I had seen Kilian Jornet using the 5ltr version of this pack quite a while ago, how long I’m not too sure. It wasn’t till I met Tobias Mews last year during my first black band run on the South West coast path when I first really took any notice of it. He had on the 5ltr and was overflowing with positivity for it. ‘Normal style rucksacks just don’t compare’, ‘It’s very expensive, but worth every penny’ he was saying. I took it in and had a little look online for the price. Over £100! Wow, that is expensive! Being a little tight with my money, I needed more convincing. I didn’t really see anymore being used so it kind of slipped out of my mind. That is until iRunfar published a review on the newer 12ltr version which really pricked my ears up. It was more expensive again, but 12ltr was a size that would get a lot more use than the 5ltr with the style of running I tended to be doing which meant carrying more than 5ltrs of kit with me. I hunted around online but barely anyone had them. I’ve found that the S-Lab range of Salomon equipment is often very low in stock and often the retailers will not even know when new stock is coming in. I then saw that a shop had them in stock for £150. It was just over a week before my run in theTrans Gran Canaria. I made some quick calculations to check whether this would bankrupt me and before I knew what was going on I was receiving an email to confirm my order!
I received the bag at my work place and couldn’t resist immediately unwrapping it and donning it then bouncing around while stood up to test the stability of it much to the amusement of my colleagues. Obviously it had no weight in it, but it felt amazing. It felt more like I was wearing a compression top! There were only a few days till I flew out to Gran Canaria. I had pretty much decided already that this was going to be my race bag, but felt that I should at least give it a quick spin to confirm it’s comfort. I filled up the bladder and left for one of my well trod 1 hour runs around Bristol on road. It has a decentish climb and a bit of fast descent so should give me an idea of it’s stability. It felt great. I was excited about using it for the race. So let’s talk about how this bag has been put together.
Salomon really did re-think every tiny detail when designing this bag. Normally, a rucksack is a bag with shoulder straps and waist straps attached with the sternum strap attached to the shoulder straps. The Salomon pack is a stretchy mesh waistcoat that is attached at the front with elastic straps and only reaches down just below the ribcage. The main pocket, side pockets and front bottle pockets are all attached to the elastic waistcoat. The 1.5ltr bladder slides into a thermally insulated pocket which itself slips into a pocket on the pack. The tube is directed under arm with not a lot of slack, which keeps it out of the way preventing snags on gateposts etc. The bladder and insulating pocket are not fastened in their respective pockets but this makes no difference whatsoever except making access that little bit quicker.
The front bottle pockets are sturdy and well positioned with an elastic loop to go over the top of the bottle to secure it in place. I have been using 500ml bottles of Lucozade as they fit perfectly. I assume that most other 500ml drinks bottles will fit though not standard sized cycling bottles.
The main compartment is accesed on both sides by a zip that opens at the bottom. The inside includes a partition that is half way up. This is a great idea for keeping kit separated, wet from dry, emergency from everyday etc. What’s even better is that this partition is itself zipped allowing you to have either two separate compartments or one large compartment. This was handy for me recently during a big day on the South Downs Way when I needed to carry maps so needed the full length of the compartment. On the outside of the main compartment is a thin stretchy mesh pocket with a vertical zip. Very handy for quick access!
Then we have the side sections. You have on each side a zipped pocket that is constructed using the same stretchy mesh material as the back pocket. They are plenty big enough to carry plenty of energy, my phone and gloves hat etc. They provide more room than all of my other bags side pockets easily (Inov8 Pro 12, OMM classic 25l and camelback Octane). This is without taking into consideration the extra space that is provided by the fact that the pockets are not fully attached to the waistcoat section. That is, they are open on the top side which provides a fantastic, large space which is perfect for stuffing your waterproof, gloves, hat or empty food wrappers. In fact this is a real strong point of the bag. They are also pretty accessible which is great, having so much space to hand without taking the bag off. There are also a few other small pockets cleverly located around the bag. There is one behind each of the front bottle holders, one above the right hand bottle holder, One slightly larger zipped one on the very top which is ideal for valuables etc. Then there is a small one just below this one between the main compartment and the waistcoat that is held together with a small magnet that holds the included thermal blanket that is necessary equipment for most races that venture into the hills and is also great to have for any big days out of course. Talking of safety kit, there is also a very small but effective safety whistle that is attached to a strap and sits comfortably in a small elastic pocket on the side of the left bottle carrier. I used this pocket also for my dibber for my recentTrailblaze and it was perfect. There is also a small zip up pocket that isn’t attached and has Velcro on the back so that it can be attached above the left bottle holder.
The bag its self is far from being the lightest out there at 570g (not that that’s heavy) but that’s not what Salomon where trying to do here. They were clearly prioritizing function over stripped down weight. I must admit that I’m a bit mad about lightweight kit and initially this was a slight sticking point before buying, but after using it for a few big days I’d say the extra weight is definitely worth having for the superb comfort and usability.
The bladder I have read in reviews is really tough which is great news for me. I have gone through around four Inov8 bladders, so to have one that is hopefully trustworthier is much safer when you’re in the wilds. Also having the front bottle holders is a good back up if the bladder did leak. The bladder I noticed has a bit of give in it. That is, it is slightly stretchy which could help towards its robustness. I will endeavour to update this in a few months once I have put a lot more miles in it to confirm or not that this is indeed a robust bladder.
There is also an elastic strapping pole carrying system incorporated in the bag. I don’t use poles and can’t see that I will so don’t have an opinion on this. In fact I will be cutting mine off. I would guess that it works fine though knowing Salomon, but if this would be an important feature for you then I should find out elsewhere of its effectiveness.
So, as I have already mentioned, I first ran with this bag for one hour before flying out to Gran Canaria. I filled up the bladder and ran at a decent pace. I really was impressed with the stability of the bag. I had no doubt in my mind that this was going to be used for the race a few days later that I was planning to drop under 24hrs for.
When I was on the start line there were many other SalomonAdvanced Skin S-LAB 12 Sets on show. Also, Mark Collinson who I ran with for a while had just got one and was equally excited about testing it out. In fact, Mark was in the process of moving house and his wife Fiona, had said that Mark was more excited about his bag when it arrived than the imminent house move! I think I understand. As long as you keep the top straps taught against the current load and the elastic chest straps tight then this bag hardly moves even when loaded up.
I generally get chafing around my waist and at the base of my back, but this pack doesn’t even touch you in these areas. Due to it being pretty much just around the ribcage, your bag gets no chaffage. Also, a real irritant for me is my top riding up, forcing me to constantly pull it down. Again, this is almost completely eradicated due to the pack being so solid on your back. The front water bottle holders are fantastic. To be fair this is the first time I’ve had any, but they are great. They feel well balanced even if one is full and the other is empty. I love being able to just fill up with 1ltr of fluid really quick without taking your bag off. Super speedy! The side pockets are just great for racing as they again enable you to store and remove items without stopping to remove the pack, cutting down on faff time. Always a bonus.
The main compartment isn’t the easiest to open but is in no way difficult. I love the fact that there are numerous small easily accessible pockets as they are ideal for storing food wrappers preventing littering the trails.
So, do I think that this pack was worth the hunting around and the super high £150 (I know this could be lowered with more searching) price tag, or is it just overly priced using clever branding and sticking one on Kilians back? Well I have to say, and it should come as no surprise after what I’ve just written, but it has to be a resounding yes. There are lighter packs for the weight weenies amongst us, and it is built with very lightweight materials which leads me to think that it won’t be the most durable of bags (yet to be proven), but the stability, clever locations and amounts of pockets, superb comfort, excellent bladder, great front bottle pockets and the excellent easy access side pockets all adds up to one of the finest, most well executed pieces of running kit I’ve been fortunate to own. Yes it’s expensive, but I wouldn’t think twice about getting another one once this one has worn out. I am also considering getting the smaller 5ltr version for smaller days and races when I don’t need so much space. So, if you like doing long days and ultra races then I can wholeheartedly recommend this superb bag. Well done Salomon.