GEAR REVIEW – Salomon XT Advanced Skin 12 L S-LAB pack

UPDATED – To get your hands on one of these in Australia, Footpoint Shoe Clinic has got these on pre-order and with 15% off. Click here to visit the website and go to their online store.

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It seems all good things come to those who wait and it would seem that for some very lucky recipients, the wait is finally over. Our good friends at Salomon have really hit the jackpot this time in the form of the new Salomon XT Advanced Skin 12 Litre S-LAB Pack. From our previous review of the 5 litre version, we are already converts of its unique body hugging vest-like design, but were somewhat critical that it could only carry so much gear and fluid so far. Β It also fell short of lugging the mandatory gear list for races such as TNF100 and Kepler and the significant fluids loads of GNW100 in a practical but also high performing way. This was further backed up by some of the comments we received to this site stressing that we don’t all have the luxury and resources to run with the lightest and smallest of gear so a bigger pack is needed.

And it seems this request for more load capacity was not just a cry from Down Under, the atrocious conditions of last years UTMB made the list of mandatories longer and heavier and the likes of Kilian, Herras and Chorier were not going to settle for anything other than a complete rethink by the boffins at Salomon and so it was time for the engineers to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new design.

I first got a sneak peek of this pack during extensive testing by some of the Salomon International elites when they visited us at the TNF100, I then got a proper play with its prototype cousin during my visit to the French Pyrenees during the Kilian’s Classik in July of this year. As with all S-LAB products from Salomon, there is constant refinement brought about by continuous athlete feedback from one training run to the next and how well they perform during races. The finished result is now available in some markets around the world, more on this later.

So what is so freakin special about this bag that has those members of Ultra168 lucky enough to have their little paws on one so worked up and us seeking special clearance from Salomon HQ to start talking about it way before the Australian launch?

Ryan Sandes sports the 12l at TNF100km in Australia

The Fit

Marcus rocking the new Salomon XT Advanced Skin 12L

Well to start with it is undoubtedly one of the most comfortable packs I have ever worn. It doesn’t feel like you are wearing a typical pack, but more like a vest or second layer of clothing as if you were wearing a long sleeve top over your running shirt. I suppose it’s called the Advanced Skin for a reason and this is very much evident in the number of ways you can adjust the fit to suit your own body type. At the front it has adjustments for the vertical straps in a standard way similar to most packs on the market, and in addition, a couple of chest bands to get the right fit across the middle. Compared to its smaller brother the 5 L these straps have been increased in thickness to spread the potential for increased load more comfortably. These horizontal straps can be clipped on and off all the way up the vest giving you multiple fastening options to get just the right fit. For example, I managed to position them, so that my heart rate monitor strap could be worn underneath without the pack making any contact with it when fully loaded. This ability to stabilise the pack and the position it sits on your back by being higher up and closer to the centre of your spine allows for some impressive “forget its there” freedom especially on the most technical of downhilling or when in a granny gear grinding out a climb. But most importantly, the potential for energy saving over huge distances by not having any of that up and down sloshing motion that a lot of packs make, has to have some improvement on performance, especially over 100 miles or more.

The Feel

In addition to the fit, it is the feel it has on that also singles it out as impressive. It is made of a very lightweight mesh material containing the usual recent trends of incorporating an anti-bacterial coating in the form of a bamboo weave to allow the moisture to naturally wick away. I have put approximately 250 kms into this pack over the last 4 weeks in ever increasing hotter conditions and it doesn’t seem to absorb very much sweat or make your back unnecessarily wet probably as it sits higher up and away from the main moisture zones. Cleaning couldn’t be simpler and the quality of the stitching and materials used seem to cope with salt, sand and sunshine with a good hosing off in the shower afterwards. It dries very quickly and retains its shape well which helps when putting it on an off quickly during check points or to dig out gear.

UTMB gear can all go in the pack
Picture courtesy of Emre TOK as he preps for his UTMB TDS 2011 race

Load Carrying

The real kicker for me is how they have managed to create so much carrying and storage space on such a small pack. I am not a pilot but having played on a few flight simulators it goes without saying that the cockpit of a modern airliner has all the most important controls and buttons at your finger tips laid out before you so that you intuitively reach for them. This pack is very similar in its design and layout, they have increased the size and reach of the main side pockets so that they are now big enough to carry additional 1 litre hand helds, they have retained the two front strap pockets where again its possible to carry 650ml bottles with a draw string at the top to hold them in place. It still retains the velcro fitted additional front pocket found on the 5L version, but to date due to all the extra space I have not found it necessary to attach it. The great thing about the two main side pockets is that you can lie your large drink bottles horizontal to they sit just above your waist further reducing your centre of gravity and the ability for them to slosh up and down. I have been using the Amphipod hand helds and with their curved design they seem to sit perfectly inside these pockets. Gone is the need to reach far behind you and grab aimlessly hoping to find your drink bottle as they are just there on your hips like guns in a holster!

Hydration

The main bladder compartment remains unchanged from the 5L model, with the inverted hose coming directly from the base of the 1.5l Hydrapak bladder allowing for a shorter hose and less suction required to drink. The size of the default bladder is my only main gripe with this set up as it is nice to have the insurance policy of carrying more water than 1.5l on a hot humid day on the GNW100 miler course. We are a resourceful lot at Ultra168 and we have tracked down from Hydrapak their 2 and 3 litre versions. To date I have only tried the 2 litre version and this fits just as well into the pack without any issues, the 3 litre is more of a squeeze with more of the bladder exposed at the top of the pack, but it is workable. But when you factor in that the massive side pockets, coupled with the front pockets and a 2 litre bladder, it is possible to leave for a training run or depart a checkpoint with over 5.5 litres of fluid transported comfortably.

Andrew moving 5 litres of fluid in comfort

Further to the water lugging capacity, the pack has two separate main compartments which can be further split into two smaller divided pockets. This is where you can pack your mandatory gear in such a way as to have your most frequently used gear at the top and the gear only used in emergencies stacked lower down and out the way. This is where some lateral thinking by the Salomon guys has come in, by allowing the zips to be located on the side of the pack and inverted so that if you need to reach into the bottom of your pack, there is a zip at the bottom left hand side along with an additional zip at the top right hand side to provide easy access should you change your mind. In addition, there is a vertical zip down the back of the pack that opens up to a wide but flatter pocket that can also carry more clothing, maps, food etc and this is located in a more traditional top to bottom arrangement.

Other features include an built in pocket at the top which comes with an emergency blanket which also doubles as padding for the bladder, a built in whistle with smaller pockets on the front for gels, pace notes etc and attachments for alpine walking poles which were definitely out in force when this pack was put through its paces at the recent UTMB.

The verdict

In conclusion, this pack ideally fills the gap between the use of lighter more sleek packs, belts and handhelds such as those by Salomon, Nathan, Amphipod etc and those more bulky fast packing bags that North Face et al make for overnight trips. Where will I use this pack instead of my smaller 5L version, well without doubt it is ideal for GNW100 and both myself and defending champ Andrew have already ticked this gear choice off our to do list before race day. If we are lucky enough to squeeze through the lotteries for HR100 and UTMB then again this pack will be ideal.

For me this pack deserves 5/5 Everest summit status as long as your are prepared to be flexible with the choice of bladder size.

Finally a caveat, in conversations with Salomon HQ we were asked to keep this initial review short due to the fact that this particular backpack will not be available through retailers in Australia for several months, and as you can see from my response above, this has been very hard to do as we are so excited by it. So at this stage I cannot give any more details on cost, sizing and availability.

All I can suggest is rock up to the next Ultra168 training run and tag along to get a good look of the pack going through its paces and then badger your local store to stock them as soon as humanly possible because I expect these to be pretty popular on the ultra scene in 2012

Marcus

57 thoughts on “GEAR REVIEW – Salomon XT Advanced Skin 12 L S-LAB pack

      1. Hi Michael, thanks for posting on the website. I have both the 11l and 20l versions of the Aarn and used the 20l version in the marathon des sables a few years back. The Aarn I think set the standard and was one of the first packs to noticeable for using the hips as support, rather than put the strain on the shoulders.

        Although a good pack, I think the Aarn has limitations in that the design was never quite right and they tinkered a lot with it over a number of iterations. I also found it to be quite cumbersome in that there were numerous straps to play around with too, which meant taking it on and off was quite hard, given what is on the market now.

        That said, I can see it is a solid day pack for hiking and I still use mine if I’m going on longer expeditions, but for racing, the Salomon takes things to a new level in my opinion. Thanks for your thoughts Michael, much appreciated.

  1. Thanks Marcus for the comprehensive review. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have one of these for a couple of weeks now, thanks to a good friend who bought a few in Chamonix just prior to UTMB. I had been using the smaller ‘cousin’ 5ltr edition for over a year now and really love it, especially for races where I actually take two and swap them out via the crew where feasible to minimize aid station layover time. For long training runs on courses without easy access to supplies however, and especially in the hot and humid Hong Kong summer, the small one doesn’t cut it for obvious reasons, so I was very pleased to get to know the 12ltr edition. I am in agreement with all you say above, a few additional observations:
    – The 1.5ltr bladder size really is a bit of a letdown, but can be worked around as you say.
    – In the 5ltr pack I often had difficulties reaching the rear / side pack zipper and would almost twist my arm getting into them. Am not much of a yoga person, so my lack of flexibility was a bit annoying. No such issue with the 12ltr pack. Also love the open access rear storage sections, they are good for putting in rubbish also.
    – I use one of the rear zip storage sections for a large ziploc plastic bag with several smaller ziplocs of Perpetuem or EFS, so can reach this while running and able to refill the bottle with powder prior to reaching water supply point. In the 5ltr edition I had to take off the pack to do so, or risk having a big powder mess in the pack.
    – I found the sides of the pack are great to stow foldable (z-type) Black Diamond poles and one is able to take them out while running without having to take off the pack. I don’t use the designated pole cords.
    – The sizing of the pack is somewhat larger than the 5ltr pack. I have the “M/L” size for both and the 12ltr pack is a bit on the loose side. Once the pack is broadly available in our region I will try whether the “S/M” size may suffice. Initially it bothered me a bit, but now I don’t see it as an issue anymore. There were many complaints, especially by “big guys”, about the 5ltr edition being simply too tight, so I guess the larger one is bridging that gap.
    – The pack is very light and there is obviously a bit of a trade-off in terms of durability. After half a dozen long outings in the heat and with corresponding sweat etc. e.g. some of the letters start to come off (the 5ltr pack has the same issue).
    The pricing naturally will be corresponding with that of the 5ltr one which many found too expensive. Personally I find these packs are just so much better in their vest-like fit, as you say, that I would not want to go back to a ‘normal’ pack, be it Salomon or otherwise. The bouncing up and down just doesn’t cut it once you got used to one of these. You get what you pay for.
    Andre.

  2. Thanks Andre, glad I am not the only one excited by this pack. Agree that for those longer hotter runs this pack gives you the confidence to take enough gear and fluids with you. I love the fact that everything is so reachable when on the move, those seconds of fumbling and stopping to take it off or not drinking when required due to the bag being less than user friendly has to have an impact on your performance. It simply puts everything in reach. Agree the size is slightly larger than the 5L and I know Dan on our team has had some issues getting it to settle down. All I know is that running with a conventional pack will never be the same again. Shame we have to wait until next year for them to be sold down under.

    Be keen to see how it goes when more KMs on the clock re durability.

    Cheers

    Marcus

  3. Marcus is there much bounce in the 650ml bottles when they are full? I have an old Salomon vest style pack with the built in soft vertical holster on the front. I had to add supplementary straps to hold them tight.
    With the bottom exit tube how easy is it to access the bladder for refilling?
    Nice review, thanks. Been keeping my eyes out for this one as a long time convert to vest style packs but still wanting auxiliary bottle holders.

    1. Hi Whippet, because the bottles sit horizontally and very close to my hips, well thats how I have placed them, they don’t seem to move at all. There is the opportunity to cinch up the tops of the pockets to hold them really snug as well, but I haven’t needed to do that yet. As for the bladder, the great thing about Hydrapak is that they use a top slider for the opening of the bladder which means it can be filled easily from the top without being removed, but even better the hose clips on an doff with a simple button, so you can switch bladders in and out with touching the hose. The connector is easily reached from a small opening on the side of the pack. I will amend the review by adding in some specifics about the bladders and attachment.

      Cheers

      Marcus

    2. Hey Whippet. I carried my bottles in the front of bottle holder straps and I’ve had a few issues with them. This is a great pack, don’t get me wrong, but one of the issues is that the tube for the bladder runs up through the side of the right hand bottle holder. I put two x 650ml Nathan bottles in there and it’s a tight fit. After 65ks on Saturday, I was getting bruising around the rib area because the hose was pushing against my rib cage.

      The positioning of the bottle holders on the 12l is quite different form the 5l version, which sit more around to the side than the 12l which sit to the front and side of the rib cage.

      Now, there could be a few issues at play here. I need to use different bottles maybe, however the Nathan bottles are pretty soft and flimsy as it is. I do what Marcus has done and put some bottles in the side pockets instead… nevertheless, I need to play around with it some more to get it right.

      It is pretty disappointing that they haven’t put a 2 litre bladder in there, but as Marcus has said, you can make your own mods. I can get a 2 litre bladder in the 5l version, so my goal will be to try and get 2-3l bladder in the 12l version.

      Great pack, I just need to play around with it some more to get it right for me.

    3. Whippet – here’s the trick. Forget about the front pockets for water bottles – they may work, they may not, most probably they work. However the best use of the front pockets is for maps, gels, food, bars, sunscreen, salts, other food etc.

      You use the bladder for water whether that’s a 1 * 2 litre, a 2 * 1.5 litre set up whatever takes your fancy, it all works.

      Then the pack’s main point of differentiation is the ingenious side pockets. They are huge, they cinch tight with elastic and the can hold a 650ml bottle laying either flat or upright with ease on each side. This is where I carry my perpetuem bottles. No worry about whether I can get the bottles in or out of the front holders (probably can with some effort, but why muck around), no worries about a hydration hose bruising my ribs (Dan, what the?).

      1. I agree with Andrew, the great thing about keeping the front pockets free from bottles is that you have all your food, maps, supplements etc at you fingertips so if you are fastidious with eating and drinking regularly then its right there. Those big hip pockets are awesome! Maybe Dan has an extra rib ? I believe Cher had her bottom ribs removed for vanity reasons, Dan could do the same for ultra running reasons πŸ˜‰

  4. I managed to fit all TNF mandatory gear in my 5L pack this year, but only after getting a Montaine jacket and being frugal with some other ‘non essential’ items. I use the triangular shaped Salomon 600mL bottles in the front pockets, and while they are a really tight fit, they aint comin out. Since they sit in a good place on the chest, the weight between front and back is perfect and they dont bounce at all. Shame to hear that this has changed for the 12L version. I will stick with the 5L for now, and start to experiment with how I can carry more water than the 1.5L bladder and 2x600mL bottles will allow. Sounds like that’s not a problem with the 12L but not sure about the 5L. Good review by the way, thanks.

    1. Cheers Mark and welcome to the site. I think with the 12l, it just needs a little bit of playing around with, if you get my drift. The position is different, and I just need to work out how to work it in my favour. I know Marcus doesn’t carry the bottles in the front of the pack as they can fit in the side pockets, so there is room to play around with it.

    2. Thanks for your comments Mark, for me, the big difference between the 5 and 12L is the two massive side pockets and the extra compartments on the inside. Because the side pockets are so big I have not needed to use the two front pockets for my drink bottles yet as this is where I carry food on the go. I am on the bigger size and so having bottles on my chest just feels a little uncomfortable. I agree, it would be possible to do TNF100 (in a good weather year) with the 5L but when you have to lug fleece and waterproof pants as well, similar to races like Kepler then the 12L would make things easier to access with very little change in the feel and function.

  5. Great review, Marcus. I have been looking at this pack for a while and my concern is the same as Whippet’s re the bottle carrying and the exit of the bladder tube.
    Would it be possible to put a camelbak bladder in this pack? I use 2 x 1.5L camelbak bladders – 1 for water and the other for electrolyte. Would I be able to use this set up with this pack?

    Thanks in advance,

    Rob

  6. Gents, thanks for the detailed and technical review. You have me sold (luckily hadn’t yet decided on what new pack I wanted as need another one), just have to hold out for more details on when they will make it here.

    Am guessing from what you have said on sizing the XS/S should be right sizing – have any of the local females taken one out for a run?

    Dan, will you have yours on for GOW?

    1. Hey Bry,

      I think you’ll be good with the XS/S as you say. And yes I’ll have mine forOW, in fact I’ll bring my 5l and 12l versions down so you can see them and try them on if you like, however they might be a little on the large side for you! Haven’t decided which one I’m going to use yet, probably the 12l given the mandatory gear requirements for the race I would have thought.

  7. Great Review! I was just researching this pack the other night so it is great to see the Aussie perspective.

    Tried AV’s pack for a jog around the carpark on the weekend and the fit was fantastic. After being strapped into a Nathan HPL the Salomon chest straps let you breath so much easier.
    Even though the Medium was a good size I would be keen to try a small and feel the difference.

    Added to the ever growing ‘Gear I Must Have’ list.

  8. Nice report. Have been eyeing off this range for a while, but as I don’t see myself using it in Ironman have held off in order to purchase other gear for now. Think I might be tempted with this new pack as soon as I see it on the shelves though.

  9. Hey Guys,
    I was very fortunate to get my hands on a couple of these packs to use for the GNW later this year. Great review and all the different tips from you guys will help to customise my own. Thanks.
    Do you happen to have a link for getting the extra bigger bladders at all?
    cheers
    Richo

  10. Hi Richo,

    I went direct to HydraPak website and then tracked them down to a US based Off Road and Camping store that they recommended. Arrived a couple of days later. The 2 litre fits fine, but the 3 Litre is a bit of a squeeze but doable. Good luck at GNW100 we’ll see you out there.

    cheers

    Marcus

    1. Quick question for one of you. Would I be wrong if I assumed you could use this pack for shorter runs that GNW/ NF100. Or would it be overkill?. I want a pack that can do everything this one can, however is it to big for runs where you only need 2L and a few other items. e.g. a 3 hour bush run? I am trying to get away with buying just the 1 pack.

      Cheers

      1. Definitely be used for shorter stuff Chris. Because of its design and shape it compresses really nicely when you don’t fill all the pockets. I have stopped using my 5L version since I got my hands on the 12L as they feel the same on and the bigger pack mimics the 5 in so many ways.

      2. Go with the 12l Chris, it still feels compact when you wear it – I wore it on a 20km road run at the weekend and it was fine. The design and fit is just so good that it doesn’t feel like a normal pack – like it’s described, it’s essentially like wearing a vest with pockets. Mate, if you want to try it on before you buy, then happy to give you mine to trial.

      1. Hey guys. I am looking at getting my hands on a 12lt for TNF 100 2012. Is anyone here who has one raceing B2H in 2012…..if so is it okay if i have a peak/try of yours sometime before or after the race to see if it fits my requirements? I have never looked into the salamon bags before but I am looking at moving away from a bladder and towards bottles for numerous reasons and this pack seems to have the ability to carry easy accesable bottles and still have room to store the manditory gear list.

    1. Sweet thanks andrew. M/L I am not sure on my size i am not exactaly “big” (accross the chest that is) and dont want one that would be too large…think Dave coombs size..ish)

      1. Dont worry about that last comment I opened my eyes and saw the link above. Cheers guys See you at bogong

  11. Nice write up. I saw a lot of these packs at B2H on the weekend (and some 5L ones too)! They look great. Has anyone weighed it?? (including bladder) Looks like my running gear wish list is growing again…

      1. Oskar and Andrew, I just weighed mine without the bladder and with some of the attachments cut off e.g. walking poles attachments and it weights 390 grams. The bladder is 40 grams with hose and add in 1.5kgs for 1.5 litres of water and you have a lightweight racing vest. I have the M/L size

  12. Hi, thanks you for the advice on packs, I was wondering – how does the Saloman Skin Pro 10+3 compare to the New Saloman S-Lab 12 pack?

  13. Great review. I have the 5l pack and love it, but find the “load lifters” used to maintain compresion on the water bladder (and stop it sloshing around) do not stay tight. Any ideas on mods for this to keep the load lifter cords tight?

  14. There is a little blue strap or cord at the top of the pack. Close to the bladder. Does anyone knows what is the purpose of that? It seems to also have one of those cool strap locks that you press on the side for the side compression.

      1. Could you explain on how to use/fasten that little strap? That’s the only thing I haven’t figured out yet with my new 12L pack

  15. When upgrading SLab12 to a larger 2.0 litre Hydrapak bladder does this still fit easily inside the removable sleeve? What about a 3.0 litre – or is that pushing the envelope?

  16. The standard 1.5lt Hydrapak bladder on the SLab12 has a horizontally orientated valve/exit to suit the design of the SLab12 pack. Does Hydrapak make a 2.0 or 3.0lt bladder with HORIZONTALLY orientated valves/exits – can’t seem to find any on their website.

    1. Hey Stew, the 3l is a push in either to be honest. I tend to use a 2l bladder and then the 2 front bottle holders for another 1.2l if going a long way between CPs

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