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Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's Review

Our favorite shoe offers a well-balanced ride with one of the stickiest and most confidence-inspiring outsoles we've ever seen
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 - Women's
Photo: Salomon
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $180 List | $179.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Superior comfort, light on foot, protective cushioning, stable architecture, breathable upper
Cons:  Lace pocket is difficult to use, tight collar can bite into the ankle
Manufacturer:   Salomon
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 24, 2021
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 17
  • Foot Protection - 25% 8
  • Traction - 20% 8
  • Sensitivity - 15% 9
  • Stability - 15% 9
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 9
  • Weight - 10% 6

Our Verdict

We can’t gush enough about the superior performance of the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3. This shoe easily earned its place on the top podium in our review and is one we like to wear everywhere — from work to the tops of mountain trails. Stability, protection, and traction balance perfectly to pick through the most technical terrain. The sticky lugs offer a confident ride, even over sketchy rubble and technical kitty litter. If you can handle the high price tag, we believe this is the best shoe on the market — if the fit works for your foot. It’s suited perfectly for all types of running on the trails, from ultra races to training runs to long mountain fast packs.

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Pros Superior comfort, light on foot, protective cushioning, stable architecture, breathable upperLightweight and streamlined, durable elements, very sensitive, precise fit, protective upper, stable on technical terrain, fun color optionsLots of cushioning underfoot, zero drop design, wide and spacious toe boxProtective, comfortable, wider toe box, excellent beefy traction for soft surfaces, huge valueSticky traction, protective, rainbow design is fun, great value, all surface capabilities
Cons Lace pocket is difficult to use, tight collar can bite into the ankleExpensive, no extra room in the toe box, tongue requires readjustment, zero drop design is best for only someCushioning packs out, poor reputation for durability, zero drop takes training, no arch supportNot ideal for roads, huge sizingLess stable than most, harder midsole is less comfortable, narrower fit
Bottom Line Our favorite shoe offers a well-balanced ride with one of the stickiest and most confidence-inspiring outsoles we've ever seenOur favorite for its low profile and zero-drop design that feels like an extension of the body, ready to tackle technical terrainIf you seek a wide toe box with lots of underfoot cushioning that can go the distance, look no furtherA great all-around trail shoe with high value that's superb traction on soft surfacesThis rainbow contender has the ability to tackle all kinds of trail with excellent protection and sticky traction
Rating Categories Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Inov-8 Terraultra G270 Altra Lone Peak 5 -... Salomon Supercross... Merrell Antora 2
Foot Protection (25%)
8.0
6.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Traction (20%)
8.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
Sensitivity (15%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Stability (15%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Comfort And Fit (15%)
9.0
6.0
8.0
5.0
6.0
Weight (10%)
6.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
Specs Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Inov-8 Terraultra G270 Altra Lone Peak 5 -... Salomon Supercross... Merrell Antora 2
Measured Weight (per shoe, size 9) 9.8 oz 8.3 oz 9.7 oz 10.5 oz 9.6 oz
Heel-to-Toe Drop 8.6 mm 0 mm 0 mm 10 mm 8.5 mm
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 26.8 mm, 18.2 mm 12 mm, 12 mm 25 mm, 25 mm 29.3 mm, 19.3 mm 28.5 mm, 20 mm
Upper Textile/synthetic Mesh and TPU Quick-Dry AirMesh Continuous ripstop nylon Mesh and TPU
Midsole Energy Cell, polyurethane foam Powerflow Max Altra Ego EVA Foam EVA
Outsole Rubber Graphene Grip MaxTrac/TrailClaw Contragrip TD Vibram TC5+ rubber sole
Rock Plate? Not disclosed Not disclosed Yes N/A Yes
Wide Version Available? No No Yes No Yes
Sizes Available 4 - 13 5.5 - 11 5.5 - 12 5 - 12 5 - 11

Our Analysis and Test Results

The S/Lab Ultra 3 is a unisex shoe that offers a protective and nimble ride. Our favorite features are its specific fit and super sticky outsole that can pick through technical terrain without slips. Unlike most Salomon shoes, the forefoot feels wide and, with some breaking in, molds to your foot. Just be ready to stomach the higher price.

Performance Comparison


A new favorite, the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is highly recommended...
A new favorite, the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is highly recommended across all metrics for its superior performance in the most technical of terrain.
Photo: Amber King

Foot Protection


This shoe is designed to go the distance, providing excellent protection on long, rocky trails, technical terrain, and steep switchbacks. The EnergyCell midsole is superiorly responsive, offering just enough protection through the heel and midfoot. We love the tightly knit upper that is impervious to heavy sand and other pesky particulates. It offers a minimal amount of water protection, drying out quickly after tromping through rivers and puddles. The performance on a variety of trails ranging from easy to technical is top-notch. While it's not considered a "high protection" shoe, it is superior to most trail runners we've tested.


We tested this shoe for 200+ miles on variable terrain, from wet and muddy to rocky and dry. The underfoot cushioning is responsive with just the right amount of squish. It doesn't come with a rock plate, but the midsole does an impeccable job spreading out the impact from sharp rocks and twigs, so you don't feel a thing. While the forefoot has only 18.6mm of cushioning, it's ample enough to balance sensitivity with protection.

The upper is also quite impressive. We tested it on the beaches of Mexico over soft sand to learn that the upper and collar doesn't let sand inside. The synthetic materials dry out nicely in wet and muddy weather, and they don't deform when completely saturated, offering more protection than most traditional trail runners.

We love how the uppers are impervious to small particulates...
We love how the uppers are impervious to small particulates including sand. While the collar can be tough to get your foot into, it works to keep stuff out of your shoe.
Photo: Amber King

Traction


Durable, sticky, and ultimately trustworthy, we gladly choose the S/Lab Ultra for a variety of trails and conditions. The ContraGrip sole hosts a durable rubber that sticks to tricky surfaces like kitty litter over rocks. The lugs are 4mm, offering enough depth to stick to muddy trails. The geometry and placement ensure that your feet stay solidly placed, even when encountering slippery technical surfaces. This is always the shoe we reached for when we knew steep, slippery, and difficult trails were on the horizon.


When taking on the steep switchbacks of the Old Horsethief Trail in Ouray, CO, we came into contact with mud, rocks, roots, gravel, and slabs. In all conditions, we were happy to feel no slips while sticking to steep and dry sections on both the up and downhill. When encountering deep mud, the Ultra did slide around a little but still managed to offer enough lateral stability to keep moving forward. Additionally, the sole of the shoe sheds mud well. Of all the shoes we tested, this is the one we'd trust most for scrambling or adventurous missions. The traction is hard to beat with sticky rubber and grippy treads that shed mud well.

A look at the superiorly sticky lugs. While they are small, we were...
A look at the superiorly sticky lugs. While they are small, we were surprised at how well they bite into the trail, keeping us from slipping on the steepest of climbs and descents.
Photo: Amber King

Sensitivity


With a precise fit and medium amount of cushioning (26.8mm in the heel, 18.2mm in the forefoot), this shoe is quite sensitive. It doesn't have a rock plate, so you can feel the undulations and changes of the trail. It's not as sensitive as those with less cushioning, but it offers just the right amount of intimacy for its level of protection. If you like to feel the trail underfoot, the S/Lab Ultra 3 offers just that.


We ran over rocky conditions to test relative sensitivity. When running, we could feel the rocks, but they never actually impacted our feet. As a result, we felt nimble, light, and free on the trail. This trail runner earns a high sensitivity score because of its less cushioned nature, which also protects.

While you can feel the trail underfoot, you are still well...
While you can feel the trail underfoot, you are still well protected. The ridges of the Red Mountain pass offer an unparalleled testing location for performance.
Photo: Amber King

Stability


This shoe is quite stable with a low to the ground feel, a regular width toe box, and a geometry that offers excellent lateral support. We felt confident charging over technical rubble when striking with both heel and forefoot. This stability comes from a specific fit and wider base that evenly distributes impact with each step.


We tested the S/Lab Ultra 3 over rocky and technical terrain. With every step on uneven, immovable obstacles, we noticed the midsole wrapping itself around objects and distributing force evenly. The lateral stability is helped by the well-thought-out TPU skeleton that anchors at the lacing system to provide stability across the top of the foot.

This shoe is unlike those that are advertised for stability. It doesn't incorporate shanks and isn't sunk down with a rigid or heavily cushioned sole. Instead, it is light and flexible with a wide base that provides a flat ride. Flexible and stable, it also earns high marks in this category.

Here we take it a little slow on this teetering ridge, testing the...
Here we take it a little slow on this teetering ridge, testing the stability of this shoe. We love how our foot feels encapsulated in the upper, feeling low to the ground, but protected.
Photo: Amber King

Comfort and Fit


This is one of the most comfortable shoes that we've ever slipped on with a specific fit that we appreciate. The shoe is neutral-fitting with a regular width toe box that breaks in over time. Our main tester loves a wider shoe, and this has become her favorite for its specific fit. The upper is incredibly light and breathable, making it a wonderful choice for warm weather. Overall, we love the precise fit of this shoe that stays put, even when running downhill. We experienced no toe bump or movement, even on technical terrain.


On long runs, especially in the mountains, a specific fit with a little extra room for foot swell is unparalleled in importance. This shoe is a nice choice for those that like a little extra wiggle room in the length with just enough width to spread the toes. It doesn't offer additional arch support, but the extra height on the heel provides a little extra cushion for longer runs. Its heel-to-toe drop sits at 8.6mm, offering nice cushioning for the heel or forefoot striker. It's also a good choice for those that have both narrow and wider feet.

While this shoe appears to be more narrow than most, we are happy to...
While this shoe appears to be more narrow than most, we are happy to report it feels a little wider than it looks. The longer length offers more room for your feet to move, and the shoe molds to your foot over time. A great option for all foot shapes and sizes. No slippage on the descent and a specific fit.
Photo: Amber King

When putting the Ultra 3 on, one of the biggest annoyances is its tighter collar and near useless "pocket" for the laces. While the single pull laces are easy to use, you can't re-lace them to get a better fit. The single pull also gets gummed up with dust and dirt and isn't as smooth over time. Instead of using the pocket, we simply tucked the excess cordage under the lacing lattice, which worked well for getting the shoes on quickly. In the future, we'd love to see this Salomon hallmark feature be omitted as we don't think the design is very user-friendly.

Weight


In the world of trail runners, this shoe is, by comparison, mid-weight. However, most trail runners these days are slimming down on heavy or clunky components, setting the norm to be a lightweight ride. The S/Lab Ultra 3 sits right at the 'normal' mark, weighing 9.8 ounces per shoe for a size nine. Underfoot, the weight is distributed evenly. There is no abnormally heavy sole, and the upper is super light — the shoe feels just like an extension of your body. This is a good choice for training, races, or long-distance missions into the backcountry.


Value


There's no denying that the price tag on this shoe will take a dent out of your wallet. The durability is middle of the road as well. We've seen these shoes last upwards of 600 miles (with friends that use them year after year), but we've also seen the uppers get slashed after encountering a sharp rock that accidentally tripped a friend. However, while longevity is middle of the road, the performance is some of the best we've seen. If you can swallow the price and are looking for a shoe that earns high marks for performance across the board, you might see the value. Though, if you're on a tight budget, you might want to look elsewhere.

Conclusion


The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is our main tester's favorite shoe. Unlike most Salomon brand options, it offers a wider relative fit, a comfortable and stable ride, and an outsole that seemingly sticks to everything. We've been choosing to wear it for everything from steep, technical sky runs to smooth cross-over terrain. This product offers the best balance across our metrics — if the fit works for you, it's the one to buy.

If you're seeking a solid shoe built for literally every condition...
If you're seeking a solid shoe built for literally every condition, you've got to try on the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3. This is our new favorite and go-to for all types of mountain adventures - including this jaunt to the Red Mountains of Colorado.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King