Salomon S Lab Advanced Skin “M” Belt Review – a better belt

Salomon have introduced a new hydration belt product for the 2014 running season to compliment an existing belt that was offered in 2013. Last year the S Lab Advanced Skin S Belt was a popular choice for many trail runners and performed well but with a few issues. I reviewed the product initially here and did a final review here after a season of use. The “S” belt issues were primarily centered upon the belt cinches slipping when fully loaded and some construction issues with the cinch tabs.

The new offering is called the “M” belt and it is significantly improved over the “S” belt in numerous areas. I will go through these improvements below based on having over 1000 km (600 miles) of use of the belt on trails here in the Northern Rockies.

Overview

The “M” belts departs from the “S” belt in that it has a larger volume and therefore and can carry much more. Presented below is a comparison image of the two belts:

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The 2013 Salomon S Lab “S” belt (upper) and 2014 “M” belt (lower) showing the significantly larger volume of the “M” belt.

Clearly both segments of the “M” belt are larger but they are also designed better with respect to typical use for running. For instance the “front” segment* (left) of the “M” belt has one large continuous pocket rather than two individual pockets as on the “S” belt. This provides more flexibility to what one may put in this pocket. Similar design refinements are extant throughout the “M” belt.

The linking hardware on the “M” belt is the same as is found on the “S” belt and therefore the segments from both belts can be used with one another allowing for additional customization for those who own both belts. The “M” belt has a different material for the cinching tabs. This material is more substantial than in the “S” belt and has, so far exhibited much less slipping. The slipping was a major issue with the 2013 “S” belt and based on my use so far has been resolved in the “M” belt as I have not experienced any significant slippage after over 1000 km of use including “fully loaded” configurations.

“M” Belt Features

The “M” belt design is a derivative of the “S” belt in all respects including the “3D mesh” material that interfaces with the body. This material is highly formable and very comfortable, even on hot days. Shown here are the “body sides” of the two “M” belt segments.

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The primary differences between the “S” belt and the “M” belt are with respect to the design and placement of the pockets. Presented below is an image of the “front” segment of the “M” belt showing the various pockets.

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As can be seen above the “M” belt provides two pockets for soft flasks (with retaining cords) that is interconnected as one big pocket. This gives flexibility for what size flask one might want to carry and allows for other, bigger “stuff” to be accommodated in this pocket. Layered on top of this pocket are two individual pockets, one zippered (retained from the “S” belt design) and the other is open. The zippered pocket is useful for securing things such as cameras, keys, etc. that one does not want to fall out under any circumstance (e.g. during a fall). All pockets are constructed of the fine stretch mesh material that expands and allows for significant “stuffing” of all manner of items. Two elastic bands are provided and can be used for securing a jacket or vest, gloves, and even a crushable hat.

The “rear” segment of the “M” belt is entirely redesigned relative to the “S” belt. Presented below is an image of the “rear” segment showing the new design and features.

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The most significant change is that both of the rear pockets are now configured as single large pockets rather than two, smaller individual pockets. One of the pockets is zippered and the other is open. The zippered pocket also has a two-way zipper mechanism which is quite ergonomic when trying to get into the pocket on the trail.

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Also provided are two elastic bands for additional carrying capacity. I have stashed a light down sleeping bag using these bands to facilitate an overnight excursion- I am certain that there will be other many uses.

Basic Usage

Although I have found that the “M” belt can be used for very long (even overnight) excursions, the typical use will be for the 2-5 hour trail run. I will go through the typical set-up that I use for such runs; individual use will obviously vary, so this is just an example demonstrating the utility of the belt.

Presented below is an image of my set-up for a typical (2-5 hour) training run.

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In this set-up I have 3 237 ml/8 oz soft flasks (I use about 1 flask per hour) one accommodated by a hydro “glove”, 4 gel pacs, a sliced apple and/or PB&J in a baggie (in front pocket), placebo (salt tabs), and an S Lab Light jacket. In the case of longer runs (4-5 hours) I will take a 500 ml/16 oz soft flask as well. This fits in the large zippered “back” pocket and I move the smaller soft flask to the front. Here is what it looks like all zipped up and ready to go:

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A very neat package. The rear zippered pocket can also hold two of the 237ml/8oz soft flasks (or, as mentioned above, a single 500 ml/16 oz soft flask) and the S Lab Light jacket:

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The stretch mesh fabric allows this load to be zipped up very neatly.

In addition to what is shown above, there is a large stretch mesh pocket across the “rear” segment that can accommodate the S Lab Light jacket, a long sleeve shirt, a vest, and a UV water purifier. Meanwhile a light raincoat, such as the Fast Wing Hoodie, can fit simultaneously into the zippered pocket. This will allow for a an extended excursion well into the back country, as I can attest to.

Suspension and Fit

The primary drawback to the 2013 “S” belt was that, once loaded to any significant degree, the belt would continually and progressively slip down ones waist and eventually require “tightening”. Depending on the weight of the load and the ruggedness of the trail being traversed this “tightening” could be as often as every couple of minutes. I stopped using the “S” belt for anything but the lightest of loads. The “M” belt is substantially improved with respect to this issue. In over 1000 km of trail running with various weight loads, I have only tightened the belt twice and in both cases I was traversing across rugged sage steppe with no trail and a lot of missteps and off balance moves. On smooth trail I have yet to need to tighten the belt.

How was this accomplished? As mentioned earlier, Salomon have changed the fabric for the cinch tabs to a more textured version which apparently increases the friction grip in the attachment d-ring/hook element. Also, the cinch tabs are now two segments that can be individually adjusted to allow for even more flexibility with respect to fit around the waist. This facilitates even load distribution and will therefore minimize the chance that one cinch loop is more loaded than the other. Finally, the belt, being larger than the “S” belt, fits higher up on the waist and this puts the load more onto the top of the hips rather than “around” the hips as was the case for the “S” belt. This position is inherently more stable. These three improvements have lead to a very stable and comfortable fit. In addition there is very little bounce with the belt, even when fully loaded. This is also much improved over the 2013 “S” belt.

Thee were concerns expressed about the 2013 “S” belt with respect to fit for small waist sizes. Those with small waist lines, (less than about 27″ (68.6 cm)) found that they could not fully tighten the belt because one would run out of cinch space. As a result the belt was always loose for these users. I found this to be true for the “S” belt as I have 27″ waist and had to tighten the belt as far as I could to get a proper fit. The “M” belt design has fixed this as I still have a 27″ waist and there is about an inch more of tightening on either side (see images below). So it looks like the belt can accommodate users down to about a 25″ (63.5 cm) waist and still have a proper fit.

Here are some perspective views of the belt as it appears when worn. As can be seen, it sits higher on the waist than the 2013 “S” belt does. The fit and suspension give a very comfortable and “almost not there” feel. As shown the belt is quite loaded- two 237 ml/8 oz soft flasks (one front, one in rear zippered pocket), 4 gel pacs, a 148 ml/5 oz soft flask for fuel (in front pocket), a long sleeve shirt in outer back pocket, S Lab Light jacket in outer back pocket, placebo (salt tabs) in outer back pocket), a UV water purification pen (in zippered rear pocket) and a Fast Wing Hoodie rain jacket (in zippered rear pocket).

Front:

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Back:

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Side:

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Here is an image of what is in the belt for the perspective images:

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Items stowed in the “M” belt for the perspective images above. Note: UV water sterilization pen and placebo (salt tabs) not shown.

… and there is room for more. It is quite remarkable how much “stuff” one can get into this belt and still retain a high level of comfort and very little bounce. Access to the pockets is also good and the belt can be easily spun around whilst clasped to facilitate egress into the rear pockets. Overall the “M” belt is not only a great improvement to the 2013 “S” belt but is much superior on numerous fronts- basically, it is just a better belt than the “S” and competes well with anything currently available.

Price

$80. Given the improvements and the large load volume, the “M” belt is well worth the price.

Bottom Line

A versatile, comfortable, flexible trail running pack for anything from 2-5 hours- or even overnights if you are willing to go “minimal”. Highly recommended.

 

* as has been the case from the outset, there is no front or back to these belts, they are functional in both orientations as well as being able to be worn sideways as well.

 

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10 thoughts on “Salomon S Lab Advanced Skin “M” Belt Review – a better belt

    • Gene,
      Absolutely… that is what this belt is made for. There should be no issue holding all that you need for a 50km trail race. I’ve used this belt in trail races as long as 100km.

      Good luck in your race!

    • Hi Steven,

      Thanks for the compliment!

      I choose based on the estimated time of the race or run. Anything less than 5-6 hours and I tend to go with the belt. For longer efforts I like the distribution of weight on the torso (particularly with the Sense vest) as the concentration of the weight at the waist with the belt can be a bit tiresome after about 7-8 hours. But everyone is different so it is best to try out belt vs. vest individually.

    • Hi Antonio,

      When I did this review 2 years ago this belt was called the “Salomon S Lab Advanced Skin M Belt”, it is now called the “Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 3 Belt Set”.

      Both products are one size fits all so there is no sizing. The “M” referred to the belt design not the size.

      Hope this helps.

  1. Hi Robert,

    Sorry to drag up an old post, but I’m wondering how this belt has held up over the years. Does repeatedly cramming the pack full of gear cause the mesh to stretch and sag?

    Likewise, are the outer elastic straps pretty resilient? I’m interested in buying one of these to use primarily for holding trekking poles, but I’m afraid they’ll stretch out the back gear loops pretty quickly.

    • Hi Eric,

      I have moved away from the belt pack due to the superior design and fit of the S Lab Sense vests, at least for me. I did however put a lot of miles in with the “M” belt and my wife continues to prefer the belt for her mountain adventures. Also, I have not carried poles with the belt but, as you know, it is designed to accommodate them, so I would expect good performance- but only use will determine the durability of the pole attachment system. Hope this helps.

  2. Great review! I’ll be using this, as opposed a vest, for my R2R2R Grand Canyon run late November since it’s cooler and heat is not an issue. It will be perfect for its combination of light weight and storage capacity.

    One question I do have; how do you go with accessing the pockets of your Salomon S-lab shorts?
    Thanks very much!
    Matt

    • Hi Matt,

      Yes, depending on your fitness level, speed, and experience the M belt might work well for the GCDC. Krar took 12 gels, two handhelds, and wore no shirt in his record run in May 2013- that’s about as minimal as I have ever heard of. However, in November even though it will be cooler/cold at the rim it could very well be warm at the river. Stay on top of the weather reports as they can be quite variable that time of year in the Canyon. We have run into all too many runners and hikers in the Canyon that are woefully prepared and suffering- including during a kayak trip in September a couple of years ago finding a group of 3 runners in the late afternoon who were minimally clad and totally disoriented, demoralized, frozen, and pleading for help so they can “see their children again.” We told them to stay put, “hunker down”, and make an “X” on the beach they were stranded at, and then we paddled down river and let a Ranger know about the situation. It was too late in the day so they sent a helicopter the next morning to evacuate. I am sure they froze that night… this sort of thing happens regularly… unfortunately.

      As far as accessing the pockets on the S Lab Sense shorts- you can use them but, as you would expect, they are not straightforward to get to- you need to lift up the belt and reach in. They do work for storage but if I need that additional storage I would go with a vest. Of course, I have transitioned to the Sense vest entirely for long runs so I may not be the best source for info on using the belt at it’s limits of capacity. Hope this helps and have great run in the Canyon!

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