Friday, May 6, 2011

Salomon XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab Set Pack Review

Intro
I had delayed the review for this product for two reasons.  On the one hand I love it but on the other hand it slightly let me down and I wanted to get far away from the experience prior to writing the review.  First of all the pack is well designed and I think Salomon really made a great product.  I have some concerns and I will start by excusing the amount of pictures but I think it they are necessary.  The first time I heard about the pack was from the review @ iRunFar.  iRunFar is a great source for ultra running information, product reviews and giveaways.

First Impression (straight from the box)
The pack is very lightweight.  When you put it on it seems even more so.  I immediately liked the mesh touching the skin which means it will be breathable, but I had concerns about the front side pockets.  My concern arose from the fact that I have been running with the Nathan 020 pack and the front pockets just feel much sturdier on that pack that this one.  These felt to thin and have mesh siding that concerned me since I carry GU and a headlamp, etc.  
I do like the tube, there is nowhere to hold or clip it but it seemed to stay put.  I am not certain if it is both an insulator and a holder in place material that the plastic tube is wrapped with but it seems like it may stay in place, if it doesn’t I expect some whipping in the face on downhill runs.

Construction/Specs
  • The whole pack is made of a very comfortable mesh.
  • There are two “load adjusters” but honestly the load does not adjust much so I don’t mess with them. 
  • Keeping it in place is a “twin link” system that was the source of my concerns. 
  • The pack was designed for the UTMB and has a place for hiking poles (I don’t use them so not sure how good access to them is)
  • There is a safety whistle – I hope I never use it, reminds me too much about the titanic and that was no fun. 
  • “Source” bladder capacity is 1.5 liters. 
  • 2 chest pockets (one is zippered and removable) - you can only use one at a time because there is not Velcro on both sides. 
  • 2 front chest pouches - these are the ones that seem on the thin side. 
  • 2 zipped pockets - towards the back of the pack, with practice you can get to them.  I have fit my blackberry bold into one since they stretch a little.
  • 1 main zippered compartment on back - pretty light, again I do not want to weight his thing down to much since its meant to be fast.
  • Comes with safety blanket 
  • Weight: 640g (1lb 6oz)
Testing
I ran this thing hard.  I did a few long runs at night and a lot of trail runs.  The pack stayed cool and it honestly felt sort of like wearing a running vest.   The weight of the bladder was well distributed and the water was actually really quiet.  If you use packs you know that the sloshing sound gets irritating every once in a while.  I could not check the level of water as easily as i could with my Camelpak or Nathan (just reach around and squeeze to feel the liquid) because this pack rides a little higher on your back.  I really liked the feeling of the pack, it is well made and definitely can fit more stuff but it feels better when you run with the bare minimum.  It just hugs you and you definitely look like you should run fast...I am working that part.  Pack itself is well made and designed well but the materials left sometime to be desired.  Nowadays I use the two front pockets for a soft flask (to avoid issues - see below) and a headlamp.  Performance, solid. A+ 

Problems - Cons (images below)
The construction of the pack was questionable and I was not too pleased.  I use gel packs and one of them cut through the mesh which was rather shocking since this thing was designed for the UTMB.  Also the straps that hold it in place across your chest gave out on me.  Salomon did not respond to inquiries regarding replacement straps.  But...Running Warehouse...they are awesome!!! I reported my concerns to them and asked for replacements for the "2 link system" and what do they do?  Investigate with Salomon, confirm there are no replacements available, then sent me a new bag and a return label for the old one.  They are legit with the customer service.  If you buy online buy from them, trust me do it you will not be disappointed and their prices are competitive even against other sites sales and the service alone with worth a few bucks more.
 

My sewing skills lack, but you can tell where the GU pack "broke through to the other-side"
Once the 2 Link system did not work, I used Lock Laces - Definitely a good solution.
Tube stays, but see what i mean about the velcro...only one side
Conclusion
Despite the issues with the bag i really like it.  The price is too steep for the material issue and that soured me on getting another one.  But if there were a sale or if Salomon would knock a few bucks off this pack I would actually buy another one.  It feels great, runs light, breaths well and has enough storage for enough stuff to get you from one aid station to the next, or out on a long run.
It is rather frustrating that Salomon put out this pack.  Becuase they are a really cool company and make cool stuff but they are not good about getting back to customers, I even tried the facebook fan page!  Anyway, solid pack, if you are into running light and fast this is where its at.


UPDATE - May 2012
Since the time of this review the pack has been updated.  The clips that link the sides of the pack (the ones that broke on me) are now red and a lot sturdier than the originals. Also the pockets particularly the white part is made of a thicker material. The bladder has also been updated to Hydrapak rather than the "Source" bladder previously offered. The new version unfortunately does not have the hose cover so you will get luke warm water when you first start drinking rather than getting cool water 100% of the time. 

3 comments:

Stephanie said...

I'm so disappointed with this item. I received it today, took it on my run and ran into problems right away. The tube did not dispense the water properly and the tube is a bit too short in general. Will have to return it and buy another Nathan pack, they are always reliable!

Alex said...

I echo your feelings. I have had the side pockets tear again. No problem with the water but i can see how it can be a problem. My issue is that I love the feel of the dam thing. It just feels really comfortable to me and helps me keep form for longer than I do with some other hydration vests. I love the nathans too, check out the Endurance (i have not tried it but i hear good things) but remember the Ultimate Direction Wasp as well. I really like that the wasp has 2 links which really help it feel snug. Hope you find a good vest and keep on running :)

Anonymous said...

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