Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, very versatile
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 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 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 it to a friend, which is our highest compliment.
Making a slight deviation from previous models of the ADV Skin 12, there are more adjustments on the sides/back, and surprisingly the result is a more comfortable and less bouncy fit. The chest straps are noticeably thinner than previous iterations, and if we're honest, they are a bit more challenging to adjust. Once adjusted, however, the tension is easily tweaked on the fly to keep the pack snug and comfortable.
That initial adjustment of the chest strap clips up and down the rail is one of the only issues we have with the ADV Skin 12. Small hands seem to help manipulate the small clips, but we wonder why Salomon opted for this challenging clip system. If we ignore this small frustration, however, 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 in our review. 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.
Of all the packs we tested, this one stands out as being one of the most feature-rich.
The ADV Skin 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 other packs may provide more space overall, the design of this one puts more items within arms' reach, resulting in having to stop and re-situate supplies less. You can even pack along collapsible hiking poles comfortably, though that will require stopping and removing the pack to attach or remove the poles.
The highlight of the design on the ADV Skin 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 can hold plenty of food and water, the issue is often that nutrition ends up 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. That said, 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 otherwise. 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 isn'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 on the ADV Skin 12 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 bottles of other models. 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.
Volume to Weight Ratio
The storage capacity of the ADV Skin 12 is excellent, while the weight of the vest remains low, making it one of the top scorers for this metric. 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 two included 500ml soft flasks.
The ADV Skin 12 does have ample space, but it is unlikely that you could fit enough gear for an overnight fastpacking mission. That being said, when we loaded this pack to the gills with equipment, we found it to be more comfortable than larger options and also to hold more nutrition within arms' reach — something worth considering when deciding how much storage space you really need.
While the excellent fit, layout, and usability of the ADV Skin 12 comes at a bit of a weight cost, it still outperforms all other packs on the whole. 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.
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 are one of our favorite features. In addition, this newest version has a huge stretch zippered pocket on the back of the pack, which allows 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 sets 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.
Although this product is expensive, we find it to be quite a 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. The ADV Skin 12 is 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, our Editors' Choice Winner. There isn't a running environment where we wouldn't use it, from long urban runs to big days out in the mountains. 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. 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