Article by Adam Glueck and Jeff Valliere
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 ($180)
The S/Lab Ultra 3 in its natural habitat.
Adam- The S/Lab Ultra 3 occupies a relatively unique spot in Salomon’s line up. While most of their S/Lab shoes are light, stripped down, firm racing shoes, the Ultras are designed for long distance comfort, performance, and traction. My favorite of the Ultras so far was the original S/Lab Sense Ultra, which took a lightweight, minimalist upper from the S/Lab Sense 6 and stuck it onto a protective enough midsole for longer runs. I’ve ran so many miles in my original pair that the traction is almost smooth and I can’t bear to leave them.
Since then, the S/Lab Ultra became more protective and heavy, and the S/Lab Ultra 2 streamlined the upper slightly with the same heavier midsole. I’ve grown to like the protection and cushion offered by the S/Lab Ultra and Ultra 2, but still have been wishing the upper was lighter and more minimalist as was the original’s. Thus when I saw that the Ultra 3 would include slightly more foam underfoot (2mm) in a more responsive midsole with a completely redesigned upper I was excited to see how this new shoe would perform.
Adam on a Test Run in Ascutney, Vermont
Adam/Jeff V: Underfoot Protection: I can run on rocks, roots, rock plate is very protective, feet don’t feel beat up from aggressive trail running.
Adam/Jeff V: Responsive, firm, yet cushioned midsole.
Adam/Jeff V: New Upper
Adam/Jeff V: Outsole grip
Adam/Jeff V: Weight: Although lighter and moving in a good direction, this still isn’t the lightweight S/Lab Sense Ultra. That shoe encouraged me to run with higher tempos and felt even more agile.
Adam: Possible heel chafing with the new upper, (though after my first run this didn’t bother me over another 90 miles at all, probably a fluke).
Adam: Color isn’t for everyone, but it is unique and sleek.
Jeff V: Price, as always, $180 is a lot to drop on a shoe, even if S/Lab.
Adam is a cross country ski racer from New Hampshire. Along with skiing, he’s a big fan of endurance sports in general and does a lot of running. He’s much faster at skiing, recently participating in the curtailed NCAA’s skiing for Dartmouth College, but can run a 4:43 mile (in trail shoes), 16:59 5k (wearing the Sonic 3 Accelerates), and has won a few small trail races you’ve never heard of. His mileage varies depending on how much snow is on the ground, but he trains about 700 hours a year including 1200 miles of running and 4000 miles of skiing and roller skiing. You can follow him at IG: @real_nordic_skier, his blog: https://adamglueck.wordpress.com, & on Strava https://www.strava.com/athletes/9267222
Jeff V. runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder, Colorado often challenging well known local FKT's.
Official Weight: 10.22 oz./290 grams US men’s 9
Samples: US M10: 10.58 oz./300 grams, US M11: 11.2 oz/318g
Stack Height: 28mm heel/20mm forefoot, 6mm drop
Available now, sold out but restocking Sept. $180
Weight comparison for size a 11:
S/Lab Ultra 3: 318 g
S/Lab Ultra 2: 317 g
S/Lab Sense Ultra: 310 g
Sense Ride 3: 332 g
S/Lab Sense 8: 219.5 g
For fun, saucony endorphin pro: 235g
First Impressions and Fit
Adam: Initially this shoe feels a lot like the Ultra 2, though moving toward the Sense Ultra. It’s firm, responsive, protective, and stable. The new upper feels seamless and was a lot more flexible and spaced out while keeping me locked in. The outsole seems identical to the previous shoes and I’d expect excellent traction on rocks, roots, and dirt from it, though maybe not in deep mud. The Ultra 2 was my go to long training and racing trail shoe for hundreds of miles and I see this replacing it. I will give more details about my impressions for specific parts of the shoe below.
Jeff V: My first impressions are similar to Adam’s, with the Ultra 3 being reminiscent of the Ultra 2, though with a completely revamped upper that is a bit smoother and more streamlined, dropping the “wings” on the Ultra 2, as well as a more widely spaced lace throat and with a slightly more generous, conventional toe box. Perhaps it is just the higher heel collar, or maybe the additional 2mm of midsole, but the Ultra 3 looks a bit larger than the Ultra 2. On the scale however, they are the exact same weight.
So while not a reduction in weight per se, kudos to Salomon for adding more cushion and an overall better upper with no weight penalty. It carries on the tradition of adding purple as with the first version the S/Lab Ultra and the S/Lab Ultra 2. In recognition of Francois D’Haene (this being his S/Lab design) love of winemaking, the Ultra 3 is full on purple from heel to toe vs. the just purple over the heel counter of previous versions.
While purple may be polarizing to some, I find it to be a really classy, if not beautiful looking shoe!
Fit is true to size and while fit is race like and very secure overall, the heel, midfoot, the toe box is more conventional in shape and a bit more accommodating.
Adam: The new upper combines the best of the upper of the previous S/Lab Ultras, stability, some room for the foot to swell over longer runs, with a lighter weight more seamless design reminiscent of the S/Lab Sense line.
The upper is seamless, with enough of a toe bumper to prevent me from stubbing my toes but not enough to bruise them when running downhill. I ran a half marathon on mountain bike trails with aggressive corners, rocks, roots, and berms to see how the shoe would hold up in corners. The upper and midsole combination handled it with excellent stability and foot lockdown, yet I can flex my toes and have room.
The upper feels larger than the size 11 I normally wear, but wasn’t loose or sloppy in any way, and the padded tongue allowed me to tighten the quick laces without putting pressure into the top of my foot. This is actually pretty great since it means my foot is not squished, yet stays locked in place for cornering. I also hope this upper helps with durability. I had some issues at 3-400 miles with large holes showing up in the midfoot and toe area of the S/Lab Ultra and Ultra 2, but this upper seems bombproof so far. One potential concern is the anti debris mesh, basically a built in gaiter around the ankle.
The first time I ran in these shoes, I got a blister on the end of my heel from it. Thankfully it seemed to stretch out and hasn’t bothered me since even over half marathons. If it’s a problem it could probably be cut out with scissors. It has only bothered me once, but is worth considering. It also does serve its purpose, I have yet to get sticks or rocks or anything poking my foot from inside the shoe. I’m not a huge fan
Jeff V: The upper of the Ultra 3 is a vast improvement over the previous two versions in my opinion. Two versions prior the Ultra 1, I had real difficulty with the sharp curved narrow toe box, causing at best, near constant awareness of the odd shape, and at worst, blistering on warmer days and longer runs. The Ultra 2 was a marked improvement in shape, though there were times on longer hot runs where I longed for a bit more wiggle room. The Ultra 3 has provided that with a slightly more normal shaped to box that allows my toes to spread out just a little more, with just enough room so as to not feel confined, yet while still maintaining a very locked in and secure feel. No matter how steep, off camber or technical the terrain, I feel confident and in control no matter the speed.
The toe bumper offers a bit more coverage over the front and as Adam mentions, is thick enough to ward off most rock bumps and kicks, while not being at all intrusive when running steep downhills, I never am really aware of its existence.
It has been in the mid to upper 90’s during my testing/review period and while the Ultra 3 is not the most airy shoe out there, my feet never felt overly warm and were reasonably ventilated, whereas with the previous 2 versions, my feet would feel a bit overly clammy on similarly hot days.
In a departure from previous versions, which employed a slightly more traditional gusseted style EndoFit booty style tongue/upper integration, the Ultra 3 a new EndoFit design that is full on booty/sock like that integrates wonderfully with the upper and SensiFit overlays, providing a very secure, versatile and locked in fit.
As mentioned previously, the lace throat is wider than previous versions, which I think increases the range of usability for more people. With a narrow foot, combined with my insistence on good security, I find that I can snug up the laces more easily and secure, without having to really wrench them down.
The “tongue”, or at the least the space taking up the area that would be considered the tongue on most shoes is a nice compliant stretchy material, that is thick enough on the lower section to protect from the very thin quick laces, while the upper half has a clever, strategically placed oval pad that provides excellent protection from where I find the lace/foot interface to be most critical, where the lace is most tight over the flex point of the ankle/foot.
The lace pocket takes slightly more work than other variations to tuck in the pull tab and lace, but once in place, is very secure and goes unnoticed.
Unlike Adam, I have not had any trouble, nor have I even been conscious while wearing of the debris collar around the heel. I find it moderately effective in keeping out some debris, but still find small rocks and pine needles finding a way in from time to time.
Adam: The midsole on this shoe does not feel super soft, since it is made of firm, responsive foam. That doesn’t mean it isn’t protective though. This shoe doesn’t feel sluggish when power is added, the midsole is firm but thick enough to be cushioned sufficiently.
Jeff V: I find the midsole to be a marked improvement over the previous, with the added 2 mm increasing protection and adding enough cushioning for me to put the Ultra 3 over the edge toward what I would consider to be a legitimate shoe for Ultra distance events (I know, always has been for the pros, but I prefer a bit more underfoot). While the midsole is firm, I do not consider it to be at all overly firm or slappy, but a great blend of firm responsiveness with all day cushioning and compliance. While the Ultra 3 is not quite as light, snappy and responsive as the Sense Pro 4, I find it to be plenty quick, lively and responsive and the added cushion/protection would certainly be an advantage on long downhills, extended sections of rocky, rooty, technical terrain, as well as longer days.
Adam: The Contagrip outsole is great for the surfaces I’ve been running on, excellent traction on roots, rocks, dirt, gravel, even when wet. I haven’t run on a ton of wet things with this specific shoe, but the outsole is the same as the S/Lab Ultra and Ultra 2, both of which I’ve taken into the always wet rocky and slippery White Mountains, and both have been excellent. Another benefit of this outsole is that it doesn’t feel draggy on pavement or dirt roads like some very heavily lugged shoes are. It obviously isn’t a road shoe, but I can run out the door, down the road to a trail, and feel good the whole time.
Jeff V: Standard fare here and no changes the best I can tell. This has been one of the most tried and true, versatile outsoles for me, performing flawlessly on just about any surface, wet or dry, at any speed. The only real limitations are on really steep and loose terrain where a deeper, sharper lug would be preferable for more bite, or in the snow or mud. Durability over the years on previous versions has proven to be excellent, as has door to trail use of the outsole.
Adam: This shoe is protective and substantial, yet also responsive and efficient. Best way to describe this is that running on roads, this feels like a too heavy but smooth road shoe, while the Sense Ride 3 just feels slow. It responds well to power, and protects my legs during longer runs. Having not actually run a trail ultramarathon, I can’t say whether this shoe is cushioned enough for doing that, but I can say that as a runner who likes responsive shoes that don’t feel heavy and sluggish but at 6’ 180 lbs I appreciate some protection from the ground. I like how efficient these feel.
Jeff V: The Ultra 3 is smooth, reasonably quick and responsive, with a very good combination of protection/cushion underfoot, yet is compliant and flexible enough to offer good trail feel without feeling overworked. Stability is excellent and the Ultra 3 is a prime example of the midsole, outsole and even upper working in perfect unison to provide a very smooth, comfortable, yet dynamic ride.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Adam: The Ultra 3 is much better than the Ultra 2 and Ultra, and unlike the original Ultra is a shoe with enough cushioning and protection and a comfortable enough upper that I could run an ultramarathon in it.
The new upper manages to both be stable and breathable, while also seamless, and does not give my feet any problems over long runs. Given it’s combination of stability, tough seamless upper, additional foam under the foot, and grippy outsole, this will be my go to long trail run/mountain running shoe.
At $180, it’s an expensive shoe, but if this new upper fixes the durability issues of the previous two versions, it could very well be worth it. I’d probably pick something lighter and faster for shorter runs, but the Ultra 3 is a responsive shoe that never feels bad when I try to pick up the pace. It’s especially good on technical descents where precise footwork matters. Also of note, since my first run in these where I had some chafing issues with the anti-debris mesh, I’ve put over 100 miles into the shoe and had no other issues, so that issues seems like it was a fluke.
Adam’s Score: 9.3/10
Value 8- Expensive, but it rides great and the new upper seems much more durable. I’d pay the extra for this over a Sense Ride 3
Style: 9.5 It’s growing on me, the seamless upper looks great, and it’s a unique shoe. Prettier than a lot of the competition in the Ultra shoe category
Traction: 10 It’s an excellent balance of grip and speed. Never slippery on the trail, but doesn’t feel like it’s slowing me down on road/dirt road sections, and it clears mud very well.
Rock Protection: 9.5 I can run on sharp pointy rocks, having taken it running in the White Mountains which are super rocky and it performs excellently.
Weight: 9 Adding cushion while maintaining the weight is a good thing, and the upper and laces make it feel lighter on the foot than it actually is.
Jeff V: The Ultra 3 is a huge improvement over previous versions and is much closer to where I would expect a shoe to be that has “Ultra” in the name.
Cushioning and protection are sufficient for long days on technical trails and the upper is a huge improvement, with overall better fit for a wider range of feet, more breathable, excellent security with amazing comfort and attention to detail.
For shorter distances and faster running, I would suggest the Sense Pro 4, which is lighter, more agile and more responsive, however for 2 plus hours, rockier, rootier terrain and significantly long downhills, the Ultra 3 is a better choice. Ideal for day to day training on just about any terrain, door to trail, longer races.
Jeff V’s Score: 9.5/10
Value: 8 - $180 is a lot for a shoe, but performance and quality are top notch, as is predicted longevity.
Style: 10 - Some will disagree, (and it matches NONE in my wardrobe), but I think this is a very sharp and classy looking shoe
Rock Protection: 9
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra: (RTR Review)
Adam: I wish Salomon still made this shoe. If I had to pick between these two I’d still pick the original Ultra, but they’re now for distinctly different niches. The S/Lab Sense Ultra had a lightweight minimal upper with a just protective enough outsole tacked on for longer races than could be done in an S/Lab Sense. The Ultra 3 is a protective stable, cushioned shoe made light enough and responsive enough to be usable for long distance racing. For anything shorert. I’d still take the S/Lab Sense uUtra, but for half marathon and up or longer training runs, I’d be strongly tempted by the Ultra 3. The Ultra 3 isn’t much heavier either.
Jeff V: Adam nails it exactly. The Sense Ultra was lighter and more nimble, not as cushioned or protective underfoot, yet I had ~5 hour runs in them through rough terrain and never had an issue.
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 1: (RTR Review)
Adam: The Ultra 3 is better in basically every way. Lighter, more cushioned. The fit of the upper is slightly looser, but it locks the foot down well and is way more seamless. Even if you can find the Ultra on sale, the upper won’t last nearly as long, and the Ultra 3 will feel better to run in.
Jeff V: The S/Lab Ultra, while I liked it OK initially, reviewing it in winter in cold temps, when I was more tolerant of the odd narrow shape toe box, but once it got warmer, I had a few rough runs in them where they gave me bad blisters, so I vowed to never use them again. The Ultra 3 is superior in all regards (aside from same outsole which is identical or close)
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2: (RTR Review)
Adam: The slight changes to the midsole make the 3 slightly more protective, while the upper of the 2 had pretty bad durability. The new upper seems better, though it fits looser (seems to hold the foot well, but I’d consider sizing down a half size if you can try these shoes on in store). The 2 is marginally lighter, but the Ultra 2s I weighed have their traction worn off and have giant holes in the upper, so the 3 is actually lighter than the 2 when new.
Jeff V: The Ultra 3 is better in every way, more durable and accommodating upper, more cushion protection, more breathable.
Salomon Ultra Pro (RTR Review)
Salomon Sense Ride 3: (RTR Review)
Adam: Different shoes for different uses. The cushion of the Sense Ride 3 is very smooth, and definitely absorbs a little more impact. However there are some key differences. The SenseRide 3 does not respond well to speed and power. Although it’s a great easy run shoe, I tend to run with a slow tempo and lots of power and it just feels dull to me when I try to go fast. The Ultra 3 has a more precise upper that makes the shoe feel lighter and a more responsive midsole. Additionally it has the ProFeel film rock plate and the white PU insert which makes it more protective and stable in harsher terrain. If I’m running on dirt roads, either is fine, but for sharp rocks and mountain runs, my feet feel more protected in the Ultra 3s. Additionally the toe bumper on the Sense Ride 3s sometimes bruises my toes when running steep descents and I haven’t had that happen on the Ultra 3. Overall the Ultra 3 is a more responsive, protective, and faster shoe, but it is much more expensive, firmer, long term durability is unknown (the Ultra and Ultra 2 were not good in this regard) and available in less color options and women’s specific lasts. The Ultra 3 is also 14g lighter per shoe which might contribute to it feeling more responsive.
Jeff V: Agreed with Adam on all points, however I have not had any issues with the toe bumper.
Salomon Sense Pro 4: (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The SP4 is lighter, more response, more agile and has slightly deeper and more bitey lugs for looser terrain. For maximum speed on shorter runs (under 2:30 or 2 hours), where agility and perhaps a bump in traction is paramount, I would go for the SP4. For longer distances, sustained use on rocks, long downhills that beg for more cushion, the Ultra 3 is a better choice.
Salomon S/Lab Sense 8: (RTR Review)
Adam: Not sure why I’m even comparing these but I guess the uppers both have anti debris mesh? The Sense 8 is way lighter, faster and but also harsher. I wouldn’t race in it for anything longer than 10km. The Sense 8 is also a lower volume upper. They’re both fun shoes, but for different things.
Jeff V: Agreed, not even in the same ballpark, but share brand and S/Lab badging. I have the SG version of the Sense 8, which are remarkably harsh on hard surfaces, particularly on fast downhills and like the name implies, best for soft ground and uphills.
Salomon Speedcross 5 (RTR Review)Jeff V: S/Lab Ultra 3 is over an ounce lighter, has a lower stack, has a slightly wider platform with not as aggressive lugs. Fit on both is true to size and accommodating with fit is very secure for both. Speedcross 5 is perhaps more appropriate for slower, more casual use, and particularly in loose terrain or snow, while the Ultra 3 better for faster running and stability in technical terrain. Speedcross 5 has a blocky heel and is very tippy in technical terrain.
Hoka One One Torrent 2: (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The Torrent 2 is lighter, more responsive and the tread is better in loose terrain. T2 cushioning is softer and with no rock plate so is not as protective underfoot as the Ultra 3. The Ultra 3 has a superior upper, though that comes at a premium price. T2 for faster running on softer ground and Ultra 3 best for longer days on feet where more support and protection are critical.
Saucony Xodus 10: (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The Xodus 10 is $30 less,heavier and does not have the flash and flair of the Ultra 3, but would certainly compete. The Xodus 10 surpasses the Ultra 3 in traction, value and perhaps responsiveness, with comparably amazing fit, security and protection. Both are fine choices for long distance racing or every day training on just about any surface.
Inov-8 Terra Ultra G 270: (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The G 270 is lighter, more responsive and has superior traction with Graphene grip. At just $20 less, the G 270 is closing in on that high price point, yet is a shoe with a more limited range. For my preferred terrain, the Ultra 3 excels, perhaps not in outsole grip, but with overall versatility, cushion and certainly protection underfoot, where I feel the G 270 is a bit thin for sustained rocky, technical terrain. You also have to be accustomed to 0 drop.
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