Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 2015 Backpacks & 3 Generations Of Salomon Vests – A Comparison

I can’t recall exactly when I purchased my first Salomon S-LAB vest pack but it’s certainly going back a few years now. I remember initially thinking how ‘clingy’ the pack was, quite a bit different to the running backpacks I had used previously. But then, that’s the whole point of the vest pack approach, it’s more like an item of close fitting clothing than a bag per se.

It didn’t take long to get used to the snug-fitting nature of the pack, helped in part by wearing closer fitting t-shirts and, therefore, reducing the potential for uncomfortable folds of material, and I can’t actually envisage going back to a more conventional running pack now for anything other than perhaps a multi-day event.

I was fortunate to receive both the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack and the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack to review from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com and, to cut a long story short, I am totally sold on the new 12 Set version of the pack.

There’s an overview of the new packs directly below, followed by a look at the 3 different incarnations of the S-LAB vest to date.

Note that I will refer to the vests as v1, v2 and v3 for brevity, which relates to the original S-LAB vest pack, the second model, and the most recent offering, respectively.

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 & Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpacks

The most recent incarnations of the S-LAB vest are a world away from the original, as outlined in the comparison below.

Both the  Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack and the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack offer close fitting packs that don’t move or bounce about and, thus, reduce, even eliminate, chaffing.

Thanks to the approach employed on both the 12 SET and the 5 SET, utilising stretchy mesh, the packs are as comfortable and compact when empty as they are when filled to their respective capacities. Unlike many conventional packs, there’s no excess of material to bob about when empty.

Whilst bladder friendly, the emphasis is on hydration via two 500 ml soft flasks, which sit on the front of the packs in specifically designed pockets.

Initially, I felt quite ‘booby’/’mooby’ with 2 full 500ml soft flasks but this soon passed. One definite benefit of having your hydration on the front is that, especially with the temperatures of late, your fluid is always chilled! With appropriate weather conditions however, this may actually backfire and result in frozen water. That’s thankfully something I’ve yet to discover!

Occasionally, when the fluid levels dropped, I would find that the soft flask would slip down further into the pocket, making it slightly more difficult to retrieve and drink from. If this proves to be an issue, air can easily be blown into the flasks, keeping them inflated and in place.

I found that, with a little squeeze, I was able to run and drink without actually having to remove the soft flasks. The only real criticism I have of the soft flasks and the pockets that hold them is that, when the flasks aren’t full, they can be a bit of a faff to reinsert, hence my preference not to remove them.

You can, on occasion, hear the water sloshing around but you would get this regardless of your approach to hydration. Certainly when it comes to training, I tend to plug in so it hasn’t bothered me in the slightest.

Every inch of the packs has been utilised some way or another to provide storage space, with a variety of pockets of all sizes. Check out the full specifications at the bottom of this review for a list of all of the available pockets on both the 12 SET and the 5 SET.

From a personal perspective, the 12 SET wins the day for me. Whilst I can appreciate the slightly lower weight of the 5 SET, the additional storage capacity of the 12 is more in keeping with my perceived use and, further, because of the stretchy mesh approach employed in the construction of the pack, you don’t actually notice when you are under utilising the space.

In terms of weight, there’s only 45g difference between the 270g 12 SET and the 225g 5 SET. Dimensions wise, there’s a more noticeable difference, with the 12 SET coming in at 42 x 20cm and the 5 SET at 33 x 16cm.

There’s some more specific details in the comparison below, which outlines how the S-LAB vests have developed and improved over time.

3 Generations Of Salomon Vests – A Comparison

The gallery photos best highlight the changes between the 3 packs, with a few very obvious changes which are covered below.

Hydration

The v1 pack offered a bladder approach to hydration. The v2 and v3 versions of the pack are geared towards the use of Salomon’s Soft Flasks, a product which, if I am not mistaken, wasn’t around at the launch of the v1 vest.

The v2 and v3 packs don’t even come with a bladder supplied, though they do, quite thoughtfully, come with a handy bladder sleeve, should you wish to use your own bladder.

Personally, I like the inclusion of the sleeve. Like so many others, I have a small collection of bladders, mostly unused, that have been provided with packs throughout the years. On the rare occasions that I do use a bladder, I have two favourites that I turn to, the Salomon bladder that came with my v1 vest, and an Osprey bladder.

Hydration in the v2 and v3 packs is by way of 2 500 ml soft flasks, with plenty of pockets to carry additional soft flasks if required. As a convert to soft flasks, this was one of the main selling points of the new Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 for me.

Arguably, with the focus on soft flasks, many people will never use a bladder with the pack and, as such, the inclusion of a bladder by default would be unnecessary and, further, would likely have increased the cost of the pack.

As a word of caution, I would advise that you remove the sleeve if you don’t intend to use it. On a recent long run I felt something at the back of my head and, on inspection, found that the sleeve was attempting to climb its way out of my bag. Had it succeeded, I would likely have been none the wiser until returning home.

Size

Size is one of the main differences between the packs, with the S-LAB vests slimming down with each incarnation. This is most noticeable between the v1 and v2 versions of the pack, with a more marginal slimming down between v2 and v3 versions.

In terms of weight, the v2 12 SET comes in at 320g, as opposed to the v3’s 270g, and the v2 5 SET comes in at 260g instead of the v3’s 225g.

Looking at the 3 packs side by side, it’s hard to believe that they all offer the same 12 litre volume. Which leads nicely onto…

Pockets

As previously mentioned, it’s quite remarkable to see just what can be packed into the S-LAB vests and, as such, they are prime candidates for races with compulsory kit lists, such as UTMB, and/or for long days on the hills, where sense dictates that you carry kit that will let you comfortably weather all conditions.

The original v1 pack contained a ‘bag-like’ zipped compartment with a stretchy mesh zipped pocket on the front.

This has been done away with in subsequent versions of the pack, with both the v2 and v3 packs employing the stretchy mesh for the main zipped pocket.

A further noticeable difference between the v1 pack and its successors is the positioning of the zips. On the v1 packs, the zips run horizontally, something that I have always found to be slightly awkward.

In subsequent versions of the pack, however, the zips runs vertically, something which is far easier to work with on the move. Employing both hands, with one hand around the back and holding the bottom of the pocket (picture that – hopefully makes sense!), I find that it is much easier to quickly and securely load and unload the pockets.

With regard to the size of the v3 pockets, I can quite happily store an iPhone 6 in a fairly chunky OtterBox case, all wrapped within an XS Exped waterproof bag in one of the side pockets, giving me easy access to my phone for calls/texts/camera.

It’s a bit of a squeeze, but the material used in the construction of the pack easily accommodates the phone and its coverings, once you get the knack of navigating into the opening of the pocket, past the zip.

Initially, in an effort to keep faffing to a minimum, I chose not to use an Exped bag. However, using the OtterBox case alone, I noticed condensation appeared on the case, which I can only assume was down to a combination of the positioning of the pocket, my sweating, and the cold temperatures. Keen to avoid a ‘water damaged’ phone, I quickly added the Exped bag into the mix.

V2 and v3 of the S-LAB packs have a ‘stash’ pocket on the bottom rear of the pack. With a bit of practice, this provides access to ‘stashed’ items such as a jacket, gloves, buffs etc. The stash pocket doesn’t employ a closure mechanism, but the stretchy mesh ensures that the contents are tightly held.

My only concern would be that I dropped something in the process of stashing it without noticing, and being none the wiser until it was too late.

The original v1 pack offered some flexibility with the front pockets, which could accommodate a range of items thanks to their size and pull tie closure.

The front pockets of the v2 and v3 packs are geared specifically to holding two 500ml soft flasks and, as such, are not quite as flexible. However, it does provide an almost perfect solution to the storage of fluids.

Sticking with the front of the pack, one of my pet hates on the v1 was the detachable pocket that utilised a Velcro attachment mechanism. I’ve found in the past that Velcro can be a destructive thing, especially when in close proximity to technical t-shirts, and, as such, try to avoid it where possible in favour of other attachment and closure methods.

The v2 pack did away with this removable pocket, replacing it instead with 2 smaller stretchy pockets on the upper part of the vest straps.

The v3 pack refines this slightly, with one of the pockets now being zipped, offering a bit more security than the fold over flap afforded by the previous version.

One huge improvement as far as I am concerned in the v2 and v3 models is the removal of what I call the ‘non pocket’ that can be found in the v1 pack.

What initially appears to be a pocket on the upper right strap is, in fact, just the back of the actual pocket, but with a gap between it and the strap. In the space of a few weeks, I accidentally lost a bank card which I placed in this seemingly secure location and then, admittedly stupidly, lost the only form of nutrition I was carrying, sport beans.

Overall, the use of space on the v2 and v3 packs is a considerable improvement on the v1 pack, with an assortment of pockets underneath and to the side of the soft flask pockets, space which just wasn’t utilised on the v1.

Fastening

I’ve always found the front fastening mechanism of the S-LAB vests to be ‘fiddly’ and there’s definitely a knack to it, which I unfortunately appear to forget whenever it comes to trying to quickly remove the pack!

This mechanism employs thin plastic rods at either side of the pack, with clips on the end of elastic located in the upper and lower chest areas, that hook on to the plastic at the most appropriate closure location for your build.

The v3 pack does away with the plastic rod and, instead, replaces this with cord which, I have to say, has so far proven much easier when it comes to fastening/unfastening.

My initial concern was that this wouldn’t be as robust as the plastic rod in the long term but there’s no evidence of that at this, admittedly early, stage.

Overall

My v1 pack has been a workhorse pack to me over the past few years and, whilst the v2 and v3 packs are considerably lighter, they don’t feel quite as robust as the v1. Having said that, until I put the v3 through a season of training and racing, I can’t really comment either way. Further, it begs a question with regard to how long do you need a pack to last? Whilst my v1 pack is still in great condition, it has dated, especially where the use of soft flasks are concerned.

Overall, there’s a huge jump from v1 to v3 and it’s definitely worth investing in one of the new Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 and Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 packs, especially if you are a fan of the soft flask approach to hydration.

The difference is less noticeable if you have a v2 pack already.  However, there is a weight saving of 50g and 35g on the 12 SET and 5 SET packs respectively.

Specifications

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack

Hydration

  • 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included (with Hydrapak Blaster valves)

Pockets & Compartments

  • 2x Stretch mesh soft flask hydration pockets (with 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included)
  • 1x Zipped pocket (above one soft flask pocket)
  • 1x Stretch mesh pocket (above other soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Stretch mesh pockets (under each soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Secure mesh side pockets (vertical pocket with horizontal open top)
  • 2x Side Zipped Pockets (horizontal with vertical zip)
  • 1x Rear Double Access Stretch Pocket (‘kangaroo’ pocket – access with either hand)
  • 1x Rear Zipped Pocket (for secured storage)
  • 1x Battery Pocket
  • 1x Bladder compartment – with included insulation sleeve (Salomon 1.5L bladder fits)

Security

  • Reflective
  • Whistle included
  • Safety blanket included

Load Management & Comfort

  • Sensi Compression – for greatest stability on the go
  • Twin Link – for adjustable and stretch fit
  • Bindingless Construction – for soft touch and fit
  • Powermesh Sensifit – for stretch fit

Other

  • Soft trims
  • 4D Pole holder
  • 2x shoulder bungees

Dimensions

  • 42 x 20cm

Weight

  • 270g / 9.62oz

Sizing

  • XS/S : 31 – 38 inch chest
  • M/L : 38 – 43 inch chest
  • XL : 43 – 46 inch chest

Storage Capacity

  • 12L

Water Capacity

  • 1L (using 2x 500ml soft flasks included)
  • 1.5L Bladder (not included)

Materials

  • Elastic Power Pesh / Stretch Knit / 3D Air Mesh / 4 Way Stretch Mesh
  • PVC, Bisphenol-A free

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack

Hydration

  • 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included (with Hydrapak Blaster valves)

Pockets & Compartments

  • 2x Stretch mesh soft flask hydration pockets (with 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included)
  • 1x Zipped pocket (above one soft flask pocket)
  • 1x Stretch mesh pocket (above other soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Secure mesh side pockets (vertical pocket with horizontal open top)
  • 2x Side Zipped Pockets (horizontal with vertical zip)
  • 1x Rear Double Access Stretch Pocket (‘kangaroo’ pocket – access with either hand)
  • 1x Rear Pocket (open top)
  • 1x Battery Pocket
  • 1x Bladder compartment – with included insulation sleeve (Salomon 1.5L bladder fits)

Security

  • Reflective
  • Whistle included
  • Safety blanket included

Load Management & Comfort

  • Sensi Compression – for greatest stability on the go
  • Twin Link – for adjustable and stretch fit
  • Bindingless Construction – for soft touch and fit
  • Powermesh Sensifit – for stretch fit

Other

  • Soft trims
  • 4D Pole holder
  • 2x shoulder bungees

Dimensions

  • 33 x 16cm

Weight

  • 225g / 7.93oz

Sizing

  • XS/S : 31 – 38 inch chest
  • M/L : 38 – 43 inch chest
  • XL : 43 – 46 inch chest

Storage Capacity

  • 12L

Water Capacity

  • 1L (using 2x 500ml soft flasks included)
  • 1.5L Bladder (not included)

Materials

  • Elastic Power Pesh / Stretch Knit / 3D Air Mesh / 4 Way Stretch Mesh
  • PVC, Bisphenol-A free

Why I Love Soft Flasks

When it comes to hydration, I’ve gone from favouring bladders, to bottles, to soft flasks and now, most recently, favouring a mix of bladder and soft flask. It’s interesting to note that they do all have their own benefits and quirks.

(Note: added 17th November 2014. I had completely forgotten about my ‘Bottles Vs Bladders‘ post from November 2012. Written just as soft flasks were starting to make an impact, it just goes to show how preferences change over time.)

Whilst bladders are generally able to carry more, they can be cumbersome to refill, especially when buried deep inside a race vest or backpack, residing somewhere underneath every item of kit in the pack.

On occasion, I’ve thought I was going to have to resort to extreme levels of aggression to free the top of my Camelbak bladder and, of late, it has been a Salomon bladder that I’ve used, with a much more user friendly slide-off top.

My main concern when using a bladder is that, more often than not, I’ve returned from whatever event I have been participating in only to find that my bladder is still 3/4s full, and all the time I have been kidding myself that I am still taking onboard enough fluid.

Other than access issues, visibility has to be the main problem when it comes to using bladders.

After experiencing the above on one too many occasions, I purchased my The North Face Enduro 13 running pack which, to this day, remains as one of my favourite packs.

It was capable of holding a bladder, but had two rear mounted bottle holders which facilitated easy access to bottles, perfect for filling and also for checking how little (or more often how much) water remained.

Bottles provided easy access, easy checking, easy refilling (or even quick swapping on supported events), and easy cleaning, especially when compared to a bladder.

Whilst the advent of the race vest has resulted in the development of many more bottle friendly packs, most of these have tended to have the bottles placed on the front and I have to admit to not really taking to this positioning.

Most recently, however, it has seen the development of the soft flask, a particular favourite of mine.

Soft flasks share many of the benefits of bottles. They are easily accessed, easily checked, and easy to clean.

However, they can be a bit fiddly to refill, especially if you are trying to be quick. Unlike a rigid bottle, they can’t be set down to fill, therefore requiring the use of two hands, or some form or outside assistance!

Where soft flasks really win for me is their reduced volume when empty. Once empty, it can be rolled up and stuffed away easily.

Remember that this also works in reverse. On days when the weather may turn out to be hotter than you might hope, and, as a result, your fluid requirements might be more than usual, it’s easy to stuff an additional soft flask or two into a race vest or pocket, just on the off-chance that you may find you do need to carry more fluid. (Obviously this approach does require somewhere to fill up along your route, such as a checkpoint/aid station.)

Compare that to a bottle. It’s very unlikely that you would ever carry an empty bottle as a spare, just in case you needed to carry more fluid.

For a while, soft flasks were, at least as far as I am aware, limited to Salomon race vests. However, a number of manufacturers, including Ultimate Direction and Hydrapak now sell soft flasks.

One of the upsides of this is that you are no longer limited to 150ml and 500ml soft flasks, with Hydrapak in particular producing a variety of sizes.

I’ve found the Hydrapak to feel more hard wearing than the Salomon offerings, with some additional features such as a dirt cap and the ability lock off water flow. However, they are slightly more rigid and do take up more space as they don’t pack down quite as well.

I now favour a solution which is mainly reliant on soft flasks, with a 1.5 litre bladder (where the pack/race vest is bladder capable), usually only approx. 1/3 full, as a backup, just to ensure that I don’t run out of fluids.

At the end of the day, no one approach is 100% right 100% of the time. It’s just a matter of testing to see what works for you.

Check out the range of bladders, bottles & soft flasks available from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com

Salomon Soft Flask Review

Having had the chance to test out the new Salomon Soft Flasks, I have to say, I am well impressed. I used these in combination with the bladder of my Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 Backpack and the 237ml flasks fitted perfectly into the 2 front pockets without any problems. I reckon I could easily fit the 500ml flasks in there if I wanted and it’s something that I might just do once they arrive in stock at www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com.

The flasks are really easy to use, with a bite valve that takes just a little pressure to release the fluid (or gel) contained within the flask.

One of the best things about the flasks is the size they compact to when empty. Once drained, the flask ends up comprising of little more than the bite valve with the flask sucked neatly underneath it. Given the almost non existent presence of the flasks, I can see myself carrying a spare on hot days, in the later stages of ultras and/or on longer stage races. If I find that I need to carry more fluid than anticipated I can then easily fill up the spare flask at a checkpoint, facilitating the carrying of extra fluids but without the hassle that carrying an extra bottle would entail. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that I just wouldn’t carry an extra bottle, it would be too much extra weight to carry just on the off chance that I might need it.

My only concern would be with regard to the durability of the flasks. Not for any quality reasons. The flasks do feel like a quality product. However, when compared to traditional plastic bottles, the flasks were always going to feel flimsy. I would be interested to see how a flask would cope with being dropped for example but, having just bought them, I’m understandably not too keen to see if that does have a detrimental impact!

“The Salomon soft flask manufactured by Hydrapak are flexible so compress as you drink to eliminate water bouncing/sloshing inside and reduce sucking effort. Easy to squeeze – with bite valve. Carry this soft water/gel flask in your hand, shorts pocket or race vest pouch. Carry gels, water, electrolytes and other fluids such as milkshake.. The compact / space-saving and lightweight solution to carrying your hydration/electrolyte/nutrition fluids.”

Note Added 26th April 2013:
One point to add to the above review. Having run while holding the flask, I have found that the liquid contained within soon heats up thanks to the transfer of heat from the hands. I haven’t used the Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set but would assume that this may also prove to be an issue with the glove.

Features

  • Bite valve
  • Flexible / squeezable
  • Compresses as you drink reducing volume and reducing sloshing
  • Fill level indicaters
  • Easy to fill and clean
  • PVC, Phthalate, Bisphenol-A free

Specifications

Dimensions

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: 19 x 7 x 3.8cm

Weight

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: approx. 25g

Links (Ultramarathon Running Store)

S-Lab’s New Adventures In Hydration

There’s an excellent article, ‘S-Lab’s New Adventures In Hydration‘, over at runtramp.com.

“The whispers started around about when Kilian Jornet showed up in Chamonix for the 2009 UTMB wearing what looked like, for all intents and purposes, a waistcoat- albeit an extremely technical looking one. Hindsight tells us that what he was in fact wearing was an early prototype of a hydration pack that would prove to be a game-changer in the world of trail running- it was, to give it it’s full title, the Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 5 Hydration Pack. It quickly became clear that there was some really exciting race-refuelling projects going on behind the secretive doors of the S-Lab.”

“The era of carrying a hydration pack was, in the eyes of the S-lab/Athlete collaboration, well and truly over. The era of wearing a hydration pack, as Kilian’s dominant UTMB display that year confirmed, had begun.”

As a fan of both the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 and the new soft flasks, this made for an interesting read that provided a hint as to what’s to come from this range.

Salomon Soft Flasks

I took delivery of two 237ml Salomon soft flasks from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com yesterday, the latest offering from Salomon for hydration on the move and the perfect accessory for my new Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set 2013 Backpack, fitting nicely into the two front pockets. The 237ml flasks are also the perfect fit for carrying in my fairly small hands and/or sticking into short and/or jacket pockets. Large enough to keep you hydrated but not so large that they are cumbersome. The bite valve is really easy to use with a good flow of liquid and, when empty, the flasks are easily stowed, unlike traditional bottles.

It will be interesting to see how durable the flasks are but, in the meantime, I will be using the flasks on shorter runs and will use them to supplement the bladder on longer runs.

“The Salomon soft flask manufactured by Hydrapak are flexible so compress as you drink to eliminate water bouncing/sloshing inside and reduce sucking effort. Easy to squeeze – with bite valve. Carry this soft water/gel flask in your hand, shorts pocket or race vest pouch. Carry gels, water, electrolytes and other fluids such as milkshake.. The compact / space-saving and lightweight solution to carrying your hydration/electrolyte/nutrition fluids.”

Features

  • Bite valve
  • Flexible / squeezable
  • Compresses as you drink reducing volume and reducing sloshing
  • Fill level indicaters
  • Easy to fill and clean
  • PVC, Phthalate, Bisphenol-A free

Specifications

Dimensions

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: 19 x 7 x 3.8cm

Weight

  • Soft Flask 237mL/8oz: approx. 25g

Links (Ultramarathon Running Store)