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

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

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Thinking Athleisure through Thunderbolt Sportswear

Review of Thunderbolt Sportswear’s Softshell Jeans Mark 2 and Agility Hoodie, after half a year of use – and thoughts around athleisure.

Agility Hoodie

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Bike on a Pannonian Road

Why You Should Neither Buy Experiences, Nor Things – Except Some

In a world seemingly hell-bent on consumerism, it has been good to see calls towards minimalism and ‘experientialism‘.

Less stuff, more sensuality.

In that, you can show your concern for the world, as well as your elite status, by not just mindlessly shopping, unlike “the masses”, but carefully selecting your experiences and curating what you show of them.
You can follow the psychological insight that has been showing that experiences make happier than possessions, spend differently, have a memorable life sampling the best the world has to offer, and keep the economy humming along.

You can have your cake and eat it, too.

There are just two typical oversights, two problems that are often deliberately glossed over: the necessity of (some) things and the fault of the bought experience.

The Necessity of (Some) Things

It takes things to do things.

Sure, if the things you spend your money on merely clutter up your living space, yes, then they are the mere possessions that the psychologists in pieces on “why you should spend your money on experiences and not things” are talking about. Then, you might have felt excited to get those things, probably loved them for the first few days, and then got used to them being around.

Happiness declined.

Also, if you spent all your money on stuff so that you don’t have any money to spend on doing anything, having all the things in the world would not make you happy.

Mountain Goat Tracks

You need nothing for running only if you are a mountain goat. And as a human, “all you need are running shoes” is not quite going to cut it, either…

Still, even with running, and as fond as runners are of saying that you need no (special) equipment to go out and run, there is a great market for gear.

As with so many a kitchen appliance and gadget, there is probably a lot of aspirational sales, of people buying running shoes and equipment in the hope that having invested the money in those things will make them do what they want to do, and be better at it.

Some people probably overdo it with their equipment, on the search for the perfect shoe or the perfect training watch (or kitchen knife or pan), too.

Yes, it does not take much, and in all the marketing pushes all around us, we would do well to remember that – but running shoes that suit you properly and proper running clothes rather than jeans and a cotton T-shirt are probably not the worst idea, either.

To Have or To Use…

As usual, the proper balance needs to be considered:
Is the gear good in various ways (such as value for the money, quality, opportunities it gives) or is it just tempting because the marketing is good?

(That is the very question that finally made me review the gear I have found to be good for the outdoors, to connect, and to make for a positively enclothed life.)

You have to strike a balance between the psychology that is at work when things are alluring and the actual value of these things later, when in use.

The latter is all the stronger an issue as the ultimate value of even the best of gear is only fulfilled if you actually have opportunities to use it, and if you make use of those opportunities.

Good gear that is constantly in use, even if it was expensive, costs little compared to cheap things (let alone expensive ones) that just use up space in a garage, if you consider the cost per (hour, mile, etc. of) use. And if you wouldn’t have the experiences that are memorable if you didn’t have those things, then you are right to spend money on these things.

Bike on a Pannonian Road

My bike is now some 20 years old and has been serving me well. Somehow I don’t think I should not have bought that thing.

The Fault of the Bought Experience

The second problem glossed over in the incessant call to spend your money on experiences, to buy experiences, is the consumerist frame to these suggestions.

Same as some gear is actually necessary for experiences; some money may be necessary to make more experiences possible, and some package trips may be good for learning new things or going to new places in safety – but there lies a point where we tend to go quite wrong in constantly thinking about the direct buying of those experiences.

It’s not about the spending of money.

Money Don’t Buy Memories

As you may, if you ever stop to think about it, regret ever having purchased things that just clutter up your life, you may regret ever having paid for experiences that were just superficial.

After all, the reason why you should “buy experiences, not things,” as that is always phrased, is that we have a longer and stronger memory of experiences. Also, we tend to remember good experiences as even better than they were, and we re-interpret not-so-good experiences as funny, or relevant, or at least great learning experiences that shaped us into who we are.

That is all true, but when money comes into play too much, it may color the memory.

The romantic dinner at the restaurant that is way above your pay grade may turn into a great memory if it was worth it or if something unexpected happened, but if it was just a meager disappointment with money badly spent, it might well be remembered most strongly in terms of the financial loss for nothing, if it is much of a memory at all.

The hole-in-the-wall street food place, in contrast, is memorable not just for not having cost much, but for having been found serendipitously.

If you just went on a bought and paid-for "experience," packaged for you (and thousands of others), to a "must-see" place, it is unlikely to end up more than an exercise in "been there, done that." Hence, the one thing you must do...

If you just go on a bought and paid-for “experience,” packaged for you (and thousands of others), to a “must-see” place, it is unlikely to end up more than an exercise in “been there, done that.”
Hence, the one thing you must do before you die …

For an odd, bad experience to be remembered in a positive light, it helps if it was something that you decided to risk, and that you mainly did of your own accord. (Not that a bungee or parachute jump wouldn’t cost you a bit of money, wouldn’t go down without some trepidation, but would then likely end up a positive memory…)

The same applies for experiences that turned out good, too: The important thing is that it was truly your experience, with as much input of you yourself as possible.

Put Yourself Into It

An experience is better when you actually experienced it in full, from the excitement of the initial idea through the anticipation in the nitty-gritty work of planning, to the excitement and anxiety of the first step into that adventure, all through it, and finally in the reporting (where social media can actually be good for you) and the memories afterwards.

A cruise may give you tons of innocuous (or not-so-innocuous) holiday snapshots and experiences, but like any packaged experience that is served up like a Disneyland ride, controlled and passively consumed, there is just too little input of you yourself to make it truly memorable and worthwhile.

On the other hand, if you create adventure, you can even stay “at home,” invest only very little to no money, require no (new) gear at all, but decide to do something exploratory and adventurous.

Approach it in that spirit, embark on that enterprise, and create a memorable experience – all from such simple “adventuring” as going out for a night run, a photo project, a little bit of foraging, an outdoors overnight stay, some lessons in the history or biology (or whatever strikes your fancy) of the place you are. Or from family time together. Or an entrepreneurial venture.

“The most powerful experiences come at no cost” (as Carl Maida of the UCLA‘s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability commented in this context).

So, don’t spend too much of your money on things, but don’t just buy experiences, either:

Do things, go out – or stay in, if you feel like that – get active, create experiences to remember.

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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Arc’teryx Veilance Blazers – Sartorial Style in Sports Tech

Seeing a type of clothing that is rather business-like in a material that is not the traditional choice is somewhat disconcerting.

Enclothed Self Presentation

Enclothed Self Presentation

A blazer may be more casual and sporty than a full-on suit, but it still is a step up in style for most men nowadays, outside of the office and business world that requires suit and tie; a blazer in a Windstopper material, then, seems a tad too radical a departure from the norm.

Well, that material is still missing from my ‘collection’, but Veilance has produced blazers in everything from high-density polyester weaves as used in water- and wind-resistant shells to wool-cotton blends and the just-mentioned Windstopper.

Going for such technical materials, and for some technical, protective, features as well, these pieces do stand out from the usual range of men’s clothing.
At the same time, in bringing these two sides together, they show just how much we have forgotten that clothing is always both protection and presentation, function and style.

Even a pair of jeans and a T-shirt transports a message and keeps its wearer dressed and (hopefully) comfortable.

If jeans and a T-shirts isn’t your style – or if it is, but only spruced up a bit towards the more sartorial – and you still spend a good bit of your time moving around outside, not just in a car, blazers like those from Arc’teryx may be just the thing for you: Style and substance, so to speak.

Pieces I can speak of are:

For one, the Haedn blazer of the most recent seasons (and an otherwise unnamed blazer from a few seasons ago), which is a wool-cotton-polyester blend with a rather more traditional look and feel but great cut and performance…

Secondly, for the spring/summer seasons, there is the Blazer LT. This light and thin, rather shirt-like, version of a blazer is odd at first (Shouldn’t a blazer be a thicker material?), but turns out just perfect for a greater touch of style and protection…

Something I can’t resist mentioning: If the blazers have you thinking of hipsters on bikes – or perhaps, men with a sense of gentleman-ness who know how to combine old(er)-fashioned classical style with modern elements – check out Onoo’s “Sendling” jacket!

Thunderbolt Sportswear Softshell Jeans, 4 Years Later

Even in a field of many brands that are unknown to all but those in the know, Thunderbolt Sportswear is an outlier.

Given the Schoeller Dryskin used in their (now so-called) “Originals” softshell jeans, they fall right into the category of “technical menswear.”

Their focus, however, was less on the fashion than on the performance side of things; their jeans were even presented as a potential climbing jeans.

And so, even as many a brand in the category of tech-wear comes from a background in sports, especially cycling (Outlier is probably the best known; 7Mesh is newly getting started, to name just two), they went quite unnoticed in that field.

For me, too, the material was the main point of interest back in 2011 when I got my pair. And while I still love my Veilance Spec Pant, I have gone through two different other models from Veilance while the Thunderbolts are still going strong…

Where one of the selling points of Arc’teryx Veilance pieces are their very particular cuts, Thunderbolt’s offering is considerably more run-of-the-mill – but it’s a good mill: Schoeller Dryskin, and a classic five-pocket jeans cut.

As much as I like the peculiar cut and functionality of Veilance pants (with their angular lines and hardly visible ‘cargo pockets’ along the outside of the upper legs of some models), the comfort of the Thunderbolt’s softshell material is just amazing.
After four years of use, they are still the favorite pants of mine for most situations, from casual lounging to not-entirely-too-formal business wear.

Where Veilance’s materials work well, but can get to feel a little clammy when it gets warm, the Schoeller Dryskin is quite alright in a hot summer (for which it is somewhat too warm, of course) and still enough for me on a cold winter’s day.

(When temperatures get below freezing, however, it is time for the Veilance Spec Pants…)

The material cleans up well (even with the DWR gone), has withstood everything I’ve thrown at it reasonably well – and what faults in it have come up are not visible from the outside or without very close inspection or were easy enough to repair – and if there is one problem with it, it is that the feel is almost too comfortable.

It has, more than once, reminded me of the feeling of pajama pants, it feels that soft on the skin.

Hence, I enjoy going out in them, and they are a favorite for just lounging around at home, all the same.

Things had gone quiet around Thunderbolt Sportswear, but they are still around and on the verge of updating their original softshell jeans (stronger thread in the stitching was one of the few needed improvements) and introducing new products.

We’ll see what comes. I’m sure it will be good.

(And the date for the new releases has just been announced: March 16.)

Arcteryx Veilance Review 2: Field Jacket, Spec Pant, Stealth Shirt

Clothes to Be at Home in: Veilance Spec Pant and Stealth Shirt (and Field Jacket)

Some new piece of gear, a new fashion trend in a new season, something that disappoints – such things give something to talk about.

It can be seen on the vast majority of blogs; it can be seen with my previous review of the Veilance Diale Composite Sweater (good, thus not talked about at length) and the Cargo LT (and Voronoi) Pants (which failed and therefore gave me a lot to talk about).

Where are the things that make for the earlier-mentioned “wardrobe for all seasons”?

Their disappearance, so far, is another example of one of the big issues in making oneself at home in places and with things: the large extent to which both the good and the familiar disappear.

Familiarity, by and large, means nothing but such a disappearance of the new and noticeable into the background – and to a forgetfulness of what would actually be there. Good products, similarly and very differently, often fulfill their purpose and suit us so well, they also disappear from our attention.

If we want to make ourselves more at home, then, we need to become more conscious of what we are overlooking in our lives and in the places we are, but also to find those things that fit for us and for what we do, so that we can be less conscious of them.

In my daily and in my less-ordinary life, when it comes to clothes, these good things have included a few pieces from Arc’teryx Veilance. For a few years now, the Spec Pant and Stealth shirt(s) have been staples in my wardrobe. They have held up well; they give the look of being well-dressed but not seasonally-fashionably so; they suit and protect well.

Sure, as usual, a lot of it may be due to the placebo-like ‘enclothing’ effect of a Windstopper cargo pant that can very nearly pass as a pair of slacks and a shirt that includes Kevlar in its material mix – but when it works, it works…

Of course, there is one big problematic issue perfectly pointed out by such a review of things which have proven good, but come from a brand deeply involved in quarterly earning figures and, with this line, twice-yearly product releases with few constant items: You can find out that these things are good only at a time when you cannot get them anymore…


The Disappearance(s) of Good Things

It’s no wonder we aren’t coming to be truly at home in this world when there is nothing that makes it worthwhile to do so.

Human relationships seem fleeting. Not only our social ‘landscapes’, but also actual ones, keep being changed and becoming poorer. The things we interact with daily are basically all just junk.

Clothes can’t be lived in, they are a dime a dozen (and you are to change them not so much with the actual seasons as with those of fashion); the all-important electronics that give great power to work and connect but also make things virtual and fleeting are all made to seem dated just as soon as they are paid for; most things are just meant to be lusted-after, purchased, and soon found insufficient.
It all sates and stokes the desire that makes the consumer economy hum, but it also makes us poorer as good things disappear – and not in the positive way in which good things can disappear because they get out of the way of one’s doing.

Act 1: Stuff, Stuff All Around, But Not a Thing to Keep

The Flood of Things

The Flood of Things (Chinese Parcel Delivery Edition)

With consumerism, we have been seeing one disappearance of good things: They just seem to be made less and less.

The idea with electronics is that this is just a natural side-effect of the rate of progress; there may at least be a few that look good (Hello, Apple fans!), but their obsolescence seems a natural given.
Computer chips keep getting more powerful, storage keeps getting cheaper, and so new things become possible and new products are made and marketed…
But of course, a lot of the obsolescence is also deliberately built-in and planned. Things are meant to break or at least not to be easily repairable when they break, and even before that, there will be a new product that makes the older one look somehow less good, anyways.

It’s not just electronics, either.

From fashionable clothes to kitchen gadgets, from cheap furniture to disposable convenience products, lots and lots of things are meant to make life easier and better by making a person not have to care about looking after the thing anymore.

No need to prepare ingredients, cook food, wash dishes; just buy it, heat it up, throw out the waste.
No need to stick with old clothes, old furniture, old you; just get some new stuff, live a new life, make a new you.
No need to learn how to handle a knife or a razor, just use the tools made just for you, just for that one particular job…

We keep describing ourselves, in that context, as materialist, but it really is consumerism in a throw-away economy we follow.
We keep talking of growth as a good thing – and there sure are signs of progress – but we still overlook how often that growth is one in terms of a deluge of stuff and a mountain of junk to flatten the countryside with landfill, not a growth in terms of quality of life.
It may well be the case that we are, after a fashion, not materialistic enough

Act 2: Tools that Re-Shape the Self in Their Image

As human beings, we need things to hold on to, to become familiar with, and to know so intimately that they may disappear into the background. Not because we want to forget about them, but because they become so much a part of who we are in what we do – and because they fulfill their purpose in that so well – that there is no reason to notice them anymore.

Many of our tools have (life-)historically become but an extension and expression of a self that is and does in the world. Just imagine a craftsman…

We are seeing this psychological tendency of ours very clearly, but unfortunately somewhere where it is being exploited in favor of consumerism and the obsolescence-driven economy, when we look at smartphones: The many services they provide, especially linked up with social networks which are all about self-presentation, make them the hubs of our social lives and personalities.

It’s not the circles we run in and not just the music we carry around in a Walkman that makes us feel that we belong to a certain group anymore. Rather, all our individual-isolated selves are all connected, and it’s also the music and media – and everything – we do and show and talk about and share that make us ourselves in our presentation to others.

The problem is that this is a tool that very much shapes us, and it is a tool meant to not just be replaced itself, but also to replace our older habits, if not selves, with new and market-driven ones.

From my photo project "The Silence of Sound"

From my photo project “The Silence of Sound”

Quiet times for reflection, never the most popular thing for many a person, are replaced even more strongly than ever before by a constant barrage of notifications that feed little fixes of dopamine with every ping of a new event.

When we have to suffer the disappointment of a dearth of new likes or mentions for us, we can still plug into the silence of sound, enveloping us in a cocoon of music, disappear into games or the virtual worlds of film or TV.

It builds habits as every moment of downtime is used to check into social media and every new notification is naturally followed by a look at what it was about.

If you don’t look, you fear you may be missing out; if you don’t share what you saw and thought, did it really happen?

Act 3: Skills Grow, Tools Disappear, Selves Expand

With the dominance of disposable and convenience, and soon-obsolescent, products, many of the older good things have come to disappear. Sometimes, they are truly not being made anymore; sometimes, they are still there but hidden under the deluge of stuff that is cheaper up-front and promises easier handling.

Good things tend to be strange, compared to convenience things, in how they do not necessarily have immediate and easy appeal.
They are often more expensive, at least up front; there is more of a learning curve involved in the decision for and use of those things; the combination of expense and inconvenience makes them a harder sell, in marketing from others and in the individual decision for them.

If you don’t know why (or even that) it’s a good thing already, you might not know what it is and why it’s a good thing; and even if you know, that knowledge may be the only thing that makes it attractive, at least at first, until you learn to use it properly and appreciate its power.

The good thing about those good things, however, is exactly in their quieter appeal.

Clothes that aren’t just flashy and fashionable but well-made, well-fitting, and suiting you (and there’s a reason why it’s called “it suits you”…) can express a lot about a person and become a second skin to feel comfortable in. (At the same time, in their effect as “enclothed cognition,” they can also make their wearer better…)

The kitchen knife that is good and that you have learned to handle with skill becomes an extension of your body that enables you to do more than you would be able to do without the tool; and it replaces a whole host of gadgets that would otherwise clutter your kitchen and complicate your cooking.

Shaving w| straight razorA decent razor makes for a good shave, alongside a reminder of the need to pay attention to one’s care for oneself (and I enjoy the example even more because men tend to forget about their physical side more than women, and be made fun of if they pay too much attention to their looks because it’s considered not manly to do so – but what could be manlier than a well-groomed man, shaved with a straight blade?)

Good writing may not follow magically from good tools for writing, but such tools can focus the mind nicely and represent the earnestness of one’s approach to the writing. Just like enclothed cognition, it is not everything, but it will help if properly used – as a good tool.



Writing is thinking, and when the tools are good, words more easily appear on paper

Surrounding yourself with select good things – the best – (without falling into the trap of thinking that it’s only the price and luxury cachet that makes for something good…), learning what is good and learning to use it so that it is good for you makes for a deeper engagement with life itself, a re-valuing that we so sorely need in these times of cheap disposability that treat everything – and everyone – as throw-away.

Good things matter for good lives. Not in the sense that you need the most expensive and luxurious “only the best,” but because it helps to have good things you can cherish and use in creating the good life you want to live.

Civilization is not (just ;) ) made by conspicuous consumption, let alone in conveniently disposable consumption.

It is crafted with creativity and care, which require good tools – the material, the physical, and the mental.

Enclothed Self Presentation

Arcteryx Veilance. A Wardrobe for All Seasons

One particular “fashion” interest of mine – thinking of Clothe to Home – are pieces that are avant-garde in their materials and qualities, but not too visibly special, let alone fashionable, in their design; made to look timeless (or perhaps rather, fashionless) and, more importantly, but not visibly, to perform in a variety of conditions.

Clothing, then, to feel at home in and be at home in many a place.

On the move...After all, outdoors gear may be good for withstanding all different kinds of weather, but isn’t truly appropriate for better company (accepted as it has become in most ordinary circumstances).
Stylish clothes, on the other hand, all too often don’t exactly protect and can be quite a nuisance.

For being able to get by with just a few pieces, with getting by meaning both being well-dressed in terms of looks and being well-dressed in terms of functionality, then, it takes a peculiar class of products.

Peculiar, as pieces like those from Arc’teryx Veilance sure are.

What most people see, if they ever become aware of the existence of clothing lines like these, are very high prices for products described in very unusual ways (and in the case of Veilance, from a brand better known for its outdoors roots). These kinds of clothes, often termed urban techwear, certainly do play with both a luxury/special-class appeal and a desire to feel ensconced in a shell with a nearly special forces-appeal, but not quite that look.

It manages to remind one of the reason sometimes given for why a woman would wear sexy underwear when no one can see it – to make herself feel sexier and stronger and more self-assured – but in a male-oriented fashion that is somewhat  “gear-queer” – in the way in which William Gibson had one of his protagonists in “Zero History” explain it:

“It’s an obsession with the idea not just of the right stuff, but of the special stuff. Equipment fetishism. The costume and semiotics of achingly elite police and military units. Intense desire to possess same, of course, and in turn to be associated with that world. With its competence, its cocksure exclusivity.”

(Maybe I should mention here that Gibson – @greatdismal, whose latest novel, The Peripheral, is out, by the way – certainly knows a thing or two about that himself; he has been seen in Veilance pieces before, and they sure fit his cyberpunk worlds, too…)

Enclothed Self Presentation

Enclothed Self Presentation

That all can sound odd, perhaps even negative.

If you couldn’t care less about your clothes, just want to be dressed and not have spent a lot, you can certainly get by differently, travel with just what you have on you and then get some cheap T-shirts and pants after you have arrived.

Clothing can also be about wearing things that protect, physically in functioning well as protection against the elements and comfortable temperature regulation, and psychologically in providing its wearer with a decent, well-groomed look and an expression of individual style, though.

I’m no clotheshorse, but not a guy to run around with sagging pants and shirts hanging out of them, either. So, at home same as at home on the road, I want to travel with just a few select pieces that will work – but I want to have the clothes that I consider mine, not run through throwaway things.

Two to three different kinds of pants, two kinds of shirts, one or two pullovers, one blazer and one jacket.
Around 10 pieces and I’m set for half a year, going from a hot summer to a cold winter, the way I want to look.

Yes, it is not cheap, but there are more expensive brands in urban tech, let alone in luxury menswear (and in Europe, in many other regards). The quality, functionality and durability – and un-fashionableness/timelessness – of the Veilance pieces is of the highest, the customer service stands by their assurances if something still happens to fail (as you’ll hear in my video reviews, that does happen), and so it makes for a way of clothing that I, for one, certainly feel at home in, and feel that it makes me more at home in the world, outside and in ‘fashion’ terms, with no need to constantly get new clothes, and no need to spend a lot of time thinking of just what to wear for the conditions and the occasion.

Salewa Alpine Speed Jacket

OutDoor Friedrichshafen 2014 Report

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.

Arcteryx Technical Performance FootwearTheir “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:

Viking Apex BoaThe 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.

Salewa Alpine Speed Jacket

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 FuroshikiVibram, 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 HyperSmockBerghaus, 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.

Haglöfs Less Is More

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…

Haglöfs Stuff Sleeve

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 – – maker of titanium gear.

Vargo Titanium SpikesWhat 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.

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