Will Renwick tests out the latest trail running kit by Salomon on a climb of the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’
To me, there’s nothing more attractive than the idea of a few days in Snowdonia without a plan. So, when I recently suddenly found myself with a free weekend, there was only one thing for it. I stuffed my car full of camping equipment and headed north-west.
I did have one broad objective, which was to test out Cotswold Outdoor’s new colllection of Salomon trail running kit, but where I would test it and in what manner was left to my own whim.
There are a number of peaks I’ve had on my Snowdonia tick list for a while, but top of the list has been the one they call the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’. The reason it’s been top of the list is quite simply down to this nickname. As I made my way in the car towards North Wales it gradually became obvious to me that this mountain – it’s proper name being Cnicht – was where I should head. It was certain to make for a great run.
Motorway turned into main road, main road turned into country lane, country lane turned into a squeeze between dry stone walls. And then I could see it, a neat pyramid squeezed among the jostling Moelwynion mountains with a summit so pointed it could take your eye out.
Thankfully, Cnicht is a fair bit shorter than the Matterhorn on the Italian-Swiss border, actually as many as 3789 metres shorter, so a run to it’s pointed top is straightforward if you’ve got a decent enough bit of fitness. I decided I’d follow the path straight up the western face to the summit and then take the much more gradual descent east before looping back around its northern side.
On my feet were Salomon’s Speedcross 4 trail shoes. I’d been looking forward to getting out in a pair of Speedcrosses after hearing good things from ultra marathon runners including Outdoor Fitness contributor Damian Hall who wore the Speedcross 3 for last year’s Dragon’s Back Race.
They’re a really solid pair of shoes with a rigid but cushioned sole and a tough upper, and they’re still surprisingly light at 310g per pair. The drawcord lacing and Sensifit upper create a very comfortable, wrapping fit around the foot and they’re waterproof thanks to their Gore-Tex lining.
On the run up and down Cnicht, it was obvious just how made for mud these are. The forward and backward facing arrow shaped lugs are 6mm in depth making them particularly aggressive (in keeping with previous editions of the Speedcross). They gave absolutely no slip on the grassy and gravelly slopes. I particularly enjoyed the downhill run where I was able to go at speed with confidence that I could stop when I needed to and the thick sole gave a nice degree of impact cushioning.
When ascending, I appreciated the fact that the lugs continue up the front of each shoe and around the toes so you can really dig in to haul yourself up, and the reinforced toes were also excellent for the bit of scrambling on the final approach to the summit. In this section I did find that there was a little bit of slip on any wet stone however.
After finally getting to experience the Welsh Matterhorn, I went off to visit another part of Snowdonia that I’d been hoping to experience – the Rhinogydd in the southern section of the National Park. For this I’d be hillwalking over rough terrain rather than trail running and would be camping out overnight, but I decided the Speedcross 4s would still be suitable for this second adventure.
And they were: the terrain turned out to be particularly rough but the shoes felt stable and by the end of the second day of walking I appreciated the shock absorbing midsole. The grip served me very well, particularly when walking down the very steep southern side of Rhinog Fawr. The Gore-Tex membrane kept moisture out when walking through long grass and my feet only got wet when I managed to step right into a bog. Their lower cut was the only downside to choosing to wear these instead of walking boots for this tough trip.
Top and bottoms
On both the trail run and the hike I also wore Salomon’s Park Long Sleeve Top and Agile Long Tights. I’ll hold my hands up to wearing the same kit for three days straight, but there wasn’t any discomfort expeienced: I had broken a sweat during the trail run up Cnicht but the polyester fabrics wicked enough and more importantly, it dried quickly meaning the top and bottoms felt comfortable enough to wear as base layers for the hike.
The top has a medium thickness for a running top. Its two notable features are the thumb loops – which were appreciated during the colder moments, particularly when exposed to wind – and the zipped pocket that’s located on the back over the right kidney. This is just big enough to squeeze an iPhone 5 into but definitely not anything bigger.
The Agile Long Tights were comfortable for both the walk and run and never hindered movement, even when negotiating the scrambling sections. They were also fine when I wore them underneath softshell trousers. The zipped ankles make taking them off and on a lot easier and the meshed ventilation behind the knees is a nice design feature. These tights also have a zipped pocket that’s just big enough for an iPhone 5, it’s located just below the waistband on the backside.
Wet weather gear
Another bit of kit that I was trying out was the Salomon Men’s Bonatti Jacket. I didn’t get much of a chance to try this out in Snowdonia as fortunately I didn’t have any rain but, along with the rest of the Salomon kit, I’ve been wearing it regularly since. At 130g this is a very lightweight jacket and it’s also high performance thanks to it’s slightly stretchy 2.5-layer waterproof fabric with waterproof zips.
I like the fact it’ll stuff into its own breast pocket, but the best feature is the hood which holds very well in strong wind, even despite the fact that there’s no adjustment (most likely to keep weight down). It’s slightly stiffened peak is also very useful. One downside is the lack of volume adjustment on the cuffs – they’re semi elasticated but I still found them very loose. This retails for £140 at Cotswold – excellent value for such a jacket.
At the time of writing, I’ve got the Original Mountain Marathon in a few days time. That’ll be 50km over two days in Scotland’s mountains, and in challenging late October weather. I think I’ll be taking all of these items with me.