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:

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.

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Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra

Background

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.
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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.

The Changes

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.

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The lugs are clearly deeper on the Sense Ultra both in the forefoot (top) and in the heel (bottom).

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:

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Side by side comparison of the Sense Ultra and Sense soles. The lugs are clearly deeper but more importantly, note the significant change in the lug pattern on the Sense Ultra which now includes lugging in the midsole and at the fore-part of the heel. Note also that the “OS Tendon” reaches further aft in the Ultra than in the Sense and that the Sense Ultra sole is significantly narrower than the Sense.

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.

2. Cushioning

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.

3. Upper

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.

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Side by side comparison of the Sense Ultra with the Sense. Note the change in shape of the outer “exo-skin” material and the “wrinkle” in this material on the Sense. This is where delamination of the “exo-skin” can occur. Looks like this may have been an issue with the Sense- it was for me. Note also the narrower sole of the Sense Ultra.

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:

http://fellsandspells.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/salomon-s-lab-sense-ultra-a-review/

Not much verbiage but lots of pictures on the trails there.

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Sole attachment

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:

Peeling left outsole... and the primary reason these shoes are being retired. I do not have the confidence that gluing will work or be reliable. No tripping for me.

Peeling left outsole… and the primary reason these shoes are being retired. I do not have the confidence that gluing will work or be reliable. No tripping for me.

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.

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Sense Ultra sole in area where peeling occurred on the Sense after about 1000 km (600 miles)

Price

$180… about 10% less than the Sense, perhaps more durable, and likely better for long runs and races. Still expensive though.

Bottom line

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.

Update

An update to this review has been posted on 17 July 2013.

A final update has been posted as of 3 Aug 2013.

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25 responses to “Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review- nice tweaks to an outstanding design”

  1. fellsandspells says :

    Great review!

    Thanks for linking my post onto your blog :)

    I am from Singapore, by the way. Always good to be acquainted mate.

    • Le Manchot says :

      Sorry about that…. I had just watched the Salomon Hong Kong team video after reading your post and got confused- now fixed. b/t/w I really enjoyed running in Singapore when my work took me there in the past.
      Good luck in your training and races!

  2. Matthew Smith says :

    Glad to hear your thoughts on this shoe! Inspires confidence that Salomon tweaked the right elements and didn’t mess too much with a great thing. Could you see yourself running in the Sense for shorter runs and the Ultra for longer?

    Can’t wait to get my hands on/feet in a pair.

    • Le Manchot says :

      Mathew,

      Yes, that is exactly what I plan to do- going with the Sense at races of 50K and less and the Ultra for greater distances. I think that the enhanced cushioning and structure will bode well for the Ultra at 50-100 miles. As far as training, I will be using the Ultra for any run longer than 20 miles, using the Sense and Fellcross at the shorter training distances, the Sense for tempo runs, and the Fellcross in mud. I will be interested to see how the Ultra performs in mud- the deeper lugs could lead to issues.

  3. Laurent says :

    I have been drooling over these for a while. But the price is steep and I’ll wait for you to tell us if the sole peels off again. (That would unacceptable.)

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Laurent,

      Remember that the sole did not show significant evidence of peeling from the Sense until about 900-1000 km, at least on the pair I have taken to EOL. The other pair of Sense that I have are just showing some possible peeling (not confirmed) at about 600 km.

      I agree and hope that Salomon have looked into some higher performance adhesives for the sole attachment. Only time will tell- and I will report back.

  4. Jeff Dinkin says :

    Nice review! Looking forward to your follow-up, once you get a chance to really hit the trails hard and put some good mileage on them….

    Be well…..

  5. Andy says :

    Thank you for your review, very interesting! I am a strong overpronator and I weigh 68 kg.
    .. I assume those shoes are unfortunately not for me, right?

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Andy,

      There is a lot of mis-information out there much of which comes from the shoe companies and then is reinforced by shoe store employees, most of whom are not qualified to recommend shoes to customers (at least that is the case, in my opinion, in the US). I suggest that you take a look at this article published in the January 2013 issue of Podiatry Management and perhaps reassess your “overpronation” condition:

      http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2013/01/24/treating-running-injuries-form-vs-footwear/

      Based on my read of this (and numerous other such data-based information and analysis), I will suggest that the unsupported (non-data-based) conventional “wisdom” is incorrect. I am not a biomechanical engineer, an orthopedic specialist, or a podiatrist so take my statements as just an opinion.

      Once you build up your foot muscles (which are currently being prevented from proper exercise by “corrective” shoes), you will likely be pleasantly surprised by how durable your feet (and ankles, and knees, etc.) become. Just some thoughts for you.

      As far as the Sense Ultra, shoes are very individual however the low drop design and the endo-fit technology make these shoes very comfortable and very low weight. After some more running in them I continue to be impressed.

      • Andy says :

        Thank you for your quick and very interesting answer. I read the article and it made me reconsider the whole thing! As in the US, even here in Switzerland the shoe store employee told me that the Salmon S-Lab Sense Ultra would very likely cause me to suffer some injuries because of my flat feet. By the way, I run with the S-lab XT Wings since 2 years and never experienced any problems…

      • Le Manchot says :

        Hi Andy,

        Yes, you have to consider the source when you get advise. I try to point people to the literature on the subject so they can make their own reasoned decision.

        Should you decide to try the Sense Ultra, be sure to follow proper transition protocol from the 10-12mm drop S Lab 4&5’s to the 4 mm drop Sense Ultra. If you transition too fast to the lower drop you will likely have a bout with Achilles Tendonitis which can easily turn into Achilles Tendonosis- a bad thing!! The Natural Running website has a few articles on how to structure this transition, which typically takes about 6 weeks or so of active 5-7 days a week running.

        Good luck to you.

  6. Matthew Smith says :

    Andy, I had similar concerns to you about 4 years ago. Before I was even running, I had terrible pain in my feet. I believe it was plantar fasciitis, but not sure why I had it. At the end of a work day, my feet were incredibly sore. I bought dress shoes with Nike Air, I bought a few different pairs of custom orthotics, but nothing seemed to help. I experimented a lot with shoes, and found that the flatter my shoe and the less spongy, the less pain I had in my feet. I then read about Vibram Five Finger shoes, and started to wear those a lot (the theory being that you should strengthen your ankles, feet muscles and joints, rather than effectively putting them into a cast with orthotics and overly supportive shoes). I used to run exclusively in S-LAB XT Wings (even after I knew that my feet liked flat soles), but have made the transition to Saucony Kinvara’s on the road and the Sense and Fellcross on the trail. My body responded very well to this change.

    As Le Manchot suggested, should you try the Sense, start slow. Like most, I went through a period of significant stiffness as I made the transition. Lots of calf stretching helps too. You should also look into running gait and biomechanics, shortening your stride and landing on your forefoot or midfoot. Loads of great articles and YouTube videos.

    Best of luck with your running, whichever way it goes.

  7. Andy says :

    Thanks to you both, I really appreciate that your share your experience with me! I’ll keep you posted!” :)

  8. Andy says :

    Quick update: last Friday I took the plunge and got my Sense (not the Sense Ultra, the “classic” one)! I benefited from a special promotion and paid only 162 $: here in Switzerland the full retail price is 250 CHF, which means 270 $. On Saturday I went for a run: 1 hour and 10 minutes on a snowy trail, + 445 m, almost 11 km. Well, what can I say? I had a very good feeling during the the run, even if now my calf hurt pretty much. :)

    Cheers
    PS. As English is not my mother tongue, I hope you’ll excuse my language mistakes! :)

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Andy,

      No problem with the language… I am a disaster in Swizerland as my french is minimal and my german is scientific. No one seems to understand me…

      Be sure to follow a transition program for the Sense- it is very important to avoid injury.

      Glad to hear that you liked the Sense. Good luck with your training.

  9. The Superjudge says :

    Thnx for an interesting review! Just go me a pair of Ultras :) Have had problems with Salomon before since they are a bit too built up in the arch for my flat feet. Especially the SpeedCross haven’t worked for me. Which is a pity cause otherwise they have a nice tight fit. I have therefore been a true Saucony fan. Which I still am on street shoes. The Kinvara and Mirage are just amazing shoes for “medium fast” mid- and forefoot strikers looking for ca 4 mm drop. Do like their trail shoe Peregrine as well, but never got that nice snug, tight feeling that you need in a trail shoe to feel comfortable at high speed downhill. The tight fit of the Ultra made me euphoric in this sense :) And then your review made go straigth back to the shop and buy them. Hehe. I was looking for the words “as good as the Sense but with a bit more cushioning and grip” and that’s what I found. Perfect. Can’t wait for Swiss Alpine :) Although I suppose I need to get more than just my shoes in order for that one…
    Cheers / Anders (a Swede living in Austria)

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Anders,

      I think you will be pleased wit the Sense Ultra, the more I run in them the more I am convinced that Salomon may have hit a sweet spot with drop, cushioning, and grip.

      Good luck in the Swissalpine (78km I assume?); this is a race that is on my to do list in the next couple of years.

    • Andy says :

      I will also be in Davos… and I will definitely need MORE than good shoes to finish the race. :)

  10. Mike Caldwell says :

    This might seem like a strange question for a trail shoe, but what are your thoughts about using the Ulta Sense on the road? 98% of the running I do is on trails. But we have this crazy award where I live that necessitates I run a road marathon and an iron distance triathlon. I do most of my training on the trails in my Fell Cross shoes, but I have a new pair of Sense Ultras that I planned on racing/training with.

    So how do you think they’d compare to a low drop, road specific shoe?

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Mike,

      I have run roads in the past in the Sense and I have been running quite a bit of road in the Sense Ultra since they arrived In January. Both work well on the road and I think the additional cushioning in the Sense Ultra will be appreciated by most runners. I have not made a detailed comparison with a similar weight road flat but they sure feel similar based on my memory.

      There are plenty of ultrarunners that use “trail” shoes on the road, even some top competitors:

      http://riddleruns.blogspot.com/2013/01/training-update-mtn-mist-and-shoes.html

      where Riddle says of the Salomon XT S Lab 5:

      “The traction is adequate for your average trail, but it runs smooth enough that I’m not afraid to take them to the roads when needed.”

      and he is a 2:26 marathoner and past winner of the JFK 50 miler.

      I find the same to be true for the Sense and Sense Ultra. Any use will clearly be a personal preference.

      Hope this helps.

  11. Erik says :

    Hi!

    In part 2, cushioning, you are presenting some numbers about sole height. Both Sense and Ultra have 13mm heel and 9mm toe. Found on Salomons own websites. The 9mm/5mm you are talking about is the height off Fellcross. Where have you found the information about the difference in cushioning between Sense and Ultra?

    • Le Manchot says :

      Hi Erik,

      The stack height and midsole thickness are two different measurements- the first is the total height at heel and forefoot and the later is a measurement of just the midsole thickness (therefore not including the outsole/lugs or the footbed) in the same locations. Salomon is now quoting the midsole thickness values on their website. This was not always the case, in fact, if memory serves me I noticed a bunch of different numbers being quoted for the Sense from Salomon and numerous retailers about a year ago- some were called stack heights and some were called midsole thickness, all were different. I have corrected the post to reflect the currently reported values, I missed that in the final edit. At one point a 9mm/5mm value for the Sense was being reported, this then changed to 13mm/9mm, as I initially reported on the Sense and as you indicate. I have tried to stick with stack height as reported by the manufacturer and/or reliable retail outlets. Given that Salomon are now reporting the 13mm/9mm midsole value for both Sense and Sense Ultra, I will assume that the only difference in stack height is the lug height, which I measure at about 3 mm for the Sense Ultra and 2 mm for the Sense. Note that some retailers are quoting a lug height of 7 mm for the Sense Ultra; given that this is a straight forward measurement I just do not understand why such misinformation gets put up from an otherwise reliable source. At the same time, since my experience is that the numbers being reported are ‘variable’, I question the currently reported values for the Sense Ultra as this shoe clearly feels as if it has more cushioning somewhere. Perhaps there is a material composition difference in the midsole between the Sense and Sense Ultra. Not sure but the Ultra definitely runs ‘softer’. This is the description from the Salomon website for the Ultra:

      “Light weight racing shoe for forefoot runners, the Ultra provides added midfoot protection and durability for long, demanding races.”

      and for the Sense:

      “Low, light and fast, the Sense is a top level race shoe designed with Kilian Jornet to allow natural foot motion and forefoot running. Proven in winning the 2011 WS100 and UTMB.”

      Salomon also give the Ultra a cushioning ‘rating’ of 3 vs. a value of 2 for the Sense. Of course Salomon never define what the ‘rating’ is (or at least I can find no definition on their website or anywhere else) so take these values with some skepticism as, based on what is provided, one has no calibration as to what the magnitude of the difference in cushioning is for these two shoes. For me the difference feels significant and I do not think that it can be entirely attributed to a 1 mm difference in lug height.

      Thanks for pointing out the current discrepancies as it will help others navigate through the ‘variable’ information that gets reported and reinforces the importance of feel when choosing a pair of running shoes. I will put an asterisk in the post directing readers to this comment.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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