Salomon Sense 4 Ultra Softground / SG Review
Feb201512

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.

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Specification

  • Weight of 282g for my UK Size 10
  • Stack height of 22mm in the heel and 18mm in the forefoot (running warehouse)
  • Profeel film rock plate which extends to midfoot
  • Quicklace system
  • Aggressive outsole for soft, wet conditions

What’s Changed Since the Sense 3 SG?

  • Completely redesigned outsole
  • Sense 4 is slightly heavier (14g in my size 10’s)
  • Midsole height is the same but the lugs are about 1mm deeper in the Sense 4
  • More secure fit in the midfoot and more room in the toe box (see below for more on this)
  • Tweaks to tongue design to reduce debris entry
  • New mesh material for upper
  • New ‘matt-look’ overlay material including reflective section at the rear (the black bit)

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Looks & First Impressions

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.

Fit & Sizing

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.

Performance

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.

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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.

Salomon sense 4 ultra softground flexibility

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.

Conclusion

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).

Where To Find Them

The Sense 4 Softground is available now from Castleberg Outdoors (who offer international shipping).

Thin Castleberg Resize

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.

Get Involved!

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!

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12 comments

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for the early review! I agree on the rock plate. A shorter one seems to make more sense. I’m an innov-8 x-talon fan. I wonder how the Ultra 4 SG compares to the x-talon 212 or 200. I see the Ultra 4 SG as a way to stay close to the x-talon, but get more foot protection and comfort. However, I’m concerned about flexibility and grip on the SG. Maybe making my own rock guard to go under the insole of the X-talon is a better solution. Thoughts?

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Chris, I think your comparison with the X-Talon is valid and interesting. Grip on the SG is good but ‘Talon has stickier rubber in my view. Overall, there are similarities between the two models but I think I’d be using them for different purposes. It all depends on your personal preferences, how/ where you are going to use them, how durable your feet are blah blah

      Nice idea about the rock guard modification – this would add more protection from sharp objects but obviously not more cushion so may be helpful in some situations but not in others. Check out the Altra Superior to see how they have designed their removable plate. I would guess you could use the footbed from your X-Talon’s as a template to cut it but you would need to find a material that is sufficiently flexible and durable so that it wouldn’t snap. I’d be really curious to hear how you get on if you try this

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Andrew, Before I make my own, I have decided to try a product called Sole Armor that is an insole/rock plate combo. I have ordered he pro version to try with my x-talons. The Sense Ultra 3 SG’s are currently discounted at many shops and I have ordered a pair at almost half price to test them against the x-talon with the rock plate addition. If the Salomon’s win out, I will move to the 4 SG next!

    Thanks also for the info on the Altra’s. I recall reading about that and will make a point to check them out at a local store for more ideas!

  3. David says:

    Hello

    I have the sense ultra 3 sg, I find them to be very veritable and will be getting the 4th generation sg to improve upon that. Bu I would like to mention that if you would like a little more cushion in them take out the insole and replace it with the ortho-lite insoles form the speedcross 3 fits in to them perfect. :)

  4. David says:

    LOL that was versatile.

  5. Peter says:

    I wonder why Salomon instead of putting lugs under the 7 gaps at the outsole,leaves them like that.

  6. Peter says:

    After trying both the SG and non SG version here are my thoughts:
    The traction is much better in the SG version. I think the non SG is only for fireroads. For more aggresive terrain you need the softground. The word softground is misleading, this shoe is a very good option for scree and loose rock. Now the dislikes for both the SG and non SG: 1)The toebox is very narrow. The outer part of my big toe hits the toecap causing severe discomfort. If i go half a size up the shoe feels too long. 2) They are too hot. The internal “gaiter” is more than enough to keep the debris out, the outer layer should have been more breathable(like the La Sportiva Helios SR). Also, the SG has a much more dense outer fabric and feels hotter. I think that the fabric of the insole makes the soles of my feet to sweat. It has some kind of fleece fabric on top. I hope Salomon makes the toebox wider in the next version.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi peter, thanks for taking the time to leave such useful comments. For me the toebox creates the perfect balance between being just snug enough to be secure but not so snug that it crushes my toes. However, this is a very individual thing and your example shows just how variable these things can be from runner to runner. Andrew

  7. Bradley says:

    Just been reading some of your great reviews..keep it up.
    I currently run in sense pros and had went half a size up due to the fact i have a wide foot and was running trail ultras..my pros have i finger room at the toe but the width is great and ive never had a blister..im now getting into mountain marathons and want a grippier shoe…im looking at the sg5 but have doubts about the fit being too tight and im so happy with my salomon im a bit dubious of swappin.. .im also ooking at the terraclaw 220 and merrel all out peak .. any thoughts would be a great help… im running the snowdoina trail marathon in july and glenco in october…thats the type of terrain I’ll be tackling in them.

    • Andrew says:

      Crazy late reply but my only advice would be to try a pair of SG5’s if you can. I love the terraclaw 220 but it you might need a bit more protection / support for that race

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