When I went to the Rome Marathon (and then to Kirchdorf for their part-trail, hilly “Über-Drüber” marathon) this spring, it was the first time in years that I had running shoes made for road running rather than trails.
Category: Outdoors Gear Page 2 of 3
The attention economy, of blogs and (other) social media, of fast fashion and tech, thrives ever more on speed.
The Sped-Up World
Suunto having announced their new Spartan (Ultra and Sport) collection, thus, has everyone wanting to know everything about it already.
This, even though the devices are only coming on the market in August, will need weeks of testing to really get to an informed opinion, given all their focus on training progress over time – and then the Spartan Ultra is due to get major features, including for the same training progress display(s), only in September.
The OutDoor Friedrichshafen only just took place again, and it is one big celebration of novelty that drives attention that drives the market, with the spring/summer 2017 season already in company and trade sights.
Bloggers and (other) social media influencers, of course, are both driven by and driving these trends yet further.
The Not-So-Fed-Up World
Or so, forcing us all into ever-faster news cycles, it all felt while I was caught up in my own ardent desire to put the new Suunto Spartan Ultra through its paces, if only I could get it before I leave for China.
That is only one side of modern geeky and consumer life, however.
Taking a step back to remember that all those new things are there not just to drive sales, but also to help make life a bit more interesting and the outdoors more enjoyable, however, there were great talks to be had.
All the more so as the Friedrichshafen Fair had come around to seeing value in bloggers and worked with the (German) Outdoor Bloggers Network this year, actively bringing them – us – into the fold.
(Funnily, I still have the problem that my being based in Austria makes most companies’ PR people say that I’ll have to work with the Austrian PR teams – but since I blog and vlog in English, I tend to be of no interest to the PR people who are there to serve the Austrian, German-speaking, market…)
With talks not just with other bloggers but also with sales and PR people of outdoors companies, not just about the new things but also about their experiences and interests, it all got even more enjoyable. Even the new things…
Suunto wasn’t really present at the fair, but there were some company representatives to be found, so I managed to wrangle a Spartan Ultra (still only a sales sample) from one of them and finally get it on my wrist.
To me, compared with the Kailash, the fit is great and the display indeed looks promising. Let’s see how it holds up in actual use, whenever I can get to looking at that…
Arc’teryx continues to be near-impossible to work with for a small (and not only outdoors) blogger like me, but also to produce innovative and interesting gear, with an attention to detail and function that is very alluring.
Next up in that, an expansion of their footwear into mountain trail running with the Norvan VT shoe, and the return of a Bora backpack with a new “Rotoglide” hipbelt system that promises great things:
Those will be available in men’s and women’s and in standard or Gore-Tex, by the way.
Oh: Their updated everyday/commuter collection is not to be underestimated. Stretch jeans with stylish looks, but also reflector patches that can be folded out or tucked away and a cut and material made for bike commutes, a women’s blazer that closes without a zipper, yet enough to protect against wind and water, and opens to look like a modern take on a standard blazer. – Looks like some of the ideas and approaches of the Veilance line are starting to influence the everyday wear…
Salomon will of course expand and update its collection of shoes yet further, e.g. adding an XA Enduro trail running shoe that is like a summer version of the XA Alpine (to be) introduced for winter. It, too, will feature an integrated gaiter, just in a lower and lighter form made for the summer.
For trail runners, Montane’s VIA series running packs will add a 15 liter model; they still continue with their major models (which I find commendable) but are set to bring out another version of their Minimus jacket in stretch Pertex Shield. Fully waterproof, yet stretchy; I would like to see how well that works and fits…
With OR, the major news came in the form of a new jacket with electrospun yarn that is said to be more breathable, yet still waterproof, and with waterproof mid-volume backpacks. Not the worst idea, if rather specialized.
Here, too, I am most happy to see that it’s not all just about new things.
The Helium II jackets were still being celebrated (rightly so, I’d say), and attention was put on the Active Ice products some of which I have been using since last year and should finally review.
Strange only, especially in this context, that the Europe team of OR didn’t seem to know anything about a Polartec Delta shirt that is due to come out, which was mentioned in a press release about this new “cooling platform” from Polartec…
Then again, I asked about that material at the Polartec booth, and they knew about it but also didn’t have it with them.
Not exactly what I typically focus on, given the “anti-travel” writing I sometimes publish, but what interested me most about Fjällräven’s news is that they will be bringing their Fjällräven Classic events to the USA and Hong Kong next.
Hong Kong is exhausting, but just about the most amazing place for hiking and trail running experiences that I know. (And in fact, the last few days of the upcoming trip to China will be spent in Hong Kong.)
After the introduction of Black Yak’s first European winter collection, now Europe also got a look at their first summer offering – and of course, they will continue in style and with what looks to be insanely good quality.
I’ll admit, I am also fascinated simply because this is one of the first forays of an Asian company onto the ‘Western’ market, which is very interesting in terms of marketing and access. That said, the looks and details are quite convincing, and I hope to put some of their products through their paces starting later this year.
The North Face
Even TNF is going maximal when it comes to running shoes, and I’m still not convinced by that. Still, more choices here aren’t a bad thing.
Main game in town: We got a sneak preview of the upcoming The North Face Summit Series collection. Nothing we would have been permitted to show, but let’s just say: They really want to relaunch the Summit Series as the top-end, as it was originally intended. And lots of concern are going into not letting this collection be watered down into too many items worn more by hip-hop stars than alpinists this time around.
And lots more…
I could easily go on like this for a while yet, but I’m on the jump to the airport for 3 weeks in China. So, let me just wish you a nice summer, leave you with the few more impressions from the OutDoor Friedrichshafen 2016 above, and promise there’s more to come ;)
Easily a year after Arc’teryx entered the footwear market with the release of the Acrux approach shoes and Bora hiking boots, I finally feel comfortable giving a real review of the Acrux² FL approach shoe – and they have already changed their line-up quite a bit:
The Bora and Bora2 Mid GTX hiking boots are now also available in more-classical leather versions (in men’s and women’s);
the way-more-extreme Acrux AR mountaineering boot has been added (here available, online only, from REI via affiliate link as well, if you want to support me);
the Acrux line still features the Acrux FL and Acrux² FL (with non-removable or removable liners, respectively) and has been expanded with a more light-weight Acrux SL (“Super Light”) version;
and an Arakys approach/belay shoe has also been added.
I have had my Acrux² FL with removable Gore-Tex liners for something over a year now, since their release; though to be exact, they are not the same shoes I showed in my preview:
The impression of a strange fit was due to them having been a bit too large; when I sized down slightly, things worked out better.
In fact, they worked out very well…
There are quite a few comments that the shoes run small, and they are certainly not wide in the toe box, but one also needs to know that the “Adaptive Fit” (especially in the version with removable liners) seems made to wrap around the foot rather tightly.
Where other shoes should offer a finger’s width in front of the toes, here the fit works best when the liner booty is almost snug with the foot, including the toes – think of it as something more like a sock, and if you have any chance at all, play around with them for a while to see where the sweet spot of sizing lies for you.
(When it comes to the shoes with a non-removable liner, I’d be more careful to get them a bit larger, but still only somewhere in between the size of elegant shoes and the “go up one number” often recommended for running shoes.)
So, I exchanged the Acrux shoes I got at first for a better-fitting size, and that version I’ve now had for a year, if not longer:
For a shoe that looks so plasticky, the Acrux had two surprises in stow:
One, less good but alright, was that the shoes felt like some breaking-in was required. They felt usable from the beginning but became rather more comfortable over time.
On the first longer hike with them, carrying my 40l backpack, for example, the edge of the one shoe’s liner rubbed my Achilles tendon open a bit. Later, this never happened again.
Secondly, they got scratched against rocks quite a bit, but there are very few if any traces of wear on the upper. I wore the Acrux² FL not just for hikes in the mountains but also as everyday wear, the sole got reduced a bit, but they still look pretty much as they did from the beginning, overall.
The Vibram MegaGrip sole is interesting, by the way.
It works very well on the terrain it is meant for, i.e. rocks, and it has been relatively abrasion resistant.
Wear does show, though, and the grip on the polished stone floors of our subway stations is like the grip of standard Salomon soles on ice: hardly any. (There’s a reason I love Icebug shoes for special conditions, but that’s a different story.)
The liner did develop a stink, and when it comes to that, I’m happy I have the version where I can replace the liners. And I should finally do so; even two washings in the machine and treatments with a shoe spray didn’t change much when it comes to the smell they developed.
(Maybe one should just put them in the washing machine a bit sooner, together with other Gore-Tex or similar sports stuff…)
The liners are not cheap, but still a lot less than a new pair of (such) shoes. So, +1 for long-term use.
Light downside: I thought about getting the non-Gore-Tex liners for the summer, but those are still only available (if at all) in red while the Gore-Tex liner is in blue and the piece of fabric that Arcteryx had to add underneath the lacing of the GTX Acrux² FL (to keep stones out) is the same blue.
So, unless I wanted to go for black shoes with a red-and-blue inner (visible under the laces and around the ankle), I guess I’ll need to stick with the Gore-Tex liner or get another pair of shoes.
[Edit: I just re-checked and found that actually, the liners are now (almost) all offered only in the newer “moraine” grey color. A bit of a mix-and-match of colors again, but making for a better combination than blue-and-red in black would have been.]
Of course, as so often, one pays for “The Bird” and the attention to detail that goes into their products. The Acrux² FL were and remain pretty expensive at around 270 dollars/250 Euro – but they’ve held up well and in more conditions than they were made for.
The newer SL shoes don’t have removable liners and are less tough – but also lighter – and are much more in line with standard prices for shoes, coming in at 150 Euro (USD 170 at REI, at the time of writing). In Europe, anyways, where all such gear is pretty expensive, that’s somewhat okay.
After a year with the Acrux² FL, I’m tempted to try those for my everyday wear, as well… and they’d even come in colors that would get noticeable but not too clownish. (The latest Acrux² FL is available in the “Big Surf” black-blue I have or with a “Genepi” neon yellow upper…)
If you’re in the US, you can get most models – except the Acrux² FL I reviewed here, as it happens – from REI and support me with the (affiliate-link) purchase:
Same (including the Acrux2 FL) with Backcountry.com:
Thank you and see you on the trails!
Our problem of not-quite-real, at-home, in-this-world, living is illuminated like it’s under a spotlight when going through a big trade show like the ISPO:
We have a fascination with new things and their promise, and they may make for more comfort and more opportunities in our pursuits – yet it’s all just stuff of a somewhat similar kind, so what will really turn out to be good gear will only be seen in its use, over time… when other things will beckon.
This year’s ISPO 2016, I also made things a bit more complicated for myself because I went looking not only for products meant for outdoors use, especially trail running and mountain adventures, but also for technical/performance men’s wear, with a touch of ‘connecting tech’ thrown in for good measure (literally, one could say…).
After all, it takes all that to really live in this world – style and function, adventures and recovery.
So, Part 1: Running and outdoors gear…
CW-X “conditioning wear” tights have been my go-to running gear for so long, they caused a driver in Latvia to bump into the car in front of him in a traffic jam, as he had started rolling and forgot to hit the brakes again as he got distracted by my looks. They had girls in China call after me; they have been everywhere I went running the last 10+ years.
Some of the tops I still use at times aren’t even in production anymore; most of the tights are still available – and they have proven to be good gear.
Just the kind of gear I want to review (as I did before actually, but now I’ve gotten serious with reviews of good gear, and make those multi-medial)…
Conditioning, Not (Just) Compression
What makes CW-X special is not just the high-tech materials used, nor the compression provided, which one can now get from many other brands’ sportswear as well.
It’s not the “stupid sexy Flanders” effect that many people find indecent and rather unusual, to put it very mildly, even as so many (ultramarathon) runners look to be covered by their beards more than by any clothing.
No, it is meant to be the “targeted support” that these pieces of clothing provide.
Depending on the model, different muscle groups are targeted by the overlays worked into CW-X pieces; joints are meant to be supported, muscles to be prevented from vibrating quite so much with every footfall, and muscles and joints to be brought into proper alignment.
CW-X Expert Tights
With an introduction and a few words about CW-X tops…
These are the original CW-X tights with just a bit of support, especially for the knees in a rather light material.
CW-X Pro Tights
A step up in the line-up, increased ‘targeted support’, still a rather light material.
CW-X Insulator Stabilyx
With a few words about light tights that can be used in summer heat, a switch to tights for winter running… Here, the material is considerably more like a hard face. Still comfortable but feeling rather more rain- and snow-shedding (Still not waterproof, of course, but then that would make them hot and wet.)
CW-X Insulator Expert Tights
Talking of winter tights, I also want to mention these, even as they are a discontinued model, apparently: The material here is soft but thicker, feeling a little like terrycloth on the inside.
Still available in Insulator versions, however, are the Endurance Pro and PerformX tights:
CW-X Revolution Tights
The penultimate release and the lightest CW-X tights, clearly made for racing, with structured overlays not made of an additional layer of material…
CW-X Endurance Generator Tights
The latest and greatest with the “ultimate” in targeted support, if you believe the marketing copy, and certainly with more than a few cues for a good form in trail running…
Benefits, Practical and Psychological…
Compression alone seems to provide some recovery benefit (and CW-X tights certainly do also compress), but even that is a bit questionable in scientific perspective as reduced soreness may mean either a quicker and helpful return to further training and fitness, or it could indicate a reduced training effect.
How good the effect of the (additional) “targeted support” is, then, remains in question as well. Science hasn’t conclusively proven it, so one can only go by personal feeling.
The feel, to me, is great, anyways. Whether it is a ‘real’ effect or something of a placebo effect, the way I feel in my CW-X gear is as if I were in an exoskeleton that fits perfectly and gets me into a more upright and energetic alignment.
Of course, it’s up to you to decide if you want that kind of support or if you’d rather have loose-fitting running gear – and if it’s worth the money to you.
Wonders, you shouldn’t expect, but I’m pretty sure it has been helping me, and I’ll take anything that serves me so well for such a long time and motivates me to go out, get fit, and explore.
It was probably just their marketing and pop-cultural presence – Hello, M:I-II intro/trailer! – which had me get Oakley sunglasses, but being outdoors and in sunlight enough, and that while wearing contact lenses, made some kind of eye protection essential.
The various kinds of Oakley shades are popular for a reason; the design is often peculiar but typically outstanding not just in that way (depending on the model, of course), the clarity and protection are top-notch as well.
After a long time with the Radar Path sports sunglasses (wrap-around, secure fit, interchangeable lenses), I switched to the Wind Jacket in the hopes that the wind gasket and anti-fog lenses would help also with winter running or running in dusty conditions.
That did not work out quite as hoped; the lenses do fog up and even ice up when running in the temperatures below freezing I regularly find myself in, and the wind gasket is not as helpful as I’d hoped when sweating a lot.
As a regular pair of sports and everyday sunglasses, however, they are excellent as usual, with a secure fit, light weight, various tints of interchangeable lenses available, and a look that works most places.
Recently, Oakley came out with a new pair of sports sunglasses, the Jawbreaker, and with a new tint for sports uses, Prizm.
Seeing how scratched I got my lenses and how happy I am with the persimmon lens tint for clarity on trails, I asked them if I could try these out, and Oakley Germany provided me with a test sample…
The Oakley Jawbreaker sunglasses were designed for and with cyclists, and that clearly shows; they are sports-specific and even seem better for the usual position of the head when cycling rather than running. (Yes, I used them for that, too.)
That doesn’t make them unusable for running, though, and perhaps more important to me was the Trail Prizm lens tint (which is also available for the Flak Jacket and Radar styles of sunglasses but alas, unfortunately, not for the Wind/Split Jacket I would have).
If the persimmon tint is already nicely increasing contrast between all the various things you encounter on a trail, be that mountain biking or trail running, the Trail Prizm dials it up another notch. Maybe a small one, but a definite one.
For bright sunlight, they may be a tad too bright; for the night, a tad too dark; but in everything in between, they deliver (and even in those two extreme cases, I used them and was okay with them – for the Wind Jacket, I would have neutral/transparent and grey lenses for the night and bright light, respectively… and I usually end up just using the persimmon tint for everything done with them).
Definitely something worth checking out – although, a lot has been happening in the world of eye protection. When it comes to both style and sports, I still find Oakley hard to beat, though.
A trade fair with a wake-up run/race, business, new things, partying/networking, and visitors sleeping in the rough – that’s the OutDoor Friedrichshafen.
It remains to be seen which new things will prove good things, which just gadgets there but to make a profit – but interesting new things, there certainly are a few, even in the outdoors business that tries to also be environmentally conscious…
Salomon and Suunto
Salomon and Suunto, which again shared a booth, are always my first stop.
Suunto will apparently have something new in the outdoors watch space to offer later this year, but that will only be revealed then (mid-October, probably). No permission to show any images or speak of any details yet, but I can say that it’s no Ambit4 / Ambit successor. That will come later.
Salomon, of course, has a few new things to come.
The Sense line is expanded and goes into the 5th generation with the Sense 5 Ultra.
The Wings Pro 2 will become the new downhill specialist shoe.
Salomon is trying to gain a foothold in an uphill battle with the road-running shoe giants with the Sonic Pro Salomon road-running shoe.
New packs are also coming, not just with the Agile 20 AW already seen at the ISPO, but also a Sense Peak 22 liter pack… and if you want to go into the mountains but not trail running, the X-Alp collection of shoes is expanding, too.
Have a look for yourself also via my video presentation of Salomon’s new gear:
Outdoor Research, makers of my favorite rain jacket (so far), have interesting news especially on the alpinism/soft-shell front with the Ferrosi series, and of course they continue to offer their usual range of gear for fast and light pursuits such as trail running.
Again, you can have a look at the overview for yourself (this time it’s in German but with English subtitles, though):
OR became rather interesting for their heated gloves last winter; there were no news there yet, but I was told that there would be quite a few next year.
Still the main competitor to OR in my book is Montane, and they had quite a few things of interest to show.
Their Minimus rainwear is now expanding to a 3-layer Pertex jacket, the Minimus 777 (which may well be a worthy competitor to OR’s Helium II), but it’s especially the packs in their VIA trail running collection that keep catching my eye.
The 20l Dragon, in particular, is very nicely designed – and like all their packs of that collection, the vest design is now strong, and all made for soft flasks to put in pouches rather than the hard bottles they had (rather strangely) attached to the previous incarnation of that pack series.
If going for less of a long run and more of a hike, their Ultra Trail series of packs, ranging from 22 via 40 to 50 liter volume, also looks very promising – and even their (partly waterproofs) duffels for traveling were eye-catchingly good.
And you can get that overview as if you’d been there, too (again in German with English subtitles):
Pretty much finishing up with the mountain and trail running brands I was most interested in for good gear to make oneself at home in the world, I also went to Dynafit.
This sister brand to Salewa has been getting very active in the mountain trailrunning arena in Austria, with shoes as well as clothing and equipment (and they were also the ones who organized the “Wake-Up Run” at the OutDoor), so I asked them to give an overview – and this time, it’s all in English:
Their collection is a little peculiar, not least in the colorways they employ and the thin materials they like to go for, but there are quite a few things there that look to be of good use and certainly well thought-out.
Let’s see if I can get to some reviews…
Durable Performance, Fashion or Not
For pretty much the opposite in approach to color, Houdini continues to be one of the best brands I know. There is a wide selection of colors, but they are all neutral and all employed in products made to last – as they explicitly pointed out at the very center of their booth:
Here, I’m sure I will even find some items that fit in with my interest in technical men’s wear even as Houdini is far from the luxury brands that often occupy that niche (but haven’t used a silk-merino blend in quite a while, which Houdini has been using for years).
Peak Performance, on the other hand, is looking to go into that “performance fashion” area; it will be interesting to watch.
Speaking of this confluence of themes, Reda Rewoolution made me happy I took the time to speak with them.
Icebreaker‘s Cool-Lite (with merino and Tencel) begs to be tried out; Smartwool is established in the merino wool space – but Reda had been producing wool textiles for high-class brands for a while before deciding to use their expertise in a more sports-oriented collection of their own.
That little while they’ve been at it? For over 100 years.
The wool they use? Zque-certified Merino.
No “Made in China” there; they produce in Europe, and they don’t mix merino with other fibers, they make it get the properties, e.g. the stretch, they want it to have just from the knitting… and even as I don’t care much about prints, which they often make, their products look good.
In Other News…
Arc’teryx, I feel I should mention, is coming out with two new shoe models.
One, the Acrux AR Boot, will extend the Acrux/Bora liner and cover it in a waterproof shell…
…the other, the Arakys, apparently is for women to just get wet and leads into more of a focus on women…
(What’s with Arc’teryx and Dune? Arrakis series of backpacks, Arakys shoes – I wonder if that will change to avoid confusion.)
Haglöfs continues its focus on gear oriented towards light and fast activities, now not just looking towards hiking (with the L.I.M. – “Less Is More” – series) but also developing climbing oriented “Mountain Ultimate” gear. In that, their upcoming backpack already won them accolades at the OutDoor…
Not only gear that is light and made for moving easily was a theme at this year’s OutDoor in Friedrichshafen, though. There was also quite a bit of gear made more for glamping, for enjoying the outdoors in a rather more luxurious fashion.
I know Snowpeak to have gear that fits in that theme beautifully, but they managed to present a booth that was nearly empty, uninspired, and staffed by a person or two who looked nothing but bored and disengaged whenever I walked by.
What a contrast to Primus, for example.
They were certainly helped by being part of their group’s booth, which also includes Fjällräven, Hanwag, Brunton, and Tierra and tends to be lively (even, if not more so, off-hours). People there also liked to explain the camp kitchens and cutlery they presented, which looked great – and not far off, in the outdoor area, they had a Swedish freelance guide and cook who put their products to excellent use.
Now, that’s how you make visitors happy and prove the worth of your offered equipment all in one go!
Three days spent OutDoor went by quickly, with lots to see and lots of networking. Now to see if a few more tests, on the search for good gear with which to make oneself at home (not just) in the outdoors, will come of it.
In the meantime, skin is glowing, chilli’s growing…
The way things go sometimes, they haven’t (yet) worked out as planned, but led to serendipitous findings.
It was running vest/packs with 20l of volume I wanted to test this year, for some overnight running outings, but I ended up testing Salomon’s 3 liter Sense Ultra (Set) vest instead.
And I found a running vest I really enjoy using.
The Sense Ultra 3 may, on first look from afar, look like a running pack, but it quickly shows itself to be just a running vest.
The material is so thin, one could bunch the whole thing – without the Hydrapak soft flask bottles, of course – up into not much more than tennis ball size.
Consequently, it gets rather wet with sweat, but it is also not too noticeable on the body and highly breathable; one can’t quite speak of how it carries, rather, it wears just like another thin piece of very well-fitting clothing.
It may also sound as if it should be flimsy, but it has shown itself not to be; the material has been working out excellently.
Give it a look and listen:
For overnighters, staying out to sleep, this wouldn’t be it – but that’s clear from its volume alone, I’d hope.
For overnight runs with the barest of essential/mandatory equipment, however, it works out very well.
For the essentials for a quick training run or longer outing – even a little forest forage run – it’s been working out perfectly for me.
And it rides very well on my backpack when I head for the mountains, to go running there, too…