Monday, December 23, 2019

Jeff Valliere's 2019 Running Shoes and Gear of the Year

Article by Jeff Valliere
2019 was another great year in regards to the advancement of shoes and running gear , to the point where I occasionally wonder, how much better can it really get, if at all?  Of course each year surpasses the last and 2019 is just part of the progression which left me with some really tough choices to make for my best of picks. Below is my best attempt to narrow down a very strong field of contenders!

Salomon Sonic 3 Balance (RTR Review)
I have only reviewed a few road shoes this year, so do not have a deep pool to draw from for various categories, but I was lucky enough to review the Sonic 3 Balance (coming Feb. 2020), which for me, checks all of the boxes except for speed although it does handle speed just fine.  The Balance is unlike any shoe I have experienced previously, with a magical feel due to the Optivibe insert and elastic like midsole. Vibration dampening and impact absorption is unrivaled, even for maximal shoes with more millimeters of cushion. While response is not initially obvious, the Balance has great propulsion at toe off without feeling bouncy and is crazy smooth, stable and predictable.  Combined with a high quality, comfortable, secure and breathable upper and excellent outsole that integrates perfectly, this is a one stop shop for a road trainer and even light trail use.


Skechers Performance Go Run Speed TRL Hyper (RTR Review)
The TRL is by far my favorite go fast shoe this year.  Extremely light weight, responsive, great fit, reasonably secure and good traction, the Trail Hyper just BEGS to go fast  Ideal for running/racing top speeds on mellow to moderate trails and even short stints of technical terrain, or roads. Durability overall, particularly the outsole is limited, so this is for sure a shoe to set aside for race day or those special FKT/PR attempts.

Honorable mentions: Hoka EVO Mafate 2 (RTR Review), Nike Terra Kiger 5 (RTR Review)

Daily all arounder

Brooks Cascadia 14 (RTR Review)
A bit of a surprise here, as I had fallen out of love with the Cascadia for some time, but Brooks completely overhauled for the 14th iteration.  Lighter in weight with good response and a quick feel, while retaining all of the protection and cushion one would expect from a Cascadia. The outsole has been reworked too, much better traction and all around versatility as well as better rock contouring without that tippy feel.

Honorable mentions:  Hoka One One Speedgoat  (RTR Review), Salomon Sense Ride 2 (RTR Review)

Alpine/Technical Trail 
 I just can’t decide between the Salomon X Alpine Pro  (RTR Review), Arc Teryx Norvan VT 2   (RTR Review) and the La Sportiva Bushido (RTR Review), so will just call it a 3 way tie.  All three offer amazing rock traction, wet traction, underfoot protection, stability and support.  All 3 have very locked in secure uppers with very good upper protection and durability. The X Alpine Pro has an edging zone in the forefoot for scrambling/edging on steep vertical rock.  The Norvan VT 2 has an edging zone as well, but not as pronounced. The X Alpine Pro and Norvan VT 2 have very firm cushioning, ideal for rough terrain and rock hopping, but can feel a little harsh running faster speeds on harder surfaces, but the Bushido II offers a bit more plushness underfoot without compromising rock hop performance.

Biggest Smiles Shoe ot the Year -
I’ll jump to innovative surprises and two shoes stand out to me.  The Skechers Performance  Go Run Speed TRL Hyper for all the reasons above, as it is so fast, agile and competent.  I shudder to think that I nearly turned this one down, such a pleasant surprise.  
The Tecnica Origin (RTR Review) also stands out with it’s custom molded fit, response, protection, traction and all around fun factor on mountain trails.

Best Winter Shoe 
La Sportiva Blizzard  (RTR Review)
This the winter shoe I reach for the most.  With a Gore Tex upper, built in gaiter, reasonable response, agile, a lighter feel than weight suggests and of course it is studded.  I found the 9 studs that come installed on the shoe to be a little light for icy mountain trails, so I added hobnails (sold separately for $49), which really adds to the functionality of the Blizzard (though admittedly a bit pricey).

Single Best Trail Shoe of the Year 
Hands down the The Skechers Performance Go Run Speed TRL Hyper.  This shoe is a game changer that should have all other shoe companies taking note and I can’t wait to see what improvements/advancements are to come next year building off of this shoe.


Kogalla RA Adventure Light (RTR Review)
 OK, not new for 2018, but the Kogalla RA is a critical piece of gear for me that I rely upon for my daily 6AM runs during the months of the year where it is dark at that time.  Previously, running in the dark was an occasional reluctant necessity, but the Kogalla RA has completely transformed my willingness and comfort running in the dark, as it provides such a nice warm and wide glow with no bounce, infinite mounting options and long battery life option.  If you run in the dark, you absolutely need one. If I lost mine, I would purchase one and have it shipped overnight!

Petzl Swift RLHeadlamp (RTR Review)
The perfect companion to the Kogalla RA, which I look at as a  kind of a high beam/low beam combo. The Swift RL puts out 950 lumens, has Reactive Technology adjusting the beam based on proximity, providing the right amount of light where needed and conserving battery.  Add in a secure band, easy USB micro charge port, 100 gram weight and heat sink for cooling, I reach for this headlamp most of the time. 

Salomon Advanced Skin 5 (RTR Review)
For mid distance to longer runs where I want to bring plenty of water, food, some clothing and have easy access to my phone, the Advanced Skin 5 has become my go to.  Super light with clothing like fit, it provides more structure and thus more secure for carrying more weight than more minimal S/Lab Sense Set. In a variety of colors, this is a stylish vest that is very functional, versatile and breathable.

Ultimate Direction Hydro Short (RTR Review)
With built in bike short style liner and ample pockets built in around the waist band, the Hydro short is a great option for carrying a bit of water (2 small flasks included that fit in the rear/hip pockets), a phone in large rear center pocket, or whatever small items you choose to stuff them with.  Carrying weighty items like a phone or water is very secure with little to no bounce and beefy built in draw strap helps to prevent sagging. With the built in bike short, these are a bit warm during the summer months, but are perfect for trips to the higher peaks and the shoulder season.

Outdoor Research Vigor Hybrid Hoody 
With thermo regulating ActiveTemp, grid fleece fabric and hybrid mapped design, the Vigor Hybrid Hoody is a very versatile and effective mid/outer layer depending on conditions.  With a long sleeve base layer underneath, I am comfortable in temperatures down to the mid 20’s as long as I am moving and is not windy. If the temp is closer to 20 degrees or less, or if windy, I will add a thin shell to cut the wind.  Breathability is excellent, with nearly no moisture build up and what little I get, dries very quickly. Fit is accomodating enough for layering underneath.

Garmin Fenix 6S Pro (RTR 2019 Garmin Comparative Review, Full 6S review coming soon)
This is the most accurate GPS I have seen to date with a near infinite array of tracking and monitoring features, integration with apps, bluetooth devices, interchangeable bands, daily smartwatch functionality, very good battery life (~23 hours), map options including full topo maps, music, Garmin Pay, barometric altimeter, pulse ox, widget glances, Pace Pro, Climb Pro, health monitoring, fitness tracking, wrist HR, etc…..  The 6S Pro is TINY in size, but maintains the 1.2” screen found on all previous Fenix and Forerunner models at only 58 grams, perfect for those with smaller wrists. If you want longer battery life and larger screens, the Fenix 6 and Fenix 6X models have 1.3” and 1.4” screens respectively, with a solar charge option for the 6X.

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 has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 9 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.
2020 Run Introductions YouTube playlist HERE 
Shoe Reviews YouTube playlist HERE

The products reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Jeff said...

Oh man, I totally should have included the Kogalla Ra in mine. That thing is an absolute monster. Great list BTW.

Basti said...

Merry Christmas to the RTR crew. Thanks for another year of great reviews.

Looking back at your ratings Jeff, the Peregrine ISO scored a 9.7 on your charts vs 9.3 for the Cascadia 14. What made you prefer the Brooks in the end ?