Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Inov8-Trail and Mountain Running Shoes

Inov-8 is a scrappy British trail running shoe company which is equipping many of the top mountain runners worldwide, including the world champion John Wyatt of New Zealand. Even the recent Applachian Trail speed record breaker did the entire trail, all 2174 miles in 47 days in Inov-8's.

Why? A unique approach to getting the foot in a more level/neutral position to the ground for greater stability combined with wrap around ankle and arch support via the upper. I also like their product matrix which clearly differentiates different sole and shoe constructions for different terrains: mud, rock, grassy, mixed terrain thus going well beyond the usual breathable and waterproof uppers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

OllyDog- Outdoor Retailer Show

is a Berkeley based start-up launched by former North Face and Sierra Designs folks focused on colorful, fun and functional "equipment" for outdoor dogs. They know rugged materials and have applied them to dog products. I joined them in their booth as one of their advisors is a Dartmouth friend.

Their products include a great folding (flat like a wallet) dog bowl the Lapper for your dog travels in all kinds of neat colors and patterns using super rugged pack cloth. It actually stays up even with no or little water. And, as was demonstrated at the show put a 6 pack and some ice and you have an instant beer cooler.

They offer a series of very colorful collars which are rugged but smooth, not the usual frayable webbing.

Their doggy beds looked very comfortable with many of the dogs at the show taking a rest at the booth in the beds. They have a sling bag for the morning walk with the pooch and then all day use. The "cell phone" pocket included a pass through port to pull out one of those blue bags for you know what...

Finally, their dog toys which included a very rugged fabric covered bone and a frisbee were put to good use right there in the booth.

Ollydog is a fun dynamic company which is working the growing niche of families and baby boomers, and empty nesters with dogs.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Outdoor Retail Show

I recently had the good fortune, for a total outdoor and outdoor gear nut, to attend the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City. Literally thousands of backpacking, trail running, apparel, footwear, gadgets, skiing, snowshoeing exhibitors. To try to categorize it all is difficult but I will try as follows: New England outdoor innovators, influence of the military on outdoor products, and innovative small companies with products worth noting.

In New England companies I was thrilled to see that 3 of 4 companies with "breakthroughs" on the cover of the March issue of Backpacker and 3 of the 6 true innovations according to the hardcore Backpackinglight were from New England. With the exception of the Bean pack I saw all of these at the show or have seen at retail.

The laureates included:
  • the tent maker Nemo Equipment for their air supported easy to erect tents, now far lighter.
  • Timberland ,my neighbors here on the Seacoast of NH, were recognized for their Delerion adventure racing shoe. It is an all purpose, high performance outdoor activity shoe which solves for the first time the problem of draining water and drying fast (non absorbent materials) vs. the conventional keeping water out approach. As a long time hiker and trail runner I can tell you that keeping water out is almost impossible so why not let it in and then out as fast as possible! Suspect these might also be great hot weather shoes. My only concern with these very breathable mesh type shoes is how much fine material sneaks through the upper. The included gaiters keep stuff from coming over the top but... Have to try to see.
  • I am also trying a pair of Timberland Ed Veisters lightweight hiker the Cadion. I am very impressed by the dramatic weight reduction when compared to the usual hikers. The upper is made in part out of Schoeller's Kerpotec a very abrasison resistant fabric often used in motorcyle clothing. I will be hiking the Whites in NH with these. I think they will be ideal as I find trail runners of any kind just a bit light given the terrain. Timberland is getting traction in Outdoor Performance by focusing on solving real problems for power users. The solutions translate well to the general marketplace.
  • Darntough is a Vermont performance sock company which is offering a lifetime warranty on... their socks. Talk about standing by the product.
  • JetBoil is a NH company which has set the backpacking stove market "on fire" by applying heat exchanger technology, often found in cooling electronics to go the other way and direct the flame's heat into the pot, which in their first iteration was actually a large insulated and integral coffee type mug. Very compact and efficient solution for mostly 3 season light backpacking or just a hot cup on the trail.
  • LL Bean of Maine was recognized by Backpacker for value and quality breakthrough in packs "The Ultimate Bargain", no surprise from this fine and thrifty company. Their full featured Bigelow TL is $59 and looks perfect for overnight hikes and day packs with plenty of features and durability.
  • Bemis this fourth generation adhesives company in Shirley MA which started in furniture glue has revolutionized garment construction with heat sealable tape called SewFree which eliminates sewing. Currently in high end apparel they enable not only more durable seams without the risk of thread abrading but less bulky apparel with new geometries and patterns. So, not an outdoor product per se but a materials company was the big star of the Outdoor Retalier Show.