Sunday, January 27, 2013

Running at OR Winter 2013: Salomon, Inov-8, Altra, Pearl Izumi, Hoka One One, Topo Athletic, Adidas, Helly Hansen, Ice Trekkers

HH Warm Freeze
With thousands of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of products it would be pretty hard to create a "best of" without a crew of about a dozen and several days. Nonetheless I had a bit of a plan and companies I wanted to focus on. The fun discoveries are the ones you didn't have a clue about and this OR I found 2 useful products which really stood out, Helly Hansen Warm baselayer and IceTrekkers Diamond Grip.

 Helly Hansen Warm Freeze
Helly Hansen gave me a sample at the All Mountain Demo in exchange for my old base layer which they donated to the homeless. Clever marketing: strip off old base layer and they gave you the $80  HH Warm Freeze or pay $20.

The Warm is a middleweight base layer, 57% merino wool, 43% polypro. An inside layer is Lifa polypropylene similar in feel to a mesh tech tee. The outside is merino wool. The inside layer wicks moisture. The wool provides insulation and helps evaporate the moisture.

I have countless base layers and in the 2 runs and 1 nordic ski since I got the top I can say the performance is outstanding. I was out in temperatures from low 20's to high 30's and totally comfortable at all times, never overheated my usual problem, or chilled. Got caught in a snow squall at the end of my ski and while wet was never chilled. I have steered clear of polypro for many years as the early stuff stank to high heaven. With about 5 hours of intense exercise the Warm still smells quite fresh. I was told it is hollow fiber. Fits very snug and a bit short in front.

Ice Trekkers Diamond Grip
I have been running on snow exclusively the last month and a half. It has been cold and has not snowed a great deal so the trails are firm. A recent thaw freeze has made the single tracks icy. I have been very pleased with my Salomon Spikecross but a sore toe from a too  tight nordic boot had me looking for a traction device to put over my wide toe box Inov-8 255. I have had Yak Traks and they are fine but I find the coils often rotate on the rubber core and they are hard to put on. Enter Ice Trekkers, a company Yak Traks just bought ,which should say something...

They gave me a pair of the Diamond Grips $41.95 at the Demo days and I have had 3 runs in them to date including on hard ice, hard snow, and a bit of pavement.

Diamond Grips rotate on a steel cable

Conclusion a far superior traction solution to Yak Traks. Why?

  • Easy and simple to put on. Stayed on the whole run.
  • The Diamond Grips rotate on the cable. Less of a sensation of having traction on the feet.
  • Grip is outstanding and doesn't impede your stride.
  • While I have not run much with them on pavement they felt good, A crunchy sensation. Not unpleasant or to noisy.


Salomon Hydro Sense Glove Se
I think Salomon's Soft Flash concept, essentially taking hydration bladder material and turning it into bottles of varying sizes, is truly an innovative way to make hydration far more flexible. I have been using the 5, 8, and 16 oz soft flasks and glove extensively. Sometimes I tuck the bottles into my Ultraspire race vest, sometimes I use the Hydro Sense glove.
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Sets

Enter the new Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 5 and 12. The 5 corresponds to a 5 liter capacity,  the 12 to a 12 liter capacity.
 Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12
Two 16 oz, 500ml bottles fit snuggly in the front pockets. I am unclear if the vest is supplied with the 2 16 oz flasks, I think it is. You can bend down and suck on the valves without removing the bottles from the vest.

Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12

Unlike the earlier S-Lab packs the 2 side zip pockets (to the right of the white labeling) are vertical. The horizontal zippers on earlier models were very hard to reach. Just behind the zippers are 2 mesh drop in pockets. Easy to reach. Great place for more of those soft flasks, gloves, gels, etc..
Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12 
In addition to the drop in pockets both the 5 and 12 vests have an insulated sleeve for a 1.5 liter hydration bladder(not supplied). On the 12 there is also a large zippered pocket just to the right of the S on the pack above. The only other difference is that the drop in back pockets on the 12 are deeper than on the 5.

Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 5: $160
Advanced Skin Lab Hydro Set 12: $185
Both available Fall 2013

Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 2 Belt
 Missed this one at OR.  It is now (2/10/13) available at, $70   A belt ideal and designed for the 5 and 8oz soft flasks, 2 will fit in the front holster pockets for sure, will see if the 16oz fit in these when I get the belt.  The front pockets are intended to hold flasks, less bounce. 2 more smaller holster pockets on the back for gels, snacks, 5 oz flasks potentially:  in front of 2 zippered pockets for phone, keys, wallet, etc..
Salomon S-Lab Advanced Skin 2 Belt, back view.

Salomon Fell Raiser
Salomon Fell Raiser

The Fell Raiser is a 9.5 oz, 7mm heel toe drop "soft ground" shoe. Retail $110. Available Fall 20012
It has 19mm midsole at the heel, 12mm at the toe. Add considerable 7mm lugs to get to a 26mm heel, 19mm toe shoe.
The midsole foam is softer than the Crossmax or Sense Mantra, in my view a good thing, as both of those other shoes have overly firm ride. I tried on a pair and found they are far less constrictive  under the arch than the Crossmax and Sense Mantra, likely due to a different last and fewer sewed overlays. Fits more like the Spikecross and S-Lab 5 in the mid foot. A great snow and mud shoe for next winter.

Road Extreme Line
 I did not get pictures but Inov-8 is taking their already quite minimal Road X line to a more minimal, lighter level with the Road Extreme line. Very similar with 3 models: 6, 3, 0  heel toe drops and lighter weights as the drop decreases. Noticed that that there is less outsole rubber but still the nice wide forefoot landing platform I like so much in the Road X 255. Softer midsole foam than Road X which in its update is also getting a softer midsole. In my view this corrects the only issue I have with Road X. Superb anatomical toe box. Very minimal heel cup, soft heel.
Considerable drops in weight for the Extreme line. The model equivalent to the  current Road X 255 drops from 255 grams to 208 grams: from 9 oz to 7.33 oz. The very minimal Road X 150 drops to 138 grams: 5.3 oz to 4.86 oz.

Altra Zero Drop
Altra Superior
Altra is a UT company which has really differentiated itself with zero drop road and trail shoes with a highly anatomical, truly foot shaped forefoot and outsole.

I saw the Altra Superior last summer at OR and the folks at Altra gave me a pair to try at this OR. Superior ($95)  is an 8 oz performance trail shoe. It has a relatively shallow lug pattern of alternating large "Checkers" so it may also feel pretty good on the road when combined with its soft midsole foam.
Altra Superior

Altra Superior

There is a minimal soft heel counter.  The tongue is not padded but so far no issues with that. The rock plate, a flexible plastic which slips under in the insole, is removable. Out of the box I ran an 11 miler with them on snow. No issues even with the zero drop as far as sore calves.  Advise caution if you are not used to lower drop shoes. Increase your miles gradually.

Apart from running once in them I have worn them continuously for 3 days now and the wide toe box is incredibly  comfortable. The  front wrap around toe bumper is a bit low but not a big issue so far.

Pearl Izumi
Finally a story of doing the right thing if the product that is about to go to stores is not right. At OR this past summer I was very excited to see and try on the new Pearl Izumi E:Motion line. The upper was outstandingly comfortable and seam free, the concept of a varying heel toe drop at various points of the stride was valid and felt right.
E:Motion Road N2

Pearl Izumi was kind enough to send me a sample in September. I took them out for a 10 mile run right away. The upper was great. I could feel the dynamic heel toe drop differences. Yet, something was very wrong with the cushioning. The 9.3 oz N2 road shoe literally felt like a brick. Very, very firm. Overly firm for a 9.3 oz shoe. I wrote Pearl Izumi and did not post a review. I knew something was very wrong.

At OR this past week I talked to Pearl Izumi and it turns out those first several thousand pairs were to firm. I have heard that the contract manufacturers who actually make the shoes sometimes "cut corners" in mixing the midsole compounds. Not sure this was the case here.

Pearl Izumi told me that they have destroyed the first several thousand pairs and delayed deliveries on the E:Motion shoes for a few months to get it right. Kudos to them for doing the right thing. I can't wait to try the new versions. I am convinced they will be great.

Hoka One One
I have been intrigued by Hoka One One since their first model and have written several posts about this intriguing "maximalist" yet natural (5mm heel toe drop). There is no question they keep your legs fresher day in day out and are a godsend for runners with chronic injuries where the Hoka cushioning can make the difference between being able to run or not at all. I am currently running longer and slower runs in the Hoka One One Tarmac, a road shoe and have written about them.

Hoka One One Evo Tarmac
I am able to run up to 13 or so miles at tempo pace but have issues as I get tired getting to far back on my heels with all that soft cushioning.

Intriguing news on the web has hinted at a less maximalist racing Hoka for road and trail. In turns out that due to manufacturing challenges this new less maximalist Hoka will first launch with women's models only this spring as the road Kailua Comp.
Hoka One One Women's Kailua Comp
Kailua will have stack height of 22mm forefoot/ 27mm heel vs. 33.5mm/39 for traditional Hokas. Lucky ladies! The guys will have to wait. I think these less maximalist Hokas will be ideal cushioned performance shoes.

Topo Athletic
Topo is a new company based out of the Boston area started by the former CEO of Vibram USA, of Five Fingers fame.
Topo Athletic shoes will be available in June with 3 models: a trainer the RT, a racer the RR, and a cross trainer the RT. Men's and Women's versions for each model.
All models have a very distinctive split toe based on the Japanese Tabi shoe style and have zero heel to toe drop. A Tabi shoe was actually worn by a Boston Marathon winner from Japan decades ago. All the models are exceptionally light.  I tried on a pair of RT and they were a comfortable snug fit. Ran down the aisle and felt the split toe was functional, let my foot splay but felt aligned. Topo also had the best after show beverages: Park City's High West Distillery whiskey!

  • RR Racer: Boa cable closure, 5.3 oz (men's 9) , zero drop, stack height 9mm plus 3mm insole
  • RT Trainer: Laces, 6.0oz, zero drop,  stack height 12mm plus 3mm insole
  • RX Cross Trainer: 6.7oz Laces plus mid foot strap, stack height 10mm plus 3mm insole.
Topo Athletic RT Trainer

Topo Athletic RT Trainer

Adidas Energy Boost
Didn't see these at OR as Adidas strangely only brings outdoor hiking shoes and gear to OR. No road or trail shoes. It is an OR find as I picked up the latest Runner's World ( March 2013) and saw a review of an new Adidas shoe the Energy Boost, 9.8 oz, 10.5mm heel toe drop, $150.
What is unique about this shoe is its midsole. Instead of foam EVA it is made up of thousands of thermoplastic beads which are fused into a midsole. Runner's World testing showed it had the best energy rebound of the 800 shoes they tested and is also resistant to changes in cushioning at temperature extremes. Foam hardens in the cold, softens in the heat. An ad in the same issue says "Boost your Run 2-27/13"  so I assume we will see them then.

Comments and questions always welcome!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Run Fun and Gear: Ibex, Salomon, Swix

I have been on an extended stay in Utah and the running conditions have been fantastic this year. Hard packed, groomed and single track trails in Park City's Round Valley have been mint for runs and nordic skis for weeks now. I have run and skied a total or 120 miles, entirely on snow since Christmas with my Hatu Harrier friends.

NoWhere Elks Trail-Park City: view of Park City, Deer Valley, Canyons with Round Valley directly below

Gareth, Fasteddie, Wendy, and Larry in the middle of an 11 miler 

Smiling and Striding

It's been cold 10-20 F. every day so gear selection has been important. I have an extensive collection of gear but have gravitated to a few items day in day out.

Ibex Breakaway pants and jacket. Breakaway has a nylon front on both the pants and jacket, lined with a thin layer of wool.  They call the fabric Climawool. The back of both has a mid weight wool. Fantastic temperature range from 40's down to well below zero. The tights are a bit heavier and looser than the usual slick nylons but super comfortable.

I am a hat nut and sweat a lot so finding a winter hat which is not too hot yet warm is always a challenge. Picked up a Swix race hat with a wool poly blend and a mesh top, sort of a wide head capped head band and it has been perfect for even multi hour runs.

All my miles on the snow have been in the Salomon Spikecross 3. About 11 oz, size 9 these water resistant beasts have deep lugs and 9 small carbide spikes. Surefooted on all flavors of mud, snow and ice. A last resort road shoe if you are facing an icy snowy mess.
Salomon Spikecross 3

At summer OR last year I saw the Salomon soft flasks (5 and 8 oz) and companion Hydro Sense glove kit ( right and left gloves plus one 8oz flask) . Managed to find them at REI and have been delighted with both. Update: Running Warehouse now has Hyrdo Sense kit . Salomon video here  The flasks have not frozen up hard even down below 15 F when tucked into the front outside pocket of my Ultraspire Spry vest.  I have also tested the glove flask combination. While the 8 oz flask which comes with the glove is smallish,  a new larger 16 oz flask is available from Running Warehouse. Unlike bottle holders, there is absolutely no sensation that you are carrying water. As a bonus when empty or full the full flasks or harder top rim of the flask serves as a perfect finger rest to prevent fist clinching. 
Salomon Hyrdo Sense glove and 8 oz soft flask

I have used the 5 oz flask for nutrition mixing 2 gels with water. Note that the valve is not really for gels so a more viscous gel such as Power Bar Energy Gel is the way to go, especially in winter.

Phone Case
What's a phone case have to do with running? Well as trail runners know we often crash and when it's cold batteries fade especially when running with GPS run apps such as the incredible Strava Run app, my new favorite for tracking my runs and performance.  Protective cases/sleeves are often bulky and do little to protect the screen. I have the Tech21 "Impactology" flip case for my iPhone 4S. This handsome leather case is lined with D30 material, a polymer which harden on impact to absorb shocks. Only one port is exposed, headphone so there is also moderate moisture protection. A flip case is also available for the iPhone 5 that opens along the long edge instead of end to end as my iPhone 4S case does. 
Tech21 iPhone 5 flip case (Tech21) 

Bonus the D30 material and leather seems to insulate the phone enough to prevent short battery life on cold days.