It seems the world of trail running shoes has taken a whole bunch of paths to find the right fit, so to speak.
We went minimalist. Basically uppers and a rubber sole. We’ve gone maximalist, with tank-like kicks that are the footwear equivalent of monster truck tires. People swear by both.
I’ve tend to veer toward the former approach, liking the idea of strengthening my feet and legs by allowing my feet to feel the ground rather than just steamrolling over it.
But there are limits. I’ve gone just short of barefoot and sandals. Foot injuries ensued, even with gradual, low-mileage beginnings. I went the next step up (a 3-mm drop with a slightly thicker sole) and had better results. But those old foot issues just kept cropping up. So the need to adjustment continues.
What am I looking for? Something with trail feel, something designed for people with a mid-foot to forefoot strike, but something that won’t wear out my feet once the miles start to pile up.
Salomon thinks they have that shoe: The Sense Mantra. They kindly sent me a pair to test. So what you have here is my initial look at the Sense Mantra; I’ll be revisiting the shoe a second time to see how well it holds up under higher mileage over time. Anyway, here are some of the product specs and my initial impressions…
The Sense Mantra has a thicker sole than minimalist or neo-minimalist shoes: 10 mm at the forefoot, and 16 mm at the heel for a 6 mm drop.
The sole’s traction system is designed to give you grip in multiple directions. This is particularly helpful on uneven surfaces, and on uphill and downhill stretches where trail-grip needs change.
The Sense Mantra also includes its OS Tendon, which is geared to give you proper flex in the sole as well as energy return.
The lace-up system is also different than your typical shoe lace. The Quicklace system allows you to tighten up and stay tight, and the loose end tucks under is a small pocket on top of the tongue.
Salomon also included an extra layer of material called Profeel Film built in to the sole that extends from the arch to the toes, giving you a little extra protection from pesky protrusions on the ground, like rocks, roots and stumps. This is particularly important for us mid/forefoot strike runners and for those who prefer highly technical trails.
The Sense Mantra also has a sleeve on the interior of the shoe that hugs your foot. So no sliding around in the shoe, a concept that dovetails nicely with the security you get with the quicklace system.
At 8.5 ounces, it’s also pretty light.
Finally, as you would expect in any decent trail shoe, there is added, tougher material around the toe box.
So how well does all this engineering come together on the trail? That’s what I aimed to figure out on some of the most technical trails I could find.
I do the bulk of my trail running at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. The wooded ridges in this park are basically an extension of the Ozarks of western Arkansas, and the trails here are a favorite haunt of runners and mountain bikers. Ask anyone who has been there, and they’ll tell you that the trails at Turkey Mountain are some of the most rugged, technical and demanding routes you can conjure up.
I would agree. There are plenty of rocky, rooty and steep pitches interspersed with loose dirt and rocks and bare, slabby sandstone that usually crop up in the steepest parts. It’s on this demanding and at times hazardous track that I took this pair out for a series of test runs over the past several weeks.
First off, the fit of the shoe is excellent. I have moderate arches and wide feet, and the shoe wrapped itself around my feet like a well-fit glove. While the shoe seemed a little stiff upon first examination, that faded away once I slipped them on and started moving. Through regular strides, jumps, sidesteps and varying angles of ascent and descent, and at various speeds, I experienced no slipping, blistering or hot spots. I’ve never had that sort of luck breaking in a new set of kicks.
And then there was the traction. Those multi-directional nugs (the grippy knobs on the sole, like you’d see on cleats) I mentioned earlier did their job. Uphill or downhill, and at high speeds, my thinking was, “this must be what it feels like when the big cats run!”
What that translates into is control. Ultimate control, and on various terrain.
And on a more personal note, no foot pain. Hallelujah. That’s saying something, given the abuse I subject myself to.
One small word of advice: If you’re the type who likes to use trail shoes for your pavement running as well, I’d advise against that. I’m sure these shoes would do just fine on the road, but the grind of pavement would prematurely wear down the nugs and reduce trail performance. Keep these puppies on the dirt.
The Sense Mantras have a suggested retail price of $120, but can be found online as low as $80.
Stay tuned for a follow-up review to see how well the Salomon Sense Mantra fares in terms of durability.
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