Monday, January 7, 2013

SHOE REVIEW: Salomon Sense Mantra

(My new review site is here, check it out:    
If you read my last review, you would have noted that I mentioned that when Kilian Jornet lost the 2010 Western States, he challenged Salomon to come up with a new way of hydrating and a new set of shoes.  The new shoes they came up with were the Salomon Sense, a straight up racing shoe that cost you $200 and lasted you 200 miles.  A buck per mile of shoe.  From what I understand, you did get what you paid for, you got an incredible shoe, but not many people were biting.
  In 2013, Salomon is releasing 2 altered versions of the Sense:  The Sense Ultra, and here we have the Sense Mantra.  The quick specs on mine (size 9.5) are 9.2 oz and a 6mm drop.  These are marketed as a door to trail trainer, though you'll want these on your feet as often as possible.
  These are true Salomon quality and style.  I originally recieved a size 10 which is my normal size with this brand, but they were too big.  These are shoes that are made to be worn barefoot or with a small sock on, and I had plenty of extra space.  I swapped for a 9.5 and the fit was great, enough for a single pair of socks which is how I like to run.  The Mantras feature a Endofit system for a close to "socklike" feel while the shoe is on, and they used their Quicklace system to button them down.  They fit snug without feeling like you've got lacing digging into the top of your foot.
   You get dynamic traction and Salmon's Profeel Film in the forefoot acting as a rockplate. 

PERFORMANCE:  These are touted as "door to trail trainers" so I tested them as that, asking them to perform not only on the trails but also on the "door to" portion. The day I received them I put them on headed straight out for an 8 mile ROAD run.  Being winter in New England, I also had a little bit of ice and snow to deal with.  Now, I've run plenty of awful miles on the road in trail shoes before, and they can be painful and heavy.  With the Mantras, I still felt light, I was able to move at the pace I wanted to, and they acted no different than a straight up pair of road trainers.  I had no problem with foot landing, no hot spots, nothing.  I didn't have time for a trail run that same day so I only checked off the "door to" portion as PASSING.
  The next day I woke up early and headed out to for an 8 mile trail run.  The trail was 25% packed dirt, 25% rocky/rooty/loose singletrack, 25% flat traprock and 25% snow/ice.  Looking at the traction on these shoes I thought I would be for a long day.  Why I'm constantly surprised by Salomon I'm not sure anymore, but these only slipped on spots you expected them:  the ice and snow.  Unless I was wearing a cleated shoe, no shoe was going to grip on this stuff.  The Mantras, even at 9.2oz, still felt really light and I almost think that's because they fit so well, they don't feel bulky.  I intentionally made sure to put my foot down on sharp rocks, roots, hoping to be able to pass on some thoughts on the Profeel Film.  Truth is I didn't feel anything other than my foot wrapping over the root or rock.  Pain free.
  There's enough cushion in these that they fit their billing as trainers.  I could run mile after mile in these.

LOOKS:  Meh.  I think there's a huge group of people who are tired of the flashy colors and neon shoes, and these are your shoes.  They are great looking shoes, and I'm actually pretty happy with the blue/white, but if you take a look at the green offering, I'm just not digging it. 
RECOMMEDED FOR:  Use them as directed.  These are the best door to trail trainers on the market.
NOT RECOMMEDED FOR:  Racing.  I wish I could afford the Salomon Sense or the Sense Ultra, as they shave off the weight. 
OVERALL:  10 out of 10.  I'm giving that rating based solely on what they are marketed as.  A $120 door to trail trainer.  For that price you get above and beyond what you'd expect from a shoe at that price point.

UPDATE as of 1/18/2013:  I have a race in the middle of the year that combines a 1 mile uphill road run, then a mix of ski slope and fire road, finished with technical trail climb and a technical downhill trail run.  I said I wasn't going to recommend these for racing, but there's not another shoe I would want on my feet after putting some mroe miles on these.  I've got them dialed in right now and am almost to that point where I want to just lock them up in a box and not touch them for fear of "ruining" them.  The "weight" of the shoe is a non-issue, at less than 10oz they are still light enough for racing.  


  1. Great review. I get mine tomorrow and can't wait to try them out. I really like the door to trail comments. I do have the Sense Ultra and while it is a great trail shoe it is not the ideal for the road portion. Agree with you on the color comments went with the blue color as well. I think it looks cool.

    1. Thanks Harris. Now that I have some more miles on them and I've seen them more on my feet, I am liking them more and more and the color scheme really grew on me. My only issue for this shoe, and again, this shoe is advertised as a Door to Trail shoe, is I don't see myself wearing them unless I'm truly going "door to trail." It's a very niche shoe. There's better shoes for road and there's better shoes for trail, depending on the conditions. But for any training runs or races that incorporate both, there's simply not a better hybrid shoe on the market.

  2. Thanks for the review Mic. It was helpful. I look forward to receiving my Mantras soon. I've been running in the Sense for some time, but find the midsole too soft. It exhausts my metatarsals, allows rocks to penetrate from mid to rear foot, and so my feet feel beat up often after a few miles. Had to quit a 50 mile mountain run last summer due, in no small part, to the Sense. I'm curious, what shoes are you referring to when you say there are better trail shoes out there (than the Mantra), and what features are you referring to in particular that aren't as good as other options? Cheers,

    1. Thanks Ben. I've yet to run the Sense, but have only heard good things about them. What they do lack though is that full rock plate that will protect your mid to rear foot.
      I run in the Northeast, lovingly referred to as Rock City. There's guys out west running on pristine trails that need little more than some cushion on a road shoe and can run 50k, it's just not going to happen out here with the terrain. First, let me comment on the features that I find lacking in the Mantras, specific to trail. Because these are door to trail shoes, the traction/grip of the shoe isn't going to compare to others. There are shoes like the LaSportiva Vertical K that are incredibly light and will grip great on most trails, but the bad part is no rock plate, so your feet are going to take a beating. Then there are shoes that are going to be a pain in the butt to run with on hard packed trails and road, but are amazing at loose ground, ski slopes, mud, like the Inov-8 X-talon 212s. And finally, if you want traction, grip, and can take a beating, check out the Inov-8 Trailroc 255. (I did a short review on them). These are my go-to for long distance trail running. You get plenty of protection, Inov-8 quality and great grip all in a 6mm drop with a 255g weight.

    2. Thanks for the reply Mic. I pretty much concur with your impressions of those shoes, but found the 255s (well, the whole line of 235,245,255s actually) to have too rigid of a sole. Not enough proprioception for my taste.
      My friend has been running in the 245s, but is continually twisting his ankle for this very reason. Personally, I'm looking forward to the upcoming Inov 8 Rocllite 243s. They look promising, and may hit a sweet spot. I loved the 190s, but found them too narrow and not durable enough for rough terrain. The Sense Ultras look like amazing shoes to me, but they are expensive. It's interesting, while none of the Sense line has significant tread, the flexibility of the sole seems to compensate for this to some extent, thanks to the Kevlar-like 'rockplate' weave vs. stiff rockplate. I don't love the Sense traction for ice/mud, but find I just need to slow down a bit in the mud. I can put on some Speedcross 3s, but then I end up twisting my ankle more given the reduced proprioception. I wish this weren't the case, but I've found that there is just a significant difference in the degree to which I'm prone to ankle twisting when I run in shoes without the proprioception factor. Salomon seems to be leading the game with what they call propriotection. Enough cushion while still having good torsional flexibility. Looking forward to trying out the Mantras and the Sense Ultras (pricey, but should last longer than the original Sense given the firmer midsole). Happy trails!

      PS: will review the Mantras and Sense Ultras myself once I get 'em on the trail:

    3. Mic agree with your issue with the rock plate on the original Sense the new Sense Ultra has corrected that and has a firmer midsole than the original. Took the Mantra out for a road portion of the run as no trails nearby and have to say I enjoyed them. I think the traction will be about the same as the Sense Ultra I have as the outsole is the same.

  3. Hi Mic,

    Thanks for the review and feedback on the Mantra. I stumbled upon your blog as I was hoping to gain more insight into the shoe. I have tried other Salomon shoes (Speedcross: too narrow in toe box, XR Mission: Strange arch support on medial side) and I was curious how these would stack up. When you mention that they ran large, did you happen to notice a change in the width of the toe box from one size to the other? I really want to make the leap as I do most of my training in Xodus, 110's, and Hokas as they all allow me a varied feel while allowing my toes to splay appropriately while running. This shoe, if wide enough in the toe box, could be a great combo. Do they run narrow to you?



    1. Mike: I've only run in the Speedcross shoes once, and agreed about the toe box. I've never run in the Mission. The toe box is wider than the Speedcross, and I put some decent miles on my 110's and would say if you're comfortable in those then you'll be comfortable in the Mantras as far as width. The toe box is wider than it looks. I didn't notice much of a difference between the size 10 and the now 9.5 that I have either.