Salomon S-Lab Sense Preview

[We’ll be carrying the Salomon Sense in the iRunFar Store beginning in June (a month after they’re released). If you have a US address and would like to reserve a pair while supporting iRunFar(!), contact us and let us know what (US men’s) size you’d like.]

One of the most anticipated trail running shoes of 2012 was born out of failure… at least relative failure. After his third place finish at the 2010 Western States 100 (See Unbreakable), Kilian Jornet wanted a pair of shoes ideally suited to his needs on that course. He needed a light shoe that drained well and provided traction from snow to desert. The Salomon S-Lab team went to work on a solution. When Kilian crossed the finish line at the Placer High track to win the 2011 Western States he was wearing their solution on his feet. In May 2012, we’ll all have the chance to wear these shoes in the form of the Salomon S-Lab Sense.

[Visual folks, you can skip down to a video-based look at the Sense.]

Salomon S-Lab Sense

It’s hard to know where to start with a shoe like the Sense, so I’ll start somewhere simple – the weight. Conservatively, these shoes will weigh in at a svelte 6.5 ounces (185 grams) for a men’s US 9. Kilian’s size 7.5 is closer to 170 grams.

Since it’s all the rage these days, you probably want to know how the Sense stacks up height wise. Well, it’s a low-to-the-ground 9 mm in the forefoot and 13 mm in the heel for a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop. Anyone who’s seen Kilian run knows that he’s a featherweight, efficient, forefoot runner so why isn’t this a zero-drop shoe you ask? Well, because it’s designed to race 100 miles or more and Kilian wanted a 4 mm drop for the kilometers after mile 80. There’s something to be said for a little extra protection, even on a non-technical course.

Speaking of protection, the Sense takes a different approach to it. Rather than put a rock plate between the outsole and midsole (lessens outsole deformation) or between the midsole and the foot (lessens proprioceptive feel), the Sense’s protective layer is sandwiched in the middle of the midsole. Specifically, a thin TPU film-on-mesh called Pro Feel Film is used to provide feel while providing push-through protection in the midfoot. That means while windows (for lack of a better term) in the forefoot seemingly display a carbon-fiber shank, the forefoot is quite flexible.

As the outsole is the densest piece of a running shoe, it’s key to minimize its use when making an extremely lightweight shoe. The Sense sticks to that principle with a minimally lugged outsole. However, a relatively soft outsole combined with the location and flexibility of the Pro Feel Film are keys to the shoe’s concept of “Dynamic Traction.” Basically, the outsole is able to deform, thus, providing more apparent lug height than a shoe with a less flexible outsole, whether due to the outsole’s inherent stiffness or the location of a stiff rock plate.

Salomon S-Lab Sense - lateral upper

I can’t believe I’m so far into this preview and I haven’t mention what I feel to be the shoe’s strongest point, it’s fit. You see, Kilian really wanted a shoe that he could wear sockless, particularly for UTMB. The result is quite simply the most comfortable running shoe upper I’ve ever had on my feet. It hugs (dare I say makes out with) the foot. Admittedly, my runs in the shoe have been limited to a few dozen yards on carpet, but having slipped more than my fair share of shoes on my feet I’m confident that these will be a joy to run in come next May when they’re released. What’s more, I watched as others (mostly top ultrarunners sponsored by other companies) tried on the shoe and all seemed equally amazed at the upper. The Sense’s Endofit (as Salomon calls it) sock-like feel is the real deal.

Salomon S-Lab Sense - lateral upper

I also can’t directly speak to the drainage capabilities of the shoe, but the fine open mesh of which most of the upper is made should both breathe and drain excellently.

Salomon S-Lab Sense - upper mesh detail

A close-up look at the Salomon S-Lab Sense’s mesh upper.

One small change that folks familiar with Salomon’s shoes will notice the first time they lace up the Sense is that the “lace garage” for the Quicklace dongle is top-loading rather than the standard setup where the dongle is tucked upwards into a higher lace garage. The Quicklace itself was also modified to make it lighter.

Salomon S-Lab Sense - new lace garage

The Sense’s new lace garage.

One difference between Kilian’s personal version and the production version of the Sense is that the midsole EVA is exposed in the midfoot of Kilian’s shoe whereas it will be covered with outsole in the production version. This will provide a bit more durability for those of us who aren’t quite as gazelle-like as Kilian. I jokingly suggested that Salomon provide a pair of dotted lined labeled “cut here” on the outsole, but even without that I’m sure a few intrepid souls will take a knife to their Sense’s soles. (Perhaps, I can make pattern!)

HOWEVER, (and this is a really big however) one lucky iRunFar reader will get his or her very own pair of limited-edition Kilian Jornet S-Lab Sense months before the rest of us. Keep reading iRunFar for your chance to win a pair of Kilian’s shoes for yourself!

For those who don’t win a pair, the Salomon S-Lab Sense will be available in May 2012 for $200/€200 (price in £ still pending).

Salomon Product Manager Jeff Dill Presents the S-Lab Sense

Call for Comments

  • Are you drooling over the S-Lab Sense, too?
  • Which of the Sense’s features are you most looking forward to?
  • Which race would you most like to run in a pair of Sense next year?
Salomon S-Lab Sense - my fooot

Me wearing the Salomon S-Lab Sense after an “intense” testing session.

There are 184 comments

  1. Ultra Boy

    I bought a pair, and I do love them however I wore them with S Lab socks (shop through them in, lol) and they have blistered my little toe quite bad, I did go straight out for a 22Km run in them.

    Will they stretch? I went for a 10.5 as the length is fine, (im a causal 10 shoe) normally buy 11 running shoes but there seemed to be loads of room between my bigtoe and front.

    Are they narrow?? Should I stretch them a bit with a shoe stretcher??

    Other foot I got a tiny blister on the inside at the widest point of my feet, however I put this down to wearing in as it wasnt much of a pain.

    Will they be suitably bed in or should I try sockless??

    I didnt want to go 11 and have my foot wallowing around :)


  2. Faisal Al-Nakib

    I bought a UK size 8.5

    1. Narrow midfoot (which i can handle) but very narrow Toebox (Which I cant handle). Even if you size up it will be too long in the toebox and feel floppy and not very as accurate.

    2. $200 and I got a blister on my little toe in the first 5k.I dont know what it is about this shoe, its super light, it allows you to run so precisely, concious of your foot placement but sadly the sizing is really bad. This is the first shoe in all my 10 – 12 pairs of running and mountaineering boots which have failed to fit me well. I actually tried it with a slim sock and got the blister, i ran without a sock and felt much better but just aggrivated the blister. Sad really because I love the show.

    Final verdict? Awesome Awesome shoe if the shape of it fits with your feet. Be warned!

  3. Steven Carter

    Am I the only one who thinks that the white heel and white sock liner of this show will look disgusting after a few muddy trail runs? Maybe a sponsored athlete can just get a new pair, but I want to use mine more than a couple times and there's no way that white is going to come clean. I can throw my Merrill Trail Gloves in the washer or hit them with a scrub brush. That sock liner looks to fragile for a brush and would be permanently stained anyway!

  4. Anonymous

    Running is expensive? Good lord man… Have a look at basketball shoes.

    Go shoe shopping with a lady some time if you want to see whst expensive shoes cost.

  5. Anonymous

    They've got this amazing product out now called "soap". Just rub it on anything dirty, then rinse off. Incredibly the dirt is gone!

    1. Steven Carter

      Why so cranky? It's just a hypothesis based on my experience cleaning things. I'm not attacking you. If I'm stupid or ill informed then I'm even less threatening to you.

      Soap doesn't remove discoloration from fabrics. It is intended for use on skin, not synthetic (i.e., plastic) materials like this sock liner. Since the 1930's, detergents have largely replaced soaps. I use a great detergent that's made for washing wetsuits, but it can't remove stains caused by mud.

      All of my running is on trails and most runs include some mud. Mud grinds into fabrics and has components like iron oxide that are effective dyes. That discoloration cannot be removed by soap or detergent. Bleaching is effective, but repeated uses destroys the shoe making it less preferable than the stains. Borax is better than soap, detergent, or bleach, but the most effective method for me is to wear shoes with a black liner and, if I must wear socks, only wear black ones.

      Perhaps Salomon will offer different colors later.

    2. Bryon Powell

      I've got to agree with Steven. I'm not sure what drove you to leave anonymously leave negative comments in response to five commenters on one article. If you want to be constructive, I'd suggest (1) leaving a name (even if a consistent pseudonym) and (2) engage people rather than belittling them.


  6. Dennis

    I would love to give these a try. I tried Brooks Cascadia 8s and they are ok but wear out so fast (130 miles) that $200 for a shoe would be a bargain if it lasted a reasonable amount of miles.

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