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.]

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Me wearing the Salomon S-Lab Sense after an “intense” testing session.

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (184)

  • Nice review! When you say "the midsole EVA is exposed in the midfoot of Kilian’s shoe whereas it will be covered with outsole in the production version" are you speaking about filling in the cut-out that exposes the carbon plate on the outsole (with EVA foam)?

    I sure hope so because those cut outs in the mid/fore foot shout "rock collector" to me! The S-Lab XT Wings 3/4 are notorious rock collectors with its deep cut-out in the heel section. Its so bad that I filled it in with Dow crack-filler foam.

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    • There's so much forefoot flexibility in the Sense that I think it would be quite difficult to keep gravel stuck in the Forefoot cutouts for very long. Should be a different story than a cutout in a much less flexible area (or shoe) like in the heel.

      Also, I think it's quite unlikely that a rock would initially lodge itself anywhere outside the three forward-most cutouts.

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  • $200.00 was all I had to hear...

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  • FWIW, runningwarehouse.com consistently has all Salomon shoes for 20% off - even brand new models. So ~ $160 is still not cheap but not quite as stratospheric as $200.

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    • + a 10% running club discount you are at $146.00, which is a whole lot better than $200.00

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  • I'm hoping that the fit of these is closer to the Salomon 'XR' line rather than their 'XT' shoes (wide in the toe box with a snug midsole/heel cup.)

    It will be nice to have a lightweight Salomon shoe that isn't stacked in the heel like the Speedcross - this looks like it will fit the bill.

    I'd like to use these in the Zion 100 in early May, so I hope these are released early!

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  • I've been tempted to try some of the Salomon line, but at the prices I've seen it's a big risk to fork over good $$$ and NOT like the shoe. Then again they all seem to get good reviews and some friends that have worn them like them. So who knows? Still at the $150+ range I'd rather keep experimenting with Hokas. Also as another commenter said, those cut-outs do scream rock catcher; I run in a lot of gravel around here and those things would be jammed full of rock in no time.

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  • Thanks Bryon, nice preview! Just a question because I lack proper understand and am I curious: say you like the idea of a zero-dropped shoe, but want more protection due to retrain or distance. Why wouldn't you raise the whole shoe to retain the zero-dropped feature? The drop and the protection seems to be different issues, but are often taken to be the same thing, which I don't understand. (Yes, for the heel they are I guess, but why change the drop when all you want is more protection?) I guess putting too much protection under the toes reduces ground feel too much? Would love some insight into that, if possible. Thanks!

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    • JH, not having talked with Kilian about this, I can only make generalizations. While there's a large group of people who want zero-drop shoes these days simply because they are zero drop, others like lower stack height shoes while caring a bit less about the relative stack of the shoes. For them, they'd prefer a lower profile shoe over added another 4 mm to the forefoot simply so make a shoe zero-drop.

      On a purely personal note, I don't "like the idea of a zero-dropped shoe." I wish every cool new shoe like this was available in an 10-11mm drop version so that I could comfortably wear this. Again, that's purely personal... I understand plenty of folks like low- to no-dropped running shoes.

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      • Thanks for the reply. Yes, it's first of all a very individual thing. People like different things which I think is great. However, I've seen minimalist/natural running people/shoes take some heat from some experienced trail people because of the rocky retrain that some people run on. They need the protection they say, because of the rocks etc. So, minimalism is not for them etc. But, to me, what the natural running movement is really all about is the mid-foot strike and the reduced shoe drop. All of which you can do irrespective of stack height which helps with protection from rocks etc. Anyway, I'm just trying to get these things sorted out myself. Thanks for your input, and these shoes look pretty sweet although on the pricy side.

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        • I completely understand what you're saying... a do a few companies such as Altra and even Hoka One One. :-)

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          • Personally, I've found that a sweet spot of a drop around 4-6mm helps for mountain trails.

            -When I have a thick 8-10mm heel, it helps around long gradual fireroad descents, but is less precise in technical singletrack, and deadweight on a climb (which accounts for a lot of time in a race).

            -On a zero drop shoe, turnover is slightly labored as the foot has to overcome a flat plane to toeoff. As far as racing goes, this is a bit of a disadvantage for myself. Efficient toeoff is a big part of the "fast" feeling in a shoe.

            -The 4-6mm drop performs great on technical mountain trails because it allows a very responsive, tactile feeling of control in a thin forefoot package (mt110) while still giving a slight amount of protection in the heel for agressive downhill running and quick turnover in the flat.

            Hoka's are zero drop in the static state, but encourage toe off and "drop" in the dynamic state dipping in the forefoot and pushing the heel up. Drop in this sense is relative to the platform it's on. The 4mm drop on the MT110 is very slight and will probably give better technical minimalist performance with it's firm foam than other 4mm drops on the market with soft foam.. but as always, don't knock it till you try it.

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          • Dominic, this is probably the most articulate description I've read or heard of the (admittedly subjective) advantages/disadvantages of various heel/toe drops. I just got off the phone with Anton and Erik and they both shared that the 4mm area was a sweet spot for them for their everyday running as well as racing. It's quite interesting to hear so many guys - you, Anton, Erik, Kilian - who (1) are very well informed/educated about shoes, (2) have extensive, if not custom, shoe arsenals at their disposal, and (3) are training and racing on the trails at the highest level that have the same feeling - zero is too little/to inefficient while 8-10mm interferes with footstrike, reduces ground feel, and adds unnecessary weight.

            Thanks!

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      • My humble opinion about this, is that, regardless of having a thicker or thinner midsole, the heel to toe differential is specially noticed and affects your gait more, when you are tired running and lose your form; this applies to forefoot - midfoot runners. When you get tired, you start to lose the good form and tend to run on your heels. When this happens, having a bit of differential and maybe a thicker heel helps.

        I hope this model comes in big sizes, I cannot wear Salomon cos they are up to 14US, and I need just a 15!!! Meanwhile I will stick to my rogue racers or my trail gloves.

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        • Great preview or a fantastic new shoe. The low weight is incredible and the "rock plate as a fabric in the midsole makes great sense. I agree with Oscar and Bryon. For many of us who are not "forefoot or midfoot" runners naturally a zero or very low drop, even 4mm can become an issue as the miles pile on and form starts to slip. While I had wonderful runs in the Hoka Bondi B up to 13 miles, at Boston when combining low drop (4mm), soft foam with too fast a start they ended up being a diaster for me. I was told by Hoka that the strike point on the Bondi is further forward than their other models. I ended up way way back on my heels. By comparison I am really enjoying the Brooks Pure Flow for road work, also 4 mm drop or so, I believe their foot strike point is exactly in the right place under the midfoot and the inverted cut off heel helps a great deal. Even tired I have no sense of being on the heels and minimal wear back there. Hard to tell if the S-Sense heel is also inverted or cut off. Bryon? I wonder how these would feel on the road. Imagine the foam outersole might wear quite fast but....
          http://www.samwinebaum.blogspot.com

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  • Bryon,

    Thank you for your informative review. Since I use the Speedcross 3 shoe, I am unlikely to give these shoes a try. However, a couple of features stand out: the endofit and the softer toe box to reduce black toenails.

    Running sockless is not my style, but if I could reduce wiggle room then I think I could gain better control of the terrain. Black toenails are a byproduct of running (Right?? Or it is just me?) but if I could reduce them then I'd feel a lot better.

    If I were to wear these, I would use them for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50-miler.

    Thanks again, Bryon.

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    • One often overlooked feature for sockless runners is the insert sockliner. If it grabs at all its gonna cause massive blisters. Salomon must have updated or customized their OrthoLite Sockliner because these is no way you can run sockless with the sockliner currently used in the XT and XR series.

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      • Thanks, David. You make a valid point; however, I WILL be wearing socks. I learned my lesson from running in the Vibram Five fingers. Ouch!

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      • The sockliner in the Sense is completely different from the XT and XR series. Again, time will tell how it performs, but it appears to be quite comfortable for sockless running... that's what it was designed for.

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  • I would be seriously interested in a pair of these...but at $200 the wifey would kill me!!! LOL!!!

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  • Wow! $200! How is it that the New Balance MT 110 will still be in the $85 range, and this is $200. That much and one still has to put up with the stupid quick lace. Uh...maybe the Euro/Dollar exchange rate is worse than I thought.

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    • Drew - I'm curious what didn't you like about the lacing?

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      • I wasn't gonna go there... ;-) I can't say that the Quicklace offers much value added for me, but I've never felt like it detracted in anyway. :-)

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        • I currently wear Salomon S-Labs.

          the first thing I do with a new pair is cut off the quick lace and squeeze in a regular lace. just a personal thing.

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          • Gotcha. I've got a non-Salomon trail shoe with a similar alternative lacing system that I might replace with traditional laces. It's definitely a person-by-person and shoe-by-shoe thing.

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  • As a long time Salomon user I can't help but notice the resemblance to the XA Pro...

    If this shoe has a similar fit to the XA (narrow heel, wide toe box and higher arch) I'd definitely give it a try. Particularly at 6.5 oz....

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    • I'll have to let someone else who's had an inside look at the Sense speak to that as I've never had a pair of XA Pro on my feet. (I'm looking at you JD, JYC, and MW.. or KJ.)

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  • I've used one pair of Salomon shoes, the XT wings 2, and was severly disappointed in the ride, the fit...nearly everything about. Some of the more recent Salomon offerings (i.e. XR Crossmax, XR Mission, Speedcross 3) have me wanting to jump back into the Salomon brand and see how the feel. Now, the sense has me wanting to check out Salomon shoes again even more so, but those price tags leave me weary.

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    • In my experience the Wings 2 was the worst of the many Salomons I've owned (with the XA Comp a close second).

      The Wings 2 was the first and only speed lace shoe I've owned were the laces broke. This after both laces became badly frayed... It was heavy and had way too much foam under foot... Clown shoe comes to mind...

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  • I heard that Salomon is releasing a complete Killian runner 'signature' package - shoes, shorts, hat ... the works ...for $1999.00 US. I'd like to order it in time to wear at the Rock N' Roll Marathon so is there a release date? I am also thinking it would be cool to have the housekeeping staff at the villa all wearing these shoes. That would be very sharp.

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    • ... oh, sizing. My wife's bodyguard wears a size 16 in an 8E width ... do they come with width options? I guess I could send him to the S-Lab for a personal fitting, but oil revenues are down and we are cutting back a bit on expenses like everyone.

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  • I think it is impossible to race UTMB or such a long distance with this show with severe weather conditions and if you are not an elite that aiming under 24 hours of running those 100 mile aces in alps... This shoe i guess would be best under 100K and in speedy races.
    EMRE TOK http://www.geziyorum.net/utmb-faq

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  • Bryon,

    I suspect you didn't create iRunFar because you dreamed of writing about shoes for a living, but I just wanted to say that when you do write about an upcoming piece of equipment, you really do a great job.

    I share the feelings of others that $200 is an awful lot to spend on what may amount to a racing shoe...

    ...and yet I suspect if the shoe performs as you describe, there will be plenty of customers.

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  • As previously mentioned, $200 was all I had to hear as well. I go through several pair of trail runners per year and since my budget isn't getting bigger, I can't justify getting a pair of these unless they'll last 1000 miles or more.

    Also, like David said about the forefoot being a rock collector, I have to agree. NO matter how flexible it is, there are some pebbles that will work their way in there and not back out. Time will tell, but that's not an attractive feature. The rest of the shoe looks and sounds great. Especially the low weight and lower drop. About time Salomon!

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  • 1 dollar/euro per gram :) I'll take a pair!

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  • These look awesome! No question about that. I will be eagerly awiting their arrival.

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  • You can bet I'll be entering for a shot at a free pair - but for $200...at that price Hokas are bit higher on my "need to try" list...

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  • Bryon: Thanks for the thorough review of the Sense. I'm curious how the toe box compares to the Speedcross. It looks roomier (which would be nice). The price of Sense (makes NO SENSE) is way out of range though, even with RW 20% discounting. I think Salomon is getting a little out of touch with their everyday runners--the ones that actually pay money for their shoes. If Killian actually had to pay for his own shoes perhaps he would complain a little about the price too....

    I'd like to see Salomon rework the Speedcross just a little to lower the drop a bit and widen the toe box. Doesn't have to be uber-light or have drain holes. And keep the price around $100. Yeah, right!

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    • I'm not sure that Salomon is getting out of touch with everyday runners. This isn't built or billed as an everyday shoe for everyone. Salomon has the XT Wings, the XR Crossmax, the Speedcross, and other models in its current lineup. Those are everyday shoes for the masses and are priced as such. The Sense is a highly technical racing shoe.

      Whenever I hear folks (not just you :-) ) mention the high price of a specialty running item I think of cycling. Trek can make a <$500 road bike AND a >$11,000 road bike. No, we can't all afford (or need) the $11k bike, but Trek offering such a bike doesn't hurt folks wanting a $5k, $2K, or $500 bike. In fact, the technology and advancements made in the cutting edge products trickle down and inform the design of more affordable products. It's the same (although on an extremely tighter scale) and it's win-win in my book.

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      • The bottom line bryon is that...it is just a running shoe....

        Maybe it is well built, but other shoes are well built too, at half the price.

        It will not make you a faster or a better runner by itself.

        It will not make you feel better or look better.

        From my point of view, Salomon guys asks us to pay for their marketing (kilian's quest, sponsored athletes, sponsered races, andvertisement).

        I suggest to them to keep kilian at bay for 2012. That would save them a couple of thousands euros and could lower the prices on their product.

        Not that i care much. There are many very good shoes and products out there

        at the same quality and better price.

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      • "Those are everyday shoes for the masses and are priced as such. " Sorry, sounds sooooooooooooooooooooooo elitist. For the 'masses' ... oh brother.

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        • Please read the phrase in context. Perhaps the phrase was written too quickly, but the point is that there are different consumers and most product companies, whatever their field, have a range of products for various consumers at various price points. For years one could go to Apple and get a MacBook that worked for the majority of consumers (is that better than "masses"?) or a MacBook Pro is you needed more and could afford it. It's not elist. It's different products for different folks.

          Ps. Your trolling is not appreciated.

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          • Count me among those initially shocked at the $200 price tag!

            While I understand your point, Bryon, I also think our expectations vary between soft and hard goods.

            At this point, it’s tough to really understand any of the exciting shoes that will soon be coming on the market. Naturally, I think most people will immediately compare the Sense to the MT110. From my reading, it looks like the MT110 and Sense are essentially two shoe companies takes on the same concept. While that may not be an entirely fair comparison, they both are reported to have outstanding uppers, 4mm drop, lightweight, responsive, and endorsed by some of the top names in the game. However, the premium for the Salomon version is an astounding $115 more than the NB version.

            From that vantage point, it’s hard to wrap my head around the price of the Sense.

            Once I can try both shoes, however, that perspective may change!

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  • Bryon:

    A wonderful review, as always!I got a big kick hearing Jeff refer to Killian as "one of our best runners". One?

    I'll ask my usual question. Will these shoes come in wide sizes? I sure hope so!

    Thanks Bryon!

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    • Tony, while I've got no hard data, I can't imagine that these will come in widths as I'm pretty sure none of the other S-Lab products do.

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