Once again, we find the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set to be the best hydration pack available. Salomon retained everything we like about the past version of the pack and managed to make it more comfortable and functional with its most recent update. This pack is very comfortable and keeps bounce down to the bare minimum. Not only do we feel like this pack has been improved from previous versions, but its price has also dropped significantly since the last iteration, making it that much sweeter. Whatever you're going to use a running hydration pack for, this second-skin hydration pack is going to make your experience better.
Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set Review
Cons: Expensive, must buy hydration bladder separately
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Topping the charts in nearly every test we threw at it, the ADV Skin 12 easily beat out the rest of the competition for our Editors' Choice Award. The material is both breathable and just tacky enough to grip comfortably, giving you an almost completely bounce-free run. Salomon didn't skimp on the features or storage capacity of this vest either. Collapsible pole attachment points, multiple points of fit adjustment, see-through pockets, an insulated water reservoir pocket, and enough storage for an all-day romp in the woods make the ADV Skin 12 suitable for some serious running.
Of all packs tested, this represents the most refined, comfortable, and well thought out. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend this pack to a friend.
Making a slight deviation from previous models of the ADV Skin 12, there are more fit adjustments on the sides/back, and surprisingly the result is a more comfortable and less bouncy fit. The chest straps are noticeably thinner than last years model, and if we're honest, they are a bit more challenging to adjust. Once adjusted, however, the tension is easily adjusted on the fly to keep the pack snug and comfortable.
The left photo (below) is the 2019 update of the ADV Skin 12 and the right is the past version. While the previous version was a bit easier to move chest strap attachment points up and down the rail, the new version is more comfortable and seems to be the right amount of stretch.
One of the only issues we found with the ADV Skin 12 was the initial adjustment of the chest strap clips up and down the rail. Small hands seemed to help manipulate the small clips. When compared to vests with similar systems to the Ultimate Direction FKT it makes one wonder why Salomon opted for this challenging clip system. If we ignore this small frustration, this pack is incredibly comfortable even after hours on the trail.
The comfort of the soft flasks was also noticeable when compared to other packs reviewed. Having the water weight up front seems to make the vest stay put vs. riding down your back, which is typical of vests that utilize hydration bladder style reservoirs.
Features & Design
Of all the packs we tested, two stood out as being packed with features — the Salomon ADV Skin and the Ultimate Direction FKT. Both have a host of features, some which overlapped and some were unique to each. The ADV Skin 12 is uniquely focused on having items such as food, a light layer, gloves, salt tablets, or whatever is stored in the see-through mesh front and side pockets easily accessible. While the Ultimate Direction FKT had quite a bit more space overall, the design of the ADV Skin put more items within arms' reach and resulted in us having to stop and resituate supplies less.
The Salomon ADV Skin can pack along collapsible hiking poles comfortably. We had to stop/remove the pack to attach or remove our poles.
The design highlight of the ADV Skin's design is how accessible everything is. The layout puts 1000ml of liquid in a comfortable drinking position and enough storage to have a day's worth of food at arms' length. While many of the hydration packs we tested could hold plenty of food and water, the issue was often that nutrition would be out of reach, necessitating a stop and reload.
While several aspects of the ADV Skin 12 have changed over the past few years, the hydration system hasn't. There are two 500ml chest-mounted soft flasks included with the pack and an insulated sleeve in the back that will accept a two-liter bladder. You can remove this sleeve and put in an even bigger water reservoir if you are really thirsty.
Over the years, we have tested many soft flasks and true to form, these are difficult to stuff down in their little home. Once they're in there, they are stable and don't bounce around, which is a trade-off we're willing to accept. If you can fill the bottles without removing them from their pocket that is ideal as they can be frustrating. This problem isn't isolated to the ADV Skin 12 as it seems to plague any vest that opts for soft flasks. The issue with refilling soft flasks while they're in the vest is that you will inevitably get the vest wet. This wasn't a problem in the blazing heat of Arizona, but in cold, dry climates, you will have to endure the battle of wrestling the flasks back into their pocket.
The positioning of the soft flasks is excellent. They are within reach for easy hydration without being obtrusive. The tapered design of the bottles allows them to lay flat against your chest, making them almost unnoticeable unlike the harder plastic bottle of the UD FKT. Through all of the hydration systems we have tested, the soft flasks seem to be the easiest to manage even when considering the occasional need to finagle them back into their pockets after refills.
The storage capacity of the ADV Skin 12 is excellent. It has all the storage you would likely need for a day-long run in the mountains. Our entire base kit could fit into the rear zippered storage compartment, even leaving room for a two-liter water reservoir add on. This allowed us to stash tons of nutrition in the accessible pockets up front along with the included two 500ml soft flasks.
As far as the ultimate storage capacity goes, there was no competing with the UD FKT pack, as its unique roll-top design allowed for an obscene amount of equipment to be packed along. The ADV Skin 12 does have ample space, but it is unlikely that you could fit enough gear for an overnight fastpacking mission as we did with the FKT. That being said, when we loaded the ADV Skin 12 to the gills with equipment, then put that same amount of weight and equipment in the FKT, we found the Salomon to be more comfortable and actually hold more nutrition within arms' reach, something worth considering when deciding how much storage space you really need.
When it comes to well thought out and purposefully designed pockets, the ADV Skin 12 is easily the best vest we tested. The past version had zippered pockets along the flanks, which were a bit difficult to access. The new version migrated these pockets to be easily accessible on the front of the pack.
The handy see-through pockets, one of our favorite features from the past version, remain in 2019. In addition, the new version saw the introduction of a huge stretch zippered pocket on the back of the pack. This allowed for a vast amount of storage. Things we didn't necessarily use often but didn't want to leave behind, such as our jacket, headlamp, first aid, and gloves, all fit comfortably.
The layout and usability of these pockets set this vest apart. We never felt like we had to do some shoulder or wrist contortion to fish a bar out of one of the front pockets, something that can't be said of every vest tested. Often it feels as if the runner is expected to conform to the vest instead of the vest conforming to the runner. The pocket layout of the ADV Skin 12 is an excellent example of the latter. Salomon nailed it.
Not the heaviest, and not the lightest. The excellent fit, layout, and usability of the ADV Skin 12 comes at a bit of a weight cost. Weighing in at 13.3 ounces, it lands somewhere in the middle of the testing field. It's important to note, the high level of comfort experienced when wearing this vest far outweighs its physical weight. The evenly distributed weight, bounce-free fit, and pocket placement make it feel as feathery as any vest we tested.
Also critical for those out there counting the grams, this weight includes two 500ml soft flasks but no hydration reservoir as there isn't one included with this vest. Adding a two-liter bladder will add about 4-6 ounces of weight.
There isn't a running environment where we wouldn't use this vest. From long urban runs to big days out in the mountains, the ADV Skin 12 is at home. There is ample storage for three liters of water, extra layers, and tons of food all packed into an extremely comfortable vest. There's a reason you see so many of these vests bobbing around at the start of ultra races; they get the job done even when the job is hundreds of miles.
Although this product is expensive, we found it to be quite good value. There are intangibles which can be difficult to put a price on, especially 30 miles into the backcountry with only the supplies on your back. It's not cheap, but there are more expensive models available that aren't as good. It is by far the most comfortable and highest performing pack we tested. If it is in your budget, we don't think you will be disappointed.
If you are in the market for a hydration pack for running, we can't possibly recommend one more than the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set. We can go so far as to say that in a couple of years of product testing of all sorts, we think this is one of the most innovative and refined pieces of gear we have tested! Pick one up, and you won't be disappointed.
— Brian Martin