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 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.
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 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 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.]
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!]