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Category: Trail Running

Tools of the Trade: Shoes

Tools of the Trade: Shoes

So last week we established that we’ve got a lot to do this year, but before we get into it we’re going to need some gear to make the most of our time outdoors. The most important of which is going to be a great pair of shoes for all the different applications out there. The style of shoe that will be right for you is going to be dependent on which subset of awesomeness you want to experience outside. For example, you’re not going to be wearing a heavily insulated boot while running the local spots. You would be  wearing a trail running specific shoe. So let’s make this simple and break it down into six different groups. We’ll be looking at hiking, trail running, backpacking, approach, insulated, and water specific shoes. There are other styles as well such as mountain biking shoes and climbing shoes but we’ll get into those more in depth at a later time.

Your hiking shoes are going to be the most adaptable pair in your closet. If you’re on a budget you can use backpacking, trail running, or approach shoes in their place dependent on the kind of trail you’ll be doing. What we want in a hiking specific shoe is going to be a light to mid weight body with a semi aggressive sole. What this means is that the tread on your hiking boot shouldn’t be geared only towards one surface like rock, dirt, or mud. You also want it lightweight so that you won’t have too much of a problem with stamina on those longer hikes. A few examples for this kind of shoe will be Merrell’s Moab series, Salomon’s Xa Pro 3d, and even Chaco’s Brio boot. Now for trail running what we’re going to want is a lightweight, breathable, upper as well as good support and an aggressive tread. You’ll find the most aggressive soles in these shoes since they’ll be the most athletic oriented of the styles we’re looking at today. These shoes are going to be designed foremost for speed with protection as somewhat of an afterthought. There are actually quite a few styles of shoes out there since trail running is’nt quite as niche as it used to be. A few are going to be Salomon’s Speedcross and X Ultra series as well as Merrell’s All Out Charge. Typically, since these are running shoes, their livery is also going to be very colorful as well.

Salomon X Ultra 2's being put to the test in the red mud of Palo Duro Canyon.
Salomon X Ultra 2’s being put to the test in the red mud of Palo Duro Canyon.

Now there is going to be a massive difference between the trail running style and backpacking shoes. Where the trail running shoes were light and minimal, the backpacking style is going to be more supportive and heavy duty. Since backpacking involves carrying an extra load of anywhere between 20 and 50lbs, these shoes are going to be more about support than anything else. You’ll typically find a mid rise boot with about the same kind of sole as your hiking boot but with loads of support. This is also where it gets tricky. With that extra support comes more material which will add weight to the boot. So you have to decide between the extent of support that you want and the stamina increase that comes with a lighter shoe. It’s an old adage that, “A pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.” It’s an argument that no one but yourself can answer. If you’re going for a month long through hike, then support might be the way to go. Or if you’re doing a quick weekend trip, then the lightweight style can help you cover the most ground the fastest. This kind of thinking can show just how specialized gear for the outdoors can be, and our last three categories are as specialized as we’re going to get.

The approach shoe can also be used as a light hiker but is going to be mainly at home on rocky, technical terrain. These shoes are designed for getting a rock climber to the base of their actual climb while still being able to use some climbing techniques themselves. The soles are going to be stiffer and have a stickier rubber compound for smearing and edging. These shoes will also be lightweight and tend to have laces that run all the way down to the toe for maximum fit. Because of the stiff sole, these shoes wouldn’t be recommend for your all day long hikes. A few styles that are to be suggested would be the Vasque Grand Traverse and the Five Ten Guide Tennie. Insulated boots are going to be geared only for your coldest of weather environments. There are different thermal ratings for different shoes so be sure that the shoe that you’re getting fits the weather that you’ll experience where you’ll be adventuring. These boots are going to have a tread designed for traction in snow and on ice to help you stay upright and trudge through feet of precipitation. Most of these boots are also going to waterproof so that you don’t freeze when you accidentally misstep into a deep puddle of snow melt. You won’t be able to wear these boots outside of cold weather due to the fact that your feet would simply overheat and turn into a puddle of sweat. The exact opposite would happen if you were to wear your water specific shoes in insulated boot weather. Now your water shoe, or sandals, will be the least protective of any of the shoes that you can have. These will leave most, if not all, of your foot exposed to the elements. This is also what they’re meant to do so that it can allow water to flow freely around your feet instead of collecting in the soles of your shoes. Most of the styles are going to be designed for use on the river where you still want great traction and support. Chaco is going to come to mind simply because they are designed specifically for rafting and kayaking. They have a polyurethane base matched with a form that supplies plenty of arch support for use throughout the entire day.

Now all that’s left for you to do is to decide which activity is most intriguing to you and find the corresponding shoe that best fits your feet. If you don’t already have a pair then the hiking category might be the best place to start to get acclimated to the outdoors. Also keep in mind what kind of terrain you have access to and where you’ll get the most out of your shoes. Whichever style you decide to go with, be sure not to let your new pair collect dust in the closet but collect mud on the trails.


Gear Review: Inov-8 Road-X 233

Gear Review: Inov-8 Road-X 233


Inov-8 Road-X 233 Running Shoe

In this resurfacing world of barefoot or forefoot running there are too many brands, like always, that claim they have what you’re looking for. Asics , New Balance, Nike all claim to have the best running shoe for any particular style. For most people a running shoe will also be their work-out, everyday, go-get-groceries shoe, but for those of us that know shoes, like most consumer goods, were made with a particular audience and function in mind, there’s one brand that stands out to me: Inov-8.

I shopped around for a long time, and went to numerous running specialty stores before I could finally feel comfortable pounding the pavement with a pair of Inov-8 Road-x 233’s. Inov-8 is a company that is known more for their CrossFit style shoe, they’re light weight, minimal, and rugged enough to do thousands of burpees before they fall apart (if you haven’t done a thousand burpees, your one of the lucky ones).  The company is primarily geared toward helping runners and athletes get back to natural running which, according to their website, “relies on the strength of the runner’s feet and legs rather than the cushioning or support of a shoe.” So, comfort is not what they have in mind at all, right? Well you would think that, but Inov-8 has done a fantastic job of weaning it’s customers from a big bulky pair of Nike Shox, to what’s called a zero drop shoe. A zero drop shoe has to do with the millimeter differential between the height of the heel and to the ball of the foot. Known as a heel-drop, the classic pair of Nike Shox, of which I had plenty of in high school, had a 15+mm heel-drop. It sounds like lunacy when you see that the norm is ~12mm and now shoe companies are making zero drop shoes (0mm from heel to ball of foot).

Inov-8 is a company that acknowledges the fact that some of us made the mistake of buying big bulky shoes in the past and so they have a scale of shoes with different heel-drop heights to them. Starting at 9mm, the company makes shoes in 3mm increments so the next transition stage is 6mm, then 3mm, and finally down to 0mm. See there full explanation on their website.

The pair I chose was the Road-x 233. They have a 6mm heel drop on them because I wanted to transition into what was comfortable to me, not dive right into a zero drop shoe. After putting a couple hundred miles on them, I have been thouroghly impressed by how well they’ve held up. They have a few stitches coming fraying off and their pure white exterior has turned a dingy light brown, but other than just the normal wear and tear they are still going strong. I was a little hesitant about the soles of the shoe because there isn’t any real lugs to them, which isn’t a big deal if you’re just running on pavement, but occasionally I like to cut across the park on a short semi-trail run. The sole isn’t you’re normal rubber with light lugs engraved into a neat design that only you care about. They are actually pretty flat on the front half and heel of the shoe with what’s called a sipe cut. This sipe cut is a small zig-zag cut in the rubber that isn’t noticeable until you flex the shoe backward and they spread apart. A lot of boat shoes will put this in their design because they are extremely good at creating enough friction and surface area so you don’t slip. And I’ll attest to that, I haven’t had one unsure foot in anyone of my runs. And in fact,  they’re pretty stout too. I remember running one day and felt something big stuck to my shoe, at first i thought it was a rock stuck in between the lugs, but remembering the shoes don’t really have lugs, I stopped to check it out. It turns out I had about a quarter size piece of beer bottle lodged in my shoe. Good thing I wasn’t running in a zero drop shoe…

Another great attribute to these shoes is the anatomical fit. Inov-8 wins me over again by incorporating this into most of their shoes. The anatomical fit is different than you average shoe fit in that, the toe box is a little wider than normal with everything else being a little tighter. This allows the foot to splay and spread out when landing on your forefoot. Again, they want you to run with a natural motion so that’s supposed to happen. I found that some of the other shoes I own can actually force my foot to land differently if they don’t have ample room in the toe box, especially towards the end of my runs when I get lazy.

Finally,  shoe is also extremely lightweight. I love the feeling of putting on a new pair of shoes in the store and barely feeling them on my foot. Anyone who has ever done any sort of heavy backpacking knows the old adage of “an ounce on you feet is a pound on your back,” and that’s never a good thing no matter how cool you look. With the Road-X 233’s the name says how light they actually are, 233 grams. That’s it! And when mile 5 rolls around of your 7-mile run, you still hardly feel them.

So there you have it, in my book Inov-8 is tested and proven to be one of the premier barefoot/natural running motion shoes out in the market. They’re transition stages of heel-drop, the fit, and how light all of their shoes are (just look at the last number to get the weight in grams) make this company on the top of my list for running shoes. And, as always if any of you have questions feel free to call our shop or just leave a comment on here, we love our customers and realize that we’re still here because of you guys.

Run, Jump, Climb, Drink Beer, Repeat.

Run, Jump, Climb, Drink Beer, Repeat.

Run a mile, climb a 15-foot wall. Run a half-mile, army crawl through 30 feet of mud under barbed wire. Run another mile and a half and then run through a canopy of electrically charged wires that, when touched, deliver a shock that knocks most people on the ground. Repeat with a total up to 12 miles and 25 obstacles.

This is the routine that thousands of people, ordinary or not, went through this year running obstacle races. Whether it was the Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, or Muddy Buddy, the basis of all these races is this: Run a specific distance on easy to moderate trails and encounter different obstacles ranging from mud crawls to jumping into cold water from a 30 foot platform along the way. They’re popular all around the country and gaining recognition around the globe as well. Most of the races mentioned above were designed by a combination of ex-military and endurance athletes. Whether it was because they were seeking the next big thing in competitive racing, or just wanted to see who would show up. Either way they nailed it.

Obstacle racing is one of the fastest growing trends in adventure/outdoor sports. Personally, I’ve known participants that range from military, ex-high school athletes, and even stay at home moms. Not that stay at home moms wouldn’t be athletic, it’s just not the normal crowd at adventure/endurance races. This year the Tough Mudder race has already seen 460,000 participants, but don’t let the numbers fool you, these races aren’t for the weak. There are injuries reported at almost every event, at one event in the U.K. 600 people were treated for hypothermia. Broken bones and strained ligaments like in all sporting events occur in most races, but in the extreme cases people have actually died running these races. At a 2011 Warrior Dash in Kansas, 2 participants lost their lives; one from heat stroke and another from unknown causes. So why would people get off there couch and spend the time and money to participate and train for one of these races? Why would someone run through the mud as fast as they can with their only tangible reward being a victory beer and a headband?

My friend Tara Douglass said she’s always been interested in races and organized runs, but a marathon seemed too long and out of reach and a half-marathon wasn’t challenging enough. So, she decided that an obstacle race was the right fit. “It just made sense,” Douglass said. She chose the Tough Mudder because it was right in the middle, not too intense but not too short of a distance. She said The Spartan Race has a little harder obstacles, and the Warrior Dash is only three miles compared to the 12 in the Tough Mudder. Douglass said she learned a lot about herself, both mentally and physically, in the process, “You learn what your body can handle.” Douglass said the obstacles that incorporated water made her the most nervous, and it was only through the race that she could’ve learned that. With Douglas going into the Marines soon, that was a valuable thing to learn and try to control.

So why do people run these obstacle races? Douglass said she did it mostly to prove it to herself, to see if she could finish. She went into the race by herself, no one coaxed her into it and no one bet her she couldn’t finish. It was pure self-motivation. I asked her if it was because of the danger factor, that at anytime, you could get seriously injured. “You can get hurt doing anything,” she said. She did admit that the factor of unknown danger and injury did have a little to do with her running the race, but that wasn’t the main reason.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all tried something, whether it was athletic or dangerous, just to see if we could do it. Just to put another notch in our belt, and say “I’ve been there.” I think the experience of potential danger is just getting more accessible. With so many “extreme” sports becoming commercialized and recorded on helmet-mounted cameras bought at Best Buy, it’s hard to wonder why so many people are running these races where bodily harm is facing you mile after mile. Just look at The North Face’s YouTube page and its 3,000,000 views. There’s no wonder why 460,000 people have ran in the Tough Mudder so far this year with so many people engaging in first-hand accounts of adventure/endurance sports. So if you’re some elitist endurance athlete that believes only a small percentage of people can experience what you do, then it’s time to realize times have changed. Let the fellowship of adventure begin, and realize that they’re will always be someone better than you. Enjoy the journey and smile when you wonder what your doing running through electrically charged wires.

Tara Douglas running through the Electroshock Therapy Obstacle in the Tough Mudder.
Tara Douglass runs through the obstacle properly named “Electroshock Therapy.” This obstacle delivers a shock if you touch the ends of the yellow wires. Good Luck.

When I asked Douglass if she would recommend obstacle races she said, “Oh yeah, I encourage everyone who’s interested to try one.” So if you’re interested, even if you don’t have anyone to go with, get out there and put that notch in your belt. But remember, it doesn’t count unless you got a picture.