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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Long Tail-Wagging the Web?

Lee Gomes in his 7/26/06 Wall Street Journal Portals column questions the theory of Chris Anderson's best seller The Long Tail, that, if infinite shelf space is available on the web, the "tail" of niche products will add up to approach or equal the sales volume of hits. Music downloads/plays are often used as the example. Previously this blog had commented on the the Long Tail. Gomes bases his challenge on data indicating that the percentage of no-play songs, those songs not listened to during a month has increased from 2% to approximately 20%, that 10% of blogs generate 88% of subscriptions, or that 2.7% of Amazon titles generate 75% of revenue.

All of these statistics are not surprising but I think miss the point. I believe the Long Tail is most applicable to physical products whose niche nature, size, or complexity make it difficult for physical retailers, rep firms or even catalogs to take them on. Here the online research, direct sale from the manufacturer, via innumerable specialty web stores or to locate that one local physical store who may carry the product have created Long Tails in just about every industry. And for those larger firms testing new products, product platforms, and sub brands the web can provide low cost integrated marketing vehicles and store fronts to evaluate the mass potential.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Urban Trails- Mill Creek Canyon Salt Lake City

Through the winter and into spring I have been consulting in Salt Lake City, medical software.

Mill Creek Canyon off Wasatch Blvd at 3800 near REI and I- 80 at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon is a wonderful all season, multi-sport, wilderness paradise, literally in the city.

I have Nordic skied with headlamp up the road starting at the 4.5 mile point gate on groomed trails. This spring I have trail run on the Pipeline, a gradual up or downhill parallel to the road with multiple access points at trailheads along the road. I went to the top of Grandeur Peak, 8200 feet for a view of Salt Lake at sunset.

I have never been alone: mountain bikers, runners, walkers, skiers, road bikes, and plenty of happy dogs are always of the party!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Odor Free T-Shirts-Smartwool Microweight

As a long time, active outdoor user of all manner of technical apparel including all the synthetics, and way back when, wool, I am amazed at the performance of the merino wool Smartwool Microweight T-shirt. I have been a big fan of Smartwool socks for years but assumed wool shirts would be to warm. I was wrong. The Microweight wicks superbly, wasn't hot in warm weather and because of its very fine knit was very comfortable all day. And most amazingly it doesn't accumulate odors as synthetics do.

In fact, I did a little test last week. I wore the shirt for 3 days straight including 2 long trail runs and work (with a real shirt over). It was as fresh feeling and smelling the first day as the last even after a long plane flight home. I did have a spare T-shirt, just in case... The nickel stripe color is even very stylish and the shirt can easily be worn alone. I am now convinced micro weight merino is the ideal, all purpose material for everyday, travel and vigorous exercise.

And, given that wool does not melt or burn as synthetics do, I think it is safer for military and industrial uses where fire is a risk. In fact, the Marines have just recently banned most synthetic underlayers in frontline situations due to burn injuries from melting synthetics.

The only downside is the price at $50. However, most people likely could make due with 3 times fewer T-shirts, as I did,and save wash energy and water!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Kitchen Appliances Buck the Trend

The kitchen and kitchen appliances is one of the fewer consumer product categories where according to Damon Darlin in the New York Times Business Section style, new features and bragging rights "Buck the trend and cost more". The trend being the lower costs of consumer electronics such as laptops with dramatically improved functionality over the last 10 years at far lower prices.
Why? In a post 9/11 world the home and especially the kitchen is the center of family activity and socializing . Combine this with the promise of high tech electronic ovens to help conquer the fear of messing up the Thanksgiving turkey and infinite special purpose and very effective gadgets to save time, another precious commodity in an era of long commutes to big homes in the suburbs.
Kitchen Contraptions is a fun blog gathering together many of those neat gadgets we just can't live without...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Watch

I previously had a Garmin Forerunner 201 watch which allowed me to see my pace and distance on the run or on skis. I managed to lose it after a 50K ski race but hesitated to buy another 201 due to its performance under tree cover

I found that on our New England forested trails if there was leaf/tree cover I would often lose the signal with the 201 . So I was very interested to hear the claim the new Forerunner 205 and Forerunner 305's (inlcudes heart rate monitor) had, along with a more watch like form factor has much improved reception under tree cover. An excellent blog by John Sun has an extensive series of superb comparative trail runs . Using some of the Google Maps based sites listed below he plots the performance and accuracy/wanderings of the 201 and 205 side by side on maps. John was able to convince me that the 205 is a significant improvement over the 201.

Several sites such as MotionBased (owned by Garmin), Sportstracks, Bones in Motion allow users to upload GPS data from GPS units, from certain Sprint and Nextel phones via a subscription from Bones in Motion, or to manually click out and measure your route via overlays to Google Maps. As previously discussed in one of my other posts all of these solutions use "mash ups" Google Maps.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Inov8-Trail and Mountain Running Shoes

Inov-8 is a scrappy British trail running shoe company which is equipping many of the top mountain runners worldwide, including the world champion John Wyatt of New Zealand. Even the recent Applachian Trail speed record breaker did the entire trail, all 2174 miles in 47 days in Inov-8's.

Why? A unique approach to getting the foot in a more level/neutral position to the ground for greater stability combined with wrap around ankle and arch support via the upper. I also like their product matrix which clearly differentiates different sole and shoe constructions for different terrains: mud, rock, grassy, mixed terrain thus going well beyond the usual breathable and waterproof uppers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

OllyDog- Outdoor Retailer Show

is a Berkeley based start-up launched by former North Face and Sierra Designs folks focused on colorful, fun and functional "equipment" for outdoor dogs. They know rugged materials and have applied them to dog products. I joined them in their booth as one of their advisors is a Dartmouth friend.

Their products include a great folding (flat like a wallet) dog bowl the Lapper for your dog travels in all kinds of neat colors and patterns using super rugged pack cloth. It actually stays up even with no or little water. And, as was demonstrated at the show put a 6 pack and some ice and you have an instant beer cooler.

They offer a series of very colorful collars which are rugged but smooth, not the usual frayable webbing.

Their doggy beds looked very comfortable with many of the dogs at the show taking a rest at the booth in the beds. They have a sling bag for the morning walk with the pooch and then all day use. The "cell phone" pocket included a pass through port to pull out one of those blue bags for you know what...

Finally, their dog toys which included a very rugged fabric covered bone and a frisbee were put to good use right there in the booth.

Ollydog is a fun dynamic company which is working the growing niche of families and baby boomers, and empty nesters with dogs.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Outdoor Retail Show

I recently had the good fortune, for a total outdoor and outdoor gear nut, to attend the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City. Literally thousands of backpacking, trail running, apparel, footwear, gadgets, skiing, snowshoeing exhibitors. To try to categorize it all is difficult but I will try as follows: New England outdoor innovators, influence of the military on outdoor products, and innovative small companies with products worth noting.

In New England companies I was thrilled to see that 3 of 4 companies with "breakthroughs" on the cover of the March issue of Backpacker and 3 of the 6 true innovations according to the hardcore Backpackinglight were from New England. With the exception of the Bean pack I saw all of these at the show or have seen at retail.

The laureates included:
  • the tent maker Nemo Equipment for their air supported easy to erect tents, now far lighter.
  • Timberland ,my neighbors here on the Seacoast of NH, were recognized for their Delerion adventure racing shoe. It is an all purpose, high performance outdoor activity shoe which solves for the first time the problem of draining water and drying fast (non absorbent materials) vs. the conventional keeping water out approach. As a long time hiker and trail runner I can tell you that keeping water out is almost impossible so why not let it in and then out as fast as possible! Suspect these might also be great hot weather shoes. My only concern with these very breathable mesh type shoes is how much fine material sneaks through the upper. The included gaiters keep stuff from coming over the top but... Have to try to see.
  • I am also trying a pair of Timberland Ed Veisters lightweight hiker the Cadion. I am very impressed by the dramatic weight reduction when compared to the usual hikers. The upper is made in part out of Schoeller's Kerpotec a very abrasison resistant fabric often used in motorcyle clothing. I will be hiking the Whites in NH with these. I think they will be ideal as I find trail runners of any kind just a bit light given the terrain. Timberland is getting traction in Outdoor Performance by focusing on solving real problems for power users. The solutions translate well to the general marketplace.
  • Darntough is a Vermont performance sock company which is offering a lifetime warranty on... their socks. Talk about standing by the product.
  • JetBoil is a NH company which has set the backpacking stove market "on fire" by applying heat exchanger technology, often found in cooling electronics to go the other way and direct the flame's heat into the pot, which in their first iteration was actually a large insulated and integral coffee type mug. Very compact and efficient solution for mostly 3 season light backpacking or just a hot cup on the trail.
  • LL Bean of Maine was recognized by Backpacker for value and quality breakthrough in packs "The Ultimate Bargain", no surprise from this fine and thrifty company. Their full featured Bigelow TL is $59 and looks perfect for overnight hikes and day packs with plenty of features and durability.
  • Bemis this fourth generation adhesives company in Shirley MA which started in furniture glue has revolutionized garment construction with heat sealable tape called SewFree which eliminates sewing. Currently in high end apparel they enable not only more durable seams without the risk of thread abrading but less bulky apparel with new geometries and patterns. So, not an outdoor product per se but a materials company was the big star of the Outdoor Retalier Show.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mapping a revolution with 'mashups' | CNET

Previously I commented on Google Maps. This CNET article discusses the many neat applications and maps users are creating as overlays to Google Maps, with Google's complete agreement. The Google Maps Mania site gives a great overview of what people are creating.

Along with Yahoo Maps' similar mashups these applications are based on AJAX, a form of Java and XML which allows web based applications to be full featured, incredibly fast and may be even more dynamic than desktop applications as data and changes can flow in an out of pages without reloading. This technology will surely accelerate the trend to web based applications and away from traditional desktop applications and client server technologies. The portability of these applications to mobile devices, as the actual java script client is so light and the response is so fast, will also finally entice users to sign up for data plans on their mobiles in the US.

As an avid runner I particularly like gmap-pedometer (click to see one of my favorite routes on the NH Seacoast) which, for the first time, allowed me to easily measure my daily running routes. Try it out. gmap-pedometer offers the option of using to generate and store what is surely a long URL with all the geographic coordinates and thus provide a shorter pointer for messages, blogs, etc...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wireless Web Services and Nextel Direct Send-Commodity Pipeline and Niches

In my last post I commented on Yahoo Mail and Google Local Maps. Both of these web based services bypass the need to pay an extra monthly fee for the application to the wireless carrier beyond a data plan. In line with the recent Microsoft news of their increasing focus on web based applications which have the features of desktop based applications, the rapidly evolving movement of processing from desktops to central servers, is now coming to mobiles too. The implications are that wireless carriers' data services will increasingly become a commodity carrying and serving up web based applications chosen by customers and not the carrier.

Carriers will not long be able to keep the barriers up, and the tolls on, for individual applications downloaded to the phone or for users' access to web services enabled sites such as Google Local. In fact, this development, and the reliabilty of these new services now make me a happy Sprint Vision (their data plan for $10/mo.) customer. Sprint will likely see increasing numbers of customers opting for data and as wireless bandwidth increases people like me will be willing actually pay more for increased reliabilty and speed as long as the customer has the freedom to chose the wireless sites and applications which make the most sense for their needs. A commodity purchase.

While downloaded music is somewhat more complicated in terms of bandwidth, rights management, and playback capabilities its time will come too. Sprint's recent launch of a download music service, while in all respects seemingly a great product, will not fly far, at least in the US with songs at $2.50 each when the standard is iTunes $0.99. Tolls are on and an opportunity may be lost.

Over on the Nextel side of Sprint niches and focus on customer segments are the norm. The recent launch of Nextel Direct Send ,a service which allows pictures to be taken and sent while on a walkie-talkie call without interupting the call, will prove a boon to professionals such as real estate agents, contractors, and public safety folks. Who knows maybe teens too! The $0.25 per send is a steep price to pay, much like the Sprint music. Likely this will evolve into an all you can send for $5-$10 per month which many will be happy to pay. Nextel will maintain and increase its grasp on tradespeople and professionals through such careful examination of customer needs and innovative use of their IDEN platform.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Google Local Mobile and Yahoo Mobile

After much suffering using Sprint's email as the forwarding mechanism to my mobile I discovered Yahoo Mail for Mobile, directions, weather, etc... It's just Yahoo mail accessible from your mobile's browser. Incredibly easy set up to my Sprint phone. Clear excellence in user interface: very easy to set up, larger type, consistent easy access (unlike Sprint's own mobile mail), plenty of storage (Sprint had me emptying the inbox via my computer as frequently as weekly), and most importantly my forwarded mail is always accessible on the go.

Today, I downloaded Google Local Mobile to my Sprint phone.

Note that not all phones will work with Google Local Mobile as unlike Yahoo it is a downloaded application to the phone. You must have BREW but the easy set up at the Google web site will help you determine if your phone will accept the application. Note that you also need an Internet data plan as part of your service.

Very similar to the Yahoo Mobile with the added benefit of not only directions but the now almost ubiquitous Google maps and even satellite views. Again a very simple and easy to use interface.

You can locate yourself on the map by using your phone's joystick button. You can click through the turn points on the map with a bubble indicating the turns popping up on the phone screen. No more printing directions before a trip. And if your phone has GPS capabilities an MSNBC article states that according to Google the software will know where you are so you can find local addresses all that much easier. I guess it also means Google will know where you are...a bit scary but in my book a worthy tradeoff for the convenience of on the go maps and directions. They do promise they will not use this info to push ads at you.

Much as the iPod's success is due to elegantly focusing on the mission at hand both of these services finally make reading email and finding addresses and following directions a practical feasibility on mobile phones. Consumers will benefit from the battle between these two for the small screens on the go.