Initial Impressions- When unboxing the Ultra SST for the first time I expected a heavy shoe. With the 28-22mm stack height the shoe appears to be over built. Much to my surprise the shoe was extremely light. The EVA molded midsole comes up the back of the heel and wraps around the arch of the foot. This wrap also allows the BOA lacing system to connect directly to the midsole in two places. The upper is stitched directly to the midsole making for a smooth appearance on the outside. The upper is designed with mesh and hugs around the foot like a sock. The BOA lacing system adds to the already flashy appearance by eliminating the standard lacing system. For those not familiar, the BOA system uses a reel that coils a metal/plastic rod to provide even/secure pressure. The system works exceptionally well on footwear by reducing the changes of causing hotspots from lacing. The tongue of the shoe is directly attached to the upper and does not move. The toe box has minimal amount of protection. Because the midsole slopes up at the toe the amount of protection needed is minimal.
Vasque is one of the best selling brands in the store I work. The Vasque Breeze 2.0 is a popular boot for backpacking and hiking, especially in Arizona. When I found out Vasque had two styles of trail runners I was enthralled. The first model offered is their Pendulum II. But the more eye catching, futuristic shoe is the Ultra SST. The shoe is by no stretch of means a minimalist shoe, and thus a little far from my usual style. Add in the BOA lacing system, slick lines and bright colors and you have one of the most eye catching shoes around.
Use- When I first received the Ultra SSTs I was immediately inspired to leave work and go for a run. Unfortunately we were busy that day so this wasn't an option. A few days later I decided it was their day to shine. When first pulling the shoes on I noticed a bit of rubbing at the heel. The point at which the midsole was sewn to the upper created a sharp edge that was agitating my heel. I walked around in the house a bit and readjusted the BOA laces. If you have never used BOAs before they can be tricky to get dialed in. What I mean is that they are different then when using normal laces, you can really fine tune the fit which leads to unhealthy obsession about dialing it in. Maybe not the most intelligent move, but I decided that it was a long run day. I set my sights on one of my favorite 24-26 mile loops with 5700' climbing. For the first few miles I noticed the heel rubbing was becoming less noticeable. During this time I was consistently tweaking the BOA system to adjust the fit. At times my right foot would feel as though it was going numb, so I would loosen the system. Moments later I was tightening it up again. With some time I was able to dial in the tightness. At around 8 miles in I was noticing the hotspots. Each pinky toe, the big toe, heels, and arches. It should be known that blisters are not something I normally get. I have worn multiple different shoes for similar periods of time and never get blisters. The one blister that really was strange was the arch, or rather just above it on the foot. After further inspection of the shoe I noticed that the midsole and upper have a seem that were causing the issue in that area. Moving beyond the blisters the shoe felt great. I suppose this is rather moot after having bad enough issues that I don't want to use the shoes for longer runs, but none the less here is the rest of the scoop. The stack height did not seem to effect my gait. I also felt stable in the shoe in the technical areas. When running downhill the traction was superior to my Patagonia Everlong shoes and Altra Superior 1.5. The stack height and 6mm drop combined to create a shoe that allowed me to run for nearly four hours and feel less fatigued. I had my doubts about the tread design but after 100 miles, the tread shows minimal damage.
Final Verdict- I really wanted to love this shoe. The flashy style, advanced features and BOA system were all going for it. Unfortunately a shoe that causes severe blisters is no good to me, no matter how fancy. For the MSRP price of $169.99 you should be getting a shoe that is fully featured and fits like a glove. Although this shoe did not work for me I would still recommend you look at it. I would strongly discourage you from purchasing the shoe online, as the fit is foot specific. Find a local dealer where you can try the shoe on and check if any hotspots might occur. Vasque did a wonderful job of building a beautiful, full featured shoe. With some refinements; such as a larger toe box; and a seamless interior the shoe could really be a contender in the crowded footwear market.
It has recently come to my attention that Vasque is releasing a updated version on this shoe that appears to have some of the improvements I mentioned. I am interested in testing a pair in comparison, if the opportunity provides. The updated version has a lot of potential from what I have seen. It appears as though Vasque is trying to re-enter the market after a multi-year hiatus, with some creative footware. Kudos to Vasque.
*This shoe was provided to me via a Pro Deal at my place of employment.