The La Sportiva Helios and Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra are similar shoes, yet with different approaches. The are both neutral, low to the ground (4 mm stack height), flexible and versatile. They are minimal, yet with just enough cushioning, protection and all-around grip to handle most anything.
If you are choosing between these shoes, which one should you buy? Instead of giving an in depth review of each shoe, my intent is to compare the Salomon Sense Pro with the La Sportiva Helios and help you make that decision.
I have both shoes and in order to compare them perfectly, I went for a run wearing one on each foot. I ran through various terrain such as rocks, gravel, sand, mud and grass. Yes, even lava and in the picture above you can see the two shoes where I stand on lava covered with moss–something you see a lot of in Iceland.
So what is the main differences between the Helios and the Sense?
The Sense has a semi-sock called Endofit built into the upper that envelops your foot and keeps it tight. Add a curved shoe shape (last) which enables the sock to envelop your foot even further, and you have an unbelievably nice fit. The Salomon asymmetrical quick-lace is the cherry on the cake to enhance the fit and feel even more. As a result, the Salomon Sense feels like an extension of the foot.
The Helios has a more traditional upper and they do a good job of securing the foot and providing a comfortable fit. A gusseted tongue keeps out trail debris. But with a straighter shoe shape (yet also rather curved) and lacking Endofit, the Helios don´t provide the sock-like, hugging fit of the Salomon Sense. Both uppers work well but the Sense outshines the Helios in this area. That´s not to the discredit of the Helios upper, but to the credit of the Sense upper which is exceptionally innovative and well performing.
The Shoe Shape
As mentioned, the Salomon Sense has a more curved last than the La Sportiva Helios. The curved last gives more freedom and flexibility. It provides a more natural feel, it feels less like you are wearing a shoe. But the straighter last of the Helios adds stability and for those who have flat feet and/or use orthosis, the Helios would probably be a better choice.
Both shoes are rather narrow. If you have wide feet, I would recommend trying them on before buying either shoe but normal and narrow feet should be fine. Both shoes also run a little small, so you should size up at least half a size, perhaps a full size even.
The cushioning is perhaps where the shoes differ the most. The Sense midsole is on the firm spectrum while the Helios has a more cushioned feel. Personally I don´t like too soft cushioning since it becomes less responsive. But the Helios does an excellent job of providing a fairly soft feel yet without being too soft and loosing responsiveness. They are more forgiving on hard-pack, going downhill and running longer distances than the Sense. The Sense, on the other hand, feels a bit faster and more responsive.
The Salomon Sense and the La Sportiva Helios have similar protection in the upper. It´s the underfoot protection that sets the shoes a part. The Salomon Sense has a thin plate, while the Helios counts on its more substantial cushioning to protect from pointy stones. The end result is similar, yet the Sense with its minimal plate offers a slightly more consistent protection than the waffle shaped Helios outsole.
The weakness of the Sense, however, in terms of protection, is the medial part of the shoe. The curved outsole comes with a price. It leaves the medial part of the plantar fascia exposed to pointy rocks. When running in such conditions, I have repeatedly discovered this weakness. It has never caused any damage though, only slight discomfort.
The La Sportiva Helios and the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra are both awesome shoes. Neither one is likely to disappoint. Both are fast and performance orientated, but the Salomon Sense is more so. So if you are looking for a fast trail shoe to race in, the slightly lighter Sense with its tight fit and responsive cushioning may be a better choice. But If you are going for an all around shoe to train and race in, the Helios with its more forgiving cushioning may be the the way to go. However, both shoes work in both scenarios, so if you have a chance, try them on, run a bit in the store and see which one feels more like what you are looking for.
Have you tried either or both shoes? What is your opinion? Which ones do you like the most?