Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review- nice tweaks to an outstanding design
I have provided a “box to bin” set of reviews of the Salomon S Lab Sense trail running shoe in these posts:
- Salomon S Lab Sense Review – one word: Phenomenal!
- Salomon S Lab Sense Review – Update
- Salomon S Lab Sense Review – Final Update
The bottom line was that I found the shoe to be an excellent performer w/r/t fit, traction, quality of materials, and suitability to a large variety of conditions. All of this was combined with a super low weight (ca 170 gms (6 oz)) and high durability (over 1200 km (700 miles)). The primary drawbacks of the shoe were the lack of cushioning which was felt in runs and races greater than about 50 km (31 miles) and slightly compromised traction in very muddy conditions (when compared to the Salomon Fellcross).
Ever since the announcement by Salomon this past summer of the S Lab Sense Ultra, I have been very interested to see if the design tweaks included in this model would address the concerns that I raised after a season of use of the Sense. Well, my wishes have been granted- the Sense Ultra is a very nice evolution of the Sense with added cushioning and some deeper lugs for better traction in mud.
The Salomon S Lab Sense is the shoe designed specifically for and with Killian Jornet for trail running from vertical kilometer to ultra distance races as well as training for these types of events. The S Lab Sense Ultra is a second generation shoe that adds some additional cushioning, deeper lugs, and therefore, a bit more weight. Reviews of the Sense were primarily positive with the consistent exception of concern over durability. Although there have been very few documented reports of wear on the Sense, those that have been reported indicate a very large range in durability- from as little as 400 km (250 miles) to as much as 1200 km (700 miles). Clearly runner weight, running style, and trail conditions play a large role in how long a pair of these running shoes last.
The S Lab Sense Ultra is apparently Salomon’s response to feedback that they have received from Killian and other team runners who use the Sense as well as other runners using the Sense. It would appear that a call for more cushioning and deeper lugs (perhaps for both better traction and longer wear) was extant.
At the outset I was looking for the changes noted above but found a few more that are important.
1. The lugs
The lugs are clearly deeper than in the Sense.
However, and perhaps more importantly, the lug pattern has also been modified and now includes significant lugs at the midfoot and in fore-part of the heel. These added lugs are actually one of the largest changes in the Sense Ultra when compared to the Sense. Here is an image of the Sense and Sense Ultra soles side by side for comparison:
The other differences to note here are that the “OS Tendon” structure now reaches further aft in the Ultra and the “Profeel” film also extends to the midfoot region. Finally, and this is important, the Sense Ultra is quite a bit narrower than the Sense, both in the forefoot and in the heel. I have measured this difference to be 5 mm on these size US 7.5s (euro 40 2/3). The longer “OS Tendon” should provide a bit more structure (and less flexibility). The narrower sole may provide a bit better proprioception, but the Sense was outstanding in this aspect to begin with so it is not obvious what the genesis of this change was.
According to the data that I have been provided the stack heights are 19 mm heel and 15 mm forefoot (although I have also seen a 14 mm figure for the forefoot but that would give a 5 mm drop so it is probably incorrect). In any case, these stack heights are much different than the Sense which was 13 mm heel and 9 mm forefoot. This gives, depending on the details of the construction, at least a doubling of the thickness of the EVA midsole and substantially more cushioning* (please see comment from Erik below for further discussion of differences in cushioning between the Sense and Sense Ultra and stack height/midsole thickness- these are muddy waters). Provided that this increased thickness does not significantly decrease the very good proprioception found with the Sense, it is a welcome improvement, particularly for long runs and races.
The upper is not substantially changed as there did not appear to be any performance issues with the exception of some reported delamination of the outer “exo-skin” from the mesh fabric of the upper. Salomon may have addressed this with a slight change in the shape of the “exo-skin” which now includes a larger area and a “dog-leg” addition over the big toe area.
Fit and weight
One of the nicest features of the Sense was the “slipper-like” fit and resultant great trail feel. This superior fit was achieved primarily via the Salomon “Endo-fit” inner structure which wraps around your foot at midsection. This same structure makes putting the shoe on a bit of a struggle, but once on the shoe becomes a natural part of your foot- you truly feel like they are a well integrated extension of your foot. The Sense Ultra has the same “Endo-fit” structure and the same excellent fit of the Sense. Sizing is the same as the Sense as well, so whatever size Sense you have used will likely be the right size in the Sense Ultra.
The Sense are a very light shoe at ca 180 gms (6.4 oz) and these Sense Ultra in US size 7.5s (euro 40 2/3) come in at 210 gms (7.4 oz). So about 30 gms for deeper lugs and more cushioning, but still a very light trail shoe.
Initial running impressions
It is mid-winter here in the central Idaho mountains so there are no trails that are currently showing any dirt so I have not yet have these out on “real” spring-summer-fall trail surfaces. But I have gone out for a few runs totaling about 35 km (21 miles) on the snow covered trails, some pavement, and couple of jaunts up the snow covered steeps (>15% grade).
As mentioned above, the fit and feel of these shoes is very similar to the Sense and the trail feel is virtually the same. I can definitely feel the added cushioning. The slightly narrower forefoot and heel are also noticeable but not in a negative way. I did not notice any difference in weight which is expected given the small weight difference (30 gms). With respect to traction, the performance was quite good on the packed powder rollers and was also good on lower grade ups and downs. On the higher grade packed powder snow covered steeps (>15% grade) I had good performance on the ups and mixed performance on the downs where there was a crusted ice layer. This is typical of a shoe without any sort of spikes or other traction aid. I did have great time glissading down some groomed ski runs and expect that this shoe will perform well in the spring and summer snow fields.
One other note: I did feel like the shoe was providing more structure than the Sense and this may be due to the longer “OS Tendon” element incorporated into the sole. The Sense Ultra is somewhat less flexible than the Sense and this may be what I am feeling. This additional structure may be a good thing late in long races where the added support could help with tired feet.
I will have to wait until I get on some technical rock and dirt single track before I can fully evaluate the performance of these shoes but, based on this limited winter running, they appear to perform as well as the Sense. I do not expect to be on trails until I head to the desert sometime in late March and I will report back sometime thereafter. In the meantime, there is one “review” currently up by an athlete in Singapore that has used the Sense Ultra on trails, the link is:
Not much verbiage but lots of pictures on the trails there.
One of the issues that I had with the Sense was that the sole began to peel away from the midsole in the area under the big toe. This necessitated that I retire the shoe due to potential tripping concerns. Here is what the peeling looked like:
The Sense Ultra does not look to be any different in this area although Salomon may have used a different, more durable, adhesive. Only time will tell.
$180… about 10% less than the Sense, perhaps more durable, and likely better for long runs and races. Still expensive though.
Salomon have made real improvements to the Sense in the Sense Ultra. The Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra represents a nice evolution of the Sense- nice tweaks to an outstanding design. I look forward to putting these shoes through the paces on dirt/rock trails soon. If you have run in the Sense in the past (or even if you have only considered the Sense) you can confidently order up a pair of the Sense Ultra and I expect you will not be disappointed.
An update to this review has been posted on 17 July 2013.
A final update has been posted as of 3 Aug 2013.