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. Traveler9

    Good to read that you like the Crossmax even after high mileage. I have the Crossmax Guidance and that has not been my experience with them. I ran a 50K in them, right out of the box. The shoe felt fine. But now, at exactly 83 total miles, I've retired them. The cushioning is completely dead, especially in the forefoot. I would chalk it up to the shoe just not being for me, but I have a friend who's a quite different type of runner than me (he has the neutral version), and his experience was exactly the same as mine.

  2. Sam Winebaum

    You are exactly right Bryon. And like what happens with any new material or technology with volume or if the good ideas are adopted down the line to mass market products costs and prices will go down.

  3. Sam Winebaum

    antirabbit, while I said with volume costs can go down there are of course exceptions to the lighter is necessarily also cheaper. Just look at the millions of MacBook Air 2lb super thin laptops flying off the shelves. Almost double the price of a PC alternative. I just got one and it is fantastic. Like lighter shoes doing the same job as heavier shoes only better this faster computer has increased my productivity big time.

  4. Candice Burt

    That's just crazy high price for a minimal shoe. Looks great, but I wouldn't pay that for a shoe I need to replace every 1 or 2 months.

  5. Anonymous

    Finally Salomon gets the point there shoes are over built. Looks pretty cool however 200 dollars for a glorified racing flat??? Better start saving now!

  6. Morgan Williams

    Bryon, you know I am a regular Salomon user and a fan of their products.

    I have learnt that the S-Lab range of products take design and functionality to a new level.

    I've been running in S-Lab 3s since the end of May. A sign of the quality of the shoe is that I am still wearing them for all my runs here in the UK. After well over 500 miles there are some signs of wear but not much. The fit and comfort is exceptional. I'll likley have these on for leg 5 of Mr Clark's Bob Graham Round late tomorrow evening.

    I am also the proud owner of the Advanced Skin 12 set. The attention to detail in this is probably the best I have ever come across in any product designed for ultra running.

    It is clear to me at least that a huge amount of high quality design work goes into these S Lab products and for me that helps to explain the premium that Salomon charges.

    The Sense I must reserve judgment on until I put them on my feet and run in them. But the fact that they carry the S-Lab badge suggests to me that, as a minimum, they will have a combination of novel design features and excellent build quality.

  7. Brandon

    200 for a pair of running shoes is absolutely insane. I dont even care if its the shoe of the gods, i'm not spending that much. MT 110 please!

  8. Matt Lutz

    Great review, and I'll be curious how many Western States runners who are not sponsored by shoe companies adopt the Sense in the coming years.

    When I first read this, I wasn't surprised that Salomon build KJ personalized shoes – I knew that from reading earlier posts about their S-Lab. What floors me is that they made KJ a personalized shoe for a specific course and a specific distance. It's a specialized product, not unlike the Claw and Wing-type shoes as described in RFP, but also not like them because the Sense is so specialized. Although the Sense is a fine shoe for all general trail-running intents and purposes – and every other shoe on the market is similarly designed to appeal in a general, broad manner – that is not what it was designed for and that makes it unique.

    I'm in the boat of alot of folks re: cost. It is a lot, but you get what you pay for. R&D isn't cheap, and neither are high-end, specialized products that come into production only after a long R&D phase. Take the New Balance MT10s – they went through ~15 prototypes before finalizing the shoe, and that was more prototypes than they had done with any other piece of footwear. Same concept, even if its $100 price isn't anywhere near the Sense's tag.

  9. Obes

    I saw Kilian running in these in South Africa earlier this year. They look great. I am happy to see a shoe with a bit less rubber under it. I love all Salomon products, but have found that some of the XT wings and even some of the older S-Labs have quite a big chunck of rubber. So, i am very eager to get some of these! As for spending $200 on a pair, well, sure thats a lot, but my experience with Salomon, it will be well worth it for the quality. Hey, in a 100 miler, who complains about spending a bit more on your shoes?

    Nice Salomon. Keep it up.

  10. Tom B

    You mention Killian wanted the extra protection and thus the 4mm drop. What prevents companies from making a cushiony, protected zero-drop?

    1. Bryon Powell

      Folks are making such shoes. I heard "protection" third-hand. Even if he's like Dominic Grossman in this thread, Anton Krupicka, Erik Skaggs, or a host of others, it's simply nice to have 4 or so mm of drop after late in a race… that might vary from mile 40 to mile 80 depending on the athlete. Take the term roughly… protection/insurance/substance/whatever rather than as a technical term reserved for push through protection from rocks and roots. :-)

    2. Ryan Holler

      Stay tuned. Zero to 4mm drop has become integral to "minimalist" products, most of which is relatively new to the market. So most companies are still fine-tuning——in both technology and marketing——with only 1st and 2nd generation product. These companies still sell LOTS of shoes in their long-established product lines with thicker midsoles (which I'm assuming you're referring to as "cushy") and the modern 2/1 drop ratio. While some road shoe brands are lowering the heel gradually in updates of these long-running product lines, not all brands are capable or willing to develop wholly new midsole setups so soon after their first entry to the minimalist market. But, you will start seeing beefier low-drop products trickling in though. Anton mentioned on Ultrarunner Podcast a couple weeks ago that NB will be launching the MT1010 (yes, ten-ten) in the next year or so, which, with a 4mm drop and a beefier midsole, is a more substantial interpretation of the idea behind the MT110 launching this February.

  11. Veronika Maltsev

    Dear Salomon, Thanks a bunch for putting out a lighter trail shoe(6 ozs-WOWeee!). I am loving it already, and hope to get them for my Leadville 100. $200 bites, but S-Lab high standards are worth what we pay for. Your XT Advanced Skin hydration pack is AMAZING. As far as the shoes go, I just hope the seam between the sole and the upper are smooth enough to prevent those dreadful footpad blisters. I've been trying to poke them in ultra races, but the skin is too thick in that area. Wishing you all the best in the New Year, and if you ever need a test rabbit, I am available to experiment with new cool stuff. Happy Holidays!

  12. BB

    The Sense reminds me of when I was a kid waiting to see what the new Jordan's would be. Salomon has captured that same sense of excitement with this shoe.

    – On Design, Technology, and Price.

    With the amount of innovation in this shoe Salomon could completely pull away from all other manufacturers, it looks like they could develop into the 'Apple' of this niche community. Also, I would expect to see these design and technology advancements in variations of Salomon's other models. Is it possible in the near future Salomon will create A LINE OF SHOES WHERE EVERY SINGLE MODEL IS BETTER THAN NEARLY ALL OTHER BRANDS??? – Cue theatrical music. I say nearly, certainly we all have our favorites. I like the Cascadia's, but wouldn't mind a little less, and I like the Minimus, but wouldn't mind a little more, it seems like The Sense could be 'the sweet spot'. $200 is more than most, but it might be right on in terms of value.

    Happy running during the holidays to you all!

  13. konrad

    Sorry but $200 is too much for a shoe. I'm actually offended by that price. It's just a random number they threw out to see who would bite and I'm sorry, but I can't. Running is expensive enough as it is. I just don't see any justification for that price.

  14. worm

    I was thinking, "yes!" until I saw $200. Yowch! I could buy 2 pair of kinvaras and call it good. Only differences seems to be a rock plate, really and a trail specific outsole, but the kinvaras also mold really well to the trail….


    1. Kate

      It seems like a consensus, but I'll make my statement anyways.

      I was excited to potentially try this shoe out.. until I read that it was $200.

      I guess that I'll just have to win the giveaway!

  15. Lee

    Agree, though it's the plastic in their other shoes that turns me off. Look forward to trying this model. The superb functional details in the S-Lab Packs are extraordinary. Clearly zero-based design vs adapting from the conventional. This is the approach we need for all ultra gear.

  16. Rich

    My intial thought was . . is it a shoe I would want to run a 50 miler or 100 miler in? I've been a Cascadia guy for a while. At 6.5 oz. the Sense may not be enough shoe for me (5'9" 150 lbs.). . but I'm willing to give it a go . . $200 doesn't scare me if it's that good!! . . but remember the Montrail Bajada is coming too!

    1. Bryon Powell

      Rich, granted I've not run further than around a convention center in the Sense, but it seems like a shoe I could wear for quite awhile… if I could handle 4mm drop, which I can't. FYI, I'm in the 5'9" 160 offseason/153-55 racing weight category.

      However, the Bajada is more shoe and may be more appropriate to the Cascadia-class runner over ultra distances. I say that as one of those guys. :-)

  17. Chris G.

    It's not the spending $200 for me. It's the spending $200 and then having lots of people run past me. I'm not worthy! (That being said, I'd love to give them a shot. 6.5 ounces? Yes please!)

    -Chris San Diego, CA

  18. Sean C

    $200 is A LOT for a training shoe

    $200 is fine for a RACING shoe

    I appreciate all the thought, effort and time put into the development of trail running. A company doing everything they can to give me or Kilian the best shoe they can make is something I can appreciate. Everyone has to decide for themselves if they want to shell out $200 on a shoe, but this is something you should answer intelligently. I've made the decision to buy a $100 shoe COUNTLESS times; did I care if the shoe was going to be the ultimate race shoe? No, they were a hundred bucks… just like every other shoe I've bought. It is possible you have NEVER bought a running shoe for $200 before, so it is normal to be a bit reluctant. Now consider all months of preparation, anxiety, training and injuries that you've put in for races. Can you really justify crying about $200? If you want to do some afternoon running in a park then don't invest so heavily into a race-day shoe.

  19. krista

    great shoe…but the tread will never hold up on east-coast trails. Too muddy, technical and clay-ridden. Now, give me that shoe with more bite and grip on the sole…I'll pay $200.

  20. Max

    Good intro, nice video, great info…but damn, 200$? Really? Just because of that I will stay New Balance. Sad because I was excited about them!

    1. Bryon Powell

      I am solidly on the side of more than 4 mm of preferred drop. I'm still far-and-away more comfortable in a 10-12 mm drop shoe. I logged a couple short runs in 4 mm drop shoes this past week and both my achilles attachments as well as my left plantar fascia are reminding me of those runs a couple days later.

  21. Joni Haffner

    Would you ever consider making a shoe like this s-lab for road running/triathlon? Salomon make the best snug sock fit of any running shoe I have ever worn. It is very difficult to find a fit like this in a light weight trainer for women with long, narrow low profile feet.

    thanks for a response


  22. Anonymous

    Blisters on long runs is the biggest problem for me and I would like to try out these shoes as I hope the good fit might help. I'll be running the Hardrock 100 for the first time this year. Do you think this shoes is suitable for this sort of course?


    1. Bryon Powell

      I would want a bit more traction on a course like Hardrock where there's likely to be snow. I do, however, really like the drainage and breathability of the shoe, which would be nice given how often your feet get wet.

    1. Bryon Powell

      I think the Sense would be fine for the roads at a couple miles a stretch. In fact, I've got one reader who's slipped on my pair who is quite interested in the Sense as a road racing shoe. The Sense has a little cushion and it's lug pattern wouldn't get in the way on the roads. If you're heel or midfoot striking, the transition to toe off is also smooth enough on the roads.

  23. Andre de Castilho

    I was able to get my hands on one of the early shipments and ran the Miwok 100 this past weekend (5/5). Since I only got the shoes 6 days before the race I was only able to put about 20 miles on it. I was extremely nervous about racing 100k without doing any long runs with the Sense prior to race day. To my surprise the shoe handled very well. I had no blisters didn't loose any toenails and the traction was very good. The 4mm offset does the trick for me, they are extremely light and comfortable. The only negative issue is durability, with only a little over 100 miles on it the shoe is already showing major wear, but strangely not on the treads but the foam in between. For a 200 bucks shoe I was expecting to be able to get a least 500-600 miles. Prior to the Sense I've use the Newton's All Weather which lasted me about 3k miles and the Newton's Distance S, which I still wear for marathons and non technical trail runs. Both Newton's are also in the expensive range but I'm getting a lot of miles out of them. Overall a great product but the price is a bit high.

  24. George Tseng

    do the shoes fit true to size or do they run smaller because they were built for sockless running? did you wear socks? what did you run in before? I run in the La Sportiva C-lites at 8.5 US/42 cm, do I need to order up a size if I want to wear socks?

  25. Anonymous

    I run a road marathon in the Sense and intend to run Comrades (89k road race) coming weekend. Subjectively I found them very good while running uphills on the road.

  26. Anonymous

    Not sure I can answer that but for sure I had to go 1/2 size up. I do wear socks, I do recommend trying them on before buying. Good luck!

  27. jude

    There's little competition as LaSportiva and Salomon fit two completely different feet, the difference is in the shape of the last. Also the difference in midsole cush 18/14mm vs 13/9mm is huge. The s-lab sense is a race flat, the shoe will last for 400-500km whereas im sure you would get double out of the cushy Vertical K (more of a heavy mileage training shoe).

  28. Shane

    I've had a pair of Sense for about a month now and have logged probably 150 miles in them. Completed a 50 mile race in them yesterday so, serious review time…. The shoes are, as you would hope given the hype, precision engineering. They are supremely comfortable, light and responsive. The lacing is as good as you will get and I have found the grip excellent on various terrains. I feel the "propriotection" layer could offer a little more protection from loose stones but that is a minor problem that you must put up with for such a responsive race shoe. I do however have a MAJOR problem. The main outer sole (i.e. the harder rubber) is already coming away from the softer under bonding around the edges of the shoes and it is beginning to flap around a bit. This is such a let down after just a few runs. An issue like this is only going to get worse, so I will no doubt have half an outer sole hanging off these soon. I hope I just have a freak pair but I recall already having seen other reviews which express concerns over the softer sole material which looks totally destroyed early on. So at the moment 9/10 for performance. 2/10 for durability. Now, where's that superglue…

  29. Johnny K

    Thanks for the longer term review. I'd really like to try a pair, but at $200 I'd have to be pretty confident they'd last for quite a while. Still so tempting…

  30. Paolo

    I was just wondering, what size would i get for this shoe? My new balance mt110 is size 9D.. Im gonna order it on the net and i was just wondering..

  31. Emily K.

    Hi I was wondering what you think about these for an ultra , then cross country runs after words . Also how many miles do you think you could get out of these shoes (200$ is alot) im currently running in green silences but they wont hold for an ultra.

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