In the bid to loose weight and run minimal, the Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 8 Set is an example of just how light a pack can be made. Is it a pack? A waistcoat? Vest? It’s up for debate, but what it does represent is a piece of equipment, able to take a litre of water, multiple layers, mandatory kit and food, whilst being able to fit in a jacket pocket.
I’ve been wearing the Ultra 8 for a good six months – competing at Trail Marathon Wales, training locally and summiting Ben Nevis at first sunrise. A fan of the previous generation of Ultra packs (image from Coed Y Brenin on A Day with Anna Frost), how does the latest generation compare. Does new necessarily mean better?At 125g it’s ridiculously light, given weight of products it’s designed to hold. Despite its diminutive weight, it doesn’t feel delicate or flimsy. Constructed from a mix of Elastic Power Mesh, 4 way stretch materials, it’s non abrasive and when loaded the seams show no signs of giving way.Fitting like a vest rather than a conventional pack, it feels like a second layer of clothing and conforms to your body. Comfort really is the where the Sense Ultra packs stand out, no straps to worry about or seams to irritate. When loaded, the stretch materials will drop the height of your flasks and contents, which does require a more precise fit.
As for sizing, the XS/S, M/L is no more, replaced with XS-XL. Whereas before I had an XS-S, my chest measurement indicated Medium… however, after two runs and a chaffed Jersey, it was evident this was too large. On descents I was finding myself holding the flasks as they bounced severely and I had it tightened fully.
After exchanging for a small, these issues ceased. I thoroughly recommend trying it on and if possible, with weight, as it was when I filled it up that the error became apparent.On the front, two large flask pockets, contain two Hydroflask wide brimmed flasks, which make filling and adding nutrition a lot easier. The lowers of the bottles are elliptical, rather thn flat, which means when consumed, they stay in place, making guessing how much you have left easier.
Above, there is a small zippered pocket for a small item that needs secure locking down. All pockets are stretch mesh and at times, getting full bottles back in at aid stations is a little battle. Watch Salomon runners who are being crewed to see their helpers pushing them in with force.
My biggest grip is the sternum straps. Thin bits of elastic, with hooks on one bag strap and rubber sliders to lock into position. For me, they aren’t 100% reliable and I have tied knots in both to guarantee they stay to my required tension. This does mean, on the fly adjustments, if I wear more layers, carry less etc aren’t possible. It’s an example of innovation, for me, I’d rather something more substantial that weighed a few grams more but worked consistently.The back, when not in use sits flat. It really is a deceptive pack and means you aren’t really penalised for picking it over the 5. I ran Trail Marathon Wales with two flasks and food on a hot day. The 2 would have been ideal for this task, with an open mesh back, but it meant in conditions I normally struggle in, I managed to finish 25th and control my fluid intake throughout.Now haven’t stuffed the rear pockets to their full capacity, but there is a pair of waterproof trousers, a waterproof jacket with hood and a thermal midlayer in. Footage from UTMB and other ultras with big kit requirements show just how much you can get in. Furthermore, the lower pocket is accessible without taking the pack off. I keep my jacket in here for easy access. It’s not quite so slick trying to put it back in mind.Either side he zippered hip pockets, perfect for my iPhone 7, keys, wallet… anything I want to not worry about running on trails. Lazer cut holes provide some ventilation. The back of the pack is a fast wicking Mesh and getting rid of watervapour is reasonable, just don’t expect your contents to stay dry unless you use dry bags.The whistle is tiny and I’ve been pushing it into the bottle pouch to prevent it bouncing around. Having given it a few blasts, it is pretty loud, which will pass mandatory kit checks and saves having to remember one.Below the water bottle pockets are two big stretch pockets, one either side. You can fill them with loads! Mountain Fuel pancakes, headtorch, gloves, hat, bars and room to spare. I love them as they lock down right and remove any bouncing. Now, I mentioned earlier having to force bottles back in at aid stations. Well, this is the main reason, as the sit on 2/3rds of the bottle. A minor annoyance that they have got in the way, but the fact they consume vital kit like a summo wrestler at a buffet is enough for me to let is slide.In summary, it doesn’t bounce, holds a crazy amount of kit for its first appearance size and weighs next to nothing. The main problem I have with the Salomon S/LAB Ultra Sense 8 Set may be as a biproduct in the pursuit to go as light as possible. Add an improved retention system and this would be as near enough perfect as I can see right now. Clothing or pack, you decide.
Have you used a Sense Ultra 5 or 8? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
*This product was supplied by Salomon for review. I am not being paid or provided incentives for the opinions expressed above*