Sunday, March 08, 2020

Salomon S/Lab Sense 8 SG Review

Article by John Tribbia and Jeff Valliere

Salomon S/Lab Sense 8 SG ($180)

  Official: 7.4 oz / 210g (Men’s US9)
  Samples: 216 grams / 7.6oz (US9), 219 grams / 7.88oz (US10)
S/Lab Sense 7 SG: 7.6 oz / 215 g US9
Stack Height: 20 mm (heel), 16 mm (Forefoot), 4 mm drop
Available now.  $180

The S/Lab Sense 8 is Salomon’s tried and true lightweight racing shoe that excels running in adverse and sloppy conditions (read: muddy and soft ground). This year’s eighth edition brings slight enhancements compared to the 7, some noticeable and some not so much. Without a doubt, the new anti-debris System, which is an ankle-high knit heel collar and integrated tongue, is the most obvious update. The system is a water resistant soft bootie that securely wraps above the ankle to keep mud and other debris out of the shoe. The shoe is intended for the racer who wants something that can perform with high turnover, exceptional grip, and is lightweight.

John/Jeff V: Anti-debris upper system, traction, weight
Jeff:  Style, uphill response

John/Jeff V: narrow heel, challenging to pull on/off, limited use-cases to run in shoe, cost 
Jeff: Upper pressure points and blistering, narrow forefoot

Tester Profiles
John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.
Jeff  runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

First Impressions and Fit
John: One word - devour. This shoe is light, fast, and ready for any terrain with a little give.  I was immediately excited to test the Salomon S/Lab Sense 8. It looks really fast, is light and aggressive. When I put it on, it feels featherweight and I could see that it is ideal for top speed performance in muddy or boggy terrain. Fit is true to size and almost sock-like and is made secure using Salomon’s patented quick lacing system. I like the built-in anti-debris system. It doesn’t feel awkward. The toe box has ample room, but is not wide by any means. The heel fit feels narrow and the heel contact area appears smaller, which I will pay attention to as I run in them more.

Jeff V:  I share many of the same first impressions with John and having run in the previous version, find that fit initially feels a bit more secure, in part due to the built in gaiter.  I did notice that the upper material seems a touch excessive and folded over the top of my foot as I snugged the laces. I also had some unusual stiffness just above my arch, but hope that will break in after a run or two.  Despite the added gaiter, version 8 is surprisingly 4 grams lighter than version 7 in a size 9. Overall I find fit to be true to size, but is definitely a slim, narrow, secure, race ready fit.

John: Just as with the recently tested Salomon Sense Pro/4, the S/Lab Sense 8 features a minimal, flexible, and breathable mesh upper. It similarly provides just enough protection from hard trail elements in the forefoot with the toe bumper very minimal guarding just enough. 
Not a hard toe protector, but enough for a race shoe

The highlight of this shoe is the new anti-debris upper which is also water repellant. 
The SG's built-in gaiter system is designed to keep mud and debris out while not suffocating the foot with trapped in heat. 
Also similar to the Sense Pro/4, the Sense 8 SG has the interior SensiFit innerly that give the shoe a form fitting fit feel. It is clear the shoe is designed to be fast, which is probably why Salomon chose the Ferrari red and designed the shoe to have a slim, performance fit.
Jeff V:  John sums it up well above.  Ventilation is excellent, as evidenced by the fact that my feet were pretty chilly on my morning runs where temperatures were in the 20’s and running through deep snow, 
I can definitely feel that they are not really suited for cold winter conditions, but are OK for short periods of time.  As I mentioned earlier, fit is true to size and very secure, minimal and race like. I did find that there was a bit of excess material on top when I snugged the laces, but I do have a thin, low volume foot, so the excess will accommodate larger feet, but those looking for lots of room and versatility will need to look elsewhere.  

The lace garage, while necessary could use a little tab to pull up when stowing laces, as it takes a bit of work, though it is a very clean look/design.  

My only serious complaint about the upper however is that I am acutely aware of the snuggly stowed pull tab for the quick laces where my foot/ankle come together and bend forward, causing discomfort that had me stopping several times to re-adjust. I will confess however that I do tend to over tighten my laces due to my thin feet and preference for steep, technical terrain (often fast), so not tightening as much may help.  I also initially felt some upper stiffness above the arch, but forgot about it after the first run as they broke in.
I am not sure I have that worked out yet, as I currently have blisters there and will have to re-assess at a later date.  In the photo below, you can see the excess material folding over after I snug the laces.  While it seemed a little awkward at first, it was never problematic.

Water and mud beads off the water repellent mesh upper

John: Just as in the Sense 7, the 8 features the EnergyCell+ midsole for added comfort, especially under the forefoot. The EnergyCell+ is advertised to offer a soft landing and maximum energy return. To accompany the softer feel, a Pro-feel film is used to provide rock protection. I found that, with a low to the ground feel, the midsole does a decent job of dampening shock and vibration considering this shoe is so light. The lugs provide a bit of added cushion, but I wouldn’t call this a plush shoe by any means. I really enjoyed this shoe in softer and muddy conditions, but felt a bit ragged and worn after taking this shoe on harder and rocky technical terrain. 

Jeff V:  Again John describes the midsole very well.  For the weight, cushion/protection is reasonable, but as the name implies, this truly is a shoe best intended for soft ground.  On hard and rocky terrain, I find myself picking my way through the rocks and slowing down, not because of any penetration underfoot, but just that the impact of each footstrike on a hard surface is a bit abusive and harsh.  After several days running on varied, but sometimes fast on rocky, technical terrain, I felt beat up (perhaps even on the cusp of becoming injured) and had to give them a break and shift over to Sense Ride 3 testing. 

John: The outsole of the Sense 8 SG features sticky Contragrip with 6mm lugs. These aggressive lugs dig deep into softer ground and have performed really well for me on hardpack snow, mud, grass, and looser off-trail dry stuff. 
Lugs dig deep into mud and soft ground
The grip is outstanding across those varied terrains and functions well in cold or warmer temperatures and sheds mud very well.
The outsole is somewhat durable, given that I haven’t noticed any major wear after 50 miles in them but I have mostly accumulated miles on soft dirt, mud, and hard packed snow. Despite this being more of a lightweight race shoe, the rock protection of the Pro-Feel film coupled with the added cushion of the lugs has been ample enough in all of the rockier terrain I’ve run. That said, I don’t envision using this shoe for technical pursuits, and I can think of several occasions in past races in muddy and wet snow conditions that I wish these would’ve been in my feet.
Jeff V:  As John says, traction is excellent across the board, due to the aggressive lug pattern and sticky rubber.  
6mm Lugs after ~50 miles of mostly soft dirt, mud, snowpack, and a little pavement

As with the previous version, I find treadwear to be a bit accelerated on rocky, technical terrain, but not surprising, as this is a softer compound rubber best for soft(er) ground.  If you choose to run on rocky terrain, I would suggest doing so sparingly and saving them for an uphill race or special occasion.

John: The ride is fast and nimble while also seemingly responsive despite the lighter weight. My initial concern about a narrow heel contact area did not make the shoe feel any less stable. My ankle roll tally is still at zero, even when getting after it on downhills through some rockier terrain. It is no surprise that there is some harshness to the ride, given it is a mere 7.4oz, but I felt like the EnergyCell+ midsole and Pro-Feel film work well enough to give decent cushion/protection and dampening through rougher terrain.

Jeff V:  The ride is quick and lively, nimble as John says and I find them very responsive and begging to go fast.  Whether I can go fast in them is another matter and entirely dependent upon the makeup of the terrain underfoot.  On softer surfaces and uphills, they are really an effective tool for the elite racer, those seeking a PR or the fastidious gram counter, but on even moderately firm downhills (packed gravel fire road sort of stuff), sustained downhills or especially rocky or paved downhills, I would look for a shoe with more substance underfoot.
Narrow heel doesn’t cause too many issues, especially in muddy and rutted terrain

Conclusions and Recommendations
John: The S/Lab Sense 8 SG is a fun and fast racing shoe that excels in the worst of conditions - mud, snow, slush, soft grass, and more mud! This is definitely a shoe for a racer or advanced runner who needs aggressive traction, low weight, and a quick turnover. The new Anti-Debris System ankle gaiter is the most notable change and gives this already well designed shoe another way to decrease weight and improve breathability by not having to use a conventional gaiter wrapped around the ankle. That is, the built in gaiter system doesn’t suffocate the ankle nor is it bulky. While definitely an excellent soft ground trail running shoe, I can also see this shoe being terrific for any serious obstacle course or Spartan racer.
John’s Score: 9.4
Ride: 9.5 (really fun shoe that grips to the slippery stuff)
Fit: 9.5 (secure fit with 0.5 point deduction for narrow heel)
Value: 7 (Living in the Front Range of Colorado, mud season isn’t really a thing so $179 is a lot for a shoe I won’t wear more than a few times per year)
Style: 10 (Total eye candy) 
Traction: 10 (WOW! high performing)
Rock Protection: 10 (some toe protection, cushioning and lug height, and rock plate provide ample protection)

Jeff V:  The S/Lab Sense 8 SG is a shoe with a very narrow range of usability, ideal for those looking for a fast, lightweight soft ground race shoe with maximum traction, reasonable protection and not worried about long distance cushioning/comfort.  As for the integrated gaiter, while I had some initial difficulty with discomfort from the pull tab positioning within the lace garage, Salomon has proven that a minimal gaiter can be added without adding to the bulk or weight of the shoe and I would love to see this feature added to more shoes like the next version of the Sense Pro. At $180, the Sense 8 SG is at the higher end of the price spectrum and is, as the name implies, intended for soft ground and shorter distance racing on rough, but softer surfaces. If you are running on hard surfaces, longer distances and want more durability and comfort underfoot, yet still top level performance, consider the Sense Pro 4.
Jeff's Score 8.0 /10

Ride: taking into account that this is a shoe for soft ground, I still find the ride to be a bit harsh, and only emphasizes the specific and narrow range of use.  Value is a tough one, at $180, I find that while the S/Lab Sense 8 SG is well built and performs very well for its intended purpose, its usage is limited.

Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Salomon Sense Pro 4  (RTR Review)
John: The Pro 4 is a better all around trail shoe that can handle most terrain. The only reason I would reach for the S/Lab Sense 8 SG is if it was extremely muddy racing conditions.
Jeff V:  The Pro 4 has much better cushion from all new Optivibe olefin midsole with vibration reducing heel insert and has comfort, versatility, durability and costs less, yet still is very light, responsive, agile and performance oriented.

Salomon S/Lab Sense 7 SG (RTR Review)
John: The S/Lab Sense 8 SG has the updated integrated gaiter that helps keeps mud and debris out the shoe. Otherwise, both shoes perform and feel very similarly.
Top: Sense 7 Bottom: Sense 8
Jeff V: Exactly as John said above, version 8 is even lighter, despite the integrated gaiter.

Salomon Sense Ride 2 (RTR Review)
John: The Ride 2 is well suited for road to trail. Namely, the Ride 2 has slightly more curvature in the form of the midsole + outsole and the outsole is less aggressive, giving it a more natural road running feel. I love the dense mesh upper in the  S/Lab Sense 8 SG, which is better for longevity. 

Jeff V:  Sense Ride 2 has much better cushion/protection overall, but certainly not as light, quick or responsive as the SG 8.

Skechers Go Run Speed Trail Hyper (RTR Review)
John: Both shoes have a racing feel and function. The Skechers is plusher in the midsole and has a more road-running shape in the last and curvature. The Goodyear outsole rubber outsole on the Skechers is better for dry land and the S/Lab Sense 8 SG excels in the mud. I would opt for the Skechers for anything other than soft and sloppy conditions. 

Jeff V:  Both are dedicated race day shoes and as John says, the SG 8 better for mud/soft ground and Skechers for longer, faster dry trails with superior underfoot cushion/protection.  

ArcTeryx Norvan SL: (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Norvan SL is an ounce lighter with 2 more mm in the heel for a 7 mm drop (22/15).  The Norvan SL, while for its weight has good protection underfoot, offers a similarly harsh and unforgiving ride as the SG 8.  SG 8 has far superior traction on loose and soft terrain, while the Norvan SL has grippy and durable rubber, but very low profile lugs, so it is not intended for loose terrain or sloppy conditions as the SG8 is.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Jeff Valliere said...


Xavier said...

Great review as always! As for the 8 sg, it looks like we're at the point of diminishing returns. The upper on the 8sg seems excessive and hardly practical, and a little ridiculous in shorts imo! And this looks more like a 7.5? Were it not for the industry's need to have annual product releases this abomination might have never happened or would have been put off till 2021. The only improvement I was hopeful for was the supposedly softer midsole compared to the 7, but it looks like this isn't as significant as they claim?

Anyways, the sense pro 4 with the upper materials of the sense 7 would be nearly ideal. And with brand new pairs of sense 6 and 7 sg in their boxes, I will gladly skip the 8!

Mario said...

Great reading your reviews, any information on release date of Salomon S-lab Ultra 3 ??

Best regards from Croatia

Jeff Valliere said...

Xavier, the Sense Pro 4 fills all the boxes, it is everything the S/Lab Sense 7 or 8 SG should be (or at least I wanted them to be).

Mario, no definitive word on the S-Lab Ultra 3, but I don't think any time soon and not a Spring 2020 release unfortunately.

Marcel said...

thanks for the great review. just got my hands on a sample of the S-Lab 8 SG. As i have a very wide forefoot, i need wide toeboxes so that i can run only a few shoes. even more i was surprised how well the S-Lab 8 fits (same goes for the non-SG version). for me it just fits like a sock with emoth wiggle-room in the toebox and - big surprise the toebox is also wide enough because of the soft upper.

in contrast, the Salomon Cross Pro you reviewed a couple of days ago, for me personally has a much narrower toebox (when just looking at both shoes, its the other way around, of course, but the upper of the Cross pro is much stiffer). in addition, the heel-cup is very stiff at the cross pro and the forefoot of the Cross Pro is too narrow even without having laced it...?

therefore, i have a tendency to the SG8 even though the Cross Pro looks much more suitable on paper. as i'd like to use those shoes for longer mud-races: would you consider the SG 8 suitable for races longer than half marathon or would you tend to the Sense Pro 4 for those races? is the upper of the Pro 4 comparable to the SG 8?

Jeff Valliere said...

The Sense Pro 4 is IMHO the best of the bunch and MUCH better suited to longer distances, downhills and technical terrain. SP4 is just a really well rounded shoe, more durable and while not as light as S/Lab, really makes little to no difference to me and I will gladly take the slight weight penalty to run much faster over varied terrain and not feel nearly as beat up.

Marcel said...

Hi Jeff,
thank you for your feedback - i will definitely try the SP4 on the next days (unfortunately indoors only). How did you consider the grip on wet stones? i read another (german) review which critizes massively the grip on wet stones and would be very interested in your experiences if you tried running on wet stones.

Jeff Valliere said...

It is pretty dry here in Colorado, so not a lot of use in the wet, but what little I have, have had no issues. Of course our wet is different than a true lingering wet climate.

Marcel said...

Hi Jeff, thanks for the clarification. i am looking for a longer distance shoes (>20km) for a coast trail. probably I'll go with the Sense Ride 3 instead of the Pro 4.