Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra – Update – problems fixed, now where?

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:

  1. simpler speed lacing design with a “bottom loading” lace pocket
  2. shape changes in the fused polymer overlay on the upper
  3. a higher heel counter height (about 5 mm on my US size 7.5 (EU 40 2/3)
  4. a more dense upper fabric- similar material to Sense Ultra, just knitted differently
  5. a shorter Pro-feel rock plate and significantly more flexible shoe
  6. slightly higher midsole support of the heel counter
  7. removal of lugs from the arch area of the outsole
  8. polymer overlays on all previously exposed EVA areas on the outsole
  9. 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.

L1020941

Salomon S Lab sense 3 Ultra after about 1200 km (700+ miles) in a 50/50 mix of rocky technical and smooth, buffed singletrack trail running. Uppers no longer show excessive wear at the outer forefoot.

Value

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.

Upper

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.

L1020942

Close up of the area where the Sense Ultras uppers wore out after about 900 km (550 miles). Salomon made the fused polymer overlay a bit taller and this seems to have solved the excessive wear issue.

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.

Slide1

Crack forming on the inside edge of the upper material- does not pose any issue but is nonetheless a defect.

Midsole

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.

Outsole

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.

L1020943

Outsole of Sense 3 Ultra after about 1200 km showing the expected similar wear characteristics. There is still plenty of grip, but the midsole has gone flat so this pair has been taken out of rotation.

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.

Comfort

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.

L1020947

Into the bin…. many enjoyable miles though!

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.

Bottom Line

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.

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11 thoughts on “Salomon S Lab Sense 3 Ultra – Update – problems fixed, now where?

    • Hi Fred,

      Thanks, I noticed that as I was looking for products when I started into the sport of Mountain Ultra Trail running a few years ago that although there were plenty of initial reviews about shoes (and generally how great they are) there were no follow-up reviews of exactly how the shoes performed or lasted. I read some of these reviews and bought a pair based on such and the shoes I choose fell apart within 150 miles of use. That is when I realized that some manufacturers seem to not do a particularly great job of testing their shoes in many conditions and at higher mileage- hard to believe but there are so many examples out there it seems to be the case. Likewise reviewers, many of whom receive complimentary product, do not follow up with life-span updates. Given that no one was doing this I decided to do a more complete review process with the Salomon shoes that I use (and some Hokas). I am glad that some are finding the reviews useful.

      I will not be reviewing the Fellcross 2 or 3 as I no longer use that line since the introduction of the Sense Soft Ground. I only have an initial review of the Sense 3 Soft Ground because I have not been using that shoe at all this season as we are in an historic drought in the northern Rockies and everything is very dry. Perhaps this fall I will have chance to put some miles on them.

      Thanks for the link to the Sense 4- I see that Salomon are also introducing a Sense 4 Soft Ground as well. The only obvious changes from the pictures is a new outsole tread pattern design (perhaps it sheds mud better?), but I would expect other changes (tweaks) as well once we can get our hands on the shoe.

      • Robert,

        You are exactly right! One can find a MILLION of reviews of the same given shoe but the review itself is out of the box with generally few or no use of the shoe and no update whatsoever. This is pointless to me as I extensively use my shoes in all conditions and am always trying to find the best shoe when it comes to comfort, grip, durability etc…..

        However, Salomon seems to be more responsive than other brands when it comes tom improvements. They seem to update the shoe in a better way and more rapidly than other brands that have some model getting really “old”

        Thanks for the note on the Fellcross. I am tempted to get the Sense 3 SG but I find the Fellcross to have a bit more cushion, protection and durability. However, I haven’t tried the Sense 3 SG.

        By the way, to add to the “Now where?”, I have been following Hardrock100 (and it seems that you did too since you posted a very funny pic of how Kilian sees the elevation profile), Kilian didn’t have the Sense 3 nor the 4 (I compared the pics of him and the pics of the “just-revealed” Sense 4 and it is different. The sole seemed to be looking like the Mantra sole. To be followed……

        Thanks again for all your reviews, I am always on the lookout of your posts!

        Fred

        PS : ANother example of the great job you do :
        When I read about the S-Lab Skin S-Belt, after your review I decided to pass. When I read about the S-Lab Skin M Belt, I was convinced and I am really happy about it!
        Are you using the S-Lab Skin Hydro Set 5l or 12l backpack by any chance ? I’d love to have your insight on that.

      • Hi Fred,

        Yes, I noted Kilian’s shoes as well- first hand; they are definitely some prototype, but the few times I have seen him at competitions over the past few years he is often in prototypes with some sort of “change-up”, many of which never make it to production. I am looking more for a revolutionary or near-revolutionary design direction. Salomon have recently done this in the cross country skiing boot market by making the entire boot out of carbon fiber reinforced composite material. The new boots are made in the same factory that Lamborghini structural parts are made. The word from the athletes that I have spoken to who have been using the prototypes and beta production is that the boot is much lighter, stiffer, more comfortable, and overall vastly superior to anything else out there. Not that trail shoes should necessarily have any functional use of carbon fiber (although the pro-feel film is carbon-fiber based), the possibility of cross-fertilization is something that few other trail shoe manufacturers have at their disposal. b/t/w the new Salomon cross country boots are US$900…. the prior top of the line was US$450. I like that Salomon do not let price stop them from bringing superior technology to market. In any case, the 2014-2015 allotment of the new boot is already sold out worldwide.

        As far as the S Lab Advanced Skin Hydro Set- I have the first (2011) generation of the 5 and the latest (SS 2014) generation of the 5. I never put up a review because I do not use it enough as I have found the belts to be sufficient for my needs as long as 12 hours in the mountains (provided I bring along a steripen) and even overnight if you are into minimalist camping. But, based on minimal use (a few hundred miles on each), the 2014 iteration is much superior to the already very good 2011 model. The fit of the 2014 is more comfortable (a tough thing to improve on given how comfortable the 2011 was), the zippers are now in the right places and the capacity is enhanced due to the extensive use of stretch mesh material. Also, I do not like bladders and the integration of the soft flasks is very well executed while still giving the option to use a bladder. I will be doing a 100 miler soon and plan to use the 2014 5 model so I might put up some analysis after that race.

        Give the Sense 3 SGs a good look as they are lighter than the Fellcross and provide rock protection. They will not protect as well as the Fellcross against rough plants like heath and heather (and sage, here in Idaho). I think that this is why the Fellcross is so popular in the UK even with the advent of the Sense SG- but that is just speculation.

  1. Hey
    Has the sizing changed at all through the ultra line? I have a pair of sense ultras (the original red and black ones) in a US mens 11, and want to get a pair of the sense ultra 4’s, would an 11 be okay, or is the sizing different?

    • Hi Ryland,

      Not that I have detected. But it is always best to try them on if you are particular. As I have mentioned here in the past, if you buy from Running Warehouse they have free two day shipping and free return shipping so other than a two day wait it is just like going to a running shop albeit one with a very large inventory. Order a range of sizes and keep the one that fits best. Not sure if Running Warehouse ships to Canada however.

  2. Hi there! I realize that this is an old review, but I’ve been shopping for a new pair of WP Salomons and have encountered the horrible redesign of the lace pocket that you describe. Have you found any current models that don’t have this problem (pinching off the pocket when the laces are tightened, rendering it useless)? Or, do you know what year they changed the design so I can look for old stock? Thanks!

    • Hi Christa,

      Yes, that is a bit of an old review. In the meantime I have figured out how to make the lace pocket work with little difficulty. What you do is lift up on the lace packet opening with one hand (index finger) and then pull up on the speed laces with your other hand. As you do this the laces will clear the lace pocket opening and you can let go of the pocket. Then just tighten the laces as usual and stuff the laces and the lace tensioner up into the lace packet. It took a couple weeks before I figured this out but it works great! Hope this helps.

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