You want to make yourself at home in this world, you need to handle the onslaught of stuff and find what’s good for dealing with whatever conditions you find yourself in – and indeed, what helps get into a greater variety of conditions.
My involvement in outdoor pursuits and everyday exploration (and sometimes, work in cyber-anthropology of the outdoor market) thus leads me to an interest in new gear, even as – or perhaps all the more because – I am not particularly fond of the consumerism involved in that.
Most recently, these pursuits led to the OutDoor Friedrichshafen, which was held from July 15-18, 2014.
The first and foremost – and already-seen – reason was Suunto’s announcement of the Ambit3 “connected Ambit” collection, but there was more that was of interest.
Perhaps the biggest (other) news is the entrance of Arc’teryx into the footwear market.
Their “Technical Performance Footwear” trends towards the truly technical and rugged looks, but it’s also pure Arc’teryx in its evidently excellent construction and thought-through design – one-piece upper laminated into shape, in the case of the Alpha for approach shoes, with the Bora, as hiking boots; exclusive Vibram sole wrapping around heel and toes; but especially, the removable tongue-less liner(s) of different kinds.
The liner construction in different heights and with different levels of waterproofness and insulation means that one shoe (or to be exact, one upper) can be combined with different liners to make one single pair of shoes suited for various conditions, from summer to winter. For summer, take the most breathable low liner; for winter hiking, take the high and insulated one…
Being interested in technical fashion that isn’t necessarily stylish so much as functional, but in the process manages to also create a special, non-fashionable style – as Arc’teryx offers through its premium Veilance line – I think that those shoes fit right in there. But, they may also work out well for the mountain pursuits they are ostensibly meant for.
Being into outdoor pursuits like ultramarathons, these shoes also make me wonder. If the fit works out well, this two-piece combination of bootie-like inner/liner and separate outer/shoe may work wonders in an ultra-running shoe (at least, for the problems I’d been having with my feet needing enough room, but then slipping around a bit too much, causing blisters when they get wet). Not that the current shoes would be light enough for runners, but we’ll see what happens when they are on the market, come spring 2015.
In running, though, Arcteryx isn’t particularly strong, even with the Endorphin line. Quote from Germany manager: “We see the running as preparation for the mountain pursuits that we are about.”
Talking of shoes and trail running:
The Boa lacing system has recently been mentioned again, and time again, as up-and-coming. When it comes to running shoes, however, it seems to have been out ever since The North Face stopped using it. Topo Athletic recently used it on one of its models – and at the OutDoor, I noticed that Viking Footwear from Norway has it on its “performance sport” trail running shoe, the Apex Boa. I still find it an interesting system (and this, an interesting shoe), though it has fallen out of favor in the running shoe market.
Salewa has been around for so long, and as a brand that is so close to home, it never seemed too interesting. They just recently unveiled a new logo, they have evidently partnered with Red Bull X-Alps – and they seem to be up to interesting things when it comes to trail running / adventure sports equipment.
Their new Speed Ascent shoe brought home the OutDoor’s Gold award; I’m not convinced about its “rockered” sole, but the whole collection it belongs to – pretty noticeable, the “Alpine Speed” jacket – does look interesting for fast and light outdoor pursuits.
Vibram, even after the debacle with the lawsuit against its Five Fingers shoes, makes not only the soles of many a shoe (like those of Arcteryx), but also new minimalist footwear of its own. The latest, also shown at the OutDoor, is the Furoshiki “wrapping sole,” basically a sole molded onto a piece of cloth cut and equipped with velcro so that it can be wrapped around one’s foot.
It is certainly nothing for the average (trail or other) runner, and not at all intended for them. But, as a minimal-as-minimal-can piece to protect one’s feet while basically walking barefoot, and as a summer vacation ‘shoe’ to throw in one’s bag, it will serve its purpose.
The idea isn’t so bad, that way, but at a street price of around 100 Euro, it seems to target a fashion market that is supposed to get caught up in a fashion frenzy for those non-shoes. Good luck with that.
‘Honorary’ mentions go to Merrell and Adidas, which look like they are both expanding their outdoors collections. Merrell continues to be close to the minimalist trend, but with a tendency to move more of the lessons learned from that into its more “normal” lines of shoes; I just wish it weren’t so difficult to find and try out their shoes here.
Adidas has a lot to offer in the terrex line, and there are further plans for that; still, nothing stand-out for me, but that was a problem I found all brands to have.
Berghaus, for example, continues to make interesting things. Its VapourLight Hyper Smock is billed as “the world’s lightest waterproof jacket,” was among Philippe Gatta’s equipment for “the ultimate trail” – 1,200km in 34 days, along the high route of the Nepalese Great Himalayan Trail -, won a Gold Award at the OutDoor… but it seems much less known among ultrarunners than Montane’s Minimus jacket (and pants) or Outdoor Research’s Helium II.
(The OR Helium II and Montane Minimus pants were what saved me on the Via Natura Ultra Trail, by the way. Kept me dry and warm enough to keep going where others had to give up because they got soaked…)
That was also the theme I discovered with Haglöfs. Never would I have thought of that brand when it comes to equipment for fast and light outdoor activities… but it was impossible not to notice their break-down of the gear with which “less is more,” and so I decided to check them out.
Shoes were again one noticeable item; Haglöfs will be bringing out trail running shoes, their technology contributed by Asics. The other “Less Is More” (L.I.M.) series gear was also not without interest. The best find to try with the next light rain jacket, though, was what I was shown about their tremendously light windbreaker: Just stuff it into one of the sleeves…
Since that visit, I wonder about companies and their marketing and the ways we choose our gear. It seems like a rational process of checking reviews, comparing features and specifications, preferably trying on and out the things we may be interested in – but there is a lot of chance and biased communication at play, too.
What brands are already known and seem to be making interesting things, which brands and products we simply feel good about… things like that have a lot of influence on purchasing decisions.
Add the apparent lack of sensible communication where things are actually talked about – good products all well and good, but when you never come across Berghaus or Haglöfs gear for trail runners on ultramarathon-related websites, I think they are missing out on marketing chances and sales success.
Much of the time, certainly when it’s not with the largest brands with great marketing budgets (though sometimes, apparently, even with them), it’s a matter of chance whether one will come across a brand, anyways. Case in point from this visit to the OutDoor: Vargo – http://www.vargooutdoors.com/ – maker of titanium gear.
What made me notice him was a prototype for winter running spikes which are planned to be released this winter. I’m not entirely sure about the durability of their construction (although: titanium), but they look like a departure from the ‘chain spikes’ that have become so common, in a direction that makes them easy to carry for the trail runner (and everyday walker), just in case…
We’ll see what comes next.