Today runners have more choices than ever when it comes to choosing running packs for long, self-supported runs. In the previous article in this series, I reviewed several Ultimate Direction running packs. Here, I continue my review with a focus on Salomon running packs. I’ve put these packs through some serious testing, from run commutes to long trail runs. Here’s my take on some of the pros and cons of the different packs.
Salomon Skin Pro
The names of some of the Salomon packs are a mouthful, but they do indicate the volume capacity of the packs. The Salomon Skin Pro 14+3 is their 14-liter pack that expands to a 17-liter pack with the pull of a zipper. Likewise, the Skin Pro 10+3 is a 10-liter pack that expands to a 13-liter pack. Salomon also offers the Skin Pro 3 as a similarly designed 3-liter pack without the expandable compartment.
I bought the Skin Pro 14+3 Set this past spring and have put it through hundreds of miles of run commutes and trail running in the Alps. Unfortunately, Salomon no longer seems to offer the 17-liter version of this pack, only the 13-liter and 3-liter (I provide the specs on the 13-liter and 3-liter packs below). That’s too bad because this is the best high volume running pack I have seen so far, doing a much better job carrying loads and volumes that even a half-full Fastpack 20 couldn’t comfortably carry, as I detailed in my previous article.
Obviously, the less weight you have to carry while running the better. With the Skin Pro, I have carried weights up to 10 pounds without any substantial bounce. The beauty of this pack is that you can adjust it to conform to your body and eliminate bounce while running, even with heavier loads. And with loads of less than 10 pounds where I expanded the pack to its maximum volume to carry lighter weight clothes, I was able to adjust the straps to minimize most bounce.
I was first skeptical of the elastic chest straps. In theory, elastic straps allow for expansion and contraction while you breathe in and out. But I worried it would also make it harder to secure the pack to the body. In the end, I have come to love these elastic straps. The front chest straps have six points of connection (three per strap), which provides additional stability. As noted above, I have been able to carry up to 10 pounds and/or 17 liters while running with minimal bounce.
The front water bottle pouches are expandable with a drawstring cord to cinch shut. As I noted with my review of the AK Race Vest 2.0, I generally use these pouches to carry things like a cell phone, camera, and food. When carrying water with the Skin Pro 14+3 Set, I either use a 1.5-liter reservoir in the back or two 20-ounce water bottles in the stretchy pockets on the sides of the pack. Either option works equally well.
When slipping a water bladder in the back, the tubing routes through the bottom of the pack and up the side, which eliminates the common over-the-shoulder routing. Although it works well, I’m not convinced there’s a clear advantage to this system. One drawback is that it does take some extra time to plug the tube back in when stopping to refill the bladder during a run. During a race situation—even a long ultra—this may not be ideal.
At first, I admit I was a little mystified at the complexity of this pack. Straps seem to weave in and out of various places, covered by pieces of material here and there. I’m generally a minimalist when it comes to gear and I wondered whether there wasn’t a simpler way Salomon could have designed this pack. But once you adjust the one-size-fits-all design to your body, the day-to-day adjustments are straightforward. As I learned the ins-and-outs of the pack, I gradually fell more in love with it the more I used it.
- Fully adjustable to different sizes
- Large and variable storage capacity (for 10+3)
- Side pockets accessible while running
- Multiple options for carrying water/food
- Lacks additional small pockets above/below front water bottles
Skin Pro 10+3 Set:
- Volume capacity: 793 cubic inches / 10-13 liters
- Weight: 14.81 ounces / 420 grams
- Price: $150
- Salomon website
- Buy on Amazon
Skin Pro 3 Set:
- Volume capacity: 183 cubic inches / 3 liters
- Weight: 9.17 ounces / 260 grams
- Price: $135
- Salomon website
- Buy on Amazon
Bottom line: The Skin Pro 10+3 is an excellent higher volume running pack that can be used for serious trail runs or run commutes that require carrying gear beyond just water and food. The quality, adjustability, and carrying capacity make this my go-to pack for long mountain runs where I need to be prepared for changing weather at different elevations. For a lower volume version of this sturdy pack, try the Skin Pro 3 Set.
Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3
Whereas the Salomon Skin Pro (whether the 14+3 Set, 10+3 Set or 3 Set) as well as the related Agile models are built for more technical running adventures that require sturdier carrying capacity, the Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 packs are built for racing and training where needs are more minimal. The Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin3 comes in two versions: the 5 Set is a 5-liter pack and the 12 Set is a 12-liter pack. I’ve been testing the 12-liter version for this review.
In a head-to-head comparison with my Skin Pro 14+3, I have to give the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set lower marks across the board with the obvious exception of weight. Compared to the similar capacity Skin Pro 10+3 (a 13-liter pack), the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set (a 12-liter pack) weighs just 220 grams (9.52 ounces) vs. 420 grams (14.81 ounces). But I’ve experienced more bounce and more frustration in trying to reach items while running with the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 than I have with the Skin Pro.
For my head-to-head comparison between the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 and Skin Pro models, I’ve done full day alpine runs with the same items loaded in each pack. I used a 1.5-liter bladder for water, carried nutrition, extra clothes (hat, gloves, long sleeve shirt, jacket), small camera, cell phone, Sawyer water filter, and my Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z trekking poles. Despite using the Skin Pro 14+3 (instead of a Skin Pro 10+3) in the testing, the volume I carried was well under 12 liters providing a good basis for assessing the main differences between the similar capacity Skin Pro 10+3 Set and the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set.
All the pockets of the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 are made of stretchy material. The front water bottle pockets do a great job holding 20-ounce hard plastic water bottles, but they are clearly designed to hold Salomon 500-mililiter soft flasks. This means they are deeper (longer) than usual. I like that there are two smaller pockets above the water bottle holders, but given the extra length of the water bottle pouches there is considerable overlap—and therefore conflict—with the top pockets. This makes it difficult to make full use of both the water bottle pouches and top pockets at the same time, a frustrating and annoying design flaw.
The two smaller side pockets with zippers on the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 is something the Skin Pro lacks. This can be nice for storing items that you don’t want to lose, such as a cell phone, ID or keys. The zippers mean you can place items in the pockets, zip them, and ignore them for the rest of the run without worrying about losing them. I typically like to place such items in top front pockets, but as noted above the design of the front pockets of the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 makes them difficult to use for such items.
Salomon calls the back pocket on the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 a “kangaroo pocket.” It’s a single pocket that stretches across the bottom of the pack and can be accessed from either side. It’s akin to a single large pocket on the back of a cycling jersey. The stretchy material expands to carry the items you stuff back there; and it does feel like the Lycra of a cycling jersey pocket.
You may develop a love/hate relationship with this pocket. I love the idea, but found the pocket difficult to access. Whereas I have no problem accessing the rear side pockets on the Skin Pro, the placement of this kangaroo pocket squarely on the back of the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 puts it beyond my flexibility range. It’s not impossible to access, but requires some yoga-like maneuvers that I’d rather not have to make on the fly. And when reaching around to grab something from one end, I’m never fully sure if I’ve pushed something else out the other end. I generally need to wrench two arms behind my back to get something out whereas with the Skin Pro I can easily access something from one of the rear side pockets with one arm.
Although I love the stretchy material of the kangaroo pocket and it generally holds things well, it creates a strange experience in that it sags farther down the back the more items you place in the pocket. The expandability means you can stuff more things in the kangaroo pocket than you’d probably want to carry back there. Although you can carry a couple of full water bottles in addition to food, the pocket works best when you limit the weight of the items you place in it—such as a jacket along with food (rather than full water bottles).
With that said, the sagging feeling of the back kangaroo pocket did go away when I drained the 1.5-liter hydration bladder from the main compartment in the back. I think a full hydration reservoir plus a fairly full kangaroo pocket is too much. Although the pack does come with a back compartment for holding up to a 2-liter hydration bladder—and it includes easy routing for the Salomon plug-n-play hydration reservoirs—only two 500-mililiter soft flasks are included with the pack.
And the pack does seem to work best when using the front pockets for carrying water, leaving the back of the pack free to carry food and extra clothes. On runs where I’ve only carried water plus some nutrition, the pack performed nicely with the 500-mililiter soft flasks in the front pockets and nutrition in the back kangaroo pocket. It’s just unfortunate that optimal usage of the pack does not allow for greater options in where items can be placed.
If it isn’t clear by now, my biggest complaint about the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 has to do with the pockets. I prefer the more stable pockets of the Skin Pro, as well as its normal sized front water bottle pockets with drawstring cords to cinch them shut. I only wish the Skin Pro had a few more front pockets, including at least one with a zipper or Velcro to secure items like a cell phone, ID or keys. Yet in my head-to-head comparison with the S-Lab Advanced Skin3, I still found the Skin Pro to have more easily accessible and secure storage options. This includes options for stowing trekking poles when they’re not being used.
Although both the Skin Pro and S-Lab Advanced Skin3 feature Salomon’s 4-D pole holder, I like the extra elastic straps on the side of the Skin Pro that allow me to tuck away my Black Diamond Carbon Z poles when not in use. Since these poles are lighter and break down into three small sections (as opposed to the two sections of traditional trekking poles), I rarely use Salomon’s 4-D pole holder (which can be a bit of a mind boggler to learn to use). With the S-Lab Advanced Skin3, I can stow my poles in two narrow mesh pockets next to the water bottle pockets—and this works well for a quick stow while running—but the smaller loops on the side of the pack are not as conducive to more secure stowage on the back of the pack.
To be clear, the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 is a good, quality running pack even though it could be much better with some easy-to-make design changes. I would recommend the pack for racing or training runs that merely require carrying some water and a bit of food. To that end, the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 Set provides a worthy—and expensive—rival to Ultimate Direction’s AK Race Vest 2.0. But until Salomon improves some of the design features, I’ll stick with my AK Race Vest 2.0 for most of my “shorter” long runs with minimal equipment needs and use my Skin Pro for longer mountain runs or run commutes where I need greater carrying capacity. Ultimately, the price along with some of the annoying design features of the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 make it a difficult purchase to justify when compared to other pack options.
- Light weight for racing or training
- Small zippered pockets for securing small items
- Carries front water bottles effectively (especially longer bottles or soft flasks)
- Front water bottle pockets are primarily designed for soft flasks
- Front top pockets overlap and conflict with water bottle pockets
- Rear kangaroo pocket can be difficult to access while running
- Rear kangaroo pocket can sag and add to bounce when fully loaded
- Not as effective as Skin Pro when using a hydration reservoir in the back
- Soft loops for attaching chest straps not as effective as plastic loops
S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 Set details:
- Volume capacity: 305 cubic inches / 5 liters
- Weight: 9.52 ounces / 220 grams
- Price: $160
- Salomon website
- Buy on Amazon
S-Lab Advanced Skin3 12 Set details:
- Volume capacity: 732 cubic inches / 12 liters
- Weight: 11.64 ounces / 285 grams
- Price: $185
- Salomon website
- Buy on Amazon
Bottom line: If you need more than 5 liters of volume capacity in a Salomon pack, their line of technical packs (such as the Skin Pro 10+3) provide more stability and better designs for the job. In addition, if you’re looking for a lighter weight racing pack that works well with a hydration bladder, you might look into the Salomon Skin Pro 3 or the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0. But if you like carrying water bottles in the front—especially soft flasks—then the S-Lab Advanced Skin3 5 Set could be a viable choice.
Below is a comparison chart of the different packs examined in this and the previous review article. In the next and final article of this series, I will detail the water bottles and bladders that come with these packs in addition to reviewing easy-to-carry water filters for long trail runs.
Disclosure statement: The products tested for these reviews were purchased independently. The author does not receive any incentive from the companies to use their products.