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Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Review

The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
Photo: Backcountry
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $180 List | $179.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Unbeatable fit, very comfortable, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, ankle collar keeps out debris, very stable
Cons:  Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage
Manufacturer:   Salomon
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 26, 2021
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80
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 18
  • Foot Protection - 30% 9
  • Traction - 20% 7
  • Stability - 15% 9
  • Comfort - 15% 9
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Sensitivity - 10% 6

Our Verdict

The highly refined and very sleek Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 was updated and newly released toward the end of 2020 and is perhaps the most perfectly refined trail running shoe we have ever worn. In the same way that a Ferrari or Lamborghini inspires one to take a few steps back to admire before taking it for a test spin (in your dreams!), a runner can appreciate the craftsmanship of this shoe before even putting it on. And trust us, it doesn't disappoint out on the trails either. The Ultra 3 is a fantastic shoe for all types of terrain and lives up to its name as an excellent option for ultra-long distances. For those who can afford the price tag, this snug-fitting shoe is worth every penny.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award  
Price $179.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$160.00 at Amazon$138.01 at Amazon
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$90.96 at Backcountry
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$84.47 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Unbeatable fit, very comfortable, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, ankle collar keeps out debris, very stableExcellent traction, protective and sensitive, light, comfortable, durablePrecise fit, very grippy on rock, comfortable upper effectively keeps out debrisComfortable, low to the ground stability, lightweight, drains water wellSolid foot protection, good traction, drains water very well, heel collar keeps out debris
Cons Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garageExpensive, tongue comfort affects someNarrower than average, a bit pricey, not the lightestTraction not the best on slick surfaces, light on underfoot protectionA tad heavy, not super sensitive, narrow forefoot
Bottom Line A perfectly fitting, comfortable, and very protective shoe that just begs to be worn on long run daysThe best zero-drop trail runner demands no compromises, and has all the features for any type of terrain or distanceA precise fitting shoe that translates well into high performance, as long as your feet aren’t too wideOur favorite lightweight trail runner is capable of tackling any terrainA comfortable and supremely protective shoe
Rating Categories Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 La Sportiva Kaptiva Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 6 Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 6
Foot Protection (30%)
9
7
8
6
9
Traction (20%)
7
9
8
7
8
Stability (15%)
9
9
8
9
7
Comfort (15%)
9
7
8
9
8
Weight (10%)
6
7
6
7
3
Sensitivity (10%)
6
7
5
8
5
Specs Salomon S/Lab... Inov-8 Terraultra... La Sportiva Kaptiva Nike Air Zoom... Nike Air Zoom...
Weight (per pair, size 11) 22.4 oz 20.9 oz 22.3 oz 21.5 oz 23.9 oz
Heel-to-Toe Drop 8 mm 0 mm 6 mm 4 mm 8 mm
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 26 mm, 18 mm 22 mm, 22 mm 17 mm, 11 mm 14.5 mm, 10.5 mm 22.5 mm, 14.5 mm
Upper Anti-Debris Mesh with sockliner Breathable Mesh Sock-Like knit Mesh Synthetic, textile
Midsole Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection Powerflow Max Duel-density EV React foam, Zoom Air heel unit EVA
Outsole Contagrip MA Rubber Graphene Grip FriXion XF 2.0 Rubber Rubber
Lacing style Quicklace with garage Traditional Traditional Traditional Traditional
Wide version available? No No No No No
Sizes Available 4 - 13 7 - 15 38 - 47.5 6 - 15 6 - 15

Our Analysis and Test Results

Most popular shoe models are updated every year or every other year, with the obvious goal of continual refinement toward the ever-illusive goal of the perfect trail running shoe. Of course, with every update comes an equal risk that the masses will feel the shoe to have regressed instead of progressed. Luckily, with the third iteration of the S/Lab Ultra, Salomon has used restraint where it was needed and kept all the very best elements of what was already the highest-rated shoe in our review. They also added some improvements that only make it better. Most of the changes have occurred in the upper, with the shoe's overall feel remaining much the same.

For those unfamiliar with this shoe, expect a very protective feel underfoot, with ample firm cushioning to keep your feet feeling fresh when you are deep into an ultra, but without a lot of spring and give. The upper fits like a sock; while this is a commonly applied metaphor, in this case, it is true. There are no edges to the tongue — the interior liner wraps all the way around the foot. Like most Salomon shoes, this one has a kevlar quicklace system paired with a lace garage to hold everything tight and keep the foot comfortably secure. The shoe only comes in one color, a dark and subdued plum purple with bright red accents, and has a look that veers drastically away from the very bright and gaudy colorways of many trail running shoes. There is no wide version available, and it likewise does not come with a gore-tex liner.

The newer Ultra 3 on the left, with the older Ultra 2 on the right...
The newer Ultra 3 on the left, with the older Ultra 2 on the right. The upper has seen a pretty hefty redesign, with less rubbery overlays, a different tongue design, and changes to the lace garage as well.

Updates to Version 3
- Has a ProFeel Film inside the midsole to help "filter our rocks and sharp objects," although the midsole feels the same when running
- The upper is entirely redesigned - made of tightly woven mesh, it ditches both the exterior wings and the thick, rubberized overlays
- The tongue is redesigned and actually isn't a tongue: it is one solid piece of joined material that stretches and wraps around the foot
- The high ankle collar wraps around the ankle to effectively keep out debris
- New design addresses the past problem of debris entering the ankle opening when flexing the foot
- The shape and size are identical to the previous version, although the upper is much snugger and form-fitting around the midfoot, top of the foot, and heel, holding the foot in place more securely

Performance Comparison


The S/Lab Ultra 3 is a very high performing shoe that also come with...
The S/Lab Ultra 3 is a very high performing shoe that also come with a high price tag. It offers excellent foot protection, a very precise fit, and great traction on all surfaces, making it one of the best shoes we've ever worn.

Foot Protection


The polyurethane (PU) foam compound found in the midsole of the S/Lab Ultra 3, which Salomon calls "high rebound," is one of our favorites because it very effectively protects the bottom of the foot from sharp objects. This allows you to run at top speed, or even just sloppily downhill, without worrying that you'll hurt your feet by stepping on something sharp. At the same time, this foam is not spongy or squishy like many others with EVA, which means it won't break down as quickly, lose shock absorption, or wear unevenly. The protection offered by this midsole lasts.


While the S/Lab is easily one of the most protective shoes underfoot, this model takes a small step back in terms of protecting the top of the foot. Gone are the thick rubberized overlays and protective wings — the upper is now a more standard tight-woven mesh with subtle film overlays adding substance and a little bit of durability to the highest wear areas such as crease points. There is a toe bumper that is semi-rigid and covered, but not a hard plastic shell.

The rocky, steep trails on Boulder's Bear Peak were an excellent...
The rocky, steep trails on Boulder's Bear Peak were an excellent test for these shoes, which provide great protection against all the rocks, and yet are light and nimble enough for steep uphill running.

Traction


The traction on this shoe remains exactly the same as previous versions. It features Salomon's Contagrip MA rubber, which we have found to be very sticky and well suited to all types of terrain when still fresh. The fresh part is key, as this relatively soft rubber will wear down fairly quickly if you wear these shoes often on hard surfaces, such as doing a lot of scrambling (which we like to do on our runs.) These shoes are excellent on rocks and other hard surfaces but may wear out quicker if that is where you take them every day.


The lugs are a tight arrangement of little diamond shapes that are 4mm deep and scattered all over the sole. When fresh, they are also sharp and pronounced enough to bite well into soft surfaces, such as steep grass or loose dirt, but are not on par with a shoe like the Salomon Speedcross 5, which offers unrivaled grip on snow or mud.

The Contagrip MA traction on these shoes provides excellent grip on...
The Contagrip MA traction on these shoes provides excellent grip on rock, enabling you to run confidently on rock slabs while still providing good grip on soft surfaces.

Stability


While many shoes with an 8mm heel-toe drop, like this one, are not among the most stable, this shoe is a very noticeable exception. In fact, we find it just as stable as some zero drop shoes and have no problem using it on absolutely the gnarliest off-camber or technical terrain. The best attribute for this performance is the unrivaled fit, which holds the foot so snugly that it simply doesn't move or slip, no matter what. This shoe becomes your foot.


At the same time, the landing platform is flat and wide, offering a stiff and firm landing surface. This is not a shoe that bends and morphs to the ground beneath it, but one that retains its shape, so you can have the confidence to take off and land from a flat and stable stance every time. If stability is a key point for you, do not be dissuaded by the heel-toe drop, as this shoe feels much lower and more stable than this number would suggest.

Despite an 8mm heel-toe drop, these shoes are very stable across all...
Despite an 8mm heel-toe drop, these shoes are very stable across all types of terrain, and can handle side-hilling with ease.

Comfort


We acknowledge that comfort will be judged differently by every individual, but in our experience (over 100 models of trail running shoes tested), these rank up there with the very best. It all starts with the fit. The shape of the shoe is neither overly wide nor overly narrow, effectively pinpointing that happy medium. Compared to other Salomon shoes, which tend to be one of the narrowest brands overall, the S/Lab Ultra 3 is among the widest. They also fit true to size lengthwise. However, they are very snug in how they wrap the foot to secure it in place. This snugness is apparent as you try to put the shoes on, which is no easy task without a traditional tongue, but this feeling transfers almost instantly to high performance once you start running.


Some people judge comfort in terms of how plush a shoe feels, and those folks will likely be disappointed here. We judge it by how our feet feel after 20+ miles, and by this metric, these shoes stand supreme. However, there are complaints online about the feeling of the ankle collar biting or rubbing the skin, and we warn you that you must wear socks high enough to cushion against this collar. No-show socks or socks with tabs simply won't work. While we find them to be of average width, runners with wide feet will likely feel a bit too crunched for long distances as well.

A close up of the ankle collar that effectively wraps the entire...
A close up of the ankle collar that effectively wraps the entire ankle to help keep out debris, eliminating the need to pair with a gaiter. We found that as long as we wore taller socks, this collar was perfectly comfortable and unnoticeable when running.

The downside to the sock like design and snug ankle collar is that...
The downside to the sock like design and snug ankle collar is that these shoes are more difficult to put on - you can't simply bend the tongue back and slide your foot inside.

Weight


These shoes weigh in at 22.4 ounces per pair of men's size 11 US, which is slightly lighter than the previous versions.


While this weight is a good bit more than the lightest weight options, keep in mind that these shoes are designed to offer the protection and stability needed for ultra races in the most difficult terrain, something that the lightweight shoes simply aren't for. Compared to other models with a similar weight, these are some seriously burly shoes, and so they speak to a high-quality design that keeps weight firmly in check.

While they aren't the lightest shoes we've tested, they are in fact...
While they aren't the lightest shoes we've tested, they are in fact lighter than previous versions, and quite light considering the amount of underfoot protection. They feel nimble on the trail.

Sensitivity


As you may expect from a shoe that is very protective underfoot, these are not the most sensitive you will find. Trail feel is without a doubt inhibited by the firm midsole underfoot.


Keep in mind, however, that these shoes are by no means clunky and easily inspire a light and nimble stride and form. Just because they protect your feet does not mean they are a hiking boot disguised as a trail running shoe.

Value


These have long been just about the most expensive trail running shoes you can buy, and the high price tag remains unchanged. However, the price of shoes in general has been rising steadily the last handful of years, so while these will still force you to open your wallet wide, their value compared to the competition is increasing. We find them to be worth it for those with a quiver of shoes, who can save these for special adventure days or only as an ultra race shoe. If you simply want an everyday trainer to pour miles into, save some money by looking for a more economical choice.

Despite their high price tag, these amazing shoes provide excellent...
Despite their high price tag, these amazing shoes provide excellent value for those who have a quiver of different trail running options.

Conclusion


The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 puts a smile on our face when we take them off the shelf, and they have never let us down on a long-distance run. These shoes are simply a joy to wear and run in, the kind that makes us dream of having a Salomon sponsorship, so we could afford to run in nothing else.

A late fall run with the snow covered Sangre de Cristo mountains in...
A late fall run with the snow covered Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background.

Andy Wellman