The words “intelligent design” best sum up the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set (Skin Pack 12). It is brilliantly conceived and executed and just may be the best bit of running gear I have ever owned.
I don’t possess Salomon’s XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab Set. I do own lots of other Salomon gear, both apparel and shoes, and have used the brand over many years. I am a fell and ultra-mountain runner based in the UK. Like many UK residents, my options for ultrarunning packs have been those produced by OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) and RaidLight, which has made good progress in the UK market.
The Skin Pack 12 clearly shares a lineage with its two smaller siblings mentioned above. The ride height is high on the back and gives a good gap between the base of the pack and waistband of shorts, which is my preference.
In recent years all my packs have been designed with a hip or waist belt, with or without pockets. So this was my first experience of a pack without a belt. The Skin Pack 12 attaches via the twin link fastening system described in Allison Pattillo’s review of the Skin Pack 5 here on iRunFar, with multiple fastening options. The difference that this has made to comfort levels when running has been a revelation to me; there will be no going back! I have been freed from the tyranny of the waist belt. My whole pelvic area feels freer when running and the benefits to the stomach area and digestive system when eating and hydrating are enormous.
Like the Skin Pack 5, the Skin Pack 12 fits more like a vest than a pack. And it takes the concept of layering and applies it to pack design in a wholly compelling way. Behind the back panel is a slot for the top-opening hydration system, held in place by its thermal sleeve. The bladder comes fitted and has a 1.5-litre capacity. There is then a small zipped pocket before the next substantial layer, which nicely fits my phone and some cash in a (not supplied) sealed zipped plastic bag.
The next layer is the “main” compartment with access by a two-way zip. This area easily swallows the compulsory gear for a race such as UTMB. It is cunningly designed with an internal zip at about half height which allows use of the top section alone or the full length compartment for greater capacity. The final layer is a zipped outer pocket made of mesh. This is big enough to swallow my shell top and waterproof trousers, gloves, beanie and waterproof mitts.
There are capacious mesh pockets on either side plus smaller zipped pockets outside of these. I have backwards reach issues arising from having forward facing shoulders, which means that on any number of packs I really struggle to reach rear or side pockets and compression gadgets, but I can reach all these pockets with ease.
Compression is taken care of in three ways: First, by the chest attachment system; secondly, by straps that come through tunnels on the shoulders of the Skin Pack 12; and, thirdly, by a system which allows the side pockets to be drawn into the body of the pack and “closed” to some degree. Personally, I have been leaving the shoulder straps in one position and using the chest straps to provide extra compression during runs. This ensures no rucking of the fabric of the shoulder sections through over-tightening. As the bladder empties with use, the ability to increase compression does help keep the pack nice and together.
The attention to detail is exceptional. Here are some other examples:
- In the front wall of the main compartment is a small extra pocket. This comes with a foil blanket (compulsory in a variety of European ultras) ready installed. The catch is magnetic and closes with a deeply satisfying chink.
- The closure device on the bladder (manufactured by Hydrapack not by Source as on the Skin Pack 5) is connected to the bladder by a strong, thin plastic cord. This is just long enough to allow removal and closure. No excess cord at all. Perfect.
- The system that tensions the side pockets relies on a tiny gripper device. When you squeeze this gently, you can pull through the cord that draws in the pocket. You feel for it, and there it is, in just the place you need it to be.
Comfort-wise the pack has not given me a moment’s cause for concern right from the first run, which was over 2 hours. No rubbing or chaffing anywhere. The longest run in it so far was 25 miles. I hope this will continue when the weather turns warmer. Even well loaded, you soon forget it is on your back.
The hydration system comes set up for underarm hose routing. I found the mouthpiece rubbed my neck so I have switched the system so that the hose comes up the side of the main compartment and over the shoulder, through the tunnels that carry the compression straps. This works fine. I can tuck the end of the hose either into the front mounted pocket or a mesh pocket on the shoulder strap. Access for the hose to the bladder is through a hole at the base of the main compartment and it is easy to unclip the hose quickly to allow rapid extraction of the bladder to be refilled without needing to remove and reroute the hose. Theoretically, if you had support at an aid station, because the bladder sleeve is open at the top, you could be refilled without removing the pack.
The front of the Skin Pack 12 has additional capacity. Two front pockets with draw cord fasteners, a mesh pocket for gels, a tiny whistle on a lanyard and two zipped, detachable pockets, which fasten by Velcro. These latter items haven’t seen the light of day yet.
The only minor disappointment for me is the system to secure trail poles that looks similar to that employed on other Salomon packs like the XA 20. I haven’t mastered the rather complex system of elastic cords and fasteners yet. In truth, I may not bother. The carrying capacity of the Skin Pack 12 is such that poles such as the Raid-Lights or Black Diamond Z-Poles that collapse will easily slip handle down into the side pockets and be held in place behind some loops that span the width of the main compartment. Sacrilege it may be to the design team, but I’m close to getting the scissors out and making some “adjustments”!
Build quality is as you would expect from a product coming out of the Salomon Lab – first class.
I guess I will know more after its first real racing outing at the Ultra Trail Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca (105 km and 4,500 m of vertical) in late April. I don’t expect to be let down!
Cheap it is not, but it is another exceptional item from a manufacturer that has invested much time and energy to design incredibly well thought out gear, inspired and helped by their top athletes, for the benefit of the rest of us. Unhesitatingly recommended.
Wrap Up (from Bryon)
While Morgan didn’t know it when he offered up the above review, we’ll be carrying the Salomon Skin Pack 12 in the iRunFar Store within the next three weeks. Contact us if you’d like to be notified as soon as we have them in stock
Call for Comments (again, from Bryon)
- Folks over in Europe who’ve had a chance to use this pack, what did you think?
- Anyone on iRunFar’s side of the pond excited for this pack? If so, what do you plan on using it for?