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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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Please click here to find my update on the durability of the sense 3 ultra SG
What do you think of the Sense 3 Softground? Do you have a question? Please leave your thoughts below!