The phrase “road to trail” is a marketing invention for most of the trail running shoe world. But indeed, if your trail run begins with a mile or more of pavement en route, the Salomon Sense 4 Pro ($140) is a truly special invention and one that backs up the slogan!
My favorite trail starts 1.78 miles from my doorstep. Nine out of 10 times I run the roads to get there, and the other one time I’ll ride my bike. So for me, the “road to trail” design philosophy is actually a wonderful and useful benefit in the shoes I pick. I suspect this is a benefit of Salomon’s recent road-shoe expansion, swapping technology and features across product lines.
During my testing phase, I used the shoe on roads, trails, and across a snow and cornice-flanked peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, testing each of its most laudable features, respectively: dynamic road feel, excellent traction on nearly all trail features, and a supremely effective waterproof upper. I even got to run in these shoes during a rare morning downpour, testing the shoes through sloppy mud and over wet rocks.
Salomon Sense 4 Pro Upper
The Sense 4 Pro upper continues the S-Lab tradition of a sock-like fit, smoothing over your foot without added material or bulk, using the SensiFit system. Rather than stitched, the upper is “welded.” This word is thrown around a lot in the shoe industry, but what does it actually mean?
Particularly in trail shoes where durability is expected along with low weight, high-frequency welding uses molecular friction and heat to fuse surfaces together until they bind. Salomon’s website lists the upper material as “textile/synthetic,” but specifically it is likely nylon and ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA); this combination produces a protective layer that is laminated over breathable mesh.
If you look closely at the upper you can see the strips of SensiFit under the mesh outer material; it runs laterally on the inside and outside of the shoe. It’s surprising that such a critical technology could feel virtually invisible while running. It is integrated with traditional Salomon Quicklaces and allows your foot to sink in and almost splay out, depending on how tightly the laces are pulled.
The shoe uses Salomon’s Quicklace system, but a new orientation pulls and stores the cinch piece from the sides and below instead of above, as in past models. This small but logical change keeps the laces more snug and stores more easily in the lace pocket.
Some seriously robust stitching attaches the four lace eyelets on each side of the shoe, predicting that a blowout would be very unlikely. Once long ago, on the older style of lace pocket, I snagged the Quicklace on a tree stump with enough force that the system broke, all the tension came out, and the shoe almost pulled completely off my foot, nearly causing an injury in the process. Maybe it was user error, but I found the old pocket a lot tougher to tuck the Quicklaces into; I find tucking the laces into the pocket of the Sense 4 Pro very easy. Seemingly insignificant, bending over and fussing with the pocket and lace storage can be annoying to deal with during a hard or long effort when foot swelling or laces loosening over time require pulling the laces out of the pocket and loosening or tightening.
These positive comments aside, Quicklaces still aren’t/have ever been a lacing system I love to use. I find it too “all or nothing.” The laces are either slack enough to feel comfortable or just a bit too tight when pulled, even with very little tension. It’s hard to find a sweet spot where your foot feels secure without being too constricted, and vice versa. These laces are practically as synonymous with Salomon shoes as Kilian Jornet, but I would love to see this nearly perfect shoe use a more adjustable lace system.
Salomon Sense 4 Pro Midsole
Before writing this review, I sent a quick note to Salomon athlete Jackson Brill. He’s one of the best young trail runners in the U.S. who has been sponsored by Salomon for several years. He has excelled in a variety of race distances from short and technical to ultramarathons. I asked him about his thoughts about the Sense Pro 4 knowing he’s been able to test the full range of his sponsor’s line: “It’s by far my favorite shoe–Salomon or otherwise–I’ve ever run in.”
For Jackson, it’s all about the midsole. The Sense 4 Pro, by all accounts, has pulled in the best of several of Salomon’s various models’ features. It’s responsive, cushioned, and protective. In this 4mm drop shoe (25 to 21mm), your feet will turn over faster and go where you want them to without hesitation, inspiring faster downhill running over technical surfaces.
Responsiveness is a characteristic people have remarked about in the more expensive S-Lab Sense models. But where the S-Lab Sense fails many people is in cushioning. Called too minimal for runners who like to run longer distances, the Sense 4 Pro blends low drop with hearty cushioning for two-hour-and-longer runs. When it comes to cushioning, which fans of Salomon’s S-Lab Ultra and Ultra Pro models appreciate, it again feels like the Sense 4 Pro has borrowed the best from those shoes without the sloppy feel of an 8mm drop shoe with big stack height and soft foam. This allows you to aggressively attack technical downhills while staying lively over the duration of a run on rolling terrain.
The heart of the Sense Pro 4’s midsole Optivibe. It is composed of two foams, one to dampen vibration and one to propel the runner forward. Combined with the outsole’s rock protection and above-average grip, this is a shoe you’ll reach for no matter the trail conditions or duration of the run.
Salomon Sense 4 Pro Outsole
Testing these shoes over all surfaces–dirt, snow, and mud–I found the Contagrip outsole to be very capable, with perhaps just a little less than expected control in soft mud where I found that the shoes slid out and became unpredictable. I face muddy conditions so infrequently where I live in Colorado that the sloppy mud performance doesn’t cost the shoe many marks for me.
The outsole of the 4 was redesigned from the 3; offering a soft-ground/hard-ground blend, letting you pick this shoe even if trail conditions change. Where the 3 was exceptionally lugged, I thought the shoe was too aggressive and unstable, especially on descents. The 4 scales back without compromising grip and actually adds confidence. The 5mm lugs, though aggressive, are almost noticeable by their absence. When you cut or turn sharply you don’t get that rocking feel from some shoes nor do you get too much shock. The lug pattern and depth is perfectly paired to the dampening of Salomon Sense 4 Pro Optivibe.
Salomon Sense 4 Pro Overall Impressions
One thing to note if you’re reading this review near the date of its publication is that the men’s version is on sale right now. This shouldn’t be overlooked when considering the shoe’s review overall. You’re getting incredible technology that works as well as claimed in a shoe much less expensive than worse and more expensive competitors. I’ve seen them on sale for less than $100.
And lastly, “looking fast is feeling fast” in the Sense 4 Pro. It borrows the best aesthetics from the S-Lab Sense, one of, in my opinion, the best-looking trail shoes of all time and characteristic of some of the best Salomon attributes: durability, responsiveness, and technical prowess.
I’ve known people to run 400-plus miles in Salomons and expect to be running in these shoes for a really long time. I’m over 100 miles into mine and apart from normal dirt and some scuffing, with a wash, they’d look almost new.
Call for Comments
- Do you run in the Salomon Sense 4 Pro? What do you think overall?
- If you’ve run in prior iterations of this model, what do you think about version 4?
- Care to share feedback on any specific feature of this shoe?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]