All-Time Design is a new series on the Path Less Trodden which highlights the products and technologies in our industry that have had a major influence on others. It looks at design signatures that start trends and pervade through time. All-Time Design is a sister series to FutureProof. FutureProof predicts what will be classic, All-Time Designs already are. Number 2 in the series is the Salomon XA Pro Shoe.
Sometimes a product comes along that defines the trend it actually helped to start. Throughout the early 2000’s there was a big movement in the outdoors towards all things fast and light. This could be seen in the way people moved through the mountains and was consequently reflected in the gear they used. Salomon were, and still are, a big exponent of the fast and light ideal. The XA Pro shoe was one of the first and most important products to come along back then. It has gone on to influence many other products in the Salomon range and from other brands. It is without doubt an all time classic outdoor product.
The life cycle of the XA Pro is a great example of how classic products can evolve. I remember the XA Pro looked pretty radical back when it first appeared. It was a progressive shoe, no doubt. What could have ended up being a flash in the pan actually blossomed into a really popular shoe among trail runners. But it was what happened next to the market that was really important to Salomon and the success of the product.
Trail running shoe design went through something of a revolution. Inov-8 stole the fell shoe market, barefoot running was everywhere and trail running shoes became lighter and more flexible than ever before. Suddenly the XA Pro looked and felt like overkill. Compared to the many new minimal shoes on the market they were pretty stiff and heavy. They could have drifted out of the range but instead they found their place as both a shoe for hiking and, perhaps more importantly, as an outdoor lifestyle shoe. They became one of those products that defines the wearer as an ‘outdoors person’. In the same way that the Five Ten Guide Tennie says ‘I am a climber’, the XA Pro identifies you as someone who was a part of outdoor culture in some way.
Salomon ended up making the shoe in a vast array of colours. Some bright and technical looking, some more muted. There was (and still is) an XA Pro to suit everyone. They have a shape that seems to fit many different feet and along with looking ok with a pair of jeans, they also cut it in the mountains. In short they are super versatile. You still do see them on the feet of trail runners too. For that runner who needs a little more support they are still worth a shot. Plus they are available in Gore-Tex lined and non Gore-Tex lined versions in both a men’s and women’s specific fit and in a mid version too.
They became one of those products that defines the wearer as an ‘outdoors person’. In the same way that the Five Ten Guide Tennie says ‘I am a climber’, the XA Pro identifies you as someone who was a part of outdoor culture in some way.
What’s more the XA Pro ‘DNA’ has spread through many other shoes in the Salomon range, most obviously in the very popular X-Ultra. With the X-Ultra, Salomon took all the good bits from the current XA Pro 3D model and then beefed the shoe up, in the process turning it a proper, dedicated hiking shoe. It has a stiffer midsole and deeper lugs on the outsole that perhaps makes it more suitable for the kind of lightweight hiking that many folks were actually using their XA Pros for. The speed lacing system that is such a distinctive feature on the XA Pro has also found its way onto most shoes within the Salomon range. It’s a feature that is pretty unique to them which helps to set them apart from their competitors and define a product as one of theirs – always a good thing for any brand to have.
These days trail running – particularly ultra distance trail running – seems to be more popular than ever. Salomon’s marketing efforts are focused on the high end Lab Sense range and their superstar sponsored athletes like Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost. The product and media that accompanies these products is a little different but the fast and light ideal paradigm that the XA Pro was launched around holds true now more than ever.
A couple of years back I recall a Salomon rep telling me that sales of the XA Pro had just passed 3 million pairs. I imagine that’s peanuts compared to sales of classic Nike or Adidas shoes but I’d be willing to bet it’s more than pretty much any other outdoor shoe ever made. The XA Pro started life as a shoe designed for pounding miles of dirt and trails. It has evolved into one of the most worn and recognisable outdoor products ever made.