Last year, Salomon headed off in a new shoe direction (for them) with the S-Lab Sense. This was a much more minimal design than Salomon had previously offered, and got lots of attention and demand. For 2013, Salomon has built on this popularity with an expanded range of shoes based on the original Sense design. The first of these new offerings I have tried out is the Sense Mantra. These offer a similar look to the original Sense design but with more cushion, slightly increased drop, and a more durable sole.
Right out of the box, the Sense Mantras felt somewhat familiar compared to other Salomon shoes I have run in (such as the S-Lab XT Wings,) but more scaled down. They felt light, yet sturdy. I really liked the color (though it felt somewhat un-Salomon like with no red to be found!) I couldn’t wait to get them on and give them a go.
I really liked the feel of this shoe on my foot. Salomon included a design feature they call EndoFit in the Sense Mantra. Basically it is a liner (similar fabric to a light neoprene) that wraps around the midfoot to give a nice secure feel without impacting mobility at all. This EndoFit liner was attached to the light tongue which I really liked. The tongue on this shoe was nice and light and provided enough protection without getting in the way.
The sole is significantly different than the original Sense with more rubber coverage. It was designed to be more durable, and I would expect to get more miles out of the Sense Mantra. The tread was also quite aggressive even with a relatively low profile and dense pattern of lugs. The lug design was mainly sharp edged, triangular shaped lugs. These were a lot like what you find on super aggressive shoes like the Fellcross and Speedcross, but in a scaled back size. I ran with these on muddy gravel roads, snow, and dry asphalt and they performed admirably in all cases. The almost full rubber coverage added to the overall solid feel of this shoe and I always felt stable with my ground contact in them. I haven’t used them enough to give a good judgement of the sole durability but so far they seem to be wearing as expected.
This shoe had a fair amount of cushion (16mm in back and 10mm up front) which made my feet feel protected, and also helped when tired legs produced less efficient strides. The cushioning was quite firm so the shoes didn’t feel bouncy or squishy at all. Even with all the cushioning I still had a good feel for the terrain changes underfoot. The small rocks and bumps were absorbed, but I liked not losing the feel of the bigger stuff on the trail.
I really liked the upper on the Mantra. They had a great combination of breathable fabrics, and durable protection where it may be required. The overlays gave some structure to the shoe and made it feel quite supportive. The fabrics used were a tight enough weave to keep light moisture and debris out but still allowed some breathing from the inside. They were not the coolest shoes out there in terms of ventilation, but they struck a good balance for trail use. The toe box was protected with a light plastic cap which should provide lots of help for my toes when I’m kicking errant rocks and roots! The heel was comfortable, and had a nice soft cutout to prevent rubbing on the achilles tendon. I didn’t have any rubbing issues at all even on downhills.
I wasn’t left wanting anything more (or less) with the Sense Mantras. They were a great daily training shoe for the trails and more than adequate when out on the trails. To summarize my thoughts on this shoe, I would say that it would definitely be a contender if I had to choose a single shoe for all the different types of running that I do. It is durable, comfortable, and versatile. The design worked across a wide variety of terrain, speed, and distances. If minimal isn’t enough, and traditional fully cushioned is too much you should check out the Sense Mantra.