New Ultra makes perfect Sense
When the Salomon S-Lab Sense hit the market in 2012 it is fair to say that its status was quickly hailed a ‘landmark product’. With their stealth-like appearance, low profile and lightweight nature the Sense aren’t the weapon of choice for all.
However, the shoe quickly gained a legion of fans and followers across the globe after being sported by Mr.Jornet in almost all of his mountain and ultra trail exploits this last year or so.
Technically the S-Lab Sense is a 180gram (approx. for a size 9 UK), neutral shoe, sleek in design, looks and fit, super-comfortable on the run, with a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop (9 mm in the forefoot and 13 mm in the heel) for that natural running feel that so many desire in a race shoe in 2012.
I wrote a little review on the Sense when it landed and have to say that over the last 6 months the shoe has been a staple choice for me in a number of situations. I have been quite literally stunned by the shoes ability to handle rough terrain. Granted I am relatively light on my feet, and being a forefoot runner the shoe is ideally suited to my style.
Equally, the shoe has lasted a lot longer that I thought would be possible. I have conservatively estimated to have covered about 600km in the Sense, and much of that on rocky, rough trails, often in wet conditions.
If I can offer one real piece of insight into these shoes it is that they make you attack your run in a different way – and that is mentally. The sheer lightness of the shoe means that you feel nibble. You feel the terrain more, that is for sure, equally the Sense made me almost dance across rocks and do less ‘foot-planting’. The Endofit technology meant that I was also able to wear a very thin pair of socks, again this must have added to that nimble feel.
I suppose it was inevitable that Salomon would not miss a trick and the R and D boffins in France have identified that a family of Sense shoes (or at least Sense-influenced) would be the natural evolution. Hence the Sense Mantra, which is to be launched very soon, and perhaps a more obvious sibling, the S-Lab Sense Ultra.
One area where the Sense (original) could be found wanting was the grip. I don’t mean that in the fact that there wasn’t any, I allude to the fact that the grip on the outsole, was not full length.
This leads to two possible scenarios. Firstly, a lack of overall foot protection in the mid foot, and secondly the possibility that should you foot-plant in this area there could be a distinct lack of traction. I would like to add here though, that in my time running in the Sense I have never really experienced either of those two prospective issues in a big way.
So, its now December 2012 and ‘Enter the Ultra’.
When you first look at the Ultra it is to all intents and purposes an S-Lab Sense shoe, with a black rear instead of a white one, right? Wrong. Upon closer inspection there are differences. The main change is in the sole / outsole – an extension backward of the ProFeel Film and now with a full length grip (Dynamic Traction), and a slightly firmer EVA midsole. The OS tendon also extends further backwards on the Ultra.
The upper also has extended rubber on the toe-box, a little less mesh towards the rear of the shoe. This will result minimal increase in weight on the Sense, but an increase in durability to counter-balance. The last on which the Ultra is built is the very same as the Sense original and the heel to toe drop is still 4mm.
On the move I’ve been pretty hard on the Sense Ultra. I’ve probably clocked up 80km in the shoe and I don’t think one kilometre has been on predictable terrain. In fact I made it my mission to go to some of the gnarliest trails that I know, and not hold back.
We I first hit the trails in the Ultra I definitely noticed a more rigid feel to the shoe over the S-Lab Sense. To be expected as we now have a full-length outsole and that firmer EVA midsole, as well as that full-length ProFeel film and extended OS tendon. But after a while your style adapts and I think I quickly felt a little more ‘protected’ in the Ultras.
I have to say that I fell even more assured in this shoe when it comes to downhill on less predictable and wet terrain. I never really felt that bad in the Sense, but there was always the odd moment of hit and hope.
When it comes to that grip, I can honestly say that my mind has been changed on the amount that we really need in everyday situations. Granted, if I am on a fell, wet grass and proper mud conditions, a stud and aggressive outsole is all that will do. But, if it’s a trail, with rock, grit and even wet rock, the Sense leave me felling nothing but assured.
Again, I have to state that this shoe is not for all. It’s part of the natural movement style of shoe, so if you are used to lots of protection, stability control and a good wad of cushioning on your trail shoe, then this will be a whole new bag for you. But don’t be put off. If you want to experience a lower profile shoe, that is super-comfortable and almost feels an extension of your foot, then you should take that leap of faith.
Over time the Sense Ultra will gain that legion of fans that have become synonymous with classic Salomon shoes from the past, such as the XA Pro and Speed Cross. The Ultra will also be more accessible and more enticing to those who perhaps felt that the S-Lab Sense originals were that one step too far for them.
In conclusion, this is a very good shoe. I won’t yet level that tag of a great shoe, as I need a little more time to bed-in my latest trail running squeeze, but the early signs for the Ultra are very, very promising.
I suppose the biggest compliment I can offer the Sense Ultra at this early stage is that if someone had said to me a couple of years ago that I would be taking to the trails in a low profile, lower-grip level, lightweight shoe in the future, and conducting much of my trail running business in them, I wouldn’t have believed them. But there it is, it’s pretty much true, and the Ultra have only cemented that situation – mission complete!