terrain that they find themselves running in (via trimming). Out of the box, the lugs are 7 mm. This built-in customization is a style feature that indicates Speedland’s understanding of the nuances and variety within trail-running. The sticky Michelin rubber and tall lugs were designed for the SL:PDX’s native Portland’s often muddy, wet trails. However, the sole ran well on the rockier, dry trails near my home in the Rockies.

Photo: Matt Stetson

I have yet to see much sign of wear or tear on my pair. I have several peers across Canada and the US who are nearing 1,000K on their first pair. With the SL:PDX. Speedland seems to have hit a sweet spot of performance, comfort and durability.

Speedland SL:PDX. Photo: Ian MacNairn

In short, the SL:PDX may be the most advanced and high-performing trail running shoe produced to date. However, it is also the most expensive running shoe (trail or otherwise) ever produced. It retails on Speedland’s website–for as long as the 1,200 pairs remain–for USD $375 (about CDN $477). Speedland’s rationale is that no corners were cut or expense for material spared in producing their ideal shoe (but also, obviously, the fact that so few pairs were produced). Speedland is also encouraging a shift in perspective, whereby their shoes are viewed as gear similar to ski boots or cycling shoes, i.e., gear that may be incredibly expensive but necessary, and of the highest quality. One difference is that a pair of SL:PDX will not likely last more than a season of high use unlike a pair of ski boots or cycling shoes. That said, the SL:PDX has become my favourite shoe, and I love how thoughtful and engaged the creators have been with the culture and under-foot realities in the broad and varied world of trail-running. I am stoked to see their next commission come to fruition later this year – the SL:HSV, inspired by the land and trails nearby Huntsville, Ala., in the Appalachian Mountains.