Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground Review – a great addition to the Sense line

I recently received a pair of the third generation S Lab Sense 3 Ultra in the new Soft Ground configuration. Displayed this past summer at various outdoor retailing shows across the globe, these shoes have been much anticipated and long desired by those looking for an aggressive, low drop, and super lightweight trail shoe.

I have provided a “box to bin” set of reviews of the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra trail running shoe in these posts:

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review – nice tweaks to an outstanding design

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review – Update

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review – Final Update

What I found was that the Ultra model of the S Lab Sense was significantly improved over the original Sense. This came in the form of a few refinements that did not affect the incredible trail feel of the original:

  • more cushioning (higher durometer mid-sole)
  • more and deeper lugs
  • lugs across the entire outsole
  • improved polymer overlays and construction

I ran nearly exclusively in the Sense Ultra for the entire 2013 running season chalking up a little over 2000 miles (3300 km) and 300,000 feet (91,000 m) of vertical. It is a shoe that I can recommend without reservation as it performs at the highest level in nearly all conditions that a trail runner might face. That is, all conditions with the exception of mud. Enter the S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground- a Sense Ultra with an improved and more aggressive outsole as well as a few additional refinements to address past issues.

I will be posting a review of the Sense 3 Ultra separately in the next week or so.

Background

The fundamental design concept of the S Lab Sense trail shoe line is to provide a versatile, low drop, super lightweight shoe for training and racing. For the Salomon design team this was no small order. However, starting with a blank sheet of paper combined with input from Killian Jornet and other experienced, high performance trail runners the design team came to market with the original S Lab Sense and set a standard for light weight, trail feel, and traction. Subsequent models have included refinements and significant improvements but the Sense line has lacked a model that addresses conditions that include significant and deep mud or similar low shear terrain (e.g. sand, etc.). The S Lab line has filled this need with the Fellcross and Fellcross 2 for low drop users and the XT 5 and 6 Soft Ground for higher drop users. Although the Fellcross exhibits outstanding performance in muddy conditions, it is not particularly versatile beyond the softer terrain. In fact, the Fellcross can be downright dangerous on sharp rocks, as I now well know after suffering a significant bruise to the bottom of my right foot in early this past fall after interacting with such a sharp rock with the Fellcross. With widely spaced lugs and without a rock plate, the Fellcross is truly suited for the Fells and not much else on a regular basis. Prior to 2013 I rotated between the Sense and the Fellcross in training and eventually eliminated the Fellcross from the rotation because the Sense provided so much more protection on the more rocky terrain that makes up about 50% of the running I do. I would have to be quite cognizant of exactly where I was putting my foot when wearing the Fellcross whereas the Sense allows for a much more carefree experience. The Sense Ultra improved this even further and has since become my training and racing shoe of choice. But should muddy conditions arise or should a race involve any significant amount of mud, I would bring out the Fellcross because it has such a high level of performance in these conditions compared to the Sense Ultra. Although relatively good, the Sense Ultra just does not have the same high level of traction in mud nor does it shed mud as well as the Fellcross. Right from the first introduction of the original Sense many have been asking about Salomon bringing to market a version with a more aggressive outsole. In fact prototypes have been seen on Killian for at least two years at certain races (e.g. Zegama), so it was expected that a Sense Soft Ground was imminent. Well here it is!

L1020789

Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground trail running shoe. The new, more aggressive outsole is the major change with this model of the Sense 3. Other refinements include a new upper mesh material with slightly different polymer overlay reinforcements.

What is different from the Sense Ultra?

The shoe is a bit heavier than the other Sense models- my US 7.5/UK 7/ EUR 40 2/3 weighs in at 219 gms (7.7 oz) but is still a very, very light shoe. The major differences are in two areas- the upper and the outsole.

Upper

One of the major issues with S Lab Sense Ultra was the lack of durability of the upper. The mesh material used in that generation would develop holes at the outer edges near the interface with the polymer overlays. This is documented in the reviews linked above. Unfortunately these holes limited the life of the shoe because typically, in my experience, there was still reasonable tread left but the holes allow small bits of gravel (and other stuff) into the shoe rendering them unusable. It would appear that Salomon have addressed the issue since the upper of the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground employs a new mesh material that appears to be less permeable and a bit less flexible but is perhaps more durable. Curiously, this new mesh material is not used on the Sense 3 Ultra, more on that in a review of the Sense 3 Ultra that I will post soon. Time will tell if the new mesh material performs better. Initial runs have indicated that the material is just as form-fitting and comfortable as the previous material. Also, the surface of this material has a sheen as if there is a thin top coating and as a result the feel of the material is more film-like than woven fabric-like. It is difficult to image this material so I suggest taking a look for yourself, but here is an attempt:

L1020806

A closer look at the new mesh upper material in the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground.

Outsole

The major change for the Sense 3 line, and the one most anticipated, is the new, aggressive outsole on the Soft Ground model. The sole is very much similar to the Speedcross with respect to the shape of the chevron lugs, the spacing of the lugs , and the height of the lugs. Having been very satisfied with the traction performance of the SpeedCross, I expect this outsole to perform as well or better. The outsole material is Salomon’s Mud and Snow (M&S) “Contagrip”, which, according to Salomon is  a composition and geometry optimization for grip. We will see if this is the case in actual use.

L1020790

Outsole of the S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground. Very similar to the Salomon SpeedCross outsole right down to the little “nubs” that are on some of the lugs.

General Construction

Based upon a quick comparison review and physical look-over, it does not appear that there are any significant construction differences from the Sense Ultra. The shoe still has the same 13mm/9mm geometry, a similarly shaped last and toe box, and the fit fells exactly the same as the Sense Ultra.

L1020794

The general construction of the shoe looks and feels very similar to the Sense Ultra- and that is a good thing!

Initial Running Impressions

It’s mid-winter here in the Rockies and normally the trails are entirely snow covered and many of them are not accessible. However, this is turning out to be a low snow year for our area and many of the trails that I normally run in the spring, summer, and fall are accessible and some are even dirt. This has allowed me to give the S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground a try on a reasonable variety of trails from snow-covered to icy to dry dirt to mud.

I have had only about 50 km in these shoes but I can say that they have performed very well in all of the conditions I have had them in and particularly well in mud and packed powder snow. The aggressive lugs are well suited to attaining traction on the typical packed powder that we see in the Rocky Mountain West- in flat, ups, and downs, they do a great job of gripping and keeping your stride stable. Ice is a different story- in my experience any shoe that does not have spikes or hobnails is treacherous on ice. The Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground is no different- stay away from ice, whether it be on the flats or on the slopes, there is little to no stability in these conditions with this shoe. However, on anything that has the least bit of loose material to grip, these shoes are outstanding.

Unfortunately (due to low snow condition), we do have mud at this time- so I have been able to do a bit a of testing. Mud performance: excellent. The shoes have substantial grip and the mud sheds quite quickly. Some of the mud here is clay-based; what this means is that it is mud that can lead to 5 pound accumulations on some shoes- this is heinous mud (I once ran into a a section of this type of mud on a mountain bike ride and made it about 100 meters before the accumulated mud had totally “shut down” the bike to the point where it would not even roll- I had to carry the bike out and slowly remove the clay mud with a stick. In fact, there are still traces of this mud on my bike 5 years later). The Sense 3 Ultra Soft Grounds retained only a minimal amount of mud and what was retained was shed within about 50 meters of the end of the clay section. This clay mud is my “gold standard” for evaluating mud performance and the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground performed better than any other shoe I have tried.

The feel of the Soft Ground shoe is very much like that of the Fellcross where the deep lugs definitely give a “dash pot”-like sensation on hard surfaces. It is something that one can come accustomed to and certainly worth the effort to attain the traction in low shear terrain.

I will be in this shoe for the remainder of the winter running season. First impressions are very positive and I am glad that Salomon have seen fit to offer this model in the Sense line- something that many have been asking for since the introduction of the original model. Updates and a “box-to-bin” summary will be forthcoming.

Price

$160 US. $40 less than the original Sense and $20 less than the Sense Ultra from 2013. Looks like the price on the Sense line is going in the right direction. As I have indicated in the past, the value per unit cost for the Sense has been very good based on the number of miles I have gotten out of the shoes. Only time and miles will tell if the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground lives up to past performance in this line.

Bottom Line

A nice shoe with great traction, light weight, and outstanding trail feel. If you face muddy or low shear conditions, then this is a shoe you should consider; if you like an aggressive outsole, independent of trail terrain, then this shoe is a great light weight option.

Update 11 February 2014:

I failed to mention initially that the speed lacing no longer threads through the tongue with the elaborate lace pocket integration as seen on the Sense line previously. In the Sense 3 Ultra the lace pocket is a much simpler over-sewn mesh fabric piece that the laces now just lay on top of rather than threading through. The orientation of the lace pocket has also switched back to the “bottom loading” configuration seen on most other Salomon trail running shoes. Unfortunately this construction has a significant issue- when the laces are tightened they tighten down, in a criss-cross fashion, upon the lace pocket making the pocket almost useless. I have been able to get the excess lace in there with some effort but I am not sure how secure it will be; only trail testing will determine if it is secure enough. This seems like a bad trade-off for a simpler manufacturing construction and therefore a lower manufacturing cost.

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39 responses to “Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground Review – a great addition to the Sense line”

  1. michael says :

    Thanks !
    was really waiting for this one.

    Small question – if most of the time i run in warm climate and muddy conditions are pretty rare, should i still aim for the SG model due to it’s refinements and improvements, or should i just get the regular model ?
    (is the upper upgraded in that model as well for 2014 ?)

    i’ll be waiting to see how the “box to bin” test work for this model.

    Thanks again,
    Michael

    • Robert says :

      Hi Michael,

      If you do not face mud or other low shear terrain, then the Sense 3 Ultra will be a better choice- it is lighter and more suited to dry, rocky conditions. However, some like the aggressive outsole in all conditions so this comes down to personal preference. I will be using the Sense 3 Ultra for most of my running and the Soft Ground will come out for muddy and/or snowy conditions. Hope this helps.

  2. Jeff Dinkin says :

    Thanks for posting. I always enjoy your detailed reviews! This shoe seems amazing, and will replace my Speedcross 3 for the rare times I get to play in the wet and mud (So-Cal).

    I am disappointed by the Salomon Sense Ultra 3. Seems the shoe design has gone back to the Red/White color scheme, as well as eliminating the extended rock plate and the middle lugs. I guess I’ll just stick with the Sense Ultra, which has been working great for me in the last year. I’m on my 2nd pair, and have a new pair in the box.

    • Robert says :

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks again for the compliments. If you like low drop this is a great, and light, alternative to the SpeedCross.

      As far as the Sense 3, the shorter rock plate allows for bit more flexibility and therefore better trail feel and compliance with trail aspects such as moderate rock protrusions and snow fields. The Sense Ultra is a great shoe so you might buy a few while they are still available.

  3. Andrei Marius Boros says :

    Still the same narrow last? the 2013 S-lab Sense was murder on my wide feet.

    • Robert says :

      Andrei,

      Yes, the shoes have the same last so you might not like the Sense 3 Ultra or Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground.

      • Andrei Marius Boros says :

        I loved the design and the way it performed, but I was forced to use the heavier SpeedCross or FeelCross S-Lab, after years of running in XA Pro series shoes.

      • Robert says :

        Andrei,

        The Fellcross is on a narrower last than the Sense- so perhaps it is something about the structure of the shoe. You might try the Sense 3 Ultra SG as it has more structure and is less flexible than either the Sense Ultra or the Sense 3 Ultra. Just a thought.

      • Pipps says :

        Robert, I would beg to disagree – I have both the S-Lab Fellcross 2 and the S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra (red/white), and the S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra is definitely the narrower of the two – not just in the toe-box, but throughout the whole last.

      • Robert says :

        Hi Pipps,

        I do not have a pair of the Fellcross 2 but my Fellcross 1 is definitely narrower than the Sense 3 Ultra, particularly in the toebox. But to your point- they are both relatively narrow shoes so those who have a wide foot should look elsewhere.

        The original Sense was a bit wider but with the introduction of the Sense Ultra last year the last was narrowed a bit (I have never checked out the Sense 2 (or, as some have said, the “Senseless 2″ as it was not clear that much if anything was new in that short-lived model). Salomon have appeared to be sticking with the narrower aspect with the Sense 3 Ultra (and SG), probably based on positive feedback from athletes about proprioception.

    • Pipps says :

      Hi Rob, just to clarify, are you saying that your original S-Lab Senses (red/white) were wider than your S-Lab Sense 3 Ultras?

  4. Tommy Yuen says :

    It is very detail review. I have just one question in my mine. How about the grip on wet rocks? Salomon’s rubber tends to be very slippy on that. Inov8 works great on wet rock but I like the fit of Sense.

    Thanks!

    • Robert says :

      Hi Tommy,

      Great question. The creeks are not flowing here at this point so I have not had a chance to have this shoe on truly wet and/or algae-covered rocks. Typically shoes with such aggressive and widely spaced lugs do not perform as well as those with a more dense tread pattern in such conditions. The Fellcross was passable but not great on wet/algae-covered rocks so I expect the Sense 3 Soft Ground to be similar but only testing will tell.

  5. ATLRB says :

    With respect to the comments about narrow width, I also had an issue with the original S-lab Sense Ultra. As a result, I had to return them unworn.

    I have noted that the S-lab Sense 3 now comes in sizes larger than 12 which was not the case with the original S-lab Sense line. This may be enough to convince me to order up a half size and try them again as I really love the concept of this shoe.

    Nice initial review. I look forward to your updates and your review of the standard S-Lab Sense 3 model.

    • Robert says :

      Hi ATLRB,

      Hope that the sizing approach you are taking works out for you. The Sense has been a great shoe and I expect the Sense 3 Ultra SG to live up to these initial impressions. Sense 3 Ultra review soon.

  6. outdoor kinetics says :

    Nice review! I’m also testing both of theses shoes and I was slightly confused why Salomon haven’t used the same mesh material from the SG on the ‘standard’ sense 3 ultra. Any ideas?

    Maybe it’s not as breathable and therefore not as well suited to warm / dry conditions?

    • Robert says :

      Hi Andrew,

      Your thinking is very much the same as mine. I think the mesh in the Sense 3 Ultra is essentially the same as in the Sense Ultra. This may enable better ventilation than in the Sense 3 Ultra SG. The Salomon marketing materials for refer to a “breathable open mesh” in the description of the Sense 3 Ultra but not for the Sense 3 Ultra SG. The “closed mesh” in the SG may be a better choice for typical, consistently wet, consistently soggy terrain for the intended use of this model. I have not had a chance to have the SGs in this type of condition yet- perhaps there in the UK you will find some?

      Unfortunately the “open mesh” in the Sense 3 Ultra looks no different than the mesh used in the Sense Ultra so this will be a possible place for premature wear-out. Time will tell.

      • outdoor kinetics says :

        Yep we certainly do have mud!

        Thanks for coming back to me. I love these shoes but I personally think that if either of the models needed the full length rock plate it’s the std sense 3 and not the softground. Out of the two, I’d most likely be using the red/white version on rocky terrain…..

      • Robert says :

        Hi Andrew,

        Agreed, at least at first brush. However, I will point out that if you are forefoot striking the extended rock plate will likely play a lesser (though not insignificant) role in where one needs protection from sharp rocks. I live in a reasonably rocky area (the northern extent of the Rocky Mountains) and, with the exception of the cushioning, the original, first generation Sense (let’s call it the Sense 1), with the shorter rock plate performed quite well w/r/t rock protection. When the Sense Ultra arrived and added a higher durometer mid-sole composition, deeper lugs, and an extended rock plate to the already outstanding fit and feel of the first generation I thought an optimum had been reached. However, I expect that Salomon received feedback from their athletes that a bit more flexibility would be desirable, particularly for forefoot strikers. So what seems to be in the Sense 3 Ultra is the higher durometer mid-sole, the deeper lugs, and an “improved” flexibility relative to the Sense Ultra. This may work fine for me- a lightweight, forefoot striker- but perhaps not for heavier and/or midfoot/heel strikers. Once I have the Sense 3 Ultra out for some good, long, vertical, rocky runs I should be able to discern what is what.

      • outdoor kinetics says :

        Oh and I read that the new ‘open mesh’ on the standard sense is supposed to be a tighter, more durable weave

      • Robert says :

        Andrew,

        I heard the same thing…. yet it looks exactly the same. I will look into this as I have a new, in-the-box, pair of Sense Ultra for direct comparison.

      • outdoor kinetics says :

        Yea with you on the rock plate issue. I think that if it is going to cause me a problem it’d be on steep descents as I tend to land a bit further back. Thanks again for the awesome answers, i’d be interested to know your findings on the mesh issue.

    • Jari says :

      The difference between the mesh material can be seen here:

      Sense Ultra trail running shoes, SG and standard -versions

      The SG version looks a bit dirtier, because it has been in use for about two weeks. :) The “standard” Sense Ultra is brand new, from 2013 stock.

      • Robert says :

        Hi Jari,

        Thanks, it is a good side by side comparison.

        I have found that the Sense 3 Ultra SG mesh is very breathable and drains very well after crossing streams. I had concern that the mesh would not perform in this way but not so. Unlike the Fellcross, the Sense 3 Ultra SG does not hold water. The mesh also prevents small dirt particles from getting inside the shoe, at least so far in my experience.

  7. Jason says :

    Reblogged this on Must Love Jogs and commented:
    This goes well with my review of the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra!

  8. George Harris says :

    How is the run on the road? The reason I ask is that I run the road to get to the trail. The Fellraiser has worked well in this case. Just wondering your experience with the shoe on the road.

    • Robert says :

      Hi George,

      They run about the same as the Fellraiser and the Fellcross on the road; they are tolerable for a few miles at a time- like getting to the trails and back. I have a short (0.5 mi) road/paver section between my house and the dirt and the Sense 3 Ultra SGs have shown no adverse response to this- in fact, just like the Fellraiser and the Fellcross, the tall lugs give additional cushioning that you do not get with the Sense 3 Ultra.

      • George Harris says :

        Thanks for the response I was trying to figure out the dash pot comment. Great review. I ordered a pair today based on your review so will see how they work out.

      • Robert says :

        Hi George,

        Great! – hope they work out for you, I get the sense (no pun intended) that I will spending more time in the SGs than expected. Just put up the initial impressions review of the Sense 3 Ultras, if you are interested.

  9. Nate says :

    I was disappointed by the change to the lace pocket from the Sense Ultra, but for me pulling the pull tab the “S” logo is on opens the pocket enough even when the laces are tight. It’s a far less convenient design, but I feel like adding a pull tab to the lace cover was a fair concession. It works well enough, I guess.

    • Robert says :

      Hi Nate,

      The pull tab does help but I have found it difficult to grip in wet and/or cold conditions thereby making it difficult (and frustrating) to stow the laces. I will be giving a bit more time prior to taking a final position, but at this point I am not inclined to call it a “fair concession”. Perhaps I just need to get used to it and develop a strategy for getting the laces in there and secure. Time will tell.

  10. Ivo says :

    Any updates regarding the durability of the upper / outsole? I found a local shop with a nice discount on the Sense 3 Ultra SG + I have a -15% voucher so the price is very tempting ;) But still not what I would call “cheap” so I’m hesitating on which shoes to spend my money – inov-8 X-Talon or Sense 3 Ultra SG. The durability would be deciding factor for me.

    • Robert says :

      Hi Ivo,

      Sorry no update on the Sense 3 Ultra SG. We have had an historic dry period here in Idaho and the entire Western US (with the associated early wildfire season) so I have not been wearing the SGs at all. However, the Sense 3 Ultra uppers are holding up better than the Sense Ultra. I have about 1000 km on one pair and another 500 km on another pair and neither is showing the wear (holes, etc.) in the upper that the Sense Ultra exhibited at similar life points. The outsole is also quite durable- an update on the Sense 3 Ultra is coming when I finally wear out a pair.

      Based on what I have read I do not think that you can go wrong with either of your choices- both have generally good reviews although, as usual, no one has given any sort of a lifetime review w/r/t wear, durability, and consistency. Good luck making a choice.

      • Jari says :

        I have run about 570 km with my Sense 3 Ultra SG, since I bought them in Feb. 2014. No probs with upper or outsole durability whatsoever. Everything is just fine.

      • Robert says :

        Hi Jari,

        Thanks for the info and glad to hear that the SGs are holding up well!

  11. Ivo says :

    Thank you for the replies guys, much appreciated.

  12. Sarah says :

    Hello! After loving running and racing in the speed cross for a few years I decided to try the sense ultra sg this spring to see what all the fuss was about. 99% love them! When I first got them, however, my forefeet when totally numb after about 60 minutes during every run. Not good. I am a forefoot striker and I have never had this problem. The soles just felt too hard under foot. I added a thin insole from my old speed cross and I think my feet just adapted slowly. Trained and raced the Squamish 50mile ultra this August and they kept my feet very happy. Love the wide toe box which stopped my toes from overlapping and digging into each other. Loved the lower 4mm drop. Loved the super light weight feel. Loved the monster tread which seems even better than the speed cross. But…now that the fall has arrived they have met their match on wet rock! I can’t run on any wet rocks without hitting the deck! I’m like Bambi on ice! And…the mesh upper wore out and ripped on me. $160 and I’ve had them since June. Yes I’ve put on some big miles but… Anyways I’m trying to decide which model to go with next! Suggestions? Love them but want to be able to travel over wet rocks without having to go on hands and knees lol.

    • Robert says :

      Hi Sarah,

      You have found the single big flaw in the Sense 3 Ultra SG- wet rock! They are the least stable shoe I have ever worn on wet rock and rock leaden stream crossings (which as you know are typical here in the Northern Rockies). They are also treacherous on ice, as you can imagine.

      It is good that you like the shoe because the “regular” Sense 3 Ultra is exceedingly good on wet rock and transitioning to the “regular” Sense from the SG should be fairly transparent. The shoe construction is pretty much the same as with the SG except it has a lees aggressive tread. I have found that the Sense 3 Ultra tread is good in virtually all conditions except for deep mud. Even in mud it performs well but there are better choices (like the Sense 3 SG) if such conditions are common on your runs/races. It has been a dry year here in Idaho so I have not gotten out in the SGs as much as I expected to but we are coming into our fall rainy season so I hope to give them some more miles. I am glad to hear that you have found that they perform well.

      I will suggest that you try the Sense 3 Ultra (or Sense 4 Ultra when it arrives some time soon). The 3 should be on sale soon- just watch Running Warehouse, they have already had them for $128 earlier this year and I expect to see a clearance soon. The Sense 4 Ultra has a new tread pattern that looks like a slightly more aggressive version of the 3, but I have not seen the 4 personally yet. I put a couple of links to some pictures of the Sense 4 Ultra in the final review post for the Sense 3 Ultra, take a look.

      Good luck finding a suitable replacement for your SGs!

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