Last year, Salomon released the Soft ground version of it’s all conquering Sense Ultra shoe which was received with much fanfare and excitement. I used the Sense 3 SG quite a bit during 2014 and although I really liked the fit and the performance on grass and mud, I always felt that the outsole didn’t grip as well as it needed to over wet rocks or mixed terrain. Mountain conditions are inherently highly variable so even if a shoe is designed to be used on soft ground, it still needs to be able to cope well in other circumstances to be a 10/10 product in my opinion.
Moving on to 2015, Salomon have updated the shoe with the Sense 4 Ultra Softground and I’ve managed to grab a pair for review. I’ve put about 45 miles on them over a variety of different conditions and I feel ready to share some thoughts, firstly with a rundown of the specification and some details of the changes that Salomon have made since the Sense 3 SG.
As with all of the S-Lab shoes, the Sense 4 SG’s look amazing and the standard of finish is outstanding. The new upper material and overlay design exudes quality whilst some of the detailing has been scaled back from the Sense 3 leading to a cleaner look which I really like. The black section around the heel cup is also reflective which is quite cool but seems a little pointless for an off-road shoe? Personally I think they are the most handsome model in the Sense range so far and they certainly look and feel like a premium-price product.
The fit of the Salomon Sense line of shoes is probably their most popular feature and Salomon claim to have improved it with the Sense 4 by making the midfoot even more secure and the toe box a little more roomy. For me, there is a noticeable difference in the midfoot and the shoes do feel wonderfully snug with excellent speed laces locked-down. This is good news for those with average or narrow feet but those with particularly high volume midfoots may need to look elsewhere.
I would be hard pressed to say that I could notice any increase in the toebox room but this doesn’t bother me in the slightest because like the previous version, it feels snug and perfectly shaped but not tight on my D-width feet. Put simply, the changes to the already excellent fit of the previous Sense shoes are certainly positive but fairly small. It is still one of the very best fitting shoes I’ve tried to date.
With regards to the sizing, I found the Sense 4 to be 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.
Like me, I’m guessing that most people are going to be mainly interested in how the changes to the outsole has affected the performance of the Sense 4 so we’ll get right onto that first.
The lugs are 1mm deeper than with the Sense 3 and have been completely redesigned so that the overall pattern is somewhere in between an Inov-8 Roclite and a Mudclaw. Grip on steep mud, snow and wet grass is very good and probably only bettered by the afore-mentioned Mudclaw. The Sense 4 SG’s also do a pretty good job of clearing mud considering how closely spaced the lugs are.
The main improvement that the new outsole provides over the Sense 3 is a greater total surface area at the ends of the lugs which means that the grip is improved a little on wet rocks. This also means that Sense 4’s are also slightly more comfortable and hopefully more durable over stretches of hard ground. Personally, I’d still be happy to trade-off some durability for a slightly stickier compound but overall, I feel that the versatility has been improved which is great as this was the main thing I was hoping for.
With regards to the ride, the midsole / outsole combination creates a firm package, probably more so than with the Sense 3 as the larger lugs on the 4 don’t seem to ‘give’ as much. This suits me down to the ground as it makes them feel wonderfully responsive and I’m generally not that fond of soft shoes. Recent trends in cushy midsole materials may mean that some runners find them a little harsh in comparison and this is probably worth bearing in mind if you’re currently wearing something like a Hoka or an Altra.
Water repellency isn’t that great but getting wet feet is an occupational hazard for winter running in the UK and the main thing is that they seem to disperse water well once it’s in there.
So whilst I’m generally extremely positive about the new SG’s, I do have a couple of minor reservations which are both carried over from the Sense 3. First off, Salomon have fitted a rock plate to the Sofground that is quite long and goes right the way to the midfoot. This is in contrast to the non-softground version of the shoe which has a shorter rock plate that only covers the forefoot and means that they are a bit more flexible in comparison. Flexibility is important for running over steep, technical ground so why include an extended rockplate on a shoe that is mostly designed for soft surfaces? It’s not a big issue but if anybody has an explanation for it, I’d really appreciate it if you could share it in the comments section.
My second niggle is in the stack height which I feel is a bit on the tall side and makes the shoes feel as though they could be prone to rolling an ankle if you were to make a mistake on an uneven surface. The shoes are designed for soft ground (obviously) where cushioning is a little less important than on hard surfaces so I would probably prefer it if Salomon had shaved a couple of millimetres from the midsole to help with stability, rather than just keep it the same as the standard version of the shoe. This is a minor gripe and probably quite a subjective one as I spend most of my time in lower shoes but my general suggestion would be that you should mindful of it if you are prone to turning your ankle or have weak ligaments.
Whilst there are a couple of further tweaks which would make the Sense 4 SG an even closer match to my personal taste, I suspect that those who are fans of the previous version of the shoe will love the Sense 4 Soft Ground. Salomon have done a great job of improving the design whilst retaining everything that was good about the Sense 3 and overall, they are a highly capable and versatile shoe for long distance mountain running.
These shoes were purchased by the author (see here for my gear review policy).
The Sense 4 Softground is available now from Castleberg Outdoors (who offer international shipping).
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Got any questions about the Sense 4 Softground? Do you have an insight into the design of the rock plate as I have mentioned above? Please leave your thoughts below!