Many of us by now have learned the importance of a quality bikepacking shoe. The same can be said about the importance of breaking in your bikepacking shoes before a big trip, or even just a long day in the saddle. After enduring a lengthy conditioning period with my last shoe, the Five Ten Kestrel, it would be impossible to have a more painful break-in experience with another shoe. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch shoes were an instant pleasure to wear. My experience started off fantastic, but as I worked the shoe basically to death, my opinions changed. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch is a pretty simple shoe. There is a Boa closure system installed on the middle of the tongue, and one single velcro double-back strap towards the toe of the shoe. The tread pattern is solid, and they are relatively stiff and lightweight. Check out this first look video for a better understanding. Before you read on, I should mention that I asked a lot from this shoe. Aside from a handful of rides, the X-Alp Launch has been my exclusive shoe this year from mid-March through mid-August. In that time I’ve ridden the Arizona Trail, Comstock Epic, Colorado Trail, a handful of other bikepacking trips and day rides. I would say I pedaled around 3,500 miles in these shoes. I also wanted to talk about sizing. I am roughly a US size 11.5/12 depending on the brand. I fell in an awkward position with the European sizes for Pearl Izumi. I first purchased a 45.5, which should equate to a US 11.2 or 11.5 depending on where you look. That size was a bit too small for me, so I returned and purchased an EU 46 / US 12. Because of this, the shoe was slightly bigger than I would normally use, but with swelling, it ended up being a pretty darn good fit. I also threw the stock insoles out in favor of my size F Superfeet. I would recommend that for every cyclist whether you plan on walking in this shoe or not. I could write a whole article on that, so I’ll save that for another time.This failure changed the way the shoes fit because they no longer tighten down like they should, causing my foot to swim in the shoe while walking and coasting. This affected my confidence during hike-a-bike sections as well. It was a shame because I really liked the placement of the Boa. It was out of the way on top of the tongue, super easy to adjust on the fly, and really allowed me to loosen up the shoe while off the bike which made for a slipper-like camp shoe. I also found that the Boa cable and ratchet loosened up better than ones I had used in the past. I am not sure if they refined the ratchet design or what, but I liked the little effort it took to loosen and remove the shoe. Tread: The tread pattern is another standout trait, and something that bikepackers tend to mull over more than other features. The pattern was great, with a well spread medium depth tread. A big improvement over the current X-Alp Enduros, and other standard cycling shoes. One thing that could be improved is the the depth of the tread. The treads are worn and rounded out after 5 months, but again, these shoes have seen a lot of use. The tread edges also showed more signs of wear and break down than the body of the tread itself. The edges are obviously more susceptible to the elements, but the amount of wear was a bit concerning.Toe Box: One other major feature that I look at when purchasing shoes is the toe box. I look for two things; A stiff toe for when I hit branches, logs, or rocks while I’m pedaling or hiking. I have had black and blue toes from cycling for years now, and if I can avoid stubbing my toe I will. The toe piece was nice and stiff when I first started using the X-Alp Launch shoes, and since then only softened up slightly. The other thing I’m looking for is a wide toe box as my feet are wide and irregular. The X-Alp Launch has a solid size toe box, which keeps my bunionette happy and feet pain free for the most part. The front end of this shoe is spot on for me although a little beat up.Heel: Surprisingly the heel area has remained intact after the top Boa loops broke, which allowed my heal to move a bit more freely. The heel area itself is stiff and nicely padded, much more so than the actual body of the shoe. While this may hold water more, it’s nice to have some comfort and extra protection towards the back end of the shoe. The break in period for the heel area was very minimal. I remember having some minor rubbing during the first few times I wore them, but I can’t recall that being a major issue. The heel cup holds in you heel, so long as the Boa closure is snug. Tongue: The tongue design was built around the Boa, and while the Boa feature could be refined, the tongue worked great. It would stay in position for the most part, allowing for a consistent fit for every ride. At the very least the tongue would shift as far as the Boa/side of the shoe would allow. It also is packed with a thick piece of foam padding, which proved to be beneficial against rocks, trees, or when you happen to drop something on your foot. Body: The body of the shoe held up great. There is no significant wear and the seams have been durable. The shoe certainly does not drain water as much as the light weight X-Alp Enduros, or even my older pair of Specialized Rimes, but they were much better than the FiveTen Kestrels. I hardly had an issue with this, and if I got them wet in the morning from a river crossing, they would be dry by the afternoon. Extras: A small but noticeable Izumi reflection patch on the back of the shoe gave me more confidence when I was riding on roads with cars. Oh, and bike shoes always act as a fantastic head rest/pillow paired with a soft layer for trail-side snoozes. The overall performance of this shoe was great. They complimented my style of riding well. However, I certainly felt the stiffness break down over time in the shoe. Besides the cable loops and the tread I’m happy with how well they have held up and performed considering the use I put them through. I was initially hoping I could get a year out of the shoe, especially after my first impressions, but there is no way these shoes could endure another big trip. If they can fix that Boa loop issue, this shoe would be near the top of my list for all around bikepacking use.