Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Review – Update

I posted a ‘first impressions’ review of the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra when I received a pair in January 2013. Analysis of the changes that Salomon incorporated into the newest version of the Sense racing shoe indicated well thought out and responsive action by the company. Initial runs confirmed that the Sense Ultra was a superior shoe to the original Sense.

As of this writing I now have about 1200 km (700 miles) on a first pair of Sense Ultra shoes as well as about 500 km (300 miles) on a second pair. Both pairs are still in regular use and I can, without any hesitation, support all of the initial positive impressions outlined in the prior review and add that the durability of these shoes is remarkable.

Durability

One of the ever present comments about the Sense shoe (and other lightweight ‘minimalist’ shoes) is that many expected (and predicted) that the shoes would not last very long. My experience has been quite the opposite, both with the Sense and, now, with the Sense Ultra.

I had over 1200 km (700 miles) on a pair of Sense shoes last fall when they started to show signs of breakdown (lack of cushioning, tread delamination, etc.) whereupon I retired the shoes to road use only. This is very good durability in my experience.

It is apparent that the Sense Ultra are even more durable. I have over 1200 km (700 miles) on a pair that I still use on a daily basis with no apparent signs of breakdown other than a small hole that has just appeared in the upper mesh fabric near the connection with the mid sole. The cushioning is not noticeably changed (the Sense cushioning was essentially non-existent after equivalent use) and the outsole of the Sense Ultra is less worn down. All of this wear is on trails that are about 50% rocky technical and 50% buffed singletrack. I have also taken the shoes on a fair number of ‘off piste’ excursions across talus, through mature sage steppe, and on class 4 scrambles. In all cases the shoes held up well to the elements.

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Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra after over 1200 km (700 miles) of trail use. These shoes are so clean because prior to taking these photos they had just been through the washing machine.

After a similar number of kms (miles), the Sense shoe outsole had begun to peel away from the midsole but this is not the case for the S Lab Sense Ultra. In fact there appears to be no evidence for such peeling anywhere on the shoe.

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The outsole of the Sense Ultra is not exhibiting peels as was the case with the Sense after the same amount of use. Perhaps a more durable adhesive has been used.

Performance

The performance of the S Lab Sense Ultra has been outstanding. In addition to the training miles, I have used these shoes in a mountainous 50 mile (81 km) race, a mountainous 55 km race, and a fast 50 km TT. The race performance has been much better than the Sense, where I had difficulty racing more than 50 km in those shoes. The Sense Ultra, however, are good for at least 50 miles (81 km). This is due, in part, to the increased cushioning in the Sense Ultra. Although not entirely clear to me at this writing, it seems that Salomon have achieved the increased cushioning not through a thicker stack height (as the quoted stack heights for the Sense and Sense Ultra are the same) but rather via a higher durometer midsole construction. Whatever the origin, the cushioning is far superior and this cushioning has shown good durability as the 50 km race I used them in was after having put over 800 km (500 miles) on the shoes. My feet were comfortable for the entire race. Granted, I may be more acclimated to the pounding this year than I was last year but the performance is still very good for a shoe that has seen such wear.

The outsole has also worn well, as although there are clear worn spots in the expected areas, this wear is not excessive nor does it affect, in any significant way, the traction of the shoe on the trail. The lugs still lock up nicely on loose gravel and dirt and the polymer material is still quite grippy in wet conditions and stream crossings.

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Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra outsole after about 1200 km of trail use showing lug wear on the outside heel, forefoot, and the center part of the forefoot. I am a supinator so there is always more wear on the outside edges.

The fit and feel of the shoes has, from the outset, been consistent with the Sense ‘slipper-like’ design approach. Comfort, stability, and trail feel are all very good and continue to be, even with significant use. Although I initially started using the Sense Ultra as a part of a rotation with the Fellcross for training, I have since dropped the Fellcross out of the rotation and now use the Sense Ultra exclusively for both training and racing.

Issues

There is only one issue of note that I have become aware of and it has only just appeared now, after over 1200 km (700 miles) of use. The upper mesh fabric appears to be less durable than that used in the Sense, at least in my experience. This wear occurs on the outside portion of the upper where it attaches to the midsole via the polymer overlay.

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Excessive abrasive wear on the mesh fabric upper on the Sense Ultra at the interface with the polymer overlay structure. This progressed to a hole the day after I took this image after a 25 km run. The hole is now growing and may limit the life of the shoe.

After this image was taken, I went for a 25 km run and this ‘wear’ turned into a hole. This hole is now growing with every run and may limit the life of the shoe. Continued use will only tell what, if anything happens to the fit but certainly this will be a place for small gravel and dirt to make its way into the shoe.

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Excessive mesh fabric wear has now led to a hole in the shoe that is growing with each run.

Price

Salomon lowered the price on the Sense Ultra as compared to the Sense. They are lasting longer, have better cushioning, deeper lugs, and only weigh a bit more than the Sense. Sounds like all fronts are going in a positive direction. The shoes are well worth the cost.

Bottom Line

I can heartily recommend the Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra trail running shoe. It has exhibited exceptional wear, maintains a large fraction of its initial cushioning after significant use, continues to perform well in all types of terrain, and fits like a slipper with superior proprioception.

Update

I have posted a final update as of 3 Aug 2013.

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