at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Outdoors Gear (Page 2 of 3)

(OR Helium) Bivy under Stars

Review: Outdoors Over Night with Outdoor Research’s Helium Bivy

Going by other reviews I’ve seen, there seems to be quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the Pertex Shield “Helium Bivy” from Outdoor Research.

I can add quibbles of my own, and I think I sound less than excited (and less excited than I am with it) in my video review…

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Running Man in TIghts

Still Running Tight: CW-X Conditioning Wear Review

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.

Running Man in TIghts

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.

Overview/Review

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.

Oakley Prizm Trail

Sun and Shades: Oakley’s Jawbreaker and Trail Prizm

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.

Oakley Prizm Trail

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.

Haglöfs Mountain Ultimate

Going OutDoor, Hunting for New Good Gear

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

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.

Montane

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):

Dynafit

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:

Houdini - Goal

Houdini – Goal

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.

Merino

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.

Reda - Blue Night

Reda – Blue Night

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…

Arcteryx Acrux AR Boot

Arcteryx Acrux AR Boot

…the other, the Arakys, apparently is for women to just get wet and leads into more of a focus on women…

Arcteryx Arakys shoes

Arcteryx Arakys shoes

(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…

Haglöfs Mountain Ultimate

Haglöfs Mountain Ultimate

Outdoors Deluxe

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.

Primus Onja

Primus Onja

Primus Cook

From Car to Cook, All Primus ;)

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

Salomon Sense Ultra 3/Set Review: A Sense (Vest) for All Runs

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.

OR Helium Jacket, Salomon Sense 3L Vest - Leeks Delivery System

OR Helium II Jacket, Salomon Sense 3L Vest, Salomon XA Pro 3D – Leeks Delivery System

And it rides very well on my backpack when I head for the mountains, to go running there, too…

Salomon Sense Ultra 3 on Arrakis backpack

Salomon XA Pro 3D

Salomon XA Pro 3D Review

There are a lot of new – or rather, same but changed/improved – shoes coming from Salomon this fall/winter (2015), as seen at the ISPO already. (I’ll report from the upcoming OutDoor Friedrichshafen with more details). At least some of them, I hope to get a chance to check out, but they won’t be out for most testing until September.

For the meantime, I asked one of their marketers for his recommendation for a shoe for mixed running, and the XA Pro 3D was the interesting choice.

Salomon XA Pro 3D

I’m a big fan of trail running through forests and in the mountains, and of the specialized shoes for that as well. Also, rather niche brands sit well with me. Salomon, consequently, is a brand I approach with some hesitation; they have done a lot of good through their support for running, but they are also so ubiquitous in trail running, it can get a tad disconcerting.

Then again, most of my running starts and ends on roads, very much of it goes over gravel roads that aren’t much different from paved roads, so a specialized trail running shoe is not necessarily the best choice.
A road running shoe, on the other hand, wouldn’t work for too many of the gravel roads, let alone the trails I end up on whenever I can.

Salomon shoes and gear, when in doubt, are a running staple to turn to and know to expect lots of choices and a decent quality.

There is also their store in the nearby Outlet Center… and even when I didn’t like how the Inov-8 TrailRoc had fared in Hong Kong’s humidity and needed to find another pair of running shoes, it was a pair of SpeedCross (SpeedCross CS, strangely enough) that I was able to find in my size even in Hong Kong and that enabled me to run comfortably out in the Hunan countryside.

Running in Hunan Countryside

Later, I would go on to use those same SpeedCross in running at the Grossglockner, and in the Linz Marathon, and in Beijing, doing the Beijing Marathon. Oh, and on the Great Wall as well.
Yep, I abused them in mountains and on roads, for two years, until they had no more lugs on part of their soles.

Running on the Great Wall

Not exactly a bad experience.

And back to the XA Pro 3D…

The XA Pro 3D are usually described as a (mountain) trail running shoe; mixed conditions are what I got them recommended for, and everything from road to gravel to mountain trails is what I have used them on for a while now.

Like many a ‘standard’ kind of running shoe, they have a rather thick sole (compared to shoes like Inov-8’s TrailRoc or Icebug’s Zeal, which I generally prefer). This, alongside their rather burly build, makes them less of a racing or nimble trail running shoe, but well suited for the road-to-trail running I have been using them for…

Not a bad pair of shoes at all. Now, let’s see what the true top-of-line models are bringing next.

OR-ay in the Rain: Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket Review

Summer is coming, protective gear may seem less necessary – but when you go out into the mountains, a light and highly protective layer may only become all the more necessary:

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at home in… Trail Running, Cradled by Icebug’s Zeal

Time for another shoe review, this time of the Zeal RB9X (“Rubber 9 Extreme”) from Icebug.

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La Sportiva Crossover 2.0

at home in… the snow w| the La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX

Let’s celebrate spring with a look back at snow – and a (somewhat preliminary*) review of a shoe for snow, the La Sportiva Crossover 2.0 GTX.

La Sportiva Crossover 2.0

Somehow there’s no good time for talking about this shoe, at least the way I want to.

Right now, it’s a bit too early for it as I haven’t had all that many opportunities to try it out this winter.
At the same time, it’s a bit late for it as winter is pretty much over (although, we did get a cold front dumping quite a bit of snow on us just around Easter, so there’s still snow in the Alps).

Next season would just present the same problems, though.

Why all this back-and-forth?
Well, La Sportiva’s Crossover 2.0 GTX is – or at least looks like – a dedicated winter running shoe.
With a Gore-Tex membrane and an in-built gaiter, it is all about runs in wet and/or snowy conditions; the only other shoe like it would be the Salomon Snowcross CS.

There are two main differences:
The Salomon is a mid-height shoe while the La Sportiva (similar though it looks) is actually more of a normal La Sportiva running shoe, just with the gaiter added; and Salomon’s Snowcross uses a Climashield membrane (hence, the CS in its name) while La Sportiva’s Crossover uses a Gore-Tex one (hence, GTX).

The Snowcross also has metal cleats in the sole while the Crossover does not.

It was a tad difficult getting my hands on – or should that be, my feet into? – the Crossover; only few shops here in Central Europe carry them (strange for a brand that is from Northern Italy) and even those had some issues getting them. La Sportiva customer service also wasn’t exactly helpful.

I managed in the end, though, and I got lucky because the size I ended up getting it in proved just right: a US 12.5 (UK 11.5, EUR 46).

Why I went to the trouble anyways is that I wanted a shoe for my winter running, and I wanted a Gore-Tex membrane but no cleats.

Sure, cleats could be an advantage on ice, but they are also a problem when running on roads – and since I start out running at my door, not necessarily at a trailhead, I need shoes that can handle both on-road and off-road running decently well.

Advantage, La Sportiva.

Here goes:

And, I have been finding that I really like the combination of materials and properties.

It is not my absolute favorite of a shoe (but then, since no single shoe is good for everything, such a thing does not exist for me) because of its somewhat weighty feel, but I’ll probably be using it on wet mountain trails even in the summer (when or where it’s not hot), when the gaiter may collect burrs (yes, it does that) but still helps keep out scree while the membrane keeps the feet dry.

If you are looking for a shoe that provides a good, yep, crossover of features, especially but not just for winter running, I’d recommend giving La Sportiva’s Crossover 2.0 a try.

 

*I’m calling this a preliminary review because it’s “only” based on some 100km of running in these shoes. Ultimately, I’m more interested in how gear works out after 2-3 seasons…

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