Salomon S Lab Exo Nordic Racing Suit Review

Background

I recently reviewed the Salomon Race jersey and Race tights which are new to the Salomon line for F/W 13/14. They perform well and represent a return to functional simplicity for Salomon Nordic race suits. Along with the Race jersey and Race tights, Salomon have extended their ‘Exo’ technology from trail/ultra running and introduced an ‘Exo’ Nordic racing suit. This suit, although relatively simple and functional, uses the ‘Exo’ technology for what I will term ‘marginal’ purpose. An explanation follows.

The Salomon ‘Exo’ technology as it is utilized on clothing involves the fused application of a less deformable, patterned polymeric material in a strategic manner to an otherwise very deformable fabric. This technology has been used on shorts and technical shirts aimed primarily at trail running and ultramarathon athletes. The technical basis of the utility of this ‘Exo’ approach is to limit the movement of (and possible tears within) large muscle groups such as quadriceps, hamstrings, and biceps/triceps as well as to support muscle groups to facilitate easier breathing. Early on Salomon produced a slow-motion, high resolution video showing how violently such large muscle groups are shaken during impact while running:

I have used the ‘Exo’ technology over the past few years and find the clothing (shorts, shirts, tights) to be comfortable, breathable, and surprisingly durable. Whether or not the technology has limited any sort of muscle fatigue, tearing, or aided in support to make breathing easier, I have no empirical evidence. I will note that when wearing the ‘Exo’ technology in shorts I do notice a lower level of quad/hamstring muscle soreness after long runs and/or races when compared to similar runs using non-‘Exo’ shorts. This is anecdotal and may include a large dose of ‘placebo’ effect. I have noticed no effect of the ‘Exo’ technology in the shirts.

Even if the technology does what Salomon says it does, running is a very different activity than Nordic skiing, particularly with respect to such impact issues. In fact Nordic skiing is very much a low impact activity. I therefore approach the use of the ‘Exo’ technology in a Nordic ski racing suit with a fair bit of skepticism.

Construction

The ‘Exo’ Nordic racing suit is constructed in a rather complicated fashion including many small panels to facilitate articulation and accommodate the ‘exo’ application. A few features are much simpler and improved, specifically the ‘fussy’ multiple cuff design that was extant on the past Salomon ‘equipe’ suits at the sleeves and legs. These cuffs have been removed and replaced with a simple hemmed edge. However, the use of the ‘Exo’ technology has imparted some issues with the use of these garments and, for me, has lead to an initial preference for the Salomon Race jersey and Race tights as a racing and high intensity training outfit.

“Exo’ Nordic Jersey

The jersey portion of this two piece suit fits true to size and is generally comfortable. The shoulder area of the jersey seems to ‘bunch-up’ and give a baggy look. I think the ‘exo’ elements in this area are why this is happening. The ‘exo’ patterning seems excessive as it covers nearly the entire back (applied mainly on the inside of the fabric) and continues around at the waist. The front has an ‘x’ pattern across the chest. It is interesting to note that for 2014 Salomon have removed all of the ‘exo’ patterning from the front of the S Lab Exo running jerseys, here in the Nordic racing suit this front pattern is minimal but still present. Also note that in the past the ‘exo’ patterning on the front of jerseys was claimed to help breathing; it is now claimed that the removal of the ‘exo’ patterning from the front of the jersey helps breathing. All of this is starting to make the ‘exo’ technology look like nothing other than ‘hype’ with no substance. I think it is time that Salomon come out with some data and testing to establish a concrete basis for the efficacy of this technology for both breathing and posture as is claimed.

Salomon Exo Jersey front

Front of the S Lab Exo Nordic racing suit jersey. The ‘x’ pattern on the front is different than in the 2014 S Lab Exo running jerseys where all ‘exo’ patterning has been removed from the front- supposedly now to enable better breathing- the opposite to what has been claimed in the past where the ‘exo’ was on the front to help with breathing. It all sounds like jibberish at this point.

Salomon EXO jersey back

Back of the Salomon S Lab Exo Nordic racing suit jersey. The enitre center ‘black area (between the yellow flat-loc seams) has ‘exo’ applied on the inside of the fabric flaring just as the black area does in the image. This central pattern is consistent with what is being utilized in the 2014 running jerseys. The ‘exo extending around the waist area is not seen on the 2014 running jesrseys

Exo Tights

The tights portion of the suit also fit true to size. I am used to the unique feeling that wearing an ‘exo’ garment gives to the thighs. This is something that one adjusts to (or not). It is a confining feeling at first but, in the case of running, the positive potential of reduced large muscle group damage is perhaps worth the initial period of acclimation. In this case, for Nordic ski racing, the use of the ‘exo’ technology seems to be a bit strained given the lack of impact in this sport. In addition, the fact that Nordic races are very short compared to ultramarathons further reduces the efficacy of the technology for this sport. Experience will inform so I will wait until I have used this suit a bit more before coming to a position on the utility of the ‘exo’ technology in Nordic skiing.

Salomon EXO tights front

Front of the Salomon S Lab Exo Nordic race tights. The patterning of the ‘exo’ elements are very similar to what is used in the S Lab Exo running short products. My experience with this technology on shorts in running is that it appears to help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after long runs or races (> about 5 hours). Such long ski sessions and races are uncommon whereas they are the basis of the sport of ultramarathon running.

Salomon EXO tights back

Back of Salomon Exo Nordic racing tights. ‘Exo’ pattern is similar to that found in the running short line. The ‘patch’ of ‘exo’ at the small of the back appears useless- on me it just bags out supporting nothing. Some of the use of this material appears to be superfluous.

One of the issues that I have had with Salomon Nordic racing suits in the past is that the tight portion would ‘skitch’ downward during a race or training session leading to a gap at the waist and a bit of discomfort due to the movement of the tight. This has particularly been a problem with ‘exo’ garments since the patterns develop a net force vector that, depending on the exact pattern and its interaction with your musculature, can serve to move the garment in a way that eliminates the net force. Often this is downward (on shorts or tights) or upward (on jesrseys) and in an ultimately uncomfortable position. It appears that Salomon have realized this and in the ‘Exo’ tights they have included a new feature to prevent this from happening. This feature is the application of a ‘sticky’ ‘star’ shaped polymer material on the inside of the tight on both sides of each knees and at the rear portion of the waist. This material holds to whatever first layer you are using and the tights do not ‘skitch’ at all- a great improvement. However, this same ‘sticky’ material makes putting the tights on a bit of an exercise since the material does not slide up the leg very easily (as expected). A little technique development is required but it is not difficult and the tights stay wherever you put them.

L1020734

‘Sticky’ ‘star’ shaped material applied to the inside of the material at both sides of each knee. This material does an excellent job of keeping the tights wherever you put them. ‘Skitching’ of ‘exo’ garments is a problem with the technology and this feature seems to have solved the problem. There is also a ‘W’ pattern of this material at the inside rear waistband.

Use

I have only been out in this outfit a couple of times but I can report that the suit is comfortable and very supportive. It is also very ‘flashy’ given the silver overlays and you ought to be prepared to be stared at (or ridiculed, as the case may be). Races are coming up and I will report back later in the season as to the utility of this outfit and make a one-on-one comparison with the much lower tech, lower ‘flash’ Salomon Race jersey and tights.

Price

$160 for the jersey and $160 for the tights. Expensive (about twice what the Salomon Race jersey and tight will set you back).

Bottom Line

Only time will tell if the ‘exo’ technology is of any utility in Nordic ski racing, at this price it better be. Stay tuned.

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