Sunday, May 26, 2019

2019 Running Vest Reviews - From Minimal to Maximal: Naked Running Vest, Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set, Ultimate Direction FKT Vest

Article by Jeff Valliere with Sam Winebaum

LEFT TO RIGHT: Naked Running Vest, Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set, Ultimate Direction FKT Vest

For your upcoming summer running adventures, be it longer all day forays in the mountains, or shorter runs on hot days where carrying along water is a must, we have reviewed and rigorously tested 3 different packs of varying size/utility to cover all of your bases from the minimal yet high fluid capacity Naked Running Vest, to the solid fully featured all around Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set to the high capacity Ultimate Direction FKT.  We could easily make a case for owning all of them. We will cover the pros/cons, features and best use of each pack to help readers make an informed decision.

Tester Profiles
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.




Naked Running Vest
12 sizes
3.5 oz
3 liter capacity
Includes 2 x 350ml soft bottles
$124.99. Available at Naked Running here

Pros:
  • Extremely minimal yet with surprising capacity for fluids
  • Breathable
  • Precise fit with 12 sizes
  • Most secure carry of items
Cons:
  • Price
  • Limited pocket accessibility
  • Confining feel when deep breathing
  • Not easy to sling on/off to access items or add/subtract layers
Jeff: The Naked Running Vest builds upon the success of the Naked Running Band (RTR review), which has been one of my all time favorite pieces of running gear for it's utility, simplicity and versatility.  I use it on almost every run and recommend it every chance I get.  The Vest is similar in design, materials, build and precise sizing options, but allows for added carry capacity for a jacket, poles or a more secure and accessible way to carry a few soft flasks of water.
The vest comes with two 350 ml soft flasks that easily fit in the front pockets where you can sip on them as you run without having to pull them out, as the vest rides high enough to do this easily.
You also get an attached safety whistle.
There are two side pockets (towards the back)  for small items like gels, trash or to secure a car key with the built in clip.
Sizing is pretty easy.  I measured my chest at 38.5" and went with a size 6 (39"), which fits me snugly as intended without being overly restricting (when worn over a single tech tee).  When loaded with bottles, jacket, phone, food or whatever I stuff there, I first worried that it would snug the vest up too much, but the added gear just stretches on the pockets and not so much the actual structure/fit of the vest.
Sam: I agree the sizing was easy and once fully loaded the vest is not much more restrictive than when empty.
I was able to easily wear the vest over both a thin base layer and the Gore-Tex X7 Windstopper Shirt at a 25 trail race in UT as while its stretch is taut it does stretch. I also found the snug fit provided a touch of postural support. I had no issues breathing on climbs.

Jeff: Accessing the lower side pockets is a bit of a challenge for me, as I sometimes question my flexibility in this regard.  Accessing the rear pocket is also difficult, but have found that it works for one single item, ideally for me, just a wind/rain shell.  If I leave a little bit of it flapping out of the top, I can easily grab and pull it out, but if anything else were sharing that space, it would for sure pull out too and land on the ground.  There is no way I can reach back there well enough to sort through what I am grabbing.  Replacing the jacket on the fly is a bit more of a challenge, but if I pull the vest up high on my back momentarily, I can work it back in with little problem, then re-adjust the vest into a more normal position.

Sam: I concur with Jeff the side pockets are to far towards the back and the rear pocket is great for a shell but that's about it.  Or is it for that rear pocket?
I wondered what the two yellow very short shock cords were at the top of the chest pockets in the photo above. I thought they might be to secure the top of the flask.  I tried that with the left flask but it was unnecessary and actually made the flask harder to drink from and it popped off. I asked Naked about their purpose. Turns out it is intended to hold a hose coming from flasks placed in the rear pocket.
Naked also sells a Drink Tube Kit ($11.99) for its 350 and 500 ml bottles.This means that one could carry a total of 700ml upfront in two flasks, and 1000ml in the pocket plus whatever is needed for the longer warmer run in a Naked Running Band. While we did not test if the rear flask with tube hold performance is the same as the front, close to 2 liters could be potentially carried with the tube running over the shoulder to the front bungie helping secure the flask to the back better than if  just dropped in.

Conclusions/recommendations:  

Jeff: I like the Naked Running Vest and use it often for shorter runs where I just want to carry a wind shell, phone, bottle of water and maybe some food, anything for an hour or 3 depending on temperatures/conditions.  The intentionally tighter, more compression like fit is effective at preventing any bounce, which is awesome when running fast and quick technical downhills, but will say that there are a few drawbacks to be aware of.  When running really hard and deep breathing, particularly on long climbs, I am very aware of the vest with each deep breath.  I don't think that it is negatively affecting my performance, but mentally I am thinking about it.  With a "normal" vest, these are the times where I appreciate loosening the chest straps some to allow for deep breathing, but there is no way here, you are committed to this fit.

Additionally, with such a precise fit, it is difficult to really accommodate for layering.  If you are on a shorter run in a predictable climate, then this will not be an issue, but for mountain climates and changing weather, once you put the vest on, you are pretty much committed to it and the only option is to layer over it, which is what I do, just adding a jacket/shell as needed and unzipping as necessary to access front pockets.

Sam: The Naked Running Vest is the most minimal run carry, (other than its obvious companion Naked Running Band, as I have tested.  I prefer a snug fit in a race vest having liked the Nike Kiger Vest  (RTR Review) as well as more recently the UltrAspire Momentum (RTR Review) somewhat more than the more clothing like fit of the Salomon Sense. So I like the fit and materials here which blends a very thin airy mesh with a snug secure hold with less materials and stiffness to achieve that hold than the Nike or UltrAspire and more structure than the Salomon vests. 

In fact, if you want ,you can lose the shirt and wear it as is next to the skin in hot weather although with my physique not sure I am going there!  Close to 2 liters of fluid can potentially be carried (with the optional rear flasks and hoses) with a mix of water and sport drinks given up to four flasks.For shorter runs in changing weather less or no water outback with a shell stuff into the rear. For most of my uses a single or two flasks up front is all I need with the phone in one pocket.   Yes it is snug and a different fit and feel than most vests but once underway the Naked Running Vest and its load where never noticed, a good thing!
It was the perfect vest for a 25K winter trail run in Utah where there were only two aid stations and I needed to carry a flask and some gels along with my phone.

I tried putting the phone in the side pockets but the reach as Jeff said is just too far back to be practical and the phone sits under the armpit, not the best place. I tried gels in those pockets and they were difficult to retrieve. A former gymnast or someone who does lots of yoga may have better luck! I do think those side pockets would be far more useful moved further forward towards the center of the chest or eliminated. 

I had no issues wearing it over my usual winter base layer (fairly thin) and a decent thickness shell and if it is really cold wearing it below a thicker layer with phone and water on the chest can help keep water from freezing and phone batteries from running down.
The women's version, the Naked Running Spra, may be more practical yet as it has the rear pouch for flasks with tubes with shock cords to hold them upfront, 2 side pockets and the whistle all built into a bra (12 sizes) with a Schoeller Coldback cooling face fabric.


Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set
4 sizes - XS - L
308 grams w/accessories or 228 without (size M)
5 liter capacity
$135.00


Pros:
  • Excellent access to a lot of efficient storage
  • Light
  • Breathable
  • Clothing like fit
  • Quality
  • Versatile (great for an hour run or all day)
  • Color options
  • Optional insulated bladder sleeve
Cons:
  • Attaching poles is a bit of an exercise in patience (though will confess I am not very good at this)
  • The small pockets at top of each chest strap should not have side access, would be more useful with top openings.
  • The electrolyte/pill pocket is a nice idea, but it is poorly located and flops out often (so I just cut it out and threw it away).
I have been using the S/Lab Sense Ultra Set 8 religiously and really appreciate it's light weight, clothing like fit, easy access to a lot of pockets and carry capacity.  I have eyed the Advanced Skin vests in the past, but they have always seemed a bit more like a backpack, not necessarily a bad thing, but not really ideal for trail running.  At Outdoor Retailer last November, when I saw the updated versions of the Advanced Skin line, I was quite impressed at how much they had changed to resemble the Sense Set line, yet still offer a bit more structure and knew I had to test and review them.

The Advanced Skin Set line now has thinner, lighter, more pliable, more breathable materials and is reminiscent of the Sense Set vests, offering a more clothing like fit/feel.  Though the weight on the scale indicates a slight increase, it is imperceptible while wearing and I forget I even have it on.

The single bungee in the front has 3 attachment points on the right (left in photo below) with a slider tab in center, then 2 attachment hooks on the left (right in photo).
All of these attachment points can be adjusted for a more custom fit, but I left mine in place and seems to work perfect.  I went with a size M for my 38.5" chest and this works perfectly for me whether I am wearing several layers and a jacket on a cold day, or just a single tech tee.

The top of both the front straps include small, side open pockets, each housing a bungee cord with slide for pole attachment.

Aside from concealing the bungee for poles and for holding my inReach Mini tracker as shown above, I can't see much utility to these pockets, as items can easily fall out (unless you tether item to bungee?).  The inReach in this spot however rubs on the collarbone, so could use a little padding underneath.
I would much rather see these pockets have a top opening and they would be ideal for gels or any other smaller items.
Working your way down, you have the pocket for soft flask and then then the very large, stretchy drop pockets that just gobble up gear and keep items stored securely.
Within the right drop pocket, there is a smaller, attached water resistant baggie, presumably for tablets and such.  It is a neat idea, but find myself pulling it out inadvertently when retrieving items from that stash pocket.
The included soft flasks differ from those included with the Sense Set and do not have the stiffer plastic at the bottom, or the wider opening at the top for ice cubes and easier cleaning.  Not sure why, other than the stiffer bottom wider opening bottles are more expensive and this vest is not S/Lab but either bottle works in the pack with ease.
Each bottle is held in place with small bungee loop.  It helps a little, but I often forget it and does not make too much of a difference.
The Advanced Skin Set also has one of the best phone pockets (if not the best) of any vest I have tested.  Located on the mid to lower left side chest strap, overlaying and overlapping the higher bottle pocket, has an easy and well placed zipper to access the large and deep pocket, which means I don't have to slow, think or manipulate to grab my phone for a photo while on the run.  My iPhone 8 easily fits and any other phone in any protective case would fit just as well.  Even with a full bottle inserted, the pocket is positioned as such that there is no conflict or tightness as I have found in other vests.

In the back, there is one large vertical kangaroo pocket, with divider.
There is also a large pass through pocket at the bottom rear of the vest where you can, with a little twist and stretch, access clothing, stashed flasks or whatever you care to put there.  There are also more bungee straps at the bottom for a wide range of pole carry options.



Reaching into the main rear kangaroo pocket, easily large enough for rain shell, pants, food, water, etc..  While on the run, I am able to reach back to access items on either side, but certainly not all the way through.  It is reasonable however to loosen and rotate the pack a few inches either way to access the entire pocket.
The main pocket is also divided for organizing, or using a bladder (not included).
The Advanced Skin 5 Set also comes with an insulated bladder sleeve.  I removed this sleeve to cut down on weight and because I don't use a bladder, but keep it handy if I feel I need it to lessen the chance of hard items pressing into my back when filled with an assortment of items (hard bottle, Microspikes, headlamp).
Bladder anchor.


Conclusions/Recommendations:

Some running vests come and go with a "meh", but the Advanced Skin 5 Set has instantly become a prized possession in my running gear ensemble.  The vest is extremely comfortable, light, breathable and fits like clothing, yet has some structure to it, enough to handle heavier loads with less bounce than the S/Lab Sense Ultra Set and with little weight penalty and no compromise on comfort/mobility.  On top of all of that, I really appreciate how well the pockets are laid out, how easily accessible they are and how much I can fit in them.  Having the ability to quickly stash and retrieve key items on the run is something that is often overlooked despite efforts and claims to the contrary, but Salomon really perfects this here.  

If I could come up with one single improvement, it would be to re-configure the small pockets with the side openings at the top of the chest straps to be top access instead of the side openings.  

Other than that, this is a perfect pack for just about any length run, from just wanting to carry along a phone and a few essentials, to all day adventures in the mountains.  With two unisex versions 5 liter and 12 liter, a women's specific fit 8 liter model, all in 4 -5 sizes and a variety of color options, you would be hard pressed to find a better running vest.
Women's Advanced Skin Set 8 (Salomon.com)

Ultimate Direction FKT Vest
Stats
SM/MD / 25 - 40 inches (64-102cm)
MD/LG / 30 - 48 inches (76 - 122cm)
345 grams / 12.2 oz
18 liter capacity / 1098 cubic inches
Includes Flexform 600 bottle
$129.95

Pros:
  • Large capacity
  • Quality
  • Versatility
  • Phone pocket
  • Breathable
  • Minimal/light (for all the it carries)
Cons:  
  • Included bottle needs to be swapped for soft flask.
  • Futzy chest strap clips
  • For a pack that carries so much, can experience discomfort on back of not careful about arrangement.
The largest of the bunch at a whopping 18 liters, the Ultimate Direction FKT is geared toward carrying a lot of gear in as light a pack/vest as possible.  With a huge rear compartment for swallowing up a maximum amount of gear, the FKT is ideal for outings where you need to carry a lot of extra clothing/food/water, overnight or for a couple of nights for the efficient and experienced fast packer or for fast and light mountaineering to carry along essentials like crampons, axe, helmet, thin rope, etc.  The FKT rides a fine line between backpack and running vest, with backpack style look/functionality, but with front pockets and a minimal, breathable lightweight fit/feel.
On the front you get 6 pockets equally distributed on either side.
At the top, a zippered pocket on either side, with the one on your right shoulder specifically designed for emergency satellite tracker that will fit a full size inReach, inReach Mini or Spot.  Then continuing down right side, you have the bottle pocket and below that, small (semi) stretchy stash pocket.  The left side, upper zip pocket is slightly smaller than right, below that a zippered storage pocket ideal for phone, then another small stuff  pocket (same as the opposite side bottom pocket).
The zippered pocket on the left side for phone is ideally positioned and easy to access.  iPhone 8 in protective case fits perfectly with plenty of room to spare for food.
The top left shoulder zippered pocket is ideal for snacks or any small items you wish.
The beacon pocket on right shoulder is handy and keeps tracker in a better position for satellite reception.
The FKT vest includes one Flexform 600 bottle, pictured below left, next to the Body Bottle (that comes with the Signature Series vests).
I am somewhat hesitant to use the Flexform bottle, due to the fact that I can't suck out of it on the go.  Instead I have to remove the bottle, drink, then replace in the pocket, which is difficult, as it is a very tight fit within the pocket.  Instead, I use the Body Bottle which slides into the pocket much easier and I can simply tilt my head forward and drink on the go without having to remove the bottle.  Additionally, the Flexform bottle somewhat inhibits access to the pocket beneath, but using the more flexible Body Bottle, that issue is eliminated entirely.
The lower stretch pockets are small, but good for small items or stashing trash.
With the yellow stretch bungee cord above and the snap strap below, you can effortlessly carry poles.



The top chest strap is static and includes a whistle, while the lower strap has a little elastic give to it.
I do however find that the shape of the clip, specifically the male side is such that it is difficult to line up.  I often inadvertently line it up as in the photo below and have to fumble with it a bit to get it to clip properly, but once in place is very secure.  I think replacing this buckle would be an easy and significant improvement.
The back panel materials are thin, comfortable and breathe well.
On the rear of the pack, there is a large stretch mesh pocket, with elastic cord to stow extra gear for easy access. Additionally, at the bottom, there are two ice ax loops.
On the lower outside of the rear of the pack (see my hand at the left  in the photo reaching in)  is a nice large zippered pocket for further gear organization.
And a handy key clip.
Looking into the outer rear stretch mesh pocket.
The main compartment is huge and has a divider for organizing, or adding a bladder.
Instead of a zipper at the top, the FKT employs velcro instead for the sake of simplicity.
The top closes/secures with the velcro above, then instead of having excess pack or a telescoping lid, you simply roll down and clip on either side depending upon how much load you have in the main compartment.

Conclusions/Recommendations:
The FKT vest is a great choice for going light on longer outings, as it carries a large amount of gear for it's light weight, comfort and vest like construction.
The sizing/fit is not narrowly specific by size, meaning it has a wide range of adjustment for working as well over a tee shirt as it does over many layers and it  rides secure no matter how much you load in it.  The materials are not soft and clothing like, more nylon in feel, but the edges are velvety smooth and I haven't ever had any discomfort.   I do notice however that when loading the main compartment of the pack with more solid, heavier items, there is no protection against your back.  Adding padding here would obviously go against the minimal nature of this vest, but a padded insert (doubling as an insulated bladder sleeve like the Salomon Advanced Skin Set?), would add only a few grams and add a lot of comfort.  As it is now, I have to be very strategic with gear/clothing arrangement in the pack.  Either way, I would highly recommend this vest for those looking to carry 18 liters and go fast.

Jeff Valliere 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 8 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The products reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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8 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

Greg S said...

What about the ud race 4.0? New recently

Jeff Valliere said...

Have not had the opportunity to review, looks very nice though!

Anonymous said...

Saying what everyone is thinking... that is a man-bra LOL.

Florian said...

Just wanted to add to the Salomon vest that as of this year they also have added the loops to attach the Custom Quiver to it. For me it is simply the best way to carry poles and with a few times practice fast and efficient.
Another neat (little) feature is that the bladder anchor also works as a closure for the large rear pocket. There is a hanging loop on the opposite side of it that one can thread it through thus halving the pocket opening effectively. Super useful if the large pocket is stuffed to the brim.
The shoulder pockets are indeed the most useless part of the vest and I just don't get what they are designed for. They kinda work for a Clif bar or something similar but would be so much more useful with a top access.

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks Florian, will have to try that bladder anchor trick.

Tamas Turoczi said...

Thanks for the great review!
I also have a Salomon vest and it's really have a ton of customization possibility.
Is there any description or a manual about these?
I found two hooks in the main compartment next to the label. Do you what is the function of them? Maybe spare parts?

Jeff Valliere said...

No manual that I have seen. The hooks inside the main compartment next to the tags must be extras, just in case, I can't really find a function for them otherwise.