Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sam's 2016 Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor Road Trail Run

2016 was a great year for running shoes, gear, and wearable tech. The industry shoe focus and my preferences were for light  performance trainers under 10 oz, often well under 10 oz. There were plenty to chose from!

Shoe uppers continued to evolve with most performance shoes moving to light variable support engineered mesh or knit uppers, eliminating the pressures and extra weight of many overlays and manufacturing waste. The use of stitching to assemble shoes continued to drop,

Midsoles continued to evolve away from straight EVA with blends such as Skechers 5GEN Salming Runlite and non EVA midsoles such as adidas Boost and now Saucony Everun along new ways to reduce shock and vibration such as new implementations of Nike Zoom Air in the All Out, New Balance's use of a TPU layer in the 2090, and the upcoming Salomon'Vibe technology.

Apparel saw Nike getting practical and focused on running and European companies such as ON Running, WAA and Compressport  amazing with highly technical and effective fabrics and designs.

Of course wearable tech and music saw tons of innovations, lower prices, and the advent of GPS on board Android Wear and Apple watches with accompanying watch apps just emerging,

I had a decent year of running with a bit under 1800 miles of running. No marathons this year for me and that was OK. I achieved my annual goal of a sub 1:40 half twice, a 1:37.15 on a downhill course and a 1:38.16 on a flat course,

I was lucky to test 30 different shoes but often regretted having to move on to new shoes as there were so many excellent shoes this year especially of the lighter, faster yet cushioned and stable variety I prefer.

The Road Trail Run team tested and reviewed a total of 65 shoe models in 2016. Peter Stuart our fast road shoe specialist's 2016 picks are here. Jeff Valliere our mountain and trail specialist's picks are here,

My 2016 picks

RUN SHOE OF THE YEAR

Hoka ONE ONE Hupana

This brand new shoe, out in December, has delighted me with its secure foot hold, stable wide platform and lively, well cushioned, and responsive ride. This is the "little bit less" Hoka I have been waiting for years for. Hoka's trademark RMAT midsole material, last seem in a fast shoe in the Huaka, returns in this performance shoe using a one piece midsole outsole, no "rubber". As a result, the ride and feel is consistent and smooth from heel to toe and the durability to date without any outsole has raised no concerns. The all knit upper has a fantastic, simple and modern "lifestyle" look with zero performance compromises and a snug near race shoe fit.  See my first impressions review here

#2 Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3
I did not run as many trail miles this year as in in the past but on every run and on every terrain the Terra Kiger performed with dexterity and  security. The front and rear Zoom Air units not only protect but also give great terrain feel, conforming to obstacles.  The seemingly non trail shoe upper soft and foot conforming was outstanding in its support and comfort, Despite the Kiger's light weight, durability has been excellent. My review here.

#3 Altra Torin 2.5

The versatile Torin took me from my fastest half of the year on a downhill course to many moderate terrain trail runs with equal aplomb. The well weight balanced Torin kept me for the first time from "missing the heel" in a Zero Drop Altra, The soft ride combined with excellently supportive upper made this one comfortable shoe for all terrains and for all paces.  RTR review here.

RACERS
The majority of my races are half marathons with a few 10K and given my pace and age I prefer racing shoes with a bit more cushion and support than typical race flats. 

#1 adidas adizero adios Boost 3
The world marathon record shoe relaxed a bit in version 3 with a more accommodating toe box and a bit more rubber for a touch softer ride, Not quite the dialed race machine v1 was on both road and trail,  the Adios Boost 3 was on my feet for many of my 2016 races. RTR review here.

#2 adidas adizero Boston 6
This long racer which also doubled as a trainer for me has a fantastic engineered mesh upper and great road comfort for long fast miles. RTR review here.

#3 Salming Distance D4
Sweden's Salming is moving fast and the limited edition D4 has an improved upper and a new Runlite somewhat bouncier midsole compound. The ride is firmer overall than the two adidas but also more cushioned, if more firmly so, in the forefoot. RTR review here.



PERFORMANCE TRAINERS
#1 Hoka ONE ONE Hupana
Shoe of the Year


#2 Saucony Freedom ISO

Saucony first all Everun TPU midsole shoe is a beauty, Low slung with a soft minimal upper it has considerable bounce and a natural low to the ground fast ride. Every run in them brought a smile but they were a bit harder to tame than the typical performance shoe, RTR Review here.

#3 ON Cloud
Much as with the Hupana and Freedom ISO, the Cloud has some lifestyle pretensions without in any way compromising performance. The look is modern and hip, the bungie lace effective, the construction and quality impeccable in this Swiss Engineered shoe,  While I did not race in them, they easily can be a fast race shoe as well as trainer and...kick around shoe,  The ride is relatively firm and responsive but in no way harsh due to the Cloudtec Elements, RTR review here.

DAILY TRAINERS

#1 Saucony Ride 9
Reliable and flexible with an Everurn TPU top sole for some bounce, many of my early 2016 miles were in the light 9.2 oz Ride. It has everything one would expect from a daily trainer except the boring, clunky, slow parts, RTR review here.

#2 Hoka ONE ONE Clayton 
The lightest shoe I ran this year the Clayton was plenty protective and cushioned for longer fast runs which is what I used them for.  There were some issues with irritation from the upper and they were stiffer than I like.  Otherwise Clayton would have been in my top three overall for 2016. My RTR review here.

#3 Brooks Launch 4
Soon to appear on the market, I had an early chance to run the Launch 4. Significantly improved in flexibility with a lower weight and smoother transition,this basic daily trainer is vastly better than its stiff and clunky predecessors, Still not the liveliest of rides it is a reliable durable partner for day in day out training at all paces. RTR review here.

Honorable Mention: Nike Pegasus 33 Shield
To few runs to reach final conclusions but the popular Peg 33 has a fine firmer ride, a very supportive upper, a particularly smooth transition and great outsole grip. Full Review soon.

ROAD TO TRAIL HYBRIDS

I always look for run shoes that can handle the mixed road and trail terrain I find in Park City.
#1 Altra Torin 2.5

Wait this is a road shoe, right? Well yes, but for versatility and stable, reliable performance on mixed runs of road and moderate trail in Park City the Torin was the best of 2016 and took me to my fastest road half of the year on a downhill course.

#2 New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi
A moderate trails and road to trails version of the Fresh Foam Zante I preferred the road ride of the Gobi to the Zante. The Gobi has a more comfortable and supportive upper than the Zante v1 for me, It's a fun shoe for multiple purposes at a great price, RTR review here

TRAIL SHOES

#1 Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3
My goto trail shoe of 2016


Skechers GOTrail Ultra 4


I wear tested the Ultra 4 in 2016 through multiple ever improving iterations with particular focus on making the upper more supportive given the high stack of 34mm/30mm, a goal achieved. Soft, yet adequately responsive from the 5GEN midsole with a great all terrain outsole, including for road use, the Ultra is well named and ideal for long slow miles in great comfort.

RUN SHOE INNOVATIONS OF THE YEAR
Both of these innovations seek to combine snappy response from a firm midsole with shock and vibration attenuation. Both succeed. 

Nike Zoom All Out Flyknit midsole
This 3/4 length single unit Zoom Air midsole with high pressure air is very, very stiff yet comes together for a great ride, firm with minimal shock and a snappy "violent" flex. The All Out was the most perplexing shoe I ran in 2016 and I am till trying to understand how it all works so well. While a bit extreme in stiffness and the flex could be improved, I was shocked at the positive effects on my run economy, heart rate at a given pace,  The Swoosh is up to something neat here, stay tuned...Now also available in a low version. RTR review here.

Salomon Vibe Technology

Trails leader Salomon runs towards the road shoe with the new Sonic, Sonic Pro 2, and S-Lab Sonic 3 road shoes (as well as trail shoes) with Vibe vibration attenuation technology. In the market in early 2017, my testing of the Sonic showed a firm ride from the Energy Cell+ EVA with noticeably less vibration shock from front and rear Opal inserts of a soft Thermoplastic Polypropylene. This combination results in a snappy, stable and firm response and ride with far less harshness than comparable firmness EVA midsoles, My Sonic review here

APPAREL AND GEAR

Apparel of the Year- On Running Pants
Swiss company ON is known for their superb shoe uppers. With their Running Pants ON created the most comfortable and versatile run pant I have ever used. A blend of nordic ski pant and run tight the elaborately constructed pant is comfortable over a huge range of temperatures, has full range of motion through it articulated knee construction and copious amounts of black out reflectivity. RTR mini review here.

WAA Ultra Carrier Shirt- Run Pack of the Year?
French ultra gear specialist WAA has created the super practical and protective (SPF 100) form fitting and high temperature comfortable Ultra Carrier Shirt. Featuring 4 pockets, it easily carries more than 32 oz of water, your phone, and nutrition in bounce free comfort, RTR review here

Compressport 3D Thermo Ultralight Baselayer

The lightest most comfortable base layer I have ever used the somewhat fragile stretchy fabric is warm and thermoregulating when it needs to be, evaporates well, and as it is so light it absorbs minimal moisture. RTR mini review here
.
Nike Aeroswift Shorts
The Aeroswift Shorts have the best taming of the phone and other carry gear bounce to date with 2 deep pockets at your rear, Breathable and comfortable they have been my go to shorts this year, 

Nike Trail Kiger Vest
A snug, very form fitting race vest the Trail Kiger keeps a full load of up to 3 liters of water motion free in a very streamlined vest. Don't need to carry that much? The Kiger is equally adept and comfortable for lighter loads. RTR review here.

Wearable Tech and Music

Wearable Tech of the Year-Garmin Fenix 3 HR

I tested over 20 GPS watches this year for my Competitor Magazine articles and the burly and reliable Fenix 3 HR is the watch I reach for most often. With a very long battery life, big screen and most especially every multi-sport, mountain, activity, recovery and physiology feature on board it has proven a reliable and capable workout companion,  RTR Garmin Comparison article here.

Fitbit Charge 2
Not really a full featured run tracking option, the Charge 2 shines in cardio fitness tracking including VO2 Max, sleep quality monitoring, and activity tracking  The app is clear, to the point, and complete The price at $149 is more than fair. The Charge 2 is a great band sized option for 24/7 wear on your "other wrist" ,which is how I used it for many months,

HRV Sensing WHOOP Strap
The pricey ($500) Whoop Strap and app is the state of the art in sleep and recovery evaluation. Using very high HR sampling rates it captures at the moment of deepest sleep Heart Rate Variabilityalong with sleep quality,  Through the excellent app I have learned about the effect on recovery of quality sleep, that extra drink, and workout and life strains. I listen to Whoop and take it easy when it so advises. The hardware band execution is outstanding: screen less, super light, with an innovative charger which is actually a battery pack you snap over the Whoop never having to take it off, RTR article here.

Bose SoundSport Earphones
The SoundSport has the deepest and richest sound of any earphone I tested in 2016, and I tested dozens for Competitor, The inner comfort and stability of these in the ear buds is excellent. RTR article here.

Jabra  Elite Sport Wire Free Ear Buds

A late 2016 launch, I only had a couple days to test the Elite but was delighted by the sound quality, reliable in ear heart rate (a rarity), and comfort. Not having a wire to the phone or even a wire connecting the 2 ear buds is a delight!

Happy Roads and Trails in 2017!
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run!

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