Salomon Sense Pro Max – an Improved Pro Pulse and a Trail-Worthy Cushioned Option

In August of 2015, Salomon introduced their first truly “cushioned” shoe, the Sense Pro Pulse. I reviewed that shoe and summarized it as follows:

"Salomon fit with Hoka Clifton cushioning at Stinson weight. 
Life is compromise!"

Lamenting the 335 gm weight of the Pro Pulse did not prevent me from using the shoe extensively in hill bounding and other higher impact activities as I worked through an intensive cross country ski training regimen last Summer and Fall. Shoe fit is key in successfully executing upon this type of “agility+power” workout and the Salomon fit technologies (EndoFit, SensiFit, and QuickLace) make all the difference. Other cushioned shoes that I have tried have marginal-to-bad fit and this combined with the large stack heights make the shoes a dangerous choice for these workouts that require significant off-axis force vector stability. I found the Pro Pulse to have sufficient grip for the mostly steep (20-30% grade) and super steep (>40% grade) “dirt roads” that made up the staple of the hill bounding workouts. I also found that the cushion was essential for my 60 yo connective tissue to accommodate an elite-level of training stimulus in cross country skiing-specific sessions that include significant high impact repetitions (e.g. hill bounding, plyos, and other “agility+power” exercises). The Sense Pro Pulse shoes were “enabling” for my ski training schedule.

I was pleased to see Salomon announce the Sense Pro Max as a Pro Pulse replacement last summer with a shoe that is slightly lighter (276 gms for my US 7.5/ EU 40 2/3 or 18% lighter than the Pro Pulse) but with a much more aggressive outsole and some new dampening technology that will be described below.

I received a pair of Sense Pro Max in early February and have put only about 20 miles (30 km) on them- we are currently in the middle of an epic snow year (20+ feet and counting) and my current focus is on competing at the World Masters Cross Country Skiing Championships in early March (see elsewhere on this blog). But I did want to try these shoes out and get a better understanding of the design approach and execution. What follows is a “first impression” look at the Pro Max and I will follow-up with updates as usual.

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Salomon Sense Pro Max includes new midsole dampening technology called “Vibe” that utilizes “Opal” dampening inserts placed in the forefoot and heel in cavities in the Energy Cell+ EVA midsole material.

construction

The Sense Pro Max has a much reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse model that it is replacing. Although the forefoot still has a significant upward curve, the midfoot to heel is nearly flat to the ground. It is not clear why Salomon have made this change but I will assume it was based on testing by and input from their athletes.

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The Salomon Sense Pro Max has a reduced “rocker” profile when compared to the Sense Pro Pulse that it replaces. This profile is in contrast to many other highly cushioned shoes most of which have a very prominent “rocker” profile.

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The Sense Pro Pulse from 2015 had a very prominent “rocker” profile typical of highly cushioned shoes.

All of the Salomon fit technologies are present including Endofit (a separate inner sock-like element engaging the foot), Sensifit (outer polymer overlays integrated with the QuickLace system), and the QuickLace system. The tongue is minimally cushioned.

The shoe is quite flexible for such a cushioned construction but still includes the Salomon ProFeel film technology that provides protection from rocks, etc. Salomon have figured out how to design with the ProFeel film and yet yield flexible constructions that still give significant rock protection along with better trail/road proprioception. Such improved proprioception is one of the factors that distinguish the Pro Max (and the previous Pro Pulse model) from many other highly cushioned shoes.

As mentioned above, my size US 7.5 (40 2/3 EUR) weigh in at 276 gms (9.7 oz) which is getting close to the weight range for a racing shoe. This shoe is not a Salomon racing product as it is intended for general training and trail running. Note: It appears that Salomon have dropped the “CityTrail” concept that the Pro Max predecessor was part of but was never well explained by the company. The Pro Pulse was a part of the “City Trail” group but the Pro Max has a much more aggresive outsole more intended for rougher trail use.

midsole

The Sense Pro Max midsole has a number of new technology features, the most prominent being two dampening elements that are inserted into the midsole at the forefoot and heel. The primary midsole material is Energy Cell+, a dual density EVA that is compression molded in a way that achieves firmness in some sections and a softer feel in others. The new dampening elements are called “Opal” and these (approximately 75mm X 100mm X 15mm thick- forefoot and 50mm X 50mm X 15mm thick- heel) “pucks” are inserted in cavities in the top of the midsole at the interface with the footbed. Here’s how Salomon describes the Opal material:

Opal is a cushioning compound that is inserted into the midsole that
provides a soft and comfortable underfoot ride with the benefit of
high-rebound. Cushioned and bouncy, the best of both worlds. In 
addition, Opal is extremely lightweight, durable and maintains its
performance in extreme temperatures.

Looking into this a bit more, it appears that the Salomon Opal material is a low density open cell foamed polypropylene (PP) with the possible addition of butyl rubber.  The known high mechanical dampening properties of certain PP compositions combined with significant open cell void space seems to allow for a unique combination of properties for use in running shoes.

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The Salomon “Vibe” dampening technology includes a proprietary midsole insert material called “Opal” that is claimed to reduce mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner.

The combination of the Energy Cell EVA and the Opal inserts makes up what Salomon call the “Vibe” technology that is being used in a number of 2017 Salomon models. It is claimed that this technology significantly reduces mechanical vibrations imparted to the runner during footstrike. These vibrations are thought to reduce the efficiency of running, increase muscle fatigue, and lead to connective tissue and muscle damage. Sounds like another “Holy Grail” of technology that is able to mitigate the most detrimental mechanical forces and impulses in running- we shall see.

The other models that offer the Vibe approach are in the road-specific shoe line and include the S Lab Sonic 2, Sonic Pro 2, and Sonic. The Vibe technology and initial impressions reviews of the road shoes is nicely summarized here and more specifically, here. I will not be reviewing or using any of these road shoes as they all have traditional laces- something that I have no interest in putting up with particularly when the speed laces work so well, are lighter, are less prone to absorption of moisture, and make putting on and taking off the shoes quick and easy.

Of course the Pro Max is a highly cushioned shoe (at least for Salomon) and the stack heights are the same as were extant in the Pro Pulse and consist of a 30 mm (heel), 24 mm (forefoot) stack with a 6mm drop. Add about 3mm to total stack heights to include the outsole.

Upper

The upper is a very breathable (maybe too breathable) 3-D knit mesh. The entire upper is quite cool and drains water well as I found out whist running during a brief melt-out and the trails, roads, and walkways were flooded with up to 6″ of water. I expect that this material dries fairly quickly, at least in the low humidity conditions typical here in the Northern Rocky Mountains, but only testing will tell. The upper mesh seems like it may be too “open” and allow significant fine dust to accumulate inside the shoe. This will be obvious once I out some miles on these on dry dirt- stay tuned.

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The toe bumper looks to be sufficient for rocky trail running and the polymer toe overlay looks thin but needs to tested to see how well it protects.

The ankle cup is symmetric and there is a stiff structure around the ankle cup and heel. A solid polymer element is integrated into the back of the heel. A continuous, but very minimal polymer overlayer stretches across the toe area and a reasonable toe bumper sufficient for trail use are present.

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The typical Salomon rigid construction and symmetric heel cup are utilized on the Pro max.

outsole

Other than the new Opal dampening technology, the other big change in the Pro Max relative to the Pro Pulse is the outsole. Salomon have totally redesgned the outsole and made it much more aggressive and suitable to a wide variety of trail types. The aggressive outsole will, however, limit the amount of running you might want to do on roads with this shoe.

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Perhaps the biggest change in this shoe from the Pro Pusle is the much more aggressive outsole that is clearly intended for use on rugged and rocky tails.

The mostly diamond-shaped lugs include isolated elements as well as overlapping “echelon” groupings. I have only had this shoe on snow, wet snow, and wet pavement so mud performance will be documented in an update after I get more miles in the dirt and muddy trails.
Salomon have narrowed the outsole planting width at both the forefoot and the heel when compared to the Pro Pulse. In size 7.5 US/ 40 2/3 EU, the Pro Max is 103 mm at the forefoot and 93 mm at the heel whereas the Pro Pulse was 105 mm and 95 mm. The Pro max also looks and feels narrower although it did not affect the comfort for me. The shoe is very comfortable.
The outsole composition is the “Wet Grip” ContraGrip material that Salomon started using in the S Lab XA Alpine shoes introduced over the summer. This material has very good grip in wet conditions on hard surfaces, submerged algae-covered rocks and logs, and on snow and ice.
running performance

With very limited miles my first impressions of this shoe are mixed. They definitely feel nicely cushioned and the fit technologies give a very good sense of control on firm and loose surfaces even with the large stack heights. The more aggressive outsole is a welcome addition as the grip on the snow, wet snow, and wet pavement that I have been on is much superior to the Pro Pulse and more in line with the S Lab Sense Ultra and S Lab XA Alpine shoes. These shoes look to be a Pro Pulse that is fully intended for rugged trail use.

I have not noticed any reduction in mechanical vibrations compared to the Pro Pulse or even the S Lab Sense Ultra but, with such limited miles, I will defer any assessment at this point.

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The lower weight is also noticeable right away and will be a nice feature for the hillbounding sessions that I intend to do with these shoes. The exaggerated above ground movements of the foot in hillbounding can be highly affected by an overly heavy shoe. The Pro Pulse was right on the edge of being too heavy so the Pro Max should work out well.

On the downside, I can very much feel the “Opal” inserts under the forefoot and they give a sort of uneven, disconcerting feel during footstrike. Perhaps with use this will fade away but right now it detracts from the running experience.

I’ll be putting more miles on these but probably not in the near future as we will likely be skiing well into May this year. An update will come a bit later than usual.

price

$150US. In line with other highly cushioned trail shoe offerings, but this one has great fit, good proprioception, and some new (unproven) dampening technology. All of which is likely worth the minimal added cost.

bottom line

A premium fit, trail-worthy, highly cushioned, “almost-racing-weight” trail shoe with dampening technology from Salomon.

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4 thoughts on “Salomon Sense Pro Max – an Improved Pro Pulse and a Trail-Worthy Cushioned Option

  1. Such a detailed first impressions such an overlooked model, sad news I won’t get to read your take on the 2nd gen Sonics, just read RoadTrailRun’s take and the score seems convincing. Even though it still comes with traditional laces, keeping my fingers crossed that the Vibe/Opal and redesigned outsole translates to an improvement over its predecessor though.

    • Hi VH,

      Yes, I hoped that Salomon would get off the “roadie” traditional lace thing but it’s not happening. RTR’s take is encouraging, perhaps enough to try a pair anyway. Still uncertain about the Opal inserts but time will tell.

  2. Thank you for one of the most detailed reviews I have ever seen. I usually train in the mud on speedcross 3s and find that a lot of the ultras that I run in the summer tend to be much harder ground for which my feet are not always ready. Last year for UTMB i tried the salomon wings pro 2 – they felt like heaven and i had a (for me) good race (i am no champion). Yesterday, however, I did a relatively short but very rocky and hard underfoot 80k race and came out in quite a bit of pain. Just found out about the shoes you reviewed here and am thrilled that salomon is finally offering a true support shoe. I will try it on this weekend’s rocky 100k and i think for us non-champions it may indeed be a race shoe. however, i’m still a bit concerned that salomon is not too keen what some of us middle to back of the pack people – that is – the majority of their customers perhaps – are doing. As we get tired, we kick a lot of rocks. We need serious toe protection and I hope this shoe has it.

    Also – while your review is great, you mentioned you wear a relatively small size shoe. Which I’m guesisng makes you the sort of thin and fit runner that some of us are really jealous of, but perhaps not the best to comment on an impact shoe which might be better suited for those of us with larger appetites. If i manage to use the shoe this weekend i’ll try to let you know how it went.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Tim,

      Yes, I am “light” (128 lbs) and shorter (5’7″) and I have tried to let readers know this, particularly as it concerns my experience with the higher cushion shoes. The Sense Pro Max is definitely a cushioned shoe, so my experience with the shoe may differ from a heavier runner.

      I think the toe protection is good on the Pro Max, but I do not have a lot of experience with the shoe yet- I have been running and racing exclusively in the S Lab Sense Ultra. The Ultra is providing good protection at the toe. And a plush ride that has allowed me to push the downhills a bit more than I have been in the S Lab Sense and S Lab X-Series/Sonic. I consider the Sense Ultra to be a “sweet spot” shoe providing a cushioned ride with great proprioception and a precise, snug fit needed for high speed trail running and racing. I recently managed to run a 3 mile rocky and technical mountain downhill in a race at sub 6 pace without any issues- nearly 45sec/mile faster than this 61 y/o body has been able to attain in the past and I attribute most of this time improvement to the Sense Ultra shoe. I will be using the Pro Max extensively when I start transitioning to cross country skiing training in August with a bunch of hill bounding with poles and other more explosive power-type workouts that have higher impact forces. I plan to do an update on the Pro Max sometime in September.

      Depending on your foot shape, you may want to wait until the Sense Ride is available in July. The Sense Ride is a Pro Max-like construction (including the Vibe Technology) with a more generous fit and a lower price tag ($120 US). The fit in the Ride will not be as snug and precise as in the Pro Max and the “rocker” Premium Wet Traction outsole is very much on par with the shape and width of highly cushioned Hoka offerings. The Ride is Salomon’s first real attempt to attract runners who choose a Hoka-like shoe- usually mid-to-back of the pack runners with relatively large frames (or overweight or both).

      Let us know what you find with the Pro Max if you decide to purchase a pair!

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