Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 Review
Cons: Expensive, durability concerns
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The newest version of this award winning shoe has been released in early fall of 2020. We have ordered a pair and testing has commenced. Look back for an update of this review with the newest shoe by early winter 2020. In the meantime, get the Ultra 2 on closeout if you don't want to miss out. The text below is a review of the Ultra 2.
The S/Lab Ultra 2 updates the older S/Lab Ultra with only minor changes, so those who have run in the previous version should expect something quite similar with this newest update. The noticeable differences are cosmetic changes to the upper. While the first version had two "wings" that served to join the laces to the midsole of the shoe, wrapping the inside and outside of the foot, the newest version has only one of these wings, toward the rear. The effect here is subtle but positive in our opinion. The older version hugged the foot perhaps a bit too much, making this shoe feel overly narrow, especially in the arch. This version allows for more splay of the forefoot as it lands on the ground, while not hugging the arch quite as tight, but still offers a super secure fit. These changes also led to a weight savings of almost half an ounce per shoe, which is significant, especially for a burly and protective shoe like this one.
For those who have never run in a previous version of this shoe, expect a very high tuned fit that holds the foot securely in place, traction that is good across all types of terrain, including wet rock, and a dense foam midsole that does a great job protecting the foot from underfoot protrusions, but doesn't feel soft and spongy like the foam underfoot in most Hokas. They have an 8mm stack height, which allows for significant shock absorption if you are a heel striker, but are never-the-less surprisingly stable on uneven terrain. By far the biggest downside to this shoe is the cost, and indeed, the price tag will surely scare away anyone on a budget. However, for those who want the best performance and aren't as worried about spending a little more to get it, we think this is the best trail and ultra-running shoe you can buy.
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 Hokas. 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 robust and can easily absorb the impact of kicking a rock, and the entire mesh upper itself is injected with polyurethane and covered in a solid, rubberized TPU film, significantly enhancing its durability. The upper is easily the most protective that we tested, and adequately covers the usual areas where the mesh upper is the first to tear open. The combination of dual-density EVA underfoot and the solid upper make this the most protective shoe that we tested.
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 proprietary Contagrip and designed to grip well on wet surfaces. It is among the grippiest shoes on rock and talus.
It performs equally well on dry and loose dirt, and we are 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 nearly as aggressively lugged as the Salomon Speedcross 5, with its huge 6mm deep arrows for grip, and is also not as durable as the new graphene infused rubber found on the soles of the Inov-8 shoes, we still found the traction on this shoe to be among the more effective on all types of terrain.
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 an exterior rubberized "wing" 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 2'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 as some shoes with less drop.
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 2. That said, we found these shoes aren't as narrow and constrictive feeling as the first generation of this shoe, due in part to the removal of one of the foot-hugging wings allowing for greater splay in the forefoot.
There is no doubt that the seamless upper is constructed to a top-notch standard of quality, and while they don't use a ton of cushioned padding on the inside, they are comfortable simply because they fit so snugly.
In the water test, we found that the S/Lab Ultra 2 was easily one of the top performers. Salomon designed this shoe to perform well in wet conditions, and our findings certainly back this up.
Our size 11 weighed in at 22.7 ounces per pair. While this isn't exactly light, it isn't cumbersome 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, though surprisingly, they aren't heavier. They are about half an ounce per shoe lighter than the previous version, while the design remains virtually the same, so kudos to Salomon for improving on an already great product. For reference, they are almost the same weight as larger Hokas and are lighter than the Salomon Speedcross 5.
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, much of the thick foam is located under the heel, but under the forefoot the cushioning is thinner, allowing for a bit more trail feel in that area of the foot, and some added sensitivity. We think they strike a pretty fair balance, especially considering the level of foot protection.
With such a high retail price, 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. While we have run lots of miles in these shoes, and their predecessors, without experiencing early breakdowns, there are rumors online of some early mile durability concerns, which purchasers may want to consider. 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 2 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, and while it is still slightly narrow, is more wearable for those with average width feet than the previous version. 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