The Sense 4 Ultra is Salomon’s latest update to the widely acclaimed S-Lab range of shoes which have gone from strength-to-strength since the first prototypes were seen on Kilian Jornet’s feet during the 2011 Western States 100. They replace the Sense 3 Ultra which was one of my all time favourite shoes and although the changes may appear to be quite minor at first glance, the Sense 4’s sport an entirely new outsole, overlays and a refined fit for 2015.
As with the Sense 4 Softground that I tested recently, Salomon have ditched some of the detailing found on the Sense 3 and this gives the ‘4s a cleaner look which I’m a big fan of. The shoes are finished to an incredibly high standard which is befitting of the top-end price tag. I’ll admit that I even found myself hopping over muddy puddles the first time I took them out in a futile effort to avoid getting them dirty.
One gripe I do have about the evolution of the Sense line of shoes is the gradual increase in weight that has occurred with each revision of the shoe. At 274g in my size 10’s, the Sense 4’s are still very light but this is the best part of 100g more than the featherweight originals. No doubt, the extra mass has helped them produce a grippier, more durable product but I’d like to think Salomon could have kept it under the 250g mark given the price and top-end materials.
Another minor niggle which is carried over from the previous iteration of the shoe is the cut away in the outsole next to the rock plate. I’m guessing this is to reduce the weight and aid flexibility but personally, I’d rather that it wasn’t there because this is a potentially vulnerable area of the foot where I’ve spiked myself on sharp objects in the past.
I was actually a little bit apprehensive when I heard that Salomon had tinkered with the fit of the Sense 4 as the ‘3 was fantastic in this department and pretty much redefined my concept of how a running shoe should feel. I shouldn’t have worried because as soon as the Sense 4’s were on my feet I was reassured by the familiar feel of the locked-down midfoot and beautifully shaped toe box. The midfoot is slightly snugger than the Sense 3 and feels pretty much on-par with the Fellcross in my view. This will be good news for most people but wide or chunky-footed runners may have a hard time with it.
Going back to the toe box, It retains the classic Sense shape with minimal tapering on the medial side, meaning that your big toe doesn’t get squished. There is a gentle tapering on the lateral side and this helps hold your foot securely when descending but still plenty of space for toe splay. Salomon claim to have added a ‘couple of millimetres’ of extra room in comparison to the sense 3 but if I’m honest I couldn’t really feel a difference.
With regards to sizing, the Sense 4 feels exactly the same as earlier versions, ie half a size bigger than Inov-8, Altra, La-Sportiva and Sketchers but the same as New Balance.
It’s taken me a little longer than usual to get a review up for the Sense 4, due to the fact that the UK winter is not a great match for them so it’s taken a while to accumulate sufficient mileage under appropriate conditions (i.e predominantly dry, technical terrain).
It’s been a couple of months since I last ran in a non-softground version of the Salomon Sense thanks to the aforementioned mud-fest that we’ve been dealing with recently and the first time I took them out, I was immediately reminded of what a joy it is to have them on my feet. The balance of agility, security and stability is perfectly judged and there is no shoe I would rather be wearing when bombing down a super-technical, (dry) single track descent. Cushioning is firm with fantastic levels of feedback from the ground but also sufficiently insulated to keep my feet feeling fresh over long distances. It sounds corny but the Sense 4’s seem to become an extension of my foot, leaving me super confident when running quickly.
The outsole design isn’t massively different to the last version of the shoe, but it performs well on dry surfaces, hard ground and rocks. I was surprised how well the Sense 3 adhered to soft ground and the fractionally deeper lugs of the Sense 4 seem grippier still. They are fantastic in predominantly dry conditions and on soft ground that isn’t too steep or technical but the Sesnse 4’s are never going to be a viable option on steep grass or mud and this restricts their usability for UK mountain running.
Imagine for example, a Lakeland run on a cool, clear July morning before the sun has risen above the mountaintops. Conditions are generally dry but there is a small covering of dew on the grass which will last until mid-afternoon in areas that remain in shadow. The Sense 4’s feel fantastic as you trot, then grunt your way up a sheep path next to a ghyll then bag a couple of quick summits as you traverse along a sunny ridgeline with sweat poring down your forehead and into your eyes. Before you know it, an hour or two has passed and you are looping around to descend back to your starting point.
Shortly after leaving a summit, you are confronted with a north-facing slope of steep grass that is still damp from the morning dew and interspersed with flatter sections of 4-season bog. The shoes which have been so fantastic for the last couple of hours now become a major hindrance due to the lack of grip and you are faced with the choice of either throwing caution to the wind and risking a fall or wasting half an hour picking your way down tentatively and missing out on one of the best bits of the run.
Sorry I seem to have drifted off a bit but does that sound familiar to anyone? I’ve been in situations like this a few times when I’ve naively gotten my shoe choice wrong. It’s easy to do in the UK summer as the ground can be 95% dry but then lethally slippy at a key moment and this is why you see so many people wearing things like Roclites as they give you that extra bit of lug to cope with a wider range of situations. The issue is obviously amplified by unexpected weather changes and could see you losing a ton of time in a race situation.
The example above is probably unnecessarily long-winded but hopefully illustrates why ‘trail shoe’ type outsoles aren’t that suitable for enigmatic British mountains a lot of the time. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but I think it’s important to get this across because the Sense 4’s are marketed in both a trail AND mountain running context. This is perfectly valid in some parts of the world but fell runners will probably find that they end up leaving them on the shoe rack quite a bit. However, the Sense 4’s are awesome when used in circumstances that play to their strengths and perfectly grippy enough for dry routes and general trail use so there is still plenty of scope for UK runners to find appropriate conditions to use and abuse them.
The Sense 4 Ultra’s are (in my opinion) the best shoe on the market for running fast over dry, technical terrain, so long as you pretty darn sure that you aren’t going to come across significant sections of steep, wet ground.
Conditions of this nature are rarer than most of us would like in this part of the world so if you are a UK-based fell or mountain runner and you are only going to buy one pair Sense shoes I’d recommend opting for the Softground version, especially now that Salomon have improved the outsole.
On the other hand, if you have lots of dry trails on your doorstep you will not be disappointed with the Sense 4 Ultra. They are an exceptional piece of performance footwear and I really hope that we have another good summer so that I can get lots of use out of them.
These shoes were purchase for testing by the author, please refer to my gear review and advertising policy for more information.
The Sense 4 Ultra’s are available now from Castleberg Outdoors (who offer international shipping).
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