Salomon showed a new hydration vest design language last July when Kilian Jornet wore a prototype at the 2014 Hardrock 100. It looked like a very “skin fit” vest with integrated pockets that Kilian had fully stuffed for the race. Many were very interested to see what Salomon would actually bring to market (if anything).
In August the S Lab Sense and S Lab Sense Ultra vests were introduced at numerous outdoor product industry Expos (like the OR show in Salt Lake here in the US). The pictures of the vests and the general minimalist design seemed be taking this type of equipment along the “Sense” thought path where pieces are stripped down to the essentials yet remain highly functional and of high performance. I vowed to give these vests a try once they were available.
In January 2015 I received both a S Lab Sense Set and a S Lab Sense Ultra Set and began using them straight away. After fussing with the sizing I finally settled in on XS/S for my 5’7″ frame at 125 lbs and about 7% body fat. I give all of this sizing info because the vest is a “skin fit” product and therefore “similarly” sized individuals may need to up-size or down-size, depending on specific body characteristics. In the past I have been a M/L in the previous Salomon vests but in the S Lab Sense Set line the M/L is way too large for me (other reviewers of the Sense Set vest have made the same observation). So Salomon have clearly changed the sizing of their vests for 2015, at least for the Sense line. I will note also that the previous generations of Salomon vests have been the only piece that I did not wear a S, so I think the sizing designations in the past have been not consistent with Salomon’s other products. Perhaps they have now “fixed” that issue… time will tell.
As mentioned above, the design of this vest includes a “skin fit” base and as such the vest sits almost as a part of your torso, rather than as many other such vests that feel like you are wearing them. This feeling of the vest being an extension of your body was very much the way the previous generations of Salomon vests have felt, however the Sense line takes this up another whole level. With the Sense Set vest the entire functionality of the vest is integrated, meaning that the pockets are no longer just appendages on a base structure but rather the pockets are an integral part of the structure. This design approach leads to some new ways that one must use the vest for best performance as will be discussed later.
The entire base structure is constructed of a Cocona 3D mesh fabric similar to the Cocona 2D mesh fabrics used in the Sense clothing line. The Cocona-based fabric is claimed to be highly breathable, quick drying, and comfortable against the skin. I agree on all counts. The vest comes with two 500 ml soft flasks and a safety whistle (which can be removed).
The front portion includes two pockets for the soft flasks (or other stuff if one is using handhelds), two upper pockets- one open with an elasticized edge, one zippered- and two lower pockets with elasticized edges to keep the contents secure. Two soft, slightly elasticized, sternum straps secure the vest in place and connect using plastic hooks on fabric rings allowing for individual adjustments. I find the fit to be very comfortable.
The back is entirely vented right down to the waist of the vest and there are two zippered side pockets made of stretch mesh that are intended for stowage of additional clothing (jackets, gloves, buffs, etc.), headlamps and other electronic hardware, and fuel (gels, bars, whatever). The side pockets are also sufficiently large to hold the 237 ml (8 oz) soft flasks. This allows for carrying up to a total of about 1.5 l of fluids. The side pocket zippers are conveniently placed and quite accessible even for an ageing, less flexible runner like me. No “Houdini” moves are required to open the zippers on this vest- something I cannot say for a lot of other vests.
The vest comes in two variants, the Sense and the Sense Ultra. The vest variants are identical except that the Sense Ultra adds two additional pockets in the rear- one along the lower portion of the back and one on the upper portion of the back. These additional pockets significantly increase the total carrying capacity from 1 liter (Sense) to 3 liters (Sense Ultra). These volumes are in addition to the 1 liter carrying capacity of the two included 500 ml soft flasks. The Sense vest weighs 90 (yes, 90) grams and the Sense Ultra vest weights 110 grams. Incredibly light!
All of the vest edges are soft and do not chafe. The design also allows for use of this vest without a shirt, jersey, or singlet. I found the vest to be comfortable shirtless although wearing it this way will require application of sunscreen throughout the torso as the Cocona mesh fabric provides little if any sun protection. I prefer wearing a shirt anyway, having a “fair” complexion and a higher than average affinity to sun-induced skin issues. Being in my 60th year, I am now seeing many friends and acquaintances in my age group suffering from various forms of skin cancer and I will suggest that you take prevention seriously if have not already. The “chickens will come home to roost” and it will not be pleasant when they do.
As I mentioned earlier Salomon have changed their sizing for the Sense vest so be aware that you are likely to need a smaller vest if you have used Salomon’s other vests in the past. This is a bit frustrating for those of us who expected uniformity but in the end I have found the XS/S size to be a very good fit.
The overall fit of the vest is excellent, very comfortable, and seamless. The positioning of the pockets and flasks does not interfere in any way with running, including steep downhills where many vests seem to begin to interfere with swinging arms, at least in my experience.
When the 500 ml soft flasks are fully loaded the sternum straps will be adjusted for a firm fit but as the flasks are emptied one must begin to cinch up the straps to ensure a proper fit. This is because the flask pockets are an integral part of the vest structure- they are not just appendages. So as the flasks deflate the vest needs to be tightened. This is easily done on the run with the two sternum straps and I have found the performance to be excellent- the flasks stay close to the body and as a result the movement amplitude (and the associated momentum) is minimized.
I have now been regularly using this vest for over 5 months and for about 600 of the 1500 running miles in this period I have been wearing the Sense vest and for about 200 miles I have been wearing the Sense Ultra vest. Both vests have performed at the highest level of comfort and utility, although, for my running, I find the extra pockets on the Sense Ultra vest to be more than I need, even for solo runs in excess of 30 miles (50 km).
For a typical 20 mile (30 km) mountain trail run I will use the Sense vest and load it with the two 500 ml soft flasks (and depending on the weather/temperature, two 237 ml soft flasks in the side zippered pockets), an S Lab Light jacket in one side zippered pocket and a long sleeved shirt, gloves and a warm hat in the other one along with two bars ( about 200 cals each), one in each side pocket. In the upper front pockets I have permanently placed a lip balm, a “travel size” Body Glide, and a Salomon buff . In the lower front pockets I will put gels (4 or more) and a PB&J sandwich. If the weather looks wet or cold up high I will wear the Salomon S Lab Hybrid Jacket around my waist. I have been on 35 mile solo runs with this set-up and run into some challenging weather and had all that I need- all from a 90 gram, ultra-lightweight vest- cool! The vest is consistently comfortable, independent of the degree of loading and there is essentially no movement of the contents when properly adjusted. Some reviewers have indicated that the sternum straps have vibrated loose- I think that this is the result of the deflating soft flasks, and as mentioned above one needs to tighten-up the straps as the fluids are dispensed. I have had no issue with the sternum straps loosening on their own.
I have found that the Sense vest is sufficient for all of my needs as a solo mountain trail runner up to about 35 miles (or 50 miles with a water source along the way). The extra rear pockets on the Sense Ultra vest, although adding substantially more cargo volume, do not seem to be needed, at least for me. I find extra pockets and cargo volume just encourages one to carry more stuff, often stuff that you really will rarely, if ever need. The Sense Ultra vest also does not breath as well as the Sense vest since the entire back mesh area is covered up by the thin 3D mesh fabric of the pockets. This could be an issue in hotter summer running and racing.
As far as racing, the Sense vest is clearly all that one will need as the aid stations will more than provide what re-stocking you might need. I will be racing in the Sense vest this season and will report back with my experience after a 100 km high mountain, big vertical race in couple of weeks.
Some users might have a period of adjustment to this vest because it essentially has no rigid structure. It becomes a part of your body and behaves as such. If you like physical structure in a vest this may not be the one for you, but I find this design to be a great option and a light one at that.
The Sense vest comes in three colors- white (shown above), black, and red. The Sense Ultra comes in two colors- white (shown above) and black. Curiously, the white Sense Ultra is not available in the US. This is unfortunate because the white colorway is so much more visible in typical mountain conditions (except for snowfields) and if you ever need to be found, the black vest will likely be a liability. The Sense vest in red is also a good choice for visibility.
The S Lab Sense vest is $120US and the S lab Sense Ultra vest is $130US. These are competitive prices since they include the two 500 ml soft flasks. But you are also buying a super-lightweight, body-fit vest that is very efficiently packed and exceptionally comfortable.
The Salomon S Lab Sense hydration vest is a super-lightweight, high quality, optimized volume, and exceptionally comfortable hydration vest option for mountain trail runners and racers. Highly recommended.