One of the latest products to roll off the extensive (and often confusing!) Salomon trail shoes production line is a unisex trail shoe designed for distance running. These have been developed in collaboration with Francois D’haene (winner of the 2017 UTMB!) so clearly have been designed with an ultra-runner’s needs in mind. The S/LAB ultras are intended for use on all types of terrain from dry and rocky trails to the wet and muddy fields. They come with an 8mm drop and weigh in at an impressively lightweight 300g. The shoe has a built in, molded sockliner (which is great for breathability and wicking away moisture) and a ‘Senstfit’ construction/’Endofit’ sleeve which cradles the foot and provides and all-round great fit.
I’m not sure what the feature is called, or even how to describe it, but the upper on the shoes has a sort of ‘second layer’ or wing(?) on the sides which helps wrap the shoe and enhance the fit to your feet. The shoes also come with the Salomon quicklace system. The S/LAB Ultras are available in a single colour option – bright red on the toe-box, fading to a purple on the heal.
Given the prestige surrounding the shoe (and it’s price!) this is a top end, ‘best of the best’ model. Naturally it comes with some serious amount of expectation to live up to. So does it meet the hype?
Now on my second pair (more on that later), I’ve covered many hundreds of kms in these over varied terrain. Running local trails and paths in and around London, to ultras in the countryside of Suffolk and Surrey, to Mountain ultras in the Alps, its fair to say I’ve given them a good go and have amassed enough usage to get a true feel of they stack up.
First off, out of the box – they are a striking pair of trainers. I was partly put-off initially purchasing them due to the limited colour options. They do look far better in reality than the pictures suggest though. Taking them out of the box they feel incredibly light and nice to touch – the material is soft and agile and the inner ‘sock’ is comfortable and warm. You notice on the ‘wings’ I mentioned, the lacing system, integrate fitted tongue and also that the studs on the sole are reversed on the heel, which apparently helps with grip when running down hill.
When wearing them they are incredibly comfortable and fit really well (no need to go half-size larger in these!). They genuinely look and feel more like road trainers than trail. I’d be quite happy wearing them casually (but wouldn’t waste the product on this use!)
On the trail the initial comfort and fit lasts. over the 100km races I’ve used them in I’ve not ended up thinking of my feet (bar a hot-spot I briefly experienced during the CCC) and I can’t recall any blistering or damaged toenails whatsoever as a result of wearing them! The shoes comfort and fit expands and adapts as your feet swell (a godsend for the endurance runners!) and you feel supported throughout. Whilst not waterproof, in the right conditions they dry out fairly rapidly, so no need to worry about splashing around in puddles and getting them wet. The comfort has really stood out for me.
I’ve found the S/LABs also to be incredibly ‘grippy’ and have given me confidence in my traction when running on the varied terrain.
Over time I’m glad I purchased these shoes. I delayed for two reasons. Price and lack of colour choice – It’s a lot of money and I’m not one for flashy coloured footwear. But on reflection these concerns shouldn’t put you off. They prove value for money. Not least if you run a lot then you should get a good return on the investment, but also because of that confidence in the quality/comfort, grip, you can focus on the running rather than your worrying about your feet. If you are looking at these when shopping for trail shoes then you are pretty serious about your running and it is a small price to pay compared to lower-end products. Overtime the colour has grown on me and in reality there’s more purple than it looks like in the pictures.
These were also the first pair of trainers I’ve owned with the quicklaces. These are easy to use and adjust with a simple press and pull for tension/release. I found that they hold their tension over long distances and extensive use (I covered the 100km of the CCC in just over 21 hours without a concern). Gone are the days of stopping for loose laces.
What I like
- Comfort – comfort and support don’t usually mix well with trail trainers?! These are an exception!
- Grip – bar a really wet and muddy downhill section in the Swiss Alps, I’ve been incredibly stable in these shoes. (Even my X-Claw’s wouldn’t have helped me on this occasion though!)
- Flexible fit – easy to adjust and get a comfortable fit that is almost customised to you!
- Quicklaces. Easy to use and they tuck away into the tongue pocket nicely. They can be a little fiddly if you need a tweak/adjustment further down in the lace though, but this is no more so than a traditional lace that requires tightening either!
- Salomon customer service and warranty. I had a pair replaced after a fault developed. This was effortless to process and the warranty and product checked and appraise very quickly.
What I don’t like
- Bloody expensive. Like ridiculously expensive. Gone are the days of £100 shoes. A good pair of the latest model of trainers are now in the £150+ bracket. This pair retail at £160. Like football transfers –
when will this end?! Clearly a premium product though which carries a premium price tag.
- Colour options. Just the one. It grew on me eventually but I’d personally prefer something a little more subtle.
- I’m a little concerned by their durability. After just 10 runs (admittedly covering a few hundred Km) my first pair developed a big hole on the fabric of the toe box (inside, left foot). Salomon replaced them under warranty and I’m hoping it was a one off defect!
I’d recommend them. It’s hard to get over the initial shock of the investment (put it this way, for the same price I’ve had a 4 day holiday in Poland with flight, accommodation and entry to an ultra!), But they are up there with the best trainers I’ve ever owned. For long distance, ultra running that requires comfort and performance they are ticking all the boxes!
There’s a reason they are designed and worn by the pros!! If they are good enough for them, then they are more than good enough for me and my needs!