Salomon Sense Mantra Review

The trends in trail running shoes seem to have shifted back towards a healthier middle ground after several years of shoe designs leaning towards the polar minimalist side of things. I’ve talked to many runners on the trail who have told me that after years of wearing minimal shoes, they’re now purchasing trail shoes with a bit more protection and cushioning that still retain a lightweight and agile feel. I have never been more excited about trail shoes than what has been hitting the market for Spring ’13, as most companies have released shoes that are lightweight, have lower drops, and a good amount of cushioning. With that in mind, I decided to showcase the Salomon Sense Mantra ($120) as a perfect example of a shoe company finding a middle ground between minimalism and battleship shoes.

 

Salomon Sense Mantra review

The Salomon Sense Mantra.

Upper

The first thing I noticed about the Sense Mantra was the coordination of open mesh that blended into the overlays and rand of the shoe. The forward two-thirds of the Mantra works essentially like a single piece where durable and very breathable mesh is reinforced by a synthetic leather material which is sewn on and very durable. Furthermore, the toe rand is reinforced in typical Salomon fashion by a barely there rubber compound which helps protect the toes and maintains the shape of the toe box.

A thin and breathable tongue composed of nylon and lycra offers just enough protection from the pressure of Kevlar laces, and the tongue is gusseted nicely throughout the midfoot. A soft heel collar and rather low heel worried me at first, but after a few miles I hardly noticed the illusion that my heel was slipping. I’ve found this to occur with all Salomon shoes I own and it has never been a problem. Aesthetically, the white heel portion of my Mantra kept bringing back passages from one of my favorite running biographies, Murray Halberg’s A Clean Pair of Heels. There is something about white heels that just look fast.

I should note that the only Salomon trail shoes I’ve spent a substantial amount of time wearing are the Speedcross 2 and 3, and I never felt like the forefoot was wide enough for longer races or runs over three hours due to my feet swelling. Thankfully, Salomon constructed a wider forefoot on the Mantra which tapers into a slender mid foot and heel. Although an overused descriptor in the world of shoe reviews, the Mantra does have a slipper-like feel.

Salomon Sense Mantra - lateral upper

The Mantra’s lateral upper.

Midsole

With a 6mm heel-toe drop, the Mantra is like a kinder, gentler version of the of the S-Lab Sense. With a 21mm to 15 mm differential rather than the Sense’s 13mm to 9mm, the Mantra has nearly double the midsole cushioning yet maintains a minimal feel. At just under 10 ounces for my US men’s 9.5, the Mantra feels a great deal more nimble and agile than other trail shoes I own that weigh the same. I attribute this to a very simple and effective design where really nothing gets in the way of your foot responding to the terrain.

Designed for “natural running,” the front half of the Mantra features a softer EVA foam on top of a denser midsole foam. The sweet spot for foot striking is definitely the mid to forefoot and the Mantra is made for a faster cadence. Profeel Film is a very thin piece of carbon fiber that functions as a simple and effective rock plate. Frankly, I am surprised at the kind of technical terrain the Mantra can handle without any damage to my feet.

Salomon Sense Mantra - medial upper

The Sense Mantra’s medial upper.

Outsole

The Contagrip outsole handled everything I could throw at it from packed snow, sand, and mud to the hard slickrock of the Utah desert. Lugs are small and multi-directional to provide traction on ascents and descents, and I felt like the small height of the lugs allowed a bit of travel and slide on steep downhills without feeling out of control. After more than 200 miles in my Mantras, the outsole shows almost no wear which is pretty incredible.

Salomon Sense Mantra - outsole

The Sense Mantra’s outsole.

Overall Impression

Without a doubt the Sense Mantra is one of the most well-constructed trail shoes I’ve ever worn. The upper is simple, lightweight and durable, and the fit feels minimal even though this is a protective shoe. The Quicklace system integrates flawlessly into the rest of the upper without any unnecessary aesthetics or gadgetry, and the midsole seems to retain its resiliency.

To really test out the Mantra I headed to Moab for the Red Hot 55k. I felt that the mixture of dirt road, clay, sand, and tons of cambered slickrock would put any trail shoe through the paces. I felt that the Mantra not only held up well for the 33+ mile distance, but came away from the race nearly unscathed, a tip of the hat to its durability. The cambered slickrock wreaked havoc on mine and everyone else’s ankles, but the Mantra hugged my foot, keeping my toes and skin blister-free. Very little sand and debris were present in my shoe after the full distance, and I felt like I was able to tackle technical sections with confidence.

I would recommend the Mantra as a trainer and over-50-mile racer for minimalist runners looking for a bit more protection. I also think it would make a great speedier shoe for runners who love protective shoes but might be looking for a trail shoe for shorter and more technical courses.

[Editor’s Note: We carry the Salomon Sense Mantra in the iRunFar Store; however, the reviewer independently chose, tested, and reviewed the shoes.]

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 62 comments

  1. Mic Medeska

    Spot on review. Salomon made these as a shoe that can take you from door to trail, everyday, regardless of what trail you're going to be running and I think they fit that bill perfectly in my experience. I don't think they're fast enough to be a race shoe unless you start getting out to trail marathon distances and beyond, as I wouldn't use them for a trail half marathon. I've only got about 100 miles on them so far but they're dirty, that's it. No signs of wear. Excellent shoe.

  2. simon

    Great review and great shoes, although I opted for the Sense Ultra in the end.

    I just wish Salomon would do something about their narrow toe boxes, so that I dont have to risk a brand new pair doing a custom job on them with a gas stove and wooden spoon!

      1. simon

        Haha i just gently heat the rubber toe protector whilst applying pressure from the inside with a wooden spoon. I have managed to add quite a bit of extra room where the side of my big toe normally rubs in the shoe. Got to be careful not to set the shoes on fire though!

        I

        1. Andy

          Wish I'd heard of this before I shipped my Sense Ultras back to iRF cuz they were just too damn narrow. Gives a new twist on the old saying "If the shoe fits, wear it." And if it doesn't, make it fit and wear it anyway!

  3. Daniel

    I was very excited about getting my hands on a pair of these and even overnight shipped them to me!!! When I got them and placed them on my feet (Size 12) they fit like a glove and was excited to take them for a test spin. But I must admit my excitement wore off very quickly as the eyelets (the bottom ones near the toebox) started to rub a very harsh blister on both my feet in the same place. I thought this was just the normal "break in" cycle but it never went away. I even had to duck tape the top of my feet for an extra layer but still the eyelets wore into my skin and hard!!!

    I had to return them and go back to my old shoes :(

    It sucks, cause I never had a bad experience like this with any type of shoe…am I alone on this one????

    I could go for a bigger size I guess but then it would not fit my feet (length) so idk what to do about these shoes….I guess since I have a high arch this causes the top of my foot to sit high in the shoe thus making harsh contact with the lace eyelets….idk???

    Anyone else experience this?

    1. Fred

      No, you're not alone, thats basically what I experienced too ANd i had to return them thining that it might go away after time but it didnt!!

      I am now waiting for the Salomon S-Lab 6, its gonna have the same features as the mantra but better !!

      1. Anonymous

        @ Fred – what have you heard about the upcoming S-Lab 6? I've worn the Sense (original) and Sense Ultra but still always go back to my S-Lab 5s. Can't beat the cushioning and for some reason the upper on the Senses starts to fray and tear for me after only 150kms (am I the only one who's experienced this issue with the upper material on the Sense and Sense Ultra?).

        I hear that the new S-Lab 6 will have the Endofit sock inside, like the Sense. Heard anything else? IMHO, the S-Lab 5 would be the perfect shoe if (a) it had a touch more toe room (b) had the endofit sock inner (c) the toe/heel drop was reduced to about 6-8 mms (I think the current drop is 12 – still a bit like running in high heels (I imagine?!)) and (d) Salomon developed the upper material so that it doesn't turn crunchy after half a dozen sweaty runs.

        1. Fred

          Here is what I heard about the S-Lab 6 :
          http://blog.runningwarehouse.com/rs/sneak-peek-sa

          So Yes endofit socks which is great but also the New Lace Garage design that was introduced on the Sense and that I really like! That was another reason why I was disappointed by the Mantra because I was expecting this kind of garage design too.

          I agree that I would prefer to have a 6-8mm drop on the S-Labs but they tend to want to keep a 12mm.

          Like you, I always go back to My S-Lab 4 because I really like them. I also love my Speedcross 2.

          As for the upper of the Sense that starts to fray, I have kind of the same problem and that’s why I wont buy them again. Think about it, the only persons who run in them are the pros because they get them for free. If you wathc “A Fine Line”, check out Kilian’s shelf, he has literally 30 pair of them, which proves that theyre not durable.

          Anyhow, I love Salomon over the other brands especially for their lacing system.

          1. Nick J

            Would it have not been possible to take out the insole? I do this with all my shoes and it's really surprising how much more volume this creates. I'd imagine in your case this may have reduced the stack height enough so that your foot would sit lower and not touch the eyelets.

  4. Kim Neill

    Love this shoe. Just a heads up: they do run 1/2 to 1 size too big. I normally wear a men's 10.5, but purchased a 10, as recommended by Running Warehouse. I kept them, but would probably size down to 9.5 for next pair–this is for ultras 50k and over.

  5. Guy

    I've got about 250 miles on a pair right now, 130 of which is from 3 runs, and my only complaint is that for some reason, the shoes give me blisters. I put 200+ miles on a pair of Sense both sockless and with socks, and never have had any blister issues before, but in these shoes with drymax, I do get some big one.

  6. Rider

    Great shoe. Ran a 25k in these at Steep Ravine and feet felt great afterward. Other shoes always resulted in some foot/toe soreness after long runs but not the Sense Mantra.

    The Pearl Izumi n1 trail is the only shoe I've found I like better.

    My only complaint with the Sense Mantra is I don't find them to be very breathable on my feet with socks. In fact my socks are usually soaked with sweat after a run.

    I don't run without socks. Maybe I need more breathable socks?

    Own two pairs currently.

    1. Andy

      How's the fit of the Pearl N1 vs the Sense? Have really wanted to try a pair of N1s but figured they'd be too narrow (like the Sense Ultra) and can't find them locally.

      1. Tom Caughlan

        Andy,

        The PI N1's have a bit more forefoot width. Expect a review shortly as I'm in the midst of testing them. Loving them so far.

      2. Rider

        Actually had to go up half a size on the N1 trail shoe. Wear a 9.5 Mantra and a 10 Pearl N1. I had to return the 9.5 N1 and reorder the 10. Usually I wear a D width and both 9.5 Mantra and 10 N1 fit perfect. Very happy with both shoes!

        I even copped the road versions of Pearl N1 and Pearl M3. Sizes vary on these. I had to ship a couple back to find the right fit. Love them and the only problem is you never want to take them off! Ha.

          1. MikeZ

            that's interesting re: fit of Mantra Vs N1, some review I have read suggested going half size down for Mantra… fingers crossed that N1 is true to size, hard to return them from NZ

    2. ChuckMetzner

      These are the hottest shoes I have ever run in. Not breathable at all. I sweat through the shoe by 6 -7 miles. Also, they do not drain any water that gets in the shoe. I will keep them because they fit me well and are well cushioned for a low drop shoe. I intend to punch a few holes in them for ventilation and drainage.

  7. Steve

    I've got about 150 miles in these, most runs 10-20 miles and I've never loved a pair of shoes so much. They are lightweight, fit my foot perfectly (I have a wide forefoot and most shoes are too narrow), and durable. I switched over from the much bulkier/cushionier XR Crossmax and could not be happier. As others have stated, the shoe doesn't breathe as well as other shoes but the weight and amount of cushion is perfect for me. I normally can't find shoes that fit my foot so well but these do; especially after logging 30-40 miles in them. If my wife would allow me to, I'd wear these all of the time cuz they're so darn comfortable!

  8. Rod

    The mantras fit big by a full size (for me). I still like them but big socks seems to partially defeat the lovely design of the upper.

  9. Tom Caughlan

    I'm a 9.5 in both the Mantra and N1. True to size in my opinion but they could be manufactured/ assembled at different plants, etc…

    1. Andy

      So strange about sizing: I ordered a half size up (11 instead of 10.5) in the Ultra (which I assume has the same form as the Mantra) and they were still too narrow!

      1. Bryon Powell

        The sizing appropriateness of the Sense Ultra and Mantra must be very foot specific. I wear a US men's 9 in most shoes and have no problem wearing the Sense Ultra in a 9, even with standard thickness socks. (I could only wear thin socks with the original Sense.)

  10. korey

    Over 50 miles (OP50) The toe bumper caused some sore toe nails for me.
    Also, I have 240 miles on mine and the upper is slightly torn on both sides where my foot bends/flexes. I'm only 140lbs.
    Still one of the best fitting/feeling shoes I've worn. Wouldve been nice to get at least 4-500 miles out them though.

  11. Michael

    I find the sense (original) to be very unforgiving when going slower (80% effort), like the shoe was working against me, blisteringly fast at 100% though. Is the mantra (or ultra) any different. MT110'sare my current go-to shoe btw.

    1. Patrick

      Michael,

      The Mantra is the only shoe I've bought more than one pair of since I started running ultras 4 years ago. Perfect mixture of ground feel and protection. I ran in the 110's and liked them, but just not quite enough protection that you could roll down a steep rocky grade with reckless abandon. And even during a long run when you're just sort of trucking along (your 80%) comment, they feel great.

  12. Nick J

    Longevity question. This shoe is quite expensive – how long should we expect it to last? If the answer is more than 600 miles then I might be interested.

    1. Anonymous

      Quite expensive? I don't understand these kinds of comments. Where are you people getting your shoes from? Are you used to tissue boxes and plastic bags?

      1. Bernie

        I think that's a legitimate question. If I'm spending <$50 on NB 110's which last 400+ miles, I certainly wouldn't want to fork over more than twice as much for a shoe that last me fewer miles (even if it does offer more protection)…there are other options out there.

  13. Tom Caughlan

    Nick-

    Tough questions. The area I'm concerned about would be the area where the toes flex in the upper. Reason is that the material, while durable, is highly breathable and I could see it becoming brittle with age and the more dirt caked on it. It would be nice to see these shoes come down in price!

    1. Nick J

      Yes, that's the area that usually blows first for me. I haven't had a pair of shoes last more than 300 miles for a long time. I guess that's the trade off for lighter weight and materials. It would be nice to have something with minimal shoe feel yet strong enough to get through a winter of rough trail running, crampon and snow shoe use.

  14. Andrew

    Just some observations from when I tried these on yesterday, generally consistent with some of the comments above:

    – narrow forefoot, even with the insoles removed to give additional volume,

    – the upper/overlays at the ball of the foot don't flex with foot and put pressure on the balls of my feet, and

    – they run long by about half a size.

    Because of the first two observations, I didn't even bother to walk around the store in them.

    I did like the Salomon RX Primes that I ran in last fall. They are a model that is intended to be a "relax"/comfort/recovery shoe, but I found that they were comfortable (widest Salomons that I have ever tried) and great to run in. They lasted 500 miles until the laces sawed through the eyelet loops.

  15. Sean

    I also found them to fit half a size too big, as well as the bottom eyelets pushing into the top of my foot as the shoe flexed. I have flat feet. Also found them way too stiff. I really can't stand them which is really disappointing as I was so excited that they came in my size as the other sense models that ive wanted to try only come in small sizes. My perfect shoe at the moment are the inov8 trailroc 245.

  16. David

    Just completed a 68 mile trail race with the Mantras. For cushioning and protection, they were excellent. The course was extremely rugged! The three issues I had were sizing, the eyelets and the issue Andrew had with the pressure on the balls on my feet. The eyelets were the biggest problem because I felt the much discomfort on the downhills. I had to lossen them up quite a bit which was a bummer for locking the shoe down for the remaining descents. For my next ulra at the end of April, a 50 miler, I will use the Inov-8 Trailroc which I've had no issues thus far.

  17. Andy B

    Great review! Glad to see that Salomon is making strides (intended) in the category; my only experience with Salomon shoes heretofore has also been with the 'Cross 2, and I've always thought that they were overdue to put out something with less drop/motion control.

    Any chance that you're due to review a Hoka in the near future? Would love to see your thoughts on it – next to no drop, no motion control and a whole lotta padding. Tried the Stinson trail the other day and was shocked at how graceful they felt (low expectations, maybe). Apologies if you've already gotten there but I couldn't find anything on the site. Thanks!

  18. Tony

    This shoe sounds like it is similar to the Montrail Rogue Racer, my current favorite. I have a difficult time with the fit of Salomon shoes, but my Montrails are awesome. I have to say, I like the current state of trail shoes.

  19. Jeremy

    How might this shoe compare to the Inov-8 Roclite 295? Any thoughts anyone? I'm wary of these reports about blisters and pressure in the balls of the feet w/ the Mantras, but I'm wanting a transition for a high mileage trainer.

  20. Joel

    What socks would you recommend then? I Drymax Trail Light have been very good to me but I am interested in what other people are using.

  21. Joel

    A lot of people comment about certain socks not working with these shoes. What does everyone recommend then as a good pair of socks?

  22. Bryan

    I purchased the Mantra's and have put some mileage on them – my overall first and continual opinion is to echo everyone else and state the toe-box is too narrow and too shallow…. More volume here please… I will give the spoon trick a try. The 3d seems to be a more comfortable shoe, but the ramp is too excessive for me. Thinking of trying the Saucony Peregrine next??

  23. JMosh

    I have been through three sets of Peregrines. I wear them for trail, and road. I also used them for the Mt. Snow Tough Mudder. They are comfortable (I pull the insoles), 4mm drop. Great traction, firm heel and midfoot fit. They are breathable and dry quickly. They are not durable. The upper material is thin and abrades quickly at the flex point. It is also easily torn by sticks or cut by rocks. The lugs wear quickly on the lateral edge, although the heel has more rubber and holds up ok. I was hoping the Mantra Sense would be this shoe but more durable.

    1. Bryan

      Thanks.. Wish the durability was there on the Peregrines – I also run in Kinvara’s and I’ve not had any durability issues with them since they moved to the “flexifilm” (or whatever the name is) outer verses the monofilament. I think the monofilament breathed better for sure. I simply wish we could order a pair of shoes that combined good things from several different manufactures. After last night’s run in the Mantra, I now believe the entire shoe is too form fitting and the whole “endofit” last is not for me… As long as the Peregrines are a good fit and function, I would rather put up with a shorter replacement cycle than put up with uncomfortable feet…

  24. Rich

    Just back from my first 20km on a rainy technical course in my Mantras and thought I'd share the experience:

    I find the sizing true as far as I'm concerned, I went for the same size as my Wings and Speedcross and they felt perfect. Yes, could have gone down half a size but felt that those toes would be slamming the end too much for comfort. Ref space I have a narrowish & slender foot and find them awesome…same comfort as the Speedcross with slightly more space in the forefoot. Disagree with those requesting more space in the forefoot…Salomon has always been for us slender footed folks!!

    My only negative remark would be that I found them slightly slippy flat/wet rocks? Has anyone else felt this?

    1. Bryan

      On the slip – yes. Rocks and roots both – the compound is certainly geared towards durability versus the softer more grip mixture.

      I don't consider myself as having a wide foot – it's just after a good distance, my feet do seem to swell a bit. Also, I've worn the 3D's and feel they have a larger forefoot than the mantra. Maybe the width is about the same, but the 3D's have more height and therefore more volume. I really like Salomon and hoped these would be the go-to shoe. Oh well.

  25. Ben

    When I used regular cotton socks I had real blister problems (was also frequently running in melty snow or rainy conditions). Switched over to moisture-wicking/synthetic socks and haven't had an issue since.

  26. Cory K.

    I had the problem for the first 70 miles. (from mile 15 through 70 I wore moleskin over blisters and used my Senses for runs over 15 miles.) Then, about three weeks after the blisters, I slipped them on for a 25 miler and they felt great. Then I ran my first 50 miler with ZERO feet issues! Perhaps running a number of shorter 10 mileish runs will help, or removing the footbed as suggested on this feed, or using moleskin until the skin under the shoelace eyelets toughen up more.

  27. Cory K.

    I found the opposite true for me, that I needed to size up half a size, from 10.5 to 11. But whatever, as long as a person finds what works.

  28. Lionfish

    Simon, thanks man, this tip saved my NB MT1210 from falling into disgrace. I had the exact same issue with rubbing my big toes on the sides and it's been fixed! Just a little improvement on my side: since I don't have gas burners I used a hair drier – works equally well and no risk of burning the shoes. On a side note, how is it that we still have to DIY fix shoes these days!?!

  29. Scott

    I have problems with a tight toebox; is there a recommendation for a similar shoe to the Mantra with a little more room?

    1. Andy

      see more recent iRF review of the La Sportiva Helios. Have been really happy with them so far. Have not studied the numbers so not sure exactly how similar they are, but both are definitely a light nimble shoe with a bit more protection than the NB Minimus line or other truly minimalist shoes. I suppose Brooks PureGrit could also fall into this cateogory.

  30. Rich

    Would any of you guys suggest this shoe for late fall/early winter running (in Colorado)? I'm torn between this and the Speedcross 3.

    1. Joel

      Try the Salomon Fellraiser. I live in Denver and they are my first choice but I also run in the Mantras and they would definitely work.

      1. Rich

        Joel, I live in Denver too. Run mostly in Golden, Morrison, Evergreen. So you understand when I talk about late fall, early winter runs where we are at.

        Where did you get your Fellraiser's and Mantra's? I can find a place around here to even try them on.

        1. Joel

          REI in LoDo has the Mantras but you can order the Fellraiser from the iRunFar.com store. I think the Mantras are narrower than the Fellraiser. Ran the Silver Rush in the Mantras before I bought the Fellraiser but I think I like the Fellraiser better.

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