Gear Review – Salomon XT advanced skin 5 s-lab

I’ve had this pack for a few weeks now and have taken it out on two long runs to give it the once over. I wouldn’t normally just sling on a new backpack for a 65km run, but that’s what I did with this one so confident was I that it would be brilliant. And I wasn’t wrong, this is an outstanding pack.

Taking running packs to a new level

The Topline

The phrase, “fits like a glove” is the only way to describe this running vest, which is essentially what this is. However, it’s surprising just how much gear you can actually get in it, along with the copious amounts of pockets it has for storing food. The only slight reservation one may have about this is the ability to carry enough water. This will be very telling in the Australian summertime, as the temps rise and the need for more water increases. 1.5l is not going to be enough to get you through 28kms of GNW section in 35 degrees of heat. But, fear ye not… I have a cunning plan which I’ll tell you all about.

The Detail

As I packed this bag the night before I first took it out I was amazed at how many little pockets it has for storing food. I was off on a 65km run along the GNW (so nine hours or so), and I needed to make sure I had food for the entire time I was on the run. Yes we were stopping for some water halfway, but there would be no crew to come and meet us and pander for our needs, so going off the average amount of calories I’d need for a nine-hour run (approx 2,500 or so), that’s a fair amount of food.

I needn’t have worried though, I had ample space. I could even fit my lightweight Montane jacket in the back too. So, here’s how I did it.

First up, the Skin 5 s-lab has two very obvious bottle holder pockets at the front of the pack. Now, given I like a combination of water in the bladder and Perpetuem in the bottles, but with the ability to put food in one of those holders I have a bit of a dilemma. But again, no issues for the s-lab. As it’s currently winter here in Australia, I can afford to go a little lighter on the old fluid intake. So in the bladder I placed my 1.5l of water and in the front of the pack, the two bottles of Perpetuem. The beauty of these pocket holders is that a Nathan 600ml bottle fits in the front. It’s a little tight at first, but after a few goes, the pockets stretch a little and there’s no dramas. I thought there would be issues too, with my arms brushing against the bottles, but no such dramas at all.

So easy to use, even dummies can wear it

Next up, just like our other favourite backpack, the Nathan Endurance Vest, it has a pocket on the shoulder strap for your salt tabs – but wait, it’s a much bigger pocket that the one on the Nathan, which means not only room for your salt tabs, but if you’re a drug junkie, room for your pain killers too.

On each side of the pack are two other pockets, where you can comfortably fit 4-5 gels in each, which at 100 calories per gel, is another 4-5 hours worth of food you need for a typical section on the GNW, that’s of course of you need gels and you’re not running off Perpetuem for example. The only bugbear I had with these is that they’re pretty hard to access, you have to bend your arms right around and know where you’re going, or get a mate to open it for you. If you prefer, you can always just use one bottle in the front pockets, and use the other food, which I did on our run on Saturday. Another great design is a removable velcro pocket that can fit another 2-3 gels or bars in too. Also great for putting car keys in as well. This sits nicely on the left shoulder strap and is easily accessible whilst on the run.

The beauty of this pack however is the pocket that lines the entire back of the pack. The design of this pack is extremely clever. The water bladder effectively ‘sits’ in a separate compartment, contained in a foil-lined pocket, which is extremely easy to access and refill. No unzipping pockets or even removing things from the pack, you simply slide the Source bladder zip off the top and you can refill instantly. You can see this pack has been designed by someone who races, not someone who likes a break and a cup of tea at a checkpoint.

I digress however, the pocket at the back has an immense amount of storage space for a pack of its size. If you’re on a longer run e.g. 10 hours plus. Here’s where you can store the food for the second half of your run. I also managed to get a headtorch, a lightweight rain jacket and some gloves in there too. Additionally, because the material is ‘stretchy’, it means that you could probably squeeze even more in there. My point is this, Kilian, when he wore this for The North Face 100 recently (where you have to carry the entire kitchen sink), more than likely did manage to get all of his compulsory gear in there, albeit kiddies versions of the gear.

In terms of a ‘fit’ on the body, I used the term ‘fits like a glove’, which is exactly how it feels. I had zero issues with getting the fit right pretty much straight away, and it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a pack, it’s like you’re wearing another item of clothing. It sits nice and high too, which for me is just perfect and doesn’t put a lot of pressure on your shoulders either. The fabric is also soft around the shoulder straps too, which for me is important. Given its vest like qualities, the straps do sit high across the shoulders and close to the neck, something I’ve had issues with on the Aarn pack back previously. Normally I’ve worn collar-necked tops to stop any rubbing on the neck, but for these two trial runs, I wore my Merino wool top which has no collar. While you can feel the straps a little, there’s no rubbing at all, indeed the only thing you can feel is the bladder hose which in the case of the s-lab is very differently fitted to other packs on the market.

The bladder hose is cover in a liner which ‘stiffens’ the entire thing if that makes any sense. It’s then attached to the right shoulder strap and comes upwards towards the face, whereas others tend to be fixed the a chest strap of sorts. I did think this might be a problem to begin with, but you rarely notice it and it’s a great design.

Now, as mentioned, the only thing that bothered me about this pack was it’s 1.5l bladder. Indeed, the reason I held off buying this pack for a few months was this very reason. So, having used it twice, I tried my 2l Nathan bladder in the pack to see if it fits. The good news is that it does, quite easily. The only issue is that you’re going to need to do some manual adjusting of the hose and its length, as the Nathan hose is far too long and is really not designed to fit with this pack. But the good news is that a 2l bladder fits in there, which means you could feasibly carry 3.2l of fluid with this pack with the two bottles at the front. For a pack of this size, this is remarkable. I’m going to do some more investigation with bladders, particularly ‘Source’ bladders to see ifΒ  can get a good 2l one, with the correct attachments. If I can, this will be the pack for GNW.

The scores on the doors

The question we always ask? Would we buy it? Well if you haven’t guessed already, then heck yeah! It’s pricey though. Even after searching high and low on the Interwebs for a ‘bargain’ I still only got it for AUD$190 (including postage). Is it worth? Big time, yes and for this very reason we’re going to give the pack a score of 5 on our Basecamp to Summit scale. This pack has scaled the heady heights of the mountain and reached the very top.

If you have this pack, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Likewise, any questions and I’ll more than happily ask them too.

Review by Dan Bleakman

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Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

27 thoughts on “Gear Review – Salomon XT advanced skin 5 s-lab

  1. Great review. There is a site in the uk that delivers to Australia 149.40 all up. I’m tempted after your review.

  2. I had this pack and sold it after about a month for the same as I paid for it. It just doesn’t justify itself relative to other packs half the price (like the Nathan Endurance). It’s a gorgeous bit of kit and quality throughout – probably the best fast portable hydration around, but that back pocket holds nothing – I’m guessing your torch was a Petzl Tikka as opposed to 4AA 150Lumen? I got a longsleeve lightweight merino and gloves into mine before it started to complain. Those little pockets which you can stuff with gels – as long as they’re not big enough to be isotonic like SiS – are stuff-and-forget, for things like carkeys and mobile phone that you’re probably not busting out til the end of the run. It feels great on, I personally did find 600mL Nathan to get in the way and used 20Oz Amphipod instead because they sat a little better. That little stretchy pocket is great, but the velcro ones are rubbish. And the super-adjustable pick-up system for lifting or lowering also did nothing useful.
    But this looks like a bit of a GNW dream-pack – the same thing with a 2L bladder and supposedly an extra 7L of storage. I’d say that anybody who doesn’t already have this should buy a Nathan Endurance for $75 instead and wait for the seriously self-supporting version in around September-October, so you can get by on one instead of two.
    Also, regarding the UK dealers of the Advanced Skin 5 – interestingly, as far as I’m aware, they don’t offer a choice of sizing, mainly because they’re probably triathletes and cyclists, not trailrunners. There are two different sizes of the S-Lab based on chest size. I think Small/Medium goes up to 38in and Med/Lge 40in and up.
    Glad you invited feedback because that’s plenty, eh? It is brilliant kit, and if you’re an elite 5’5″ Spaniard weighing 55kg and running 100mi without changing clothes or drinking more than a shotglass of butterfly piss, it’s perfect. But for anybody expecting it to work with them rather than having to really work with it by rekitting in all ultralight, ultrasmall, ultracrushable allweather gear and carry very little else apart from an mp3 player that they’re prepared to lose because velcro pockets are balls, it could have done a bit more than it does without trying much harder.

    1. oh dont say that Roger, im all excited as i just ordered mine…to go along with the 6 other packs i have…

  3. Trust the yanks to have something to say hey!?!?! Only joking Roger, appreciate your experiences too. The torch I have is the LED lenser H7, quality bit of gear (I should do a review), plus the Montane lightweight jacket and merino wool gloves. Maybe I need to give you a lesson on lightweight gear buddy πŸ™‚ My Hammer bars fit in there a treat πŸ™‚

    The benefit i think this pack has over the Nathan is that you can carry more in the Salomon in terms of food. I admit that the Nathan probably edges it in terms of gear carry. However, for a race like GNW, where you want to take clothes off rather than keep them on, this is a great pack and really is for the minimalist runner – just add the two litre bladder instead. There’s no way in the world I’d be able to use it for North Face, but for many other races it’s the bomb.

    I’m racing at the Glasshouse 50kms next month and I think is going to be perfect for that.

    1. Dan, I’d happily hang on every word of a gear chat from you because you truly are a total gearwhore. My Montane H2O litespeed would easily go in there, but unless you have an Haglofs Ozo or some similarly juicy lightweight breathable shell you’re going to get screwed if harsh weather hits you with this pack unless you want extra bits hanging off the outside which is probably not the idea of spending $150+ Even 280g Rab Demand pull-on not happy going in the back pocket , especially with serious gloves and, more seriously, do you want to spend more time running or more time individually folding and inserting every single item according to your optimal packing plan.
      It’s beautiful gear. But if you need a friend to hand your food to you because the pockets aren’t accessible in motion and you need a different sized bladder than you get for the money and the little pockets with the fiddly zips sort of blow, then I have a hatchback which I’d be happy to sell you for sedan prices. The 12L does look smoking though. Not ribbing the S-Lab – it’s awesome, to a point. 6-hour training run, totally. 100km run for a fulltime professional elite, totally. 28-hour run for 99% of the people going that distance? Noooooo.
      mmmmm, caffeine.

      1. Mate, this is why we like debate πŸ™‚ I want to see different opinions on this as this is just my point of view. I know others have differing opinions and its always good to get the other side of the story and I do concur with your rationale. I should have been clearer in my review about when and where I would use this pack. For Bogong to Hotham? No way… I would die up there with just that. For GNW, yes it has all the potential, simply because in most races, you’re only ever going to be between 3-6 hours between checkpoints, and this baby is the real deal for that kind of race.

        Quite why they won’t give you the option to put a 2l bladder in there, I simply do not know. It would make sense for us ‘normal’ runners. Looking forward to seeing the 12l though like you say. There’s no doubt that I’ll buy that too, given how much of a gear junkie I am, and I’ll probably see if that could be used for Bogong. If not, looks like the Aarn 11litre will be coming out again.

        So to be clear, if you’re gonna be on an all day hike, probably given this one a miss. If you’re going to be refueling ever few hours, then yes, this pack will work for you. I’m racing up at the Glasshouse 50km next month and I intend to use this pack for that and effectively only stop at the one checkpoint, which is the turn around. Should be an interesting race.

  4. Oh and by the way, I did manage to get a M/L sized as I noticed that in the UK with the sizing. I see Wiggle doesn’t offer the different size variations, so I managed to get it from a place that did as I didn’t want to risk getting the small version.

  5. This pack is the business, no doubt about it. Very clever, very light, sits well, hugs you.

    I am able to easily get at the two side pockets of this pack while running. They will hold about 8 gels between them. That’s good for all legs of the GNW. The water situation, another story.

    The golden rule is don’t leave CP1 without 3 litres of fluid and that is going to ring even more true this year with a weigh in at CP2.

    With the 1.5 litre bladder and two 600ml bottles topped up with perpetuem you probably can do it. Technically that’s 1.5 + (2*0.6L) = 2.7 litres, but the scoops or Perpetuem reduce the fluid capacity of the bottles by my reckoning 0.4L over the two bottles, so you’re back to 2.3 litres of actual fluid. That’s cutting it fine. I’ve spent many thirsty sufferfests along Congewai road staring lovingly at cow pat filled muddy puddles and dams to know that i don’t want to do that come race day.

    Also, I have used the run heavy from the start strategy to avoid the Heaton Gap servo fill up on leg 1, you would need to top up here before the climb which isn’t a big deal as it gives you a breather before the climb anyway. I think this year i will choose to fill up regardelss as those hills in the first leg suck with a heavy pack.

    CP4 to CP5 with no water drop is going to be a stretch too, but could drink out of Ourimbah creek easily enough and it is night time.

    As they say Giardia doesn’t hit you until 5 days post race.

    I am going to work this pack a bit more as I want it to work.

    Put me down for three of the 12l versions the second they hit the streets.

    AV

  6. Am liking the side routing of the hose on this pack. The mouth piece doesn’t allow you to get a lot of water out quickly like the traditional Source bladder ‘big gulp” bite valves. You have to consciously suck the water out of this pack. Not a bad thing.

    1. Certainly is. 2*1.5l bladders is very easy to do in this pack. Then you add 2*600ml bottles and you have plenty of fluids for any training run or long stages in a race.

      1. I’ve just managed to get my hands on one of these packs (after what felt like an eternal wait) and looking forward to taking it out on some test runs (Chain Reaction Cycles in the UK are selling them for $160 which is not bad). But it still seems strange to me that Salomon don’t include (or appear to even make) drink bottles that fit snugly in the bottle holders on the pack.

        Can anyone recommend the best drink bottles based on their experience using the pack (and where I can get them)?

        Thanks!

      2. Hi Stephen, you can use the standard 600 bottles from Hammer or I have also found the amphipod bottles to sit in there really well. Some of the Salomon soft flasks in the large size work a treat too. I will be using the soft flasks at north face, if you’re lucky Footpoint will have some left. They pack down to nothing once you’ve emptied them rather than a bottle which stays bulky.

      3. Hey Stephen, nice work on getting one. I use 2 x Nathan 600ml bottles and they fit in there pretty well. It’s a little snug, but it’s fine I’ve found. Have fun with it and let us know how you get on.

    1. Well, I did a 3 hour trail run this morning with the pack and it felt great. I’ve been suffering (out of the blue for some strange reason) with a couple of massive and very sore blisters on my right foot (I’m going to give those relatively new wings 4 slabs a rest – bit disappointing I must say – back to the drawing board on the whole shoes thing) and was pretty worried about getting some chaffing from the pack. That’d be all I need right now!! But no – it felt great on (although I’m fairly broad chested – the M/L size wouldn’t want to be any smaller!) and no chaffing or raw bits. So overall – I love this damn bit of kit.

      My only question though is how the hell you get rid of that silicon/plastic taste from the mouth piece? I thought I’d made the fatal mistake of forgetting to wash the water bag out first and that was the cause of the taste, but when I got home and tested some of the water left in the bag it was tasteless, just as it should be. So it must be the tube or the mouthpiece that’s the offender. Did you guys find this?

      Cheers guys
      Stephen

  7. OK, while initially I didn’t have any problems with chaffing from my 5 slab pack, I’m now getting bad chaffing from the inside of both straps rubbing against my neck. Can’t say for sure but I don’t think I have a particularly fat neck (perhaps I’m mistaken)!! After 3.5 hour run last weekend I had some serious and pretty painful burn marks. Healed in time for my long run yesterday but the same problem (despite trying the old vaseline, which clearly doesn’t make your neck any skinnier either!!). Does anyone have any suggestions for this? Perhaps there’s a trick to fastening the supportive straps across the front of my body that I’m not quite getting? Any thoughts? Thanks!

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