Salomon S/LAB Phantasm review TL;DR: minimalist running shoes for intermediate- to pro-runners who prefer more control over their stride.
The best running shoes come in many shapes and sizes, quite literally. Some of them are fully cushioned and enable you to go as fast as you can, like the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% or ASICS Novablast, while others put you in control and let you decide how you want to run. You'll find the excellent Salomon S/LAB Phantasm in this latter category.
Salomon might be more famous for its trail shoes but not surprisingly, companies that make the best trail running shoes also tend to manufacture brilliant running shoes. Proof of concept is the Salomon S/LAB Phantasm, a 'racing only' road shoe that focuses on breathability, and quick transitions and provides a lovely, 'minimalist' feel.
Salomon S/LAB Phantasm: Price and availability
The Salomon S/Lab Phantasm is available to buy now directly from Salomon for a recommended retail price of £165.
US and AUS prices TBC.
Salomon S/LAB Phantasm review: Tech
Every material used in the Salomon S/LAB Phantasm serves one purpose: to reduce obstructions and overall weight. The Energy Surge midsole foam is created by combining EVA and Olefin [OBC] to "deliver long-lasting cushion and bouncy energy return", as Salomon puts it. The Phantasm is certainly responsive but doesn't be fooled: you won't be bouncing around in these running shoes. The cushioning is as minimalist as it gets, apart from totally barefoot shoes such as the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III, shoes that have virtually no padding under the feet.
The aforementioned quick transition is encouraged by the R.Camber technology that was inspired by Salomon's ski heritage. Much like every other detail about the shoes, this curved midsole geometry is subtle. The outsole curve is clearly visible and felt when the shoes are worn, but it's far from the rolling experience provided by the crescent moon-shaped outsole of the ASICS Metaride or the SpeedRoll tech used in the Saucony Endorphin Pro. The outsole features the Contagrip FA technology: this is a system of flat, wide lugs for added grip. Contagrip FA is also said to be durable and long-lasting.
The single-layer mesh upper is practically see-through and has a tight 'race feel' to it. It reminded me of those fine mesh strainers one can get in shops, but not in a bad way. At the back of the shoes, the 'featherlight collar' construction provides minimal obstruction around the ankle. Surprisingly enough, and despite the knife-edge thinness of the collar, there is no sign of chafing. Pure magic.
Salomon S/LAB Phantasm review: Ergonomics
I was genuinely surprised by how well the Salomon S/LAB Phantasm fits. It's true to size and does indeed have a tighter, race-ready fit but it's far from being uncomfortably snug. On the contrary: the shoes strike an extremely delicate balance between form and function, which is an even bigger achievement considering the minimal amount of materials used in the shoes.
Salomon even tried to make pro-runner Kilian Jornet run 24 consecutive hours in the shoes on a track in Norway, to prove how functional the shoes are (not to mention the viral marketing potential). Unfortunately, after running 134.8 kilometres (338 laps) in 10 hours and 20 minutes, the onset of sharp chest pains and dizziness forced Jornet to withdraw from the project he has been targeting for nearly a year.
Nevertheless, he ran 134 km in the shoes which are pretty amazing, especially considering the minimal amount of cushioning present in the shoes. To be fair, it was pretty cold on the track where he ran, which is not the most ideal condition to run for this long. Quick fun fact: as well as Kilian, five Norwegian ultramarathoners also attempted the 24-hour challenge and three of them actually ran for the full duration in the shoes.
I must confess when I first got the Phantasm out of the box, I thought there is no way this heel construction is going to be comfortable during runs. Generally, running shoes have a fat, padded collar that holds the ankles firmly. Surely, a little bit of excess fabric welded onto the mesh upper won't do the job? Well, it does.
I would compare running in the Salomon S/LAB Phantasm to running in the ASICS Metaracer, with the ASICS being softer and bending to your will more. The Phantasm relies on the R.Camber geometry to move you forward, especially if you follow a heel-first landing pattern. Interestingly enough, Salomon states that the 'biomechanical fit' of the shoes actually favours forefoot strikers.
I'm more of a heel-strike kind of guy but I thoroughly enjoyed running in the shoes. Admittedly, given the firmness and a minimal amount of padding, the S/LAB Phantasm is better suited for more experienced runners as their joints/running form is stronger, allowing them to benefit more from more control over their stride.
Salomon S/LAB Phantasm review: Aesthetics
The design of the Salomon S/LAB Phantasm matches the overall tone of the shoes and follows a 'function over form' approach. Regardless, and maybe because of the bright colour of the shoes, the Phantasm does have some personality going for it. The overall redness is definitely the main appeal here: everything is red, the mesh upper, the laces, the sock liner, midsole, outsole, you name it. And not just any red but the same red, throughout.
The stitch-free, welded upper further reinforces the cleanliness of the Phantasm. Thanks to the welding process, you won't find any excess glue or stitches on the shoes. The Salomon S/LAB Phantasm is truly a minimalist running shoe for people who appreciate subtle details.
Salomon S/LAB Phantasm review: Verdict
The Salomon S/Lab Phantasm is not one of those running shoes that can be recommended for all types of runners. The people who can most benefit from wearing the Phantasm racing shoes are intermediate- to pro-runners who can control how they run: the Phantasm could enable them to assert even more authority over their form. That said, less experienced forefoot strikers can also benefit from using the shoes.
The shoes have excellent geometry and sublime construction in general. The mesh upper lets in plenty of air, keeping the feet from swelling and making the otherwise tight upper rather tolerable.
The combination of the Energy Surge midsole, R.Camber outsole and Contagrip FA technology provides a responsive ride, whether you are a forefoot or heel striker. The sole is definitely firmer than your average running trainer but not to a level where it would become uncomfortable.
Should you buy the Salomon S/Lab Phantasm? If you can find one (Salomon claims it has stock arriving in February) and like the minimalist approach of the shoes, absolutely.
Salomon S/Lab Phantasm review: Also consider
The ASICS Metaracer is heavier and more expensive than the Phantasm but it is also a brilliant road running shoe that combines sublime ground contact feel, impact force reduction and dynamic propulsion.
The Hoka One One Carbon X 2 builds on the foundation of the excellent Carbon X, one of the best running shoes from 2019. The X 2 has an extended heel construction and a soft foam plus an integrated carbon-fibre plate for propulsion. An absolute beast of a racing shoe.