Could this finally be the ultimate long distance trail shoe? Project Ultra’s, Tim Major, intends to find out
Surrounded by a sea of trail running shoe options, I’ve always felt a bit like Bono. No, I don’t have a sudden urge to pull rock shapes and wear sunglasses indoors but, for all the minimalist and maximalist, super grip, super comfortable, super powered options available, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Not quite anyway.
Take the Hoka Speedgoat for example. These have been a “go to” shoe for me for quite some time – the cushioning is great for long distances and they are light and comfortable to wear all day long. However, there are compromises. The upper is not robust enough to survive the abuse I tend to put my running shoes through and the grip is fine for dry trails but not adequate for the mudfest that UK trails tend to become in the wetter months of the year. I’d recently started wearing the Salomon S-Lab Wings 8 SG. These really suit me. The heel drop is 9mm and there is more cushioning and support than other S-Lab models. They are a wonderful shoe. But (and again there’s a but), they are still not ideal for me on the really long stuff where I prefer some extra cushioning and support than they deliver. Nevertheless, a combination of the two shoes has worked well for my recent running and racing.
Enter the new S-Lab range and a shoe that could well fit all of my trail running needs without compromise.
Salomon has traditionally named its flagship S-Lab shoe the Sense Ultra. There is then normally a number in there somewhere (e.g the Sense 5 Ultra). Far from being my vision of an ultra running shoe, these have often been the most minimalist shoe in the range – awesome shoes that I have known and loved but which are far more suited to the likes of Kilian than to me. Now, though, the name has been reserved for a more cushioned version of that shoe. It means not only is the S-Lab Ultra awesome looking but it also benefits from all of the great technology that we have come to associate with the S-Lab Sense – like the tight wrap-around fit, lightweight upper and super responsive grippy ride – but it sits on a far more protective and cushioned base for those that need it.
It’s worth noting that I have worn this shoe regularly over the past 2 to 3 months, clocking up a good couple of hundred miles in them. I purchased the shoe from Salomon.
The first thing you notice is the additional amount of protection that makes the Sense Ultra a slightly chunkier shoe than the more minimalist Sense 6, both in look and feel. This adds a little to the weight and allows for an 8mm drop (rather than 4mm on the Sense 6). This creates a much more protected and comfortable ride for longer distances and will be an easier transition for those who are used to shoes like the Speedcross. Otherwise, all of the features that you expect from the S-Lab Sense range are there, including the grippy wet traction rubber sole and lightweight mesh upper that wraps around the foot beautifully.
The S-Lab range is known for its narrow fit, particularly in the toe box. For that reason, I went a half size up and the fit is wonderful. The usual quick pull lacing system tightens the shoe effortlessly and there’s enough room to keep the toes comfortable on the downhills.
In a word: dreamy. These really are a pleasure to run in and they give a responsive, lightweight ride as well as delivering fantastic grip when you need it. It’s worth noting that they are still quite aggressive in terms of the cushioning and, particularly on hard packed trails and long distances, they won’t provide as much spring as a maximalist shoe would – but then they most definitely don’t fit in that genre of shoe nor would Salomon want them to, so it has to come down to personal preference.
I have worn these for long and short distances, including racing, and they have delivered on every level. They are still not as cushioned as those used to maximalist protection will have come to expect but, at least for me, they offer a fantastic compromise between the big cushioning of a Hoka and the feel and responsiveness of a more aggressive S-Lab shoe. The more I have worn them, the more confident I have become in taking them out for longer distances and they are a shoe that I look forward to slipping on.
Obviously watch this space but I just might have found what I was looking for. *pulls rock shape*
RRP: £145 | http://www.salomon.com