Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra Softground (SG) Review
Feb201401

I was really impressed by the red/white ‘standard’ version of the Sense 3 when I tested them a few weeks ago and whilst they excel on hard ground, they are not the right choice for steep mud and wet grass. The Salomon Sense 3 Ultra Softground (or SG)  is designed to make the shoe a much more realistic option for these conditions and it generated a lot of excitement when pictures of it first started to emerge last summer. I suspect that they will be particularly interesting to UK runners because we often have to deal with soggy conditions all-year-round.

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What Are They Designed For?

So these shoes are designed for wet and soft ground conditions (duh) and some people might be thinking at this point ‘well isn’t that what the fellcross is for?’  Whilst I agree that there’s some crossover, the Fellcross has a narrower fit, a more protective upper and no rock plate where as the Sense is designed for longer-distance events and features a ‘natural’ fit and more protective sole-unit.

Specification & Comparison With The ‘Standard’ Sense 3

  • Much bigger lugs for wet conditions
  • Stack height of 24mm in the heel and 17mm in the forefoot which makes them 5mm taller than the standard sense due to the deeper lugs (stats from running warehouse)
  • 268g weight (UK size 10) compared to 255g for the red/white version
  • ‘Pro-Feel’ rock plate that extends right the way through the midfoot
  • Even finer mesh on the upper to offer further resistance to grit getting inside

Fit and First Impressions

Straight our of the box, the Softground feels light and slightly less flexible than the standard sense. I think that they look awesome and the obvious build quality and detail goes some way towards justifying the high price.

Upon trying the shoes on for the first time, I immediately felt taller and that’s down to the extra height created by the lugs. Unsurprisingly, I found the fit to be very similar to the standard sense i.e. snug and secure around my D-width feet but not constrictive.

Performance

We’ve just been through the wettest January in the last 30-something years and this has provided fantastic conditions for testing the Sense Softground. I’ve used them on steep, wet grass, deep mud, on rocks, stone and even short sections of asphalt.

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first, the traction in deep mud and wet grass is very good indeed and not too far behind Inov-8 mudclaws, which have become my point of reference for winter bog running. They also shed mud better than most because the lugs are spaced quite wide apart. Grip-levels on wet stone and asphalt can be unpredictable and would benefit from a softer outsole compound although this would lead to an inevitable reduction in durability. I was pleased to find that the lugs could not be felt though the midsole and I’ve had no problems with blistering or hot spots.

The new upper material does a really good job of keeping grit out of the shoes whilst draining water efficiently. I’m quite surprised that Salomon didn’t choose to use it on the standard Sense and I can only imagine that it’s not as breathable and therefore, not as suited to dry (warmer) conditions. It’s hard to be sure at the moment because it’s so cold! 

The reduced longitudinal flexibility wasn’t that noticeable after I’d been wearing the shoes for a little while and they felt nicely responsive on toe-off. As with the standard sense, the midsole is quite firm (which I like) but the levels of ground-feel are reduced with the softground because of the deep, stiff lugs.

These shoes perform excellently on soft ground so they certainly live up to their name! However, if you are wearing them for their intended purpose of long distance mountain running, it is likely that you will also meet a variety of other conditions including rocks and uneven ground which is why Salomon include the full-length rock plate. On this terrain,the tall-ish stack height means that they can feel like they might be prone to rolling when you stand on stones or uneven cambers. Also as I’ve mentioned above, the shoes do not adhere that well to wet rock and this lead me to feel a little tentative when descending on some occasions.

A lower, more flexible shoe with softer rubber can often do a better job of adapting to mixed / rocky surfaces but the Sense SG’s are designed for ultra racing where sacrificing some stability for additional cushioning and durability becomes a necessary compromise.

Conclusion

The standard Sense 3 would be my default choice for days in the mountains when I’m confident that conditions will be predominantly dry because even though the outsole of the SG is probably better suited to UK trails most of the time, I still prefer the feel of the lower stack height of the standard version. Mudclaw 265’s are still unbeatable for out and out mud and would still be the shoe I would pick for really nasty conditions, shorter distances or circumstance where the extra protection provided by the Sense SG is not required.

The Sense Soft grounds will be a great choice for wet mountain running over long distances where the combination of grip, cushioning and protection will pay off….. as long as you take care over wet rocks. The secure midfoot and relatively roomy toe box offers a fantastic balance of  security and comfort which is the shoe’s best feature. For me, the Sense range has set a new standard for how a trail / mountain shoe should fit and the acclaim that Salomon have received for this is well deserved.

These shoes were purchased by the Author

Where You Can Find Them (Affiliates)

The Softgrounds are now in stock here at Wiggle Amazon & Millet Sports

I make every effort to ensure these reviews are as objective and honest as possible to help you decide if a product is right for you. This takes me a lot of time and effort and if you are interested in a product I have reviewed, you can help me keep the site going by placing purchases through the links and adverts at no extra cost to yourself. Thanks for your support.

Durability Update: 21/04/14

Please click here to find my update on the durability of the sense 3 ultra SG

Get Involved

What do you think of the Sense 3 Softground? Do you have a question? Please leave your thoughts below!

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8 comments

  1. Wojciech says:

    Hi there, thanks for great review! I am still confused as which model to choose. I am planning to run 50 miles ultra in Lake District in October and I was thinking about the SG model but the surface may be to rocky for them…? Which of the two would you recommend for wet, rocky surface?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi, thanks for the comment!
      Generally speaking, I’d recommend the Standard Sense 3 Ultra for a rocky surface but there’s a very strong chance that you will encounter mixed conditions and proper mud at that time of the year so i’d go for the softgrounds otherwise you’ll struggle on the steep stuff. I do have some reservations about the SG’s on big rocks due to the stack height and slight lack of ‘give’ but over that kind of distance and terrain it’s a necessary trade off because you will probably be glad of the traction and cushioning. That sounds like the kind of event where the SG’s would really excel to be honest.

      Good luck!

  2. Bonnie says:

    great review thanks. How about fellcross vs 3 SG for ultra-running on the fell (wet / rocks and soft ground). Sounds like 3 SG is made for longer, but you find the rockplate + height not great, so would fellcross maybe be better for ultrarunning in e.g. the lake district?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Bonnie, thanks! First off, I should point out that whilst i’ve tried the fellcross on I haven’t run in them (yet) but I think I can still provide some insight based upon what I have read elsewhere.

      I’d say the fellcross will work better for you when moving quickly over the steep stuff whereas the Sense 3 SG will do a better job of looking after your feet over long distances due to the increased underfoot protection and anatomical fit.

      Personally, I’d definitely go for the sense if I were looking for an ultra-distance shoe as the fellcross is pretty narrow and I don’t think it would agree with me for long runs. Hope this helps.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for your reply. Having done further research I now also understand that Fellcross and Sense 3 SG are not very durable, as they are made for racing. Instead it appears that Fellraiser may be what I am looking for.

    • Andrew says:

      Salomon made a few changes with the Sense 3 to improve durability over previous models and mine are holding up very well so far! However, fellcross gets great reviews and also cheaper to replace if they do meet an unfortunate end :-)

  4. James B says:

    Sorry to bump an old thread but I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the SG as a full shoe. I’ve been wearing various Inov-8 shoes for the last few years but getting tired of them falling apart on me. How does it compare to the X-Talons for grip? Or is it a bit closer to TrailRoc?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi James, thanks for getting in touch. Grip on soft surfaces is similar to X-Talons but the Inov-8 rubber works better on wet rock etc. The major difference with the Salomon Sense is the additional cushion and rock plate which gives you more protection but means they have a taller stack height and are less flexible and stable than the ‘Talons. Both very good shoes but they offer something slightly different to one another from a performance perspective in my view.

      With regards to durability, both the standard Sense 3 and the Softground version held up pretty well for me. It’s always a tricky one with Mountain / Fell shoes as they get so much hammer. Failures due to clear manufacturing faults, poor design or unsuitable materials are really annoying and unacceptable. Failures due to abrasions on rocks, roots and other detritus are much more complex and difficult to prevent but also very common. To be honest, I’m not sure that there is a fell / mountain shoe in existence with a 100% customer satisfaction record on durability (or even 90%), especially in the sub-300g weight bracket. To a certain extent, I think it’s probably something we are stuck with until technology and materials improve significantly.

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