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. Seamus Foy

    $200 is ridiculous, and yet there is a very good chance I'll pay it (once I find some kind of sale). I completely understand why some people are immediately critical when they see the pricetag. I would think the same thing, and did when I first saw Salomon's line and prices.

    Then I got a pair of CrossMax XR, which isn't the best shoe for my needs, but regardless the quality is outstanding! I've run a few hundred miles in them, and they are still in perfect condition.

    If Salomon has managed a minimal shoe that is highly flexible, while still protecting your foot, and if the quality is of the same quality as the CrossMax, it'll be worth the price tag. I'm picky about shoes, and I've never found anything in the same league as my Salomons. I've been eyeing the SpeedCross, but I may have to wait for these.

  2. Anonymous

    It's too bad they don't make any of their S-Lab shoes in anything bigger than a 12. I won't buy any Salomon products until they stop discriminating against people with larger feet.

  3. Chris Cawley

    200 dollars is pretty steep, but I'm pushing 300 miles on my most recent pair of Speedcross 3's, which includes 100 miles in a go at The Bear 100 in September. They are still feeling fresh enough for a long run, with almost no notable wear/tear on the upper or mid/outsole. Salomon makes some pricey shoes but compared to other shoes I've had in abundance lately–Mountain Masochist, Rogue Racer, MT100–they last almost twice as long. If I hold a Speedcross with 300 miles in one hand and a Mountain Masochist with 200 in the other, the Salomon is clearly in better shape, and it is plainly apparent that Salomon shoes cost more because they are built with superior materials and much higher quality construction.

    1. Keith

      That is all you get out of your shoes? I get more than 1000 miles out of my 101s. I have at least 1500 on my Lunarracers. I think you might be switching out shoes to often. All of th shoes you have mentioned should get more than twice the mileage out of what you are getting.

      1. Chris Cawley

        My 100's were worn through to the outsole after 400 miles, and I didn't bother getting my other pair to that point as portions of the upper were falling off and the tread was already bare where I wanted it not to be. Mountain Masochists and rogue racers are a total joke; big toes blown out on all four individual shoes, collapsed midsoles and stripped lugs, without getting to 200 miles each on the RR's; soles delaminating, wearing out completely, and uppers tearing on the MM's after 3-400 miles. Good thing montrails and NB's are relatively cheap, and returnable at my preferred shoe retailer.

        I'm hoping Salomon makes a lower drop shoe in something more affordable, but with the same quality construction found in the speedcross, xt lab, and other high end shoes.

  4. Connor Williams

    200$ is a lot of money. There is no doubt about that. But to be honest i dont feel this shoe will be any better than the mt110 or any other in the category. Salomon always makes overpriced shoes that people think are way better because they get 300 miles out of them. 300 miles isn't anything on a pair of shoes. My minimus trails are now at 450 and still doing 20 miles in them. I don't think you can be a minimal runner with such a consumer lifestyle. Minimalist is more than what your stack height is. Its the way you view every aspect of running. Once there are compression lines on a shoe doesn't mean its time to replace them. When you only have 9mm to compress you don't notice the difference as much as you do on shoes like the Kinvara where you have 21mm, so you can put more miles on them with out feeling like they are wore out. These may be a great shoe but they are turning alot of people off with the 200$

  5. MikeZ

    I wonder if the $200 price tag comes with some kinda manufacturer's warranty. My previous experience with Salomon shoes (S-Lab 4 and Speedcross 3) had been mixed. Great traction and fit but the upper gets destroyed over a couple of technical run especially when the trail is muddy and rocky. The Salomon Sense's upper does not appear to be reinforced judging from the pictures and it's weight (lack of). I can always stay on the dirt road and run around the mud holes, or i can just stay on the road. Venting aside, I think it's fair to say that unless there's some kinda procedure put in place to ensure the longetivity of the shoes I think it's going to be hard for many of us to fork out 200 bucks for a pair of racing flats with slightly better than road shoe traction.

  6. dogrunner

    I'm looking forward to these and hope they finally have a shoe that fits wider in the forefoot / toebox.

    Price is on the high side but it will be worth it if they fit and "disappear" in use. I have yet to find the "perfect" shoe and have tried a lot. Running is still cheap compared to my other favorite sport (mtn biking).

  7. Dean G

    There are a lot of radical design solutions in this shoe. Stuff that will either be a one-off, or if they actually work, wil become a template for designers at Salomon and other shoe companies. Rock protection with a flexible foot that allows for a tread that will deform and grip on bad surfaces and yet stay unobtrusive on hard pack? 100 mile blister protection fit? Under 200g?

    I think you get what you pay for with this radical new shoe, IF (and this is a real if) these new Ideas actually work for the average runner — and not just some super-human runner like Kilian.

  8. James

    Paid 150 for Bondi B – they are at 500 miles right now and still going. They also feel great at 100 miles (for ME). If these make you run and feel better, the price may be acceptable. The market will dictate whether Salomon can command this price long term.

    A different question but wondering if there is a relationship with Salomon – the store offers mainly Salomon gear, the review of products are often Salomon, and your book cover features Salomon shoes.

    1. Bryon Powell

      James,
      I have great relationships with lots of companies. Aside from Salomon, I'm incredibly thankful – as iRunFar's readers should also be – for my relationships with the likes of La Sportiva, Montrail/Mountain Hardwear, New Balance, The North Face, and so on. (Deferring to alphabetical order on that list.) Although each of these relationships is different – it's these relationships that get iRunFar products to test and possibly review (we receive far more products than we review), access to product managers/designers for in-depth technical knowledge, as well as the means for me to make iRunFar a (much more than) full-time job. Below I'll address the specific points you raise.

      The current selection in the iRunFar Store happened quite serendipitously. After merely having a couple iRunFar-branded shirts and hats in the iRunFar Store heading into the summer of 2010, I was offered the chance to carry Salomon's Exo Calf, a product I'd long wanted purchase for myself, but had found myself unable to buy anywhere in the US. The Salomon selection in the store grew from there (through a standard retailer relationship), as I found it was a way to help make the media side of iRunFar possible. As someone who started iRunFar and it's store with approximately no cash and having yet to take out a loan, the growth of the store has been entirely organic reinvestment of sales. Given that model, I simply can't bring in all the products I want nor can I take on much risk at any time… so in the short term I generally stuck with products that worked. That said, I'm happy to share that I'll be adding a significant selection of Montrail/Mountain Hardwear product in the coming months. I'm sure the product mix in the iRunFar Store will continue to diversify as (1) I am able to become a retailer for additional vendors (it's neither fast nor necessarily easy to become a retailer – I'm still waiting for Mountain Hardwear product many months after starting the process), (2) I learn what product mix works, and (3) as my thoughts on which products are the most impressive (and are able to bring into the store – see point 1) changes.

      As for as product reviews, we've reviewed two Salomon shoes in the past 15 months which is on par with plenty of other manufacturers. Off the top of my head, I know I've published more shoes reviews of New Balance, a company with which neither I nor iRunFar has ever had any sort of financial relationship, than Salomon during that time. It shouldn't be that surprising that we've reviewed a bunch of Salomon apparel as I've got a ready supply (of products I felt good enough about to bring into the iRunFar Store) in my office.

      As for the cover of Relentless Forward Progress, I'd long ago seen the image (on Salomon's Facebook page) and loved its visual impact. I long considered what type of image I wanted on the cover – "trail running" image vs image of top ultrarunners vs image of midpack ultrarunner vs something else – and after looking at 1,000s of images, the bright Salomon shoe on bold background is the one I wanted to be on the shelf at a bookstore or on a webpage as it catches the eye, does it not? Originally given no photo budget for the book, I negotiated with both my publisher and the photographer to buy cover rights for the photo. Nothing happening between Salomon and myself there.

      Going forward, I will continue to cultivate my and iRunFar's relationships with a multitude of companies that create products of interest to iRunFar readers.

      I hope that answers your question. :-)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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….

    Hmmmmm…

    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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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. :-)

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

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