Sunday, August 20, 2006

OR Summer Market-Light in the Storm - Guyot Designs and Brunton

I went off to OR just after a microburst storm in NH ripped down huge trees and power poles leaving us in the dark. We got out our trusty candle lantern and had a BBQ.

So somehow amid all the thousands of neat products I spotted two neat lanterns which would have put a warm and useful glow on the emergency.

Guyot Designs makes a Nalgene bottle lid, The Firefly, with LED lights glowing into the water below at the push of a button. Very useful for trail emergency, camping tent ambience, or my house. Guyot is a wonderfully inventive Maine company with a speciality in "retrofit" lids, splash guards, etc... for Nalgene type bottles.

Brunton is Wyoming company whose elegant, often stainless steel look, cook equipment, stoves, powerful headlamps, binoculars, transits and compasses ( their origin) really caught my eye. They had a spectacular LED powered update of my candle lantern, the Glorb which I would gladly include in my home emergency kit.

OR Summer MKT-Nordic Walking and Leki

One of my goals at OR was to see how the industry was specifcally addressing "older" active enthusiasts. Didn't see much. As a longtime, 30 year plus, nordic skier I did want to try Nordic Walking, a sport that is all the rage in Northern Europe and which is gaining a foothold in North America.

Nordic Walking involves walking with poles similar to nordic racing poles but shorter. Early one morning I joined the daily walk sponsored by Leki. I have had Leki trekking poles for years and while not particularly known in the US they are a major supplier of nordic racing poles in Europe, especially for Biathlon as they have a nifty quick release switch for the strap. Obviously to shoot you need to get put down your poles. This quick release is also very useful during Nordic Walking.

I found Nordic Walking the flat Salt Lake City streets very relaxing, especially as it was the day after my 16 mile trail race. I could see some serious effort on hills possible. The motion is very rythmic with the arms swinging and a light hold on the grips vs. pushing when one skis.

Leki and others claim a 25% increase in oxygen consumption with poles leading to a better cardio workout. You will get a definite if low resistance upper body workout.

The angle for the older active athlete? This is a great workout with low impact. One of the instructors, Ed was 75, a former runner, who is a passionate alpine skiier and uses nordic walking to keep in shape. It can be social as our group was always at conversation pace. All ages can participate together. The missionary work to introduce the sport continues and Leki is to be complimented for leading the way. The instructors were friendly, not all super hard core athletes, and quite surprisingly none had very much if any snow nordic experience.

I would like to try some collapsible all carbon Leki poles such as the Pacer Vario (which is a bit short for skiing) or the All Season as a combination speed trekking pole and nordic classic pole. I favor the nordic pole grip and strap as a beter way to transfer energy than the beefier trekking handles.

OR Summer Mkt-Timberland Outdoor Performance

Previous posts covered the introduction of the GoLite high performance trail running line which Timberland developed under license from GoLite. Mion another Timberland brand covers the high performance side of water shoes.

Timberland Outdoor Performance products are for outdoor recreationalists, folks who make the most of their free time: "Wear Now, Play Now" as Jay Steere, VP Outdoor Performance explained. The Timberland booth featured a collage of time-defined photos depicting activities throughout a day of fun: running, kayaking, scrambling, mountain biking The positioning is that the Outdoor Performance line truly is multi-sport capable. And, most all models are now available in women's sizes which a significant positive change.

Of course, from a company known for their boots, there are some fantastic hikers such as the Cadion, my personal favorite for hiking the rugged Whites of NH: light weight and as agile as a trail runner yet at the same time very supportive. Coming for Spring 2007 is an all leather Cadion, the Long Reach featuring a ceramic dot toe/forefoot wear protection system "SuperFabric tm" in place of the usual rubber rands. This approach seems to offer great flexibility in the toe area with bullet proof protection, almost literally.

Two of the speed shoes in the Spring 2007 line are the Cadion Hiking Sandal and the Vaporate Low fastpacker. Both feature the B.O.Atm Lacing System. This system uses a very fine durable stainless steel cable and a LSR Reel to easily tighten and loosen the fit with a simple turn of the reel, and without laces. First found on snowboard boots, and more recently on some NorthFace trail shoes, I had never tried B.O.A until my visit to Timberland at OR. Jay had me try the Cadion Hiking Sandal and I found the system to be fantastically easy and apparently very rugged. Ideal for fast hikers, maybe a bit heavy for trail runners. Adding to the comfort, the insole is covered with a removable and washable SmartWool "sock", a feature found on other shoes in the line and an extension of the success of the recent SmartWool lined PowerLoungers.

I liked both the Cadion Hiking Sandal and Vaporate. The Cadion, which should be available in some subtle colors, might be an ideal single shoe for travel, trail hiking, and even business if the place you go is business casual. The Vaporate would be an ideal White Mountains day hiker and on more foot friendly terrain such as Western trails an ultralight backpacker.

Reducing its environmental impact even further, Timberland introduced a Greenscapes collection of outdoor performance shoes and apparel for Spring 2007 featuring organic cotton, EcoStep Vibram outsoles made of 30% recycled rubber, and organically tanned leather. And, yes the organically tanned leather Mountain Sneaker featured that comfy SmartWool covered footbed. Timberland was not alone at OR in reducing impact on the environment. It was a major healthy trend.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

OR Summer Mkt-Ibex Merino Wool Apparel

I have an Ibex Speedplay jacket which has proved a very versatile jacket on the trail and in town. Nylon smooth face outside, merino wool inside make it a perfect fall and winter running and nordic ski jacket.

Ibex was one of the first if not the first company to introduce, or should I say re-introduce, wool as a performance fabric, without the scratchiness of old due to the use of fine merino I remember so well. Their pieces have beautiful styling and colors to go with the natural performance of wool and its a New England company.

I visited with John Fernsell, President at OR. The big news for Ibex is the industry's first seamless merino wool body fit garments in 17.5 micron wool for Spring 2007. Among the seamless pieces : sports bras, briefs, boxers, and runners shorts. Wool is a natural for first layers as the moisture transmission is fantastic and wool is naturally anti-microbial, thus better smelling over time, key for travel The 17.5 micron is also in Polos and tee shirts, great for traveling light.

While others are now offering wool performance apparel : Smartwool, Patagonia, Icebreaker, etc.. I like the Ibex style and quality. This said when it comes to the feet, I am always in Smartwool socks. They pioneered the performance wool sock. It is most often where you start where you remain strongest.

Friday, August 18, 2006

OR Summer Mkt- Neat Chums accessories for Goggles, Glasses and Lips

Sometimes it's the simple things. Tom Ferries from Chums , best known for eyeglass/sunglass retainer cords showed me a couple of neat accessories for skiers and other winter outdoor enthusiasts:
  • a clip on lip balm holder(top right)
  • an easy to remove lens (glasses and goggles) cleaner integrated into a sleeve(left) . Just pull out to clean I'll be using this one this winter as I wear eyeglasses.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

OR Summer Mkt- Nuun Electrolyle Drink Tablets

Nuun is another of those New England origin outdoor companies such as Nemo Equipment, Jet Boil, and others with a truly innovative new approach to an old problem. The problem is how to get an electrolyte solution into water without messy powders.

The Nuun's answer is an effervescent tab which you drop into 16 oz of water. 2 minutes later you have a carb free electrolyte drink. Very interestingly, unlike what often happens to powders no settling on the bottom, perfectly mixed.

I have tried a Nuun tablet the last 2 days in the Nathan Quick Draw bottle during my daily run and while I have to trust the science I find the trouble free mixing on the go and taste a wonderful solution to an old problem.

The picture shows the compact size of the tablet and packaging. Ideal for daily adventures and longer trips.

OR Summer Mkt Review- Nathan Sports Quick Draw Plus

On my list of items to check out at OR was a new hydration system for shorter runs (1-3 hours) which would enable me to carry 16- 50 oz or so of water and a few essentials. I have used a simple water bottle pack but find it bouncy with the bottle hard to put back in. I have rarely used a sport drink powder in the bottles as the process always turns out messy and fussy so I was looking for something simpler in that area.

While just about every outdoor pack company has hydration systems I found 4 companies which specialize in hydration and nutrition carriers: Nathan Sports, Ultimate Direction, Amphibod and Fuel Belt.

Cruising the floor I gravitated to Nathan for a couple reasons. First, I was very impressed with their highly evolved line covering the 3 capacity/use levels outlined in my previous post.
I recall Nathan as a manufacturer of reflective vests but in the last 2 years led by the former designers at the originator of water belts Ultimate Direction they have built a great line which even includes a series designed with the Subaru Factory Team, the top US nordic ski team.
Secondly, while over at the Power Bar booth I had the pleasure of meeting Karl Metzler, the 8 time Western States 100 winner as well as record holder of the Wasatch 100 and other races. A great guy who shared some of the secrets which enable him to run 100 miles, with tons of vertical in well under 20 hours . He is sponsored by Nathan as well as Montrail, Patagonia, and Power Bar and helped them design and refine the packs. His favorite, the Elite 2V Plus.

While I had never tried a hand held bottle for those shorter runs the folks at Nathan gave me a Quick Draw Plus to try. I have now been on two runs with this bottle and find it a fantastic way to hydrate. No reaching back or pawing for a hydration tube.

The bottle, which is the same design, as in all Nathan systems is beautifully executed and refined for the puropse, see picture left. The nipple is a hardish but not too hard, knurled plastic which is easy to pull open with your lips. The lid includes a spring "carabiner" type attachment so one can clip the bottle to a backpack harness. This all by itself is something I have been looking for as I like to carry a bike bottle close at hand when I use heavier packs. My only small criticism is that the yellow nipple could use a bit more of a positive close feel of closure or not as sometimes I find it remains a little bit open after use.

The carrier is very comfortable. I did not think I could carry a bottle and not have it interfere with my arm carriage but this is not the case. The small pocket is handy for a key or a gel pack.

I look forward to trying the Elite 2V Plus next for my longer runs (2-3 hours).

OR Summer Mkt-Hydration Systems

Hydration is critical while on the trail or road. The ideal type and capacity (fluid, nutrition, and other gear) of the hydration system is a function of the type of activity, its duration, and the temperature/weather expected during the activity.

I break the systems down into 3 general types:
  1. Handheld bottles such as the 16 oz. Nathan quack Draw Plus which is ideal for an hour or less of activity
  2. Belt packs with between 16-40 oz or so ounces of fluid plus gel and other essentials and good for 2-3 hours of activity. Belt packs can be broken down into 2 types: water bottle holder packs such as the 2 bottle 44 oz Nathan Elite 2V Plus which is great for trail running or multi-bottle (5 to 10 oz each) triathlon origin race belts such as Fuel Belt Terminator 6 Bottle Belt with a 42 oz. capacity. and comparable systems from Ultimate Direction such as the Thunderbolt with 32 oz. capacity. In an increasingly specialized world one will typically find trail runners with water bottle packs and triathletes and runners who will have more frequent access to water stops using the fuel belts as they are able to carry energy gel in the small bottles and pick up their water as they go. I prefer water bottle packs.
  3. Hydration packs such as those from Camelback, Nathan, Patagonia, Northface, and many others incorporate a bladder holding 70-100 oz of water. In fact most packs on display at OR, of all sizes and types, incorporate a pocket for a hydration bladder so you can bring your own preferred bladder to each pack. These systems are most suitable for longer treks without access to water or those where extra gear is required, such as in winter. I use a 70 oz Camelback Unbottle inside my various packs.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

OR Summer Mkt- Dive Tested, Element Proof, Durable Ziploc type Bags

There are 967 exhibitors at OR and alot to see and be distracted by. I keep a weather eye for those small companies with neat products I could actually use. Somehow my eye caught Alosak and OP Sak from Watchful Eye Designs of Park City, UT.

When I run while traveling I often take my wallet, gel and cellphone. I grab plastic grocery bags or whatever I have and wrap the items. Same for gel packets, snacks, etc.. and then stuff in my pockets.

The Alosak and its higher performance cousin OP Sak are totally element (air/water/sand) proof , very durable yet thin ziploc type bags. The closure and material were tested by the US Navy Dive groups and certified by SSI to 60 meters. They can be reused many, many times. The OP can even be used as a bear bag as it is totally odor proof. Both can be used for biohazard storage, if you know what I mean, with the OP long term rated.

Used by Ian Adamson the top rated adventure racer and his teams since 1999 to store everything they take.

Obvious useful for travel (no leaky shampoo), food storage, electronics/photo gear, medicine, kayaking/boating/diving, backpacking, skiing, and trail runs. You can even hear your cell phone through the sealed bag. I tried it this and it works.


OR Summer MKT- Raced the GoLite Trail Runner

Went out early Saturday morning to Park City to run the Jupiter Peak Steeeplechase , a 16 mile trail run to the summit of Jupiter Peak and back. I ran in the new GoLite trail runners, right out of the box. The shoes were pre production, basically hand built and the folks at GoLite told me there is still some tuning to do.

My impressions:

Best shoe on the downhill I have ever run in. The "leaf spring" lugs which effectively put soft on the trail and hard under the foot described in a previous post really work as advertised to smooth out the run down. Never came close to turning an ankle and for a downhill chicken had complete confidence in my footing. The surfaces were relatively smooth, compared to NH, but this still was serious mountain terrain. No blisters. The forefoot is a bit stiff, a least compared to the total flexibility of the Inov-8, but I understand this first group of shoes ended up a bit stiffer than planned. GoLite is a strong and innovative contender right out of the box in the trail shoe horse race. I look forward to trying some of the other models in the line, including those intended for training and rougher trails.

Outdoor Retailer Summer Mkt-Patagonia Footwear

Patagonia is one of my long time favorite outdoor companies and I have been a loyal customer literally since their first fleece jacket in the 1970's. So it was with great interest that I visited Patagonia Footwear. Patagonia had tried footwear a few years ago on their own and now has licensed to Wolverine whose brands include Merrell.

So what did I expect and what did I see.

Well, I expected a strong focus on environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and sustainable practices. I saw this in spades with very innovative uses of hemp, leather processed to high environmental standards, natural latex, and recyled materials. It seems like they really looked at every step of the process of making footwear and did not merely pay lip service to these responsibilities. Just about every company at OR is starting to think and act this way. As the originators of this kind of responsibility in apparel I expected nothing less.

I expected subtle and relatively timeless designs. Yes, the designs were beautiful, the color palettes subtle, the detailing on the women's shoes very stylish. In fact while the folks in the booth told me distribution would be in speciality retail as for Patagonia apparel I see strong potential in places like Nordstrom and most especially in Europe.

I expected to see performance models in keeping with Patagonia's tradition of making products which are as useful on a summit as in the city. I did not see performance or innovation in performance. Companies can't do everything but I would have expected some surprises such as a high performance shoe which looks great at work, for travel and could double up as a high performance trail runner.

Conclusion: Patagonia has created a first line which is functional in the city, traveling, on the water and on some trails. It's very stylish and leaves a low footprint. It's an extension of their sportswear lines not their core mountain origins.

Friday, August 11, 2006

OR Summer Mkt- Salomon S Lab XA Pro 3

Salomon Sports pretty much invented the technical trail runner/adventure racer category with their Raid Race several years ago. I had several pairs and my son swears by his Salomons for long runs in the White Mountains, particularly appreciating their durability and decent weight. Salomon has a legacy in skiing and particularly nordic ski boots which are by far the most comfortable and technically advanced so it is not suprising given this and the natural athlete cross over between nordic skiing and trail running that they have been long involved, if recently a bit constrained by their several years ownership by Adidas which sold the brand to Amer Sports of Finland (Sunnto, Atomic, etc..) last year. Long located in Annecy, France right down the road from the trails of the Mont Blanc in an absolutely ideal area to develop trail runners and.. ski boots. Innovation and brands are born of environment/place, people, and culture.

S- Lab is Salomon's limited edition line for top athletes. At winter OR I saw their welded upper carbon "Black Boot" XC ski boots. Salomon is playing the scarcity game through S Lab to garner buzz for the brand. Last winter the rumor of the Black Boot was all the rage of junior skiers and this year when the models features enters the main line they are sure to seek them out.

Visting their booth at Summer OR I noticed an S Lab trail runner, the S-Lab XA Pro 3. Much like their XA Pro 3D but intended for top level long distance trail and mountain racing (think Western States 100) this model is made of lighter materials and is truly looks like an amazingly protective shoe for the weight. The upper seems to borrow from the Inov-8 Mudroc 280
using a very fine mesh outer to cover an inner more conventional liner mesh. This fine mesh looks like it will prevent sand, dust, etc... from working their way into the shoe. The shoe incorporates a permanent stretch gaiter which extends over the trademark kevlar cable laces to further seal dirt and dust out. I like this feature alot as I often use gaiters over my trail runners in all conditions. Try it your feet will be much happier after that trail run! Not a waterproof shoe but one which looks like it will drain and dry quite quickly with great comfort in hot conditions.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

OR Summer Market-Timberland Invention Factory

I started my adventures at OR with a visit to my NH neighbors at Timberland. New England is a longtime hotbed of footwear innovation and in fact Nike's R&D was located in Exeter, NH in the 1970's in the next town over from Timberland.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Doug Clark, VP Timberland Invention Factory. The Invention Factory (IF) for the first time had its own booth seperate from Timberland way over in the start-up and materials corner of the immense hall. Next to IF where 2 IF hatchlings: Mion the water shoe company and the just announced GoLite footwear brand, a partnership between Timberland and GoLite, the leading player in ultralight clothing and packs. The first GoLite trail runners should be available Feb. 2007.

The Timberland Invention Factory helps support existing business lines, helps launch new categories such as trail running, develops innovative systems which have broad utility such as the Precise Fit System described below, and particpates in launching new brands such as Mion and GoLite footwear.

Doug presented in wonderful detail how IF is applying Timberland's theme of purposeful innovation to specific challenges: Mion, the new GoLite trail runners, and speciality footwear for Special Forces and firefighting (more on these last 2 in another post). Underlying a close understanding of the specific purpose of each type of footwear is interaction with users and an open mind to the possiblities of purposeful design and materials innovation which answers the specific needs. Clearly, innovations coming out of solving these specifc high end needs will migrate to other lines.

For example, to create the new GoLite trail runners automotive advertising inspired a new way to look at design and constuction to lead to a shoe which adapts and protects as terrain varies. The guiding principle were those auto ads where a diamond cutter is doing delicate work in the back seat as stable as can be while car is driving over rough bumpy roads.

The innovation is to reverse the usual hard outer sole with soft midsole cushioning by creating a biomorphic sole where large lugs, while covered with hard rubber for wear, each have an inner molded "leaf spring" (see picture below). The midsole is hard the outsole is "soft" in this approach. The idea is to even out trail irregularities, provide traction on all surfaces, and create a responsive feel which reflects that trail running is not straight ahead as road running while at the same time protecting from stone bruises.

Doug explained that as trail running is often as much side to side as straight ahead ( I agree), posting for pronation as in a road shoe is not nearly as important. I am not sure I agree entirely with the pronation point, being a bit of a pronator as I find over time my neutral trail runners have a tendancy to collapse to the inside, but will have an open mind as I try the new GoLites. I likely will need to add a half support insole as I have done with my Inov-8's.

Other innovations in the GoLite trail runners:
  • an upper which has no stitching as it is molded/welded from different materials in one piece. This promises great abrasion resistance vs stitching if the molding/welding holds up.
  • the Timberland Precise Fit System (also to be rolled out to other Timberland lines) which through included forefoot insole modules allows the volume of the shoe to be modified. The innovation was to determine that length is often substituted for a foot volume problem and that in fact there are only 7 or so lengths covering the current 14 length based "sizes", if volume can be accomodated This innovation not only creates a better fit but halves the number of sizes which need to be stocked thus helping retailers (and Timberland) to reduce inventory while also helping consumers actually find their size. Conversely, inventory could be maintained but more styles and colors offered from the same number of stocked items. According to Doug, industry wide, you only have about a 67% chance of walking into a store and finding your size. Thus, each Precise Fit shoe will come stock in wide but will include a medium and narrow slip on a velcro forefoot insole module (see photo below). Timberland will need to insure that replacement insoles are easily available. I am also sure someone will license the system to also provide a pronator friendly (ie reinforced) rear portion of the insole such as the Trim Free from Shock Doctor I use in my trail shoes

GoLite Timberland Trail Runners
Precise Fit (Left) Substitute forefoot module to adjust volume

I have a pair of the new GoLite trail runners which I will trail test in an 16 mile trail race Saturday and post a more complete review I would like to see if this new entry displaces my current favorites, the Inov-8 310's.

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006

I will be reporting live from Summer Market the next few days. While never sure what goodies I will discover I am planning on following up on several themes.

  • As a 30 year plus trail runner I will be looking at the latest trail running gear. I will certainly check out Inov-8, Salomon, and my local favorite Timberland which is announcing products designed in conjunction with GoLite.
  • I have been trying wool as a baselayer and will be curious to see the new lighter weight fabrics. I still find wool a bit warm in summer.
  • As I approaching 50 and still super active I will be looking to see how companies are addressing the older active outdoor person. It's not just a youth market and the baby boomers have the bucks and the time to enjoy the outdoors. A few specifics I will be looking for: over RX sunglasses, kayak/canoe hybrids such as those from Native (met the New England rep on the plane out) for flyfishing which are also more stable
  • I am fascinated by materials and will look for new approaches to fabrication which reduce weight and are functional in new ways.
  • As a loyal New Englander I will check out the locals who have trekked West.
  • Finally, I will look for truly innovative products and will seek out TrailFlex which is introducing a modular backpack system from hydration endurance to multiday backpack (wilderness or business travel...) which I really could have used on this trip out West.
Not to forget the trails are great in Utah I have already done two great trail runs in Salt Lake including a fabulous 2:45 run from Mill Creek Canyon which covered the Great Western Trail, Desolation and Dog Lakes all on very smooth trails also popular with mountain bikers. Spectacular scenery: high meadows and views towards Park City from the ridge.