If all you want to do is run, then the Salomon S/LAB Sense Ultra 5 Set is a good choice. This is more a piece of clothing than backpack. It fits and wears like a vest, but is full of pockets for storing everything you’d need in an ultra or epic event. It comes with two soft flasks that sit at just the right height and it is ready for a bladder. When it comes to stability while running, only the similar Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0 could keep up. For a pure running hydration pack it’s hard to beat.
The secret to class leading stability, even hopping around in a boulder field, is all in the super stretchy soft shell exterior of the Sense Ultra. Rather than filling a gap created in the vest, the pockets are just slits that expand the fabric. The snug material provides the stability, holding anything stashed inside in place. Add two chest straps – again with lots of stretch – and nothing ever moved.
The Salomon Sense Ultra comes with two soft flasks that ride in dedicated pockets on the shoulder straps. They’re at just the right height for drinking out of without using your hands. There’s a sleeve in the back that is hydration-bladder ready (up to 2 liters would fit) but one is not included. The pack can carry a 2-liter bladder and two 500 ml flasks up front for a total of 3 liters, or 102 ounces.
While the Sense Ultra can’t brag about a lot of volume it can claim to be expertly laid out. Salomon set out to make this a piece of clothing, not a pack, as such every pocket is accessible without having to take the vest off. We’d need more shoulder flexibility to really be able to pull the hydration bladder out, but could easily get into every other sleeve and pocket.
You could wear the Sense Ultra mountain biking or hiking, but it would feel out of place and wouldn’t work that well. This is a purpose-built tool made for long runs.
It’s worn like a piece of clothing and it feels like a piece of clothing. The mesh fabric on the inside of the vest is soft, wicking and fast drying for good comfort in a range of conditions. Even without a shirt on this vest never chafed or scratched.
Ryan Stuart is freelance writer and jack of all sports—trail running, mountain biking, whitewater paddling, surfing, climbing, skiing and mountaineering—based on Vancouver Island. Follow his testing on Google+.