My Favorite Shoes

Let me tell you why the Salomon Sense Mantra is awesome.  First, in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that this is not a traditional shoe review.  I am of course sponsored by Salomon, and thus not "unbiased."  That said, I haven't been asked to write a review, I just wanted to share why I love this shoe so much!  I already rave about it to others in person anyway, to my coworkers at Fleet Feet, and to my friends and competitors: Eric Senseman, for instance, who bought a pair based on my strong recommendation and seems to be enjoying them quite a lot, even finishing second place in them at last weekend's TNF-EC 50 Mile in D.C.!

I'll start by saying that the Salomon Sense and the Sense Ultra are not quite enough "shoe" for me for a 50 mile or 100k race (as of now anyway—hey, we can't all be as efficient as Kilian!).  The only shoes I've previously been able to completely trust to get me through a 50 mile race with no problems were bulkier shoes like the Salomon XR Crossmax or, earlier, the Montrail Mountain Masochist.  I once made it through a 50 miler in the Saucony Peregrine only to have them fail me a week later (at UROC 2011, requiring a mid-race shoe change—a picture of which actually made it into Trail Runner mag).  I'm stuck somewhere between a being a true "minimal" runner and needing the bulky rock-crushing trail shoe of old.  I think a lot of people are in this middle ground, but there aren't a ton of options on the market that occupy this space.  It seems if you go minimal at all, you end up with a very light shoe with a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, and a pretty thin midsole.

The Sense Mantra has some great minimal properties yet occupies that elusive middle ground, so I'm calling it minimalesque.  Here's why I dig it, organized by Upper/Midsole/Outsole:

The Mantra employs many of the same features as the original S-LAB Sense and the Sense Ultra, including the EndoFit sleeve which wraps around the foot  (instead of a regular tongue).  This sleeve, combined with the welded overlays and the Quicklace system, provide a snug and responsive fit in the midfoot.  The toebox has a nice roominess that I really like.  It's a bit more roomy here than most Salomon shoes (like the Sense, Sense Ultra, Speedcross, Fellcross, etc.), but not excessively so.  I feel like I have just enough room for my toes to splay and spread as I move through my gait cycle.  The more your toes can splay and function independently, the more stable you will be in stance, so this is a very good thing.  Additionally, when we're talking about running for many hours at a time, you probably want a little extra room for foot swelling.  Finally, the front of the toebox is reinforced with a stiff rubber to add protection against stubbing or bruising toes on rocks and roots.


For me, the real difference maker in the midsole is the width at midfoot.  At this narrowest portion of the shoe, the Mantra measures a full 7mm wider than the Sense (for my size 9.5s); this width helps me to feel a bit more stable and keeps me from collapsing inward at all.

I also love the 6mm heel-to-toe drop.  I think this is a real sweet spot, yet very few shoes have a 6mm drop.  The stack height is in a nice middle range.  I'm actually not sure of the precise height, as the Salomon website lists it at 16mm/10mm, while Running Warehouse lists it as 21mm/15mm (perhaps part of this difference is due to not measuring lug height in the former).  Either way, there is just a bit more midsole foam underfoot than in the Sense or Sense Ultra—enough that I feel a little more protected yet still in touch with the ground.  The flexible Profeel Film (rock plate) embedded in the midsole adds a thin layer of protection without sacrificing flexibility.

The versatility of this shoe is something that really appeals to me, as I spend much of my time on pavement due to living in Chicago.  The lugging pattern is incredible.  The multidirectional lugs are low enough profile that you can run 30 miles on the road feeling right at home, yet the same lugs provide some of the best traction on varied terrain of any shoe I've run in.  I've taken the Mantra on dry dirt trails, rocky singletrack, gravel doubletrack, and in a mud/ice/snow slopfest for 50 kilometers; and over this range of surfaces and conditions, the Mantra performed as well as any other shoe I've tried.

Additionally, the rubber compound used for the outsole is proving to be not only grippy, but very tough.  At over 400 miles, my first pair of Mantras is still going strong (see the outsole comparison pictured below).  I'll probably retire them at about 500-600 miles, though you could probably squeeze another couple hundred miles out of them.  And at only $120, these shoes also won't break the bank.  The whole package comes in at 10.1 oz. for my size 9.5s.  A final note: the whole Sense line fits a bit on the big side, so I wear a size 9.5, while I normally wear a size 10 in other running shoes.

30 miles on the pair at left, 400 miles on the pair at right

BONUS: If you're interested in picking yourself up a pair of these bad boys, I just might be able to hook you up with a free Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set as well.  Just shoot me an email to get the details.