Gear trends: Winter running footwear for 2014/15

No excuses: Improved traction, warmth and protection in cold-weather trail footwear is bound to bring out even more runners next winter.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

It doesn’t matter if the weather outside is frightful.

Runners run year-round, and aren’t relegated to the treadmill or even the city streets. Trail running remains popular throughout the winter.

The number of folks partaking in trail running grew from 90,000 people in 2000 to 400,000 in 2012, according to the American Trail Running Association.

The most recent boom comes from an increased interest in changing scenery and registering for adventure races, said Kira Harrison, Brooks’footwear merchandising associate.

Plus, trail running doesn’t look quite like it used to; it’s a lot more diverse. Manufacturers are catering to urbanites who head out for a trail run on a dirt path at a city park before work and hardcore athletes who put in the miles on mountain trails.

“Trail running as a whole is an expanding market,” said Travis Nichols, merchandise planner for Spokane Valley, Wash.-based Mountain Gear. “People are looking to extend their season and winter trail running is growing.” In addition to products like headlamps, hats and gloves, rugged, yet light, running shoes continue to be great sellers for outdoor retailers. Especially anything that includes Gore-Tex or integrated gaiters, Nichols added.

New products are hybrid so they can double as light hikers, have excellent traction to keep runners upright and injury-free, incorporate waterproof and water-resistant elements and have integrated gaiters. Many companies are also welding uppers, instead of stitching them, to make shoes lighter and more protective. Plus, reflectivity remains big. It’s darker longer in the winter, and runners need to be visible to stay safe. And the best remnants of the minimalist movement have made their way into trail running footwear.

“I believe we will see consumers be driven to shoes that give them plenty of comfort and protection while still having features such as low heel-to-toe drop and open toe boxes,” said Golden Harper, founder of Altra Footwear.

When it comes to traction, Icebug has customers covered. It debuts its Aurora BUGrip (MSRP $160). The BUGrip outsole has carbide studs and specially designed rubber studs to keep runners from slipping on multiple surfaces. Brooks’ PureGrit 3 has a new outsole with aggressive lugs to maximize traction, an embedded plate in the forefront to improve torsional rigidity and overlasted outsoles for protection.

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Brands provide protection and comfort in the winter in lightweight packages. La Sportiva’s Crossover GTX (MSRP $175) has the Gore-Tex Extended Comfort membrane, which provides more flexibility coupled with a four-way stretch gaiter. Salomon includes a welded upper in its S-Lab Fellcross 3 (MSRP $170), which also has mapped zones for waterproofness and breathability. It incorporates an internal fit sleeve that delivers seamless comfort. Another welded upper comes in Saucony’s flexible Kinvara 5 (MSRP $100), which has a 4mm offset and neutral feel. Even Vibramis beefing up its famous Five Fingers. Its waterproof Bikila EVO WP has an 8mm offset and Icetrek compound that provides grip and traction.

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Roomy toe boxes are very special things for some wide-footed runners, and Altra Footwear does them right in zero-drop constructions. The Lone Peak 2 (MSRP $115) has light and breathable waterproof technology. The Olympus (MSRP $125) is a maximum-cushioned, rugged trail runner. Topo Athletic ditched its split-toe design and incorporates a spacious toe box for foot splay and toe dexterity in its Mountain Trainer (MSRP $100), which is not for foul weather, CEO Tony Post said. It provides light traction and has breathable mesh panels and a speed lace closure system.

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Perhaps the No. 1 deterrent to running in the winter, beyond the cold sting, is taking a bad spill on ice or snow. Secure traction is a must. If your customers don’t want to buy a new shoe, sell them an add-on like Kahtoola’s ultralight Nanospikes (MSRP $50), with carbide spikes and rubber grips to bite into both ice and terrain.

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Yaktrax updated its Run (MSRP N/A) with a more secure toe mold and additional strap up top. The Run uses both carbide spikes and coils.

Stabilicers (32 North) gets running with the Sportunner (MSRP $40), which has heat-tempered steel spikes, which are replacable for mutiple seasons of use.

--Ana Trujillo

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