Our Editor Tim has been pounding trails for a few months now in the Salomon S/LAB Ultra trail running shoes. So is red really faster? Maybe, but it’ll definitely go the distance too.
When the Salomon S/LAB Ultra trail runners first landed on my desk my first thought was ‘damn, they look fast’. But would I be fast in them? Did I even want to be fast in shoes designed to be able to handle 100km+ runs.
Heads up, I’m not an ultra runner (yet!) but I do run trails. Mostly mild-to-technical mud ‘n’ sandstone, between 5 and 30km, with a bunch of footpaths and roads in-between.
According to the ubiquitous Strava, I’ve laid down over 200km in the S/Lab Ultras, so it’s time to share some thoughts on how they’ve performed.
Comfort & Stability
Slipping on the Salomons was a little bit of a challenge. The tongue of the runner is connected to the shoe with something called an EndoFit bootie, meaning that the tongue can’t fold out very far. Point those toes people!
Once you’ve yanked them on though, the S/LAB Ultras are damn comfy. Not in the ‘walking on clouds’ sense, it’s more of a responsiveness thing, a bit like a tight climbing shoe. It feels like the shoes are giving you a hug. I have pretty narrow feet though and it’s worth noting that many people find Salomons too narrow, this shoe is no different. Also, the fit is slightly small for the size, probably by about a quarter of a size, so definitely try them on before you buy them.
The EndoFit bootie comes into its own here; it’s a cushioned, breathable upper that runs almost to the toes and covers the entire top of your foot. Combined with the Sensifit wrapping (the two large straps on each side of the shoe, you get a runner that, once you’ve cranked down the laces, gives a confidence-inspiring custom fit. I have fairly narrow feet and the system really centred my foot and allowed me to freely blast off smaller and looser trail features, but only if did up the laces correctly.
Luckily, that was a pretty easy task with the Quicklace system. The shoes have a kevlar lace with a toggle that you simply pull tight – I never one noticed it move from the position I pulled it to. At first finding the position was a bit tricky, it was easy to pull too tight and create pressure right on top of my foot, I even felt numbness, but after 2 runs the shoes broke in and simply pulling firmly had me ready to go.
The excess lace and toggle all pack away into a lace pocket (I think Salomon call it a ‘lace garage’ — because they’re obsessed with naming everything) which faces towards your shin. This is an improvement on older models where it faced away from you and down. It’s all very clean and helped me to avoid catching the laces on plants.
Onto the insert. The Ortholite Impressions insert feels comfortable, but not squishy, and has now taken the shape of my foot. The toe area of the insert is noticeably thicker to address concerns that the previous model* didn’t offer enough cushioning up front for the ultra distance — I reckon there’s enough there now, the shoes remain comfortable even when landing on the balls of your feet on hard ground.
The midsole is made of something called EnergyCell+. I found that it absorbed shock well, but wasn’t too squishy and still gave me a feel for the ground beneath me. Having ‘just enough’ cushioning seems to be a theme with the S/LAB.
*Technically these shoes are the Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 2, but Salomon was smart enough to shorten the name.
Altogether, the systems work together to create a shoe that hits the balance between cushioning and trail-feel, and holds your foot firmly in place in a stable tub of a landing pad. With my feet aggressively primed forward thanks to the 8mm drop (18-26mm, front to back) and a chunk of EnergyCell+ foam under my firmly-cupped heel, I felt ready to run.
The red Contragrip sole has a nice lug pattern that bites well across every surface. The spacing is good so the sole doesn’t clog up with mud and I found that the shoes inspired confidence (that word again) when running down gravelly descents.
The edges of the shoe were a highlight, there was a real bite in the edge that you could trust on soft or uneven surface, especially due to the stability that came from being so locked in. An issue I noticed was the lack of lugs in the middle of the sole — you don’t normally put your weight here but a few times I did and the shoe basically slipped right off the branch or rock I’d stood on.
The rubber is apparently harder than previous models, meaning that after 200+km my S/LABs are still looking pretty fresh. I never noticed any slippage, even on wet sandstone, so I reckon the grip/durability tradeoff is worth it for shoes that last.
The S/LAB Ultra has beefed up this year. I’ve already mentioned the firmer rubber, but there’s also a tough rubberised toe rand that extends around the front of the shoe, and extends up the sides and around the back of the runner in a cross-hatching pattern.
I’ve definitely scratched and bashed these shoes on all manner of trail features and they’re still looking very fresh with no deep scratches or glue peeling. The thin mesh is pretty tough too, but thankfully still very breathable. Even on hot and sunny Sydney runs I never felt that my feet were overheating. The kevlar lace runs through metal eyelets (tick) and I totally expect to double, if not triple the kilometres on these shoes before considering replacement.
Will Salomon’s S/LAB Ultra Go The Distance?
I’m pretty wrapped with these shoes, and not just because of the EndoFit bootie and Quicklace system hugging my foot like a straitjacket. They’re genuinely comfy and supportive, but only just enough. This isn’t a bad thing — it means the grip isn’t going to wear down too quickly and the foam won’t squish 70km in (or if you’re hitting the trail with them every day). The rubberised construction is super tough and to date, I haven’t managed to roll my ankle in them, and god knows I’ve tried.
Feature Photo by @thetantrap
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