Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set Review

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.

Showing off the depth of the Skin Pack 12. The pack is about half full.

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.

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?

The view of Ingleborough from Whernside during Skin Pack 12 testing. Photo: Morgan Williams

Morgan Williams: was until recently the Secretary of the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club, which was formed in 1971, a post he held for 12 years. He is a past General Secretary of the Fell Runners Association, the body which manages the sport of fell running in England. He is member number 371 of the BG Club having completed the round in 1985 at the ripe old age of 21. After many years of fell and mountain racing, he returned to his mountain-ultrarunning roots in the 2000s completing amongst other races two CCCs (2010 and 2011), the Ultra Trail Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca (2012), and UTMB (2012). In July of 2016, he sustained major injuries in a trail running fall but, with lots of help, especially from his wife Alison, he’s fighting back.

View Comments (55)

  • Just to be clear - does the S-Lab Skin 12 replace the 5 or is it simply larger?

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    • It's larger

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  • I've been a proud owner of the Skin 12 for close to one month now and I completely agree with the above review. My first run with it was a 3h40min snow/wind/rain sufferfest and I quickly forgot I was wearing it.

    Haven't experimented with the poles attachment system yet - although I am really wondering how I will succeed in securing trekking poles with this system ;)

    I like being able to reach the side pockets while running and the front pockets securely and each comfortably hold a 500ml water bottle -which is convenient since the bladder is only 1.5L.

    My Nathan is currently collecting dust ... although I am still planning to use it for shorter -or summer- runs when there is no need to carry extra gear.

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  • I got the 5L earlier in the year and used it for my first 100+ miler and was not disappointed. Incredibly comfortable, and you can squeeze an impressive amount of kit in there considering how small it really is, but not great when you need a lot of extra gear. As soon as I heard that there was a larger version out, I ordered one (just in case my UTMB application is successful). Again, I haven't been disappointed (despite the hit on the bank account). The fit is identical to the 5L, and you don't notice the extra bulk from the additional main pocket at all. I keep finding new hidey holes in it! My only issue so far is that my water froze solid in the feed nozzle at the weekend, whereas it is insulated on the 5L. I can't see this being a huge problem in general, but possibly something to be aware of for cold weather and mountain running.

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  • Looks like a great pack, but man $180 is pretty steep.

    Think I'll stick with my WASP for the time being it is a 3rd the cost even with some attachments.

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  • I ran the CCC with 5 liter version and UTMB TDS in 2011 with the 12liter pack.

    It is the best pack i have used ever in trail ultras. Y

    ou can look to the pictures during the race http://www.geziyorum.net/utmb-tds-rapor/

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  • I've been using the Camelbak Octane XCT but might consider upgrading if I decide I need more bells and whistles for JFK.

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  • Slightly off topic, the article mentions the Raid-Light poles and the Z-poles from BD. Any opinions out there as to which pole is better? On size alone I'm leaning towards the Raid-Lights because 125cm is perfect for me and they offer 123. with the carbon Z-poles its 120 or 130.

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    • David

      I love the Raid Lights and have used them in a number of European ultras. So incredibly comfy and the forward leaning handle seems to really suit my style. Poles haven't really taken firm hold in the UK but I have used them in many long training outings and they do see action in races like the Lakeland 50 and 100 (miles) over here.

      I have some Z poles too but these are quite new to me. I need to use them more and certainly haven't fallen in love with them yet.

      I have broken a few RLs over the years but I recall a few Z poles snapping at Hardrock last year.

      If I was racing tomorrow, it would probably be the RLs, but plenty of time for that to change.

      Morgan

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      • many thanks for that reply!

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    • I used Z-poles for Grindstone 100 this past October and they performed admirably, they fold up and attach to each other so they can go into the shock cord on a hydration pack easily. Light as a feather and super-durable so far.

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      • Hi swampy, can u take some pic attaching the pole to see how please?

        tnx u

        alain

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    • Used the Raid light poles during UTMB 2007 and the worked much better than I dared to hope, fell few times badly and was saved by the poles (...swayed them into circle:) ). But I couldn´t take them apart after the race...they were welded together :)

      Used BD Z poles during last year´s UTMB and they were excellent. Didn´t put them on my pack, but it was no problem to run with them in my hand between the mountains.

      I think it pretty much comes down to how you are going to use them, if you expect to have very sore quads in the last few miles and need "crutches" go for BD, if you only need poles for the climbs, not the downhills I think both will work.

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  • Forget about the raidlight poles. They are very fragile, especially when a pole gets stuck between a few rocks. During the utmb I'v seen quite a few runners with one pole left. The BD ploes have better press. Camp also makes a similair pole which is good and quite populair at this side of the pond.

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    • Thanks, I've also read that the Camp folding poles are quite fragile.

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      • I've had the Camp for three years, and beside trail running I used'em for snowshoeing, for long hiking trips (on glacier too) and they've always been up to it. They look fragile, but are quite elastic, therefore even if it gets stuck it's quite difficult to break'em. But keep in mind I don't use them in descent while running, that's where probably it's easier to crush the poles.

        They're also quite cheap compared to Raidlight.

        Anyway, BD ones look different class.

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  • I would love to see a reviewer's side-by-side comparison of this pack with one of the new Ultraspire packs (Omega or Fastpack). I'm looking to get a new, large running pack and these seem to be the best options out right now.

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    • That is the comparison I am looking for now too.

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    • I'd suggest (if you can do it) to order the packs you're interested in and take them all to a treadmill and try them all out briefly to see how they all fit when you specifically are running.

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  • I agree, Craig, another overpriced hydration system from Salomon.

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  • Is it (just!) $180? Hard to find pricing info but it looks like the 5L ranges from $130 to $180 depending upon the retailer / site?

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  • Hi guys, we managed to get our hands on this about 6 months ago and wore it (and won the Great North Walk 100 miler here in Oz through Andrew Vize one of our team members) wearing the 12 litre.

    Pricey? Yes, but in our opinion, this is a real game changer for backpacks, enough room for mandatory gear (think UTMB), but feels small enough and is a great form-fit for the body with the weight distribution. Feel free to read our review and comments here if you're interested in getting some opinion from little old Australia :)

    http://ultra168.com/2014/06/03/review-salomon-advanced-skin-12-l-s-lab-pack/

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  • Is the pack pretty small as in fit? I was told the s-lab 5 doesnt fit anyone large. Has this model changed that?

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    • Hi Steve, I'm 6'4 and weigh in at 86KGS. I have both the 5l and 12l versions and have the m/l size in the 5l which fits me fine. The m/l version of the 12l feels a little bigger for sure, and I could probably even squeeze into the small. I'd say that if you were smaller than me - then yeah the small one would be good. (Dan, member of Ultra168)

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    • Steve

      I am 6' 0'' and about 11 and a half stone. My 12 set is the M/L.

      I have a friend who bought a XS/S at the same time. She is about 5' 7''.

      I wouldn't want to go near the small version!

      Morgan

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  • Thanks for the video link! Good stuff.

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  • I have had the 12l since before UTMB 2011 and I love it. I use it for most of my training as well since I have backup clothing etc in case I slip and hurt my self during long runs. I hardly notice the pack while running and often even only use the upper front elastic for holding the pack in place. The pack has hold up to wear quite good and my only complaint is that it STINKS from the sweat after only 1 or 2 runs after being washed. The pack does "attract" a lot of the sweat. May be that is a good thing all in all.

    Johan

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  • Anyone have a link for purchase?

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    • Mike Mason,
      These are not yet available in the US. They'll be available on iRunFar as soon as that release happens in early February.

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  • I'm about 6'5 and closer to 250lbs. So I'm not your average runner Unfortunatly. That's why I was concerned about sizing. My camel back on long runs does ok, but it does bounce.

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  • Price is the only deterrent keeping me from owning several Salomon products. This was a very good detailed review, and I would love to upgrade from my Camelbak, but the cost-benefit analysis does not justify the switch at this time.

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  • Great that Salomon is making a bigger version of an already awesome pack. I have the 5 and love the fit and feel of this pack. The only issues I've had are with the front pockets. The nylon of these pockets are very lightweight and tends to tear over time. I wrote Salomon about this and they replied with a kind thank you. I'm curious to know if they have used a heavier (more durable) material or better yet, made these pockets removable so that they can be replaced.

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    • Steven

      Not having both, I can't answer your question; but they seem reasonably robust thus far. I am unlikely to be keeping tight fitting bottles in the front pockets though.

      I did not mention in the review that the 12 comes with 2 small detachable zipped pockets which fix on to various velcro panels. I had forgotten about these. I found the pack had such good capacity that I could not think when I would ever need to use these and put them away safely somewhere.

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      • Morgan,

        Funny you should mention tight fitting bottles. The first time I experienced a tear I had a tight fitting bottle in one pocket and GU packs in the other. The tear occurred from the GU packs and not the bottle. I suspect the loose stuff bouncing around is a little more abrasive on this lightweight nylon that a tight bottle? I still love those front pockets for nutrition so, I now pack into a small stuff sack which I shove into the pocket. This seems to do the trick but it would be better if the pocket was just a little tougher.

        Other than that a great, well designed pack.

        -Steven

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        • For the incoming shipment, Salomon has redesigned the front pockets to be even more durable. For one, the fabric has been made more durable. In addition, the cinch for the big pockets will compress the pockets, so that there's less movement for those who've experienced wear from gels bouncing in those pockets.

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  • This is the pack I want! I have the Skin 5 and it is absolutely the best pack I have ever had, but I want to start doing longer and multi-day events and have been wondering how to fit all the extra gear needed, in . From the photo it looks like the under arm zip pockets are lower because that whole ¨vest¨ section looks much wider than on the 5. Morgan says he has no problems getting into those zipped pockets - that would be an improvement over the 5 as it is a little tricky getting gels out while on the run.About the mouth piece rubbing Morgans neck, on my 5 I cut the pipe shorter and I tuck the mouth piece under the mesh that comes over your shoulder that covers the load lifter.Even though these packs are expensive, they are well worth it when you are in the middle of a race and you suddenly remember that you´ve had something on your back and around your chest the whole time and you hadn´t even felt it ! Thanks for a great review

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