Having run in Salomon products for years now, I was very interested to see the development at Salomon of lower drop trail shoes in the last year or so. Among these are the S Lab Fellcross (introduced last summer (2011)) and the S Lab Sense (introduced this past March (2012)). Both models have a 4 mm drop and help facilitate a fore-foot dominated stride.
Being a natural fore-foot striker, I switched from the Speedcross 2/3 to the Fellcross last August and have been training in them since. I always felt like the heel was getting in the way of my stride and, after using these lower drop shoes, I discovered that I was right. In addition to the low-drop, the Fellcross is very low to the ground with a 9mm heel and a 5mm fore-foot that yields very nice proprioception. The widely-spaced aggressive lugs give great traction in both soft and muddy conditions coincident with good mud release. As they were developed for Fell racing, the off-trail performance is also remarkable. These have become my basic training shoe and I have gotten quite good wear out of them. They are also light at 260 gms for my size US 7’s, comapred to 320 gms for the Speedcross equivalent. In this review I will compare the S Lab Fellcross with the S Lab Sense where appropriate.
I recently received a pair of the S Lab Sense and have had them on the trails for about 160 km (100 mi.). We have been fortunate here in the central Idaho mountains this year as the snow has subsided quickly and the trails have opened up early. This is an initial impression-level review that I will update as I gain more experience with the shoes. For an in-depth review of the technology and insight into the development of the S Lab Sense, I suggest that you take a look at the video of the on-line launch that Salomon did in late March (2012):
I will provide some personal first-hand impressions of the shoe as it performs on the trail. The Sense has a higher platform than the Fellcross (9mm/5mm) with a 13mm heel and a 9mm fore-foot. You can immediately feel the difference in cushioning when transitioning from the Fellcross and this is a welcome feature for an older runner like me.
The build is, as usual for Salomon, very high quality with numerous refinements that are indicative of the thought and significant testing that has gone into these shoes.
The shoes are incredibly light. These size US 7’s weighed in at 171 gms (6.0 oz). After running in the shoes I have come to the conclusion that weight matters, even in this “diminishing returns” super-light category. It will be interesting to see how they hold up, as I have heard some disappointing observations on durability by others with super lightweight trail shoes.
The fit is quite slipper-like and reminds me of racing flats albeit with true trail capabilities. The inner “sock” nicely snugs your foot and places it in the right position. The speed laces are appropriately placed and when pulled tight they bring the upper uniformly around your foot. Although a bit tight at first, within a mile of running the shoes were form fitting and very comfortable. I do not think that I have ever had a shoe that is more comfortable than the Sense; it just feels like an extension of your foot.
The upper is very flexible and breathes well. The toe cap does a good job of protecting; I nailed a couple of rocks and the shoe was not fazed. Also the mesh material that makes up the bulk of the upper drains very efficiently and I have had no issues with prolonged periods of water sloshing around inside the shoe.
The outsole is well engineered and has very good grip. I have had these out through dry soft track, dry hard pack, mud, sharp rock, scree fields, snow fields, wet rock crossings, and numerous stream crossings. They performed well in all conditions, although the Fellcross sheds mud a bit better (we have some tenacious clay here and there in the central Idaho mountains). The Sense grip wet rocks with authority and they drain very quickly, unlike the Fellcross which can be treacherous on wet rocks and they do not drain well. I have had no issues with gravel getting into the slots on the outsole. The rubber must be flexible enough to allow for release of the gravel as I am certain that there have been perfectly sized candidates on the trails that I have been running. The rock-plate insert works well and there is no substantial exposure to sharp rocks that I have experienced.
I have never run trails in any similarly super-lightweight shoes so I can offer no comparisons. However, I will say that these shoes are best described in one word: phenomenal. This is true on and off the trail. On the trail it is as if you are running barefoot with full protection and some additional cushioning. The proprioception is outstanding and you feel very stable and in control. You can take the downhills with confidence and surprise yourself with how fast you are going. Additional kms may uncover some deficiencies, but for the moment I am really satisfied with the performance of these shoes. Additionally, I ran in the Sense for a 20 km road loop and was pleasantly surprised at how well they rode. I have been using the Hoka Stinson B Evos on the road but the Sense, although obviously less “cushiony”, were just as pleasant.
$200, yes, $200. Well, we will have to see how durable the Sense are as $200 is well above the price of anything except the Hokas, which are still less than these shoes. There is quite a bit of technology and they ride outstandingly, so there may be a price to pay for that combination. Only time on the trails will tell, but in the meantime I will be enjoying these shoes regularly.
Phenomenal but pricey…