Salomon X-Alp Product Launch: Preliminary Gear Reviews

Now that I’ve talked about what I think about Salomon as a brand, I’m ready to talk about the gear. The X-Alp product line (discussed by Salomon here) is their first foray into the field of mountaineering gear. In case you’ve never heard of Salomon before, they are a well-established brand in the areas alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, trail running, and hiking. Although I’m more of a mountaineer than a skier, I’ve used quite a bit of their gear in both the front-country and the back-country over the years, and have never experienced any problems. At the X-Alp product launch last week, the design teams involved in the development of the product line talked about the background that Salomon has in the outdoor realm; and how that background assisted them in developing a new line of products.

That background assisted the design teams by providing them access to world class athletes and explorers like Kilian Jornet, who were involved in the testing of the early models of gear in real-world outdoor conditions, and who provided invaluable feedback on product modifications. Salomon calls this part of their design process the “S-Lab”; and it represents an interesting “trickle-down” approach in gear design, as the gear is designed to withstand the conditions that expert athletes will face, but is also marketed to casual mountaineers, and members of the general public. The main point that I took away from the X-Alp product launch about the X-Alp line is that the new line is designed to be ultralight, as that is the direction the mountaineering gear industry has gone in the last ten years; but also designed to be durable while being flexible in order to best accommodate the needs that mountaineers have on the mountain.

The main line that was repeated over and over to me about the gear by Salmon designers was that the gear is designed to be used from “the top to the bottom of the mountain; and everywhere in between”. Obviously, as any astute mountaineer will note, this mantra could have unfortunate implications, as an expert mountaineer will choose gear based upon conditions; and not based on a “one-size-fits-all-approach”. However, after watching the presentations and testing the gear, I found that the phrase could be taken in more of a positive light, and should be taken in more of a positive light in that the X-Alp line of gear was very versatile – which is something that mountaineers do appreciate.

In terms of my review of the X-Alp line, I put that this is a preliminary review because while I did get to test quite a bit of gear, not all of it will be released until fall of 2015; and at this point, I would like to test the gear a little more before fully judging it in a positive or negative manner. I did test the gear at the base of the Alps on a sunny day and in the mid-range of the Alps on a day with wind, rain, snow, and a little sleet. Out of the two days of tests I’ve had, I relied more on the latter in my preliminary reviews, because again, in my experience, those are the conditions that matter to me as a mountaineer, rather than how things perform in basically perfect conditions. I will be receiving this gear later on in the mail, and I will be testing it further, so you can expect to read more specific reviews about specific pieces rather than just my general thoughts here today. In particular though, some of the early impressions I had about the following pieces are as follows:

Salomon S-Lab X-Alp 20: This is the signature mountaineering backpack of the line. From a design standpoint, it has a number of interesting features. First, the pack is light – ultralight – when I carried it, I barely noticed that I had it on me. Second, the design of this pack is very sleek, and form fitting, and all of the space is used for two internal pockets. The interesting thing about these pockets is that one of them is specifically devoted for crampon placement/storage/carrying. To me, this is a novel idea as crampons are probably the most difficult thing to store/carry when on a mountaineering trip. It’s also interesting to note that this pocket features a system that could be used to rig a line for mountaineering travel for two mountaineers without harnesses – which as far as I know, is the only system of its kind on the market today. When I tested out the crampon pocket, I was impressed at how it worked in storing the crampons I was using, but I was also interested to see how it would hold up to repeated use of crampon storage, rather than the brief use I was able to get out of it on a one day trip. This is definitely something that I will be testing further in the future.

The other interesting thing about this pack is that the main zipper for it runs the length of the back of the pack, rather than being on the side, or on the front of the backpack. This was designed so that a mountaineer could turn the pack around with the hip belt on, and go through it without having to take it off. I must confess that while this is a nifty feature, I was initially a little skeptical about it, hypothesizing that in my experience, things would be more likely to fall out this way; but when I tested it both days, I did not have a problem. Having said that, the skeptic in me remains: I still feel like things will fall out. Then again, if professional explorers have tested it without losing gear (and they have), the end results of my own personal tests will likely demonstrate that it is a great idea that I need to come around to. In any event, my preliminary thoughts about the backpack were that it was a great piece of well-designed technology that I can’t wait to test more.

Salomon S-Lab X-Alp Pant/Unnamed Jacket: I also tested out the X-Alp pants, which are designed to be the line’s signature pants upon release. During the second day of testing, I was outside on rock, ice, and a bit of snow. Throughout the day, it was windy, rainy, and when the temperature dropped, there was also a bit of snow and sleet to boot. Throughout all of these conditions, the pants performed well; kept me dry, and provided me with an excellent range of motion. Similarly, the jacket I was testing (not the initial X-Alp jacket release, I believe it is the fall 2015 release), was very lightweight, and kept me very dry and warm. I was very impressed with the technical gear; and like the pack; can’t wait to test it more.

I also tested a couple of other things, which when they arrive in my kit, I’ll cover in greater detail as I test more, but from what I saw and experienced live and in the field, Salomon has designed some great products that will definitely impact the mountaineering community in a positive way on a going forward basis, and I can’t wait to tell all of you about them as I take them out on my many adventures!