As far as hydration vests go, I’ve used 2 brands – Nathan HPL020 and the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. Both have different capacities but they’re very light. I’ve always put a premium on using products that offer a blend of performance in a lightweight package and both have not disappoint. I wore the Nathan in TNF 50K in 2008 and found it to work well. While stilla race virgin, I’ve been very happy with the UD in training. Its shortcomings are a few – a little issue with the sizing/fitting and lack of use of its tiny pockets. Despite that, it’s one of the best vests around, supremely lightweight and stable.
The problem for me started when the race I’ve signed up requires the content of the drop bag to be brought along (or face disposal). This meant that while I can spread out the lugging of my fueling needs and other ancillary gear, I won’t be able to leave behind the stuff that I may no longer need. Runners will also have to contend with wearing a single pair of shoes after several stream crossings.
Tried as I may over several separate attempts, I’ve been unable to cram the gear into the UD and my outer gear are already all of the packable and compact variety! No choice then but to cast my eyes on 12L packs. For a moment, UD’s PB pack seemed a valid choice but I didn’t want to face the UD design of “neither-here-nor-there”. My requirements are simple – lightweight, 12L capacity, non-bladder setup – yet choices are limited. Raidlight’s OLMO, while has the right capacity, felt a little too sloppy.
Until Salomon (it had to be Salomon!) came along. Prior to the Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO Set (5 and 12L options), the Advanced Skin LAB Sets were the bladder types. While the brand prides itself as battle-tested by its stable of elite athletes in exotic races, I’ve not really gravitated towards it for reasons of cost and them not being exactly lightweight (I’m spoilt by the UD’s featherweight!). The HYDRO Set, introduced as part of their 2013 Fall/Winter lineup, changes all that. It’s heritage is the 2013 bladder version and therefore retains most of the features that Salomon vests are known for.
However upon closer look, the vest has gone through several important tweaks. First, the Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO 12 Set comes with 2 500ml Soft Flasks that are carried in front, has 2 large drop in pockets, side webbings that can actually accommodate gear and energy bars and 2 very nicely implemented lateral pockets with vertical zippers. Other than the top main compartment, the wearer could extract stuff from these pockets without having to remove the vest. With the simplification of the construction, there’s now less material used and the HYDRO 12 Set weighs only 340gms compared to the 530gms of the bladder version. It’s also 20gms lighter than the already lightweight SJ vest (368gms) and way lighter than the PB pack (496gms). The Soft Flasks alone already shaved off some weight compared to hard bottles.
No change are the fully customizable elasticated Twin Link, Sensifit, Load lifter, insulated bladder pocket, 4D pole holder, safety blanket, whistle and reflective trims. With 10 pockets and more compartments, there’s now enough room to carry the full load of battle gear. Since I prefer the Soft Flasks, the space vacated by the bladder pocket can fit a few more items.
My first outing with the HYDRO was for RJM recently. Though it was a road event, the distance and leisure nature of the event was perfect to test the vest out. 42K and over 5 hours would give me adequate time to get to know the product. So what did I pack into the vest? A tube of electrolyte tabs, GU Chomps, 2 GUs, a tablet carrier, the Olympus TG-2, a rain jacket (just to simulate partial load-out), 1 headlamp, an old iPod Shuffle, and of course the 2 soft flasks.
As expected, the HYDRO acquitted itself very well. What I love in particular are the well thought access to gear, from the direction of the zippers to the large access of the compartments. Even the small pockets were useful. The other thing about the Soft Flasks was the near complete absence of sloshing. As a bonus, you could actually drink from it without having to remove it from the sleeve. Just squeeze and the fluids squirt right into your mouth. Thirdly, the vest doesn’t slide around laterally nor bounce, even though I didn’t really adjust the fit out of the pack. When the sun was scorching, things didn’t get uncomfortably warm either.
A few days later, I started putting stuff into it just to get an idea how they’ll fit into the HYDRO. I gathered up the following items: 1 sachet of Perpetuem, 1 sachet of Heed, a tube of Fizz, chomps, 2 gels, a bottle of Endurance Amino, 2 packs of batteries, a packable Inov-8 Mistlite pants, packable TNF Venture jacket, 2 headlamps, the TG-2 camera, beanie, gloves, iPod Shuffle, trekking poles, safety blanket and the 2 Soft Flasks. Of course in this simulation, the Hammer and GUs are insufficient but there are plenty of room left.
The Salomon Advanced Skin LAB HYDRO 12 Set fits the bill if you’re looking for a vest that can carry plenty of gear while at the same time remain lightweight. It may seem like an intimidating piece of gear (the price certainly is so, since it’s a Salomon) but play around with it and you’ll realize that every component of it has been given a fair bit of thought in its design. In my opinion it’s leaps and bounds an improvement over the old Advanced Skin Lab 12 in that it’s lighter, tweaked zips and much better all-round accessibility. If there are some areas to improve it’ll be the following:
- There are straps running here and there and it’ll be great if some literature is provided. As it is, only a tiny card showing how to secure the trekking pole is included.
- Increase the size of the screw-on caps of the Soft Flasks. I needed to break the electrolyte tabs in two before being able to drop it into the flask. This is where the UD bottles triumph over the flasks.
In the coming weeks, there’ll be more and more opportunities to use the HYDRO. Can’t wait to use it on the trails. I bought my HYDRO 12 Set from the UltraMarathonRunningStore. Head on there for great products at very competitive prices.
Originally published: Sep 9th, 2013.