This Salomon gear review is from Steven Benesi who is a Tahoe-Truckee area mountain athlete. His passions for running, peakbagging, hiking, and snowboarding carry him into and on top of the stunning terrain with which the Tahoe area is blessed. Currently, he is happily suffering through the transcendent vistas of Bob Burd’s OGUL list and running somewhere.
Springtime in the Sierra is a special time of year. Many outdoor enthusiasts continue to strap on skis or boards and enjoy the corn harvest; others, like me, take the rising temperatures and longer days as a signal that it’s time to hit the trails and run again. Running at this time of year carries a unique set of challenges with it. Trails can be clear, still locked up in ice, or a variable combination of mud, snow, and rock. Given these conditions, much of a successful and fun, enjoyable running experience is determined by the shoes on one’s feet. Tahoe Mountain Sports was kind enough to hand me a pair of the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5s early on this season and I’ve been running them through the wringer as of late. After putting 70 or so miles on them, they’ve proven to be a shoe that can handle (just about) whatever Spring trails in the Sierra want to throw their way.
Out of the box the shoe looks awesome and feels light. It comes in at stated weight of 7.76oz, and it looks that way too. The mesh grid over the top of toes is airy enough to see your foot through, and this same mesh forms portions of each side of the shoe as well. My initial worry that debris would be able to get into the shoe too easily with this material was proven wrong, though my feet were a tad dusty at the end of a few sunnier runs. The inner part of the shoe and tongue consists of Salomon’s endoFIT system. Essentially, your foot slides into a comfortable neoprene glove that doesn’t extend past your toes and hugs the middle portion of your foot. This seems to make socks unnecessary, but I found that on runs over 10 miles or so my pinky toes started to chafe a bit. The good news is wearing a sock with these shoes is perfectly fine, and since the breathability is so great, my feet have yet to get hot.
The material over the toe of the shoe has proved strong enough to prevent my toes from getting smashed on rocks and roots, which is a definite blessing when my lazy legs start to appear. The quicklace system makes tightening the shoe a breeze and has stayed snug on every run so far. On my first pair of Salomon shoes with the quicklace I completely
overlooked the pouch on the tongue of the shoe. I spent half the summer running in the shoes wondering what Salomon had supposed I would do with the lace once the shoe was tightened. I came up with something that worked, but it seemed like such a huge oversight not to include an easy place to put the lace. One kind soul waiting with me to pace a friend in the Castle Peak 100K last summer pointed out that the pouch exists solely for storing the lace. With my face red and my mind blown, I easily stuffed it into the pouch and joined my buddy on his way through Van Norden Meadows then up to Crows Nest and beyond. The point being: don’t overlook the pouch!
As mentioned earlier, spring runs bring an onslaught of variable terrain. A lot of my running with these shoes occurred on two of my favorite “home field” trails: JP’s trail in Coldstream Valley and the ascent up to the Drifter Hut through Negro Canyon. The night before my first run on JP’s in these shoes, good ol’ Mother Nature had provided the area with a healthy dose of rain. The first portion of the run consists of a manicured, crushed-gravel path that winds through Donner State Park. This trail had drained pretty well and the shoe felt amazing. In fact, I barely noticed the shoe at all, which is high praise for a piece of footwear, and was able to simply focus on getting into a good stride while the trail remained smooth.
As I left the gravel the trail turned quickly to wet dirt with sections of mud. The lugs on the bottom of the shoe did their job, despite appearing to be a bit low. I was surprised with the traction they offered and I only slipped once, and that was on a bit of a steep descent that I don’t think any shoe would have a chance on in mud. For about a quarter mile the trail is peppered with angular, football-sized rocks, that pose a serious issue for runners who are zoning out or looking at the scenery. I fell victim to one of these rocks and slammed my toe at a fairly good speed. Don’t get me wrong here, it hurt, but I didn’t lose a nail or feel any run-stopping discomfort; the sturdier rubber on the toe cap does its job. I finished the 11-mile loop feeling great with no inclination that I had just run it in a completely new pair of shoes, which, again, is high praise for any piece of footwear.
I was hesitant to hit the trail system that runs up to the Drifter Hut due to the amount of snow that was still there; but, an opportunity to try new shoes on different terrain could not be ignored. My first run up to the hut was over-zealous. I lost the trail about a quarter mile after the trailhead. Clearly the only option was not waste time finding the trail and instead to use the fact that the steep slope was still covered in snow to point it straight for the top of Donner Ridge. It was still early in the morning, so the snow remained frozen over. The lugs on the Sense had enough bite in them for me to get traction, and although the running wasn’t my fastest (very steep!), I made it up to the ridgeline without backsliding or slipping once. Once up there, I enjoyed the sprawling system of groomed cross-country trails that had yet to be baked by the sun.
The Salomon Sense Ultra 5s have earned themselves a place in my quiver of running options. My final recommendation would be to wait until trails are clear of snow and ice (may I recommend the Salomon Sonic Pros or Speedcross if you’re going out before then?) before breaking the Sense Ultra 5s out, but as you read above they can handle themselves pretty well on mixed terrain should you choose to get out there anyway. As the summer bears down on us, I see myself going back to this shoe on a routine basis.
It’s getting good out there folks, hope to see you out on the trails!