After much fanfare, the Spartan RD Pro by Craft has finally landed. Much has been made of their durability and their 1 year guarantee. I'm sure by now you have all seen Joe De Sena crushing them with an excavator, hanging them in the sea overnight and even driving over them in a Jeep. But does durability alone make a good OCR shoe?
Coming a few years after Spartan's last foray into the world of trail and OCR shoes with the Reebok All Terrain, I was really interested to try these out. There is no doubt that they look the part, with a big Spartan logo overlayed on the tough nylon weave upper and some of the colourways are stunning (I'm looking at you neon yellow! Why is this colourway a female only choice?).
The first thing I noticed when unboxing apart from the striking look though was the weight. The RD Pro is a heavy shoe, especially if you are used to running in an X-talon 210 or VJ XTRM - the two kings of OCR shoes. With that weight comes a stiffness to the sole with a definite spring loaded feel when you flex the forefoot. When running, you feel that flex rebound into your toe, helping to propel you and maintain forward motion and an efficient turnover.
There is plenty of room in the toe box and the fit in general feels quite wide, so on those longer runs you will have space for the toes to splay and cover any swelling. Spartan and Craft have chosen to go with a speed lacing system similar to those used by Salomon in their Speedcross range. While convenient and easy to adjust with muddy hands I found there to be too much excess cord when tightened, even when using the elasticated strap on the tongue which is designed to keep the cord out of the way. I also found the locking system to need some improvement as too often I have needed to stop and re-tighten the laces. I found the fit to be a little slack; the heel cup in particular suffers from too much movement and lift. In the midfoot I found again that there was too much movement, especially when traversing across a slope - you feel your foot moving within the shoe.
The grip in the midfoot area has clearly been designed with a rope climb in mind. A number of small textured bumps on the arch of the foot make locking your feet onto the rope a dream, and at Aston Down I was able to fly up the rope with total security and no slippage between my feet.
The rest of the shoe boasts a number of 6mm lugs in a medium-hard compound. I found the grip performed well on dry dusty trail and loose gravel, giving me a secure base from which to drive forward. On wet rock though it was like being in skates and it struggled with the traditional UK combination of muddy woodland trails and grassy hills with excessive lateral movement underfoot, it made me cautious on downhills that I would normally attack with glee. This is, in part, down to the lack of ground feel from the shoe; a high level of cushioning and a very stiff sole mean you lack that connection to the ground essential to making those quick adjustments that are needed when descending.
The drainage holes, a design feature retained from the previous Reebok All Terrains, do their job expelling water from the shoe after any trips through rivers or a dunk wall. They do, as they always have done, feel unnecessary. Spartan would have been better served by going with a lighter, more permeable fabric in the upper which would drain just as quickly.
Spartan have had some good ideas with the Craft RD Pro but they don't all deliver. The shoe is definitely built to last and will take all the punishment you can throw at it. But this strength is also one of its weaknesses; the materials and reinforcement mean that the shoe is just too heavy and cumbersome and not the streamlined nimble racing shoe many are looking for. At £140 they are also priced at the high end of the market for a trail / OCR shoe and when you can pick up both the X-talon 210 and VJ XTRM at a lower price, they're's hard to justify. I would wait for next year's version to see if Spartan can work on the fit and weight issues before committing.
If however you are a die-hard Spartan, they will be available in a few weeks at Marston Lodge.