The highly precise and 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. This snug-fitting shoe is worth every penny for those who can afford the price tag.//Editor's Note: The Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 review was updated on March 6, 2022. We added information to help you compare products more closely and give advice on what we would buy.//
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
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|Pros||Unbeatable fit, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, very stable||Unparalleled comfort, unrivaled traction, ample foot protection||Ultralight, supportive, uncharacteristically agile||Well cushioned, comfortable fit, sticky rubber grips rock very well, decent price||Affordable, comfortable ride, versatile crossover option|
|Cons||Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage||Aggressive heel-to-toe drop, lack of stability||Loose-fitting heel pocket, lack of trail feeling||High heel counter, not the lightest||Soft upper is unstable, lacks energy, inconsistent traction|
|Bottom Line||The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance||A legendary shoe that gets better by the year with minor tweaks to improve the performance of this specialty off-trail runner||An ultra-supportive trail runner with an agile feel that is unlike any other HOKA shoe we've ever tested||A very well cushioned shoe that is optimal for heel strikers and makes for a great option for everyday training as well as ultra distances||A comfortable, consistent, and approachable shoe for those looking to crossover from roads to trail running|
|Rating Categories||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Salomon Speedcross 6||HOKA Torrent 2||Salomon Sense Ride 4||Brooks Divide 2|
|Foot Protection (25%)|
|Specs||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||Salomon Speedcross 6||HOKA Torrent 2||Salomon Sense Ride 4||Brooks Divide 2|
|Measured Weight (per pair)||21.5 oz (size 9.5)||21.4 oz (size 9.5)||18.3 oz (size 9.5)||20.7 oz (size 9.5)||21.5 oz (size 9.5)|
|Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot)||26 mm, 18 mm||32 mm, 22 mm||23 mm, 18 mm||27 mm, 19 mm||25 mm, 17 mm|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||8 mm||10 mm||5 mm||8 mm||8 mm|
|Lug Depth||4 mm||5 mm||5 mm||3 mm||3 mm|
|Upper||Anti-Debris mesh with sockliner||Synthetic mesh, Ripstop, TPU||Unifi REPREVE recycled mesh, TPU||Synthetic mesh||Mesh, TPU|
|Midsole||Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection||Salomon EnergyCell+ EVA||HOKA ProFly: dual-density foam||Salomon Optivibe||Brooks BioMoGo EVA foam|
|Outsole||Salomon Contagrip MA||Salomon Mud Contagrip||Rubber||Salomon Contagrip MA||Brooks TrailTack|
|Lacing Style||Quicklace with garage||Quicklace||Traditional||Quicklace with garage||Traditional|
|Wide Version Available?||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Sizes Available||4 - 13 US||7 - 14 US||7 - 15 US||7 - 14 US||7 - 15 US|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Most popular shoe models are updated every year or every other year, with the 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 has worsened. 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 around the foot with no interruptions. Like most Salomon shoes, this one has a kevlar quick lace 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 flashy colorways of many trail running shoes. There is no wide version available, and it is not available with a gore-tex liner.
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 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 feature 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. The toe bumper is semi-rigid but not a hard plastic shell. If you often encounter thick underbrush on your runs, we recommend adding gaiters.
The traction on this shoe remains the same as previous versions and falls near the middle of the pack. 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. However, 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 4mm deep diamond shapes 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 other shoes we tested that offer an unrivaled grip on snow or mud.
As you may expect from a very protective shoe, these are not the most sensitive you will find. Trail feel is without a doubt inhibited by the firm midsole underfoot. They earned an average score for this metric.
However, keep in mind that these shoes are by no means clunky and easily inspire a light and nimble stride and good form. Just because they protect your feet does not mean they are a hiking boot disguised as a trail running shoe.
While many shoes with an 8mm heel-toe drop are not among the most stable, this shoe is a very noticeable exception. It leads the pack as one of the most stable shoes in our review. In fact, we find it just as sturdy 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. The S/Lab 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 every individual will judge comfort differently, 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 shoe's shape 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 wrapping 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 instantly transfers to high performance once you start running.
Some people judge comfort by how plush a shoe feels, and those folks will likely be disappointed here. We consider how our feet feel after 20+ miles, and these shoes reign supreme by this metric. 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 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, 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 challenging terrain, something that lightweight shoes can't provide. 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.
Should You Buy the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3?
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. In short, we recommend them to everyone. However, the price may be prohibitive for some. Because they are not exceptionally durable, they may be of better value to those with a quiver of shoes, who can save these for special adventure days or only as an ultra race shoe.
What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?
These have long been just about the most expensive and the best trail running shoes you can buy, and the high price tag remains unchanged. If you want an everyday trainer to pour miles into, you can save some money by looking for a more economical choice. The Brooks Divide 2 offers an excellent balance of performance and price point. If you are looking to push long mileage runs and hope to find a lighter weight shoe, consider the high-scoring HOKA Torrent 2.
— Andy Wellman
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