Thursday, May 04, 2017

Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5L and 8L Run Vest Review

by Jeff Valliere with Sam Winebaum

Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra 5L/8L Vests
Sizes XS-XL
Available now

Jeff: I have been running in the Salomon S Lab 1 Liter Sense Set for nearly 2 years and really love it for short to mid distance runs, where I might carry any combination of water, phone, food, wind shell, hat, gloves and maybe even my Microspikes.  It fits like a piece of clothing and it is an item that because of it's light weight and unobtrusive nature, I never hesitate to wear it.  My only minor complaints are that the soft flasks are somewhat difficult to put into the pockets and the chest straps come loose and need constant attention, but otherwise, has been truly amazing.  The next generation Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra vests address these complaints and provides several updates.

I was fortunate enough to test the 8L version, which I chose over the lower capacity versions because it hardly weighs any more and provides that little bit of extra carry capacity if needed with very little penalty (weight, bulk or expense).  My chest measures 38" and I went with size Medium, which fits me perfectly.

There are a total of 12 pockets on the 8L vest.  On the back/side you have 2 large kangaroo pockets, 2 zippered side pockets and 2 stash pockets that overlay the zippered side pockets.

Sam: I tested the 5L. The only difference between the 5L and 8L is that you do not have the 2 side kangaroo pockets to the rear over the zip pockets and the main top kangaroo pocket is pleated for a bit more capacity in the 8L. All other pockets and their capacity appear the same.
S-Lab Sense Ultra 5L-No rear side kangaroo pockets
Top: S-Lab Sense Set 1 L Bottom: Sense Ultra 5 L
On the front, you have one small zippered pocket on the right shoulder strap, a side opening small pocket on the left shoulder strap, a flask pocket on either side and then very large, deep, elasticized stash pockets on the bottom of each strap under the flasks.

Salomon has added bungees to hold the flasks in place.  I find this to be handy when the flasks are full and also as the flasks empty, the bungees help keep the mouthpiece from settling deep within the pocket.

The flasks have been redesigned to have a bit more structure to them, with a pointed plastic bottom for ease of insertion into the pocket.  This modification helps immensely, making it very easy to get the flasks in the pocket when in a hurry and on the move.
Sam: I totally agree with Jeff that the redesigned flasks and especially in combination with the redesigned flask pockets is a big improvement. The greatest weakness of the 1L was the struggle to insert the flasks into their pockets and their tendency to sag and collapse if partially full. Even with a phone in the front kangaroo pocket of the 5L one can slide them in and out. I tend to just bend over, lifting the vest a bit if need be and sip so the issue for me was getting the flasks in initially and if I needed to refill.
The bite valve is similar, but the flask has a wider opening.
The wide mouth is nice, as you can fit slim ice cubes, drink mix and easily clean them out with a brush.
Sam: The flask closure is a rapid 1/2 turn or so to close. I did find that one has to be somewhat careful to align the cap pressing it down before twisting it fully closed. The right "move" is easy to learn but If the cap is not set down correctly before twisting it may appear to be sealed when it is not.
BPA free of course.

Lined up side by side with my 2 year old 1L Sense set, you can see that the size of the pockets were reworked some.  I actually think that this was a mistake, as I very much prefer the larger zippered side pocket for easy access to larger items I may put there.  In the old version, I can (and do) frequently stash a set of Microspikes in one zippered side pocket and a hooded wind shell in the other.  With the new version, it is a real stretch to fit these same items.  Yes, this gives more room in the front lower stash pockets, but I personally found the older configuration to be more handy, at least for my usage and preferences.
Sam: The 5L zip pockets are about 1" further back from the front of the vest and measure about an 1" less in width and also lose about 1/2" in height. I assume their placement further back and slightly smaller size is to make the front kangaroo pockets far deeper than on the 1L. I gladly trade easy more spacious front drop in capacity for the zip pocket capacity. For, example now my iPhone 7S fits securely whereas in the older Sense 1L it protruded from the front kangaroo pockets. This said Salomon could consider reducing the size of the rear lower kangaroo to make the zipper pockets larger.

They changed the zippers as well to this metal tab.

I actually very much prefer the older zipper with the rubber tab, which I find to be helpful when grabbing with glove liners and especially at awkward angles.  Additionally, because of the now smaller zippered pockets, the pocket sits a little further back and is more difficult to reach.

I happened to have a few zipper pulls laying around the house (was even able to color coordinate) where the pulls makes it much easier to open the zipper while reaching back at an awkward angle and while wearing gloves.
Sam: I totally agree with Jeff on adding a pull to the zippers. I did so on the older Sense 1L and will do so on the Sense 5L. Really no reason such longer pulls should not be included up front.

On each of the outside zippered side pockets (8L only) there are additional stash pockets.  I do not really find them to be handy for two reasons.  1st, if I fill the zippered pockets, it leaves the outer stash pockets with very little room for any additional items.  2nd, with no tab for the pocket, the opening really lays flat and while on the move, it is really difficult to locate, open, then access (not to mention, is quite a stretch reaching back there).  If the zippered pocket is empty, then there is room in the outer pockets, but then I would just rather keep any items safely stowed in the zippered pocket.  Though I don't find these zippered pockets handy, some might and it really does not add much weight or bulk to the vest.

Inside the lower, rear kangaroo pocket.  Hard to see, but there is a mesh divider deep down in the pocket.  I find this divider to not be handy at all. Sam: There is no divider in the 5L.

The pleated construction allows for maximal stretch and stuffing.  I'll typically store bulky clothing items in the back kangaroo pockets and they stay put well (from bouncing) and I can even reach over my shoulder and grab a jacket, or stow it back there so long as it is the only item and I do not have to sort or be sure nothing else will fall out.  The main kangaroo compartments have no sort of closure, nor do the openings compress tight, so smaller items could potentially fall out, especially when slinging off the vest.  I would love to see a slim zipper or some better way to secure these pockets.

Another improvement to the newer vests are the chest straps.  Two simple bungees are employed and can be moved vertically as needed.  Vertical adjustment however takes a bit of work and is something that you would do once at home and never touch again.  The vertical placement of the straps worked for me out of the box and fortunately I never had to re-position them, but I would prefer to have an easy on the go adjustment.

The chest strap retention tab is simple and secure, but is a bit futzy and not easy to operate when moving fast on technical terrain.  The tab is small and particularly hard to grab/adjust when wearing glove liners and is slippery and tough to pinch if your hands are wet/sweaty.  What should be an easy adjustment, turns into a two handed operation, which causes me to slow down and concentrate when I have to adjust.  I would much rather just have a "normal" static chest strap that could easily be adjusted with one hand, with gloves, when wet, when running fast in technical terrain, even if it meant weighing a gram or two more.

The cord locks of the initial shipment of the Sense Ultra Vests were installed backwards.  The video below gives instructions on how check and fix if necessary.  Fixing to the intended position only helped marginally.
Sam: I find the sternum bungee system gives excellent comfort. The first 2 days I ran with Sense 5L I was not aware of the reversed cord lock and couldn't cinch down as snug as I would have liked. Quite frankly, even somewhat lose, the vest had minimal bounce. The cord locks once I reversed as per the video are to small and to pliable and a fussy pain to adjust. Just making them larger and a bit stiffer would really help.

The lower front stash pockets are massive, easily swallowing the largest phones, beanies, gloves, light wind shell, food, etc...

The S Lab vests now come with a whistle.  My whistle is not loud at all, so I just ditched it.

The smaller upper pocket on the left shoulder strap is essentially useless.  It loosely opens to the side and there is nothing you can put there that will not fall out.  I would much prefer to have a zippered pocket here for valuables, or gels, or anything else you do not want to lose.  Even a top opening like the previous version would be much better.

I figured since the pocket is essentially useless anyways, I would employ my sewing skills to attempt to make it a little better.  I sewed up the side opening, surgically cut the old threads off the top perimeter, heavily reinforced the corners and then double stitched the upper lip for durability.

And voila!  Now I can easily slide gels or other small items in/out without worry of losing them, or use as a trash pocket.

Below I have 4 gels securely stored here.  If you have a needle, thread, a little patience and a steady hand, this is a quick and easy fix.  Hopefully Salomon takes note and fixes this on future versions.

The right zippered shoulder pocket is great, as I can safely store a car key (an inner key clip would be nice), cash, credit cards, tablets or 2 or 3 gels.

The materials are thin, breathable, comfortable/conforming and dry quickly.

To add to the versatility, Salomon has added loops to the vest for add ons, such as a pouch for poles (quiver).

Overall Impressions/Recommendations:

Jeff: This is a great vest and I really enjoy using it for runs of just about any length.  It is light and minimal enough for just bringing along a few essentials, yet has enough capacity and versatility for longer runs where you need a fair bit of food, water and other essentials.  Whether racing or training, the S Lab Sense Ultra vests are a great choice and the price is competitively fair.
Fit is clothing like, you hardly know you are wearing it and now with a wider range of sizes, it is easier to dial in a more precise fit.  The 8L version, while handy to have the extra room, is really pushing the limits of how much can be reasonably carried in such an unstructured vest.  Light and fluffy items are no problem, but stuffing it with heavier items like water, Microspikes, lots of food, it feels like a bit too much even though there is enough room for it.  If regularly carrying more heavy gear/supplies, I would probably opt for a more structured vest.  
With a reasonable load however, I experience no bouncing, shifting or slipping and is very secure and comfortable.  Breathability is generally good, but on warmer days I do notice the added warmth (though to be fair, you would with any pack).  If ventilation is a major factor, then the 2L with open mesh back (in place of storage) may be something to consider.
 the Salomon Ultra Running Academy 2017 Moab
Sam: I was a big fan of the older Sense 1L for its decent carrying capacity, great fit, light weight and breathability.  I did not like its flask arrangement. Problem solved in the 5L. The additional capacity is welcome, particularly the ability to carry some clothing which the 1L did not offer. I barely could get a hat and gloves into the 1L front drop in pockets.  Now the front and rear kangaroo pockets offer plenty of easy access storage and the rear can hold some light extra layers.
The 5L and 8L definitely meet a design goal of carrying 1 L of water, electronics, nutrition, and some layers in a race situation or for a 2 to 3 hour run. The comfort, fit with load and breathability is outstanding. My only gripes are the front chest strap adjustment and the lack of a way to close the rear kangaroo pockets and also maybe a  related way to more closely hold heavier loads there to the back. 

Jeff's Score: 9.3/10
-.2 for useless small shoulder pocket with side opening
-.2 for futzy chest straps
-.2 for reducing the size of the side zip pockets, thus decreasing their utility
-.1 for main compartment security
Sam's Score 9.7/10
-.2 for chest strap cord lock system and lack of zipper pulls.
-.1 for rear kangaroo pockets security
Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

Read our in-depth reviews of the 2017 Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra, Pro Max, S-Lab Sonic 2, and Sonic shoes here
The Sense Ultra Vests were provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
Photo Credits: Jeff Valliere & Sam Winebaum

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!

Purchases through the links below help support Road Trail Run . Thanks!
Running Warehouse has a complete selection of Salomon S-Lab products including the Sense Ultra Vests .
Men's here
Women's here


stevespeirs said...

Great review! I have the 5L and really like it. The soft flask upgrades are excellent, but I agree on your comments regarding the sternum locking mechanism and top "open" pocket - for the sake of a few extra grams I'd prefer something a bit more substantial.

Initially I bought size Medium, but it was slightly too small and would bounce a fair bit with loaded flasks up front. Switching to a size Small did the trick. I'm selling the Medium on eBay if any of your readers are interested -

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks for reading Steve!

Nelson said...

I have the 8l vest and it's really a very comfortable and well designed vest (other than the chest pocket with the opening in one side instead of the top). But, am I the only one who finds the mesh lining the interior of the vest does some serious damage to my running t-shirts? The lower chest cord too.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hi Nelson, I have not experienced this at all, but my longest runs have only been in the 3.5-5 hour range. Even at 5 hours, I have not noticed anything that might suggest any sort of damaging chafing to a shirt, nor have I heard of this elsewhere.

Nelson said...

Hi Jeff, I've had it happen to two different shirts in the chest and over my stomach (after several long climbs, hands on knees). I've since tightened the chest straps to avoid bouncing and rubbing, and moved the lower strap a bit higher to avoid it rubbing when bent over. I'm hesitant to wear the vest with undamaged shirts, though. I think the mesh lining the vest is unnecessarily coarse, although it may have other benefits (durability or something).

What I find surprising is seeing how many people were this vest one size larger so they have better access to all the pockets, which means the fit of the vest is off and it will bounce significantly when running. And yet, as you said, no complaints about it chewing their shirts. See some of the videos by Jamil Coury, for instance, he definitely wears his vest at least one size too big (I think).

Paul said...

I recommend using the Speed Straw with the soft flasks (I have the 5L vest). You don't have to crane your neck when drinking out of the flasks.

Michael said...

Do you guys know if Salomon will be releasing updates to these vests in 2018?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Michael,
I believe updates to vests, if any and likely there will be, are usually in spring/summer but will find out.
Sam. Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all reviews here You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated.

Michael said...

Thanks Sam. I look forward to hearing anything you find out.

jay said...

If only al reviews were like this. Well done. Helped me make a decision to buy 5l version - enough said

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks Jay! Much appreciated! Almost a year after the review the 5L still is one of our favorites.
Sam, Editor

Sam Winebaum said...

Jay, Please consider purchasing via one of the links at the bottom of the article. Purchases help support RoadTrailRun. Thanks! Sam

Barry said...

Does anyone know if the 8l has zipped pockets in addition to the 5l vest? Its only 25 grams more just trying to decide if its worth to get the 8l..Thanks

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Barry, no additional zip pockets: “The only difference between the 5L and 8L is that you do not have the 2 side kangaroo pockets to the rear over the zip pockets and the main top kangaroo pocket is pleated for a bit more capacity in the 8L. All other pockets and their capacity appear the same.“

Unknown said...

Guys have you ever tried the Salomon advance skin? It’s heavier but still seems light and has a lot of support elsewhere. Interested in any experience you’ve had.