The Salomon S/Lab Ultra is a high priced shoe that also delivers high-end performance. Salomon's S/Lab series features their most advanced technologies, and this shoe doesn't disappoint with a sock-like Endofit interior sleeve that holds the foot in place, a stickier than average outsole, and dual density EVA foam that provides awesome underfoot protection but is also firm and supportive. The combination of these technologies lead to an ideal combination of attributes that makes these shoes perfect for almost any style or distance run. Unfortunately, these shoes will not be ideal for everyone, as they fit rather narrow, especially in the toe box. If you have narrow feet then you are in luck, and we feel they are more than worthy of our Best Overall award. If you don't do well with a narrow fit, then we recommend our other Best Overall winner, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4, which has a wider toe box.
Salomon S/Lab Ultra Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Great protection for the foot, snug fit makes for very stable and responsive ride, durable, drains water extremely well
Cons: High price, narrow fit, slightly heavy
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Andy Wellman