Salomon S-lab Sense Ultra & Salomon XA Enduro Head-to-Head Review

Overview

Today we are going to try something a little different with a side-by-side comparison of two Salomon trail running shoes: the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra & the Salomon XA Enduro. Both shoes share some similar specs while also being somewhat different in a few key elements. Overall, the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra is certainly the most cushioned and capable S-Lab Sense shoe-to-date while the XA Enduro is a pure mountain shoe best suited for rugged, technical terrain.

Specs:

Salomon S-lab Sense Ultra

  • Weight: 275g / 9.7oz (US men’s 9.0) Note: this is a unisex shoe.
  • Drop: 9mm (25mm heel / 16mm forefoot)
  • Upper: mesh with welded overlays
  • Cushion: Dual-density EVA
  • Rockplate: Yes (forefoot-only?)
  • Outsole: Premium Wet Traction Contagrip (translation = it’s awesome)

salomon s lab sense ultra

Presenting the Salomon S-lab Sense Ultra. A S-lab Sense shoe designed for trail ultras?

Salomon XA Enduro

  • Weight: 309g / 10.9oz (US men’s 9.0); 278g / 9.8oz (US women’s 8.0)
  • Drop: 9mm (26mm heel / 17mm forefoot)
  • Upper: mesh with welded overlays
  • Cushion: Dual-density EVA
  • Rockplate: Yes (full-length)
  • Outsole: Premium Wet Traction Contagrip (translation = it’s awesome)

salomon xa enduro

Presenting the Salomon XA Enduro. Bring on the technical terrain!

Now for more details. In this review, we’ll break things down in to four areas:

  1. What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the shoes.
  2. What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the shoes better.
  3. When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the shoes excel.
  4. How it compares: my current go-to shoes and how these compare

I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!

What’s good?

  • Both shoes can handle technical, mountain terrain with ease. What I love about both of these shoes is that because of the fit and outsole combination I know exactly what my foot is doing in the shoe at all times and have confidence in every footstep. This is exactly what you want in a shoe when trying to tackle rugged terrain.

salomon s lab sense ultra

Bring on the vert and the rocks!

  • Both the materials used and build quality are top notch in both shoes. The uppers are tough, mile-for-mile the outsoles don’t wear down as fast as other shoes, and the shoes drain and dry as well as any trail shoe out there.
  • The fit. Both shoes have a precise, yet accommodating fit. The uppers combine what Salomon calls Endofit (the sock-like bootie), Sensifit (welded overlays) and quicklaces in a package that just fits really well in both shoes.

Pull the quicklaces. Stuff them in the lace garage on the tongue. Voila! Perfect fit.

The XA Enduro feels like it has a slightly wider forefoot fit compared to the S-lab Sense Ultra.

  • The responsive rides. Both shoes utilize what Salomon calls an EnergyCell+ midsole combined with ProFeel Film. In non-marketing speak this translates to a compressed EVA foam midsole with a rockplate. Compressed is the key word here as the shoes are somewhat on the firmer side when the whole package of the compressed foam midsole, rockplate, and durable full coverage rubber outsole is taken in to account. This is a good thing for shoes meant to handle rugged terrain. I think you want a responsive ride when trying to tackle burly terrain and these shoes deliver in this regard.
  • The grip. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here – the Salomon Premium Wet Traction Contagrip outsole is simply fantastic. Both shoes utilize this compound in a similar lug pattern. The outsoles grip all types of trails and terrain well and are durable – perfect!

Salomon s-lab sense ultra

Outsole of the S-lab Sense Ultra

salomon xa enduro

Outsole of the XA Enduro

  • The style. Does this matter? Not really, but I do think it’s a bonus when shoes are functional yet also look cool. Personally, I think the S-lab Sense Ultra is one of the best-looking trail shoes on the market today. And the XA Enduro looks great too.

What could be improved?

  • The heel fit & integrated gaiter in the XA Enduro. It feels like the extra fabric of the gaiter inside the shoe in the heel combined with a medium width heel causes a bit of slippage. I rarely have issues with heel slippage in shoes and no matter how many times I tried I couldn’t get the heel to lock in perfectly. Cranking on the quicklaces is not an option because then you will just cut off circulation and/or uncomfortably increase the lace pressure across the top of your foot. Also, since the gaiter connects inside the shoe dust and debris still gets dropped between the gaiter and the shoe where a trough forms. I’d love to see this exact same shoe without an integrated gaiter in a future version to compare.

Salomon xa enduro

The integrated gaiter in the XA Enduro seems like a good idea but causes some heel slippage & fit issues as a result.

salomon xa enduro

Dust and debris will still get caught between the gaiter and the heel collar of the XA Enduro.

  • The forefoot cushioning and drop in the S-lab Sense Ultra. Salomon describes the shoe as “Designed for the ultra racer in mind…” and while it’s true the shoe has enough cushioning for most folks up to 50k, possibly even 50m, I personally don’t think it can go any longer than that without leaving your feet feeling beat up. With only 16mm of compressed EVA foam in the forefoot it still doesn’t have enough cushion for the long haul in my opinion. I’d love to see the forefoot foam increased by 4-5mm so the shoe has more cushioning upfront along with a lower heel-to-toe drop.

Salomon s-lab sense ultra

While 25mm of cushion in the heel is adequate I’d love to see a bit more than 16mm in the forefoot to make for softer landings along with reducing the heel-to-toe drop.

  • The prices. The S-lab Sense Ultra retails for $180. The XA Enduro retails for $160. I’d love to see these prices come down some. Now, to be fair I think the cost per mile of these shoes is good as they don’t break down as fast as other trail shoes but I’d still like to see the price come down some. I also don’t understand why for the last two years every S-lab shoe has increased in price $10/year. The S-lab shoes used to be $160 two years ago. Then last year they were $170. Now they are $180. I guess when Nike drops their $250 road racer next week these prices won’t look so bad…sigh.

When to use it?

  • Moving fast in technical terrain. In really rocky, steep stuff I would reach for the XA Enduro first. In slightly less technical terrain I would be reaching for the S-lab Sense Ultra; especially in a race situation.
  • If you like a traditional heel-to-toe drop and go-fast shoe for all types of trails the S-lab Sense Ultra could be a great shoe for you.

Similar shoes to compare with:

As the shoes are somewhat different I can speak to direct competitors to the S-lab Sense Ultra but less so for the XA Enduro as I haven’t worn a lot of mountain shoes like this. Any folks familiar with La Sportivas or other technical shoes please comment!

  • Salomon S-lab Sense (pick a version #) or S-lab Sense SG (pick a version #): Both the S-lab Sense and S-lab Sense SG are less shoe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You save almost 2oz in each shoe and get a lower heel-to-toe drop if you need that. As I don’t love the 9mm drop in the S-lab Sense Ultra I would personally choose the S-lab Sense SG of all of these shoes. Despite being branded as a soft ground shoe it can handle all types of trails really well.
  • Salomon Sense Pro Max. While it’s quite a different shoe compared to both the S-lab Sense Ultra and the XA Enduro I wanted to at least mention the Sense Pro Max. The Sense Pro Max is way more cushioned (and is heavier as a result), has a more accommodating fit, lower heel-to-toe drop, and costs less. I would reach for the Sense Pro Max first in most situations except in steep or technical terrain for distances under 50k.
  • Nike Wildhorse 3. The Wildhorse 3 is heavier, but is also more forgiving with the added forefoot cushioning and more accommodating fit. It also costs $70 less (or even $100 less on sale). Easy choice here – I’m going with the Nikes. Note: I think the Wildhorse 4 is a step backwards for the Wildhorse so I’ll continue to compare shoes to the Wildhorse 3 while it’s still available as I believe it’s superior to the Wildhorse 4.

So, the $180 or $160 question – should you purchase the Salomon S-lab Sense Ultra or Salomon XA Enduro?

If you are looking for technical mountain running shoe to take to Europe (or Utah, Colorado, etc.) this summer then yes. If you are looking for a well-rounded shoe to tackle a variety of terrain types in a comfortable, forgiving package I would say maybe. To really enjoy these shoes on less technical terrain you would have to like a traditional drop and firmer / more responsive ride. Fans of maximal cushioning should look elsewhere.

Questions, comments, or feedback on either of these shoes? Please share! And thanks for reading!

Purchasing Information

If you’re interested in purchasing either of these shoes, please first check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.

If that’s not an option, please consider using this afiliate link for the Salomon Unisex S-Lab Sense Ultra or this link for the Salomon Men’s XA Enduro Trail Runner on Amazon. The return policy is great, and it’ll drop a few nickels into URP bucket if you decide to keep them. Thank You!


Meet Your Gear Editor: Ben Zuehlsdorf

I am an avid running gear junkie. When I’m not smelling new shoes I’m usually running or racing around the local trails in Marin County, California or talking shop with the San Francisco Running Company community of friends. I was once a road marathoner but now have transitioned almost exclusively to the trails and racing ultras the last few years.


Disclaimer: These shoes was provided to URP for testing purposes. All words and thoughts are ours and no compensation was offered or received.

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