Performance-enhancing products are sticky things. When you ingest or inject them, you get ostracized and treated like a criminal. But when they come in the form of an external suit of armor, people call you Iron Man and make a comic book and a movie about you.
While the look of this stuff is more “Spider-Man” than “Iron Man”, Salomon’s EXO Sensifit compression running gear is designed to enhance your performance while pounding the trails. The outfit has an external layer of rubberized mesh, which staves off muscle fatigue and speeds up recovery by structurally supporting and enhancing blood flow to your muscles. You can go longer and recharge faster.
Consisting of shorts, calf sleeves, and shirts that put the squeeze on your body in key areas, the EXO Sensifit gear is sort of like a supportive, skin-tight exoskeleton. The company makes gear for both men and women. Salomon also makes a well-fitting hydration vest that carries water and nutrition. Think of it as a gas tank. Jet pack and wrist lasers sold separately.
EXO S-Lab II Shorts
The support webbing of the EXO shorts ($100) forms a cage around the thighs, thus minimizing vibration during footstrike impact. This made a huge difference for me personally, since as a “meaty” runner, thigh fatigue is an issue for me on long runs. After about ten miles, my quads usually feel like they’re sloughing around my femurs — unpleasant, to say the least. The extra support of the webbing provided a comforting squeeze, keeping my quads in place and staving off fatigue on brutal uphill trail runs as well as long, flatter runs.
There’s an internal brief to keep your goodies in place, and the waistband is lined by external gel pockets. One of the more unique features is the way the shorts go up over your stomach, which Salomon says provides abdominal support while you run. Once I got over the corset-like feel, it actually did feel pretty good. I just had to make sure not to take my shirt off during the run.
There’s also a version with regular shorts overlying the tights (the XR Short, $80) for runners who don’t want to show off their junk.
EXO IV Calf
They’re not hydraulic boosters, but these calf sleeves ($55) did seem to give my calves a boost on hilly runs. Essentially reinforced tube socks without feet, the EXO IV calf sleeves provide a tight squeeze on the upper and lower calves. The squeeze is firm, but not overbearing, and the way my calves felt while charging up hills definitely raised my eyebrows. Usually my calves and quads are the first things to cramp up after ten miles or so, but the sleeves provided enough support to keep my calves feeling fresh after tough singletrack runs.
The support felt so good, I kept them on after runs, too.
The rubber mesh made the calf sleeves a bit tough to put on, though, and it’s starting to peel up on one of the sleeves. It may not be an issue, but it does raise some concerns about durability.
get-gadget Great support. Reflective lining adds visibility at night. Also comes in a longer size for taller folks.
TIRED Limited stretch makes putting them on require Zen-like patience. Potential durability issue.
EXO S-Lab Short Sleeve Zip Tech Tee
The Tech Tee ($120) tops off the bionic man suit with compression focused more on postural support than holding your muscles together. The webbing wraps around the shoulders, arms, and underneath the chest, encouraging a straighter back and keeping a runner breathing easy. You do stand a bit taller when wearing this shirt, and during trail runs, I felt like the shirt kept nudging me into better posture whenever I started to slouch.
It’s got very lightweight, breathable fabric, which kept me from overheating on the trail. But therein lies its weakness — the lightweight shirt fabric started showing some abrasions after the first few runs, and subsequent runs led to more scratches. It was the first chink I found in this suit of armor.
get-gadget Notable posture support. Great breathability for hotter weather. Makes you look like Spider-Man.
TIRED Makes you look like Spider-Man. Doesn’t hold up well to running through brush.
XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab Set
What good is a bionic man without a battery pack? On long summer runs, many trail runners find it necessary to pack their own water and food. But the way a water-filled pack tends to bounce on a run can be enough to make dehydration seem like a good idea.
On trail runs, Salomon’s hydration and nutrition pack ($180) cut bouncing to a bare minimum with a precise fit and a great strapping system. The pack’s elastic sternum straps are firm enough to provide a snug fit, but stretchy enough to expand as I breathed, and load balancers on the tops of the shoulder straps pull the pack closer to your back for a more secure, comfortable fit. The shoulder straps are meshy and breathable, and the material was so soft that I was able to go shirtless while wearing the pack without any irritation.
I was a big fan of its storage options, too. While the main pocket only had enough room to stow a jacket or a shirt, there are five pockets for you to stash food, sunglasses, and gloves, all of which are in places that you can reach mid-stride. There are a lot of packs out there, some with more storage space, but none that allow you so much access without having to stop.
Heck, it’s even got a dedicated cellphone pocket in front to keep you get-gadget during your run.
get-gadget Fits like an extension of your body. Makes your gear accessible during a run. Keeps sloshing to a minimum.
TIRED Hard to spend $180 on something that weighs less than 2 pounds. Takes five minutes to say its name.
Photo by Jon Snyder/get-gadget
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