The 2017 Sense Ultra takes this Salomon classic in a new direction; more cushion and a wider toe box re-define the shoe as an ultra-workhorse in contrast to its lean and mean ulra-trail racing predecessors. Salomon has been incorporating feedback from their elite athletes, and as a result we’re seeing some new ideas emerge. As it turns out, even super humans prefer some comforts in their footwear for running ultra distance! To that end, the Sense Ultra is reborn in its sixth iteration, but without the “6”… possibly a nod to the new design. As a big fan of Salomon shoes, I have a lot of thoughts about it, and high hopes for it as an ultra-trail shoe!
Sense Ultra 2017 Specs at a Glance
- Type: Trail
- Stack: 26/18mm
- Drop: 8mm
- Weight: 318g (11.2 oz/each) Size 12 US
- Appearance: Any color you want, as long as it’s black and red!
- MSRP: $180
The new Sense Ultra has a lot of similarities to the current S-Lab Wings model, which is interesting. It could be that the Wings line is near its end, or more likely that the Wings will undergo serious design changes as well. In fact, having run a lot of miles in the X-Series (essentially the first version of the Sonic) there are similarities there also. The fit, ride, protection under foot, ground feel, and responsiveness are all similar. The Sense Ultra is a trail specific shoe however, whereas the X-Series and Sonic represent more of a foray into road running for Salomon. All the usual S-Lab goods remain in the Sense Ultra, such as Quicklace, Endofit, Sensifit, Profeel Film (the light rock plate) and a ContaGrip outer. The lugging pattern is similar to the Sense Ultra SG or S-Lab Wings for comparison. The new design is much less a specialist than before; it has all the makings of a well rounded shoe now.
- Compared to the Sense Ultra SG: The new Sense Ultra has a much more cushioned heel to help absorb hard impacts on the downhills, however the forefoot cushion is the same. This facilitates good proprioception, but increases the drop from 4mm to 8mm in doing so. The new Sense Ultra features a slightly wider toe box as well. The weight is a small increase over the Sense Ultra SG.
- Compared to the Speed Cross 4: The SpeedCross is moderately heavier. Although the Sense Ultra is a highly cushioned shoe, the SpeedCross 4 is Salomon’s version of max cushion. The stack height of the SpeedCross is higher, and the drop comes in at 11mm. The lugs on the SpeedCross are deeper and fewer in number, creating a more aggressive outer that can find purchase on loose trails and deeper mud, and helps clear mud from the shoe. This comes at the cost of less stability on firmer surfaces for the SpeedCross, where it feels wobbly.
- Compared to the Saucony Peregrine 6: The Sense Ultra is the lighter shoe, however the Peregrine offers more cushion under the forefoot with only a 4mm drop, which is nice, but at the expense of some ground feel, and of course added weight. Both shoes offer a stable ride and are good all-around shoes for running longer distances. The Contagrip outer on the Sense Ultra seems to have better traction, on wet surfaces in particular, than the compound that Saucony uses.
Here’s a photo comparison to backup some of the above observations…
Outsole Profiles – Click any thumbnail to compare.
Side Profiles – Click any thumbnail to compare.
Salomon Sense Ultra Rolling Review
The price tag on these shoes is a bummer, but such is life when your shoes have “S-Lab” printed on them. I found a sale and paid $140. I have seen them as low as $130 and these have only been on store shelves for about a month, so there will be deals to be had for sure. Stay frosty!
I’m getting close to 50 miles on them and I can’t complain so far! This shoe feels just like a trail X-Series to me, which will be good news to anyone who enjoyed running in the X-Series but bad news for those who didn’t. The shoe has the same firm flex profile, and this jives with Salomon’s designation of them as “protection” class shoes. I took them up a couple of fun technical local trails (Cataract and High Marsh for those familiar with Mt. Tam) and found the traction to be good over the wet rocks, roots, and mud. They feel a lot more stable than the SpeedCross but I did slide in slick mud a few times where the SpeedCross would have found purchase. They’re responsive and nimble and I had no problem moving quickly on technical surfaces with them. They also seem to drain and dry pretty well… there’s still some standing water hanging out on our trails, so trial by fire. Er, trial by water I guess. The extra cushion is notable on the downhills, and it’s a welcomed addition. I may run a 50k race with them in the coming week, either way the review here will continue as the miles roll by!
Right now I’ve got about 130 miles on this pair. I’m liking these shoes a lot. They have just enough cushion in the forefoot to maintain groundfeel while providing support for longer distance runs. I ended up running a 50k trail race in them when they had only about 50 miles of break-in. Other than a blister on one toe, things were great. I do have to admit that I became spoiled with the bite that the SpeedCross offer in mud; the Sense Ultra doesn’t really come close, but they’re much more stable which is a good trade off. One funny (not “haha” funny) thing about these shoes is, they sometimes squeak. It comes from the midfoot/forefoot area of the shoe, and is somewhat intermittent, but persistent once it begins! Maybe it’s my pair that do this, but I’d be curious if anyone else has noticed it.
So I’m a little over 200 miles on these shoes now and have developed a pretty distinct impression about them. I’ve run on all surfaces from deep mud, to slick trails, to loose dirt, to rocks, going distances up to 50k (31 miles). On rocky trails I find the protection underfoot to be just right. There’s a good feel of the trail without sacrificing comfort. The shoes are light and lend themselves to technical running where quick footwork is needed. They’re not a great shoe in the mud, but they offer good traction and a good ride on slick wet trails and dry loose trails, which are probably common trail surfaces for many of us. The toe box is just about right. I wouldn’t complain if it was a mm or two wider. (I eventually upsized by a half size, which I’d recommend doing with these shoes to prevent toe bump and for a tiny gain in toe box room).
A little shy of 300 miles, but close enough for the write up. Toes bottoming out is stopping me from running beyond 50k’s in these (edit: I did do this, and problem solved). Otherwise, they’re a great all around shoe. A bad squeak has developed in the forefoot of the left shoe however! This happened after only ~100 miles and has not gone away. Shoes at this price point should not make funny noises, period! This shoe design feels like it’s at the tipping point where on one side you have much heavier, clunky shoes, and on the other you have more minimal shoes that aren’t desirable for longer distances. The Sense Ultra isn’t a “specialist shoe”, but it’s apparent that Salomon intended it to be a really special all-arounder.
Really nothing new to report, the shoes are still going without any issues (other than the squeaky noise, doh!). On most runs, I reach for my Sense Ultras. On really gnarly rocky mountain trails, or places where there are no trails, I will probably take something else… I’d say it’s about a 90/10 decision.
Final check in. The Sense Ultra have held up just fine and have proved to be a worthy shoe in my quiver. I came across them on sale recently and picked up a second pair. I did upsize by half a size, which feels just perfect on the downhills now. After 500 miles the shoes are not uncomfortable to run in, but I can feel them starting to get “hard”, so I wouldn’t take them out on any long runs, and I’ll probably retire the original pair at 550 miles. The photo below compares the treadwear from brand new vs. 500 miles later. In summary, I’d say that the Sense Ultra is an extremely versatile shoe that excels in many trail conditions. It’s easy to understand why it’s been one of Salomon’s best selling shoes.
Verdict Thus Far
- Comfort: Good. The toe box is not cramped, and the midfoot fit is very snug. The cushion is ample for 50k – 50 mile distances, however, on extremely rocky trails though they may not offer enough protection for the average runner.
- Durability: Great.
- Drain & Dry: Average.
- Stability: Good. The lug pattern and shoe footprint leads to a stable feeling ride.
- Grip On Roads/Solid Rock: Very good
- Grip On Loose Rock/Gravel: Very good
- Grip On Wet Surfaces: Very good on most surfaces, smooth wet surfaces are still slippery.
- Grip In Mud: After further experience, call it fair. The lugs are not aggressive enough for serious traction in mud.
- For training use? These shoes will make great trainers. Plenty of cushion, stable riding… yeah good stuff.
- For use as hikers? I can definitely see doing some backpacking in these shoes. I’d be a little concerned taking them off trail though due to the price tag. Mesh uppers and scree don’t mix well!
About the Author’s Running Style/Locale
I’m typically a front of the mid-pack runner. I run fire roads and single track in the Marin County area, including Mt. Tam, the Marin Headlands, and all the under-respected hills north of there. Long runs on this hard-packed stuff can leave the feet fairly beat up. The surface consists of loose crushed rock, jagged bedrock, and hardpacked dirt. A typical run for me is 9-15 miles with anywhere from 1500-3000 ft of climbing. My “long” runs are in the 20-30 mile range, usually with 4000-7000 ft of climbing. I occasionally do trail runs/races in the 50 mile to 100k range. When I find a shoe I like, I tend to stick with it for as long as possible. I prefer shoes with 4-6mm of drop; I haven’t really adapted to zero-drop footwear. I also like a shoe right in the middle as far as cushion goes; I need to feel the trail under me. Essentially my shoe quest has been to find shoes that feel nimble and responsive, yet keep my feet from getting beat up by the rocks and distance. Hike It. Like It.