Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 Review
Cons: Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage
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Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3
|Price||$180 List||Check Price at Backcountry|
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|$120.00 at Amazon||Check Price at REI|
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|Pros||Unbeatable fit, very comfortable, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, ankle collar keeps out debris, very stable||Excellent traction, protective and sensitive, light, comfortable, durable||Comfortable, low to the ground stability, lightweight, drains water well||G-grip graphene enhanced outsole is very durable, super comfortable, low to the ground and responsive||Extremely grippy traction on all terrain, wider than previous versions, comfortable right out of the box|
|Cons||Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage||Expensive, tongue comfort affects some||Traction not the best on slick surfaces, light on underfoot protection||Not as sticky as previous versions, not super protective underfoot or in the upper||Warm, doesn’t breathe or drain water super well, high heel counter|
|Bottom Line||The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance||The perfect definition of a do-everything trail running shoe, which also happens to be zero-drop||A highly tuned trail running machine that thrives at top speed and can tackle a ton of varied terrain||A very comfortable, low riding shoe that has excellent and durable traction||A very popular shoe known for its excellent traction, redesigned to not be so prohibitively narrow|
|Rating Categories||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Inov-8 Terraultra G...||Nike Air Zoom Terra...||Inov-8 Roclite 290||Salomon Speedcross 5|
|Foot Protection (30%)|
|Specs||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Inov-8 Terraultra G...||Nike Air Zoom Terra...||Inov-8 Roclite 290||Salomon Speedcross 5|
|Weight (per pair)||22.4 oz (size 11)||20.9 oz (size 11)||21.5 oz (size 11)||21.6 oz (size 11)||24.4 oz (size 11)|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||8 mm||0 mm||4 mm||4 mm||10 mm|
|Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot)||26 mm, 18 mm||22 mm, 22 mm||14.5 mm, 10.5 mm||17.5 mm, 13.5 mm||30 mm, 20 mm|
|Upper||Anti-Debris Mesh with sockliner||Breathable Mesh||Mesh||Mesh upper with ADAPTERWEB foot cradle system||Nylon mesh, synthetic overlays|
|Midsole||Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection||Powerflow Max||React foam, Zoom Air heel unit||PowerFlow||Injected EVA|
|Outsole||Contagrip MA Rubber||Graphene Grip||Rubber||Tri-C Sticky||Contagrip|
|Lacing style||Quicklace with garage||Traditional||Traditional||Traditional||One pull QuickLace system with lace pocket|
|Wide version available?||No||No||No||No||No|
|Sizes Available||4 - 13||7 - 15||6 - 15||7 - 15||7 - 14|
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.
- 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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Andy Wellman