Great gear can inspire you to go harder and further, and this is definitely the case with Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra trail running shoes; they inspire you to be a better runner (well me at least).
When I first unpacked these, I had a tingle of excitement in my throat – the running shoes looked perfect. Being somewhat of a gear junkie, I made sure to make a small ceremony out of my first run in them - the Salomon Sense Ultras were everything I expected them to be.
Salomon S-Lab 4 and 5 Trail Shoes Quick Review
For those unfamiliar with the model and not understanding my excitement – Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra shoes were developed together with the god of trail and mountain running – Kilian Jornet.
And these are the shoes that he and other mountain running royalty wear in the most challenging and technical of races in the world. Of course, many of them are Salomon-sponsored athletes, but Salomon trail running gear is definitely one of the best out there.
S-Lab is Salomon’s lightest, fastest and the highest end product line and the Sense Ultras are one of the fastest, most technical shoes they have to offer.
The pair I got was Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra shoes – they are the 4th iteration of the Sense Ultra shoe. Their 5th version is already out in the market.
The S-Lab 4's are almost the same as the 5's, but as with any advanced gear, Salomon has been tweaking its design for it to fit even more perfectly and perform better.
The Testing grounds
I tested these shoes running in wet Peak District (UK) trails, clocked three hundreds of miles with them in Spanish mountains – the dry and hot Costa Blanca limestone scrambles and grassy Pyrenees. Finally, I ran over a hundred kilometres with them over and around the Mount Teide – giant volcano in Tenerife, the Canary islands.
I tested these on short fast runs, technical scrambles, steep rocky downhills and long trail runs. Also, I clocked many kilometres in them on pavements and quite a few laps on track and basically used them on all types of surfaces in all possible conditions.
Best for dry and technical terrain
In short, these shoes definitely perform best in hot, dry and technical conditions. They have excellent grip and step specificity, when on dry loose paths and rock.
Their narrow profile and close fit, ensures precision of each step that is critical when dealing with steeper and more technical terrain. Minimalist cushioning allows you to feel the ground really well, and make the most precise of steps. However, this sensitivity might also lead to bruising and fatigue in your feet, if in very loose, sharp rocky terrain.
The Contagrip outsole is excellent when running downhill on rocky slabs, which is very impressive, but unfortunately, these shoes do not perform well in wet conditions. For the most part, they are okay, but you have to be careful not exert too much force in your jump on wet rock, especially if the tread on the sole is a bit worn out.
Not ideal for wet conditions
For wet ground running, better choose Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra SG shoes or their Speedcross models that contain massive prominent lugs.
One more reason, why these shoes are not suitable for wet and soft ground is that they are extremely breathable with mesh uppers. Running in wet conditions would make your feet wet immediately, which is not a problem in summer, but should be avoided in colder temperatures.
Salomon Sense Ultra are incredibly lightweight minimalist shoes. They weigh just above 200g (the 5th version is 220g, while the 4's are – 200g), which is just incredible! And believe it; you feel it immediately in your run.
Each step is effortless and very precise. It feels as if you have a protective grippy layer around your feet, but not quite a complete shoe. Running in these shoes, I did feel I could go faster and navigate more technical terrain with confidence and elegance.
Any shoe I’ve worn since feels like rather bulky.
The fit is phenomenal. Sense Ultras are designed to be worn without socks and its close, snug fit makes it possible.
The tongue of the shoe has also been improved since the last iteration, making these shoes even more “comfortably snug”. The toe box has a bit of room, which is great, as it allows your foot to be completely natural in its placement, better distribution of forces in your toes and a better overall technique.
Neither the downhills nor intense uphills made my foot move anywhere. The Sensfit mapping on the upper and Quicklace systems keep your feet perfectly in place, which is incredible, given how light, comfortable and un-constricted these shoes feel.
I find the Quicklace system to be better in the S-Lab models than their other running shoes, as the tip of the lace fits more securely in the lace pocket. I had a few situations, where my Quicklace loop fell out of the lace pocket in my Speedcross running shoes, but nothing like that ever happened in the Sense Ultra ones.
Running on pavement
Running on pavements was a bit unpleasant with them, possibly because I’m not very used to minimal-wear yet, but it forces me to use good running technique that I’m sure is contributing to building me into a stronger runner.
How about durability? I tested them on very harsh sharp limestone and volcanic rock trails, and yes, it completely destroyed the tread on the outsole. But I did clock over 500 km.
This is the distance you should be changing your running shoes after anyway. So it less durable than some of the heavy cushioned shoes, but I do not think it is a problem.
Some other considerations
Overall this is the perfect technical mountain running shoe, due to its lightness, fit and grip. Despite that, given its minimal foot support, I would not necessarily choose it for extremely long runs and I find it is best to alternate them with more supportive shoes, when running very frequently.
The minimalist heel-to-toe drop of 4mm will keep you on your toes, and you will need to be efficient in your running to make the best of your runs. Do note that minimalist shoes like S-Lab Sense Ultra require well developed foot, ankle and lower leg muscles and connective tissue and excellent technique.
If you are new to minimalist wear and long-distance running, give yourself time to adjust to the new profile and mind your running technique to avoid nasty injuries.
My favorite running shoe
Overall, I completely love these shoes. They are designed for technical mountain runners and trail racers, but even the most amateur of runners will appreciate the fun, fast feel, quick steps and just the effortless motion.