Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '07 Trends: Technical Footwear

Gazing into their crystal ball, footwear manufacturers must have foreseen this brutally hot summer we've just endured. At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market we noticed that there were plenty of new shoes with mesh uppers designed to be breathable. Some of these make up the growing category of "hybrid" shoes, many of which are primarily intended for casual use, but pack enough techie features for short hikes. We also continue to see hybrids that are more technical, blending the features of water shoes and light hikers or trail runners. What follows is the SNEWS® team's take on trends and new products for technical footwear...

The SNEWS® team of editors armed with maps and GPS (was this show big or what?) 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 product was not mentioned -- we do know you love your company's product, really. However, we're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned we either didn't think your product stood out sufficiently or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for technical footwear:

Gazing into their crystal ball, footwear manufacturers must have foreseen this brutally hot summer we've just endured. At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, we noticed that there were plenty of new shoes with mesh uppers designed to be breathable. Some of these make up the growing category of "hybrid" shoes, many of which are primarily intended for casual use, but pack enough techie features for short hikes. We also continue to see hybrids that are more technical, blending the features of water shoes and light hikers or trail runners. 

Another emerging concept -- it may be too soon to call it a trend -- is the vegan shoe. We're not sure just how many consumers have clamored for shoes manufactured with no materials derived from animals, but leading manufacturers like Garmont and Timberland are marketing certain all-synthetic shoes as vegan.

While brands rolled out plenty of new product lines this summer, several companies, such as Lowa and Merrell, have improved products that scored big with consumers over the last couple of seasons.

And there were a few fresh faces as well. If you're searching for a new brand for your store, we encourage you to check out Oboz. Granted, today's outdoor shoe market is more crowded than the starting line at the Boston Marathon. You've got to be crazy, extremely confident or maybe a little of both to launch a new footwear line these days. But the folks at Oboz (short for "outside of Bozeman) appear to have their act together. We were pleased with the consistent look and quality of its new hikers, particularly the Lightning Switchback (MSRP $89) and Multisport Sidewinder (MSRP $95). They should offer shelf appeal, but they also have many selling points, like soles of high-friction, non-marking rubber, and sturdy uppers with well-built, molded heel counters. We haven't put them through the paces yet, but this looks like a legitimate specialty brand. Plus, Oboz participates in a “Trees for the Future” program, planting a tree for every shoe sold.

If there was a clever concept in footwear this year, it was the iStep foot analysis device and computer software from Aetrex.  Designed for retail stores, the system includes an electronic platform that a customer stands on while sensors in the platform scan the feet and measure them to determine the appropriate footwear and orthotic. (Aetrex offers its own orthotics for $60 retail.) The platform feeds the info to computer software, which can be tied into a store's inventory, so it can recommend certain styles and brands. The scanner and software cost about $4,000, but a retailer can get the system for free by bringing in Aetrex product.

Breathe easy wherever you go

Columbia is building a variety of sandals and airy shoes with a material called Techlite that not only has functional advantages but also allows the company to produce less waste during manufacturing to be more environmentally friendly. Applied using an injection-molding process, Techlite material absorbs impact and provides support in the soles of the Sun Trax women's sandal (MSRP $40) and the Pagora women's trail shoe (MSRP $75), without adding much weight to the overall package.

trimmed its number of SKUs from 450 to about 200, but the company still launched plenty of new product, including the Rapid Aero hybrid shoe designed for hiking in warm weather or playing in the water. As a company that has always put an emphasis on kid's shoes, Hi-Tec also launched a Multiterra water shoe for little ones.

Voyager (MSRP $90) was one of many new shoes we saw designed to be as breathable as possible. Outfitted with a great amount of mesh, it's available in a low-cut version and a mid-cut (MSRP $100). One of the more inventive sandals we saw was Keen's Commuter (MSRP $110) made for cyclists. A bike shoe clip-in device is integrated into the sole, so this could be a good shoe for those who want to visit the coffee shop after a ride without appearing all geeked out in bike shoes.

X-Aero (MSRP $100) falls within the company's Amphib line, though this high-tech hybrid is as much a trail runner as a water shoe. Weighing between 11 and 13 ounces, depending on size, it has the chassis of a running shoe, while the upper has "anti-debris" mesh not only on the sides, but also running the length of the tongue down to the forefoot. An ample toecap helps to make the shoe durable enough for tackling bumpy terrain. Another lightweight shoe that caught our eyes was the 3D Fastpacker, which weighs 13 to 15 ounces (depending on size) and sports Salomon's 3D framework made for adventure racing. It has a rigid plate sandwiched in the midsole to protect the foot from hard terrain underfoot and to prevent the shoe from rolling.

Hypertrail (MSRP $85) is a fastpacking shoe that combines highly breathable mesh and a Gore-Tex XCR membrane to handle wet conditions. The rubber on the outsole and toe bumper is designed to be sticky for scrambling, and the midsole has a 3/4-inch IQ plate for true support and underfoot protection.

Trailing along

Housed in its “Access” category, Asolo introduced its new Propulsion shoes -- a tight line of its first real, honest-to-goodness trail running shoes. We aren’t talking sorta-running, multi-sport hikers, but real running, per the company. All four models will come in both men’s and women’s lasts, with three XCR models each, one of which is mid-cut. Plus, the company introduced a narrow last across the board in the PM 200 men's hiking boots and looked color straight in the face. “We won’t be criticized for not introducing color,” said Bruce Franks at a meeting with SNEWS® editors at the company sales meeting in May.

launched a new line of shoes that could be considered technical hybrids, or multisport shoes -- whatever you'd like to call them -- that should keep people cool when the temperatures rise. SNEWS® was told the company feels it now has permission to take on this off-road, closed-toe category as its next step in brand development. With trim profiles, these shoes, such as the Canyonland (mid MSRP $110, low MSRP $100) have quick-drying, abrasion-resistant, synthetic uppers that are suited for dry or wet conditions. The Getagrip non-marking outsole promises to deliver plenty of traction, and a removable BioCentric footbed provides hiking shoe support. What next? No exact word but you bet the company won’t stop here: “We see this,” said director of product development Brandan Hill, “as the foundation of going into outdoor casual and even more technical product.”

took another huge step in the development of its trail running shoe line in partnership with Timberland with two new models, both still using the PreciseFit system of choose-your-own footbed combination depending on your foot’s volume and width needs. The lightweight Carbon Fyre will carry a relatively high MSRP of $160 but has a full carbon fiber plate for it to take out weight and add stability. The Versa Force (MSRP $130) has a Pebax plate, as opposed to the TPU in its other models, also to keep the weight down.

is another company that has now jumped on the sans shoelace Boa bandwagon with its new Aether Tech. It has a modified last as in its popular Velocity (slightly more curved than others). Men’s and women’s models, both retailing for $115.

Water shoe updates

Keen's Hood River boot (MSRP $90) has seen some small changes. Protective patches have been added to the side of the forefoot to withstand abuse from hardcore boaters. There's also a brand new shoe for creek boating, the Payette (MSRP $60). It has a very trim profile and a full EVA midsole. The lacing system allows you to really crank it down across the forefoot to add security when negotiating steep terrain. As of now, it's only available in unisex designs. Keen has also introduced a flip-flop that is largely recyclable. Just pop off the foot strap and recycle the body of the shoe, which is made with latex and sawdust.

updated its very successful Waterpro line by adding the lace-up Waterpro Maipo (MSRP $80), which appeared to be super functional, and a slip-on Waterpro Gauley (MSRP $75). The other cool news is that it added four new Waterpro shoes for women, the most interesting of which was the Merced (MSRP $70), which switches from a shoe to a sandal by unlatching a padded back strap.

continues to expand its line with the Flood Gate (MSRP $90) and Bhakti (MSRP $40). As with previous Mion shoes, these are made with recycled materials, but the Bhakti is a more casual style and notable because it will be the company's first boxless shoe and will be merchandised with recycled cardboard hooks. Also, all Mion shoes with the exception of the Flood Tide will now have outsoles made with 15-percent recycled rubber. In addition, Mion updated the Flood Tide and introduced the Flood Tide II (MSRP $120), which has a bootie and structure that are more streamlined.

New Balance
is wading into the water shoe market with the 920 (MSRP $90), which has a synthetic, water-resistant upper and plenty of drainage ports, which seemed to work well when we took them for a spin at the Open-Air Demo. We also liked the quick-pull lacing system and cushy, removable insole.

looked at several product designs this year while participating in a river trip through the Grand Canyon, which was filmed for an Imax movie. That trip led to the production of the Universal Thong (MSRP $60), which is an update of one of Teva's most classis concepts. This new Universal Thing is simple in its over all appearance, lighter than previous versions and has an updated, shaped outsole featuring high-friction Spider rubber, plus webbing that won't stretch. Teva also brought back the Universal Buckle 2 sandal (MSRP $85), which has faded in and out of the line over the years. This time the company made it lighter than other iterations, and outfitted it with more foot-friendly hardware and a sole that's very flexible.

New and updated hikers

Garmont's new Montello (MSRP $110) for walking and hiking should appeal to a wide audience because it has casual, clean styling and sturdy construction. It has a full-leather upper, an EVA midsole and a Vibram outsole designed for hard surfaces such as streets, making this a good travel shoe.

La Sportiva
dealers have been asking for more hardcore hiking boots, and on the high end it answered with the good-looking Mulaz GTX ($225). For heavy and moderate loads, it has a brushed nubuck upper, a PU midsole for cushioning and half nylon shank. For light to moderate loads, there's the Typhoon GTX (MSRP $180) with an all-leather upper and a midsole with a half nylon shank but also enough cushioning for comfortable walking all day.

turned heads when it introduced its AL-X hikers featuring Mono-Wrap technology, which used a single piece of material to form the sole and structure for the upper. But it also added a striking visual flair. The only drawback was that the original AL-X shoes lacked cushioning. The new AL-T line of multi-function shoes combines the Mono-Wrap construction with PU midsoles that are much more cushioned and comfortable than the AL-X models. Men's and women's AL-T shoes, with and without Gore-Tex XCR, retail from $120 to $150. Also striking is the new line of fashion shoes with AL-X technology, especially the men's canvas model and the women's shoe with a leopard pattern.

impressed us with its new Perimeter all-leather hiking boot (MSRP $140, $165 with Gore-Tex). Its top-grain leather upper and sole with deep lugs give it a classic, old school look. For a modern twist, it has an Aegis antimicrobial lining. One of Merrell's more modern achievements, the Chameleon line, has been updated to be less bulbous and more streamlined. We also give props to Merrell for outfitting shoes with Ortholite footbeds, which are more substantial than the flimsy things we usually see supplied by manufacturers. Plus, the footbeds have the Aegis antimicrobial technology.

Mustang GTX hiking boot struck a chord with consumers, so this summer the company introduced a family of products based on the design. The Nagpa-La GTX (MSRP $159), the Kailash GTX (MSRP $169) and Barun GTX (MSRP $219) are made with suede leather so they're easy to break in, and they're designed to be relatively light compared to the support they offer. The family of shoes offered a variety of weights and levels of stiffness to suit customer preferences. 

Where’s the beef?

Timberland Steerfree may be pitched as a vegan shoe, but the construction appears beefy enough to make the thing last a while. It has a stability plate in the midsole and an outsole that's beefed up for pedaling a bike.

Kiowa Vegan shoe (MSRP $110) doesn't look at all like something you'd slip on for a stroll to Wild Oats. A truly technical hiking shoe, the mid-cut Kiowa has a compression-molded EVA misdole, an upper of rugged synthetic materials, a serious heel for tough terrain, and it's available with a Gore-Tex XCR membrane (MSRP $130).

's new Tenzing (MSRP $90) is not only vegan-friendly but also aimed at a variety of activities in dry or wet conditions. The overall appearance of the synthetic upper is similar to its successful Huckleberry shoe -- low key and clean. It also has a sole designed for wet surfaces, and the footbed is perforated to drain water.

Couple of extras….

Stohquist is voyaging into the neoprene footwear market, and it has added details to the line to avoid being seen as me-too products. We were most stoked about the Watermoccasin (MSRP $40) which has a seam between the sole and midsole that not only appears to be bomber (it's made of Kevlar) but also placed higher on the upper to avoid abrasion. Good thinkin'. And if your customers are complaining that the soles of booties are always too narrow, check out the new Caveman (MSRP $70).

As we reported in our climbing coverage last week, Keen will give the rock shoe market a go with the new Carver Direct lace-up shoe and the Browton Direct Velcro model. The rubber of the sole is heat welded to the upper to prevent delamination, but it looks like this will probably make it tougher to resole them.

Think rubber slip-ons aren’t technical? Think again. SNEWS® took a look at Cloggens, which has an added footbed insert. New models will have a TPU arch wrap for support and stability and adds even more cushioning. Says owner and founder Troy Lewis about the category, “Grow it by design and function.” Prices will remain in the range of $30-$50 and he admitted it will never be a high-performance shoe, but it will be more comfortable, offer more airflow and a tad more design than the standard rubber clog.