We can’t have it all. As trail runners, we know that the right running shoe often means making sacrifices. Do we choose durability over efficiency? Minimalism over support and stability? Grip and traction over weight? The Saucony Switchback shoe may be the answer to some of our tough decisions. It balances the feel of a minimalist racing flat with the tread and traction of a traditional trail runner. Better yet, the shoe maximizes both comfort and fit.

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Photo: Matt Stetson

Laces

Laces require their own category with the Saucony Switchback. The company has partnered with Boa technology, replacing traditional laces with a circular dial (rep-laces?). At first, I felt like a robot, with a dialling device on the shoe. However, it was lightweight and unnoticeable, and I quickly became a fan of this high-tech lacing system. Commonly used in cycling shoes, the Boa dial provides a quick and precise lacing experience, ideal for the most particular athlete. Perfect for A-type trail runners. Having a shoelace that ‘dials’ in to your exact sizing to fit your foot, is a unique experience, and now one that I can highly recommend.

Fit

With the Boa technology as laces, the Switchback feels snug, yet spacious enough in the forefoot for toes and feet to move around. The Boa dial allows you to mold the fit of the shoe to your specific needs. This allows the shoe to hug your foot and ankle around its unique shape. The shoe is comfortable, but not overly cushioned either on the interior or the sole.

Function

The grip and traction on the sole of the Switchback is nothing like I had experienced before. The lugs are small, and a-plenty. I was surprised at how functional and tacky the tiny lugs were. Small A-shape lugs on the forefoot, and V-shape lugs towards the heel make the shoe reliable in its ability to stay flexible but also feel secure on slippery surfaces. I tested the shoe on non-technical flat trails, wet and rooty technical forest trails, and fresh snow and ice over top of rooty trails. Although I was hesitant descending on icier sections, I had no problems feeling agile as well as grounded in various trail conditions. The shoe functions best in more technical environments, rather than flatter and runnable surfaces. Considering the overall minimalist feel of the shoe, the grip and tread seems promising for the avid trail runner.

Upper and Outsole

Durability and flexibility can coexist in one piece of gear. The upper mesh fabric is breathable, flexible, and durable. The outsole and perimeter of the shoe is additionally durable for a variety of trail conditions. The material is still flexible and light, maintaining its feel as a racing flat shoe. Even though the materials are durable, I would not use this is a cold weather shoe. Although it is comfortable, the shoe’s minimalism means your feet may get cold without thick wool socks.

Midsole

The minimal cushion is offset by the EVERUN contoured midsole, making your feet bounce with energy as you push off the forest floor. For runners accustomed to cushion, this shoe may take some getting used to. The sole is minimal and flexible, and the rubber appears durable and long lasting.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Recommendations

The Switchback would be an ideal shoe for racing technical, wet, or muddy trails. Keep your runs on the trails with this shoe, since the cushioning feels limited. The shoe would be best for trail races 50K or less. I wouldn’t recommend the shoe for longer training days, due to the minimal sole. The 4mm drop feels like you’re in a racing flat, but with the traction to move efficiently in the forests and mountains. Take advantage of the grip the shoe provides while being lightweight and race-worthy.

What you need to know:

Available: February 1, 2019
Type: Low profile, flexible sole, minimal pronation control
Recommended surfaces: Technical trails, wet or muddy conditions
Heel-to-toe drop: 4 mm (22.5 mm to 18.5 mm)
Weight: Men 9.6 oz (275 g) | Women 8.6 oz (245 g)
Price (MSRP): $169

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