IT’S A CLICHÉ TERM: FITS LIKE A GLOVE.
USUALLY TAKEN AS A POSITIVE DESCRIPTOR, IT’S APTLY APPLIED TO THE SALOMON S-LAB SENSE ULTRA SG. THESE RACY NUMBERS CUDDLE YOUR FOOT, LIKE A FULL BODY CONTACT SPOONING SESSION FOR YOUR FEET. I MENTION THIS UP FRONT BECAUSE IT’S THE FIRST ‘FEELING’ YOU GET PUTTING THEM ON – A NOTICEABLE ‘WOW’ FACTOR OF SILKY, FORM-FITTING COMFORT.
[the following review first appeared in Edition #21 of Trail Run Mag. Download now at www.trailrunmag.com/magazines]
The precision fit is created by Salomon’s Endofit upper, which basically acts like a sock. Now, apart from the sheer comfort of this upper, there’s a performance aspect: cuddlier fit means better hold on to and connection through the sole, translating to better feel and reaction to the surfaces spinning beneath. This gives you more confidence on knarly, changeable terrain where action is varied and landing and take off can be in any direction on any kind of slope.
So, if the shoe fits for you, technical terrain becomes a carpet ride in these puppies.
The downside; they need to fit your foot and a more precise fit, as these offer, means more chance that your podiatric idiosyncrasies may not match those of Kilian Jornet and the other top flight fliers these shoes were designer around. What does I mean for you? If your foot doesn’t take an instant liking to the shape within, you’ll get hot spots.
Even if your planks of meat are a perfect match, you may not want to run into the ultra zone in them given foot swell will turn that spooning session for your foot into a painful exercise in ‘outgrowing one other’. Hence, while the word ultra is ingrained in the name, and emblazoned on the side, these are perhaps not for big-banger ultras per se, unless you have a second upsized pair to swap into half way!
What they are specifically for is what the ‘SG’ highlights: soft ground. Find some sloppy, technical, mulchy, muddy, springy singletrack carpet and ride these hard. They will sing on this type of terrain. Why? Because that tight-hold around your foot means there is no movement within the shoe, the trail feel is a beautiful balance fine-tuned to the point of twitchiness. Like a pair of Formula One tyres on a Ferrari, they make you want to race on the limit of your performance capabilities.
The 4mm drop means that, just as an F1 car should not be driven by a P-plater, these aren’t for everyone. Your form has to be fine and your strength and muscular spring through the lower legs strong.
Indeed, fall over on your form or be unaccustomed to the low heel-toe drop and these shoes may well bite back. But if you have the control on tap, and the confidence to push out at the edge of your technical running capacities, then the Ultra Sense is a sublime shoe to go at pace with.
The ride is 9mm up to 13mm cushion in the heel, giving that 4mm heel-toe difference. On terra more-firmer – fire roads, hard packed, groomed surfaces – they can start to tenderise the forefoot some and you’ll notice that hardness upfront from the get-go. The increased size lugs do give a little more protection and cushion than the regular Sense Ultra, but only by a smidge.
The shoe’s Profeel Film balances well as a protective layer shielding feet from bitey ground while also maintaining excellent feedback – again these being a lightweight race shoe means they will never be accused of being maximalist, and you need to be okay with that fact.
The upper on the SG4 has been revised some giving additional support through the forefoot.
According to the product notes, the Sensifit design – already market leading in our opinion – has been tweaked, too. It all lends to better securing your foot and that glove-like feel. The upper is more durable on the SG4 than on previous models, although arguably it’s also less breathable – great for cold weather, not so for summer forays and stinky feet.
The grip is, as always with Salomon across its range, excellent, but particularly so on these. The Contragrip lug pattern has deeper lugs for additional spike, particularly relevant – as you’d expect – for when the ground is softer. That said, on super muddy patches they can fail to shed the gloop as quickly as we’d like.
The rubber compound has been revised from past models and seems to have slightly better bite on smoother surfaces like rock and on dry, hard trail the lugs aren’t too intrusive (as on the Speedcross), the ride remaining fairly comfy for 10-20km outings. Longer than that and you’ll be seeking the softer stuff.
A crisp performer for those who want to up the ante, fast and furious style, pushing the envelope on technical trails. Great for a lot of the ‘sprint’ trail series going round these days!
TAKE OUTS SALOMON SENSE ULTRA SG4
Great for: as it says on the tin, soft ground; technical, rooty, muddy, racing, ‘shorter’ runs up to a marathon
Not-so-great for: ultras, hard packed trails
Test Conditions: singletrack, lots of technical, soft ground, rocky, approx. 180km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
*NOTE: a quick Google search will revel there is already a Sense 5 SG out there. From all appearances looks like the numeral on the paint job is the major change – but we haven’t investigated ;).