Salomon GCS Pro

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Trail running shoes have been hovering in the $85 range, give or take $10, for many years now. Seldom have any models without a waterproof/breathable lining broken the $100 barrier. The new Salomon GCS Pro (called the Comp for women, which we did not test), doesn't just tiptoe across the line, it long-jumps past to an astounding $130. Is it worth it? We had one of our trail running testers put in the miles to find out.

Salomon has earned a strong reputation with trail runners thanks to the XA Pro ($90), which has been around for a few years now. The GCS Pro takes many of those design features – including the gusseted tongue, one-pull lace system and tongue pocket for the laces -- and embellishes them with new technology. The company calls it “the ultimate running shoe for off-trail athletes seeking stability, comfort, and shock absorption.”

GCS stands for Ground Control System, which is a unique heel shock absorber co-designed with adidas (it's also found on the $120 Adistar Trail). This is essentially two rigid plates separated by four columns of squooshy material. When your heel strikes the ground, the columns deform according to the angle of impact -- the idea is that on uneven terrain, your heel is less prone to rolling.

The GCS truly works when charging down moderate trails of mild to moderate steepness. Combined with the sturdy heel counters, the GCS is one of the most stable shoes we have ever used. But that is where the glowing praise stops.

The GCS Pro is also one of the heavier trail running shoes we have ever tested. At 2 pounds for a size 9.5 men's shoe, these babies feel like you're wearing ankle weights when running. And, despite being heavier, the forefoot cushioning is no better than any other shoe and noticeably inferior to some. The GCS Pro does offer good protection against bone bruising so heavy runners will appreciate it on rocky trails. Traction of the outsole is fine in most conditions. The heels tend to glom up with mud, though not as badly as some other shoes we've tested.

As for the Salomon lacing system: Sure it's easy to pull tight but it's also prone to creating pressure points (especially on this model which our tester found actually painful across the head of the first metatarsal, so be careful depending on your foot type or structure). The Kevlar laces tend to slip in the plastic buckle and retightening (or even checking prior to a descent) is a bit of a nuisance compared to normal laces. Plus, the one-pull system means you can't use special tie methods to accommodate different types of feet or comfort.

The last feature on the GCS Pro is the plastic mesh on the midbody of the uppers (men's model only, women get standard fabric mesh). While the ribs add a bit of support and the mesh is indeed extremely breathable and, of course, drains well after a creek crossing, the shoes don't feel significantly cooler than normal ones since your forefoot is still enclosed in fabric mesh.

So back to the original question: Is it worth paying full retail? The answer to that depends on how much money disposable income you have and what your intended end-use is. The GCS Pro could be ideal if you are a heavy runner and a heavy heel striker who runs mostly runs on groomed trails. Despite the fact this shoe won a Backpacker Editor's Choice award, for most trail runners we'd have to say that you can find a lot more shoe for a lot less money by opting for other brands -- like even adidas, which offers the same chassis at less cost and less weight. Hikers, however, might really find pleasure in a lightweight, nimble hiking shoe -- perhaps, after all, the GCS should be marketed as a multi-sport shoe and not for trail running? Just a thought.  
     
SNEWS® Applause Meter: 3.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $130

For more information:www.salomonsports.com

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