I posted an initial review of the Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra in February and noted the changes from the Sense Ultra model from 2013 (final update here). To review, the primary changes between the two models are:
- simpler speed lacing design with a “bottom loading” lace pocket
- shape changes in the fused polymer overlay on the upper
- a higher heel counter height (about 5 mm on my US size 7.5 (EU 40 2/3)
- a more dense upper fabric- similar material to Sense Ultra, just knitted differently
- a shorter Pro-feel rock plate and significantly more flexible shoe
- slightly higher midsole support of the heel counter
- removal of lugs from the arch area of the outsole
- polymer overlays on all previously exposed EVA areas on the outsole
- lower price!
I would put all of these into the category of minor changes, “tweaks” if you will.
This morning I added a third pair of Sense 3 Ultras to my shoe rotation and quickly realized that after a little over 1200 km (about 750 miles) on pair # 1, they were done. Running in the the new pair emphasized exactly how worn out pair #1 is, particularly as it relates to cushioning. So the following is the postmortem, but suffice it to say that the Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra is a shoe that is likely going to be hard to improve upon.
These shoes have about 770 miles (1240 km) so at US$160/pair that gives a wear value of about $0.21/mile (US$0.125/km). This is about the same calculated cost per mile as that experienced with the Sense Ultra from 2013. I should point out however that I have taken this pair of Sense 3 Ultras out of service earlier than I did the Sense Ultras as I have become more attuned to final wear-out. I could have run in this pair for longer but I have come to the realization that one must navigate a balance between wear-out and insufficient cushioning. I am erring on the more cushioning side of that balance as I do not want to risk foot bruising due to two upcoming races, a 60 km with 10k of vert and a 100 miler with 22k of vert both in rocky, technical mountainous terrain. Still 750+ miles (1200+ km) is very good wear in my experience even at the $160 price point.
I retired the Sense Ultras because holes had developed in the upper fabric. The precursors to the holes were seen in the upper fabric as early as about 900 km (550 miles). On this pair of Sense 3 Ultras there is no evidence of wear or holes in the upper after 700+ miles. It would appear that the minor modifications to the height of the fused polymer overlay and the upper fabric in the Sense 3 have succeeded in fixing this significant problem with the 2013 Sense Ultras. Close examination of the Sense 3 Ultra uppers reveals that the upper fabric is likely to be durable for many additional miles.
I quickly figured out a technique for reliably tightening and stashing the laces in the new “bottom loading” lace pocket. This involves pulling up on the lace pocket tab prior to pulling the laces tight. This allows the laces to snug up on the tounge and leaves the lace pocket open to facilitate stowage. I was a bit concerned initially about this design but once you get used to it it works very well.
The higher heel counter did not bother me at all and this combined with the additional midsole heel support seems to provide more stability on steep downs, particularly long ones.
Although this has posed no issue from a running performance and/or comfort perspective, a new defect has appeared in the upper on both the left and right. This is a small crack in the material around the top at the ankle on the inside edge. I think the taller heel cup has changed the strain pattern in this area and the material is not tough enough to resist cracking. If the cushioning lasted longer, this might eventually lead to an issue.
As noted in the final update of the Sense Ultras, the midsole appears to reach a critical point with respect to cushioning somewhere around 1000 km (600 miles) for the type of use and terrain that I run on (about 50% rocky technical singletrack and 50% buffed singletrack). The same is true for the Sense 3 Ultras, as stated above. This may be an area where we might see Salomon come in with a different material that either lasts longer, is more cushioned, is lighter, maintains trail feel, or, hopefully, all of these.
The outsole of the Sense 3 Ultra shows very similar wear characteristics to that of the Sense Ultra. This is expected since there were no apparent changes in design or material in the heel and forefoot sections.
The shorter the rock plate and more flexible arch region of the Sense 3 Ultra gives substantially more trail feel without any adverse affects. Even with direct hits on sharp rock in this area, the Sense 3 Ultra still protected my foot, partly due to the fact that some of the strain was accommodated by the additional flexibility. Additionally, I noted no decrease in traction by removal of the lugs in the arch area. All of this represents a significant design improvement over the original Sense Ultra.
The S Lab Sense 3 Ultra remain a very comfortable shoe. This comfort is due, in part, to the additional flexibility offered in this latest model and is accomplished in such a fashion as to not affect trail performance. Of course the “endofit” inner sock is the feature that primarily gives this shoe its performance and comfort. The trail feel continues to be outstanding, the “slipper-like” fit is second to none, and traction is at the highest available level in anything but mud.
Where to now?
Salomon have refined and tweaked the Sense to what seems to be an optimal level. So the question that arises is- where do they go from here? Not sure, but if history is any indicator we might see something very innovative from Annecy come spring 2015…. I hope so! Perhaps we will see something at OR this week (not likely), in the meantime the Sense 3 Ultra is still in the line-up for FW14-15.
Salomon have tweaked the S Lab Sense Ultra to a shoe that is even better, particularly as it concerns trail feel and overall comfort. This is an accomplishment since the Sense Ultra was such a great shoe but the Sense 3 Ultra goes to another (albeit only slightly) higher level. So as before- only more so- a great, light weight, high durability, low drop, very comfortable shoe which can take on just about any terrain with confidence. Highly recommended.
Update 7 August 2014
Salomon are showing the Sense 4 Ultra and Sense 4 Ultra Soft Ground models for SS 2015 at OR Summer 2014 in Salt Lake. Based on the pictures, it appears that the outsole tread pattern has been changed significantly- perhaps to better shed mud? In any case it looks like we will not be seeing anything ground-breaking from Salomon in the Sense line for SS 2015.