Thursday, April 25, 2019

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 Full Review - Significant Upper & Footshape Updates are a Winning Combination!



Article by Jeff Valiiere, Estelle-Marie Kieffer and Canice Harte
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 ($180)
Estelle-Marie: Without any media hype, Salomon has delivered a new version of the Sense S/Lab Ultra 2 -- a trail running shoe created in collaboration with Fra├žois d'Haene, multi-time winner of the UTMB.


I was disappointed by the first version of the S/Lab Ultra  (My RTR review) as I found it a bit heavy and lacking responsiveness and precision.  Quite narrow, with pressure points, I clearly preferred the Ultra Pro and XA Elevate. So it was with some apprehension that I ordered the S/Lab Ultra 2.

Canice: Given the name of the shoe has “Ultra” in it, the first thing one thinks of is long distance running. And this usually leads one to believe the shoe will have lots of cushioning, yet the SLAB Ultra 2 has more protection than plush softness. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of cushion in this shoe but it’s a firmer ride than one would think in an “Ultra” shoe. What I do like is that you maintain ground feel and do not feel beat up at the end of a 25 mile run.

Canice: Though some years ago now as the former head of Salomon sales and product for footwear, apparel, bags and packs in North America, it’s safe to say I’ve worn a lot of Salomon shoes. These shoes have a classic Salomon fit that holds your foot in place and allows you to run with confidence. I find these shoes to have room for my toes to wiggle about while keeping my foot securely in place. If I could change one thing, it would be to lower the drop from 8mm to 4mm but this is a personal preference.
Jeff:  Though I gave the first S/Lab Ultra a reasonable score last year, I share the same sentiments as Estelle that it was a bit sluggish and lacked response, mostly because I expect more out of a Salomon S/Lab.  Though I found the toe box in the original version to be noticeably narrow, my testing took place during colder months of Winter/Spring and aside from some post run pinky toe/toenail soreness and being aware of the narrow taper during my runs, it was a minor complaint.  However, once summer arrived, particularly on a 3 hour, hot mid day technical run with some road miles thrown in at the end, my toes ended up aching throughout most of the run due to foot swell and warmer temps causing more sweaty feet. Because of this, I have not run in the last version since last summer.  Like Estelle, I too was a bit reticent of the S/Lab Ultra 2.

Stats:
Official Weight:  9.9 oz /280g US M9
S/Lab Ultra v1 weighed 10.7 oz / 303 g US M9
Tested Sample Weights:  
EU W40: 8.9 oz / 253 g vs. 9.5  oz / 268 g S/Lab Ultra v1 (EU 40)
US M10: 10.5 oz / 298 g vs. 11.13 oz / 315 g for v1
Stack Height: 26mm/18mm (8mm drop)
MSRP $180. Available now.


PROS:
- Cushioning and forefoot protection
- Agility and precision
- Durability
- Traction
- Fit (especially toe box) now more consistent with other Salomon trail shoes
- Canice: fit, ground feel, grip and cushion
CONS:
- Still on the narrow side toe-box
- Canice: weight and a bit to firm

Tester Profiles
Jeff runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder, Colorado often challenging well known local FKT's.
Estelle-Marie is a French ultra runner who finished 34th in the Trans Canaria 64K. She is also a tri athlete who has completed Ironman Kona six times with best performance 6th in her age group.
Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100 and Western States 100 as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as traditional road races and triathlons.

Upper:
Estelle-Marie:The S / Lab Ultra 2 fits slightly smaller than the Ultra Pro, and fits more like the Elevate XA. The forefoot is relatively narrow (narrower than the Ultra Pro's) but not constrictive (I have a relatively thin and narrow foot) because of a modified upper compared to the first version.


Jeff:  I find the fit, as Estelle points out to be closer to the XA Elevate and more consistent with most Salomon shoes that I have reviewed in the past, precise and secure with little excess room without feeling the least bit uncomfortable or constricting.  Fit is true to size and I was overjoyed to find that Salomon completely fixed the excessively narrow, tapered toe box issue that was dragging down the previous version. The S/Lab Ultra 2 now feels “normal”.

Indeed, one finds a fairly thin mesh (slightly modified) and refined, more flexible plastic overlays.
S/Lab Ultra 1
S/Lab Ultra 2

The toe bumper remains largely unchanged and provides enough protection with less material over the big toe.



S/Lab Ultra 2
Estelle-Marie: One also notes the removal of one the SensiFit straps compared to the first version with only wing closest to the ankle retained.
S/Lab Ultra 1
Estelle-Marie:This wing is clearly more refined and streamlined and thus much more flexible than the previous ones. Overall the fit is more comfortable, accommodating and less rigid.
Estelle-Marie:The rear foot and heel are identical to the previous version with a thin and relatively soft heel shell with padding around the upper portion.
LEFT: S/LAB Ultra 2                                        RIGHT: S/LAB Ultra 1
Estelle-Marie:The padding is fairly minimal but nonetheless sufficient. The hold is excellent with no pressure on the Achilles.
The tongue (Endofit bootie) is thin and identical to the first version as is the quicklace and the lace-garage opening at the top.
Jeff:  Though minimal, the changes to the upper are noteworthy.  The most noticeable is the removal of the lower set of “wings” that help to secure the midfoot.  Though not necessarily problematic in the previous version, or the Ultra Pro, I find the wings, or at least having 2 sets, to be somewhat unnecessary and perhaps a touch stiff under certain circumstances.  When comparing the S/Lab Ultra 2 upper side by side with the previous version, the improvement in flexibility and comfort is noticeable.
With the Ultra 2 however, the upper wings that Salomon chose to keep are thinner, more pliable and more integrated with the shoe (vs. floating over the outside), providing a nice touch of security and stability without feeling prominent.  
LEFT: S/LAB Ultra 1                                          RIGHT: S/LAB Ultra 2
Additionally, the mesh and welded overlays, particularly in the forefoot have been improved slightly to be a bit thinner, more supple and conforms a little better over the foot and particularly at toe off, while retaining great foothold and security.

Overall this added flexibility with the removal of lower wing and thinner more compliant mesh/overlays add greatly to the comfort of the shoe.
LEFT: S/LAB Ultra 2                                        RIGHT: S/LAB Ultra 1



Canice: The upper has a lot of protection built into it via the welded overlays. These overlays appear almost as a mesh layer on the sides of the shoe and they also keep the uppers from stretching out. All this maintains a secure fit when the upper gets soaked during stream crossings. I now have a little over 80 miles in my pair and the upper is holding up great.

Canice: The uppers of this shoe also includes Salomon’s SensiFit which is the overlay at the second eyelet from the top. The Sensi Fit does a great job pulling your foot back into the shoe and holding you securely in place.

Canice: The upper has a lot of protection built into it via the welded overlays. These overlays appear almost as a mesh layer on the sides of the shoe and they also keep the uppers from stretching out. All this maintains a secure fit when the upper gets soaked during stream crossings. I now have a little over 80 miles in my pair and the upper is holding up great.

Canice: The uppers of this shoe also includes Salomon’s SensiFit which is the overlay at the second eyelet from the top. The Sensi Fit does a great job pulling your foot back into the shoe and holding you securely in place.

Canice: Another feature of the upper is the toe protection. The toe-cap of this shoe is rubberized which saves you when you scrape the side of your little toe on a protruding rock or root.Another feature of the upper is the toe protection. The toe-cap of this shoe is rubberized which saves you when you scrape the side of your little toe on a protruding rock or root.

Midsole:
Estelle-Marie: the Energy Cell+ midsole retains the white Energy Sav PU insert in the forefoot of the first version. Overall the forefoot appears firmer and thicker than the forefoot of the Ultra Pro or the XA Elevate. It is also more flexible than the XA Elevate with a relatively pleasant progression of the gait much like the Ultra Pro's. The midsole does not appear to have been modified or has been only slightly modified compared to the first version and is intended primarily for long distances.


Jeff:  Side by side, the newer version feels the same as the previous and they run very similarly.  The ride is on the firm side, but protective and not at all harsh, though not plush either as you might find in other shoes targeting the Ultra runner.  I found the previous version to be a touch on the sluggish side, not as responsive as I would hope from an S/Lab, but the Ultra 2 feels quicker and more spirited to me.  I think much of this has to do with relieving of the pressure from the tapered toe box and relaxing the foot some (and the mind from being preoccupied). Perhaps removing the lower set of wings made some difference, and dropping more than a  0.5 oz / 14 grams overall helped as well.

Canice:  Jeff has this one right. The ride is on the firmer side but not harsh. For my part my feet felt great after a 22 mile run so while I think I would like the shoe a bit softer for longer runs, it gets the job done and in truth I plan to run this shoe at the Leadville 50 this year and possibly at the Leadville 100 depending on how I feel after the 50.

Outsole:
Estelle-Marie: Unchanged from the first version or only slightly modified in rubber compound, the outsole consists of Premium Wet Traction Contagrip MA, which is discreetly less adherent than the very first version (black sole of the 2017 Sense Ultra not D’Haene’s  2018 Ultra 1) but remains to good standards.


Jeff:  Same outsole from the best I can tell as the previous version, same tread, same compound and overall performance.  Though not quite as sticky as say the 2017 S/Lab Sense Ultra or the XA Elevate, they grab wonderfully in most dry conditions and are good in wet, but just a step below the two aforementioned shoes.  I would still rank this outsole better than average in regard to overall traction, versatility and durability.

Canice: I ran these in snow (not the best there), through creeks, on technical rocky terrain and dry hard packed trails here in Utah and with the exception of the snow, I found great traction all around. A big thumbs up on the outsole.

Ride/Overall Impressions/Recommendations:
Estelle-Marie: While I did not like the first S / Lab Ultra at all, the new version seems to me much improved. First we note a weight loss at 253g against 268g previously which is actually 6% less and which is not negligible in larger sizes.  The fit has been significantly improved due to the new upper being much thinner and more flexible. I had no trouble getting a uniform tightening with a precise and non constrictive hold of the foot. The forefoot remains narrow and will probably will not fit wider feet but overall is very comfortable without pressure points or annoying hotspots. On descents and climbs the foot is perfectly held.  
In use, the shoe is precise and very comfortable. So far I have run 78 kilometers of rock and dirt trails (but not bouldery ones),  forest paths as well as run through some muddy sections. Grades were mostly moderate. The cushioning of the forefoot is superior to that of the Ultra Pro and the XA Elevate and will be perfect for long runs and ultra trail races.   For shorter outings, I prefer running in the Ultra Pro or the XA Elevate as they are a little more reactive.


Estelle-Marie: In conclusion the Ultra 2 is a clear improvement over version 1 both in terms of weight and fit. It’s a successful update targeted at ultra distances but not necessarily for those with wide feet.  
Estelle-Marie's Score: 9.8/10
- 0.1 for the narrowness of the toe-box
- 0.1 for the somewhat inert feel of the forefoot cushion (but which is protective)

Jeff:  I find the ride overall to be much improved, mostly because of the relaxing and weight reducing changes to the upper, as crazy as that may sound.  Though I was just so so on the previous version and ultimately got to the point where I would not wear them, The improvements to the S/Lab Ultra 2 are enough to entirely change the character, comfort and long distance usability of the shoe.  Versatility is excellent, as they can easily handle any terrain with confidence, from road and hard dirt roads/paths, to steep and technical trails and off trail without hesitation. Though billed as an Ultra shoe, ideal for Francois and elites perhaps looking for a blend of protection and performance, I personally would probably look toward something a bit more cushioned for outings longer than 5 hours, but everyone has their sweet spot.  Ultimately, I am quite happy with the updates here and would highly recommend!
Jeff's Score:9.85/10
-0.1 for response. Though improved over the previous version, I would still love to feel some snap to this shoe, as it feels a bit muted. Though it can handle speed, it does not necessarily beg to go fast. -0.05 for traction, particularly in the wet and when compared to the Premium Wet Traction Contagrip found in the XA Elevate.

Canice: Snug in the midfoot, relaxed in the toe box, durable and good cushioning all make for a positive review. If you’re considering the S/LAB Ultra 2 know that the ride will lean towards the firm side but with lots of ground feel and protection.

I would love to reduce the drop from 8mm to 4mm and if the Salomon team could shave a couple ounces off I would be incredibly happy but these are personal preferences. If you’re okay with the price and like ground feel then this is a great shoe for you. If you’re looking for a plush ride then make sure you try a few pair of different shoes on before purchasing. As always go to your local specialty footwear retailer and get fit properly unless it’s not an option.
Canice Score: 9.5 / 10
Keep in mind this is an S/LAB shoes which means it was born for racing and thus I believe it should be lighter and a bit softer.

S/Lab Ultra 2 vs. S/Lab Ultra 1 (Full RTR review)
Estelle-Marie:In spite of a strong visual resemblance, the S/Lab Ultra 2 is lighter and clear improvements in the upper make it a more alive and a more precise shoe. Its qualities over long distance remain the same at the level of the sole but the fit is more precise.
Jeff:  The S/Lab Ultra 2 is a huge improvement over the previous.  Fit is remarkably better, completely altering the characteristics of the shoe in a positive way, allowing for greater comfort and performance over longer distances.
S/Lab Ultra 2 vs. Ultra Pro (RTR review)
Estelle-Marie:The toe-box of the Ultra Pro is wider and higher (the shoe fits slightly larger) compared to the fit of the Ultra 2, which is more precise. There are no small pressure points on the Ultra 2 that can sometimes hamper the Ultra Pro. The cushioning at the front of the Ultra 2 is much more perceptible and present than on the Ultra Pro where the forefoot remains relatively thin. The Ultra Pro seems slightly more dynamic but less protective.
Jeff:  I find the Ultra Pro to have more substantial cushioning, but also more weight and less precise fit.  The Ultra Pro is not as quick or agile and better suited for slower speeds.


S/Lab Ultra 2 vs. XA Elevate (RTR review)
Estelle-Marie:The XA Elevate is much more versatile than the Ultra 2, and is almost as comfortable on road as it is on the trail. The XA is also more dynamic. The forefoot is less protected and the it is stiffer than the Ultra 2. The toe-box is wider in the XA than in the Ultra 2.
Jeff:  I find the XA Elevate to have better traction, better protection in the forefoot and is  stiffer. Though the XA Elevate may be more intended for more casual use, I find it to be one of the most protective and all around best performing shoes over a wide variety of terrain.


S/Lab Ultra 2 vs. Hoka One One Torrent (RTR review)
Estelle-Marie: The Ultra’s fit is much more secure than the Torrent where you really have to tighten a lot especially for downhills to avoid slipping to the front of the shoe. The underfoot protection is better in the S/Lab but the Hoka is more dynamic and playful. The grip is a bit better for the Torrent although the Ultra’s traction is perfectly acceptable.
Jeff:  My experience is that the Torrent is more responsive, in fact one of the fastest trail shoes I have reviewed.  I also find cushioning to be a touch more plush in the Torrent without compromising performance. For my foot, the Ultra 2 has a more refined and secure fit over the Torrent.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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6 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

aaron said...

Jeff,

If you had to choose between this update and the new Evo Mafate, which do you prefer? I had a pretty rough experience in the original S-Lab Ultra.

Jeff Valliere said...

aaron, tough call. For longer distances, recovery or racing with a lot of downhill (Pikes) for sure the EVO Mafate 2. If you want a little more nimble control for shorter, more varied terrain, then probably the S/Lab Ultra 2.

Bobcat said...

Aaron, maybe consider the Norvan LD. It's like a S/Lab ultra, but with better fit and cushion. Also I managed to find a pair for only $75!

Anonymous said...

How would you compare this to the Peregrine ISO?

Jeff Valliere said...

Peregrine ISO upper is a bit more accommodating, yet not quite as precise and secure (of course foot shape and use will dictate which is more appropriate). The ISO has a bit more plush cushioning and padding, making it a bit more comfortable for long days (not saying that the Ultra 2 is uncomfortable by any means). ISO outsole more aggressive of course and more durable too. Then of course there is price.