I am a big fan of Salomon gear. While it often carries a hefty price tag, in my experience it tends to be thoughtfully designed and pretty hardy. If you have already read my review of the smaller Salomon S/Lab 5 Set, you’ll realise I’m also a big fan of these hydration packs. My “go to” tends to still be the smaller 5 set version, however I invested in the 12 set with the Tiree Ultra in mind, thinking that I needed extra room for carrying extra layers for colder conditions. As it turns out, I wore most of those layers (!), however the 12 set is an all round great pack and is a good option for longer trail races requiring a heap of mandatory gear. You can squeeze a lot into this hydration vest.
There are a lot of similarities between the old 5 and the new 12 set which I have, and for additional information you can visit my review of the 5 set here. For the purposes of this article, I’ve summarised some of the features of the 12 set below, divided between the aspects I like, “yeahs” and the more ordinary “mehs”. If you are looking for more detailed specs, you can visit the Salomon website for those.
- Water capacity. Both the 5 and 12 sets offer the same storage for water/fluids. Water storage for 2 x 500ml (or bigger) flasks carried in the front pockets (provided with the pack) and the option to add a bladder in the back. I use the 1.5 litre Salomon bladder, although like the 5 set, a bladder is not provided with this vest.
- The main benefits from the newer design pack in my opinion are the dump pockets on the front of the vest. These are also a feature on the newer design smaller packs. They’re absolutely great for easy access to gels, or a mobile phone or small camera, or any smaller items you want to carry up front and not root about elsewhere for. You can actually fit a whole heap of paraphernalia into these stretchy pockets; it just depends how you want to balance your vest.
- The 5 and 12 sets essentially have the same number of pockets, with the addition of a large zip pocket in the back of the 12 set (pictured below). This is a feature of the 12 set which allows you to securely stow items in the back, much like a mini backpack. I tend to put my jacket or long sleeve in here, along with a compression bandage in case of snake bites. You could fit a lot in here and I’m tempted to try an ultra lightweight, summer fastpacking overnighter with this vest.
- Like the 5 set, but bigger – the vest offers a huge kangaroo pocket at the back. This runs across the back of the vest from side to side and is so huge that during Tiree Ultra, I was actually struggling to dig out my 500ml flask full of water which I’d stowed in there as a spare. This pack definitely has a great capacity for both fluids and a heap of other nutrition and gear.
- Previously, people had complained about the flasks slipping deep down into the pockets at the front as they became emptier and collapsed, leaving an awkward tussle to drink from them. With the flask slippage in mind, Salomon have added a couple of elastic loops to the pack which are designed to hold up the soft flasks at the front (pictured below). No complaints about that – they’re pretty straightforward and do the job.
- Just like the 5 set, this pack fits like a glove and I don’t experience any annoying bounce or chafe wearing it; even with just a singlet underneath.
The Mehs for this vest really are minor, and some might even accuse me of being way too pernickety, but hey, if you bought the pack and experienced the same issues, I would feel bad for not having mentioned them! None of them are deal breakers; they’re more small gripes which can become irritating on a grumpy day…
- The 12 set comes with two Salomon soft flasks. These are a slightly updated model with a bigger area of plastic along the top – the idea being that it won’t slip down in to the pockets so easily – also addressing the slippage complaint of previous designs. I am unsure how many others have had this issue but my main complaint about these flasks is that they are pretty leaky! I’m just not a fan. This isn’t a deal breaker bearing in mind you can just switch out the bottles if you don’t like them, but it’s not ideal. And I have indeed swapped out the flasks…
- Fastening system. Like my original pack, the chest strap system offers lots of scope for adjustability, with top and bottom extending straps. I am pretty confident this pack would work well for ladies with all ranges of chest sizes! The one thing I don’t like so much about this newer design are the very wiry/plasticky loops required to clip into to fasten the pack. Even through multiple uses, I’m finding it a little more fiddly to fasten compared to the softer fabric of the old design. Not a huge issue ordinarily, but just a little irritating, and even more so if you’re tired or have cold hands!
- While the dump pockets are wonderful, this additional elastic band on the top of the pockets does also make it a little trickier to wiggle the soft flasks down into their pockets while you’re wearing it. It’s simply a question of holding the pockets out while you manoeuvre the bottles in – no big deal; but it does just add a little more of the fiddle rating to what is already a slightly fiddly fit.
With my current set up of the old S/Lab 5 set and the new 12 set, my preference from a comfort point of view would always be to wear the smaller pack. Although the larger pack doesn’t rub, I just prefer the closer, smaller fit of the 5 set which definitely feels less noticeable when I’m running around. That being said, if I’m going for a longer run, I may well wear the 12 set as I find the dump pockets at the front sooo handy. For the more petite ladies out there, I would have thought you’d feel more comfortable in the smaller set on the whole (I’m a UK size 10/12 top and have both packs in the XS/S size).
All in all, I would 100% recommend this vest for ladies looking for a reliable, versatile hydration pack for longer runs where you might want to carry extra kit with you. If you don’t need the extra storage, then just stick with the 5 set I reckon. Oh and if red isn’t your jam, it comes in a range of colour options!
More specs and images available on the Salomon website.
And finally, in case you’re wondering which size pack you need to bring home the post run, Sunday brunch… the 5 set has it covered: #overtheshoulderbaconholder #bringinghomethebacon
As always, this review is entirely independent and the product was purchased with my own pocket money!
Which pack do you prefer to run with? I would love to hear about your experience with this one, or other brands and models?