Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sam Winebaum's Best of 2019 Running Shoes, Apparel and Run Tech

Article by Sam Winebaum

2019 was a great year for run gear as innovative new midsole foams replaced EVA at most brands, uppers increased in comfort and improved foot hold using engineered knits and mesh, apparel saw new higher performing fabrics, and GPS watches increased their battery life and received improving longer term trend and recovery features. I personally tested 91 products as our wonderful team, almost always in multi tester format tested and reviewed 145 products from shoes, to apparel, to gear to fitness electronics in total.

It was very tough to decide on my 2019 favorites in some categories but not in others. Read on to see how I ended up.


ROAD


Speed/Race

Nike Vaporfly Next%  (RTR Review)

The latest Vaporfly came with more cushion 15%, especially at the forefoot, better rear stability, and a wonderful, airy, light, non moisture absorbing upper yet amazingly also dropped  0.3 oz / 10g in weight to a stunning 6.5 oz /184 g. I easily achieved my annual old guy's (62 y/o) goal of sub 1:40 for a half marathon in them, twice this fall a few weeks apart, with remarkably fresh legs during and after. Other contenders from Saucony, ASICS, Skechers, and New Balance are on the way but will have a steep hill to climb to de throne the ultimate world record setting and mid packer race shoe.

Honorable Mention: Hoka One One Carbon X  (RTR Review). The Carbon X was my spring race shoe with a fantastic 20 mile pre Boston race and a disastrous Boston due to allergies. Smooth running, very broad and stable the Carbon X is light enough to race and substantial enough to train in. Focused on longer distance racing it can go down to a half for me. 

Daily Training

Asics Glideride   (RTR Review)

In a stunning reversal of a many years slide, ASICS surprised with the max cushion, heavily rockered, low drop (5mm) Glideride. All paces are easy and my stride well directed and stable in this dynamic riding shoe with one of the best if not the best uppers of 2019 in its smooth foot hold and elegant simplicity.  

Cushion/Cush/Recovery
Another positive reversal of course came from long sleepy and stuck in its plastic Wave plate ways Mizuno. The Wave Sky Waveknit 3 ditches plastic for a wave shaped layer under foot and a softer heel to mid foot insert. The result is a highly cushioned long lasting premium trainer which I enjoyed at all paces. Its agile forefoot made it stand out from other shoes in its class. Its substantial engineered knit upper was surprisingly airy. Of the close to 80 shoes I tested last year it was the one I kept reaching for when I headed out for a moderate easier pace run and didn't want to over concentrate on form or pace. It just delivers consistency and comfort. 

Honorable Mention or What's Next.. The trail Saucony Xodus 10 (RTR Initial Review) out in early 2020 dethrones the Wave Sky and any other heavy duty (and heavier), super cushioned trainer for road I have ever run and that is even before I take it on trail! Highly protective, bouncy, flexible, with traction for any surface and oh so smooth it is a joy to run. Saucony's new PWRUN+ TPU midsole is a keeper! Glad EVERUN is gone. 

Biggest Smiles Road Shoe of the Year
Skechers Performance Max Road 4 (RTR Review)

Oh Skechers had quite a year with incredible Hyper Burst midsoles and some of the time flaws in upper and design that kept some runners from enjoying the whole package. The Max Road 4 is such a shoe. It's stretch knit upper didn't hold all feet and its big front "pillars" played havoc with some stride types under load but not me. Very light at 8.4 oz / 238 g for its gigantic 37mm/31mm stack, step on the gas and the Max Road flies with a very distinct soft yet highly dynamic spring off from those front pillars of Hyper Burst. Every time I wound them up to tempo pace I had huge smiles. 

Best Single Road Shoe of the Year

No question the Next% for its incredible performance while protecting the legs at a feather like weight

TRAIL


Speed/Short/Racer

Skechers Performance GO RUN SPEED TRL HYPER (RTR Review)

Here Skechers put it all together to create an incredibly light trail shoe that doesn't compromise on upper support for the task, cushioning, or front protection as it includes a nylon plate that combines protection and propulsion. At barely 8 oz it sets a similar high race standard, for trail, as the Next% does for road. I wear tested this shoe through its development process (non compensated) and the care Skechers put into bringing feedback into the product was exemplary. 

All Arounder
Hoka ONE ONE EVO Speedgoat (RTR Review)
I have not been a big fan of the Speedgoat finding them somewhat lifeless in trail feel, stiff, and overly snug. The EVO solves all of those issues for me and to boot slices 1 oz off the Speedgoat 3 to bring the shoe in at 9.3 oz / 264 g which is very light for a Vibram MegaGrip shoe with a giant 32mm/28mm stack. From hiking the very rugged White Mountains of New Hampshire to running all kinds of trails it was always up to its game.

Alpine/Technical
Salomon X Alpine Pro (RTR Review)
Blending trail running and approach shoe features, the X Alpine is the shoe for the roughest most technical terrain. It was marvelous hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where on most days on the trail you barely see dirt, just rock of all different sizes and shapes. A firmer ride, I also found it very fast on my smoother trails as it so stable and secure. Neatest of all, it has an incredibly secure and protective upper that is broad and comfortable up front. 

Biggest Smiles Trail Shoe of the Year

Tecnica Origin XT (RTR Review)

I am not as agile as I used to be, and yet more timid when things get technical, so what makes me smile the most is a trail shoe that gives me the utmost confidence top to bottom on varied terrain. The Tecnica has a custom molded rear of the upper and foot bed. The custom molding is done at retail stores only and at $170 for essentially a custom fitted shoe the Origin is practically a bargain. The resulting fit and security is incredible at the rear. Below the foot, more magic, as the tri-density midsole plus flexible rock plate and a small stability piece assured me total confidence and protection no matter what, while remaining a quite flexible shoe. 

Best Single Trail Shoe of the Year

As for my road pick, no contest,  the Skechers Speed TRL for its fun ride, light weight, and substance. 

SHOE TECH OF THE YEAR

Not a particular tech but new SUPER FOAMS. 2019 saw conventional EVA midsoles, and for that matter the last big midsole innovation Boost really start to fade away as new materials and new mixes came to fore and in force focused on exciting ride feels, energy "return" rebound and weight savings.

Of course Skechers Hyper Burst (actually an EVA but processed very differently) but also Saucony's PWRUN ( a TPU),  New Balance Fuel Cell (they aren't saying what it is), Nike's Pebax based Zoom X, Reebok's Forever Energy TPU, ON's Helion, and new, softer, bouncier flavors of ASICS Flytefoam. 

2020 will see yet further super foams as Brooks reduces the weight of its PU DNA AMP by 25%, Saucony introduces Pebax infused PWRUN PB, and Salomon introduces an Olefin based midsole in its Sonic 3 series (Sonic 3 Balance RTR Review), and a nitrogen infused PU for its Predict 2. 

SHOE BRAND OF THE YEAR

Warts, missteps and all Skechers Performance really emerges in 2019 and is my brand of the year. Hyper Burst midsoles went through the line, Goodyear rubber came underfoot, and after knit upper struggles in shoes such as the Run 7 and Max Road, mono mesh uppers such as on the Speed TRL and Speed 6 and a fine supportive circular knit on the excellent Ride 8 demonstrated that Skechers was moving fast, not only in reducing weights while improving shoe performance but in adapting.

APPAREL, ACCESORIES, GEAR


Pants and Jackets

Run
GORE WEAR GORE R7 Partial Gore-Tex Infinium Hooded Jacket (RTR Review)

Showing up out of the blue late in the year at RTR, the Infinium Hooded Jacket from Gore literally pumps heat and moisture out while remaining totally windproof and weather resistant but not waterproof. it is remarkably stick free on bare arms.  It is a snug front fit as all Gore Wear is, so I suggest sizing up, A much softer and thinner package than typical Windstopper it represents Gore's new direction with Infinium towards far more comfortable (breathable and soft) finished uses on its membranes in lighter packages. 

Men’s Icebreaker Merino Tech Trainer Hybrid Pants ($180)  


Totally black and really impossible to detail in pictures, these subtle, super soft,  classy merino blend pants with a very thin, very breathable wind protecting Pertex Quantum Air front of thighs are about all I have worn for everything this late fall and early winter. From runs, to work, to errands they blend high performance in all weather conditions with a fit in anywhere style. 

Anywhere Any Activity
We really appreciated gear that can be used for running, hiking and around town.

Standing out for us have been Mammut's Masao Light Jackets. We wore the very light breathable waterproof Masao on our Swiss trek (RTR Review and Trip Report) in often poor weather, for all hiking where needed, on the run and around town. Everyone we know who has seen these full featured yet soft and light mountain shells with a great hood, pockets and pit zips has gotten one. Even my very active 90 year old mother in law from Switzerland! We pair them with the Zinal pants (RTR Review), a light stretch woven trekking and mountaineering style pant with multiple pockets that crosses over to everyday wear very well.

OROS Apparel Discovery Vest

With a Carhardt kind of vibe and durability, the Discover vest has front and back panels of very thin Solarcore material, a form of the Aerogel first used to insulate space craft which makes for a totally windproof, non moisture absorbing, and insulating system as the the nano scale air glass is almost all air, is a very poor conductor of heat but with tiny tiny pores that don't let wind in yet is very breathable.  We previously tested the Explorer top (RTR Review) but find the vest far more versatile and useful for everything from running to hiking to around town. 

Shorts and Tops 


Salomon S/Lab Tank and Sense Pro Shorts
My go to for every race this year. The 37.5 fabric in the tank is the best heat regulating fabric I have ever used and dries quickly but size up for the most comfort. 

The Sense Pro shorts have 2 big mesh pouches on the waist band that hold phone, gels, etc.. discreetly and securely while the short itself is super breathable and light. (RTR Review)

Accessories
Buff

I am with Peter Stuart there is nothing like the comfort, versatility and performance of Buff. From their lightweight Merino multi functional"tube" to the new DryFlx materials beanie, full Buff, and headband, the moisture management, softness, and style is outstanding. Now offering hats, the Buff Run Cap has been my go to since June and shares the softness and moisture management of the rest of the Buff line.

Glasses

Still in testing but for this lifelong glasses wearer the Roka Hunter prescription photochromic glasses have been a game changer for most light conditions. No more glasses over glasses or clip in inserts. Super light weight, designed for running and sport, they flawlessly grip without any discomfort. My pair with prescription lenses, photochromic lenses costed out at very reasonable $265. 

APPAREL TECH OF THE YEAR
Buff and Gore share the Apparel Tech of the Year top podium spot.

Gore for its Infinium powered jackets, pants, gloves and even with the membrane as a yarn in UA's super breathable Breeze t shirts. We have now tested Infinium gloves, jackets, and the T shirt. Focusing more on comfort, breathability, and wind resistance vs. hard core water resistance takes Gore in to new and super exciting realms.

What can we say about the fun folks from Buff of Barcelona except that expanding not only their product types to hats but continuing to innovate in fabric performance and comfort for their assortment of multi functional headwear is delightful. Like a great run shoe,  I can't wait to reach for something Buff when I head out the door to run be it in heat or cold.

GPS
Right to Left: COROS Apex Pro, Garmin Forerunner 945, Polar Vantage V
Going to sort of punt on this one as I have two wrists and wear two of these three watches pretty much at all times as I am testing updates or for their particular strengths, 

I pretty much wear the Polar Vantage V (RTR Review) at all times, except when hiking as I use it to track long term trends in training and physiology. The V or its lighter, lower cost sibling the Vantage M (RTR Review) is the best for that. It also is unique in processing sleep data right on the watch and now in its Nightly Recharge feature not only Sleep, Heart Rate Variablity but ANS (autonomic nervous system) recovery which combined I find super valuable in determining how my day may go as I wake up.

The Garmin Forerunner 945 (2019 Garmin Comparison article) is the ultimate training watch and for the $100 more it costs over the other two at $600 has full on the watch topo maps, on board music, and if you need it contactless payments. It is an all plastic watch, the lightest here but durable. It is always on my wrist for races. Don't need the topo maps but need on board music and most of the training features the Forerunner 245 Music is a great choice and $300 less but as I have both the 945 is on my wrist most of the time.

I always wear the COROS Apex Pro (RTR Review) for hiking and trekking as it has the longest battery life, has a titanium bezel and sapphire crystal, is the most rugged and barely 9 g heavier than the all plastic Garmin. I think is the sharpest looking, but of course that is personal. It more than keeps up with the endless features of the others with a carefully selected training focused set that is always expanding and an excellent route elevation screen.

Sam Winebaum, Road Trail Run Editor and Founder


Sam is a 1:38 half marathoner on a good day and didn't mind at all going into his 60+ age group in 2017. He has been running for 45 years and has a very dated marathon PR of 2:28.  Maybe he can still run fast as he clocked at 1:35 in 2017 and in 2018 a 3:40 Boston Marathon qualifier, surprising him.  He runs 30-40 miles per week along the New Hampshire Seacoast and on Park City, UT trails. Always a geek Sam was the Senior Contributing Editor for Wearable Fitness Technology and Music at Competitor Magazine and has also written for Motiv Running and China Fire Bulletin.

READ OTHER ROAD TRAIL RUN TEAM BEST OF 2019 ARTICLES HERE

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8 comments:

Will said...

Have you had any software/firmware issues with Garmin lately? Love the tech, but many of my ultra friends are almost jealous of my ancient FR225 because it doesn't break... but I'd love to upgrade to the 245 music if I didn't have to fear software issues.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Will,
I haven't heard of Garmin issues but have experienced recent problems with synching of my 945, resolved after re pairing. It seems Garmin struggles to keep up with iOS updates as synching is just not consistent and their own firmware updates sometimes cause other issues elsewhere. I am not overly concerned as I know the team there is very attentive. All brands and watches struggle with the moving target of changes to OS, GPS and such. In August I identified a battery life issue with the 245 and brought it to the attention of the top product guy. He immediately confirmed himself, stayed in touch as they worked to resolve which they eventually did.
Sam, Editor

Matt said...

Hey Sam, I just wanted to say that I love reading the shoe/gear of the year awards articles by all of your shoe reviewers. You guys do such a great job covering so many different brands and releasing articles on the top new shoes that come out each season. I love reading your site. I just wanted to say that I hope you all have had a great holiday season, and a big thank you to the work you all do. I never buy a new pair of running shoes before checking to see what you guys have said about the shoe.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hey Matt, Thanks so much! Our team is so dedicated. It is a pleasure for sure (and a lot of hard work) but we all love to run and share what we find to help others decide. Have a Great 2019 on all your roads and trails.
Sam, Editor

Jamie Waller said...

Hi Sam, Do you recommend any shows in the under $100 category. I am a general runner. 4-5 days a week at 4 to 5 miles. You know my age. I just want something comfortable. I have been running with Reeboks the last few years.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Jamie,
Great you are running regularly! Long may us "old" folks run! What model have you been running in? Plenty of fine shoes in the $100 category including the Reebok Forever Floatride Energy, A bit softer and bouncier the Brooks Revel. A more traditional ride the Brooks Launch 7 (coming soon and review, better upper than 6 and slightly softer, review soon) Spring for $15 more but likely you can find a super deal on an "older" color the Skechers GoRun Ride 8 is outstanding, Private consults with classmates anytime! See below for links to reviews,
Sam, Editor
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!

John said...

Hi Sam,

I am interested in the the recovery metrics of the Vantage V compared to the Garmin 945. Are they comparable? Do you believe the Vantage V's recovery software is more advanced and better than Garmin's who has partnered with First Beat? That's what I'm most interested in the watch: the recovery metrics, as I am often prone to over training. But I've been with Garmin for many years.

Thanks.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi John,
At least for me the Vantage recovery and sleep metrics are not only more advanced in showing trends but most significantly so easily seen on the watch as well. The ability to see sleep and ANS scores right on the watch in the morning without synching to the app is very handy,
Sam, Editor