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:

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. The S Lab sense 3 Ultra Soft Ground, a mud and low shear terrain-specific Sense 3 Ultra variant, is reviewed separately here.

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, 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.

L1020817

The Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra. There are not a lot of obvious changes compared to the S Lab Sense Ultra of 2013.

Upper

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.

L1020821

The S Lab Sense 3 Ultra from above- notice that the laces are no longer integrated with the lace pocket near the termination of the tongue. This makes use of the lace pocket almost impossible.

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.

L1020823

A closer look at the mesh fabric of the upper on the S Lab Sense 3 Ultra. This fabric might be less permeable to dirt particles, but it does not appear to be any more durable than the marginally durable mesh fabric utilized in the Sense Ultra of 2013.

 

Midsole

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.

L1020820

The Salomon Sense 3 Ultra outsole. The “pro-feel film” (rock-plate) has been shortened, the lugs in the mid-foot area have been eliminated, and all areas of EVA midsole have been covered. Everything else is the same as the Sense Ultra.

Outsole

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.

Price

$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.

Bottom Line

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.

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22 responses to “Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra Review – essentially the Sense Ultra in a new (old) colorway”

  1. Jeff Dinkin says :

    Thanks for the another solid preliminary review!

    I’m disappointed Salomon went back to the Red/White color scheme. I’m also disappointed with the lacing changes, the elimination of the extended rock plate, and the removal of the mid-foot lugs. This version won’t be replacing my Sense Ultra. Fortunately, I have a few extra pair, new in the box – to last me a while. The Sense Ultra SG is a fine shoe, though. I only wish we got more rain in SoCal – so I’d be able to break those out and use them more…..

    • Robert says :

      Hi Jeff,

      Agreed, I prefer the red/black colorway too. On-going evaluations will include the impact of the increased flexibility of the Sense 3 Ultra. Long term you could shave down the lugs on the SGs and use them in your dry climate….

      Then again, with climate change perhaps your area will become wet? but not likely in our lifetimes!

      Best of training to you!

  2. Charles says :

    Hello,

    I have a question related to the width of the outsole. Is it more similar to the original sense (wider) or former ultras (narrow)?

  3. outdoor kinetics says :

    Hi Robert, Nice review! Agree with you about the speed lacing. It is still usable but it’s more of a hassle than it should be. Would be a nightmare if you were doing a transition during an off-road triathlon for example. I like the extra flexibility offered by the short rock plate (compared to the softground) but putting that aside, it’s hard to see why you would opt for the Sense 3 Ultra if you can obtain the 2013 red/black Ultra at a good price……….

    • Robert says :

      Hi Andrew,

      Agreed on the Sense Ultra vs the Sense 3 Ultra…. stock of the Sense Ultra here in the US is getting slim, particularly in popular sizes. The Sense Ultra is such a good shoe I bought a couple of pairs on liquidation last fall. But based on my experience with the original Sense, the added flexibilty of the Sense 3 Ultra should give a better trail feel and better traction in dicey conditions. So there may be some advantages to the Sense 3 Ultra for some.

      Hopefully they fix the speedlace issue on the next iteration.

  4. Toto says :

    What about the new lace holes on the sides? I noticed they are the same as the Fellcross.
    Are they more confortable/durable?

    Yhanks again for yoyr in depths reviews

    • Robert says :

      Hi Fred,

      Although the uppermost lace holes are in a similar position on the Sense 3 Ultra and the Fellcross, the Fellcross has a lace pocket that begins above the uppermost lace criss-cross and it is therefore easily accessible. In the Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra SG the lace pocket is underneath the uppermost lace criss-cross thereby making access almost impossible, depending on how much one tightens the laces down. I see this as a design flaw that Salomon will hopefully fix.

      • toto says :

        Sorry, I don’t think I was clear enough.
        I was talking about the laceholes but not the ones near the lace pocket. I meant to say that the lace holes are different that the S-Lab Sense 1 & 2 by the fact that they are “integrated in the shoe and not going through a piece of mesh sewed onto the shoe.

      • Robert says :

        Fred,

        OK… not sure at this point- time will tell.

  5. toto says :

    by the way, I don’t think that you are reviewing the S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra. I think those are the S-Lab Sense 3 (see runningwarehouse.com)
    Therefore, that’s normal that the color white/red is such
    The S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra will come soon
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  6. andrejs says :

    I’m not crazy about the White/Red color scheme either, but it’s growing on me. It’s not so white after a while anyway :)

    My main concern with the previous model was how fast the mesh developed holes. I’m surprised at how many miles you got out of yours – I couldn’t get more than 300-330mi on mine. I had a replacement pair under warranty, but still. Barely over 600miles on 2 pricey pairs.

    So far though, these new Sense 3’s are holding up fairly well for me. I must say, the outsole is holding up much better than the previous shoe model. I don’t know if my running style changed that much (highly doubt it) and normally by 50 miles I started to see some signs of wear but so far the news ones still look new. The mesh though – is what I’m eager to find out about! I’ll update with how the wear happens for me.

    That said, it’s still the only shoe I’ve ever tried that gives me zero blisters and is a perfect fit!

  7. ivo says :

    Regarding the durability of the upper. This hole developing “disease” seems to be quite similar to what I’m experiencing (and many other users out there, it seems) with my inov-8 trailroc shoes. The mesh also seems similar. What I’ve found to be a great solution is using a urethane glue to repair the holes. Even better if you apply the glue as soon as you see the mesh starts fraying. The glue I’m using is “Aquasure” by McNett, others also use their “Freesole” but it’s unavailable where I live. After it dries up it forms a transparent, very scratch resistant and rubbery coat which seems to resolve the issue. If not completely then at least it very much increases the lifespan of the shoe. Give it a try.

    • Robert says :

      Hi Ivo,

      Thanks for the comment. I have not had any holes develop in the Sense 3 Ultra yet (I only have about 400 miles on them) but I can see that some might develop.

      So far once the holes develop in the Sense Ultra, to the point of allowing particles in, I am ready to retire the shoe (usually the holes start at about 500 miles (800 km) and by 700 miles (1100 km) are big enough to be annoying and the tread begins to slip on standard technical terrain). But for those who develop holes earlier, your solution is a good one to consider.

  8. Michael Burke says :

    Great review. I have a few pairs of Ultra 2’s and after one got some bad holes in the mesh, Salomon sent me a pair of these 3’s. At first I wasn’t happy with the white but tried them on and kind of liked it. I initially felt better running in these but at the end of the first run had some serious blister issues. Going back a bit.. with my Ultra 2’s.. I had always used socks until one time I forgot to bring socks with me. I figured well.. they are designed to be worn without socks – so I’ll try it. Long story short.. I never went back. Have been running in my 2’s without socks, decent distances with zero issues. I grew to prefer it. So first run in the 3’s.. I did that. Big mistake. After 10 miles, the higher heel cup DESTROYED my feet. 3 miles of pain. So the next run in them, I wore socks. SAME issue. I was running in a decent amount of dirt and sand and sand got stuck in between socks and shoes by the heels and just ground right in. It’s horrible. I don’t understand why Salomon ruined a good thing. The height of the heel cup was PERFECT. This makes this shoe unwearable for me. I guess I could wear higher socks.. but that’s just not my thing, and I shouldn’t have to compensate like that for a shitty design. I guess I’ll have to grab some more 2’s while (and if) I still can. I’ll definitely be calling Salomon about this, this week though. Some of the design changes are just BAD.

    Has anyone else had issues with them raising the height of the heel cup?

    • Robert says :

      Hi Michael,

      I think you are referring to the Sense Ultra, not Sense Ultra 2, as there was never any such model. There was a Sense 2 but it was only in the lineup for about 3 months last fall. So I will assume you are comparing to the original Sense Ultra (MY 2013).

      Yes, the slightly higher heel cup could be an issue for some. On my US 7.5 (EU 40 2/3) the heel cup is 5 mm taller, which is quite a bit when it comes to shoes. However, I have not had any issues with chaffing or discomfort, but I do wear socks that come up beyond the top of the heel counter. Not sure why the cup is higher than the original Sense Ultra but it is likely due to feedback from athletes and may have to do with additional stability and support for the ankle and Achilles, but that is purely conjecture. Thanks for bringing this up as others may want to be aware of the change when they are considering this shoe.

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