Friday, November 06, 2015

Review-Salomon S-Lab Wings Well Mannered, Protective and Agile on Any Terrain

Salomon S-Lab Wings Image:

The Salomon S-Lab Wings is the 9.8oz (278 gram) 28mm heel/ 19mm toe (stats from Running Warehouse)  $180 "investment grade" flagship of the Salomon line. Quite a mouthful but with impeccable construction, a superbly supportive upper,  excellent protection, cushioning and stability for any terrain the Wings is one heck of a shoe. About time Salomon applied the S-Lab shoe technologies to a somewhat more substantial shoe than the fast and light Sense Series which are for all but elites and those wanting a quite minimal trail shoe. In fact, looking at race pictures from 2015 I see many of those elites moving their tired feet to the S-Lab Wings for longer races combining technical terrain and smoother sections...It is also available in a Soft Ground version wet terrain and snow. The S-Lab develops and produces top of the line shoes and gear for Salomon's elite athletes that you can buy, at a price...I have been a huge fan of S-Lab apparel and packs but have until the Wings found their trail shoes too minimal for me beyond for fast short racing on smoother terrain.

I have fast hiked very technical and rocky, basically un-runable terrain for me, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, run smoother yet rooty rocky single track and done roads in Wings and it has handled everything with aplomb.
I was particularly impressed with its performance on the technical terrain in the White Mountains on a wet and in places icy trail. Grip on granite was outstanding and confident up and down and especially so on off camber situations.  No rock push through. The first shoe in many years that gets me out of boots on that terrain. On single track while not the fastest shoe I was confident and secure and on road the Wings proved itself a fine hybrid for days when trails and pavement mix. Basically a do anything shoe.
The only smooth spot on the trail. On flat granite at the Mt Pierce Ridge. Mt Washington  NH in the background.

The upper is beautifully made with carefully placed overlays that support but don't constrain the foot in motion. I would expect nothing less of the S-Lab and for the price.

I ran and reviewed the more minimal race road trail hybrid  X-Series Sense shoe and found the key secret to its stability on all terrains is the Salomon EndoFit sleeve.
Salomon S-Lab Wings EndoFit Sleeve
EndoFit is an elastic inner sleeve wrapping the midfoot and designed to "hug" it. The Wings shares this technology applying it with a more substantial upper made of dense mesh that in my testing kept out wet debris. Endofit is highly effective in keeping the foot stable no matter the terrain but is in no way constraining under the arch as many earlier Salomon shoes without it were for me.  The fit is race or should I say technical terrain appropriate: no slop anywhere, a very well held heel and midfoot,  and narrow but roomy enough toe box.

As with several current fine road (Topo Magnifly the new Hoka One One road flat Tracer) and of course also many trail shoes, the toe box has a substantial fairly thick yet flexible and high wrap around toe bumper. It is made of TPU. I believe these toe bumpers help elevate the toe box and also keep the foot from jamming forward.
S-Lab X Series (leftt) S-Lab Wings (right)
So while snug in front, as it should be for the intended technical trail purpose, the fit is roomy enough especially in volume for me at my true to size. The Wings does fit wider over the metatarsal heads than the X Series which is a touch too snug for me there maybe due to the overlays (seen above)  extending from the last lace hole forward as well as what also looks like a slightly narrower last.  I have not run in the Sense or Sense Ultra but believe their fit is likely more similar to the X-Series than the Wings.
As seen above the S-Lab Wings has Quick Laces and of course a garage under the tongue which I did not use for the picture above. The tongue is OK but could use a touch more padding. As with all the Salomon QuickLaces I had to adjust them from time to time on the run. Prefer laces. 

The sockliner... While not an issue on drier less extreme terrain, during my wet steep White Mountain test the thin, very thin insole started to fold up under the mid foot.

It may have been glued down but my rough hike had it un stuck from the heel most of the way forward and rolling up a bit. Not a bother really but noticeable. Shades of the Nike Berlin marathon issue and the overly thin Hoka insoles in some shoes. Why such an insole? Better ground feel? I will either glue it down better or get rid of it. Those thinking they need a thicker insole or an after market insole will definitely want to consider sizing up a half size, anyway. For such a high quality high price shoe Salomon should have done better with this detail.

Midsole and Outsole

The midsole appears to be a fairly conventional EVA in two densities. The black layer under the sockliner on the lateral side seems a touch softer than the same layer on the medial side. The midsole geometry is designed so that the medial side provides  more stability than the lateral side. The midsole is carved out under foot on the lateral side and solid on the medial side. This is a great way to go for a trail shoe where stability for all foot types is needed.
Lateral side left, Medial side right

S-Lab Wings Outsole. Image Running Warehouse

The outsole is Salomon's excellent Contragrip rubber with what looks like 4mm lugs.
Update: Salomon revealed at Outdoor Retailer that the S-Lab Wings outsole is a new Premium WET Contragrip compound. I tested it vs. conventional Contagrip on an inclined smooth wet marble slab at OR. Amazing traction difference. No wonder I was so confident on wet icy rocks. The new Sense Ultra 5 also uses this material. See details here.
The Ground Control rear facing lugs were effective on slippery stuff. maybe a bit to effective on smoother terrain as I felt them catch when I didnt expect a few times. If  wet and slippery terrain is in your plans the Soft Ground (SG) version increases the lug height to what appears to be 6mm and weight to 10.3 oz. The flex is very decent for such a protective trail shoe. Below the outsole Salomon uses their TPU based ProFeel rock shield a thin flexible layer which when combined with the outsole and midsole had me feeling zero rocks on any of my runs yet not harsh as rock "plates" can be.  The Wings do start fairly stiff as the ProFeel seems to take some "seasoning" to break in. After break in there is decent if snappy flex at the usual flex point at the last lace hole. Forward flex is fine for me, no distinct sense that there is plate there as in some trail shoes. Towards the rear of the flex point the flexing stops as the ProFeel appears to be thicker and is clearly structured to provide under foot stability on the trail, a good thing for me, but some may find this stiffness a bit much  Road miles were very pleasant for such a rugged trail shoe.

 Conclusions and Recommendations
The S-Lab is a lot of versatile, well mannered all terrain shoe for 9.8oz, 278 grams but the performance and quality of construction comes at a cost, $180. I believe they will last a long long time and if you need one shoe in your trail run quiver to do it all, even some roads, they are a great choice. I felt more confident on rougher terrain than in any trail shoe I ran this year or maybe ever. And I felt fast on smoother stuff, although not quite as agile as I did in the X-Series. They were not overly harsh on the road yet as stable as can be on any trail. Then again my legs weren't as beat up in the Wings. Those with narrow feet may find them too narrow but potentially more roomy than the Sense series due to the last and the toe bumper. I sized true to size and am fine with my medium narrow feet but if you require an after market orthotic insole you may need to size up and may still find not enough volume as the supplied insole is very thin. Highly Recommended.

Overall Score: 4.70 out of 5
-0.10 for insole issues and for fit if more substantial insole is substituted.
-0.20 for high price of $180 but here you do get what you pay for.

The S-Lab Wings was a personal purchase at discount.

Available from Running Warehouse US here.  RunningWarehouse has free 2 day shipping and easy return policies. 
Available from Running Warehouse Europe here
Also from and at the links below. 
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1 comment:

Jeff Valliere said...

Excellent review! I chatted with a guy on the trail yesterday wearing the SG version of this shoe and he too was raving about them. He said he had 150 miles on them and showed me the outsole, I was quite impressed with how they showed little if any wear. He also reported them being the stickiest shoe he has run in, especially in the wet. I like my Sense Ultra SG 4, but they are a bit thin and the outsole is a bit fragile, a great shoe if you are sponsored and running for 2 hours or less. Wish I had chose the Wings instead.