Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin M Belt Set

In 2013, Salomon's S-Lab debuted its first running belt, the Advanced Skin 2 Belt.  Although some reviewers noted it was a bit fiddly and that there were durability issues, most praised its light weight, breathable comfort, and ability to balance a load.  I was intrigued, but there was a deal breaker: the 2 Belt is designed to carry Salomon's 8-oz soft flasks.  In a race, those are great if you have a crew who will have bottles prepared for you before you arrive at the aid station.  But for the self-supported runner dependent on aid station crews to refill bottles?  Not so much.

Fast forward to 2014.  The S-Lab has produced its second belt, the Advanced Skin M Belt.  This belt is designed to hold Salomon's 16-oz soft flasks.  It has fewer pockets than the 2 Belt, but they are considerably larger, giving the M Belt 3 liters of storage capacity, where the 2 Belt had "only" a 2 liter capacity.  It also has various elastic straps for holding jackets, gloves, or other gear.  Thus, the M Belt holds much more than traditional packs, although still less than a backpack or vest. 

According to Salomon, the front piece is meant to hold energy and hydration, while the back element is meant to hold equipment and apparel.  Of course, a runner could wear either piece on the front or back.  I prefer to wear the front piece in front, but given that I don't travel with too much equipment, i put a 16-oz flask in the back.  A second 16-oz flask can be put in the front, depending on how much else I am carrying.  

the front

the back
(Speaking of flasks - Salomon appears to have updated the shape of the novel on its flask - the nozzles on the new flasks are wider at the top than the bottom.  Apparently these offer a higher flow rate; I've also noted that they are less apt to leak if the flask is accidentally squeezed).
2013 flask (left) and 2014 flask (right)

The M Belt itself is insanely light (together with an empty 16 oz flask, it weights just 4.2 oz), though of course if you load it fully, it can get heavy.  It is nice to have that weight around my hips, rather than on my shoulders.  By adjusting the top strap (which runs along my waist) somewhat tighter than the bottom strap (which runs along my hips), I've been able to dial in a fit that prevents bouncing even when the belt is full.  I've not had an issue with the straps slipping, which some runners reported with the 2 Belt.  

Lastly, the honeycomb mesh breathes wonderfully.  However, since this is the only layer between you and much of what you are carrying, things could get a bit damp inside.  

The M Belt is not yet available on Salomon's website, although a few select retailers such as Running Warehouse are stocking small numbers of it. I've not yet had a chance to race with it, but on a 20-mile run this weekend it performed admirably.   I'm looking forward to wearing it in my next race.


  1. Hi,
    What's your opinion of this after using it a bit more? I'm considering this or the smaller version, but have only seen the smaller version in a local store.

    Do these sit fairly flat when not loaded up? I also like the idea of being able to have the 2 larger bottles, but would not always carry both & just want to carry phone, food, headlamp. My current Ultraspire belt has rigid bottle holders & not really enough pocket space.

  2. Ben,

    Thanks for dropping by our blog. I recently wore this belt at the ICY-8, an 8-hour trail race in Virginia. Because I was able visit an aid station quite frequently, I didn't fully load up the belt.

    The quick answer is that yes, these do sit quite flat when not loaded up. There might be a little looseness to the material, but it's so light that I never noticed.

    I do find it a little bit difficult to insert and remove the water bottles. This is especially true when the water bottles are half full, and kind of floppy. I think I'll get the hang of it eventually, but its not a natural movement.

    Also, you mentioned that you'll want to carry a phone. None of the compartments are waterproof. Even if the weather is dry, sweat can easily get in through the mesh. So, you'll want to carry that phone in a plastic bag.

    Overall, I continue to be impressed by how light this belt is, and how well it spreads out the weight of what you are carrying while holding it close to the body.

    I hope that helps!

  3. Hello, I need a quick opinion regarding the waist size. I lent my Skin 2 Belt to my partner and we conclude her waist is just to small and the belt just sits too loose on her waist. I'm wondering if this new M Belt at it's tightest setting is any more tighter than the Skin 2. Would appreciate your opinion on this. Cheers

  4. Hugo, that's a good question. Several people have expressed concern that the Skin 2 Belt didn't fit well on those with very slim waists. Unfortunately, I don't own a Skin 2 Belt, so I can't say whether Salomon has addressed this issue. It may be worth writing directly to Salomon?