"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of Salomon Sense Ultra

I've had the pleasure of tooling around in a pair of Salomon Sense Ultra's for several months now.  The short review is that they are a tremendous lightweight shoe with decent protection and decent durability.

First, I have to say that in general, all the lives of my shoes are dramatically reduced now that I'm running in Colorado.  But it seems the Sense Ultra is particularity susceptible to dying quicker in the Rocky Mountains. Its a sacrifice one has to make for a lightweight shoe I guess.  I wouldn't mind seeing a little more outsole on these guys.

I ran quite a bit in the original Sense, but it was never quite comfortable enough for me.  I'm not sure what it was.  I would get blisters on the outside of my pinky toes on both feet and never could lock the heel down quite good enough.  When I was at 3-Rivers Running Company, I had the chance to look at the Sense Ultras.  I thought the toebox looked a little wider, and the heel cup was slightly different, in so much as it seemed to offer a greater hook to come up over the back of the heel.

I actually decided to size down to a 10.5 from my typical size 11 (MT110, Speedcross 3, Pearl Izumi Trail N1) and the shoes fit nearly perfectly for most of their lifespan.  I have concluded that the heel cup is better and the Ultras either have a wider toebox or it is easier to stretch it out over the life of the shoe.  They accommodated my feet, which tend to be on the wide side, very nicely.

Grand Canyon R2R2R
I've put these shoes through hell.  I ran several long Poto runs back in Michigan in them.  After that they still looked like new, maybe with a little bit of midsole wrinkling, which didn't seem to influence the cushion.  Then I went to Colorado for a job interview and starting running in the Front Range  in the Sense Ultras.  Then I took them to the Grand Canyon for a R2R2R.  Then back to Colorado for more Front Range running.

I've taken them through numerous water crossings, both deep and shallow, and the shoes drained and dried out very well, which is perhaps unsurprising.  The low profile nature of the shoes also allowed them to handle well in the river when you aren't quite sure what you're stepping on.

I found the outsole to be plenty sticky on most rocks, as long as they weren't too wet and grimy (the rocks not the shoes).

Protection in someplace like Michigan is fantastic.  Protection in Colorado is decent.  Forefoot/midfoot is usually protected enough that you even if you catch a stinger, the pain is fleeting and doesn't last long. It seems Salomons special carbon fiber rockplate does its job.  I did notice that if I stepped on a narrow or sharp rock in the arch area of my foot it would be quite painful.   I attribute this to the flexibility of the shoe.  Its nice for running fast to have a flexible shoe, but it does allow for the occasional painful reminder that these shoes are intended to be a racing flat.

My longest run in them was the R2R2R at the Grand Canyon, which was 48 miles and I probably had the shoes on my feet for 13+ hours.  No blisters, which is great and I'm sure I wouldn't have had such luck with the regular Sense.

After about 300 miles now, the shoes are totally toast.  At least in my terms.

Missing lugs and outsole

After about 200 miles the tread started wearing down and lugs were shredded off.  I continued to abuse them, doing a Hope Pass double crossing and summiting a 14'er in them.  Now, there are several spots where the glue seems to have failed and I can peel back the outsole to expose more midsole.  In other places the outsole just appears to be gone.  One of the great things though is that the protection never failed on these shoes.  The rockplate is still in great shape, despite numerous attempts to puncture it by sharp rocks.  Kudos to Salomon.

Still not destroyed

Despite the wear on the outsole, I can probably get a few more miles out of these guys.  I feel that the traction is starting to be reduced, but really they never had tremendous traction in the first place.  Speaking of traction, the rubber is decently sticky, but they're no La Sportiva.  The shoes have a great ride on hard pack trail, fireroads, and pavement.  The small footprint allows them to be very maneuverable.  Unfortunately I found them to be VERY skatey in loose dirt/gravel on switchbacks and in the mud.

Holes in the medial sides of both pairs

Another hole forming on the lateral sides

The upper is probably the biggest issue with these guys right now.  I'm not worried about them ripping and becoming "unusable" during a run, but they have developed holes in the medial side of the toebox.  Now they let in a ton of dust and gravel.  Otherwise the mesh upper and Sensi-fit sock/sleeve thing was amazing.

Now I just need to save up enough $ to get another pair, or wait for a new iteration of these shoes.  I've noticed a few pictures from Zegama where it looked like the Salomon team had a pair of Sense Softgrounds!  When can I get these!  I think they will probably be a slight bit heavier, but the added weight for what I can only imagine is a more durable outsole with better traction would be a no brainer for me.  I just love the fit of the Sense Ultra so much, that a shoe with a more rugged outsole sounds like a great combo.

Looks a lot like the Speedcross outsole (Photo by Ian Corless)

Niice!  (Photo by Ian Corless)

Overall, the Sense Ultra is a great shoe.  Excellent fit.  A shoe that makes you want to run fast.  Protective for how lightweight.  Very maneuverable with their low profile/small footprint.  The cushion does its job even though it tends to wrinkle quickly.  The biggest downsides are the poor traction on anything that is loose or muddy as well as the relatively short lifespan.  Oh and they are so freaking expensive.  I should mention though that I've heard through the grapevine that Salomon plans on progressively lowering the price over the next couple years.


  1. Hey this is Jen at Thorlo. That's great that these shoes have worked so well and have stood up to your runs! Just curious...where's your favorite place to run? Email sometime at jgrant@thorlo.com and maybe I can help you out with a pair of Thorlo!