Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack Review

Salomon has pioneered many of the great running-pack technological advancements since the Advanced Skin packs debuted back in 2013. These packs really seemed to wrap around the torso with little to no bounce, and the materials were ahead of their time. Fast forward to 2016 when Salomon introduced the S-LAB Sense Ultra Set (who names these things?) and once again the materials used in this pack were seemingly light years ahead of the competition. My gripe about that featherweight design was that it didn’t eliminate bounce due to all of the materials being soft and stretchy. I also could not keep this pack’s front straps from loosening on the run, and putting the soft flasks away was like stuffing 10 pounds of $#!& into a five-pound bag.

This spring, Salomon debuted the S-Lab Sense Ultra Set Pack in three distinct sizes of eight liters, five liters, and two liters. I tested and am reviewing the Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack ($155), the eight-liter version. These packs really aimed to improve upon the shortcomings of the original S-LAB Sense Ultra Set, and I was impressed by the large amount of storage options in a featherweight 4.5-ounce pack (weighed without the included soft flasks). I also like the option of being able to choose from three different colors.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack front view

The Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack. All photos: iRunFar/Tom Caughlan

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack Storage

Up front, Salomon uses two 500-milliliter/17-ounce soft flasks and they widened the sleeves that the flasks fit into. They get away with this looser fit by incorporating two bungees which easily go over the lids of the soft flasks to keep everything in place. I love these updated soft flasks because the bottom of them is made of a harder rubber that helps the flask keep its form and slide into place on the run. The lids are also the easiest to get on and off while hurried at an aid station that I’ve found on the market and they don’t leak at all. They have wide mouths for being easily filled by a pitcher and, in my experience, crews and aid-station volunteers seemed to fumble with them less than other soft flasks I’ve used. The stretchiness of this vest makes it easy to simply pull the vest up and put the bite valve in your mouth for a quick drink.

Underneath and in front of each of these flask sleeves sits a large and stretchy dump pocket which fits everything from gels, bars, gloves, a buff… really you name it. However, the best pockets on this vest are the side zip pockets. Though they ride right on the ribs, I never felt discomfort when putting my phone or camera in these secure pockets, even with their hard edges. I appreciated that these side pockets were secured with a zipper and hugged my body well. Additionally, they’re easy access due to the zippers facing forward. Be warned that if you forget to zip these pockets, things will fall out in a hurry.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack side view

Side view of the Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack.

Above the flasks sit two stretchy sternum pockets, one with a zipper and one without. These pockets have a built-in but removable whistle, and they work great for throwing in a couple of gels, electrolyte pills, key fobs, and other small objects. On the back of the vest is a stretchy lumbar pocket that works very well for stuffing a jacket or extra clothing. This pocket lays over a large main compartment which I was able to stuff to the gills with a ton of extra clothing including a heavy rain jacket, pants, extra gloves, and a hat. This pocket is not designed to accommodate a bladder so if that is your liking, defer to the Advanced Skin vests which are designed specifically for bladder use.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack back view

Back view of the Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack.

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack Ride

The closure system for this updated series of Sense Ultra vests uses an elastic cord that clips into a plastic buckle on the other side of the vest, across the chest. There are two straps that go across the chest and you can easily adjust where you want those straps to go on your chest or abdomen. They also have an ingenious locking mechanism in the form of a small piece of rubber that allows you to adjust and then lock down the straps to the correct tightness. The ride of the Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack is very comfortable with little to no bounce as long as you get the pack sizing correct–read more below.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack front straps view

View of the Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack’s front straps.

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack Sizing

Properly sizing this pack is very important as Salomon offers five different sizes. Having a 37-inch chest, I decided to err on the side of caution and size up to a medium for my review pack. This was an error as this vest has a lot of stretchiness to it, and I would recommend sizing down a size from what Salomon recommends. In my size medium, I had to tighten the chest straps and lock them down almost to the point that the flasks were together right in the middle of my chest. This caused significant bouncing. However, when I put this size medium pack on a friend with a 44-inch chest, he was able to loosen the straps out to their maximum and have bottle placement on the outside of his chest with no bounce whatsoever. Another friend, who is more my size, purchased a size small, which offered him great bottle placement and no bounce as well.

[Editor’s Note: James, the model in the photos, is 6’1″ and 150 pounds with a 38-inch chest. He is wearing a size small.]

Overall Impressions

The S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack is a huge improvement over its predecessors in the Salomon line. If fact, I think that the only pack that can challenge it on the market currently is the Nathan VaporKrar (my review to come here on iRunFar soon) in terms of fit, breathability, and lack of bounce. This last factor becomes incredibly important to me the longer the training run or race. Detractors from this vest will complain about the lack of hydration options as this vest will not accommodate a bladder, nor will it allow carrying extra bottles or flasks in the back pockets due to their gusseted and stretchy nature. However, in most race circumstances, being able to carry one liter of fluid will typically get the job done in all but the hottest conditions, and with a four-ounce vest on, carrying a handheld hardly seems that cumbersome.

If you’re interested in this vest, I recommend going to your local running-specialty store and trying out the recommended size as well as the smaller size. Jog on the treadmill or on the sidewalk and really get a sense of how the front straps lock down and where you like to place your hydration for ease of use and comfort. I’ve been really impressed with the durability of this vest as I have been using it for most of my runs since March, so expect many years of good use with this expensive, but worthwhile, investment in your ultra kit.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in any of the packs in the current Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra Set Pack line? If so, which one(s) are you using and what are your thoughts?
  • How did sizing work out for you? Did you find that you, too, needed the correct size in order for the pack to ride without bouncing or other issues?
  • And what about the pockets on the pack? How are you using the pockets and do you like the way they work?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand that produces gear in one of the above categories, please share that relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack side pocket view

A view of the Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set Pack’s side pockets.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 38 comments

  1. David

    I have always had issues with the Salomon vests corroding badly at the zippers unless they are immediately washed after a run or event. Does this vest do anything to fix that problem? Living in the southeast, the humidity means my vest is drenched about 5 minutes into a run from April until November. Never had any trouble with other brands like Nathan.

    1. mtkk

      My wife and I use these vests all the time and have not noticed any corrosion on the zippers, despite creating salt deposits from sweat all over them.

  2. Tom Caughlan

    David –
    Tough for me to judge as its not nearly as humid in CO. I will say that this vest does soak up sweat but does breathe well and dries relatively quickly. Although, nothing really dries in a southeastern summer I’m sure. I haven’t noticed any salt corroding the zippers. Maybe this is due to their placement on the sides and upper right shoulder.
    Hopefully others will weigh in on this.

  3. Robert

    I run in the 5L version of this pack. Just a warning to all wearing this pack (and I’ve confirmed this with the Salomon reps) that the hard bottle ends that meet at the edge of the pack can cause some friction and rubbing on the front of your shirts. The rep had even said some people developed bruises there during Ultras.
    That’s my only gripe with the pack. Absolutely love this thing.

    1. Steve How

      I had the same experience as well! Abrasion points where the bottles were rubbing against. The damage on my favourite Salomon S-Lab tank top was very obvious as the abrasion caused the cocona fabric to bunch together.

  4. Pete

    I’ve been running with the Sense Ultra 5 Set since April & gotten a lot of hours in it through training, 50 miler and a few 50K’s; the new, wide-mouth bottles are great, but the elastic straps that help hold them “up” don’t last. They eventually fray and snap because of friction with the bottle lid area. Great idea in theory, but they’re just not tough enough to last. Have to deal with digging bottles out of their pockets as they empty.

    Fit is great, haven’t had any bruising/rubbing issues from the bottles as mentioned above at all. Always have some adjusting to do for the first mile or three, but after that it’s smooth sailing. I have the clasp pretty tight, the flasks together in the middle and no big issues.

  5. Nathan

    I have this vest and I had issues with rubbing at the bottom front on both sides at the corners. All shirts show signs of wear after even short distances.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Nathan-

      This happened to me as well, though not as badly on silkweight shirts with slippery fabric. But, I did have several shirts that showed significant wear signs. Interestingly enough, I wore a Patagonia Cap 1 shirt for an entire 50 miler without any signs of wear or rubbing.

      1. Steve How

        Ironically, the damage is worst on the Salomon S-Lab Sense Tank Top. The cocona fabric bunches together from the abrasion.

    2. Nick

      I was about to purchase the pack but this is close to a dealbreaker to me. I don’t want to ruin my expensive Salomon Bonatti jacket, for instance. Does anyone think the rubbing part can be fixed somehow, e.g. with tape, fabric or something?

  6. Tony

    Been using this pack for a month. It immediately has become my favorite. Still some niggles though. I do get the mentioned bruising on the bottom sides of my rib cage, getting used to it though. Than the closing system in the image you show seems to be tweaked? The pinch-and-release buckle (sorry, my English is not detailed enough for this) is not original, is it? I have done similar thing, replacing the little plastic flap that comes with the pack and isn’t up to its job. Thanks for your view on the pack. Cheers, Tony.

  7. Jeremiah

    I’ve been using the 5L for a couple of months including a 50 miler. I’m 6’1″ about 165 lbs and first tried a small. The hard ends of the bottles rubbed against my ribs, causing bruising on even a 6-7 mile run. Changed to the medium and tighten all the way down with some rubbing against my shirts but no rib pain or bruising. Once I’m pretty warmed up it’s very form fitting and feels great; however, mine does not have the adjustable straps pictured above. The 5L I have has staps that you adjust via a small two holed piece of plastic that you sort of slide. This has come lose many, many times and I would much prefer the cord lock imaged above. Overall I am pleased and find it great for races or runs of several hours.

  8. Tom Caughlan

    Good eye Tony,

    My original pack has the plastic tab closures and the pack in the photo belongs to a friend who bought the pack in June. I assumed the pack that Salomon sent me was maybe an early model/ prototype. I didn’t have too many issues with the plastic flap that came with my pack, and I did do two 50ks and a 50 miler with the vest. I think the pinch and release is superior though.

  9. Dave

    I have this same 8 liter size vest. I bought mine a few months ago and have done plenty of long training runs and a mountainous 50k race with it so far. Overall, I’m really pleased with it. The fit and function is spot on. I’m 6’1″, 175 lbs., 39 inch chest and using a medium size. However, some of my favorite running tops have been ruined by the same abrasive issues likely caused by the mesh on the lower front inside that others have mentioned. Also, I would like to figure out how to stow trekking poles somewhere on this vest, if possible. I love all the storage space and large stretchy pockets.

  10. Doug

    I carry 4 flasks commonly on my longer runs and don’t have any problem with them. Two in the large rear pouch. They bounce a bit at first but find a happy position pretty quickly. I think that I may start to carry 5 flasks and I don’t foresee any issues there either.

  11. Steve How

    Dave, Salomon sells a quiver for hiking poles that you can attachea on the back of the Ultra 8 vest. There’re some YouTube videos showing this you might want to check it out

  12. Bjornar 'Barefoot Bj' Siem

    I have the 5l version and agree with the above regarding sizing. I’m a 43-44 inch chest and should be a xl according to the sizing. I have a large size which bounces a bit so I should probably have had a medium size due to the elaticity of the materials used. Great product though!

  13. Joe S

    Thanks for the detailed review. Looking forward to the review of the Nathan VaporKrar (12L?) as I’m torn between these two choices.

  14. shawn

    I do NOT have this vest, but have one with similar soft flasks. I’m amazed that you are able to drink from them without takng them out. Whenever I try that, I get water (or Gatorade) up into my nasal passages. Cough-snort-hack-spit! Maybe I need a stretcher vest or maybe I just have a drinking problem.

  15. GT

    I have the 2L version. Wore it for the daytime stages of a scorching 100M (Sinister7). Fantastic!
    Love the heat-compatible white (who cares if it gets dirty, we’re in the mountains) and the minimalist profile (especially across the back) that still has more than enough storage when aid stations are ~10-15k apart. Would need a bigger one (5L or 8L) for night time/colder weather for extra jacket, gloves, etc.
    Wore the medium, next time I would definitely down-size to the Small (I’m 6ft, 170lbs)

  16. Lily

    Thanks for your review, Tom. I’ve been using the 8L vest for a few weeks now and mostly love it. I also have the Ultraspire Spry 2.0, but find the Salomon 8L to be much more comfortable. Unfortunately, just like other people have noted, the rough mesh in the front of the vest has chewed up several of my tops. I still use the vest, but only with those specific shirts. Hopefully, Salomon will fix this issue with the next version.

  17. Paul

    I’ve been running in the 5L for six months. It’s been a godsend for me because my prominent shoulder blades have caused significant chafing in other packs, but this is not a problem in the S-Lab. I’m 6-0, 142 pounds, and wear the small. It fits snug with no bouncing, though I have had some issues with rib soreness as described in the review after longer runs. I’ve carried two extra soft flasks in the larger back pocket with no problem, so 2 liters total on the pack, plus a handheld for 3 liters total. I use a pair of Salomon Soft Flask Speed Straws I ordered separately to make drinking much easier, without craning my neck, and they work great. I found the unzippered pocket on the left shoulder strap to be relatively useless in letting things bounce out, so I sewed it shut on the side and cut open the top, where I can now store long packs of Clif Bloks. The closure system was a huge nuisance for me, constantly refusing to stay tight, so I am extremely grateful to see the cord-lock hack in this review, which I will immediately implement this weekend and am sure will be a significant (and cheap!) improvement. Thanks for the review.

  18. Chad

    I tried the 8L and found it to be too big for such an unstructured pack. Looks wise I much prefer the Sense Ultra Set from the last couple of years. I think it is more functional and looks better to have larger zip pockets in the back and smaller pouches up front. The new design makes those that wear it look like they have strapped on large bosoms. I am a big fan of Salomon’s designs in the past, but I think the Raidlight Gilet Responsiv 10L beats this in both looks and function.

    1. Steve How

      Chad, thanks for recommending the Raidlight Responsive 10L. How’s the sizing compared with Salomon? I’m a size M on the new Ultra 8L and M/L dir the older version of Sense Ultra. Thanks!

      1. Chad

        Steve,
        I’m a L on the new Ultra 8L and I ordered a L/XL in the Responsive. I have a 42″ chest. lf they made a true XL or XXL I would have ordered that instead as it fits snugger then the L Salomon. If you are maxing out the Medium Salomon, I’m guessing you could also use the L/XL, if not then get the Medium. The Boa adjusters on the side work great for tweeting the size just perfect. If you buy the pack at the Raidlight USA site, you can return it if it doesn’t fit. Hope this helps.

  19. Michael

    +another on the low-rib bruising/soreness. I grow somewhat numb to it over a run but I suppose I’m glad to find I’m not the anomaly!

  20. Mr T

    With so many comments about rubbing, it really does need a mention in the article.

    Much as I like the look of the new design I’ll be keeping my older vest given those remarks – I just hope anyone else debating upgrading reads the comments too.

  21. Fiona Haddy

    I have the 2L pack. It’s very comfortable, no bruising or chaffing. There is some bounce I found when I’m not carryng extra gear, and one of the bungees broke very early on.

  22. Rick Pawela

    I have the 5L pack. I bought a medium and it is on the big size to where I have to tighten it all the way. No issues with rib pain but there is a little bouncing when the water bottles are full for the first mile or so. After that the pack seems to settle and as the bottles get less full the bouncing stops.

    In regards to the plastic tabs for tightening and loosening the chest straps (more like chest strings) Salomon was shipping these with the plastic tabs installed incorrectly. by turning the tabs around they actually hold the tightening. Here’s a video that shows how they should be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joryc8q3e0E
    This fixes the loosening of the pack quite a bit.

  23. BJ

    Haven’t tried the fit on one of these. The Salomon “one size fits most” was way too tight for me. 46-48 at nips, 45 at rib (per UD size meas. chart). 6-3, 225, 38-40 waist. my inclination is XL in evrything, and usually that is too small. what give here? any advice welcome. will be doing my first 50 mi. in a few months and want a vest asap for training. thank you.

  24. Javier

    Very helpful review!

    After a lot of research I just purchased the 5L version in Small, which I think is the perfect fit for my size; 5’6 and 155lbs. Although I am curious to know how a medium would have felt, and if there is any difference in capacity for the front pockets. But the chest fitment is good as is and i have a lot of room for adjustment, which a medium might not have because it is simply too big.

    Overall quality seems great but a few months will be the best determining factor. And the bottles go in very easily when full of liquid, not complaints here.

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