TRM Assoc. Editor, Tegyn Angel reviews Salomon’s Advanced Skin3 12-set.
It was around 2013/14, Ultra168 had just reviewed the Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set Hydration Pack, still possibly the longest product name in trail running history. I’d pre-ordered the first Suunto Ambit, and now this piece of incredible goodness was about to do away with my CamelBak M.U.L.E. for good.
A pack shaped like a vest! Of course, body hugging, bounce-free, gear-carrying glory, and just in time for The North Face 100 (now Ultra-Trail Australia). Unfortunately, Foot Point, the only mob in Australia that seemed to be selling them at the time, were out of stock (or they were on pre-order, my memory fails me) and so I had to go offshore. I went by Salomon’s then-shit-still-shit sizing chart and ordered an M-L and, despite having to jerry-rig the thing to fit, I was VERY impressed. I’ve still got this original bad boy and, even though the waist zips went a long time ago, still wear it occasionally.
It’s incredible to think that, in just five short years, the hydration pack market has been so thoroughly revolutionised. While I’m sure this wasn’t the first vest-style pack (I know for a fact the 5 litre model pre-dated it, never mind other brands like Nathan and Ultimate Direction), it was the first to gain a substantial foothold the AU/NZ markets.
The overtly-public support for this pack by athletes like Kilian and Ryan Sandes (and their use of them at local events like TNF/UTA), not to mention the fact that they were a shit-tin better suited to running than traditional hydration packs, saw them completely shift the expectations of trail runners everywhere. Today we wouldn’t think of wearing anything else.
Fast-forward five years and we continue to see regular improvements in hydration vests/packs, although those improvements tend to be more refinement than revolution.
The Advanced Skin3 12-set (AS3-12) is Salomon’s latest version of their 12-litre pack/vest. Look closely, and you’ll note that it’s become such a mainstay of their product stable that it’s lost the experimental S-LAB moniker. That’s a win for us!
S-LAB, for those not in the know, is Salomon’s R&D house. The boffins in this secretive boffin cave just outside of Annecy work with athletes like Kilian and Forsberg to develop new, cutting edge products that occasionally see limited release to the public. If they work, they’re incorporated into the main product lines and see larger-scale production. If they don’t, they aren’t.
Salomon hydration vests are pretty distinct from those of other brands. While the solid colour ways make them pretty obvious (Navy, Red, Lime, Purple, Black), it’s the materials that separate them from the competition. They fully embrace the rigid-is-bad philosophy, and almost every thread in their packs is stretchy to some extent. To be frank, I find it pretty surprising that they aren’t imitated more often. Other brands go for the tough, rugged approach and, while that certainly has its place in the market, Salomon packs are all about racing.
In this 2017 model, Salomon has stripped out unnecessary, chafe-causing bindings, lightened every element they could and achieved a featherlight base weight (without bladder and bottles) of 270g, pretty impressive for a 12litre pack. In spite of stripping the guts out of it, the AS3-12 is surprisingly more comfortable and stable than ever; it feels more like wearing a shirt than carrying a hydration pack.
If you’ve worn more than one 12litre pack (or any pack of an advertised volume), especially from different manufacturers, you’ll probably have noted that not all 12litre packs are made equal. On the one hand, you have manufacturers that claim 12-litres and yet force you to shrink-wrap all your kit to make it fit, while on the other you have brands that seem to offer so much room you can get lazy with your packing.
The AS3-12 falls squarely into the latter category, offering bucket loads of stretchy, expandable, thoroughly useable space. I was particularly impressed with the new front “dump” pockets that wrap around the front of the soft flask pockets. These offer a huge amount of usable space and are ideal for larger phones, gloves, snacks and even a second pair of soft flasks in a pinch. I did find that the rim of these dump pockets tended to catch the flasks as you were putting them in but I’ll put that down to user error. The usual array of rear kangaroo pocket, zippered rear compartment and zippered waist pockets and collar pockets are all there; don’t fix what ain’t broken.
As with previous versions, the AS3-12 comes with a safety blanket (in its own silly pocket), whistle, two 500m soft flasks and an insulated, 1.5litre bladder sleeve (but NOT the bladder itself). The Salomon-branded Hydrapak flasks are the newer versions that feature a semi-rigid shoulder (which should eliminate the split points), but not the wide-mouthed flasks you’ll find on the S-LAB Sense Ultra 8 set.
The re-designed chest clasps are an absolute breeze to get off (I have had to pull the original version over my head when my frozen fingers wouldn’t work the rigid fasteners), but they can be a complete PITA to get back on if you’re moving. Sorry, Salomon, your hook things are better, but they still need work.
The AS3-12 isn’t perfect: the lightweight materials are not as durable as those used by other brands; the chest clasps still struggle; the front dump pockets should be slightly higher up the flask pockets; the zippered waist pockets should be 25% bigger; the collar pockets should both be zippered. But those things aside this is, in my opinion, the best 12litre running vest on the market today by a substantial margin.
Check the specs HERE
Find a Salomon dealer HERE