The Salomon S/LAB XT-6 Softground, or XT-6 for short, has quite a sophisticated name for an equally sophisticated shoe. It was first built by the Salomon S/LAB team, the group in charge of designing and developing the shoes and apparel for the company’s elite trail-running athletes, such as Kilian Jornet and François D’haene. Today, there’s as good a chance of seeing the XT-6 on the sidewalks of New York or London as on the trails of Chamonix or Garmisch. Why is the XT-6 so versatile? Why do ultra-trail-runners and fashion afficionados find them equally appealing? We asked these questions and more to the athletes who first ran ultra-trail races with the shoe, the people at Salomon who worked on the shoe, and the fashion personalities who now proudly rock the shoe as a fashion statement.
Where does the XT-6 come from? It’s an evolution from the XT-5, which comes from the XT-4, which comes from… the XT Wings. When Salomon was entering the trail-running world, Patrick Leick, who is in charge of Salomon’s service-to-athletes program in footwear, started working on the original XT Wings to customize it to the needs of the brand’s top trail-running athletes.
“From the first to the sixth, we only made small evolutions, to keep what made the shoes’ successful, ” Patrick says.
Finally, the XT-6 was born: a lightweight trail-running shoe with great foothold and grip. It’s the synthesis of all the versions that came before it. The design of the shoe, which was drawn by Benjamin Grenet, Salomon’s Lead Designer for Footwear, was “made to magnify the shoes’ technology and make it visible, it wasn’t an end of itself.” The bold design of the XT-6 is what took it to the streets, but that probably would not have happened without the strong original conception of the shoe.
When Jean-Philippe LALONDE arrived at Salomon in the footwear department, he spent numerous hours digging through boxes of previous seasons. One of those was a box full of S/LAB XT-6, which immediately picked his curiosity.
"As technical as its design is, it remained expressive of its function and easily readable," says JP. "When it comes to recontextualizing the XT-6, the transition is rather easy: moving from classic racing colours (red, black, white) to more muted or athletic colours, we’re able to create endless propositions..
One of the athletes who was around when this shoe appeared is François D’haene, French ultra-trail-running champion. He’s won several 100-milers, including the UTMB in 2012, 2014 and 2017 and the Diagonale des Fous in 2016 and 2018.
“The XT-6 was one of the first shoes I used as a member of the Salomon Running Team, ”D’haene says. “I think I discovered it at the Salomon Running Camp.”
To begin each trail running season, Salomon athletes meet for the Salomon Advanced Week to train and discuss Salomon trail-running products—testing, analyzing and modifying them. Back then, D’haene saw the XT-6 as the perfect combo for training and competing in ultra-races on any surface.
“It was a good compromise between stability, protection and performance, making it the best shoe for ultra-trail running!” D’haene recalls, adding that he would also wear the shoes for long walks (less than under 100 miles). “I wear these shoes every day because they are so comfortable!”
Ryan Sandes is one of the top endurance athletes in the world. He’s part of a very small club of 81 people who have won all 4 Deserts races (each of them are 6-7 day, 250-kilometer self-supported races through the desert). He remembers running the Western States 100, Leadville 100 and the Fish River Canyon in the XT-6.
“It’s part of the Salomon heritage, I have lots of great memories of this shoe,” the South African says.
He tested them for the first time during the 2012 Advanced Week in Greece.
“I remember putting on a pair for the first time and thinking this was a great performance shoe, but it also looked very good,” Sandes says. “The shoe had great support and response when running, the durability is really good, and I love the coloring and design of the shoe.”
Sandes also wears them outside of running, mostly because they’re comfortable, but also because “they look cool with jeans and casual clothing.”
The shoe stayed popular among ultra-trail runners for several years, before being replaced by more innovative shoes that were lighter and more durable. But the XT-6 would never truly go away. People who liked the shoes for their durability and comfort started to realize that the design and colorways of the shoe could fit elsewhere than in the mountains.
LEWIS MUNRO, Stylist
Lewis Munro is a British stylist who has worked with several music artists (AJ Tracey, Mura Masa, Juice Wrld). He sees the XT-6 as a comfortable choice first-and-foremost, but he didn’t consider the cozy trail-running shoe for anything other than running until he saw them at Dover Street Market, a London high-fashion retailer.
“My friend Jenna was always wearing them, and I was bored of other conventional trainer choices, so I thought I’d give them a try!” he says.
When he’s running late, Lewis enjoys the ease and comfort of the shoe as well as the versatility.
“I can just slip them on, no need to spend time on laces!” he says “Also, the colorways are always on point. The black pair is super versatile. I think you can wear them with almost anything. I’ve often worn them with a more casual look as well as a pair of joggers and a hoodie. But I think it’s best people try them out for themselves and work out how they can best fit in to their wardrobe.”
Inside the walls of Salomon, the XT-6 has become a fashion statement as well. Salomon employees who were just teenagers during the shoe’s trail running heyday have made the XT-6 perhaps the most popular office footwear choice.
MAINA SOUVIRON, Salomon Sneakers Product Line Manager
When Maina Souviron, Product Line Manager for Footwear at Salomon, is asked about what the XT-6 is to her, she answers without hesitation. “The pair I wear almost every day!” she says.
Slowly but surely, the XT-6 is taking over Maina’s sneaker rotation.
“It’s incredible to see how a pure performance shoe can become, in just a few years, a highly coveted piece of fashion,” she explains. “It was first created by the S/LAB team for athletes running super technical and long races, and we haven’t changed anything but the colors since then.”
When Maina first discovered the shoe at Salomon, they even felt too technical for her. She was accustomed to wearing simple shoes like Vans or Converse. When she had to pick a pair of shoe to attend the Paris Fashion Week, she picked the XT-6.
“I started wearing it for work-related reasons, but quickly adopted it for daily use after I realized how comfortable it was,” says Maina, who is considered as a fashion afficionado inside Salomon. “I like the style and silhouette, I like the fact that it catches the eye, and I love the color harmonies. Also, it’s super durable! I’ve had a pair for two years and they’re still in great shape!”
Regarding styling, Maina likes to wear the XT-6 with a pair of wide leg jeans or a midi-skirt in the summer. “Wear it as you want,” she says, “don’t wait for others to tell you how to wear it!”
ROBIN DORIGUZZI, Salomon Footwear R&D Product Manager
Robin Doriguzzi works as an R&D Product Manager in Salomon’s Footwear Department. He first found out about the XT-6 in 2018. Of the shoe, he says, “I love the design and the edginess it brings to an outfit. It catches the eye of people who have never seen the shoes!”
Since Robin would rather spend hours on his bike than trail-running, he mostly wears his XT-6 casually.
“I like to wear them with cropped pants to show them off, or with straight legs pants.”
He says he prefers to wear the full-black XT-6 for a clean yet aggressive look. His tip: “Wear them the way you feel it best suits your outfit!”