After a long winter of anticipation, it’s finally here: the Salomon Synapse hiking shoes are now available at Rock/Creek! If you’re planning a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012, this is probably the best footwear option available for you, and it’s arrived in time for you to pick up a pair before hitting the trail.
Salomon is renowned for cutting-edge, innovative designs, and the Synapse hiking shoe delivers. Tons of traction, incredibly lightweight, quick-drying, plenty of breathability, fantastic cushioning, speed laces… what more could we want?
Two things set the Synapse apart, and not just the fact that it looks different than any hiking shoe you’ve ever worn (trust us, that’s a good thing).
First, this is a shoe designed specifically for fastpacking and thru-hiking. Previously, most fast-and-light backpackers would just wear trail running shoes, or buy the lightest traditional hiking shoes they could find. Now, with the Salomon Synapse, there is a shoe specifically intended for this activity! They’re ultralight like minimal trail running shoes, but have cushion and support like a hiking shoe.
Second, the sole of the Synapse is much more flexible than the stiff, clunky boot soles you’re probably used to. The deep cuts in the tread allow the shoe to flex naturally with your foot, instead of having a single “break” point like a typical hiking shoe. Over long sections of trail, this keeps your feet happy and free of fatigue, and allows you to stride fluidly and efficiently.
Last summer, Jennifer Pharr Davis set the world record — not the “women’s world record,” the overall world record — for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. Not only did she wear the Salomon Synapse throughout her trek, she helped develop the shoe with Salomon, and her post-trip tweaks made it into the final design.
In advance of her upcoming visit to Rock/Creek, Jen took some time to talk to me about this breakthrough hiking shoe:
R/C: How did you end up working with Salomon on the design of the Synapse? That’s quite the commitment, to take delivery of a brand new shoe design and hike over 2,000 miles with it right away!
Jen: I started working with Salomon around the same time they had the idea for this shoe. I think it was something of a leap of faith for Salomon Running to commit to making a shoe without knowing for sure who was going to use it… I came in and said “hey, me, I’ll use it!” Honestly, there is nothing else out there quite like the Synapse. It’s definitely my favorite hiking shoe that I’ve ever used.
Conceptually, Salomon said they wanted to create a hiking shoe that wasn’t just a scaled-down boot and wasn’t a running shoe, and I thought that was a good start. You need to be able to feel the trail, you know? Your shoe needs to have a bit of “give” to it. Even in lightweight hiking boots, I always feel like I’m just clomping around in these heavy things. I wanted a shoe that was lightweight and comfortable without necessarily being “minimal” …the trail is tough, you still need some cushioning in support. But if we can put it in the lightest-weight package that we can come up with, and make it a hiking-specific product, it’ll be the best option out there.
I hiked in a prototype, and provided a little bit of feedback that Salomon was able to incorporate that into their final product.
R/C: When you started out with long-distance hiking, did you start out in a boot? Or were you wearing trail running shoes or some other kind of lightweight footwear? It seems like, before the Synapse, all of the options were compromises in some way.
Jen: I’d always hiked in trail running shoes just to save weight — every ounce counts, and it’s logical to conclude that weight on your feet matters even more than weight on your shoulders! Certainly, for some people, a hiking boot is a better option, but I never felt that way. Unless you have chronic ankle problems, if you can get the same protection and comfort that you’d have in a boot with a lighter shoe, that makes sense for most people.
Basically, there was a need for this type of ultralight hiking shoe, and Salomon recognized it. Most thru-hikers these days wear trail running shoes — they’re lighter than boots or typical hiking shoes, they dry quicker, they’re less prone to cause blisters — but they’re still trail running shoes, built for runners. That means many of them have too much stability in the heel, or too much plating between the foot and the trail, since the shoe is designed for the hard impact of a runner’s foot fall. In fact, a lot of long-distance hikers end up butchering their shoes with pocketknives, or making other modifications! Trail running shoes usually just aren’t conducive to a hiker’s motion.
R/C: Speaking of a hiker’s motion, we keep seeing the phrases “Natural Motion Hiking Shoe” and “Run your Hike,” but we’re not entirely sure what those things mean. Can you elaborate?
Jen: The shape and construction of the shoe is just optimized for a hiker’s motion. It’s lower profile than most hiking shoes, not nearly as stiff as a boot, with a softer EVA foam in the sole; with the Synapse, the outsole absorbs the trail more. Instead of landing on a stiff sole that causes your ankle to turn and your leg to take that stress, it flexes and your body can naturally react to the shape of the terrain. Your feet are more connected, you know? I feel like there is a lot less stress on the body, because your feet can adapt more to the trail than with a stiffer shoe.
As for the “run your hike” concept, a lot of fastpackers hike the uphill sections of a trail and jog or run the downhills. It’s a lot more efficient to hike that way, you cover more ground on the downhills without much more exertion, but you really need to have a shoe that allows you to do this. It’s part of what makes the Salomon Synapse so ideal for thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers or fastpackers. Honestly, I also think it’s great for any kind of ultra marathon where you might find yourself hiking some steep sections of the course; I ran the 2011 Sweetwater H20 50k in the Synapse, and finished 2nd female!
Jennifer will be visiting Rock/Creek in March! On Friday night, March 9, she’ll be giving a presentation at our 2 North Shore store on breaking the AT record. There is no cost for this event. Saturday morning, she’ll be giving a mini-clinic that covers gear, training, budgeting, planning, and emotional prep specific to hiking the Appalachian Trail (whether it’s thru-hiking or section hiking); afterward, we’ll go for a hike at the Lula Lake Land Trust. Tickets to this special public clinic are $20, stay tuned for details!
The Salomon Synapse is designed specifically for piling up fast, smooth miles on some of the best trails in the world. With this shoe, there’s nothing to slow you down… take some photos of your epic trip for us, and come visit our Facebook page to show us what the Synapse allowed you to do!