Salomon S-Lab Sense3 Soft Ground

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Summer 2014 in the Ariège will not go down in the record books. Throughout July and August the default weather setting has been storms punctuated by grey skies and drizzly rain. This is not what I signed up for when I moved to the south of France! In fact, I feel rather disgruntled – clearly something is not working the way it should. Perhaps a paper was “lost” or the wrong stamp used. I’m very thankful that I live near Spain where it’s permanently hot and dry. They have cactuses on the side of the road. Unfortunately I can’t just nip to Spain each time I feel like a run, so thank heavens I decided to buy the Salomon Sense3 Soft Grounds!


The damp summer chez moi, has meant that the SG’s have got more than a little bit of running time. But that’s not to say I’d only reserve them for stinking dirty weather – no way – these fiery looking beauties are certainly not a one trick pony. They perform equally great on a dry day, so the big question is; can we use the Salomon Sense 3 Soft Ground on hard ground..?

I’m going to answer that with a resounding “Yes!”

If your trails are rough and nasty, with plenty of variation – if you run steep loose and gnarly, if your terrain is the sort of thing that would make a road runner… err… run off to find a smooth bit of asphalt… then these are close to being a perfect choice. Whether the ground be soft or hard, they function well. They are built for a varied trail and mountain use and do not feel at all odd on stretches of relatively easy forest double track. In a nutshell I’d say they are awesome.

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Traction is awesome with wide but well spaced lugs. Still plenty of bite left and around 100 on the clock.

Uphill and downhill. With a 4mm differential the shoe feels pretty flat perhaps a bit flatter than 4mm but flatness is in the eye of the beholder – its low slung with a squat rear end – I found that I got a tiny bit of heel slippage on steep ascents, I’ll get to that later on. On a descent they inspire confidence, providing a sure footed ride, bags of grip when needed and the stack is decently low enough to avoid any ankle turning issues. I run really fast in these and I love it!  Love it!  It feels like you have a miniature Ferrari instead of a foot and with a sexy red and black design the shoe looks the part too.  There are no limits – you can go anywhere and do anything – fly, walk on water, win the X factor.  They make you look cool, they increase your chances of finding a mate and they make trail Parkour a breeze.  You will certainly feel like the best runner in any race you might enter whether you come first or last.  These shoes are good.

Now, here’s the thing. If you were to look at another review you might read something like, “Hey great shoe but they beat my feet up on hard ground, I wouldn’t wear them for anything more than 20 miles…blah blah blah” or words to that effect. I’d really question the credentials of such a soft footed shoe reviewer – there is simply ample cushion in this shoe, and from a truly minimal standpoint one could argue far too much cushion, depends which way you swing. The size and softness of the lugs really help to dampen out the harshness of the ride on hard ground but of course for runners that want couch like levels of comfort, there are plenty of big soft luxury pillowy options on the market.

However in all honesty – if you were to hit a long hard repetitive trail I think that there are better options, including road shoes – The SG’s are built for speed, for varied terrain, for racing, for feeling at one with the ground and they give you the tools to cope with nearly anything a mountain will throw at you.  It’s a mountain running shoe.

So how far would I go in them…?  I’m not going to say!

Okay, alright – I’ve done over 4 hours of mixed terrain and felt great but would I have them on my feet for 16 hours plus…?  I don’t honestly know. I’d certainly consider them for up to 10 hours, especially if the terrain was likely to be very mixed.

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So let’s talk about mud.   Mud. It can be either woefully hard work or great fun; who’d have thought that in the late 00’s people would actually seek out races for the levels of mud that were on offer? Not content with simply getting a bit muddy around the ankles, folk are intentionally signing up and paying quite huge sums to run in branded “mud” events that guarantee a full head to toe soak in the gooey stuff.

As for the SG’s performance in deep squelchy foot wrenching mud I cannot vouch. However on many occasions this summer the lower trails have been washed out, this coupled with the extensive forestry in my local woods has actually provided me with a reasonable amount of pre winter mud testing. We’re talking about deep muddy ruts and sections of slick slimy layers on steep ground. The latter is about the best grip test that I can give a shoe and the verdict is a pass… But here’s the thing. On the really slippery stuff they lack the bite that a dedicated fell shoe such as the Inov8 Mudclaw has. This is not to say they don’t work, but they are perhaps not the shoe for ultra extreme mud.

Conversely, as I mentioned above, they are not a shoe you’d select for an ultra smooth path either. They sit in the middle as an all mountain – all trail shoe, very similar in execution as the Inov8 Roclite 243, although veering slightly more towards the slippery side of running.

So think of them as a more grippy Roclite 243.

Did I say that I think these shoes are close to spectacular?!  And on my stomping ground they come into their own on the lightly tracked grassy mountain side, where foot placement is a lottery.  The trail is intermittent or non-existent – dips, ruts and rocks come out of nowhere, boggy marsh just pops out and says give me some love buddy. Frankly I don’t think I’ve had a better shoe on my foot for this sort of running. Best evs.

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They suit this sort of thing.

To say that I really like this shoe is an understatement, but I’m not blind to it’s slight imperfections. I mentioned earlier the issue I had with heel slippage and this comes down to what you can’t do with the laces… If I could change one thing it would be the lacing. It’s almost great, it just lacks that heel locking feel that I love. This is partly due to the fact that it’s not possible to reconfigure the speed lacing system in to a Lock Lace.  This is a minor irritation but so far has not led to any blister issues.  In general the fit is spot on, it’s a precision fit so don’t expect to be able to swing a cat in the toe box, these shoes hug the foot. There’s enough flex up front to keep the toes happy, but if you prefer not to feel the shoe around your foot, look elsewhere. Over the years I’ve learned to love and appreciate the functionality of a precise fit, some folk like their shoes all sloppy and large I’d prefer to be able to contour around a hill without the edge of the shoe folding up around my feet.

Anyway I was talking about the little niggles – Still with the laces; I’d have been happier with a slightly less awkward storage pouch, or lace garage as I think Salomon would prefer. After a bit of fiddling I finally arrived at how it’s supposed to work, but the storage thingy on the white and red Sense’s looks better. We’ll have it like that next time please.
In fact before I managed to get the laces in to their little parking pouch or whatever it’s called, I was just tucking the loose bit back under the lace. This was okay until it worked its way out causing the large loop to literally lasso my foot. I went flying and landed hard on my shoulder. Needless to say this spurred me on to learn how to better stow the lace. I recommend you do the same.

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The Salomon Sense 3 SG gets the Nearlyshoeless recommendation. It’s a superb low drop shoe that disappears on the foot – what more do we want? Ample grip, positive ground feel? Check!  The price is a touch on the high side but if I can get a bit of distance out of it I will not mind.  The upper looks tough enough – a tight mesh with thick overlays and a nice solid toe bumper should keep the thing from falling apart.  The whole shoe has a feel of quality, sturdiness – yet really light at around 250 grams for a size 9US.  I’ve got to say that I’m a bit of a Salomon convert.

Oh yes must not forget to mention that there’s a rock plate – I haven’t been spiked by anything yet so I guess it works.

Have you tried these red and black trail shredders? I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Why not leave a comment below and if you’ve enjoyed this review please share the love on your favourite social media sites!

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