I find cross country becomes less fun as soon as you are the person responsible for cleaning all of the kit that has been muddied due to participation in cross country.
The tricky terrain-loving cross country spike differs from its smooth operator track friend in a few ways: the cross country spike is more flexible, has a more textured rubber outsole for greater traction and is more cushioned than a track spike. This type of spike is also less concerned with getting the wearer on their toes so has less of a forward angled construction.
The upper as a whole on a cross country spike tends to be a bit more robust than that of a track spike, with the toe box in particular offering greater protection.
There are variations between brands on the number of spike receptacles on the outsole plate, ranging from
- 4 - Nike Rival XC & Nike Victory XC3
- 5 - Asics Cross Freak
- 6 - Adidas XCS 5, Brooks Mach 16, Puma Haraka & Saucony Kilkenny XC5
This is an important element of the spikes construction considering the impact upon the amount of traction offered, which in cross country racing is vital. It would be terrible to fall over and get all muddy.
While Nike and Saucony offer a unisex spike the other brands (Adidas, Asics, Brooks & Puma) have gender specific options. These will have slight differences in width and weight but primarily be of the same mould.
On the Uppers
The Puma Haraka has the most overlays and stitching of the bunch contributing to making it the heaviest of the spikes (214g M, 164g W).
This is followed by the Adidas XCS 5 (198g M, 164g W), the Asics Cross Freak, and the Nike Rival XC (172g men’s UK 9), with the unisex Saucony Kilkenny XC5 coming in at 167g (men’s UK 9).
This quartet all have more lightweight uppers with less stitched overlays, and in Asics' case a good splattering of their Hotmelt upper (a similar material to the plastic coating I put on a trowel I made in metalwork at school). The Nike Rival XC upper is constructed from a thin breathable mesh which is tasked with effectively shedding water, it will go in so best that it can easily escape.
The Brooks Mach 16 (150g M, 130g W) has a one piece super light seamless upper, giving a sock like fit. American brand Brooks describe this spike as a “totally dope sprinter that breaks the sound barrier on the way to the tape”. Evidently Bill and Ted’s latest excellent adventure is writing product descriptions for Brooks.
The lightest of the bunch is the top end Nike Victory XC3 weighing in at only 125g, it is quite possible that the wearer will hover delicately above the mud wearing a spike of such great beauty (I considered getting them to wear whilst gardening). The upper has dynamic Flywire cables, these along with a single layer no-sew mesh deliver a fantastic fit which is both lightweight and breathable.
In Soapy Bubbles
All of the new AW14 models are brightly coloured; I however propose all cross country spikes should be brown in colour as standard. This would reduce the mental torment felt upon the instant muddy destruction of the spikes good looks. Failing this it is possible to return your spikes to their glorious gleaming state after a race, here is some top drawer step by step advice from our expert on the subject:
"Take the muddy monsters out of the shoe bag, remove the 9 - 12 mm spikes (only the fool hardy skip this step), and fill a bucket full of hot soapy water. Procure a nail brush and begin scrubbing.
Once the spikes look pristine rinse the soap out of them and give them a good shake as would a dog on exiting a bath. Finally rest the shoes on their side and let them dry for 2 - 3 days. Once the shoe is dry pop the spikes back in and you are ready for your next battle with nature. Race and repeat."
There you have it! Whether you rate traction, weight of the spike, comfort of the upper or aesthetics with such a great selection you are sure to find one that appeals.
Hopefully the muddy waters of cross country spikes are now crystal clear.
So get a pair and let the muddy madness begin!