I posted an initial impressions review of the Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Belt Set in February after using the system on a few runs and for a substantial amount of Nordic skiing. Since that time I have used the belt system for the entire 2013 running season including about 3200 km (2000 miles) of trail running with about 75,ooo m (250,000 feet) of ascension, many 35-50 km training runs, an 80 km (50 mile) race with 2100 m (7000 feet) of ascension, a 55 km (34 mile) race with 2500 m (8000 feet) of ascension, and 60 km (37 mile) race with 3200 m (10,500) feet of ascension.
Throughout the season the belt system performed very well. I continue to be impressed with the comfort, durability, and capacity of the belt. Although my experience has been generally favorable, there are a few issues that can compromise an otherwise very good product, depending upon how one uses the belt.
Issue 1 – Slippage when fully loaded
One of the prominent advantages of the S Lab Advanced Skin Belt system is the ability of such a minimal appliance to hold such a large volume of ‘stuff’. This is, in part, due to the integration of the ‘soft flask’ technology and the use of stretch-mesh pockets. As shown in the initial review the belt system can carry all that one might need for a long run and is clearly sufficient for a supported race. However, I discovered that when fully loaded, the belt system cinch straps slip and allow for the belt to slide lower on your waist and this then results in a small amount of ‘bounce’ that is undesirable. When I refer to a ‘loaded’ belt, this will include two 237 ml water/energy drink soft flasks, two 148 ml fuel soft flasks, an S Lab Light jacket, 4 gel packs, and 12-15 salt tabs. With such a ‘load’ the cinch straps do not have sufficient friction to hold the belt in place and it slides down your waist a bit. On me, the belt slides from my preferred position high on the waist to about mid waist, a position that is tolerable but not ideal. The belt then stabilizes in this lower position and does not slide any further down. Frequent pulling on the cinch straps brings the belt back up but this becomes tedious and, frankly, annoying. After dealing with this during my first race of the season, I subsequently sewed the straps in position for the other races. This worked but did not allow for any adjustment for comfort during the race; the belt was, however, comfortable nonetheless.
This issue has been reported by others so it is not unique to me. I expect that Salomon will address this but exactly how is not certain. The only indication is that they may replace the current cinch strap system with some different design with more friction at the adjustment point or use an entirely different attachment method (e.g. what was shown at Outdoor Retailer– a velcro attachment; this type of single, large ‘marsupial pouch’ design was seen in prototype form on Vollet early in the season and may be the way Salomon is going with this product type).
Issue 2- Cinch strap trim
As shown in the following image, the cinch straps have a decorative black trim material sewn in. This trim material can begin to wear and the sewing comes undone which leads to detachment of the trim material. Although this has not presented any functional issue, it is not desirable as it can be a catch hazard when retrieving ‘stuff’ from the pockets, not to mention the obvious aesthetic discordance.
Issue 3 – Investment required to use the ‘system’
If one plans to use this system it requires investment in not only the belt but the Hydro Set and, substantially, in the soft flasks. Here is an image of the collection of soft flasks I needed for a 80 km (50 mile) race:
This set-up is designed to allow for quick transitions through aid stations. Starting with a 237 ml water/energy drink flask and a 148 ml fuel flask in the hands (using the Hydro Set), I then put two 237 ml water/energy drink flasks in the rear pockets of the belt with two 148 ml fuel flasks in the front pockets. This lasts for about 32 km (20 miles) where everything can be switched out (from crew or drop bag) for the next 32 or so km (20 miles) and finally for the last 16 km (10 miles) a reduced set with two 237 ml water/energy drink flasks and two 148 ml fuel flasks. I also swig a large fraction of the 500 ml flasks at the first two aid stations where I stop to switch out the flasks (one 500 ml flask at each drop aid). This allows for 2000-2500 calories of fuel and 2.75-3 l of water/energy drink. Water can also be refilled at intermediate aid stations along the way, depending on conditions. Although you could get by with fewer flasks, you will be spending more time in aid stations. At an average of $18.00 US each (you can find them for as little as $15.00 each) this system, for flasks alone, will cost $250-$300 US. Add in the $70 US for the belt and $40 for the Hydro Set gloves (minus $18.00 US because the Hydro Set comes with one 237 ml flask) it totals about $350-$400 US of investment…. something to consider when comparing to other alternatives.
The Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Belt system (in conjunction with the Hydro Set gloves) offers a very nicely designed, ultra-comforatble, high capacity, light weight hydration/fueling option for trail running and ultramarathon racing. The system, as currently configured, is in need of some minor improvements and requires a substantial investment to achieve a fully functional racing set-up.
With the slippage issue resolved, I would highly recommend this system- provided you are willing to invest in the soft flask hardware. In the meantime, for a self-supported medium to long training run this system works well with two 148 ml fuel flasks (both in the belt) and three 237 ml water flasks (two in hands and one in belt) and still has room for a bunch of other ‘stuff’ e.g. camera, windbreaker, gels, salt tabs, maps, etc.
Hopefully Salomon will tweak this otherwise good design to allow for full use without individual customization (e.g. sewing the cinch straps for fully loaded conditions).