Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Belt Set – Review
I mentioned in a previous post that Salomon were planning on introducing an S Lab hydration/fueling/apparel belt system in 2013. Well, it is now available and I received a couple of them about 2 weeks ago and I have now used the system on a few runs for a total of about 50 km (31 miles) and on a bunch of Nordic skiing sessions for a total of about 350 km (210 miles).
Salomon have offered hydration/fueling belts of many types for years but they have never applied the talents of the leading edge S Lab design team to this product sector. The Advanced Skin S Lab Belt Set is the first in what will likely be a line of belts intended for competition and light weight characteristics. Hydration/fueling belts have received polarized reviews from users as it is apparent that individual preferences either outweigh the advantages of a waist-level system or convince the user that there is no better solution. Although there are reviews that hit a middle ground, my research indicates that there are, in general, two camps on the suitability/unsuitability of a waist-level hydration/fueling system. The Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Belt Set may persuade some of the nay sayers for reasons that I will outline below.
The very light weight (130 gms) design is somewhat evolutionary in that Salomon have used similar materials and design features that can be found on the S Lab Advanced Skin hydration back packs that have been available for a couple of years. The same 3D honeycomb mesh material is used in areas of direct contact with the body, the same fine thread highly expandable stretch-mesh material is utilized in pockets, and similar pocket placement and zipper use are all apparent. Also, a similar plastic hook-on-plastic D-ring quick release fastening mechanism is used. Here are some images showing the outward and body sides of the system.
The pockets are well placed and include four stretch mesh front pockets layered on top of each other with the base pockets being zippered for valuables, phone, music player, etc. and the overlaying pockets being quick access. The rear has two large stretch mesh pockets with elastic bands to secure soft flasks and plenty of room for other packables (fuel, apparel, etc.) as well as two red elastic bands between the pockets for additional, non-pocket stowage. The 237 ml (8 oz) size soft flasks fit nicely in the rear pockets and are well secured with the elastic bands. The rear pockets also nicely accept 4 of the 148 ml (5 oz) soft flasks (two in each pocket) and are secured by the pocket without the use of the elastic bands. The set is supplied with just one 237 ml soft flask (as is the case with Salomon’s hydration glove product) but I think that Salomon would do well to offer the set with two as 500 ml (16 oz) is pretty much a minimum water volume that a typical trail runner would carry for a medium length (15-20 km) run. But perhaps they are trying to hit a price point to encourage sales. I have yet to decide whether the elastic bands are required as the flasks seem quite secure without them because when you put the belt on the pockets cinch down and hold the flasks, seemingly sufficiently. More runs/skis will determine if this initial impression holds up.
The fastening system is a variant of the plastic hook-on-plastic D-ring quick release seen in other Salomon S Lab packs. It does take a bit of getting used to but once mastered the fastener system is very good.
I have set the belt system up for Nordic skiing (with waxes, a cork, a 237 ml hydration flask, a 148 ml fuel flask, an energy bar, and a camera) and running (with the two 237 ml hydration flasks, a 148 ml fuel flask, an energy bar, some gels, and a camera). In both set-ups there was still room for a wind jacket and a pair of light gloves- both of which I have taken on runs. Here is the Nordic skiing set up for example:
And here is a running set-up:
There is a surprising amount of room to pack items in the belt system and this is partly due to the highly expandable stretch mesh fabric that Salomon uses for the pockets. Based on my experience with hydration and fuel needs, this system allows for self-sufficient runs and skis of times in excess of 3 hours, at least for me. In the case of trail runs, one can even extend this further by using the Salomon S Lab Sense Hydro Set for more water/energy drink capacity (another 500 ml for the pair). Between the belt set and the hydro set one could have about 1 l of water/energy drink, 0.3 l of fuel in flasks, as well as room for numerous (4-6) gels.
Fit and Comfort
As can be seen in images above Salomon have utilized their “Sensifit” approach that essentially envelopes and form fits to your body. The two independent side adjustments allow for precise positioning and balancing of the belt system, depending upon load geometry and distribution. The end result is that once the belt is on and adjusted you actually forget that it is there, unlike many other belt systems that I have used or tried out. I found the fit to be without compromise and the comfort to be very high, even fully loaded. A remarkable achievement.
A big part of the comfort is derived from the use of the 3D honeycomb mesh material where contact with the body takes place. This material breathes and ventilates very well and is also form fitting so no hot spots develop. The material is key to the comfort of the Advanced Skin back packs and is also important to the comfort of the belt as well. Time will tell as to how well the material works at waist level at higher temperatures. I should get a read on that when I go for an extended running trip to the desert in March.
The belt system can be worn according to ones preference for waist position. I wear it relatively high, but have tried lower positions which are also comfortable but not right for me. Here are some images of the belt being worn with a full running set up (rear: two 237 ml soft flasks, a wind jacket, a pair of gloves, and two gel packs; front: one 148 ml fuel soft flask, two gel packs, and a camera).
Although Salomon refer to a “front” and “back” there really is no issue with wearing it any way you would like. I have used it in a reverse configuration as well as with the pockets oriented on my hips. This is possible because of the “Sensifit” approach with the enveloping, form fitting characteristic and the two adjustment points.
The system is designed for use with the Hydrapak soft flask technology so one would have to be convinced that the soft flask approach is workable. After using the soft flask system for about 9 months and thousands of kms of trail running and Nordic skiing, I am a convert and explain the reasons why in detail here and here. One of the primary reasons that I like the soft flask technology is that one has very good control over flow rate out of the flasks and therefore it is straight forward to meter out water, energy drinks, and fuel. I also find that during Nordic ski racing it is possible to grab the flask, put it in your mouth, hold it with your teeth, continue to pole, and then suck down the contents- all without slowing down, something that is important if you are in a pack. Once consumed, the now collapsed flask can easily be stuffed into a pocket on the belt, again without slowing down.
$70. In comparison with other belt products currently offered this is a fair price for the flexibility, excellent fit, and high comfort of the Advanced Skin Belt Set.
A very light weight, comfortable, and flexible hydration/fueling/apparel belt system well suited to medium to long trail runs (and Nordic skiing) in all weather.
Update 11 October 2013: I have posted up an update after using the belts system for the 2013 running season.