Saturday, February 18, 2017

IceBug Anima5 Review - Secure, Studded Grip for Ice and Varied Running Conditions

by Jeff Valliere

IceBug Anima5
9.9 oz./280 grams US men's size 9
28mm heel/20mm forefoot
19 carbide studs
$184.95
Available in both men's and women's models

IceBug Anima5 
Icebug is a Swedish brand, specializing in winter traction and is best known for their models with Bugrip, which features carbide studs embedded in the lugs to provide secure traction on icy surfaces.  I have been running in IceBugs for 5 or 6 years and they have become one of my most reliable, go to winter shoes.  When offered to review the newer IceBug Anima5 Bugrip, I was more than eager to put them to the test.The Anima5 weighs in at 11 5/8 ounces for my US men's size 10, which is quite a reasonable weight for a water resistant, well protected, studded winter shoe.  It feels even lighter than that both in the hand and on the foot.


Upper:

The upper of the Anima5 is a water resistant material called Weather Shield.  I find this material to be not quite as water resistant as Gore Tex or eVent, but it breathes a little better and I found it to keep my feet adequately dry in all but the wettest conditions.  The mesh material is nice and flexible right out of the box without any stiffness or break in period.  The overlays do a great job holding down the midfoot, the heel counter holds nicely and is just the right height.  The toe bumper is substantial, but somewhat flexible.  Fit is overall true to size, but I found the forefoot to be quite voluminous, even with a thick winter sock.  I am able to maintain control in most scenarios, but there is a LOT of space between the top of my foot and the roof of the shoe, as there is just too much material there.

IceBug Anima5 
The sturdy toe bumper will ward off most rock kicks.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
The heel collar is moderately padded, is a perfect height and the heel counter holds the heel very well.  The tongue is also moderately padded and comfortable, though not gusseted.  A gusseted tongue would be a nice touch on a winter shoe, although I never found it to be problematic.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
Midsole:
The midsole is made of an injection molded lightweight EVA, which provides a nice, soft feel without feeling overly squishy or spongy.  This soft and ample cushion is especially welcome, as conditions are typically hard ice and rock when I select this shoe.  I found that my feet are very comfortable even after 3 or 4 hours of running on hard surfaces.  Response is middle of the road, as I find that the Anima5 can easily handle fast paced running, but does not necessarily inspire it.
IceBug Anima5 
Outsole:
The outsole of the Anima5 is the main attraction of this shoe, featuring 19 strategically placed, non removable or replaceable carbide studs atop deep and aggressive lugs.  The rubber compound is cold specific and on it's own gives very good traction.  I really appreciate that the studs on the Anima are so plentiful, as they provide great coverage no matter how you step on slick surfaces and the two studs at the front of the shoe provide excellent purchase at toe off.  The somewhat short studs on the Anima5 are not at all obtrusive when running on bare ground, rock or pavement, but are adequate enough to penetrate hardened ice.  Having put untold miles on previous pairs of Icebugs, several different models, I can attest that they are extremely durable and I find that I will wear out the shoe before I wear down the studs.  Through their normal lifespan, I have found that the studs hardly dull at all, nor do they fall out.
IceBug Anima5 

The heel also has great coverage with 6 studs, plus one in the center of the shoe under the midfoot to cover those awkward missteps, or straddling a log.
IceBug Anima5 
Recommendations/Performance:
Icebugs work very well on consolidated, well packed snow, icy trails and especially on quickly changing mixed conditions where one would not want to be bothered putting on supplemental traction, taking them off, or risk dulling supplemental traction on rock and bare ground.  They are also great when trails and roads get coated with freezing rain or a widespread sheen of ice.  With the lower profile studs, the Anima5 excels when intermittent dry pavement may be encountered, as they do not feel awkward, aside from the scratching noise that they make.  One other great benefit of IceBugs is that when it is warm, they shed snow quite well, where often on days where the snow is tacky, snow can ball up under the foot when using supplemental traction.  
Though the Anima5 is not the fastest shoe out there, I find that with it's light weight and moderate response, that it is a versatile enough shoe to accommodate a wide variety of winter running paces on varied surfaces that would be otherwise less possible with most conventional shoes.
IceBug Anima5 
IceBug Anima5 
Typical winter ice on the trails in Boulder, often 15-20+% gradient.  The Icebugs handle these conditions with no problem.
IceBug Anima5 
Comparisons:
IceBug Anima5 vs. Salomon Snowcross:  I have not used the Snowcross, but the Salomon has 9 studs vs. 19 for the Anima5.  The Snowcross has a built in gaiter, which is very nice on a winter shoe, but also weighs more.

IceBug Anima5 vs. Inov8 Articclaw 300:  I have also not used the Inov8, but it is close in weight, cushion, stack height with just a few less studs.  Probably the closest competitor for the Anima5. 

See our winter run/hike traction guide here for a comparison of varied traction options.

Jeffs Score:  9.7/10
-.2 for bulky/voluminous upper in the forefoot.
-.1 for tongue not being gusseted.

Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The Anima was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

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In Depth Altra Running Escalante Review:Fire!

Article by Peter Stuart and Patrick Caron with Sam Winebaum


Altra Running Escalante
Altra Running Escalante
Editor's Note: We are thrilled to offer this joint, in depth review of the Altra Running Escalante road running shoe. 
Patrick Caron is a 19 year old Boston area Altra Ambassador who set the New England ultra scene on fire in 2016 with 14:51 100 mile and 6:14 50 mile victories among several others. No slouch on the road he was the top 20 and under finisher at the 2016 Boston Marathon, 2:46. He averages over 100 miles per week of road and trail running, mostly in the Altra One. Patrick works in a running speciality store so he sees and fits lots of shoes.
Peter Stuart is a frequent contributor to Road Trail Run focusing on performance trainers and racing shoes. He is a masters runner on the "late side" of the 40-49 age group. One of the strongest masters in the Los Angeles area he has a recent sub 3 hour marathon and a 1:21 half marathon.

Altra Running joins three emerging running shoe trends big time with the Escalante:
  • knitted or highly engineered mesh uppers
  • a lifestyle look in a light performance trainer
  • most especially, innovative midsole materials with bounce and claimed energy return
The Escalante has a catalog weight of 8.2 oz/232 g men's size 9, 6.5 oz/182 g women's 8. Sam's size 9 beats the catalog weighing in at 8 oz.
The stack height is 25mm heel/25mm forefoot so the same stack height as the Instinct/Intuition. All Altras are Zero Drop from heel to toe. 
The Foot Shaped toe box is of course on board with the last following that of the Torin 2.5 and Superior trail shoe. It is intended to fit in the Altra line between the Instinct and Torin.

Retail $130. Available now in Men's and Women's styles and Fit4Her gender specific women's fits from Altra here, at other retailers at bottom of the article and at your local running store.
Altra Running Escalante
First Impressions
Patrick: My first impressions of the Altra Escalante is that this is one slipper-like shoe! With an eye-catching appearance and a soft, smooth feel on the foot, I was eager to test these out, even if we just got dumped with 20+ inches of snow here in New England!

Altra Running Escalante
Upper/Fit
Patrick: The overall fit of the Altra Escalante is terrific. Having received a pair in a men’s size 9, I would have prefered an 8.5, which is the same size I wear in the Altra One 2.5, my go-to shoe and the shoe I often use as a baseline for comparison. Altra recommends to go half a size up from your normal size in the One 2.5, so I would assume it makes sense for one to do the same in the Escalante. According to several friends who have worn a wide variety of Altras, they have found the sizing comparable to the Superior 3, the Torin 2.5, and the Lone Peak 3 (three of Altra’s most popular models).
Altra Running Escalante
The upper of the Altra Escalante is fantastic as well - fully engineered knit uppers seem to be all the rage these days, and Altra already seems to have mastered this in their first shoe to include this feature. The closely-knit material holds snug to the midfoot while maintaining the toe-room that Altra’s have come to be known for, although it is much more of a sock-like fit than other Altras I have worn. The upper really hugs the foot nicely all over, but never feels constricted in any way. The upper is similar in many ways to a Nike Flyknit, although much softer and overall is more comfortable. It’s a fairly thick material, and with a snow-filled winter in New England this year, it’s been providing some extra warmth, although I’m not sure how that will carry over in the warmer months.

Sam: I was sized half a size up but with thinner socks could have gone true to size, especially as I expect the knit to stretch a bit. The knit is very dense and soft, almost feeling like a soft shell jacket. Escalante has a sock like fit with great support too. There are no seams at all, the entire upper is one knitted piece, beyond a strip at the heel holding the two sides together. Even the unpadded tongue is knit and comfortable. While I am in cold climes now I suspect it will be a warmer shoe,
The toe box is soft and minimally structured with some stretch. The dark knit up front is not significantly firmer and appears to be only for some wear protection.
One might wonder if the foot is well held with such an unstructured front of the shoe.  It is and superbly so as at mid foot, on the inside are two approximately 2" long fairly substantial overlays applied to the inside on both the lateral and medial sides.
The heel collar and achilles collar are very well padded and supportive. There is a flexible, thin but present heel counter. I am a heel striker and like a heel counter and missed it in for example the Saucony Freedom ISO (review here)
Altra Running Escalante
Peter: I would say half-size up for sure! I'm half-size up in Instinct too. I haven't found them to be any warmer than other shoes, they've been nice and cozy in lots of rain. I do find the fit a little bit sloppy. Took a minute to get the heel locked down, and there's a bunch of room in the forefoot. Overall they're a decent fitting shoe and the materials are good. I wish there was just a hair of padding in the tongue as I have to lock down the laces pretty tight to get the heel locked.  
Midsole
Altra Running Escalante
Patrick: The newly introduced Altra EGO midsole is the real big news with the Altra Escalante. Currently, the Altra EGO midsole is only in two Altras, the Escalante and the recently released King MT (a more rugged trail and OCR shoe). As Altra describes it on their website, “by using a secret blend of compounds, Altra EGO offers the holy grail of running shoe cushioning, comfortable and soft, yet lively and resilient. With increased responsiveness and thinner cushioning, Altra EGO combines a closer to ground feel with the comfort of a plush ride.” Sure, there are a lot of catchy words within that summary, but they all held true when it came time to test them! 
With a stack height of 25mm (being zero-drop, it’s 25mm in both the heel and toe), the Escalante falls in-between the One 2.5 (23mm stack height) and the Torin 2.5 (28mm stack height). The new order of cushioning from least to greatest in Altras neutral lineup is now the One, the Escalante, the Intuition, the Torin, and then the Paradigm. I personally feel like the Escalante is up there in cushion with the Torin, although with a much livelier feel, great if you’re looking to pick up the pace or just have a little extra spring in your step. Also, by having a lower stack height than the Torin, the Escalante has a similar amount of flexibility to the One, with a bit more cushion all around.

Sam: The heavy magic is in the midsole outsole combination. Escalante features Altra's new EGO midsole. EGO is not pure EVA or even from what I can tell a minor blending of EVA and rubber or other compounds. In a clue it is Altra says it is designed to perform "better and more consistently in extreme temperatures" and "have long term durability to maintain excellent cushioning and energy return properties". This sounds a lot like the claims made for adidas Boost and Saucony Everun TPU based midsoles. In terms of softness to touch the Escalante seems a touch softer than Boost and about the same as Everun but as the Boost "popcorn" of expanded TPU are larger the cushioning feels about the same as Boost and a bit softer than Everun. It is definitely softer to the touch than the RMAT in the Hoka Hupana, my 2016 shoe of the year.
On the run the midsole is certainly soft, and comfortable without being energy sapping, bottoming out or mushy. It is very lively in a comfortable way.
But the midsole is only part of the story of how it actually all works and feels on the run...

Outsole

Patrick:  The outsole of the Altra Escalante features the company’s FootPod Outsole, which “follows the natural construction of the human foot for maximum flexibility and a responsive ride.” There is a lot more black, durable rubber on the Escalante than the One 2.5, and this helps protect the Altra EGO midsole from breaking down quicker over time. It also gives the shoe more grip and traction when the conditions get rough. Also, unlike the One 2.5, which can pick up pieces of gravel on occasion in-between the different sections of the outsole, the Escalante does not have this issue.


Sam: The Escalante outsole is dense, firm rubber arranged in a what looks and feels like it is in a stride and wear dynamics correct layout and one that due to its coverage, thickness, and firmness one that does an excellent job stabilizing the soft EGO.
I find Escalante more stable than Freedom ISO from Saucony and so far as stable as say a Boston 6, maybe more stable. The rebound is more lively and energetic (don't forget the outsole)  than Everrun, Boost or Skechers 5GEN and the feel a bit softer but a touch less smooth than the RMAT in the new Hoka Hupana which relies 100% on a single slab for cushion, stability, and wear.  It is somewhat less responsive but should be for me more comfortable under foot for daily miles than the new Skechers GOmeb Razor.
In terms of cushion the forefoot cushion and easy flex is just the way I like it. 25mm of EGO up front getting into the super cush range of maximal shoes such as Hoka but... here it is flexible and lively as Altra uses Inner Flex grooves in the midsole and wide spacing of the quite full coverage, stabilizing outsole rubber.  The forefoot ride and feel is livelier for sure than the Torin maybe not quite as snappy as the Impulse but more comfortable.
Altra Running Escalante
Peter: I agree that the shoe is soft. For me it is right on the verge of bottoming out. I've had a strange experience nearly every run (5 so far) in this shoe. When I start out I think "Wow, these are too soft and they're about to bottom out, ugh". By the end of every one of those runs I've thought "Hmm, these feel smooth, light and fast".

Ride

Patrick: The ride of the Altra Escalante is a unique one. Having already put plenty of miles into this shoe, I feel like I could go forever in it. It’s light enough that I don’t feel much of anything on my foot, and the cushion to weight ratio is extremely high. The Altra EGO midsole is very soft and spongy, although it maintains enough firmness and pop to help increase turnover and speed. I’ve also been impressed by the grip of the shoe, especially with the roads around me being a mess lately due to a couple of recent snowstorms. If I had to choose, I prefer the Altra One 2.5’s ride in general, although much of that has to do with the fact that I generally wear very minimal, lightweight shoes for all my runs and races (whether it’s road or trail). That being said, I think the majority of people will prefer the Escalante, and I think this shoe is a huge step forward for Altra, as it’ll appeal to many runners today due to its remarkable performance as well as its sleek, stylish look.

Peter: The ride of the Escalante is interesting. As I said above there are times I feel it's too soft and on the verge of bottoming out, and other times that I feel it's just right. Overall it's a smooth, flexible and pretty enjoyable ride. There is a good amount of cushioning and very little forefoot fatigue. The standout of the ride for me has been the grip of the shoe in wet conditions. The rubber on the bottom of the shoe grips every wet surface I've hit like an Iguana. On the down-side, I really notice the strain on my calf muscles in this shoe. It's definitely zero drop.

Sam: I have only run once in the Escalante, 7 miles at a slower tempo pace for me of 8:48/mile, Then I sent them on to Patrick.
As described in the marketing, the first run was fast and springy especially in the forefoot, more springy and fluid than Freedom ISO with less of a sense of bottoming out and then some heel instability and we are talking a zero drop shoe for the Escalante and not a 4mm drop as for the Freedom ISO.
I really think the firm outsole rubber under soft EGO helps pull together the ride and deliver the "fast and springy, yet comfortable and soft" in the shoe.  It is also a more flexible shoe than Freedom and Boston 6 and certainly the Hupana.
At a very light 8 oz for a 25mm stack of cushion the Escalante also challenges the Hoka Hupana, Clayton and Clifton along with the Skechers Performance GOrun 5 and GOmeb Razor and Saucony Kinvara in the low weight to overall stack or Sam's Ratio-adding forefoot and heel stack and dividing by weight.
As Escalante is a Zero Drop shoe there is for sure some sense for me as a heel striker with poor form of "missing the heel". I miss the heel a bit more than in the Torin 2.5 which has 3mm more foam all around in the midsole, about equivalent to the Altra Impulse (my 2015 shoe of the year) with its firmer foam and 2mm less heel height. 
As I always say when writing about Altra... I wish they included "training heels". I cut the rear of an old sockliner into a 2" section and put under the supplied sockliner but didn't do so for my first test run in the Escalante and everything felt fine. 
If you are not used to Altra Zero Drop geometry it is recommended to start with low mileage and moderate paces to get your legs and feet conditioned to t zero drop. For some runners like me, the zero drop is no issue in terms of soreness or injuries, for others it takes some getting used to.
As I did with the Impulse I would not hesitate to run a half marathon in the Escalante and I ran some fast, for old me, halves in the Impulse.
Altra Running Escalante Photo Credit Patrick Caron
Conclusions and Recommendations:
Patrick: As a friend of mine put it, the Altra Escalante is like the dark horse of shoes - “ a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds!” Having worked in running speciality for the last year and a half, I’m really excited about the potential of this shoe, and can see it rivaling many of the top shoes on the market today.
Peter: Overall I really like the Escalante. It wouldn't necessarily be my top shoe of the year, but it's a solid offering from Altra and definitely my favorite Altra so far.
Sam: The Escalante takes Altra into new directions. The knit upper execution, foothold and comfort is excellent. The new EGO midsole and outsole combination does, in my view, move Altra towards that "holy grail" combination of fast, springy, comfort, and soft in a big way.

Patrick's Score 9.75/10
-0.25 for breathability/ability to dry (the tightly knit upper of the Escalante seems to hold onto water and wasn’t as quick-drying as other Altra’s I’ve worn, but this past week has also brought New England lots of snow, resulting in an increase of icy puddles that are difficult to avoid)

Comparisons: 
Altra Escalante vs. Altra The One 2.5 (review here)
Peter: Both of these shoes are in the 'barely there', flexible light and simple shoes. Running in them side-by-side shows the Escalante to be MUCH softer and more protective than the One. It's a little more shoe and I'd be way more likely to take the Escalante out for a bunch of miles.
Patrick:As I stated earlier, the One 2.5 is my go-to shoe, from everyday training to race day. The Escalante is designed to be a more cushioned, yet more responsive version of the One 2.5, with a similar lightweight feel. It is noticeably more cushioned than the One 2.5, and its springiness helps aid you in the later miles of a run, whereas the One 2.5 has a totally natural feel to me, as if you are not wearing a shoe at all. The Escalante will certainly prove to be more durable and hold up better over time, especially since it has more outsole coverage than the One 2.5 (although expect more outsole coverage in the One 3, which is being released in May 2017).

Altra Escalante vs. Hoka One One Hupana (review here)
Sam: The Hupana has a snugger upper  all over for sure. It's ride feels more cushioned at the heel at all paces despite having the same stack there as the Escalante and no firm rubber with about the same cushion but lower stack but stiffer flexing in the front. The Escalante is more dynamic in its cushion, quicker to compress under load and quicker to return while the Hupana has an overall smoother feel with a more gradual compression and return. Hupana may more versatile as a daily trainer and up tempo runner as its ride feels about the same at all paces while Escalante leans towards the race and up tempo side and is wider fitting. 



Altra Escalante vs. Altra Instinct 
Peter: Very different shoes. The Escalante is like the lighter, more flexible little brother of the Instinct. Sizing and fit are very similar, with far less material on the Escalante. The Escalante seems like a no-brainer here if you want to go a little faster. The instinct if you want pure cush.

Altra Escalante vs. Skechers GoRun 5 (review here)
Peter: These are VERY similar shoes, executed quite differently. They both feel soft, they're both pretty flexible and they both work for slow and fast miles. That said, I prefer the GoRun. For me the GoRun transitions better, is quicker off the toe and is overall a better fit. While I've felt like I may be bottoming out in older versions of the GORun the 5 has been a great improvement.




Altra Escalante vs. Saucony Freedom (review here)
Patrick: The Escalante is a lighter, more flexible shoe than the Freedom, with a slightly softer feel underfoot and a more fluid transition during foot strike and toe off. The Freedom has a bit more snap to it though, and has the extra 4mm of heel for someone who might not yet feel ready for a zero-drop shoe. Also of note is the fact that the Escalante has a price tag of $130 as opposed to $160 like the Freedoms, and for two shoes that are very similar, this can make all the difference.
Peter: Escalante and the Freedom are also similar in many ways. They are both light and flexible. I mostly prefer the Freedom, except for one major issue. Over 8 miles the Freedom tends to leave me with a fatigued forefoot. The Escalante certainly protects the forefoot more, but it's fit and ride are a bit sloppier.
Sam: While the Freedom is fast and easy to run it has a soft somewhat unstructured heel when compared to the Escalante. Up front Freedom is stiffer and not as easy to transition for me. For easy going fun the Freedom, for moving things along the Escalante. 

The Altra Escalante was supplied at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
Photo Credits: Patrick Caron, www.jonfrederickphotography.com, and RoadTrailRun.com

Shop for the Escalante directly from Altra here
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Men's here Women's here
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Salming EnRoute Review and Comparisons: Comfortable, Light Trainer with a Soft Heel and Agile Forefoot

The EnRoute represents a new direction for Swedish brand Salming. Retaining the trademark Exo Skeleton upper, mid foot Torsion unit and great ballet line flex geometry the EnRoute takes the brand in a new direction with:
  • a new softer foam midsole, Recoil
  • more flexibility than previous Salming running shoes
  • a more relaxed fit and roomier toe box and a less structured upper than the Distance D4  
The result is a comfortable lighter daily trainer with a wonderful soft and agile forefoot held back somewhat by heel softness.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Stats:
Approx. weight US size 9 men's: 9 oz/255 g
Drop: 6mm
$150. Available now in men's and women's models

Upper and Fit
Since we're talking about a Swedish shoe why not show them off on some ice! 
The fit is true to size as was the Salming Distance D4 but with the EnRoute the fit is more relaxed overall The fit is broad and high volume at the mid foot and almost all the way to the front of the shoe. The very front is somewhat pointy with a soft but substantial toe bumper and overlay over the toes. I would be tempted to size down half a size for my narrower feet but for the pointy front.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The upper is 3 layers:

  • on the outside a very small gauge net like material
  • below air mesh net a somewhat denser mesh than the outer mesh with large holes for breathablity. This layer is attached to the tongue to create a bootie construction
  • Between the inner and outer layers  Salming's Exo Skeleton of straps that connect from from each yellow lace loop to the midsole locking down the foot without excess pressures at mid foot. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The result is a soft, foot conforming hold with no hot spots or heavy overlays in the way. The fit is of the relaxed variety but perfectly adequate and comfortable but for sure not the more race like fit of the Distance 4.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The tongue is puffy without a lot of structure in the lace up area and below that towards the toes still fairly thick, soft and unstructured. Quite frankly the top of the tongue is a bit much visually but Salming makes good use of all the surface above lace up for cool branding: EnRoute name and of course a Swedish flag! The heel counter is substantial and firm.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The fit and volume is clearly more accommodating than the more up tempo and race focused Distance D4.
Comparison LEFT Salming EnRoute RIGHT Salming Distance D4
Midsole and Outsole
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The midsole is a new blend called Recoil. Recoil feels like Altra new EGO midsole but in combination with the outsole softer is not quite as lively or with as much rebound, so more shock absorbing than responsive. It feels a bit like Skechers 5GEN as in the new GOrun 5 with a bit less vibration and shock transmitted.  It has less rebound than adidas Boost and Saucony Everun. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Upfront the feel when combined with the Torsion Efficiency unit and Torsion Guide System (TGS)  geometry is agile and smooth to toe off. I really like Salming's TGS which is defined as  "the distance from heel to the ball of foot (62% of the shoe) has been designed with extra stability, which ends in the so-called “ballet” line, a 75° angle." 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
The approach, similar in some ways to adidas Torsion system, gives noticeable impulse at transition and direction to toe off. I felt the same effect in the firmer Distance D4  but with the EnRoute the feel is softer, less tiring but none the less still agile.
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
It is at the heel where something is off for me. While pleasant and cushioned something is making this heel striker sink and stay back there longer than necessary.  I seem to remain longer and deeper into the heel than the front of the shoe calls for.  The EnRoute has what appears to have even less heel rubber than the considerably firmer and more stable Distance D4. 
LEFT Salming EnRoute RIGHT Salming Distance D4
My suspicion is that the lighter than normal coverage of outsole rubber and its softness, softer than most outsole rubbers, combined with the sharp rear bevel has me lingering on the heel especially at slower paces, shades of the Hoka Clifton. The answer to liven things up might be firmer, broader or deeper heel rubber coverage, less of a central opening to the midsole, and less bevel, 

The Altra Escalante does a particularly good job in this respect over its soft midsole and even the Freedom ISO with its soft Everun squares off the heel making the transition quicker. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Ride
The EnRoute has a pleasant, easy ride. It is soft and cushioned from the upper to the ground. There are no sharp edges and no harshness. While the front of the shoe is wonderfully agile it takes a bit to much effort to get there for me. The EnRoute would benefit from more and firmer heel rubber to liven things up and speed response off the heel. 
Salming EnRoute www.roadtrailrun.com
Conclusions and Recommendations 
The EnRoute is a comfortable well cushioned shoe with more comfort and cushion than its 9 oz weight might indicate. The pointy very front of toe aside, it is beautifully built and should be friendlier to higher volume feet than many competitors in the sub 10 oz category.  Forefoot and mid foot strikers may find the ride more lively and fluid than heel strikers. The toe off is fantastic with plenty of direction combined with flexibility and cushion. All it needs is some snap and rebound towards the back of the shoe, maybe a touch of additional firmness overall in the midsole outsole combination to liven things up to make it a great light daily trainer.

Score 9.6 out of 10
-.3 for heel softness and slow off the heel transitions
-,1 for high price 


Comparisons
Salming Distance D4 (review here)
The D4 is clearly a faster, firmer, snugger fitting shoe, more racer than trainer and is 1.4 oz lighter at 7.6 oz.  Overall the upper on the EnRoute is more comfortable and broader if a bit less secure. Underfoot, I prefer the snap of the D4 for faster miles and races but for comfortable easy miles would reach for the EnRoute



Saucony Freedom ISO (review here)
The Freedom ISO is more fun to run, bouncier but stiffer flexing and not very stable towards the heel as it has no real counter as the EnRoute does. The Freedom ISO upper is less structured and overall the Freedom is a harder shoe to "tame" but that is part of its fun. The EnRoute is a more versatile as a daily trainer.







adidas adizero Boston 6 (review here)
The Boston 6 overall tames its soft Boost midsole better than EnRoute through a thicker, broader outsole and the plastic Torsion system most notably at the rear of the shoe where the EnRoute has none. Towards the front, the EnRoute's Torsion Efficiency Unit and ballet line flex is smoother, more natural feeling than the Boston's pronounced toe spring approach. The Boston skews more towards racing than the EnRoute and I would race 10K and up in the Boston but not the EnRoute. EnRoute would be a better choice as a trainer for slower runners especially if they are not heavy heel strikers.


Hoka Hupana  (review here)
The Hupana is smoother, softly cushioned and stable despite its relatively soft RMAT midsole outsole combination, no outsole rubber at all. At 8.2 oz it is also almost an ounce lighter than the EnRoute. No contest for me, the Hupana is my preference. Those with wider higher volume feet or who run in very warm condtions could find the EnRoute open mesh upper more accommodating and comfortable than the snugger Hupana's dense knit upper.




Brooks Launch 4 (review here)
Slightly heavier than the EnRoute and more lumbering in ride the Launch has a more supportive conventional upper. Not nearly as lively and dynamic upfront as the EnRoute, the Launch has a firmer yet well cushioned heel with plenty of outsole rubber. Not as much fun to run for sure as the EnRoute or the others above but at $100, $50 less than the EnRoute it is a better value for money.





Altra Escalante (review here)
The new Escalante does a great job balancing a soft high rebound midsole with stability and off the heel transition, even more strikingly so as the Escalante is zero drop whereas the EnRoute is 6mm. Escalante accomplishes this feat with far more and thicker outsole rubber at the heel and the stronger rebound of its EGO midsole. The upper is equally accommodating at mid foot and is foot shaped, broad at the front a very soft knit with no pointy feel. Zero Drop is not for everyone and despite the superior 25mm of cushion upfront the EnRoute front of the shoe ballet line transition is still tops. As with the Distance D4 the Escalante leans more towards racer and up tempo shoe than the EnRoute.

Sam Winebaum is the Founder of Road Trail Run.
The EnRoute was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.


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Monday, February 13, 2017

Dion 121 Race Snowshoes Review - The Ultimate in Quality, Speed and Versatility

by Jeff Valliere

Dion Model 121 Frame with Quick Fit Binding and Ice Cleats
$255 as tested ($130 frame, $70 binding, $55 cleats)

Dion Snowshoes, founded by Bob Dion and his wife Denise (both multiple time national championship medal winners), is a family owned and operated business out of North Bennington, Vermont, specializing in designing, building and selling some of the best running snowshoes on the market.  All parts/materials are made in the USA and Bob personally has his hands on each and every snowshoe that goes out the door, ensuring top notch quality control.

Dion snowshoes set themselves apart in that they are a modular design, meaning you can choose 4 different frames, ranging from the smallest race snowshoe, the 121 (the number represents surface area in square inches), all the way up to the 220 backcountry snowshoe for maximum flotation.  The 121 features a hand crafted, aircraft grade aluminum frame with sleeve joined tubing for added strength, neoprene springs on hinge for constant tension and improved articulation and lightweight, abrasion resistant decking.

For cleats, there are three different choices, the Ice cleat (pictured), the Standard cleat and the Deep cleat.  The Standard and the Deep cleats are made of teflon coated aluminum alloy (with the Deep cleat being longer for deeper snow or for lighter runners who need more to dig in), whereas the Ice cleat is made of a more durable stainless steel, though are a few grams heavier.  The heel cleat is teflon coated to prevent snow from sticking/balling.

Since I live in Colorado, where we get a lot of snow, I debated going with the Deep cleat, but ultimately decided to go with the more durable Ice cleat, as sometimes races traverse bare ground and I will also use them for winter mountaineering that requires added durability.

With 16 very pronounced and sharp points, traction is EXCELLENT on hard packed snow, ice and steep inclines.



The 121 measure 21 inches in length and is the smallest allowable for snowshoe racing.  From the Dion website:
"For Snowshoe Racing, it's best to get the smallest size allowed. This is usually 120" F.S.A (120" functional surface area). Some races still require 8"x25" frames. Our Model 121 (121" F.S.A.) is not only the smallest and narrowest on the market, but, because of the design, has the most flotation. Weight is also a key factor. Unlike other brands, we don't sacrifice durability or function to save weight. (Also, our Teflon coated cleats prevent ice and snow build-up which is a huge factor in reducing weight.)
Model 121 is the smallest and narrowest snowshoe allowed by the USSSA. Great for Sprints, 5k and short distances but also able to handle the long stuff."




The 121 frame is only 7.5 inches wide, which is a key measurement, in that it's narrowness greatly contributes to running efficiency, not having to alter your gait all that much to avoid banging your ankles.

These are incredibly light snowshoes, which I knew ahead of time, but was still in awe when I pulled them out of the box.  1 lb, 3 oz. each.

In order to change the binding and/or the cleat, all you have to do is turn two quick turn fasteners 1/4 turn and the binding and cleat pop right off.  This system is remarkably secure and a full disassembly/reassembly only takes a minute or two once you have practiced the sequence once or twice.


Below is the 121 disassembled, Ice cleat, 121 frame and Secure fit binding.


Two different bindings are available, the Secure fit (pictured below) that comprises of three pull straps and the Quick fit, which instead of traditional pull straps, feature velcro straps, made of a hook and loop design and secure, long lasting velcro.

One minor issue I have had in the past with other race snowshoes, is that (despite only wearing a size 10 shoe) I could not fit a warmer/larger shoe into the binding when I wanted to use them on cold days for non racing purposes.  Not so with the Dion.  I was able to fit my larger Hoka Tor Ultra Hi WP (my RTR review here) in them, as well as my even larger Salomon insulated winter boots.  I did however have a little bit of trouble securing the middle Secure strap to the snugness I would prefer when using my lower profile race shoes.

I asked Bob Dion about the feasability of upgrading to the velcro Quick fit strap kit, which he confirmed would be an easy solution.  In two days, I had the velcro Quick fit straps and this easy conversion immediately solved my issue of not being able to adequately tighten that middle strap enough on my race shoes.  My feet feel very secure in the bindings and there is no sliding or movement whatsoever, either fore/aft or side to side.  I was initially reluctant to go with velcro, but now that I have tried them and am more aware of the versatility and how easy it is to exchange different sizes straps to accommodate for different types of shoes, or to simply replace as need be, I would highly recommend the Quick Fit binding (strap sizes included are XS, S, M, L, XL, which should cover about every size).  Not to mention, the velcro is just easier, which is very handy out in the cold and snow.

Getting in/out of the binding just takes seconds now.

One other nice perk of having the velcro quick fit straps is that there is no excess strap to deal with (when using the Secure Fit straps, I had a lot of strap leftover and had to wrap and weave the excess around so it would not flap in the wind).

Performance:  In years past, I have owned/raced/borrowed several other light, race snowshoes from various brands, but I'll have to say that I was blown away by the performance of the 121.  As I mentioned above, they are remarkably light and small, which goes a long way in performance, as with each foot step, effort is hardly more than running without snowshoes.  The very narrow 7.5" width facilitates the closest to natural stride possible, which makes a big difference in not only efficiency, but also in nimble maneuverability.  The fixed hinge on which the binding attaches, makes for a very responsive reaction, meaning that the snowshoe does not drag or waste energy lagging, it pops up very quickly (instantaneously) and is ready for the next step, no matter the stride rate.  I did not get a chance to race in these during the test period, but did some fast running in them on well packed trails and am confident they will be the ideal race snowshoe.

In addition to running fast in the 121 and confirming their top tier status as a racing snowshoe, I was also able to use them in a variety of conditions, less packed trails, icy lake crossings and frozen creek traversing, steep gradients (both packed/slick/powder snow), sidehilling, breaking trail in 8+ inches of fresh snow and getting off trail in 5 or 6 foot deep unconsolidated snowpack.  I am impressed with how well the 121 handled just about all of these conditions.  I am 145 lbs, so a larger snowshoer may want to consider a larger frame size for varied use, but the light weight was a huge help when breaking trail in the 8 inches of snow (with a packed base underneath).  Of course they wallowed a bit off trail in the bottomless, unconsolidated powder, but I found that I could get through the snow OK.  If breaking trail in deep snow is all you are doing, I would definitely suggest a larger size, like the 166 or the 220.  I am also quite happy with my choice to go with the Ice cleat, as they seemed to provide enough traction in looser conditions, where I am not sure a longer cleat would help anyways.  On actual Ice, the ice cleat hangs on remarkably well, not even the slightest chance of skitter or slipping.

 Some photos below of a recent outing with the 121s, where they performed flawlessly in the fresh snow.


Recommendations:  The 121 is first and foremost a race snowshoe and is the ideal choice for anyone looking to race for the win, or anyone else just looking for the highest quality, best performing, lightweight snowshoe with excellent interchangeability.  I also think it is a great snowshoe for a wider variety of use beyond racing.  We get a lot of snow here in Colorado, but we also have a large population of outdoor enthusiasts that are quick to pack down the majority of the trails.  Much of the time that I have been out snowshoeing in the past, I have found my 30" expedition snowshoes to be way too much for the relatively groomed conditions, then, far too often, the 5+ lb behemoths would be strapped to my pack (also creating a nice wind sail above treeline), or I would just be sluggishly clomping along with way too much snowshoe.  With the lighter weight, excellent traction, surprisingly good flotation (for such a small snowshoe and assuming a lighter user) and the ability to accommodate any size shoe (including insulated winter boots), the 121 will be my go to snowshoe for racing as well as mountaineering and general snowshoe hiking.

Quality:  As I mentioned above, I really appreciate that all of the materials are sourced here in the US and that Bob is so invested in the design, construction, customer satisfaction and distribution of his namesake snowshoes.  His commitment to the sport, his product and the needs/satisfaction of his customers is exemplary.  The quality materials, craftsmanship and attention to detail sets Dion apart from the competition.

Value:  I have read in some reviews, the opinion that Dion snowshoes are expensive, but I feel as though I need to address that.  At $255 as tested here, I find these to be an excellent value, as they are priced quite fairly in comparison to many of the other top end race snowshoes and are less expensive than several others.  Factor in the top notch quality, personalized service, satisfaction guarantee, lifetime warranty and the modular interchangeability/versatility, Dion snowshoes are a true value.

Jeff's Score:  10/10


Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
The Dion 121 was provided free of charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Order the 121 and other Dion Snowshoe models direct from Dion here

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