Friday, May 24, 2024

Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 3 Review: 5 Comparisons

Article by John Tribbia

Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 3 ($200)


John: Salomon, a brand synonymous with innovation in trail running footwear, has once again pushed the boundaries with the S/Lab Pulsar 3. This shoe represents the culmination of Salomon's dedication to creating high-performance gear for competitive athletes.

The Pulsar 3 is designed for speed demons who crave agility and responsiveness on technical terrain. Salomon's engineers have meticulously crafted a shoe that prioritizes lightness, grip, and precision, making it a formidable weapon for trail racers and fast-paced runners alike.

In true form, Salomon incorporates feedback from their elite athletes like Rémi Bonnet, and has refined the Pulsar 3 to deliver a truly optimized running experience. The shoe's Matryx technology, Energy Foam midsole, Contragrip MA outsole, and Quicklace system are all testaments to Salomon's commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation in trail running footwear.

But the Pulsar 3 is more than just a collection of technical features. It's a shoe that embodies the spirit of adventure and the pursuit of excellence. It's a shoe that empowers runners to push their limits, explore new trails, and achieve their personal best.


  • Extremely lightweight

  • Responsive and energetic ride

  • Excellent grip on various surfaces

  • Secure and breathable upper


  • Not the most cushioned shoe

  • Not waterproof or for colder weather

  • Narrow fit may not suit all feet

  • Can feel a bit firm on hard surfaces

  • Price point


Sample Weight: men’s  7.15 oz / 202g US9 

S/Lab Pulsar SG 6.81 oz  / 193g US9

Stack Height: men’s 29 mm heel /  23 mm forefoot (  6mm drop spec) 

Platform Width: 70 mm heel / 40 mm midfoot / 95 mm forefoot (unchanged)

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

John: Upon unboxing the Pulsar 3s, I was immediately struck by their incredibly lightweight design. Weighing in at a mere 7.15 ounces (202 grams) US9, they felt more like slippers than running shoes. This featherlight weight is achieved through a combination of Salomon's lightest midsole compound, Energy Foam (an EVA Olefin co-polymer block blend), and a minimalist Matryx upper.

The Matryx technology is a key feature of the shoe's upper. It's a woven fabric that blends Kevlar and polyamide fibers, providing a unique balance of durability, breathability, and flexibility. The result is a shoe that is  both lightweight and supportive, conforming to the foot's shape without sacrificing structure. Compared to the prior version’s Matryx material the upper here is smoother in feel.

The Pulsar 3 fits like a glove. The Matryx upper provided a snug, sock-like fit, thanks to its unique ability to mold to the shape of the foot. 

The Quicklace system allowed for swift adjustments, a crucial feature when transitioning between flat sections and steep climbs. 

However, the narrow toe box might not be ideal for runners with wider feet, potentially causing discomfort on longer runs

In terms of sizing, the Pulsar 3 fits as expected for my US9 Men's shoe size. Unfortunately, I can't directly compare the fit of the Pulsar 3 to the SG because I only had the opportunity to try a larger size of the latter; but the SG did seem slightly wider notwithstanding.

The Matryx upper's breathability was immediately apparent as I tested them on my favorite trail up Bear Peak in Boulder. The woven fabric efficiently wicks away moisture, keeping my feet cool and dry as the spring temperatures have begun to increase. 

The reinforced toe cap, a crucial feature for technical trails, provided ample protection against the sharp rocks and roots that litter the path.

Midsole & Platform

John: The Pulsar 3 features Salomon's Energy Foam Midsole compound, a blend of EVA and Olefin (OBC) foams. This combination aims to strike a balance between lightweight cushion,responsiveness and impact protection. The midsole is notably firm, prioritizing energy return and propulsion over plush cushioning.

Overlays now extend down and wrap the front of the midsole to provide more stability than in the S/Lab Pulsar 2  (RTR Review) which, while I did not test, RTR Editor Sam tells me was very soft at the edges of the front of the platform and for him overly pliable upfront. 

The heel area is now more cantilevered compared to the Pulsar 2, again to increase stability and improve landing cushioning. 

On the trails, the Energy Foam midsole delivered a snappy and efficient ride. The firm cushioning provided a direct connection to the ground, allowing for precise foot placement and agile maneuvering on the technical terrain. While the lack of plushness might not be ideal for long distances or runners who prefer a softer feel, it proved to be a winning formula for the fast-paced ascents and descents of my favorite Boulder trail, Fern Canyon via Bear Peak.  

Furthermore, the shoe's dynamic response and narrow last make it a suitable road shoe for shorter, faster efforts. However, I found that the outsole might provide more resistance than desired for a local 5K road race. In my opinion, the design is better suited for occasional on-road approaches and road intermissions during trail outings.

The Pulsar 3's platform design is characterized by a low stack height and a rockered profile. The low stack height (23mm in the forefoot and 29mm in the heel) keeps the foot close to the ground, enhancing body awareness and agility. The rockered profile, with its slightly curved shape, encourages a smooth and efficient transition from heel to toe, promoting a natural running gait. 

The platform width at 70 mm heel / 40 mm midfoot / 95 mm forefoot is unchanged and very narrow for a trail shoe and especially so at the midfoot. This means those with wider feet might find the shoe to be too snug. However, for runners with narrow to medium-width feet like myself, this snug fit translates to exceptional precision and control, allowing for quick adjustments and confident foot placement on technical terrain.

On the trails, the rockered platform worked in harmony with the Energy Foam midsole to create a fluid and dynamic ride. The shoe felt nimble and responsive, allowing me to easily adjust my stride and navigate the technical terrain with confidence. The low stack height provided a stable base, while the rockered profile facilitated a smooth roll-through, reducing fatigue on longer runs.


John: The Contragrip MA outsole, designed for maximum grip on a variety of surfaces, truly excelled on the Bear Peak trail, which ascends 2,500+ ft in 2.5 miles with a mix of smooth and rocky trail, along with some low grade scrambling. 

The more aggressive lug pattern than the Pulsar 1 and 2 non soft ground with now higher 4mm lugs bit into loose gravel and scree, delivering unwavering traction on both the ascent and descent. 

Top: S/Lab Puslar 3 Bottom: S/Lab Pulsar 2

Note also the opening in the front of the Pulsar 2 which made it overly flexible, not very stable and not well protected according to RTR Editor Sam. We now have full rubber coverage upfront.

With a rubber compound designed for optimal grip during dynamic movements, the outsole offered a sense of reassurance with each step. While my road testing revealed excellent performance at faster paces, the shoes were less effective during extended, slower efforts.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

John: The Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 3 delivers a ride experience that's synonymous with speed and agility. From the first stride, the shoe's nimbleness is evident, encouraging a quick foot turnover and a playful, almost effortless stride. The low stack height and flexible design facilitate natural movement, allowing the foot to adapt seamlessly to the ever-changing terrain. Whether navigating tight switchbacks or leaping over rock gardens, the Pulsar 3's responsiveness shines through, reacting instantaneously to your every move.

The Energy Foam midsole, despite its lightweight construction, packs a punch, delivering a surprisingly energetic ride. Each footstrike is met with a snappy rebound, propelling you forward with a noticeable pep, the Pro Feel protection assisting in propulsion. This energy return, combined with the smooth roll-through of the rockered platform, creates a sense of effortless efficiency that makes even steep climbs feel manageable.

The Pulsar 3's low stack height and thin Profeel Film layer enhance ground feel, providing a direct connection to the trail. This heightened awareness translates to increased confidence on technical descents, where precise foot placement is crucial. The shoe offers the feedback necessary to make split-second decisions, instilling a sense of trust in every stride.

However, the Pulsar 3's performance-oriented design comes with some trade-offs. The firm cushioning and narrow toe box might not be ideal for runners who prioritize comfort or have wider feet. Additionally, the minimal protection might not be sufficient for ultra-distance runners or those who prefer a plusher ride.

Overall, the Pulsar 3's ride is a testament to Salomon's commitment to innovation and performance. The combination of lightweight construction, responsive midsole, aggressive outsole, and precise fit creates a shoe that excels on technical terrain. It's a shoe that encourages you to push your limits and find your flow on the trail.

In challenging environments like Bear Peak here in Boulder, the Pulsar 3's performance is undeniable. Its responsiveness, agility, and ground feel allow you to navigate technical terrain with confidence and speed, solidifying its position as a top-tier trail racing shoe.

John’s Score:  9.6/10

Ride: 9.5 (energetic and protective)

Fit: 9.5 (but only because I have a slightly narrow foot anyway)

Value: 9.5 ( road / trail crossover for hybrid use; $200 is still steep regardless)

Style:  9.5 (I really like the single integrated look upper) 

Traction:  10 (great shoe that can be used for nearly everything on the trail)

Rock Protection: 9.5 (stable and protective)


5 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Salomon Pulsar SG (RTR Review)

John: The Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 3 and Pulsar SG are both elite trail running shoes built for speed and agility, but with key differences tailored to specific conditions. The Pulsar 3, with its firmer Energy Foam midsole and versatile Contragrip MA outsole, excels on dry, technical trails where responsiveness and precision are paramount. The Pulsar SG, features a slightly softer midsole.  

The SG’s Mud Contagrip outsole with slightly deeper lugs, prioritizes traction and comfort in wet and muddy conditions. 

Outsole Comparison Top: S/Lab Pulsar 3 Bottom S/LabPulsar SG

Both shoes share a lightweight Matryx upper, but the Pulsar SG has added protection around the base for enhanced durability. Choosing between them comes down to your typical running terrain and personal preferences:  if you frequently encounter mud and slippery surfaces, the Pulsar SG's traction profile will be beneficial, while the Pulsar 3's firmer ride might be preferred for drier, more technical trails where agility and speed are key.

Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 1 (RTR Review)

John: In my opinion the Pulsar 3 represents a nice evolution from the original S/Lab Pulsar, a faster, more dynamic, more protective, and more agile ride on technical trails. While the Pulsar 3 maintains the original's snug fit and lightweight construction, as well as the lightweight and agile nature of the original while gaining a small amount of weight, I find the Pulsar 3 more performant, grippy (given its higher lugs and more aggressive pattern), and is more capable in technical terrain.

Hoka Zinal 2 (RTR Review)

John: Only slightly heavier at 7.5 oz vs 7.15 oz, the Zinal 2 stands out for its agility and responsiveness, making it an ideal trail shoe for demanding adventures. Its profile features a rocker shape and an aggressive outsole that ensures excellent traction. In comparison to the Pulsar 3, the Zinal 2 provides a marginally softer feel, making it a suitable choice for longer distances.

The North Face Summit Vectiv Sky (RTR Review)

John: In comparison to the Pulsar 3, the Sky provides a firmer ride while maintaining similar responsiveness and ground feel. The Sky distinguishes itself as a lightweight and agile trail shoe, featuring a carbon-fiber plate that enhances propulsion.

La Sportiva Cyklon (RTR Review)

John: The Cyklon is a versatile trail shoe with a comfortable sock-like fit and an aggressive outsole. While it offers comparable agility to the Pulsar 3, it provides a slightly softer and more protective ride. It is considerably heavier, about 4 oz / 113g  heavier than the Pulsar.

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Tester Profile

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 every day.

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Anonymous said...

How do they compare to the new brooks catamount agil?

Brian said...

Can you compare them to the NNormal Kjerag?

Ryan said...

I am curious about the comparison to the Catamount Agil as well. It is a shoe I have really enjoyed so far for fast trail racing.