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


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.

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.

#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.


#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.


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


#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.

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 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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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

ON Running Cloudflow Review: Smoothing the Run Flow

The ON Running Cloudflow is a 8.2 oz/232 g, women's 7.2 oz/204 g light performance trainer. Stack height is 22mm heel/16mm forefoot, 6mm drop. $140 available now.
ON Running Cloudflow
The Cloudflow represents for me the second generation of Swiss run company ON approach to shoe design and a vast improvement over the somewhat stiff, clunky, disconnected from the road earlier Cloudsurfer (review here). It follows in the direction of the Cloud, a light, flexible and lively racer trainer. 

The Cloudflow retains ON's unique DNA :
  • Cloudtec Elements-channeled pods which deflect under load then  interlock and rebound on takeoff The Flow has18 pods for greater road feel, response and overall flexibility vs. only 10 for the earlier Cloudsurfer.
  • The Speedboard, a full length flexible plastic plate directly under the foot which directs and stabilizes the gait with in the Flow a welcome more flexible board.
  • Impeccable Swiss Engineered construction with in particular in the Flow a superb upper which is among the best if not the best I have run this year with great foot hold and plenty of comfort and room for many foot types in the forefoot. 
Not shoe related but the selection of materials, construction and technology carries on to ON's new line of apparel in particular their Running Pants which are the finest run pants I have every used (see here)
ON Running Cloudflow
Upper and Fit
The Flow upper fit me perfectly at true to size. The engineered mesh is of a very fine grade with a rare combination of plenty of support, breathability, and adaptability to different foot types. My only qualm with the upper is the combination of thin tongue and thin laces. Either thicker laces, which likely would take away from the high design aesthetics, or a slightly more padded tongue would provide a touch more easy in maintaining the right lace pressure.

ON Running Cloudflow
The welded overlays are perfectly executed and color matched.
ON Running Cloudflow
These are proud and innovative Swiss engineers, from a country known for quality products and engineering of all sorts from textile machinery to hydroelectric dams and it shows in the product.
ON Running Cloudflow
Midsole and Outsole
ON Running Cloudflow
ON Running Cloudflow
The Flow has 18 Cloudtec pods vs. the Surfer's (below) mere 10.  The pods provide the cushioning.The difference in smoothness of transition is especially felt from mid foot to toe off.  The heel area while not perfect for me at slow speeds back on the heels is noticeably less clunky and rough in the Flow,
ON Running Surfer
Compared to the lighter 7.4 oz Cloud, the Flow adds 2 more pods thinning the width of the first pods toward the front of the shoe after the mid foot. The toe off stability, response and forefoot cushion in the Flow is particularly fine., 
ON Running  Left: Cloud  Right: Cloudflow
The heel pods in the Flow are no longer as far in bound of the rear of the shoe as they were in the Surfer,  which in my view were ridiculously far inbound for any kind of heel striking and for slower speed running,
ON Running Cloudsurfer
The Surfer heel landing was clunky and awkward. The Flow has a far more accommodating heel landing.
ON Running Top: Cloudflow Bottom: Cloud
Yet the  Flow doesn't have the heel bevel of the Cloud which makes the Cloud, a lighter more minimal shoe that is actually better at slow speeds for me. 

The Flow rides well, very well at moderate tempos off the heels. The forefoot ride is particularly well executed with great response yet with cushion from the pods and stability from the Speedboard. At slow speeds back on the heels the beveled heel of the Cloud and for that matter most shoes I prefer is missed. 
Conclusions and Recommendations
ON is on a roll! Following on the Cloud, a nimble even lighter racer trainer, the Flow is ON's first light trainer where their Cloudtec Elements and Speedboard technology come together into a smooth running cushioned shoe without the awkward stiffness, goofy heel landing geometry and clunkiness of the Surfer. 

At 8.2 oz this is an incredibly light shoe for the cushion, stability, and upper support provided. There are really no compromises in those areas. The upper is among the finest, if not the finest of 2016. My only major suggestion for improvement would be to bevel the heel landing for a smoother transition of the heel for heel strikers as ON did in the Cloud. If you want to try ON's unique approach, superb quality in a moderately cushioned trainer this is the model I would recommend. If you prefer a more nimble, more minimal ride try the Cloud.

Score 9.6 out of 10
-0.35 for heel landing and transition off the heel at slow speeds,
-0.05 for thin tongue and laces.
The Cloudflow was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Try em' ON! 

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 - A Highly Cushioned Race Machine

by Jeff Valliere

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3
9.5 oz. Mens (US size 9)/7.9 oz. Women's (US size 7)
29mm heel/24mm forefoot (28 mm/23 mm for women)
$130 available now

I had run in the Challenger ATR 1 (Sam's RTR review here) a few years ago when it was first introduced and really liked the shoe.  It was light, well cushioned, agile and had better traction than most Hokas up to that point.  It's primary limitation however was that I found the upper to not be quite as supportive as I would prefer, especially for technical trail running and long downhills.  My foot would slide around some and I had to be somewhat careful to keep my runs in them on the short side as to not get blisters, which was a shame, because cushion and comfort were excellent.  Another minor complaint was that I found the tongue to be a bit too thin and short.  I completely missed the opportunity to test the ATR 2, but when presented with the opportunity to test the ATR 3, I jumped at the chance, especially after learning of the overhaul to the upper, a revamp of the last and a minor alteration of the outsole lugs.  Was it a major improvement?

By far the most significant and noticeable upgrade to the ATR 3 is the 3D Puff Print upper.  The overlays are plentiful and integrated quite well into the mesh.  Between the overalays are a criss cross style micro-webbing to give added structure, support and durability.  I was not able to test these in warm temperatures, but ventilation seems to be good.

Fit is true to size, but the new last (shared with the Clifton 3) is slightly more roomy and accommodating, which I suspect will be great news for all of those who have had fit issues with Hoka in the past.  Though I have a lower volume foot, I do really appreciate the added room in the forefoot even though more room is not necessarily a requirement for me (and often a detriment).  Foothold throughout the shoe is GREATLY improved, even for my low volume foot and technical running preferences.  I have found that I can get a secure and proper snugness on the first attempt and never have to re-tie, as the laces and eyelets integrate well and snug very securely.

The tongue is well padded and just the right height/thickness, a huge leap over the paper thin tongue in the ATR 1.
The heel counter is semi solid with a slight flex to it, secures very well, yet is not overbuilt and is adequately protective.
The heel collar is plush and a real pleasure to sink into.
The ATR 3 now offers a more supportive Ortholite insole (left), a huge improvement in support and fit over the previous paper thin insole.

The toe bumper is somewhat minimal and integrates well with the upper.  Despite it's minimal stature, it is adequately protective for moderate stubs.
Hoka ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3

The EVA midsole offers an unparalleled combination/balance of plush all day, big downhill cushioning with speedy race day responsiveness.  With a stack of 29/24 mm, the amount of cushion here is enough to keep legs and joints fresh after the hardest sessions of pounding fast miles or hard downhills.  With cushioning this thick, rock protection is excellent, as I am unable to feel even the hardest hits on the sharpest rocks. 

The early stage meta rocker in this shoe is very apparent, as the ever so slight curvature of the outsole helps to pitch your position somewhat forward and inspires faster running.


The outsole seems to be a bit wider and more stable than previous versions and is noticeably more substantial on the medial side under the arch.
The 4 mm lugs that are bonded to the EVA in the heel and the forefoot are made of a durable carbon rubber that provide excellent grip on a wide range of surfaces.  The lugs are low profile enough that they are hardly noticeable when running on roads or smoother surfaces, yet provide ample grip on steep technical trails, loose dirt, snow, mild mud and rock.
Hoka has widened the spacing between the lugs for better mud shedding.
All of the orange material is the EVA foam, but holds up well given that the durable carbon rubber is strategically placed in the landing/toe off areas where the most wear normally occurs.

The Challenger ATR 3 feels nearly weightless on my feet, is responsive and just begs to go fast. Though the outsole is wide enough to provide excellent stability, it is by no means clunky or obtrusive and feels remarkably nimble and agile.  The greatly improved upper further contributes to stability, control and performs impressively under any circumstance, at any pace, even when pushed in semi-technical and rocky terrain.  
Though this shoe will make an excellent race shoe for any distance, it also performs double duty as a well cushioned, supportive all day high mileage trainer that is just as much at home at slower paces as it is going fast.  As I mentioned earlier, I was able to run in the ATR 3 on roads, dirt roads, technical trails with snow, some ice, mud and on rock.  Traction is surprisingly good considering how little rubber is on the outsole and that the lugs are only 4mm, but this shoe does indeed have it's limitations like many shoes that fall into the more trail cruiser type category.  

Even though from a performance standpoint, the ATR 3 can easily handle rougher trails, I would advise against making it a habit or dedicating this shoe to such use.  Part of this stems from the fact that there are more appropriate all mountain shoes on the market (you might want to add the upcoming Speedgoat 2 to your collection for rougher terrain), as outsole durability is a concern if you frequent rocky trails.  I have unfortunately found that the bond that secures the durable carbon rubber to the EVA foam has trouble withstanding the shear forces involved with regular use on rocky trails. This peeling is exactly the same as I have experienced with the ATR 1.  To be fair, my typical daily runs are on trails/routes than gain/drop 1,300-2,000+ feet per mile and are almost always quite rocky, so this type of terrain will quickly exacerbate wear and reveal any weakness.  If using the ATR 3 for a door to trail shoe and using on cruiser, smooth singletrack, doubletrack, fire roads or softer surfaces, one may never experience any issues.

Despite the durability concerns I have for the outsole, the Challenger ATR 3 is without a doubt, one of my favorite shoes to date and certainly the best performing Hoka I have ever used. Whether I am aiming for a PR on a moderately technical local route, run the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim or the Pikes Peak Marathon, this will for sure be my pick.

The Challenger ATR 3 was my #1 Trail Cruising shoe of 2016. See my 2016 Trail Running Shoes and Gear of the Year article here.


Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Brooks Caldera (my RTR review here)
These two shoes feel remarkably similar when I wear one on each foot.  The Challenger is just slightly lighter, has more cushion and has a 5mm offset vs. 4mm in the Caldera.  The Caldera is slightly less quick and responsive, but perhaps a better pick for longer training days and/or slower paced ultra races.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Hoka One One Speed Instinct (my RTR review here)
The Speed Instinct rides a bit lower to the ground and thus has a bit more trail feel, has better traction and most importantly, better outsole durability.  The ATR 3 however just feels like a faster shoe and the added cushion/protection makes it superior for long downhills.  If on rockier, more technical trails, the Speed Instinct would be my choice purely because of durability and slightly better trail feel, but for going fast on less technical, or moderately technical terrain, long downhills, then the ATR 3 is the way to go.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Hoka One One Speedgoat (Sam's RTR review here)
The Challenger ATR 3 is much more stable and accommodating, has a more secure upper, similar weight, similar cushion and is a much better overall performer.  The Speedgoat has a more durable outsole and could be a good pick if you have a narrow foot and can keep it under control in technical terrain.  The upcoming Speedgoat 2 (see RTR preview here) however looks to have some dramatic improvements, so could give the ATR 3 a run for it.

Score 9.7 out of 10
-0.3 for outsole durability concerns. 

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

Jeff Valliere's Bio
Jeff Valliere 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 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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