Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Review - S-Lab Race Performance Now Comes With Ample Cushion

by Jeff Valliere

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra
9.7 oz./275g US Men's Size 9
26mm heel/18mm forefoot, 8mm drop
$180. Available now

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
I started off with very high expectations for the new S-Lab Sense Ultra, as I have really enjoyed the S-Lab shoes I have worn in the past, featuring the most precise, comfortable, locked in high performance uppers on the market, combined with a reasonable weight and great traction.  Not to mention, they just have a fast and race ready look to them, like a high end supercar.  I owned the S-Lab Sense Ultra SG 4 and the S-Lab Wings SG most recently, but have to admit that on rocky runs, runs with a lot of hardpack, long, fast downhills, etc..., they kind of beat me up.  Protection is good, but cushioning is somewhat minimal in the Ultra SG and very firm in the Wings.  Neither are all that plush or forgiving.

Enter the S-Lab Sense Ultra, which maintains all of the awesomeness previously listed, but with just the right amount of soft cushioning to really smooth out the ride and essentially eliminate the harsh feel I noticed in previous models, but did it meet my expectations?



Upper:

The Salomon Sensifit/Endofit upper is second to none.  Fit is enveloping, secure and precise, without feeling the least bit uncomfortable, constraining or claustrophobic.  The Quicklace system has been perfected by Salomon, providing quick and precise adjustments on the fly.  Foothold and stability, be it in the heel, mid foot or forefoot is as good as one could ever expect.

Fit is true to size and while the toe box does not have too much additional wiggle room for splay/swelling, I felt that even on a 5 hour run, I never thought about it once.

The mesh upper feels very durable and high quality.  I subjected this shoe to some intense off trail terrain and bushwhacking through dense brush and dead-fall, with not so much as a tear of scrape. Breathability seems to be good but not great.  ~70 degrees F is about the warmest I have run in during this review period and my feet seemed a touch warm, as the upper does not seems to be particularly open and airy.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The toe bumper is thicker and sturdier at the front, then tapers in thickness as it integrates with the welded overlays.  Though somewhat flexible, the toe bumper is remarkably sturdy and will certainly ward off just about any rock stubs.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The extended toe bumper helps with durability (though detracts a bit of ventilation).
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The heel collar is moderately to minimally padded, but has just the right combination of hold, comfort, flex and protection.  It is just the right height, sitting below the ankle bone with no rubbing or break in period.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The heel counter is semi flexible, with the red section being slightly more structured and then increases in flexibility higher up on the heel.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The Endofit wraps the foot for support and is much like a gusseted tongue.  It takes a bit more work to get in this shoe than average, but once you are in, it is well worth the effort for the comfort and security it provides.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The tongue is on the thin side, but moderately padded and quite comfortable.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The Quicklace system is precise and easy to adjust.  The mechanism and extra lace easily stow away in the lace garage at the top of the tongue.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
Midsole:

The Energycell+ midsole is a massive improvement over previous S-Lab models.  The Energycell+ delivers an amazing blend of plush, yet responsive and supportive cushioning that is equally at home blasting technical trails at full speed, as it is on the road or just jogging at a more casual pace.  Though the Sense Ultra seemed perfect out of the box, I have noticed over time that it has broken in just a little bit and become even more comfortable, likely from the slight softening of the upper materials, the midsole/outsole becoming slightly more flexible and the Ortholite sockliner conforming to my foot.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
The Sense Ultra has a slight rocker design, not quite the level of Hoka, but it definitely helps propel this well cushioned shoe forward in a more efficient manner.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 
Instead of the paper thin sockliner used in other/previous S-Lab shoes (which would bunch up on descents, such that I would have to glue it in to keep it secure), the S-Lab Sense Ultra has a nice thick molded Ortholite sockliner to provide additional support and cushioning.  The Ortholite liner also features open-cell construction to improve breath-ability and moisture transfer.

Outsole:

The Premium Wet Traction Contagrip outsole is among the best out there, in direct competition for best traction with two of my recent favorites, adidas Continental rubber outsoles and La Sportiva FriXion XF.  The 4mm asymmetrical diamond shaped lugs are deep and aggressive enough for just about any trail or off trail condition that you may find, yet work quite well on pavement or more hardpacked surfaces.

I found grip to be excellent on wet rock, dry rock, steep off trail, hard dirt, loose gravel, packed snow, loose snow, slush, mud, etc...   Durability is excellent as well, as there is about no noticeable wear after 50 miles of very deliberate abuse.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 

The ProFeel TPU Film can be seen here in the center of the shoe, which, along with the substantial cushioning, makes the Sense Ultra absolutely bombproof, as I do not feel even the sharpest of rocks.
Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra Outsole
Despite the bit of mud stuck in the heel in the photo, overall, I found the tread pattern/configuration of the Sense Ultra to shed mud well and provide above average grip in muddy conditions.

Overall performance:

This is the Salomon that I have long been waiting for.  As I mentioned earlier, I had very high expectations for the S-Lab Ultra Sense and my expectations were exceeded.  I put this shoe through the ringer and they performed flawlessly on a wide variety of runs, from ~1 hour long time trial efforts up/down 2,500 vertical feet, to 5 hour mostly off trail adventures.
I ran on packed snow, loose snow, ice, rocky technical single track, dirt roads, tempo on paved roads, steeps, flats, navigated boulder strewn, flooded out creek beds with iced over rocks, steep off trail, mud, talus, scree, vertical pine needles and the S-Lab Sense Ultra handled it all quite well. Though not a road shoe, for such an all around trail performer, the Sense Ultra can hold their own on short stints of pavement, as they are responsive and the lugs are sturdy and low profile enough to be a great door to trail shoe without compromising at all once on the trail.
Security of the upper, fit, stability and overall trail feel are top notch.  I feel like I can push hard in just about any terrain in most conditions with the utmost confidence, as they always do what I ask and expect of them.
My size 10 shoes weigh in at 10 1/4 oz., not the lightest, but they feel much more light and agile than that weight suggests.
Other S-Lab trail shoes can do much of what I described above, but for me, I feel a bit beat up in the other S-Lab shoes after 2-2.5 hours of hard running.  The S-Lab Sense Ultra however, with the added cushion really takes the sting off on those longer runs (or any run).  After my longest 5 hour run in the Sense Ultra, I realized that I never really thought about my shoes (other than "wow, these are performing awesome!") and could have likely run another 5 hours or more in them without issue.  Not to mention, it is just nice to feel less beat up after my daily 1-2 hour runs.

Recommendations:

This is a do it all shoe for anyone looking to perform at their best on long runs or races on just about any terrain at any speed.  The S-Lab Sense Ultra will be an ideal 50 mile - 100k shoe for most people and easily a 100 mile shoe for those who are not necessarily looking for the max cushioning that Hoka is known for, or the extra toe room that Altra fans demand.  It is also a great every day trainer for the S-Lab fans out there that just want a bit more of a forgiving ride.

Comparisons:



Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra vs. Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 6 SG
 the Ultra has 8 more mm of cushion in the heel and 4 more in the forefoot, making it significantly more forgiving and comfortable for longer runs.  Though I typically prefer a shoe with lesser drop, the 8mm drop of the Ultra is hardly noticeable and adds to the comfort on longer runs.  The Ultra weighs an ounce more, but is only slightly noticeable.  Lugs are lower profile on the Ultra vs. the Ultra 6 SG by 2 mm, but the Ultra overall has a stickier rubber compound and thus better traction in general (aside for the loosest, steep dirt or snow).

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra vs. Salomon S-Lab Wings 8 SG (RTR review here)
The Wings weigh slightly more, have similar lug pattern/configuration, similar stack height/drop, but the Ultra blows the Wings out of the water.  The Ultra feels and runs lighter, has much better trail feel, better traction due to the rubber compound and the cushioning is much more plush.  I like the Wings for shorter runs, but the ride is a bit harsh.  With the new Ultra on the scene, I'm not sure why Salomon even keeps it in the lineup, as the Ultra is the obvious choice.

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra vs. La Sportiva Akasha (my RTR review here)
Both are amazing shoes, top performers and the Akasha was my favorite shoe last year, but I think the Ultra is edging out my beloved Akasha for top spot.  The Ultra is lighter, has better traction and a better fitting, more secure upper.  The Ultra also feels more responsive and race ready and slightly better outsole durability.  The Akasha however is $40 less expensive, which will tilt the scales for many.

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra vs. Salomon Sense Pro Max (RTR review soon) - The Pro Max with Vibe technology has more cushioning, rides quite smooth and will likely be preferred for longer distances (100 mile shoe), less technical terrain or those wanting a shoe that is more road friendly. The Ultra is lighter and much more performance oriented with a more locked down fit, more stable platform, better traction and more responsive, but costs $30 more than the Pro Max.



Jeff's Score:  9.9 out of 10
-.05 for price.  $180 is a lot of money for most people to spend on a shoe, but if it is in your budget, I can't recommend it enough.
-.05 for ventilation.  This one is tricky, as ventilation is good, just not particularly airy.  To open the shoe up for more ventilation, you would probably lose critical overlays used for ultimate fit/security/protection.

Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The S-Lab Sense Ultra was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
Photo Credit: Jef Valliere

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24 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

Unknown said...

Agree with just about everything here, Jeff. I'm really happy with the shoe.

I've regularly run the S-Lab Wings for short to mid trainings, the S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 SG for messing around in the dirty & steep, and the Sense Propulse for the long stuff.

Of these, I'll only keep the Ultra 5 SG besides the S-Lab Ultra, because I stand too high off ground in the S-Lab Ultra on difficult descents. The Ultra 5 SG gives me ultimate control when it really counts.

But the Wings are too harsh in comparison, and the Propulse... would be nice at about half its weight (built-in handicap for additional training effect?). The S-Lab Ultra just runs circles around both of them :-)

Cheers & good running
Kaspar

Ben Reeves said...

Hi Jeff. Great review as usual. Thank you for the insights.
I would have thought that a trail shoe in that weight range and stack height would have warranted a comparison to the Saucony Peregrine. Any thoughts on that? Specifically, what makes this one worth the extra $60?

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Kaspar, yeah, being a little closer to the ground helps a bit on difficult descents. I am finding however that, at least for my purposes, I'll pick the Sense Ultra nine times out of ten for that added comfort and forgiveness. With that added cushion, but with nearly as good control/stability, I find it to balance out such that I'm more willing to push.

Ben, the Peregrine is a great shoe, slightly better loose traction than the Sense Ultra, but overall in varied conditions, not as good. The fit/upper hold and security of the S-Lab alone would warrant the extra $60 price tag in my opinion, as with the Peregrine, I find my foot moving some when pushing hard technical terrain and especially when sidehilling, but the looser fit of the Peregrine might be more appealing for some. Cushion in the Ultra seems a bit more conducive to running longer distances than the Peregrine as well, as the Peregrine seems more fitting for outings up to 50k on the top end for most runners.

Anonymous said...

Great review Jeff, thanks.

Any comparison to the Wildhorse 3?

Jeff Valliere said...

Unfortunately, I have not run in the Wildhorse 3, so can't compare. The Wildhorse 3 was reviewed here on RTR last July though FWIW: http://www.roadtrailrun.com/2016/07/nike-wildhorse-3-review-runs-like-road.html

Drew said...

Great review! I'm using these for hiking and couldn't agree more. I've been a big fan of the Akashas as well, and prefer the fit and precision of the Ultra. The Akasha has more stability and is more torsionally rigid which is nice with a heavy pack on. The downside to the Akasha is that busy upper. The upper on the Ultra is fantastic.

I've gone through 3 pairs of the Wildhorse 3. To start, the big difference is $70 :-) The Wildhorse toebox is slightly wider and a little more shallow. Both have a great fit from the heel through the midfoot. Dorsiflexion is a little more stiff in the Wildhorse. The Phylon midsole on the Wildhorse with the zoom unit in the heel is a little more forgiving for my feet. The Wildhorse outsole performs well, but the Ultra has it beat. The Wildhorse uses many more lugs that provide grip on a variety of surfaces. The traction on smooth granite left a little to be desired. The Ultra has more widely spaced lugs with more surface area on each lug. This provides superior grip and traction. The wet traction contragip outsole compound on the Ultra is fantastic.

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks for your input and comparison with the Wildhorse Drew.

Andy Highsmith said...

Hello,

Thank you for all the great reviews.

How does forefoot width/forgivness of this shoe compare to the Wings 8 and the new Sense Pro Max?

So far forefoot width has been my limiting factor of being able to use salomon shoes. The wings 8 being a tad to narrow.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Andy, I have not actually tried the Wings 8 (that is the previous Wings pictured), but the Sense Ultra seems to be a little more forgiving, while still maintaining great security and performance. The Pro Max has a little more stretch and wiggle room than both of the aforementioned, better ventilation, but a little less security/control (but still VERY good).

Iain Grant said...

Hi Jeff - great review! The Akasha is currently my go to shoe and I'm thinking of getting a new pair for UTMB and Lavaredo this year but the S-Lab Ultra sounds like it could be another option. You say the Ultra is more responsive so I guess reading between the lines the Akasha has the more plush, more forgiving ride? So far aside from Hoka's the Akasha is the only other trail shoe that I can go all day in without getting too beaten up.

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks Iain. The Akasha is a bit softer, but the Sense Ultra is by no means hard, it is just firmer in a supportive and responsive way. Combined with the lower weight, amazing upper and even grippier/more durable outsole, the Sense Ultra is tough to beat. Another shoe to consider in his mix for long distance is the Salomon Pro Max, with added cushion and Vibe. Review coming very soon at Roadtrailrun.

Iain Grant said...

Many thanks for the quick response Jeff - guess that'll be another possibility then! Look forward to the next review.
Cheers,
Iain

Jeff Johanson said...

How would you compare this shoe to the La Sportiva Mutant? Torsional support, cushion/comfort, impact protection, overall protection, toe box room.

I'm in search of shoes for running in the White Mountains of NH. Abusive, technical terrain to say the least with endless rocks. Distances up to 30 miles. Protection, grip, and support are paramount.

This Salomon sounds great, so does the Mutant, so does Adidas Sky Chaser and perhaps a few others.

Thoughts please 🤔

Thanks, Jeff in MA

Jeff Valliere said...

The Salomon has better torsional support and protection. Fit is similar, but after a few hours I think the Salomon feels less claustrophobic and a bit more forgiving for longer durations. After 4 or 5 hours in the Mutant, my feet would feel tired and worked, but not at all the case in the Salomon.

Jeff Valliere said...

Traction is comparable, perhaps a bit better with the Salomon for a wider variety of conditions, especially in the wet or transitioning between varied conditions. The larger lugs of the Mutant are a little better in loose terrain and snow.

sam winebaum said...

Hi Jeff J,
Other good Salomon options the S-Lab Wings. Firmer and more supportive than the Sense Ultra. I took them for some Whites run hiking and they were great My review here http://www.roadtrailrun.com/2015/11/review-salomon-s-lab-wings-well.html This is the shoe Tristan Williams, well known Whites runner often wears. The Pro Max is also an option again a touch firmer than S_Lab Sense Ultra more cushioned and with a broad Hoka like base on trails. Might be a bit high for those super rocky trails at speed but feet will be happy. Thanks for reading Road Trail Run.! You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews, Sam, Editor

Jeff Johanson said...

Great feedback and info guys so thank you very much!!!

Looks like the Salomon(s)move to the top of the list. Now to try em on and pray the toe box works for me. I'm not really about speed at 59YO but comfy feet for miles and superb traction and protection are the priority in this terrain.

Thanks again,
Jeff in MA

Anonymous said...

Hi, this was a really great post. Thank you!

I have a question and hope that someone will be able to share some advice. What sizing do you recommend? I am planning to buy the Solomon s-lab ultra sense. Have tried it on in the shops and am in between a size EU 44 and 44 2/3.
I tend to always buy shoes that end up too small but does this shoe stretch? The larger size fits well with a little more toe room but I'm worried it will become too long once it is worn in. The smaller size does not have a thumbs widths space but fits nice and snug.

I really appreciate any advice!

Jeff Valliere said...

The upper materials soften a bit, but definitely not enough to warrant a size shift one way or the other. I tend to prefer a little wiggle room in the toes, so perhaps going with the half size larger might be a better plan. Can you order both and return the pair that fits not as well at no cost? (some places you can I believe)

Anonymous said...

Ok, thank you for that info, Jeff. I will go with the larger size and will have a look into returning at no cost sites. I guess I should factor in some swelling and thicker socks etc. it's a habit of mine to buy too small and then regret it ;)

Jeff Valliere said...

Good call. A few black/lost toe nails has cured me from sizing down ;).

Tom said...

Great review! How do these compare to the Sportiva Bushido (also in sizing...)? I have the Bushido and the Sense Ultra SG - both are a little bit too harsh on my feet for me. Trying to decide between the Akasha and the S-Lab Ultra...hard decision.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Tom, I agree about the Ultra SG and Bushido being a bit harsh, despite having so many other likable attributes. I don't think you could go wrong with the Akasha or the S-Lab Ultra. The Akasha seems a bit more plush for longer distances, but also is a bit heavier than the Ultra. Though fit is fairly similar, I think it would come down to how the shoe fits your foot, then weight and perhaps cost. Good luck!