Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Review – essentially the Sense Ultra in a new (old) colorway
I recently received a pair of the Second generation S Lab Sense Ultra- the S Lab Sense 3 Ultra. One could consider this shoe to be the third generation of the Sense, but in my mind the Sense Ultra was very different shoe than the original Sense.
I have provided a “box to bin” set of reviews of the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra trail running shoe in these posts:
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. The S Lab sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground, a mud and low shear terrain-specific Sense 3 Ultra variant, is reviewed separately here.
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, the Sense 2 and the Sense Ultra, have included refinements and significant improvements as noted above for the Ultra.
On first glance, the new S Lab Sense 3 Ultra does not appear to much different than the Sense Ultra- very similar uppers, the same outsole, the same OS Tendon, etc. But there are differences.
What is different from the Sense Ultra?
The S Lab Sense 3 Ultra has a specified weight by Salomon of 220 gms (size 8.5) compared to 210 grms (size 8.5) for the S Lab Sense Ultra. I weighed my S Lab Sense Ultras in size 7.5 (EU 40 2/3) at 210 gms and these S Lab Sense 3 Ultras at 212 gms. So these two models essentially weigh the same- hence not a lot to be seen as far as changes.
Closer inspection reveals numerous differences, some significant, some for reduced manufacturing costs, and some addressing issues from the S Lab Sense Ultra.
The upper construction has changed somewhat. First, the tongue no longer has a fused overlay with the brand insignia, instead the insignia is printed on the tongue fabric. This is probably a cost reduction change. Second, and what appears to be another manufacturing cost design change, the speed lacing no longer threads through the tongue with the elaborate lace pocket integration. 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. This construction detail is also on the Sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground- something I did not mention in my review of that shoe. 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.
Third, the “dog-leg” extended polymer overlay on the inside toe area has been reduced back to the that of the original Sense. This change was included in the Sense Ultra to presumably address issues with delamination of the overlay in this region. Perhaps Salomon have found a more reliable fusion method for the overlay in this high-strain region.
Fourth, the heel counter height is increased leading to a bit more of a structured feel in the cup. On my US 7.5 (EU 40 2/3) this height change is about 5 mm, which is a rather big difference when it comes to shoes. Only time and distance will tell if this has any positive or detrimental effects.
Finally, the mesh fabric of the upper appears to be changed ever so slightly. The mesh fabric has a more opaque appearance when compared to the Sense Ultra. Further inspection reveals that the fabric is the same but it seems to be knitted in a different 3-D pattern where the outer surface openings do not overlap the inner surface openings. This leads to the slightly more opaque appearance compared to the Sense Ultra where the openings are lined-up, presumably to allow for better ventilation and drainage. In the Sense 3 Ultra, the new fabric may have a lower particle permeability but with similar ventilation and drainage characteristics. This would be a good thing, particularly for those that run in fine dust- a common situation in the US Rocky Mountain West in the latter part of the summer season. However, the durability of this mesh fabric is not likely to be any better than the marginal durability exhibited by the fabric in the Sense Ultra. Time will tell, but at this point I would not expect any greater durability for the Sense 3 Ultra upper relative to the Sense Ultra.
The midsole still has the 13 mm to 9mm construction (4 mm drop) but there are changes in the details of the external support of the heel cup area. In the Sense 3 Ultra the external heel cup material comes up significantly higher than in the Sense Ultra. This might be providing a bit more support and structure and therefore stability under certain conditions. However, the running feel does not, at this point, seem at all different.
The “profeel” film rock-plate has also been shortened to allow for more flexibility at the arch. The Sense Ultra did not have much flex in this region and some runners complained about this when they switched from the original Sense. The longer rock-plate never bothered me in the Sense Ultra so I will be interested to evaluate the increased flexibility of the Sense 3 Ultra.
The “business part” of the outsole is essentially the same, meaning the lug pattern has not changed in the forefoot and heel, but the midfoot no longer has the thin, rectangular lugs. Rather this area is free from any lugs and is similar to the original Sense in this respect. Yet another detail to be aware of when evaluating the shoe.
The other significant change in the outsole is that Salomon have gone to great pains to cover up all exposed areas the midsole EVA foam. These areas were exposed on the Sense Ultra (and Sense and Sense 2). I never found these exposed EVA areas to be of concern but the outsole-to-EVA interface bond may have been susceptible to delamination of the outsole as was seen by some users, including me.
Initial Running Impressions
After minimal accumulations, we have finally started getting our more typical quantities of snow here in the central Idaho Mountains. With a total of two feet in the last week and another 8-14 inches in the next couple of days, my trail running has been curtailed to some extent so I do not have many miles on these shoes and these comments should be taken as very preliminary.
At a total of about 30 km (18 miles) on packed powder, some pavement, and areas of ice, I find that these shoes run very similar to the Sense Ultra- as expected. I have not felt any significant difference in feel with the shorter rock-plate or the more structured heel cup but I clearly need to get more miles on these shoes, on dirt and in mud before making any summarial comments.
$160 US. Still expensive but slowly coming down from the original $200US Sense of 2012. Looks as if Salomon have had a good look at savings on manufacturing costs to reduce the price. Hopefully there are no fatal tradeoffs.
A Sense Ultra with the original Sense colorway, some improvements, and, possibly, some new issues. Stay tuned.
If you prefer the red-black colorway you may be best served to find a couple of pairs of Sense Ultras on liquidation as I am not expecting a large performance difference between the two models.