Salomon S/LAB Ultra Review

In terms of pure trail running aesthetics, Salomon seems to both stick to its original design principles and lead the pack in cutting-edge design in a small industry that seems to be devolving into early 1990s beach wear. With a glance, and from afar, you can pick out their footwear and apparel. While I highly regard their shoe designs, technical features, and durability, I’ve never been able to wear them for ultra distances. This has nothing to do with Salomon shoes and everything to do with my mangled, spreading, and slightly arthritic feet. That said, I know I’m not alone and that others have struggled in Salomon shoes for long ultramarathon distances, too.

The release of the Salomon S/LAB Ultra ($180) this spring had my hopes up. You see, my complaints with Salomon have been twofold; narrow toeboxes and very firm forefoot cushioning. The S/Lab Ultra, which was designed with input from François D’haene, was reputed to solve both of these issues. Upon receiving the shoe for testing, I struggled during the first couple of runs. While the forefoot cushioning was delightful, the toebox width still seemed to be an issue… until the shoe really broke in around 30 miles. What follows is what I liked about this shoe as well as areas for improvement.

Salomon S-Lab Ultra

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Salomon S/Lab Ultra Upper

Having tried many S/Lab shoes, I’d come to expect the open and airy mesh that comes in these lightweight, race-oriented models. With the S/Lab Ultra, Salomon decided to completely abandon the design of last year’s S/Lab Sense Ultra and create an upper with a lot of durable, welded-on overlays. This design change, as well as additional cushioning, added on a full ounce to the shoe but created durability in spades. The S/Lab Ultra retains the design features we expect from a S/Lab shoe including Endofit, a lace garage, and the Kevlar Quicklace system, but seamless Sensifit overlays, which are loose overlays that tighten with the lacing around the midfoot, are a new addition. While this feature didn’t bother me, it did collect some mud, a stick, and seemed duplicative given Salomon’s über-locked-down inner Endofit.

The tongue is extra thick, compared to lighter-weight Salomon models, and gusseted, which did help keep a lot of sand and mud out of the shoe. I loved the heel cup and collar, which are soft at first impression, but really conform to the heel and keep it locked down when climbing steep inclines. Overall, this is the same locked-down Salomon fit that you’ve come to expect, with a slightly wider toebox. While I certainly wouldn’t consider this toebox wide by any means, it compares more directly to a New Balance RC 1400 or Nike Terra Tiger 4, and is a bit wider than any S/Lab shoe in the past.

Salomon S-Lab Ultra lateral view

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra lateral upper.

Salomon S/Lab Ultra Midsole

As with any Salomon shoe, I’ve come to expect a responsive, and even hard, underfoot cushioning, which is wonderful for faster-paced running. My problem has always been that as I get into the later stages of a race or training run, even 50k, my forefoot is usually begging for mercy due to the lack of cushioning. Salomon addresses this in the S/Lab Ultra by employing Energy Cell+ foam in the forefoot, which is encased in their usual dual-density EVA foam. This addition of a softer and very resilient foam is a game changer in my opinion and allowed me run a 100k with 16,000 feet of gain without a shoe change.

Other important stats include a 8mm drop (26mm and 18mm) and a healthy stack height aimed at the 100-mile distance. Profeel Film continues to provide great protection in Salomon shoes, and with the S/Lab Ultra this minimal but protective rock plate does a great job.

Salomon S-Lab Ultra medial view

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra medial upper.

Salomon S/Lab Ultra Outsole

I’ve put over 250 miles on the Premium Wet Traction Contagrip outsole on this shoe, and it barely shows a mark. Its traction on wet surfaces is remarkable, and this was demonstrated while running through tall and wet grass down a forty-degree hill interspersed with boulders. I never felt any slippage on the wet surface and whenever I needed the shoe to dig in to go over, or around, a boulder the outsole grabbed perfectly. Other runners were sliding and falling while I felt I had full control. I don’t attribute this to my downhill running abilities, which are regularly chided by my peers, but rather the confidence inspired by this outsole. With minimal lugging, the Contagrip outsole seems to grab onto everything. I put it through six-hour hill climbs in sloppy mud, snow slogs with icy creek crossings, as well as bone-dry, rocky, and technical training runs. This outsole does it all.

Salomon S-Lab Ultra outsole

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra outsole.

Salomon S/Lab Overall Impressions

The S/Lab Ultra is a 10.7-ounce shoe with an 8mm drop that is aimed at taking on the 100-mile distance. This is, by far, the most protective S/Lab shoe I’ve ever worn and I have confidence that this shoe would last well past 500 miles, which could help make up for the $180 price tag. While the fit, traction, and cushioning are more ample than any Salomon shoe I’ve worn, this is still a shoe for runners with a narrower forefoot. I was able to get away with racing a 100k in this shoe by wearing very thin socks, but toward the later stages of the race, I felt my feet swelling against the walls of the toebox.

For Salomon runners, this shoe will definitely fit in your quiver and will likely become your ultra shoe of choice. I think that Salomon could do away with the Sensifit foot wraps and concentrate on lightening the upper while maintaining an already-perfected midsole and outsole. Of course, what I would like to see is for Salomon to widen the toebox of this shoe or offer widths that would accommodate more runners. Overall, what you get with the S/Lab Ultra is a supremely engineered shoe with great function and aesthetics that can take on the gnarliest terrain at any distance.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Salomon S/Lab Ultra? And have you raced long distances in it? What types of mileages work for your feet in these shoes?
  • What do you think about the model’s technical features, like its upper and outsole? How do they perform for you?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Salomon S-Lab Ultra top view

The Salomon S/Lab Ultra view from the top.

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 29 comments

  1. Maarten Cox

    I’ve been running on Salomon shoes for years up to marathon distances, And used this model for My first ultra 2 months ago.

    While training for the ultra I had a pair of salomon s/lab me:sh shoes made But in the end I prefered the s/lab ultra over the custom me:sh shoes. In my first 100k with about 3500 mtr elevation gain I only suffered 2 Black toenails and no blisters at all.

    Goes without saying they well exceeded my expectations and will be running loads more on these shoes.

  2. David H

    Will say that on rocky and techy terrain, the lateral outsole lugs last roughly 100 miles only. The grip has decreased as a result. Outdole is not as durable as I hoped.

    1. iNeedSomeNewShoesBad!

      Would be interested in hearing more on this as 100miles seems very little (especially to justify the price). I had the sense 4 ultra and after 100miles they showed their battle scars, however, I was warned and I was also training and racing in dry and aggressive conditions. With the new sense ultra line I was told that durability was a massive improvement to go hand in hand with comfort/protection at longer distances. The author mentions that at 250miles they barely show wear, which is more what I would expect.

      And a quick question for those that have tried both: Sense Ultra v1 or Sense Ultra v2?

      1. Thomas Caughlan

        I’m close to 300 miles in now on these shoes on some gnarly and rocky terrain, and while my lugs show a bit of wear, but its not significant. I’ve worn the Sense Ultra 4 as well and those lugs, and the lugs of the Sense pro (same outsole) do wear down more quickly. I feel like the S/Lab Ultra is retaining its grip as well.

        Lug wear does seem to be runner specific as I’ve been told by runners that they shear off lugs and their shoes are bald after 100 miles while I rarely shred an outsole. I guess it comes down to terrain and footstrike.

    2. Hayden

      I bought a pair of these in August. They would probably be my favourite trail shoes so far but I probably got 300km before they were smooth on the bottom from mostly fast packing and a bit of trail running. These shoes were great while they lasted, but their longevity does not warrant the price. Perhaps they are meant for lighter weight people? I am 6’1″ and depending on the day, 195 to 200lbs. Regardless, I hope the Ultra Pro last a little longer as I am a fan of the S/Lab Ultra and they look fairly similar.

  3. GPR

    Question:

    I really like the previous S-Lab Sense Ultras (mostly black) and S-Lab Sense 6 SGs (mostly red), due to the weight and fit. I have a slightly narrow foot, and find that those two models have a very sock-like fit. The upper wraps like a glove – especially in the midsole, but it isn’t cramped. It just holds the shoe perfectly in place, and they don’t feel mushy or shift around on my during runs. In comparison, I’ve also tried the Sense Ride and Sense Pro-2, which both felt less snug in the upper/midfoot. I couldn’t wear them because they felt sort of sloppy and bulky – even with the lacing system cranked down pretty hard (which brought the eyelets very close together).

    Having said all that, can anyone compare this new S-Lab Ultra to those previously mentioned shoes? Where does it fall in terms of the snugness and fit of the upper?

    Thanks!

    1. Tom Caughlan

      GPR-
      I really loved the fit and grip of the S/Lab Sense 5 SGs, and I attempted to wear them more than my wide forefoot would really allow. The midfoot and heel fit are so good in that shoe.
      The S/Lab Ultra is going to feel a bit sloppier on the foot, and I found the fit to be fairly static regardless of how tightly I pulled the laces. While this worked for me, if you have a narrower foot you probably won’t like it.

  4. Dan van Hemert

    I so so so wish a proper wide toe box was provided by Salomon in their shoes. I agree on a system offerin a width size, as in ice hockey skates. I’m currently usin Inov8 solely for their wide toe box and miss the grip on the Salomon soles. Hopefully one day I can step back into Salomon’s without losing toe nails and chaffing feet.

  5. Matt T.

    Disclaimer: I am a Salomon ambassador.

    Good review! The material on the latest model does break in nicely after a few runs and shows little wear after more than 200 miles. The forefoot padding is a great addition.

    These are by far my favorite shoe they make. It is also the most versatile as I have used them for distances up to 72 miles so far on rocky and technical terrain with a lot of elevation. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them solely for 100 milers. I never had any issues with traction or foot pain due to rocks.

  6. Lightning

    The only Salomon that I have enjoyed for in the past decade is the RX Prime, which wasn’t even intended for running. I ran my S-lab sense ultra SG 3 yesterday for the second time in a year and am reminded of why I hate it. Looks snazzy, but just awful comfort. Bring back the Salomon Flagstaff! That’s their last non-gimmickly/gadgety shoe, from maybe 15 years ago.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Daniel –
      A lot more durable than any other Salomon I’ve worn. Almost all of the mesh is covered by a rubberized welded on overlay, especially in high wear areas on the shoe. I tortured this shoe and the upper has very little wear and no creases.

      1. iNeedSomeNewShoesBad!

        I’m confused about the durability of Salomon shoes. Are we strictly talking about the S-Lab line? I’ve had the Wings Pro II, didn’t like them at all, but bomb proof. I’ve have S-lab Sense 4 Ultra, loved them but didn’t last long! Friends that can run in the stiffer/bulkier models of Salomon models rave about build quality. What is the sweet-spot model? Sense Ultra?

        1. Brian

          I’ve run in lots of Salomons and I am honestly not sure what the above posted is referring to. The build quality (including mesh) of Salomons shoes have always impressed me and is one of the reasons I have a hard time buying other shoes. Their shoes are reliable so I dont often hesitate buying them, even at full price sometimes. Of their recent shoes the Sense Ride is about the only one I would say has durability issues.

          1. iNeedSomeNewShoesBad!

            Good to know. I thought that would be the case with most. I guess it comes down to what Tom says about being runner specific. However, I put my s-lab sense through hell (hard-packed, grit, stones, rocks, scrambling, aggressive downhill, even night racing clipping the odd stone/rocks) and, apart from the lugs, which had a very short life, the rest just didn’t break in the slightest (other than artificial scratches). I would hate to invest in a pair of Sense ultra and for them to have mesh issues.

            1. Brian

              I dont have many miles on mine yet but the mesh seem to be holding up good. It is a fairly thin mesh, the shoes overall retain almost no water when submerged which I believe is the reason for hardly any padding in the heel and the thin mesh. So keep that mind.

  7. Suresh

    I find it hard to believe that the average US male trail runner’s foot is a D width and not EE. I cannot understand why shoe manufacturers do not conduct simple foot width surveys from running shoe stores, or when they hold expos.

  8. Steve

    The lack of trail running shoes with a decent width forefoot is so frustrating to me. Really doesn’t make sense when you look at the shape of your feet when barefoot.

    Altras feel good but unfortunately a zero drop is just not suitable for me.

    1. Brian

      As a narrow footed runner I have the opposite problem and I kindly wish everyone to stop complaining about Salomon’s narrow shoes lest the only brand that consistently fits my feet widens their shoes too much!

      1. GPR

        Agreed 100%.

        I have real trouble finding trail-runners that don’t feel sloppy or shift around on technical terrain with my relatively narrow foot. The Sense Ultras and SGs had a nice blend of snug fit, decent room in the toe-box, and killer blend of responsiveness/cushioning. I still would like to give these a shot, but if the fit is not as snug (or at least close) to the previous S-Lab stuff, I’ll be searching for a new go-to. I’ve had some luck with the Terra Kigers, but they aren’t quite as nimble or confidence-inspiring on technical downhill terrain…

        1. Brian

          The Ultra is narrow footed friendly for sure. The only thing weird is the sizing, they break in after a few runs and because of the upper doesnt have much padding in the heel etc… it seems to fit large, I went down to 10 from 10.5 and the fit is amazing. I always felt like nothing could ever fit as well as the old Sense Ultra but these fit me even better. Which is great for me because I cannot do long distances in the Killian shoes without hurting myself.

          1. GPR

            Brian-

            “I always felt like nothing could ever fit as well as the old Sense Ultra but these fit me even better. Which is great for me because I cannot do long distances in the Killian shoes without hurting myself.”

            Do you mean that these new S/Lab Ultras fit you even better than the previous S-Lab Sense Ultras (the mostly black w/ red heel)?

            1. Brian

              Sorry, Salomon has made things confusing by changing the naming convention of what used to be referred to as the SLAB Sense Ultra (aka the Killian shoe) with the SLAB Ultra (not Sense) and SLAB Sense just became SLAB Sense 6. I was referring to the former. The mostly black Ultra I’ve never tried due to the 9mm drop and reports of it being Salomons widest ever shoe. The new Ultra is 8mm (small difference I know) and from everything I have read is much more narrow.

              The SLAB Sense Ultra (or now just Sense 6) was the best fitting shoe I’ve ever tried, up until this new Ultra. I always had a bit of trouble with the toe box being slightly too wide.

  9. Jeff

    A wide range of opinions here on fit. My own view is that the S-Lab Sense Ultra was the best fitting Salomon and a very versatile shoe. I have run up to 100km with it and I am far from fast or nimble. It’s main drawback is a lack of push through protection when you are on very rocky trails. The S-Lab Ultra is a bit narrower, which is ok for me. The compound is noticeably firmer and offers much better push through protection, but at the expense of grip. In addition to the compound the other factor affecting grip is the absence of lugs slightly back of mid-foot. I experienced slippage on wet slippery rock (full disclosure — I have weak ankles) and lost confidence in the shoes so I swapped the S-Lab Ultras for the new Ultra Pro. Much wider toe box (that is not really a plus for me), but full lug coverage (with deeper lugs), great cushion and push through protection. Feels a bit less snappy than the Ultra, but honestly both the S-Lab Ultra and the Ultra Pro are noticeably heavier and less responsive than the Sense Ultra. All a question of what fits you and what attributes are most important to you.

  10. Pedro

    I have mine for several months, they are amazing but the outsole durability is ridiculous. 300kms and there are several of of the lugs disapering… and I dont run in concrete with them as I live in Switzerland

  11. Paul Johnston

    Hi, I’ve ran in these shoes around four times on the trails in the Lake District UK. Found them comfortable and grippy. Unfortunately when the shoes have been through wet trail and puddles it’s a let down. Running down hill the insoles fold from the toes. Had to take them out and continue the run without them. This was a problem in the speed cross years ago. Can’t believe salamon have never fixed this defect. I’ve had to replace the insoles with the innov8 insoles to fix this. Shocking when they charge you so much for these shoes.

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