Salomon S Lab Light Jacket review- a niche product for a niche sport

Salomon have introduced their super-light-weight running jacket that has been used extensively across the globe by the Salomon Running team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. I provide here my initial use impressions after about 100 running kms (62 miles) in windy, cold, and wet conditions.

Salomon S Lab Light Jacket Light white front

The Salomon S Lab Light jacket in translucent white.

Background

Both alpha and beta prototypes of a light weight windbreaker running jacket from Salomon have been on Salomon Team members in ultra and mountain running circuits for the past two years. Most jackets have been in what appears to be a translucent white color and some have been seen with integrated hoods. Salomon have now brought this jacket to the market for 2013. The purpose of the jacket is for wind breaking, not water proofing or even water resistance, as the jacket is not water proof nor is there a durable water resistant (DWR) coating. The apparent genesis of the product is strictly as a super-light-weight windbreaker and nothing else.

Build

The jacket is made from a very thin, very light-weight nylon/polyamid fabric. The fabric appears to be Quantum Pertex GL or equivalent which will have at a weight of less than 25 g/square meter. The fabric is very soft to the hand and packs very tightly allowing for a small packed volume. There is one full zip closure, no pockets, partial elastic cuffs, and a partial elastic hem. The partial elastic cuffs and hem allow for further weight reduction by eliminating some of the relatively heavy elastic material. The jacket comes in two colorways, translucent white, and a dark grey (Dark Cloud) both with a red zipper and the white colorway with red contrasting stitching.

Being a very simple construction, there are no “features” other than a windproofed zipper, light weight, and packability.

Salomon S Lab Light Jacket dark clud front

Salomon S Lab Light jacket in the Dark Cloud colorway.

Performance

I have had this jacket out on numerous runs in cold (from 8C down to -10C), windy, and wet weather (rain and wet snow) and have found the performance to be adequate for the intended purpose. The jacket does a very good job of keeping the wind at bay and the windproofed zipper is an important part of the performance. Although the jacket is said to have “breathability”, I find that it is not very breathable at all. Even during level 1-2 workouts, in otherwise dry conditions, moisture will collect on the inside of the jacket and produce that uncomfortable “clammy” feeling. I saw evidence of this in pictures of Kilian using this jacket in races as the translucent white fabric will stick to the fabrics underneath where water has condensed and show the underlying color through. Such has also been the case in my use as well.

As far as performance in rain or wet snow, the jacket is not water resistant to any degree. Rain will soak through the fabric in less than 30 seconds and snow will melt and soak through in less than a minute. However, the jacket still provides a reasonable thermal layer due to the fact that the wind resistance of the jacket is not significantly compromised when wet. Many Salomon team members have chosen to use this jacket even in wet conditions. My experience is that the jacket does work quite well as a thermal layer even when wet, provided you are moving well and generating enough heat to over come the enhanced conductive heat transport due to direct thermal contact with the air via the adsorbed water. Convective losses seem to be predominantly unaffected.

It would appear that the intended use of this jacket is to be a transitory layer for racers that is used in high wind, cold temperatures, and/or wet conditions such as that found on most high peaks and ridges in mountainous terrain. Although these conditions are a common occurrence, the use of the S Lab Light jacket for recreational runners in such conditions is limitedĀ  due to the lack of any water resistance as it is typical that precipitation is a part of such weather systems in the mountains. As a highly packable, light weight “peak and wind” layer the jacket offers a very nichey place in the spectrum of equipment a recreational mountain runner might desire. The recreational runner will be better served with a more versatile product that includes some water resistance (e.g. DWR coating). For the competitor, this jacket has a place as a racing wind breaker and thermal layer for wet conditions, the use that I think Salomon has intended.

The addition of a hood and DWR coating would make this jacket much more versatile for the recreational mountain runner. It seems that Salomon have strictly gone for the light weight wind-resistant application focused on racing as would be expected from an S Lab product.

Weight

The size small S Lab Light jacket weighs in at 68 gms. This weight is about half that of competitor windbreakers such as the Paragonia Houdini (114 gms), the North Face Better Than Naked Jacket (130 gms), the Peral Izumi Pro Barrier Light jacket (155 gms), and the Salomon Fast Wing Hoody (150 gms). All of these competitor jackets have DWR coatings and some (Patagonia Houdini and Salomon Fast Wing Hoody) have a hood.

The author is also not clear as to why weight is so important for a windbreaker jacket. Yes, lighter is better but this light weight being at the cost of any significant versatility does not, at face value, seem to be optimal. Use time will tell for sure.

Price

$80. Pricey for the limited use one will get out of this jacket. But if you have to have the lightest “whatever” out there this is it. Compared to other competitor jackets the price of the S Lab Light is on par (Pearl Izumi, $85) or significantly less (Patagonia, $99 and North Face, $130, Salomon Fast Wing Hoody, $110) but with the lower price you get much less versatility.

Bottom Line

A super light weight wind breaker for windy and cold conditions and, if moving well (i.e. racing), wet conditions…. that’s it, nothing more. Oh…. and you can “look” like Kilian.

I expect that Salomon will soon be offering a hooded version of this jacket, possibly with DWR coating. If so, such a product will more fully fill the needs of recreational mountain runners- just as the Patagonia Houdini and Salomon Fast Wing Hoody do now. For a committed racer- this may be the ticket as is – we shall see.

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