Speedland is a new Portland-based company founded by shoe industry veterans Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon, who have two decades worth of experience working with and leading running shoe design teams. They approached the design and creation of their flagship SL:PDX model with a simple premise: source the best materials available for every component of the shoe, then apply the highest quality construction methods to assemble them responsibly, without regard to cutting corners through cost.
This approach is the opposite of what pretty much every other shoe company does. Let’s say you’re on the design team at “Company X,” and you’ve been instructed to invent a cool new trail shoe. You’ll be given a small set of “must have” materials, features or specs, and a target price point to sell it for — and then it’s your responsibility to figure out how to make those variables match, usually by compromising some ideal aspects in order to retain the “must have” elements.
By contrast, the Speedland SL:PDX is made with a “no compromises” approach, which results in an exquisitely comfortable and highly functional trail shoe. But it also results in a jaw-dropping price point. Much of the marketing around this shoe describes it as “equipment for your feet,” in the same category as cycling shoes or ski boots, where several hundred-dollar price points are much more common. The analogy breaks down a bit when it comes to overall lifespan of the shoe, so ultimately, the SL:PDX will most likely be a niche shoe (made in small batches with each pair of the first 1,200 model-run hand-numbered) that attracts highly dedicated, front-of-the-pack runners looking for an extra margin of performance to achieve a long-pursued time goal or competitive edge.
The shoe’s uppers consist of lightweight breathable mesh reinforced with Dyneema, an amazing fabric that is incredibly thin but has extraordinary tensile strength and abrasion resistance. Dyneema is frequently used in performance sails for yacht racing and windsurfing, and it is increasingly being incorporated into tents, backpacks and other outdoor gear for its unbeatable strength. You’re not going to poke a hole in this material, yet it is breathable and flexible and rests soft against your foot even when the lacing system is ratcheted down.
BOA lace systems are becoming more commonplace in trail running shoes, but one potential drawback can be that it’s hard to customize the tension between the top of the laces and the bottom — for example, you prefer to keep the toebox loose but lock down the ankle collar, or vice versa. The SL:PDX solves this by using two separate dial mechanisms across three support straps to precisely (and literally) dial in the perfect amount of tension across all parts of the foot. This BOA Li2 system has other advances that previous BOA systems lacked, such as multidirectional functionality that allows you to tighten or loosen with single clicks, and a flatter wire that tightens against the foot without feeling like it’s digging in. We were very impressed with how easy it is to adjust the SL:PDX with varying terrain, and with how securely the entire upper keeps the foot in place against the midsole platform. Another design aspect we appreciate is the rounded toebox that allows for foot swelling and splay even when the rest of the upper is locked down tight and doesn’t feel sloppy at higher speeds.
The midsole consists of three separate components. Any of these can be removed if you want to adjust the ride quality to your liking, but we found they work extremely well together, and we kept the original setup intact. The lowest layer is soft, lightweight EVA that provides a cushioned landing, and above that is a thicker layer of highly responsive Pebax foam that has excellent energy return and durability. This Pebax layer also serves as the sockliner and cradles the foot with ongoing use. In between these layers is a flexible Carbitex carbon fiber plate that provides impact resistance as well as accelerating energy transfer from heel to toe. This plate has uni-directional stiffness which means it can be flipped upside down if you want to adjust the feel of the stance phase. Remove it completely if you want to increase ground feel and flexibility. The overall ride quality in the standard configuration is exceptional and provides a great balance of cushioning and responsiveness. We tested these on runs in excess of 20 miles without underfoot comfort being compromised, and while we would probably stop short of using them for 100-mile efforts in favor of something with increased cushion, there will certainly be plenty of runners who can go 100 miles or more in the SL:PDX.
Ground interface on the SL:PDX features a Michelin rubber outsole that comes standard with 7mm lugs, where the top ends of the lugs are slightly narrower than the base. Part of the customization process for these shoes is that you can clip the top 3mm of the lugs off if you run primarily on dry surfaces, or leave them in place if you frequently encounter wet or muddy terrain. If you tend to break down one side of your outsole faster than the other, this customizable system allows you to shave down the weaker side while leaving the higher impact side to slightly offset your asymmetric biomechanics.
There are also two small drainage ports on the arch of each shoe that can be punctured for more rapid water displacement if necessary. Clipping all of the lugs and ports shaves about 0.4 oz off the overall weight per the listed specs. However, unlike the midsole which can be deconstructed and reconfigured as much as you like, once you clip the outsole lugs, they’re gone for good. We kept the original lugging in place, and the ride quality feels fairly smooth even with the extended height on firm gravel roads and asphalt. Best of all, the grip and traction of the outsole compound and lugging is outstanding in all conditions, from rocky scree to wet river crossings.
As excellent as the outsole is, this is the area where the “equipment for your feet” argument feels weakest, because the SL:PDX definitely has a wear rate that is greater than cycling shoes or ski boots. Speedland estimates that you can expect about 400 miles on the outsole before the lugs lose their functionality. While this isn’t terrible, it’s also not dramatically different than other shoes we’ve enjoyed at a much lower price point. We have about 200 miles on our pair, and the breakdown is comparable to other high-density compounds we have tested such as Vibram’s Megagrip or Adidas’s Continental rubber. So, unlike cycling shoes or ski boots that you’ll use for years before replacing, you’ll probably want a new pair of SL:PDX shoes every 500 miles or so.
One interesting element that might address this moving forward is the modular nature of the shoes. There is no glue involved in the shoe’s construction – the upper is stitched to the midsole with the highly durable Dyneema thread – which allows Speedland to deconstruct used SL:PDX models and re-purpose the materials in future production. They currently provide free shipping for users to return their shoes for exactly this purpose. However, another aspect that modularity makes possible is the “re-construction” of particular elements, so there may come a time when you can send your shoes in for just a new outsole or a new Pebax insole, at a lower price point. This mechanism isn’t in place as of now, but it’s an angle that might help justify the premium price on the front end.
There’s no question that Speedland has made an outstanding trail shoe in the SL:PDX. Between the secure fit, responsive midsole and strong traction, there’s virtually nothing holding you back from running fast on all kinds of terrain, and there are enough comfort elements to keep you rolling during ultra-distance outings. If you have enough disposable income and share the company’s “no compromises” approach to your training and racing, this shoe is certainly capable of helping you accomplish those objectives. For everybody else, Speedland is a company worth keeping an eye on if they eventually offer more affordable model options.
The Speedland SL:PDX shoe is available in unisex sizing from www.runspeedland.com.
Features and Specs:
- Weight (size 9): 10.3oz
- Unisex sizing
- Stack height (fully assembled): 28/23mm
- Heel-toe drop: 5mm
- Upper: PerformFit wrap with Dyneema knit reinforcement
- Dyneema moccasin stitching of uppers onto midsole platform
- BOA Li2 Fit system with dual control dials
- Midsole: Dual layer construction with lightweight EVA and Pebax foam
- Removable Carbitex carbon plate
- Outsole: Michelin textile rubber with 7mm lugs; customizable to 4mm height
- MSRP: $375