When moving over the Earth under your own power, weight matters — a lot. In 1984, the U.S. Army conducted a study to determine how weight carried on service members’ feet — like cheap, heavy military boots — impacted their physical performance. They found something very interesting: the data from their study indicated “for an increment of weight equal to 1.4 percent of (a subject’s) body weight carried on the feet the average energy cost (to the soldier) increased 8 percent or 5.7 times what one would have expected for the same weight carried on the torso.” In layman’s terms, this means that every extra pound your boots weigh is the same equivalent of an extra five pounds on your back. Conversely, dropping a pound of shoe or boot weight is like taking five pounds of gear out of your pack. And this makes sense: between heavy boots and their lighter counterparts, most of us instinctively know that we’ll be less fatigued over long distances with the latter.
This is where the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Gore-Tex boots shine. At a $165 price point, these lightweight hiking boots fall in the middle of the pack in terms of cost and rank among the best in terms of performance and value. Here’s what you need to know before you strap them on your feet for your next backcountry adventure.
I’m currently training to climb Mount Rainier in Washington state, so my editor sent a few pairs of hiking boots for me to evaluate. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Gore-Tex boots arrived in a no-frills plain recycled cardboard box emblazoned with their corporate motto: ‘Time to play.’ I appreciated the stripped-down packaging and lack of single-use plastics. Bravo.
Out of the box, I could immediately feel the lightness of the boots. I had a suspicion they weighed less than my current favorite hiking boots, so I immediately threw them on my kitchen scale to check them out. I also noticed the quality of construction and the beefed-up toe boxes. My pair came in black with grey trim, and I was pleased they weren’t ugly. The boot uses a regular lacing system of three eyelet sleeves and two-speed hooks. They also have a pull tab on the heel to assist with putting the boots on. The Ultra 3s appeared to have a normal amount of cushioning in the sole and a thick padded tongue with gusseting up to the first speed hook. I could also see the Gore-Tex tab stitched at the top of the outside of the boot neck. Lastly, the soles sported a Contagrip TD lug design for multi-directional grip, and the uppers appeared to be made from a combination of polyurethane-coated leather and other breathable synthetic materials.
How we tested the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Gore-Tex boots
I wore this boot frequently over the past two months on multi-hour training hikes while carrying a 45-pound backpack. Since I live in the Chesapeake area, I did a lot of repeats on large hills in the area to get a lot of vertical training in — and this meant dozens of laps up and down per training session.
Fit, comfort, and support. From the moment I sunk my feet into the Ultra 3s, I loved them. The boots fit true to size and my feet felt like they locked into place atop the cushioned footbed. Salomon uses a SensiFit system within the Ultra 3s that cradles the foot from the midsole to the lacing system. My feet felt snug and secure without feeling pinched or constricted. The toe boxes were also roomy enough to wiggle when wearing medium-weight hiking socks. I noticed the tongue is connected to the upper on both sides – which is awesome for keeping dirt and rocks out of the boot and keeping the tongue in place along the boot’s centerline. (I hate it when boot tongues drift to one side or the other.) Salomon also stuffed an OrthoLite insole into the Ultra 3s, but I wear custom orthotics so I removed the factory inserts and installed my own for the test. They accepted my orthotics easily and securely. The Ultra 3s felt as comfortable as a good trail running shoe with great overall support.
Weight. As I mentioned earlier, one of the first things I did upon unboxing was put the boots up on my kitchen scale. I hate heavy boots and was pleased to see this pair of size 13 (48 Euro) clodhoppers weigh in at a featherweight 1,214 grams (2.68 pounds). There are few boots on the market that I’ve tested that deliver the support of the Ultra 3s at such a low weight. I was impressed. When put on and laced up, the boots felt super light and had a nice bounce to the step.
Traction. The gold standard for me has always been a Vibram sole, as I’ve always had good luck with their traction and durability. The Ultra 3s use Salomon’s own Contagrip soles which use two different types and densities of rubber to grab the terrain more securely. The deep lug design and multi-directional grip provided solid traction both on the flats and especially on the downhills – wet or dry. I could feel the high-performance EVA foam softening each landing – especially when I’d jog downhill. On a few training days, I left the pack at home and ran hill repeats and really enjoyed how the Ultra 3s were light on my feet and really dug in on each push off upward. Note: I did not test these boots on rock. The lack of a smooth climbing zone along the inside of the first phalanges (big toes) makes me concerned they might be suboptimal at edging when climbing on rock faces.
Water resistance. To test the boots’ water resistance I wore them when training on wet ground and they kept my feet dry. I also filled up a 20 gallon galvanized bucket and stood in several inches of water for five minutes and they worked great provided you don’t step in water past the 5-inch flood line of the boot. Gore-Tex boots have a reputation for being hotter than non-Gore-Tex boots, and I wore the Ultra 3s on some fairly hot (95F) days. While they weren’t the most breathable boots I’ve ever worn, they were not unreasonably hot either. I felt comfortable in them on every training day and I never once got a blister. Bonus!
Versatility. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Gore-Tex boots truly feel like a trail runner with beefier support. They performed great on training hikes with a mid-weight pack, while running uphill without a pack, on flat trails, and while running errands around town. Considering they are a Gore-Tex boot, I’d feel secure wearing them in wet and cold conditions with a heavier sock as well.
Durability. I noticed no unreasonable wear during the two months I’ve worn the Ultra 3s. Additionally, the reinforced rubber toe boxes did a great job of protecting my toes from stubbing when I inadvertently kicked roots and rocks.
Value. The Salomon X Ultra 3 Gore-Tex boots cost about a hundred dollars less than my current hiking boots, and I consider them a high quality, high-value purchase. At a sub $170 price point, you get a hell of a good boot.
What we like about the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Gore-Tex boots
I’ve got to be honest: I loved these boots for their lightweight comfort out of the box. They didn’t really require any breaking in and were super comfortable. They provided the right amount of stability and support and I didn’t roll my ankles once while wearing them. They provided super traction and push-off on ascents, held up on sidestepping on steep hills, and were pretty cushy on descents. The Ultra 3s also sport a low-key design and I really liked the beefy reinforced toe boxes. The lacing design, with three fabric sleeve eyelets and two-speed hooks, allowed for sufficient adjustment to ensure the boots were snug in the right spots. I recommend them for light to mid loads when hiking or backpacking over non-technical terrain (i.e. not climbing vertical rock).