Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra Softground Review

Thirteen months ago I reviewed the original Salomon Sense Ultra, raving about the sock-like fit, nimble performance, and surprisingly effective rock plate. I ended that review with the following request, “I would love to see a Softground version of the Sense Ultra, similar to what Salomon did with the S-Lab XT 5, where softer EVA was used for harder terrain.”

I found out later that I misunderstood the intention of the Softground design, but to my feet, the extra bit of outsole seemed to add just a bit of cushioning that helped on the hard and rocky terrain I’m typically running on in Colorado. In fact, Salomon designs Softground versions of their shoes to tackle softer and muddier terrain with a grippier, more heavily lugged outsole.

As it turns out Salomon athletes also requested a Softground version of the Sense Ultra which became the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra Softground ($160) and which, along with the Sense 3, seem to be the racing shoe of choice for most of the international team regardless of the distance. Salomon accomplished this by combining the upper and midsole of the Sense Ultra with the ever-popular outsole of the Speedcross, and the result is a shoe really able to take on any type of terrain out there.

Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Softground 1

The Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra Softground.

Upper

What can I say about the upper of the Sense 3 Ultra Softground that I haven’t said in the past? Shoe porn? You bet. Beautiful lines, simple yet elegant design, a fit that almost negates the need for laces? Yep. This is one of the only trail shoes that I’ve been able to wear sockless for longer than 10 miles, and the Endofit sleeve in the interior absolutely hugs and stabilizes the foot inside the shoe. The tongue is nicely padded and protects well from the kevlar lacing system, and the lace garage opening faces the toe of the shoe, the only design that makes sense. One small problem with this design is that when the laces are cinched down for use they completely cover the lace garage and it takes considerable wrestling with the tab on the top of the pocket to pull it clear of the laces to allow for stowage. But, I don’t care how conventional you are, Salomon’s Quicklace system is the best on the market and I love that I can dial in the fit a bit on runs by loosening the laces instantly if my feet are swelling or if I’m wearing a thicker pair of socks. I have yet to experience any loosening or slippage in the lacing system.

Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Softground lateral upper

The Sense 3 Ultra Softground’s lateral upper.

Sensifit overlays surround the foot, providing additional structure and durability and also keep a good deal of dust out of the shoe. These welded-on overlays flow seamlessly into the rand and rubber toecap at the front of the shoe that is surprisingly protective. Salomon uses a new, more durable mesh throughout the upper of the Sense Ultra Softground and areas of high wear are now protected with extension of the welded overlay to the footbed. After about 200 miles, my Sense 3 Ultra Softgrounds show zero wear on the upper. They wash off nicely and look like they’re straight out of the box. Overall, the Sense Ultra Softground is a very aesthetically pleasing shoe, and Salomon has created an instantly recognizable calling card by sticking with the De Stijl palate of red and black.

Midsole

With the original Sense Ultra, Salomon created a slightly higher-durometer (read: denser) midsole, and there aren’t any changes here. This midsole is on the firm side of the spectrum for trail shoes and on softer trails this firmness feels great. On hardpack I tend to get a bit beat up, but the Softground lugs lend just that extra bit of cushioning giving the Softground the more-cushioned feel. Now, durometer is entirely a personal preference, and I have running buddies that feel that the cushioning on the Sense 3 Ultra feels ‘soft,’ so take my judgment with a grain of salt. The bonus to this high-durometer midsole material is that it seems to compress at a very slow rate allowing a long life for the shoe. Also, the combination of this harder midsole and the Pro-Feel Film rock plate make the Sense 3 Ultra Softground very protective. The shoe maintains the 4mm heel drop of its sister models in the line.

Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Softground medial upper

The Sense 3 Ultra Softground’s medial upper.

Outsole

Salomon uses its Mud and Snow ContaGrip outsole on the Sense 3 Ultra Softground, and this is a fantastic addition to the shoe. Not only does the extra outsole lugging seem to add just a bit more cushioning which my feet crave in this shoe, but the traction is highly versatile. I spent a lot of time running through snow, mud, and soft clay this winter/spring in the Sense 3 Ultra Softground, and the 5mm chevron-shaped lugs are spaced widely enough apart to shed even the stickiest wet clay. The higher lugs can take a bit of getting used to while running on highly rocky terrain as they did tend to throw off my balance at times, but then again, I was running on terrain that is completely contrary to their intended use.

Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Softground 4

The Sense 3 Ultra Softground’s outsole.

Overall Impression

Salomon often makes such subtle changes to their models from one year to the next that I have to hold the shoes side by side to notice the design changes. This was the case with the Sense Ultra and the Sense 3 Ultra Softground. However, the added durability in the upper will extend the life of the shoe significantly. When I think of Salomon’s trail-shoe line I imagine the specific types of terrain and conditions that each shoe was designed for. It is easy to look at the similarities between various models offered from Salomon and feel that some of them may be unnecessary. But, spend some time in the shoe on the intended terrain and you begin to realize what Salomon is trying to dial in. The Sense 3 Ultra Softground offers incredible feel and control on soft and muddy trails.

I am probably a complete anomaly, but I most often used the Sense 3 Ultra Softground on hardpack and rocky trails. Why? Because the extra bit of cushioning from the lugs gives my feet a bit more forgiveness than the original Sense Ultra. I was able to extend the distance I could run in these shoes, and although I still so very badly want to race a 50 miler in them, I feel that it is not to be for me. On a soft and muddy course this would be a go-to shoe, but on harder trails the dense midsole leaves me personally feeling a bit ginger footed.

If you live in an area with a lot of moisture, grassy or muddy trails, and steep climbs and descents, this could be your go-to shoe. However, don’t write off this model because it’s a Softground. I was pleasantly surprised by just how diverse of a performer this shoe is, and with the price point slowly creeping back toward the stratosphere, combined with increased durability, the Sense 3 Ultra Softground deserves a test run.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Sense 3 Ultra Softground? What are your impressions?
  • For those of you who have tried this shoe, how did you find it performed in various conditions?
  • Is there anyone else out there who, like Tom, appreciates the lug’s extra softness on an otherwise high-durometer outsole?
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 21 comments

  1. flandriaruns

    This review is awesome…seriously.

    Yes, I've ran on them and love them to the yin-yang. Most of what Tom mentioned was pretty spot on except that I have not ran it for 200 mi, yet so I am really happy this review came out! The shoes performed great on soft, liquid muddy terrain and great on slippery rocks but I once ran the shoes on pasty or clayish type of mud, the mud stuck on the lugs and filled up, very hard to get off but that is a rare terrain. I ran it on sand for miles and it performed amazing. Great on technical downhill because it's one with the feet (glove like fitting) and low to the ground. Yes, I also felt the soft lugs compared to my Ultra Sense however without the soft lugs, the Sense 3 is stiffer than the Ultra Sense. One other note is that I leave the lace loose and the shoes doesn't move at all which allows room for the feet to expand and works with the movement of the feet.

    I do want to post a question though if that is okay. Tom mentioned that the shoes is okay up to his testing mileage of 200 mi which is great to know! I am trying to decide if I should wear my Sense Pro vs Sense 3 on my JMT fastpacking trip. I have a myriad of reason why I chose the two but will not fill up this comment. I just want to know Tom's opinion in the durability, tenacity and comfort of Sense 3 for multi-day running up to 12 days. Will it hold up? I have yet to see any post or blog post of anyone who have used the two shoes for multi-day trips. I mean average people like me, not pros who can have multiple shoes during a stage race.

    The biggest reason I chose those two because of the drops on the shoes. The 11 mm drop on a Salomon Speedcross will not work for me. I am comfortable with 4-6mm drops when I run. Another reason is weight, breathability and quick to dry for creek crossings.

    Thanks.

    1. TomCaughlan

      flandriaruns-
      I'm very sorry about the delay here in responding to your questions. I had a very long post but unfortunately intensedebate was not working correctly on my computer. Sorry!
      Anyways, I don't see any durability issues with the upper on either shoes (essentially the same upper from what I remember of the Sense Pro). I think your biggest concern would be midsole protection and which shoe you feel you can wear for 12 days on your feet? Blister issues, feet swelling, etc…..
      In the past, I've often chose the lighter weight models for longer races, but as I get older I'll sacrifice an ounce or two for some extra cushioning.
      Also, the terrain would be a big consideration since the Sense Pro has pretty minimal lugging. Sounds like a fun event! Let us know how they hold up.

      1. Flandria

        No worries Tom. Thanks for the post. I've decided to go with the Sense Pro for JMT and see how it survives. I am not sure but the Sense Pro is comfortable and the cushion is amazing. I've been training with the Mantra a lot so when I wear my Sense Pro, it feels like slipping into a pillow. My feet have gotten stronger having trained on like the stiff Mantra (damn, I love that shoes!) for so many miles so the Sense Pro will be a good choice for JMT. I agree with the extra cushion.

        As for the terrain, I've worn the Mantra in pretty gnarly terrain (wet roots/rocks descending, slippery mud and gravel which I totally hate) and I am absolutely shocked by how that darn shoes is grip wise. I really was skeptical but it really surprised me – good grip. So, another reason why I will choose to wear Sense Pro, the grip of those two shoes are surprisingly really good.

        But as always, I will never know once on the trail because anything can happen. I will let you know after 201 mile when I get back! LOL!

        1. flandriaruns

          Salomon Sense Mantra, JMT tested…success!

          204 miles, zero blisters and hardly any damage! Super impressed. Many creek crossings and got it wet, dries out so fast was a plus!

  2. richardferron

    Speedcross outsole? Not for me! Speedcross are great in the mud but slippery on wet rock and usually, where I run, one goes with the other. Salomon shoes always have good features but I would never sacrifice a sticky rubber. La Sportiva any day! heard really good things on Inov-8's rubber too.

    1. dcpattie

      Nike's new "Sticky Rubber" found on the Kiger's is grippier than both my Inov8 295's and La Sportiva Skylite 2.0's. I have to hand it to Nike

      1. richardferron

        thank's for the info, will take a look. Nike shoes never really fitted my feet but it's good to know that they have a good rubber.

    2. flandriaruns

      Richard, you are correct about the Speedcross. My husband wore Speedcross on our JMT fast pack and his sole just got demolished at the end of the trip. The outsole is doesn't last very long, he was pretty disappointed. He is actually looking on other brands such as La Sportiva as you mentioned for a more durable sole for hiking. He is a heel striker and the wear is on one side of the shoes so for a Speedcross, that may not be good as compensation will take place.

    1. TomCaughlan

      I was able to stick with my traditional 9.5 US. Because of the nice midfoot wrap I feel I could go up to a 10 and not move around much though.

  3. kakchacha

    True review! I just bought it 2 days aga and found it as great shoes. Soft and comfortable on all kind surface. Now I'm ready to climb a mountain next week.

  4. drmitau

    Hi, can anyone comment on durability of the outsole when the shoes are used on hardpack? I'm also confused about the drop. It is said that it is 4mm drop shoe, but according to RunningWarehouse it has 7mm drop. Which information is correct?

      1. flandriaruns

        Byron is absolutely correct. Sense 3 SG has a 4mm drop. RunningWareHouse have their own measurements but it's the same. They have a video that explains how they do their own measurements for their customers.

  5. Nick Jenkins

    Had these on for 4 runs now, near to my place I have a run to the nearest peak that takes in wide to narrow trail, rock roots, churned up sections of rutted trail thanks to logging machines, and then out of the tree line a long section of grassy hillside with intermittent trail followed by the final scramble to the top of the peak. These shoes are great for this sort of thing, especially after a storm when the grass is wet or there is a little mud on the track, but even when the ground is hard the size of the lugs are no problem. I doubt they'd be the first choice if I was planning a route on hardpack forest roads, but anything else these simply rock and offer excellent security on downhill bombs. I was really confident in these on the last outing, which in a way is due to their foot hugging fit, but I was flying, taking a straight line approach to the trail and jumping off big drop offs, feeling confident at speed on steep grades, truly fantastic. Now if the damn thing can hold together for 300 miles or so I'll be happy!

  6. @KingBridger

    I have done all of my trail running in Altra's. I just started running less than 2 years ago. I recently traded in the Lone Peak 2.0 for the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra SG . The Lone Peak 2.0's were too sloshy and parts were already wearing down after only 25 miles. I have a narrow foot, but I love the wide toe box from Altra. The Sense 3's don't seem too much smaller on the toe box area which is nice. I have ran in the Salomons twice so far, once on a 95F day and another time on a really steep descent. Both times I felt a lot more hotspots than I had with my Altras, but a lot less sloshing around. When switching to a new brand/style of shoe do your feet need transition or adjust before its normal? The Salomons are so much better on anything technical. What are your thoughts? Thanks!

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