My first pair of sense shoes I was given as a present from my wife in March of last year- the Salomon Sense Ultra, a few days before we went to the Alps for a week. I don’t ski, but used these every day climbing the hiking trail to the east of Les Contamines and up towards Dome de Miage.
Despite it being completely snow packed and mainly used by cross country skiers and snow-shoers, the grip these shoes offered was superb. Combined with being lightweight and highly breathable I spent many happy hours out exploring, climbing and descending the beautiful and well marked trail systems there.
Following this trip, I used them for my Western States qualifying race, the NDW50 in May of last year and they helped me take exactly an hour and a half off my previous years’ time- and qualify.
I then used them for hundreds of training runs and still use them now. The soles are still well lugged, despite many of my runs having long stretches of pavement and road as well as cross country. Along with the Pearl Izumi Trail N1, they were my joint favourite shoe of 2013.
So, when I was given the opportunity to test the all new Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra, I jumped at the chance.
As the name suggests, these are the third generation of the original sense shoe which was developed in partnership with Kilian Jornet as he returned to try and win Western States in 2011, having fallen apart but still coming third in 2010 (as well documented in the amazing film Unbreakable by JB Benna).
You can explore and see all of the technical spec on the shoe here (and also buy them direct from Salomon): http://www.salomon.com/others/product/s-lab-sense-3-ultra.html
As usual, I want to focus on how these shoes feel as opposed to their data which you can find on the above link.
Immediately out of the box, as with previous incarnations, the first thing I noticed was just how light they are as a shoe. At the same time, they have been beefed up in certain places to offer even more protection. The toe guards are stronger compared with the Sense Ultra and having stubbed my toes numerous times on roots and rocks since using these I haven’t had one bruise or lost confidence.
The grip from the multi-lugged soles is very good, despite them being much thinner than many comparable trail shoes. For such soft feeling rubber, they do not ware down quickly and so this shoe does transition very well from road to trail, which is key for me and lots of runners I know who live in towns and cities.
At their heart these are a summer shoe designed for warm to hot conditions and whilst the lugs offer good grip on dry to lightly mudded trails, they are not a wet weather shoe and do slip in thick mud. If you are looking for a shoe for mud, you’d be much better off with the fellcross or speedcross by Salomon. However, the chances are you are reading this because you are looking for a shoe for summer 2014.
The one area my sense ultras have suffered from are rips and tears to the mesh to the sides of the shoe. These are designed to be highly breathable and allow water to escape after stream crossings or having run through puddles. Salomon have incorporated stronger mesh here on the Sense 3’s and whilst early days this does seem to be a big improvement whilst not losing anything in terms of breathability.
When Kilian gave the Salomon designers a brief for these shoes, he wanted to make sure you could wear the sense with or without socks. Whilst I tend to run in Drymax socks, the sense 3 still embodies this belief and they are lined in such a way that you can run in them barefoot if you wish. My only caution here is that whilst the mesh is highly breathable I have once or twice had to empty small stones and sediment which don’t cause an issue wearing socks but could cause blisters if you are barefoot within the shoe.
The soles feature a 13mm stack at the heel, dropping to 9mm at the toe and this 4mm drop is still my favourite level in any shoe I own. The heel seems more padded than in the sense ultra and it seems to have been refined for the more average runner, such as myself, to go the distance and not just the elite front runners with perfect strides.
At RRP £130, these are a relatively expensive shoe but with all Salomon products you get what you pay for. These are hard wearing and will go the distance. The mesh across the toes is very soft and supple and whilst I have had problems on the sensitive skin on the top of my toes from rubbing on other shoes, I have never had an issue with the sense line.
In summary, a supremely comfortable shoe with more protection and beefed up areas than the previous version. The only reason I wouldn’t consider these for any race is if the ground is saturated. Aside from this, I expect to start most of my races this season in the S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra.