2018 Salomon S/Lab Ultra (S/Lab Sense Ultra 2)
Update 6/15/18: Ok, so I’ve gotten to spend some more time in the S/Lab Ultras and I have a few more thoughts. I had to make some modifications, but I think I’m going to be able to use them. Please see the end of this post to read the long-form version of this update.
Update 3/14/18: Road Trail Run just published a piece written by Estelle-Marie Kieffer sharing her initial impressions of the 2018 S/Lab Ultra. She too isn’t feeling the new design and had issues with comfort. Also, her impression was that V2 fits shorter and narrower than V1. That goes against my feelings after comparing a brand new V1 against the brand new V2. Partly what I think in happening is that the new sensifit wings just aren’t as accommodating as the old version. V1’s upper was more uniform, less rigid, and distributed pressure better. V2’s upper, because of the wings, is less uniform and ends up focusing pressure on a couple of small areas. Anyway… for less of me and more Estelle CLICK HERE.
UPDATE 3/9/18: Ok, I’ve been taking the Salomon S/Lab Ultra’s out every chance I get on short runs and playing around with lace tightness and trying to get some more miles on the shoes hoping the use will break them in a bit and alleviate some of the issues I had initially. After some more time I’m convinced that the Ultra is improved or at least equal to the Sense Ultra with the exception of the Sensifit Wings. Generally the materials feel very well made and are holding up well. I’ve been running through some pretty sloppy conditions here in the Northeast and the upper materials definitely doesn’t hold as much water as the old version. I’m still loving the new top loading lace garage. It does cause some increased friction which can make loosening the shoe a bit tough. However, I feel this is actually a good thing as it should help ensure the laces don’t loosen up on the run. The only things I’m still unsure of are the Wings and the new TPU insert under the midfoot. The wings continue to cause some undesirable pressure on the inside of my right foot. I’ve played around with the lace tightness and have been able to reduce the pressure somewhat. However, this has been at the expense of a nice secure fit. On non-technical cruiser trails this should be fine, but on the more technical trails here in the Northeast I worry that I’ll need to snug them up and that this again cause blisters. Also, the new Ultra feels a bit stiffer and clunkier than the old Sense Ultra. It’s hard to tell if this is because my old shoes have a ton of miles, and the new ones don’t… Of if it’s due to some material difference. On the cruiser trails I’ve been running on I don’t notice it unless I focus on it. But on road sections it feels a bit slappy and doesn’t have the nice transition the Sense Ultra had. Also, I worry about it’s precision on more technical rocky trails. I thought the old Sense Ultra ran great on every type of terrain. The new Ultra feels good in some situations, but doesn’t seem as versatile. In the end the new S/Lab Ultra is a good shoe for certain situations, but I don’t think it’s going to be as universally loved by the masses.
Shoe Type: Trail
The S/Lab Ultra is the follow up to Salomon’s incredibly popular S/Lab Sense Ultra from last year. Personally, last year’s Sense Ultra was my favorite trail running shoe of all time (review here). Because version 1 was such a hit I was surprised when I saw the early info about the new S/Lab Ultra. A lot of time and effort goes into getting a shoe ready for production and when you have something that works you’d think you’d want to ride that train for a bit longer. That said… You kind of have to give Salomon props for digging in and trying to improve a product that checked a lot of boxes and was so well received by so many people.
Also note that Salomon is creating a new line of shoes… The Ultra Line. This line will eventually include the Ultra Pro which will be a step below the S/Lab version looked at here. Last years version was officially called the S/Lab Sense Ultra. This year they dropped the “Sense” as the new version is no longer officially part of the “Sense” line, but part of the new “Ultra” line. The official name of version 2 is S/Lab Ultra (aka S/Lab Sense Ultra 2).
Just a heads up… This is not a full review. When I arrived at work today there was a box on my desk and inside was the new S/Lab Ultra (aka Sense Ultra 2). Because I so thoroughly enjoyed version 1 I couldn’t wait to try these out. This afternoon I stole away from work and went for a 45 minute spin around some local trails, dirt roads, paved roads, and a portion of the bike path. Then once I arrived back at home I grabbed a brand new pair of last years S/Lab Sense Ultras I had stashed away so that I could compare V2 to a V1 that didn’t have a ton of miles on it. What follows is just my very early impression from my limited time using this shoe.
First Impressions & Fit
In the V1 (s/lab sense ultra) I wore a size 10.5, and that is what I ordered for the new S/Lab Ultra (V2). There has been some chatter online about the new shoe being narrower and shorter than the old version. For me, when directly comparing the two models, my toes appear to fall exactly the same distance from the end on both shoes. As for width… when directly compared they feel very similar (I’m currently wearing one of each as I write this). When held up sole to sole… they look identical in width. If there is a difference it is very slight. Bottom Line… the 10.5 in V1 was perfect for me, and 10.5 is also the perfect size for me in V2.
First lets talk about the colors. Generally Salomon’s S/Lab shoes have always struck me as being quite stylish. I like their simple color schemes and the white, red, and black has always looked so good! So, I have no idea what happened with the S/Lab Ultra. I can confirm that it is just as ugly in person as all of the online photos suggest. It’s like they tried to do a red/black fade, but the printer ran out of ink and instead of black they ended up with this kind of dark, burnt purple-ish color. I’m not a fan.
As for the actual upper they are now using a fabric mesh that is finer/tighter and covered it in thin rubbery grid that more or less covers the entire outside of the shoe minus a small section over the toes. The combo feels very light and flexible, and I’m assuming the rubbery grid is to help improve abrasion resistance and increase durability. One other potential benefit of this new upper material combo is it should hold less water compared to the old upper. This should keep the wet weight of the shoe down, and help it dry faster.
Around the heel area you will also find some updated materials. The heel collar is slightly less puffy, and the fabric is smoother and more tightly woven. Heel hold is very good, and this part of the shoe disappears on your foot. You can’t really ask for more than that.
Lastly, I want to mention the new lace garage on the tongue. Previous versions of Salomon shoes stored the excess laces in a pocket on the tongue which was accessed from the underside. For me I never understood why they did this because when the shoe was tight the laces crossed over the opening to the pocket making it very difficult to insert the laces. It was annoying and something you had to deal with every time you put the shoes on. The new lace garage on the S/Lab Ultra is accessed from the top! For me this is probably the biggest and most significant improvement on this shoe. It’s wonderfully easy to use, and hopefully this new design finds its way onto each and every one of Salomon’s shoes that use the quick lace system. It is now 100% dialed.
Sensifit Wings… On the new Ultra there are now 4 wings on each shoe that supposedly provide increased fit customization and allow the shoe to adapt to the foot as it swells over the course of a long race or run. This sounds good, but during my run today I started to develop a hot spot directly under the front edge of one of the wings on my right foot. I really hope this breaks in and eventually goes away, but I’m not so sure it will. I definitely prefer the less structured upper of the previous version. V1 was comfortable and secure and never gave me problems even after 4-5 hours. Are the wings more secure… Maybe. Are they more adaptable… I’m not so sure. My understanding is that the wings, because they are not connected directly to the upper, should allow the foot and upper to move more freely and independently while maintaining security. However, there is friction between the wing and the upper. Maybe if Salomon if the wings weren’t “keyed” into the rubbery grid on the upper this might actually work. But it is, and because there is a slight ridge on either side of each wing keeping them from sliding freely over the upper it just doesn’t feel like things move with your body as well as it could. This is definitely a big problem for me and if it doesn’t get better as the shoes break-in these shoes will end up in the discard pile instead of the Best Shoes Of All Time pile.
Compared to V1 I don’t have a lot to add here. Salomon did add a TPU insert (the white material) under the forefoot. This should hold up better, increase protection, and provide more consistent cushioning during long runs… and over the life of the shoe. With only 45 minutes on the shoes I cannot confirm those claims. However, the shoes felt great on the trail and on the roads. I did feel like the transition from heel to toe was not as smooth as V1, but my other shoes have a lot of miles on them so my perception is probably skewed/biased. A few more miles to let things break in should help.
The outsole is made of Salomon’s Premium Wet Traction Contagrip. The lug depth, layout, and spacing all appear very similar to V1 with minor differences. Based on my experience with the previous version the sole provides great traction in a wide variety of conditions and holds up very well. It’s not amazing in thick mud, and wet tree roots or wet mud over ice will still put you on your arse.
The S/Lab Ultra’s ride is great. It’s firm and protective without being hard. It’s not jarring and it runs well on trails, dirt roads and asphalt. I didn’t think that it transitioned as nicely from heel to toe as the previous model… it did feel a bit clunky. However, I have very little time in this shoe, and I really can’t make too many judgements just yet.
I was really excited for this shoe. Last year’s Sense Ultra was such a great shoe for me and I had hoped that this version would be even better. The fit appears almost identical. The ride appears similar, but feels like some break in needs to happen. I think it’s ugly, and the external sensifit wings don’t seem to agree with my feet. These shoes aren’t cheap at $180. If someone asked me about V1 I would have said… Definitely buy a pair. It’s totally worth the money. With V2 I’m not feeling so confident. I think the wings are going to cause more issues than they solve, and no matter how good the rest of the shoe is… If they mess up your feet they’re not worth it. Like any shoe you should try them on before you buy them if possible, and I would try to find a place that will let you return them even after a run or two as foot compatibility with the new sensifit wings is going to be hard to suss out without actually taking them for a spin.
Stay tuned… I’m definitely going to put some more miles on the new Salomon S/Lab Ultras (sense ultra 2). I badly want to love this shoe, and hopefully the issues I’m currently having will be resolved after a little break in.
Update 6/15/18: It’s not June and I’ve continued to run in the S/Lab Ultras despite the fact that they don’t get a long very well with my right foot. My left foot… It’s loves the shoes. But my right foot just can’t seem to get along. Eventually, I figured the shoes had had enough time to break in and because the friction issue hadn’t resolved I decided to break out the xacto knife and started slowly reducing the size of the wing on the inside of the right foot.
I would remove a thin strip… go for a run… review… remove some more… go for a run… review. In the photo above you can see where I’m at. There’s really not much left to remove, but fortunately the material seems very substantial and I’m feeling pretty confident that what’s left should hold up long enough for me to get some use out of these buggers.
So, what the current status? Well, it appears that I may have solved my problem. I’ve now experience a few runs without any unwanted friction. One of the runs was a 2.5 hour effort on technical trails in the rain with a little over 3k of ascent and descent. At the end both of my feet were happy.
After running in a much wider variety of conditions I wanted to share a few more thoughts. In relation to the increased forefoot protection… I’m torn. My forefoot definitely feels better after longer outings on more technical trails in the new shoes. The old versions definitely were not as protective, but they were significantly more flexible. The new shoe does not flex as easily or as smoothly as the old version. Does this matter… Maybe… Maybe not. I’d say in most situations I’d probably prefer the increased protection. However, this stiffness also means that the shoe doesn’t conform to the terrain as well. This was very apparent on a recent outing on a very rocky and technical route in the rain. The new version just didn’t inspire confidence like the old version did. Maybe it was me, but this is a pretty regular route for me and I had quite a few more close calls and sketchy little slips than I’m used to, and I’m pretty sure that I can attribute those added moments to the generally increase stiffness of the S/Lab Ultra.
At this point in time I would not buy this shoe again. With the slight modification I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use this in certain situations and try to get my money’s worth out of the shoes. But, what I’d like to see Salomon do is bring back the S/Lab Sense Ultra with a forefoot insert similar to the one on the new S/Lab Ultra, but only 1/3 as thick. Or maybe they could go with a thicker insert that’s much narrower and right under the metatarsal heads. What made the first version so magical was the flexibility mixed with an increased stack height and minimal upper. Strip the new version down and get rid of everything that doesn’t need to be there. Start with the wings and then start reducing the insert until you have the perfect mix of protection and flexibility.
I’m kind of hoping the Ultra Pro which is set to be released in the fall will fix some of the issues I’ve been having. Word on the street is that the insert is less substantial and, while it still has the wings, the last is supposed to be more “forgiving”… aka higher volume/wider. I guess we’ll see. I’m going to pick up a pair as soon as they’re available because I need to find a replacement for the old S/Lab Sense Ultra. I have a couple of pair, but they aren’t going to last forever. Stay tuned!
If you’re interested in purchasing this shoe, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.
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