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  trailrunning > gear reviews > Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 12 Set
 
Hydro 12 intro   SALOMON ADV SKIN LAB HYDRO 12 SET
Review date:   01.08.2013
Cost (HK$):   HK$1,775
Product code:   351874
Product type:   trailrunning vest
Size:   12 litres

 

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INTRODUCTION
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Hydro 12 in use
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Fig. 1: The vest in use.

The Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set was (and still is) a brilliant, legendary trailrunning vest and has been used and loved worldwide by countless trailrunners, including myself. It is a large (12 litre) race vest and has assumed the work horse duties for a variety of trailrunning activities, be it racing or training. The 2012 and 2013 editions of this running vest are essentially very similar in design with just minor tweaks.

New for winter 2013 Salomon has created the Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 12 Set. This vest is also large at 12 litre capacity. It is intended to replace the Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 Set as Salomon's largest, elite racing vest (there is also a 5l version available). It has been completely redesigned. For the purposes of this review I will refer to the Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 (2012/2013 editions) as the S-Lab 2013 vest and the new Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 12 Set as the Hydro 2014 vest. I will be drawing comparisons between the two vests throughout this review, but will hopefully also be able to make the review descriptive enough so that people not familiar with the S-Lab 2013 vest can still form an opinion about the new Hydro 2014 vest.

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DESIGN

Overall, there is a clear trend towards efficient minimalism in the design of this product. I like this a lot. The Hydro 2014 weighs in at 340g as opposed to the 530g of the S-Lab 2013. Despite this the Hydro 2014 still feels strong and rugged when you pick it up and wear it. I will now describe all the various aspects of the product design in detail.
Main Structure

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Hydro 12 structure
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Fig. 2: The vest feels light and breathable but also strong and durable.

The main structure of the vest - namely the shoulder straps and back system, are all made from a lightweight, rugged mesh which has a honeycomb design, Fig. 2. The shoulder straps are quite wide, about w=75mm. The mesh is very soft and malleable and hence very figure hugging. This mesh seems very similar to the one used in the S-Lab 2013 vest. The mesh has quite large holes in it to make it breathable, but also gives a sense of security. I would definitely expect this to last a long time. The two side pockets are sewn into this mesh and the rear of these pockets (the part which comes into contact with your body) is made of a slightly elastic, thin red fabric which still feels quite stable and strong and gives the side pockets a clear structure. This fabric has very small holes in it.
Front Pockets / Hydration

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Hydro 12 water flasks
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Fig. 3: The two 500ml soft flasks.
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Hydro 12 hydration system
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Fig. 4: The new front hydration system.

The most important function of any running vest is to carry sufficient water for your run in a smooth, comfortable way and offer easy access to the water. The Hydro 2014 vest has been primarily designed to be used with two 500ml soft flasks in the two main front pockets, Fig. 3. These are tall and thin, with the main body of the flask (excluding the bite valve) measuring about w=60mm h=195mm. These two soft flasks are shipped with the vest but as a consequence of this the vest no longer ships with a bladder (please refer to the BLADDER OR NOT? section). The two front hydration pockets are constructed from a thin, elastic mesh material, Fig. 4. The first impressions of this mesh is that it seems quite strong, but is also thin, flexible, elastic and malleable. The top of the pockets has a thicker ring of red elastic around it, apparently to hold the top of the bottle in place. This ring of elastic does not have an adjustment strap. The dimensions of the front hydration pockets are about w=60mm h=190mm. They fit the 500ml soft flasks perfectly. When full, the flask slides in snuggly and the top of the flask pokes out of the top of the front hydration pocket. The intention is that all your fluid requirements can now be easily accessed whilst running without the need to remove the soft flask from the front pocket. Please read the IN USE section to see see how these pockets actually function whilst running.

My initial impression of the pockets was that I liked the slim, simple, minimal design. However, I was also concerned about several issues concerning this new design:

1. These pockets are clearly designed to be used with two 500ml soft flasks. That means that when both are full you are carrying 1l of fluid on the front of the vest with nothing on the back. On the old vest I never really carried more than about 600ml of fluid up front. I was wondering if 1l would make the vest feel front heavy.

2. The design of these pockets is very, very specific. They are tall and narrow and fit the 500ml soft flasks perfectly. But they fit nothing else really - they are too tall and narrow for pretty much everything else. The front pockets on the S-Lab 2013 vest were very versatile. Shorter and wider than these front pockets, they also had an elastic string at the top of the pocket that you could adjust. This was great - you could throw almost anything into the pockets of the S-Lab 2013 vest and hold it securely - soft flasks, plastic bottles, camera, gels etc...... I loved this diversity. The front pockets on the Hydro 2014 vest are designed for one specific thing only, a 500ml soft flask - and this kind of worries me as in race conditions you want these front pockets to be multi-talented - so that you can potentially just throw anything in them.

3. The mesh that the front pockets are made out of is very thin. It bulges easily and is very stretchy and malleable. I imediately wondered how securely this would hold the weight of the bottles whilst running. The S-Lab 2013 pockets are made out of a strong, non-elastic fabric and for me, this seems more appropriate for a pocket which will need to contain and hold in place the mass and weight of water whilst you are running.

4. There is no adjustable elastic string on the top of the pockets. Do the soft flasks stay in place whilst running even though there is no adjustable elastic string to secure the top of the soft flask?

I will discuss all these issues further in the IN USE section of the review.

Other Front Pockets
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Hydro 12 top pocket
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Fig. 5: Above the main hydration pocket.
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Hydro 12 small pocket
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Fig. 6: Small but handy.
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Hydro 12 small side pocket
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Fig. 7: The open side pockets are versatile.
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Hydro 12 large side pocket
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Fig. 8: Zippered side pocket very easy to access.
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There are two other front pockets on each side of the hydration vest (so four in total). These are all easily accessible when the vest is on and provide huge possibilities in terms of what you can carry whilst running.

Two pockets are directly above the hydration pockets for the soft flasks, Fig. 5. The dimensions of these tall rectangular pockets are about w=60mm h=125mm. They are made of the same stretchy thin mesh as the hydration pockets and can be sealed well using a flap that covers the top. You can also slide things in behind these pockets as there is open space behind them - which is a very good idea. I like these pockets as they are versatile. They accept gels, energy bars, credit cards, small GPS devices, emergency beacons and other small paraphernalia. They are too small for a normally sized smart phone. There is also a whistle hanging close to the left hand pocket, which is always useful and occasionally standard equipment for a race.

The other two pockets on the front are very small. These are found directly below the large hydration pockets and are triangular in size, Fig. 6. They measure about w=80mm h=65mm at their widest and tallest but as mentioned, are triangular, tapering and small. These are also made of the same stretchy mesh as the other front pockets and would seem ideal for salt tabs or mp3 players and other small items you need to use / stash during your run. These pockets are not waterproof, but I don't mind this. The mesh makes them flexible and easy to use, and I would always stash my mp3 player or salt tabs in a seperate plastic bag anyway.
Side Pockets

All the side pockets of the Hydro 2014 vest have been completely redesigned. On both sides of the vest there are an open, tall, slim side pocket and also a zippered side pocket directly next to it.

The tall, slim open side pockets (Fig. 7) are very easy to access. They are constructed using the same elastic mesh as the front pockets with a thicker elastic band at the top. They have dimensions of about w=60mm h=160mm. These pockets are very useful for storing the gels and energy bars you need during your run. You can fit at least 3 gels in each of the pockets on either side of the vest (for a total of 6). I also managed to squeeze a 237ml Salomon soft flask into the pocket although this was a very tight squeeze, and I would not want to be taking the flask out of the pocket and replacing it often during a race - this would be too fiddly and awkward. I like these pockets - they offer easy and immediate access to gels and bars whilst keeping them out of the way - this form of minimalism appeals to me.

The second side pockets, which are zippered (Fig. 8), have also been redesigned. They now have a vertical zip which opens from top to bottom, whereas the S-Lab 2013 vest had a horizontal zip. You can access these side pockets of the Hydro 2014 vest easily when the vest is on using the hand on the same side as the pocket. You can also open the zips easily using just one hand. The pockets have dimensions of about w=160mm h=160mm. The rear of these pockets (the part that comes into contact with your body) uses the quite firm, strong, slightly elastic mesh I referred to in the 'Main Structure' section. The rest of the pocket is once again made of the thin, stretchy mesh used on all the front pockets. I like these pockets. They are large and could potentially hold items such as hats, spare clothes, waterproofs, head torches, spare snacks etc...... They are very easy to access and the stretchy mesh allows the pockets to expand / contract depending on what and how much you decide to put in them. I am not totally convinced by the quality of the zips. The zip on the S-Lab 2013 side pockets was a definite weak point in the construction of the vest. My S-Lab 2013 zips broke and so did those on several of my friends' S-Lab 2013 vests. The zips on the Hydro 2014 side pockets look very, very similar. But perhaps Salomon have redesigned them in a subtle way and made them more durable. Only time will tell, but if the zips are no longer susceptible to damage (which I sincerely hope is the case) then I will happily admit I was wrong to question them.

Rear Pockets

As with almost everything on the Hydro 2014 vest the rear pockets are completely redesigned. As expected there is a bladder pocket right at the rear of the rucksack, closest to your back. This measures about w=180mm h=340mm and will fit a 1.5l bladder. It does not go down to the very base of the rucksack. There is a hole so that you can detach the bladder hose through one of the open grab pockets on the back without having to open the main back pocket. I like this. You have the option of feeding the hose of the bladder up from the bottom on the right side of the rucksack or alternatively, over one of your shoulders in the more traditional manner. There is a seperate bladder sleeve provided with the Hydro 2014 but no bladder is provided - I discuss this further in the BLADDER OR NOT? section.

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Hydro 12 main zippered pocket
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Fig. 9: Main zippered pocket with grab pocket below.

In front of the bladder pocket is the large main sealed, zippered pocket of the rucksack, Fig.9. There is only one main rear pocket on the Hydro 2014 vest whereas the S-Lab 2013 had two main rear pockets, one large one for gear and also one on the front which was quite flat and very easily accesible through its own zip. On the Hydro 2014 vest the single sealed rear pocket measures about w=170mm h=280mm. It is accessed through a zip on the front which is about 190mm high. This rear pocket does not go right to the base of the rucksack. There is room underneath the pocket which is used for the new rear grab pocket (more about this below). The sides of the rear pocket are made of the same thin mesh as the front pockets, whilst the back is a stretchy fabric similar to lycra. The pocket can expand quite a lot and it is possible to stuff quite a significant amount of gear in there. If I'm honest, I actually prefer the design of the S-Lab 2013 vest where the rear zippered pocket is concerned. It was really useful to have one larger pocket in which you could dump a lot of stuff but then also a large, flattish pocket on the front which was really easy to access and which was incredibly useful for things like maps, torches, a wallet, snacks etc... I think on a 5l pack the one main sealed rear pocket design is great. But on a 12l pack, where you will normally be carrying and having to organise more gear - it is much more convenient to be able to compartmentalise your gear more easily. To put things you don't use often or only want at the end of the run in the main compartment and then to have another easily accesible large front zippered pocket for other things (in addition to the large, open grab pockets which both running vests feature).

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Hydro 12 inside pocket
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Fig. 10: Open pocket inside main zippered pocket.
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Hydro 12 rear grab pocket
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Fig. 11: The grab pocket is very easy to access.

The new Hydro 2014 vest also has a small open storage pocket inside the large main pocket but on the outer side of it, Fig. 10. This is only accesible by opening the zip for the actual main sealed rear pocket. This pocket is rectangular and reasonably large, measuring about w=160mm h=175mm. It is very useful for stashing things such as a wallet, torch, notes for the route, map (if it's a small map) etc..... But, this pocket is not very easily accesible. Especially when you have items in the main compartment of the zippered rear pocket it is quite awkward and fiddly to add or remove things from this interior pocket. It would have been great if this pocket were accesible from the outside via a seperate zip. So, overall, in the case of the single zippered rear pocket, for me this new minimal design is a step back, the old version was better.

There is also a newly designed open rear grab pocket, Fig. 11. This can be accessed through horizontal openings about 130mm wide in the right and left side of the rear of the rucksack. The pocket itself is the entire width of the base of the rucksack. It is sealed in the middle of the two openings and so the gear stored in this pocket should be pretty safe from the travails of bouncing around the trails. It is very easy to slide your hands into the rear grab pocket to remove / add items to it. The pocket is once again constructed from the same thin, stretchy mesh as the front pockets. The total dimensions of this rear grab pocket are about w=420mm h=150mm and it also has the capacity to expand quite considerably through the mesh it is constructed of. Overall, this pocket can swallow a huge amount of gear. For example, when I put a hat, a waterproof, and two T-shirts in it they fitted easily and were very easily accesible too. It would also be very easy to throw soft flasks, gels etc.... in there. I love the design of this new rear grab pocket and also the fact that the items in it are secure from being accidentally lost but also very easily and quickly accesible.
Miscellaneous

Other miscellaneous features of the new design include:

1. It is easy to attach running poles to this rucksack whilst the vest is on. You can put the ends into one of the loops on the rear of the vest and then use an attachment loop on the shoulders of the vest to fasten them.

2. If you would like to put some elastic cord on the outside of the rucksack to help compress the items in the main rear pocket or to be able to attach things quickly to the outside front of the rucksack then loops are already on the outside of the vest so this would be easily realised.

3. A foil emergency blanket is shipped with the Hydro 2014 vest. This fits well in the inside pocket of the main zippered pocket.

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BLADDER OR NOT?
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Hydro 12 bladder holder
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Fig. 12: Bladder sleeve but no bladder.

The Hydro 2014 vest has been designed to be used primarily with the two soft flasks up front for hydration (according to Salomon). But it has also clearly been designed for use with a bladder (as mentioned just above - it even ships with an empty bladder sleeve, Fig. 12). At HK$1775 I believe this is an expensive, premium priced product. I feel that for this price the item should ship with the soft flasks AND the bladder so that we, the customer, receive the vest in a fully functional state. We can then use this vest in any combination and variation of soft flasks & bladder we wish to upon arrival of the product, without the need to order a seperate bladder if we decide we want to use one.

I questioned Salomon about this and they replied, saying that the 500ml soft flasks were the primary hydration system and that this was an elite racing product specifically aimed at athletes and that the athletes had requested the front pocket hydration system. Consequently, no bladder is shipped with this product. Salomon considers the bladder an optional extra.

I very strongly disagree with this opinion. In terms of usage - this is a large, 12l racing vest. As such it will be used on multi-stage events with sparsely spaced checkpoints, and races which are largely self supported, and on long, arduous training runs. One litre of fluid in total is just not enough for any of these scenarios. So many, many people will consider a bladder to be essential for this items use and not just an optional extra, especially bearing in mind that this is the 12l version of the pack and not the 5l version. Also, many people, including myself, are used to running with about 1l in the bladder and then an energy mix such as Hammer Perpetuem in a soft flask up front and maybe some coconut water in the other front pocket. I always used a bladder with my S-Lab 2013 vest and I want one for the Hydro 2014 vest too. It is that simple.

Salomon sells a bladder seperately for HK$400. So the cost of the Hydro 2014 vest plus the bladder is an eye watering HK$1775 + HK$400 = HK$2175. OUCH!!!!! This is a premium product which is already expensive before we purchase any 'optional extras' for it. Please Salomon, take note - your customers pay a premium price for a premium product, but we want it to be shipped to us in a fully functional state and we will not be taken advantage of just because we are loyal to Salomon. In my opinion, the 12l Hydro 2014 vest should ship with soft flasks AND a bladder as standard.

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THE FIT

In this section I will analyse the general fit of the Hydro 2014. I will be describing how it actually feels to run with it in the IN USE section below.

The Hydro 2014 vest comes in different sizes, XS/S and M/L and XL. These sizes are based on chest circumference. I ordered the M/L sized version and it fits perfectly. The vest feels amazing when you first put it on. The honeycomb mesh shoulder straps and back feel soft and hug your torso beautifully. Wearing this vest is like wearing a comfortable item of clothing. There should be no problems at all for those of us who like to run topless occasionally - this is really comfy even on bare skin. Wearing the vest is almost like wearing an item of clothing. The vest is in full contact with the torso and there is no bulging or sagging. It just fits.

Harness
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Hydro 12 harness
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Fig. 13: The harness system is brilliant.

Salomon have really perfected the harness system for their running vests. There is a thin plastic rod skeleton running down the front of the vest comprising one single plastic rod about 280mm long on both sides of the vest, Fig. 13. The skeleton in the Hydro 2014 is smaller than the one found on the S-Lab 2013 vest and this is a real design improvement. Occasionally, on the S-Lab 2013 vest the plastic rod would stick into my chest just below the rib cage. This is no longer the case for the Hydro 2014 vest where the skeleton lies over the hard parts of your torso with no danger of poking into you.

The two plastic skeleton rods are then connected using two chest straps. These chest straps are triangular, attaching in two points on one side and then one point on the other. The chest straps click into place with attachment clips. The new clips on the Hydro 2014 vest are noticeably easier to clip into place and use than the S-Lab 2013 vest, on which the attachment clips were occasionally very difficult to unclip.

The elastic chest strap on the lower section of the Hydro 2014 is about 20mm thick and the elastic strap on the upper secion of the vest is about 10mm thick. These straps are very flexible in terms of where you decide to position them. You can move them up or down the plastic skeleton and also decide which way round you want to clip them into place. So it really is possible to get a great fit on this vest depending on what feels comfortable for you.

There are no adjustment straps in the shoulders to tighten the load but these are really not needed on the Hydro 2014 vest. It really does fit really, really well.

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IN USE

So the Hydro 2014 vest feels great when you are just wearing it - but what is it actually like to run with? This is the most important function of the entire item. So here goes...

I loaded the Hydro 2014 vest with all necessary gear / gels & snacks and 500ml of water in both the front soft flasks. I then embarked on a 30km trailrun in the beautiful British countryside featuring a variety of paths through fields, woodland and also many ups and downs.

With the two 500ml soft flasks fully loaded the Hydro 2014 does, as expected, feel front heavy. This might be because I am not used to having so much weight in the front of a hydration vest (2 x 500ml = 1l = 1kg). But even taking this into account, the vest does still feel significantly heavier up front than I would like. Yes - the longer you run the more these soft flasks will empty, so this should not remain an issue as your run progresses.

Whilst running the main body of the vest stays very comfortably locked to your torso. The gear in the zippered rear pocket and the open grab pocket stays securely in place (although I was not carrying any extra fluid in the rear pockets). There is some minimal bouncing around but overall the mesh holds the items in place well.

New Hydration System In Use
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Hydro 12 full soft flask
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Fig. 14: The soft flasks fit snugly when filled with 500ml of fluid.

The completely redesigned main front pockets on the Hydro 2014, each containing 500ml of fluid, are the primary hydration system for this vest. So how does this work when actually in use? Well..... what I did not expect was how thoroughly weird the running experience is.

I started running with the maximum 500ml of fluid in both soft flasks, Fig. 14. The vest definitely feels front heavy when you run with the soft flasks maxed out with fluid (as already mentioned above). The full 500ml soft flasks slide into the pockets and are held in place well enough as the front pocket is specifically designed for them. But when you start running the thin mesh construction of the front flask pockets somehow does not seem to contain the weight and mass of the flasks very comfortably at all. The flasks lurch and bulge around in a disconcerting manner.

It was unclear to me whether the intended design was for the hard top rim of the soft flask to be above or below the red elastic at the top of the front hydration pockets. I assumed the hard top rim of the flask (visible in Fig. 14) was meant to remain above the red elastic for easy access to fluid. But this was such a weird running experience (see next paragraph), and in addition with the top of the flask also flapping around energetically, that I also tried running with the hard top rim of the soft flask below the level of the red elastic in the pocket (the video clips in Fig. 15 and Fig. 16 below show both these scenarios).

Regardless of whether the top of the flasks is above or below the red elastic at the top of the hydration pocket, the running experience becomes significantly worse as the flasks empty during the course of the run. As the flasks empty there is more room in the pockets and as there is no way of tightening or adjusting the pockets, the flasks basically just jump around as if they have a mind of their own. Straining and bulging at the thin mesh pockets in a more unseemly manner than before (which was already unpleasant). I know it sounds odd – but the best way I can describe how it feels to run with the Hydro 2014 vest with the soft flasks up front is that it feels as if the soft flasks are two quite large breast implants. And whereas these should properly be supported by a rugged, supportive structure akin to a sports bra, the thin mesh of the front pockets offers almost no such support.

Assuming that the original intended design for the Hydro 2014 vest is for the hard top rim of the soft flasks to protrude beyond the red elastic of the pockets - this does indeed mean that the tops of the soft flasks are easily accessible during a run, poking from the top of the pockets as they are designed to. You just lean forward and take a sip without needing to remove the flask from the pocket. I like this system - if it works consistently and is comfortable. But as the video from Fig.15 below confirms, the top of the flasks in this scenario bounce around quite a lot, in addition to the straining and bulging mentioned above. Also, the red elastic around the top of the pocket does not always hold the bottles in place effectively, and as there is no way to adjust this elastic, there is not much you can really do about it. Quite a few times during my 30km test trailrun, the top of one of the soft flask disappeared into the pocket. It then becomes quite fiddly to pull the top out again when running - once I hastily pulled the top bite valve of the soft flask off by accident, resulting in spillage of water.

Fig. 15 contains a link to an embedded youtube video which shows me running with the Hydro 2014 vest. I have kept the hard top rim of the soft flask above the red elastic of the front hydration pocket in this video - I assume this is the intended, original design (See Fig.16 for a run with the hard part of the flask below the red elastic). Both flasks in this video contain about 350ml of water. As is apparent from the video - the main body of the Hydro 2014 vest itself is rooted firmly to my torso - the main harness works brilliantly. But on the front the soft flasks show all the issues mentioned above. Bouncing and lurching up and down at will as they strain against the lining of the thin mesh pockets. The top of the soft flasks flap up and down.

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Fig. 15: Video of running with the hard top rim of the soft flasks above the red elastic of the hydration pockets. Each soft flask contains about 350ml of water.
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Fig. 16 once again shows a run with about 350ml of water in each of the soft flasks. This time I have kept the hard part of the soft flasks below the level of the red elastic of the pocket. As you can see, the weight of the flasks continues to bulge and lurch around. The tops of the flasks also quickly disappear into the front pockets in this scenario and after this it can be quite fiddly trying to grab the flask again in order to drink from it. As I mentioned above, in a similar situation I once pulled the top bite valve off the soft flask by accident - causing water leakage.

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Fig. 16: Video of running with the hard top rim of the soft flasks below the red elastic of the hydration pockets. Each soft flask contains about 350ml of water.
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In fact, the best way to run with this new front pocket hydration system, is to wedge the tops of the soft flasks down into the sides of the front pockets as firmly as possible. This reduces the amount of bouncing but the thin mesh hydration pockets still bulge around. If you do this, however, the soft flasks can leak as you accidentally press the bite valve, and they are now not particularly easy to drink from - which kind of negates the whole point of the new front hydration system in the first place.

I assume this product has been extensively tested and I honestly can’t believe that no-one mentioned the weird running experience during the development stage of the product, or the fact that the soft flasks aren’t held firmly in place at all by the thin mesh pocket design.

In my mind the front pockets on the S-Lab 2013vest are far superior. They were made from a strong, supportive material and you could also use the adjustable elastic at the top to attach items to the pocket really firmly. Also, the S-Lab 2013 pockets are far more versatile. You can throw soft flasks / plastic bottles / gels / a camera in there and really carry all these things well and securely. The front hydration pockets on the Hydro 2014 vest are so tall and thin that they have been designed for the 500ml soft flasks and that’s pretty much it. Ultimately for me, the new design of the front pockets makes the Hydro 2014 vest fatally flawed. I absolutely hated running with it, and that is all I can say.

Fixing The Problem
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Hydro 12 fixing pocket
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Fig. 17: Potential solution to the soft flask problem.

The two front soft flasks desperately need something that holds their weight and mass in place and stops them lurching around during a run. They also need something to hold the top of the flask in place and prevent it from flapping around and also from falling into the pocket. I have designed a possible solution in Fig. 17. This uses a criss cross design of adjustable elastic to hold the main body of the flask in place in the front pocket and the top of the flask is held in place at the top of this criss cross elastic with an adjustable dongle. The dongle could then also be continuously adjusted as the flask becomes progressively emptier during your run. This is one potential solution which, in my mind, would greatly improve the running performance of this vest and perhaps gives an idea of what I consider to be the basic flaw with the new pockets.

However - I also believe that the thin mesh the main front pockets are constructed of is just the wrong material for the job - it is, quite simply, not capable of holding the bottles in place properly. Perhaps the red, thicker, slightly stretchy mesh used for the inside of the side pockets, or the lycra material used for the outside of the large zippered pocket would be more suitable - as these are both more supportive. But I still believe that the non-elastic, strong material used for the front pockets of the S-Lab 2013 vest is best suited for this purpose and the most efficient way of holding the soft flasks in place in the front pocket of a running vest.

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PROS AND CONS

A quick synopsis of what I consider to be the pros and cons of the Hydro 2014 vest:

PROS

1. Nearly 200g lighter than the S-Lab 2013 vest and yet it feels as strong and rugged as ever.

2. A trend towards a sleek, minimal, functional design.

3. The harness system and fit while stationary are second to none. The harness system has received a great update with a smaller plastic skeleton and easier to use clips.

4. Great new large grab pocket in the back.

5. New side pockets easy to access and very functional.

6. The two smaller front pockets are versatile and excellent (not the hydration pockets).

7. Almost everything apart from the large main rear zippered pocket is easily accessible with the vest on.

CONS

1. The new front soft flask hydration system is totally flawed.

2. The new front pockets are very tall and narrow - it's basically a 500ml soft flask or nothing in there - the pockets are not versatile.

3. No bladder provided as standard for what is already a very expensive item.

4. I am unsure about the quality of the zips. Only time and long usage will tell.

5. For a 12l vest I preferred the old system on the S-Lab 2013 where there were two zippered pockets on the back. One larger one and one flatter one in front of it.

6. The new pocket on the inside of the zippered rear pocket is useful but difficult to access, especially when the zippered rear pocket is full.

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CONCLUSION

Please bear in mind I am just expressing my honest, personal opinion. You, or anyone else reading this review may have an entirely different opinion about the comfort and useability of this item. I also want to mention that I am, in general, a huge Salomon fan and I own and use loads of their trailrunning gear (I am certain that many Salomon items in future will receive excellent reviews in this review section).

In many ways this is a beautifully designed item. Much of the new design is centred upon simplicity and streamlined functionality – and I like this trend. The vest fits perfectly and is unbelievably comfortable when you are stationary. The harness system is just brilliant. Almost all the pockets are easily accessible when the vest is on and thus it is beautifully usable.

But…… and this is a huge but. The most important functions of any hydration vest are to deliver fluid efficiently and to carry that fluid in an unobtrusive, comfortable and efficient manner. The new Hydro 2014 vest manages to deliver the fluid in a just about acceptable manner - if you can overlook the fact that sometimes the tops of the soft flasks disappear into the front pockets. But in terms of carrying the fluid in an unobtrusive, comfortable way, the Hydro 2014 vest fails miserably. With 500ml of fluid in both front soft flasks the vest feels front heavy and unbalanced. Whilst running I found the way the soft flasks lurch and bulge around in the thin front mesh pockets to be truly weird, distracting and unsettling. The weight and mass of the flasks seem to have a mind of their own. I absolutely hated running with the new Hydro 2014 vest.

In my opinion, the front pockets on the next S-Lab vest will need to be completely redesigned. They need a much more adaptable way for holding the soft flasks firmly in place, with a firmer, stronger, less elastic material comprising the main body of the pocket and an adjustable elastic strap at the top of the pockets, or much firmer elastic around the top if they want to keep the design the way it currently is.

I am very lucky. I expressed my shocked concerns regarding this item to my Salomon dealer and he very kindly agreed that I could return the item, out of a gesture of extreme good will. Normally, once you have used an item such as this any returns policy goes out the window. So I categorically recommend that you try this vest on before you buy it and perhaps do a few gentle jogs around the shop with your own water-filled soft flasks in the pockets to see if you feel OK or if you have the same issues I did with it. Or find a friend who owns a Hydro 2014 vest and try theirs out.

I intend to re-order an S-Lab 2013 vest as I feel this is by far the superior, more useable product at this moment in time. If the Hydro 2014 vest had been designed exactly as it has been, but with the same front pockets as the S-Lab 2013 vest then it would be a beautiful, almost perfect item (apart from there only being one zippered main pocket). But this is not the case. Unfortunately, I see the design of the Hydro 2014 vest as fatally flawed due to the new front pocket soft flask hydration system. As such I can only give it:

 
3/10
 
3 stars
 
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