Reviews You Can Rely On

Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set Review

The best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortably
Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set
Photo: Salomon
Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $180 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Minimalist, lightweight, accessible pockets
Cons:  Doesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretch
Manufacturer:   Salomon
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
85
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 11
  • Comfort - 30% 8
  • Features - 25% 8
  • Hydration System - 15% 9
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 9
  • Pockets - 15% 9

Our Verdict

The Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set was awarded our Top Pick Award for racing as it can carry almost anything and weighs next to nothing. No vest has a comparable range of comfort. When it's empty, we forget we are wearing it, and the more we stuff in, the more secure it feels. Constructed with highly stretchable materials, this is not a vest you would want to put a Nalgene in. But, with the included soft flasks and our race essentials, we fell in love with how balanced and intuitive this vest is. If you are looking for a race vest, save your time and spend your money on this, you're going to want it.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   
Price Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
85
86
85
77
75
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Minimalist, lightweight, accessible pocketsAmazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gearComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileHighly versatile, comfortable, durable, waterproofLightweight, comfortable, breathable
Cons Doesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretchSome stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while movingExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyHard to insert soft flasks, limited accessible pockets, no hydration system includedPole storage is obtrusive, tight around the neck
Bottom Line The best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortablyA comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-criticalA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitBuilt for any rugged activity in the mountains but the hydration system needs some workAn excellent running pack for those looking to go light and fast
Rating Categories S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... Black Diamond Dista... Ultimate Direction...
Comfort (30%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Features (25%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Hydration System (15%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
5.0
7.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
10.0
Pockets (15%)
9.0
10.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Specs S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... Black Diamond Dista... Ultimate Direction...
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 7.9oz 13.6oz 13.4oz 14.2 oz (pack only, no bottles/bladder included) 9.3oz
Carrying Capacity 8L 12L 12L 15L 11L
Included Liquid Capacity 1L 1.6L 1L 1L 1L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 1.01 0.88 0.90 1.06 1.20
External Storage? Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, kangaroo Pockets Yes, paracord Yes, back pouch pocket
Type of Water Storage 2 500mL bottles 1.6L hourglass reservoir Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) Not included Two 500 mL soft flasks (included)
Pole Holders? Add on Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The spectrum of hydration packs for running starts with backpacks that feature hydration bladders and ranges all the way to form-fitting vests with integrated pockets, each with its own designed purpose. The Sense Ultra 8 pushes the far end of the vest spectrum with incredible comfort and a tight-to-the-torso design. We know the vest we'll be racing in from now on. Read on to learn why.

Performance Comparison


Every pocket has it's own purpose, but we felt like we could...
Every pocket has it's own purpose, but we felt like we could endlessly stuff snacks, a phone, and other gear in these large front kangaroo pockets
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


Stretch in a vest style hydration pack works wonders as the material accommodates added gear and keeps snug through the ribcage. That is certainly the case with the Sense Ultra 8 — this may be the only pack we tested that got more comfortable the more we put in it. While the material does most of the work, the vest only includes two points of adjustment across the sternum, so ensuring you have the correct size will make a big difference.


This vest will be a 10/10 for comfort for some folks, but the initial fit and adjusting the fit may be a nonstarter for many others. While we applaud simplicity throughout this design, it appears there was no interest in making the sternum straps adjustable on the go. We tinkered around for close to 10 minutes before we got the clasp free of the cord loop system to move it up. There is no reason this should be so arduous, considering most packs have a way to customize fit while running.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Is it likely that a competitive ultrarunner will want to adjust their sternum straps mid-race? Maybe not, and we respect that Salomon has an intended audience for this pack.

The cord and clasp system is simple, and adjusting the tension is...
The cord and clasp system is simple, and adjusting the tension is easy, but moving the cord and clasps vertically for individualized fit is far too complicated.
Photo: Jeff Colt

We were all smiles out on the trail testing the Sense Ultra 8 with our race kit and snacks. One caveat is, we wouldn't advise putting any heavy, dense items, such as a point-and-shoot camera or Nalgene in this vest. It offers enough stretch that those items will surely bounce and jostle around, diminishing the fit and comfort of the vest. Lastly, we have concerns about whether or not the fit will loosen over time as the Elastane material stretches out. For this reason, we advise that if you are in-between sizes, consider downsizing.

While many hydration packs use the sides to reinforce suspension...
While many hydration packs use the sides to reinforce suspension, the Sense Ultra is a proper vest, with pockets wrapping around the ribcage and no clear start or end to the chest straps.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Features


Again, it pays to know your audience, and rather than attaching features that some runners won't use, the Sense Ultra 8 keeps it light and simple but includes attachments for a quiver to store trekking poles. Overall, we found the included features to all have a real function, and for this, we are thrilled.


A whistle comes attached just above the left hydration flask sleeve, but it is clove-hitched on to be removable, and the whistle is actually easy to move as the cord is thin. Whistles are required for many races and are a good tool to have in the backcountry, but many runners cut them out of packs. Now those runners can just simply remove it to cut grams. Reflective accents are also omnipresent on the Sense Ultra which we appreciate.

We tested this vest in the color red, and while light blue and black...
We tested this vest in the color red, and while light blue and black are also offered, it's worth noting how well this red stands out at dawn and dusk.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Three zippered pockets keep valuables stowed safely and while there is no waterproof part of the vest, accessing our rain layer took no time. One of the most innovative features of this design is the pole storage system, but the quiver for collapsable poles that attaches to the vest is not included with the vest.

Tabs on the top of each shoulder strap and loops above each hip...
Tabs on the top of each shoulder strap and loops above each hip accommodate a pole quiver, that must be purchased separately.
Photo: Jeff Colt

The final feature we want to emphasize is the material that is used and how it is used. Three different weight meshes are used in the interior of the vest, with the lightest mesh incorporated across the flank to offer more stretch. The pockets and body of the pack feature different amounts of stretch as well so that expansion occurs where it is most needed to maintain balance in the pack.

Ripping downhills or slogging on pavement, we found the...
Ripping downhills or slogging on pavement, we found the Elastane/Polyamide material to move well with our body movements and stay secure.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Hydration System


Salomon does soft flasks well. This vest owes the success of its hydration system to the two included 500mL Speed soft flasks. A reinforced bullet bottom makes sliding it into the flask sleeves much easier than other designs. The updated lids on this model of soft flask are the easiest we used, though by redesigning the threads, older Salomon lids are not compatible. You might be wondering, if these soft flasks are better, why not just use them with other vests? To be blunt, we do. But only Salomon designs the hydration sleeves of their vests as perfect matches for these bottles.


The hydration system on the Sense Ultra works in harmony with the other pockets and features of the vest, such as the large kangaroo pockets on the chest. The narrower, elongated bottles don't interfere as much with accessing food and gear from the larger pouch opening for the kangaroo pockets. Other vests that feature a two-pouch pocket design on the chest run into issues accessing the snack pocket when the soft flasks are full and in place — there isn't enough independent space for each pocket to function appropriately.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The Salomon Speed flasks are included with this vest; evident is the stiffer plastic on the bottom of the flask for easier insertion into the storage sleeve and padding in the vest to prevent pressure points. Lastly, a small elastic loop built into the vest slips over the lid of each flask, holding it in place and preventing it from bouncing out or sliding down. By supporting the flasks at the top, the bite valve is always in the correct position, plus the bottle doesn't migrate down to the bottom of the pouch, where it would interfere with the kangaroo pocket. This vest is compatible with a hydration bladder, but we wouldn't recommend it considering how stretchy the back material is.

From the harder bullet shaped bottom to the upgraded easy-thread top...
From the harder bullet shaped bottom to the upgraded easy-thread top to the bottle harness loop, Salomon thought of it all.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Volume to Weight Ratio


Weighing in at 7.9 ounces with both soft flasks, the Sense Ultra 8 sits among the lightest vests we've ever tested. (Queue the smoke machine.) But wait, there's more. (Explosions.) Everything fits into this pack, gear on gear on gear. Since we don't have a perfect way of measuring the volume of a pack, we use the supplied volume numbers to calculate our volume to weight ratio score. With this in mind, we were able to comfortably fit more gear into the Sense Ultra than any pack that outscored it.


For a pack that looks like a skimpy little crop top, the Sense Ultra 8 carries gear like Santa's sack — you can just keep stuffing more into it. Still, while we love the number of layers we can bring on mountain missions, there are limitations to what the stretch fabric can hold. Some of the packs we tested that are more geared toward fastpacking could actually carry bricks and manage to haul heavy loads. This would not be the case for this vest. It manages light, bulky, stuff-able items, but heavier dense items would lead to a stretch scenario we want no part in.

Layers on layers, if you want to bring a puffy just in case, stuff...
Layers on layers, if you want to bring a puffy just in case, stuff it in. It will likely fit and doesn't impact the balance of the vest.
Photo: Jeff Colt

On the flip side, if you want to run fast and light, just bringing along the necessary water and a couple of snacks, this vest is the perfect fit. Well balanced and super light.

At 7.9oz there is nothing excessive on this vest, yet it manages to...
At 7.9oz there is nothing excessive on this vest, yet it manages to have three different zippered pockets to keep your gear secure. Note, we rounded down our measurements to account for the rubber band.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


With ten pockets, two hydration sleeves, and a small mesh sorting pocket, how did they keep this vest so lightweight?


On the shoulder straps, there are two pockets positioned up high. The right pocket has a zipper and works well for carrying keys, a headlamp, or electrolyte tabs. The left pocket is a simple stuff pouch that we used to store gloves. Below these pockets are the main sleeves for the soft flasks. As the design of the Sense Ultra uses all of the space along the ribcage for storage, the kangaroo pockets that are on the shoulder straps wrap around and take up some of the flank real-estate. These pockets place more gear and food in easy reach and are the most useful pockets on any pack we tested.

We were able to stuff a lot of gear into this vest, thanks to the...
We were able to stuff a lot of gear into this vest, thanks to the extreme stretch of the pockets. Notably, we found that we could reach most everything we needed while on the move.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Along each side are two more pockets, one with a zipper that holds larger items like a phone or additional food securely and then a highly stretchy pocket outside of this one that can accommodate a variety of stuff-able items — a buff, hat, rain layer, bag of potato chips, or perhaps a ham sandwich. The two pockets on the back of the vest can both hold larger layers and have no-slip rubber stripping to help keep contents from migrating out while on the move.

Value


If you are in the market for a new race vest, this is the choice option. Take note that this vest likely won't be as durable as some of the others we reviewed, as the materials are susceptible to stretching out and, with little adjustability, if that happens it will be too big. We see the same value in this vest as a light pair of racing-oriented shoes: you'll get really high-quality miles, but not as many as a durable pair of trainers. However, for serious ultrarunners who want the simplest, fastest option for racing, the Sense Ultra 8 will be a delight.

Conclusion


We fell in love with this vest at first wear, and days on the trail reaffirmed our feelings that this is the best race vest we've encountered. From a simple and secure hydration system to the incredible balance of all of the pockets when loaded, the Sense Ultra 8 performs as a tool that makes longer distances easier and faster. While we can't understand why Salomon made the sternum strap such a bear to adjust, we found our point of comfort and had no complaints from there. Reflective banding and a highly packable material make this vest great for speedy urban runs, while the 8+ liters of storage capacity makes it fit for the largest ultra races. We advise trying on two sizes and if you can size down slightly, do so. Comfort and capability make this one of our all-time favorites.

This vest will elevate your running game and might even take you to...
This vest will elevate your running game and might even take you to new heights.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt