The S/Lab Ultra can be thought of as the "Sense Ultra 2," as it updates the long popular high-end shoe, while confusingly changing the name. There is no doubt that the very high price tag of $180 will scare many people off, but the fact is that those who are willing to pony up the extra cash will get a shoe that is incredibly refined and ticks all of the boxes for necessary attributes. Right out of the box, the shoe was slightly uncomfortable but found that after a month of testing, it well adapted to the shape of our feet, and it soon became pretty much the only shoe that we wanted to run in.
Most trail running shoes these days do not require any break in period, but those willing to invest a little bit of time without judgment will be handsomely rewarded. Despite the high price tag, this shoe can adequately handle a heap of miles, delivering good value for your financial commitment.
Compared to the Salomon Speedcross 4, these shoes wrap the foot more snugly, holding it in place better. They are more stable and far more protective underfoot, with a smaller heel-toe drop of only 8mm. They also provide nearly the same amount of traction with much lower profile lugs that don't rip off or wear down as quickly. They also offer thick dual density foam that enables one to run in them far longer than the Speedcross feel comfortable for.
The Salomon S/Lab Ultra are the best trail running shoes you can buy, provided you don't have wide feet and are willing to shell out the most amount of money for any trail shoe. Our top scorers are shown here in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
This shoe presents a complete package when it comes to foot protection. The thick EVA foam underfoot is both super protective, absorbing the majority of any impact with sharp rocks or roots, but is also much firmer than the springy feeling foam found in the Hoka Speedgoat 2 or the Challenger ATR 4. We appreciate the firmer foam because it makes for a more stable, responsive ride that allows us to tackle any type of terrain in this shoe without the loss of confidence on rugged terrain that comes with a lot of foam underfoot.
We also greatly appreciate how well this shoe protects the upper side of the feet. The rubberized toe bumper is solid and can easily absorb the impact of kicking a rock, and the entire mesh upper itself is overlaid with a rubberized TPU film, significantly enhancing its durability. The upper is easily the most protective that we tested, with only a tiny uptick in corresponding weight. 9 out of 10 points.
Check out the rubberized overlays that are more protective of the upper, and the foot, than those found on any other shoe. You can also see the detached "wings" that are pulled together by the quick lacing system to hold the foot in place very effectively.
The outsole of this shoe is patterned with many diamond-shaped lugs that are moderately spaced out and roughly 4mm deep. For trail runners, this is by no means an aggressively lugged shoe, but the rubber compound used is also impressively grippy, made of Contagrip and designed to grip well on wet surfaces. It was among the grippiest shoes on rock and talus.
It performed equally well on dry and loose dirt, and we were happy that the outsole is made of one solid piece of rubber, rather than many smaller pieces all glued onto the midsole foam. While it isn't quite in the same league as the deeply lugged Inov-8 Roclite 290 or even the Saucony Peregrine 8, this sole is more durable than either of those options. 8 out of 10 points.
While these short lugs are nowhere near as aggressive as the ones found on the Speedcross 4, they are very sticky, quite durable, and do a surprisingly good job gripping most surfaces, especially wet ones.
No shoe in this review does a better job of locking the foot firmly in place, prohibiting it from moving about on off camber terrain. The interior Endofit sock accomplishes this in conjunction with exterior rubberized "wings" attached to Salomon's quick lace system. The fact that the foot is held firmly in place at all times greatly adds to the stability of the shoe, giving the confidence to push the speed even when the footing is poor.
The S/Lab Ultra's 26mm of foam cushioning under the heel is on the higher end of the spectrum, and it also has 8mm of heel-toe drop, more than we would like to see for a highly stable shoe, but these numbers don't accurately represent the feeling of stability experienced in the field. We think it feels just as stable is a lot of shoes with only 4mm of drop, like the Scarpa Spin, and so gave it 8 points for this metric as well.
Despite having a fairly large amount of foam underneath, the S/Lab Ultra are a very stable shoe, in large part because they hold the foot so firmly in place, which allows for skipping down logs like this one.
If you have a narrow foot, then you are in luck! However, if your foot is wider than average, or you have had a hard time with the fit of Salomons in the past (they have long been characterized as making narrow shoes), then you will likely also have problems with the S/Lab Ultra.
We initially found this shoe to be a bit too snug, especially in the middle foot and arch. In particular, the quick lacing system hugged our feet so tightly that the extra pressure felt uncomfortable. This sensation quickly diminished after a few more runs, and indeed we would recommend withholding judgment until after a sufficient break in period. There is no doubt that the seamless upper is constructed to a top-notch standard of quality, and except for the fit, these shoes are unarguably very comfortable.
A truly seamless upper that joins most materials by welding instead of sewing, a large part why this shoe is so comfortable.
In the water test, we found that the S/Lab Ultra were far and away the top performers, so much so that they almost seem like outliers. Salomon designed this shoe to perform well in wet conditions, and our findings certainly back this up.
Our size 11 weighed in at 23.5 ounces per pair. While this isn't exactly light, it isn't very heavy either considering how much shoe you are getting.
This shoe feels burly and protective, with a ton of rubberized overlays for added protection and durability, and so it is fairly surprising that they aren't heavier. For reference, they are virtually the same weight as the Hoka Speedgoat 2 and are slightly lighter than the similarly protective Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4.
At 23.5 ounces per pair, these are nowhere near the lightest shoes that you can find to run trails, but we think their great protection and comfort more than make up for the extra weight.
While these shoes feel very precise while running in them due to their amazingly conforming fit, they certainly are not super sensitive. There is a thick, dense piece of foam underfoot that does a great job of protecting the feet, but quite obviously also dampens most of the trail feel.
That said, they are not the least sensitive shoe in our review, a distinction which goes to both pairs of maximally cushioned Hokas, which have even more underfoot foam.
Traversing sharp rocks like here on the top of Neocani Mountain on the Oregon Coast is a good test of a shoes sensitivity and underfoot protection. This one is not super sensitive.
The S/Lab Ultra provides the foot protection and stability to be able to run for ultra distances, which is exactly what they were designed for. Perhaps no other shoe we have worn is more suited to longer ultras up to 100 miles without compromising on performance. However, these shoes are also a great choice as everyday trainers and can tackle any terrain.
The Salomon S/Lab Ultra are great for any sort of trail running, regardless of distance or steepness, but are especially well suited for wet climates and soggy trails.
With a retail price of $180, they are far and away the most expensive we have ever tested! That is a dubious distinction, and should rightly make you consider if this is the type of shoe you need. However, with the highest cost comes the highest performance and the durability to match. If this shoe fits you, then we think it is worth the money, but budget-conscious runners can find many other amazing shoes at a fraction of the cost.
Mountain running on the coast overlooking Nehalem Bay, OR, while wearing our Editors' Choice winning Salomon S/Lab Ultra shoes.
The Salomon S/Lab Ultra is the highest rated shoe in our review, due to its incredible foot protection, super stable ride, sticky outsole, and snug form fit. It is the most highly refined trail running shoe we have ever worn but fits a bit narrow. For those willing to pay the price, we don't think there is any better shoe you can buy. However, with such a high price tag and a particular fit, this shoe is likely not for everyone.