Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Trail running footwear

Trail running is definitely the trend du jour. In fact, this was the first year that trail running as an activity actually got real on-floor exposure. Trail runs can't be planned around the booths, so what do you do? Well, Trail Runner magazine put on its first so-called Uphill Challenge, matching runners of all abilities on NordicTrack hiker treadmills at grades that would make most people cry.
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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order) ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its products were not mentioned when they should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking beer too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for trail running footwear:

Trail running is definitely the trend du jour. In fact, this was the first year that trail running as an activity actually got real on-floor exposure. Trail runs can't be planned around the booths, so what do you do? Well, Trail Runner magazine put on its first so-called Uphill Challenge, matching runners of all abilities on NordicTrack hiker treadmills at grades (15 percent to 25 percent) that would make most people cry. Then Trail Runner made them do this for 15 minutes! The challenge raised $1,090 for the National Trails Fund, though the "competition" morphed into more of a game as some pairs simply matched each other step-for-step. Com' on, now: Rebecca Rusch (Montrail) and Robyn Benincasa (Merrell), both exactly covered 1.09 miles? Hah!

The overall men's winners went into kill mode, but did it a deux -- Simon Gutierrez and Tim Parr, both members of the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team, covered a grueling 1.7 miles in the 15 minutes at 15 percent grade, then in the last minute cranked it to the top of 25 percent. Can you say "ouch?" The overall women's winner was Krissy Sybrowsky (Montrail/Patagonia) who covered 1.21 miles.

As for the overall trail running scene, we covered the trend, demographics, players and background in-depth in our GearTrends® Summer Outdoor 2005 magazine, as well as our website, www.geartrends.com, in Web Extras. If you happened to miss it or want to go back and refresh yourself, go to www.geartrends.com/magazines and click on the summer outdoor magazine cover. To find the accompanying special extra material for readers, go to www.geartrends.com/extras.

With all of that research and trend reporting done, we will in this report just take a look at some key players and notable products. Nope, can't and won't cover every last company, shoe and every detailed feature, especially if some preview was done in our detailed GearTrends® report. Those include New Balance, Montrail, The North Face, Inov-8, La Sportiva and Timberland.

Yes, the list of players has gotten really long. In addition to shoes covered in our magazine piece and below, you'll also find "trail" product from the likes of Columbia, Asolo, Lafuma, Garmont, Tecnica and Dunham, as well as products from pure sporting goods companies like Nike, Saucony, Asics and Reebok.

Read and look carefully at names and descriptions. Sometimes a company deftly calls it a "trail" shoe and talks about it being nimble or light but never really says "running," or talks about how it's "multi-purpose," or for "playing in the mountains," or for "transition wear." Take that as a hint and judge accordingly. Remember, we are focused on real-live trail running. So if somebody has a shoe that we think in all deference is really either a light hiker or a cool lifestyle piece, then we won't get into detail. Now, that's not to say that those types of shoes wouldn't perhaps be good sellers for certain retailers, but we'll leave it up to them to figure that out.

adidas -- now part of the minimalist trend in shoes (Nike Free, Inov-8, et al), adidas has what it humorously calls its "cabriolet" shoe, which is an evolution of the old Banshee. The Waterra is a running and water shoe ($75) that is truly lightweight, breathable, drainable and ready to go; makes sense since adidas sponsored the Muddy Buddy runs. The Cardrona ($85) is a bit more closed-up on the bottom. The sides of the shoe are more breathable, and the company added a forefoot protection plate. Still, we were told this is only for light off-road running, not the super techie stuff. Watch out for colors that whack you in the face, and if you're a morning runner, you may not need that java. Said Lawrence Motola, "We're trying to brighten things up. Not everything has to be brown."

Brooks -- With its sponsored ultrarunner athlete Scott Jurek on stage during part of the show, Brooks has been making more of its name on trail running gear, not just road gear. New for spring '06 is the Cascade ($90), a neutral running shoe that has a hydrophobic foam and a fast-drying upper. Look for it in lime green and red, with orange and yellow by January. Also, it's offering the Adrenalin ($90), which is more of a stability shoe with three densities of EVA with a progressive roll bar for those who need more motion control.

Helly Hansen -- You could consider Helly Hansen new to trail running. Honestly, its first shoe, the Trail Beater (available earlier this year) was more of lifestyle piece, despite the company's claims. For '06, Helly Hansen keeps the Beater and adds two shoes out for fall and spring. The Kikut ($100, low; $120, mid-cut) has a waterproof-breathable membrane for winter and wet running, more protection in the forefoot due to a plate, plus a lot more support than the really soft Beater. The Juell for spring '06 ($95) is still light and flexible and designed for a neutral runner. It also has the company's signature Lifa in the lining to help wick moisture and reflective materials as well.

Hi-Tec -- Although one may think that Hi-Tec is new to real running, it's not. It's done running shoes in Europe before and is just bringing the category back to the United States now. Everybody has to have a cute name, and Hi-Tec's is "4isys," pronounced "forces." We were told the company analyzed foot movement with pressure plates and decided to incorporate a whopping eight different densities of EVA into the sole to accommodate the different needs of different areas, e.g. softer in the heel, a bit denser in the toe push-off area. There are two each for men and women and two in unisex/men's only: The men's Lava Run ($80) is a cushioning and stability shoe; the men's Magma ($90) is a motion control shoe. The Caldera (get the volcano images??) in men's and women's ($70) leaves out the Vibram soles of the others and is an entry-level motion-control shoe. The Crater ($60) in men's and women's is also entry-level and is just a very light cushioning shoe.

Keen -- The company that calls itself "the original hybrid footwear" is getting into trail running with three models: The Ochoco will be out in fall 2005 ($110).This high-end shoe has an interesting (but will need a test) side lacing system to take pressure off the forefoot and bones. New for spring '06 are two models that have five densities of EVA. The Selway ($95) has a top with lots of mesh for venting and drainage, but it's a motion-control shoe with stability features. For example, the wide and high heel wrap is geared for real ankle support. The Humboldt ($105) includes even more mesh (including lots of mesh in the lining) to make it more of an amphibious shoe while retaining running characteristics.

Merrell -- Expanding its Continuum line, Merrell adds a Race category that includes a shoe and a sandal designed for adventure racing. The new Overdrive is a trail running shoe with a plastic midsole that reportedly offers better durability than EVA foam. The mesh uppers and drain holes in the bottom allow fast draining after creek crossings. A slot under the arch prevents gaiter straps being cut on sharp rocks, and Kevlar lacing (similar to Salomon) lets you slip on the shoe and secure it quickly. Though the Overdrive is light, the uppers are designed so straps from crampons won't chafe, and reflective trim around the shoe makes them more visible in the dark. Equally important, the Overdrive comes in three colors for women and two for men so racers can properly coordinate their wardrobe. The new Skelly is what Merrell calls the "bare maximum for adventure racing." This running sandal also features a Kevlar lacing system, and comes in two colors for men and two for women.

Salomon -- One of the forerunners (no pun intended!) in trail running is Salomon, which has stayed in the foreground by training its focus on adventure racing. The GCS Pro and XA Pro, at retail in November 2005, maintain more of an adventure racing bent. Its Trail Comp ($90), Trail Pro ($95) and Trail SCS ($90) are strictly runners, all hitting that sweet sub-$100 price point. The Comp is a lighter shoe, as is the SCS, but the Comp has more mesh. Both shoes are geared toward a more neutral runner, but the Pro has more motion-control features and more stability. Along with the SCS, the line now has nine total trail runners of one ilk or another.

Teva -- According to Teva, the super lightweight (9.8 ounce) X-1 trail running shoe introduced for '05 has sold very well. But runners have commented that the sole of the shoe wears down relatively quickly. So, for spring '06, Teva will replace the current sole with a more durable one that combines its Spider and Traction rubber compounds. The new shoe may weigh right at 10 ounces. Teva also noticed that many people were wearing the X-1 for everyday use, rather than trail running. So for spring '06, it's rolling out a more stable and durable runner, the X-1C ($90 retail). Like the X-1, it has a Wraptor system for support. Plus, it features a medially posted midsole and a durable sole made of Traction rubber.

Vasque -- Vasque has been known as a big brown boot company, but it has found its place in the trail running market. Vasque now has six models, and trail running is its fastest-growing category. For spring '06, you'll see the Blur ($85) that has a bit more room in the forefoot than the Velocity. It's also a bit cushier (sans hard forefoot protection plate) and has a suede look.

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