Speed and athleticism seemed to be the focus of footwear companies this year, with running shoes claiming the spotlight. Companies signaled that a well-rounded shoe brand should include trail running products, and a good example of this is the evolving Patagonia Footwear line, which now includes the Release trail runners (MSRP $110). Also, companies are mindful that it’s critical to serve female customers, and Patagonia’s Release line includes shoes built on a woman’s last, plus midsoles tailored for a woman’s stride. www.patagonia.com
Light hikers are still an important part of the mix, but much more attention has gone to multi-sport shoes that people can use for a weekend trip that includes a variety of activities, including a bike ride or stroll around town. Younger consumers are being addressed with shoes that serve an active lifestyle but don’t look like traditional multi-sport product and take design cues from the skateboard footwear market.
As for casual shoes, this segment is simply becoming more appealing to women, and the proliferation of Mary Jane styles really stood out.
More companies making footwear to pound dirt
One of the most compelling stories in the trail running sector comes from END Footwear, which launched in 2007. END (Environmentally Neutral Design) is focused on creating running footwear that impacts the environment as little as possible through streamlined manufacturing methods and the use of recycled and eco-friendly materials. Just as interesting, its trail runners, such as the new 12-ounce Stumptown (MSRP $85) which wraps the foot in fewer layers of material than most trail footwear, and foregoes technologies such as gel inserts to get the foot more involved in the act of running. Despite some recent quality-control issues we’ve been made aware of in the first shipment, this less-is-more philosophy runs counter to the rest of the footwear industry, and retailers looking for products with compelling stories should give the company a look. www.endoutdoor.com
Garmont created a new branding name, 9.81, for its trail running shoes and styles them with the thinking that some people don’t want shoes covered in logos. The new Race trail runner (MSRP $90) has an upper with a single color, including color choices of gray and bright red. A main design aspect is the system of lugs, which are shallow to reduce weight (10 ounces per shoe). And lugs are placed on the perimeter of the outsole to make them feel more wide and stable. It will remain to be seen if this less-is-more when it comes to branding will work, but it’s nice to see a different take. www.garmontusa.com
GoLite Footwear moved to discontinue its ‘08 models due to quality-control issues shortly after the company was acquired from Timberland (click here to read story). Under new ownership, the company has since moved to what is considered one of the best footwear manufacturers in China, we’ve been told. There are now three trail runners, including the Fire (MSRP $130), which has an upper based on the previous Carbon Fyre, as well as a new sole design that should eliminate de-lamination problems experienced in the past.
Keen continues to expand its scope into all areas of footwear with the Powerline trail runner (MSRP $100). There is nothing particularly mind-blowing in the design, just a solid collection of features, such as an upper of synthetic mesh and asymmetrical lacing, plus a midsole with a TPU plate to prevent bruising. www.keenfootwear.com
Lowa is expanding its health and fitness category with the introduction of three new trail running shoes, including the Adelante GTX (MSRP $160). The sole has varying densities of EVA, with the foam being a bit harder inside the heel strike area to add support. www.lowaboots.com
New Balance introduced the 875 (MSRP $100), an update of the 874 -- you just have to love the company’s crazy naming scheme, but we digress. The 875 has more overlays on the upper for greater support, and there has been a re-design of the LockDown Liner, which integrates the lacing system into the shoe liner. The new LockDown design should make the shoe more secure and supportive in the mid-foot area, SNEWS® was told. www.newbalance.com
Teva showed us probably the most running shoes that it has offered in a single season. Rounding out the running line are the super lightweight X-1 Evolution (MSRP $90), the X-1 Control 2 (MSRP $100), which focuses on a high level of cushioning and control, and the Romero Trail (MSRP $100) that lives somewhere in that land between a trail runner and multi-sport shoe. www.teva.com
Salomon’s XT Whisper (MSRP $115) is the brand’s first trail runner made for women. It employs a wide range of design details -- placement of the chassis plate, the density of EVA foam in the midsole, the position of heel cushioning -- to cater to a woman’s body and running motion. www.salomonsports.com
Vasque is eagerly pursuing female trail runners with the new Momenta shoe (MSRP $105), which has a woman’s last and the type of advanced features you’d expect from a core footwear brand -- an upper that blends nubuck, nylon mesh and welded TPU, plus dual-density EVA in the footbed, a Drilex lining, all the works. www.vasque.com
Shoes for athletes who can’t make up their mind
With so much attention being paid to trail runners, we’re wondering if that style of athletic shoe is now set to become the new general-purpose outdoor sneaker of choice. It is quite clear that the design line continues to blur between shoes marketed as pure trail runners and shoes marketed under the “multi-sport” moniker. As an example, the Kayland Legend Trail (MSRP $110) is a very light shoe built on a trail running last. We were also impressed with Kayland’s Vertigo Light (MSRP $175), a multi-sport shoe that weighs 38 ounces per pair and appears protective, durable and built to manage moisture. The fabric upper has an Event lining with Cocona to not only keep feet dry but also smelling rosy -- OK, maybe just not so stinky. www.kayland.com
On the other end of the spectrum, New Balance designed the 1520 shoe (MSRP $130) for technical users -- there’s that crazy naming scheme again. A fairly streamlined shoe, the forefoot is made to fit easily into bike pedals, and a gaiter can be attached to a groove in the outsole. The shoe has Gore-Tex XCR and is available in multiple widths. www.newbalance.com
Asolo has made several attempts at capturing a portion of the multi-sport market, and the company looks as though it has it very right this time around with the new Freeland collection. A bit beefier than shoes that lean toward trail runners, Freeland shoes in mid-cut and low-cut models are more akin to approach shoes or light hikers. They have sturdy uppers and mid soles that contain not only dual densities of EVA for targeted comfort, but also dual densities of TPU, with firmer portion from heel to forefoot and softer TPU in the toe area. www.asolo.com
Raichle shoes are being re-branded with the Mammut name, and this year the company has added a new multi-function approach category, including the Borah DLX (MSRP $119), which has an impressively grippy outsole -- well, impressively grippy in the booth, but just how grippy remains to be seen in actual field testing. We’ll let you know. www.mammutusa.com
Timberland, now apparently focusing once again on the outdoor market with a restored team, showed us a new, versatile outdoor sneaker, the Ledge (MSRP $85), which is intended to be more comfy than its previous Hyper Trail. A key component is the smaller Agile IQ plate in the midsole that adds flexibility. If the company can stay the course and leave its team in place long enough to actually accomplish something, we do expect good things to come. www.timberland.com
On the lighter side of hiking
Lowa has a few new boots that nicely round out the Renegade line. The Bora (MSRP $175) is somewhat unique in that it’s a quarter-cut boot (a little shorter than the mid-cut Zephyr) whose height might prove a little more attractive to women. The Vento Mid (MSRP $160) is an open-mesh version of the Bora to suit people in Southern states. www.lowaboots.com
Vasque has created a lighter version of its Breeze. Dubbed appropriately the Breeze Light (MSRP $130), it is a bit more athletically inspired and is constructed with Gore-Tex. Also, a new version of the successful Breeze Low, the Breeze Low VST (MSRP $115; $130 with Gore-Tex) is constructed with co-molded TPU and a gel component for more cushioning and heel stability. We were told the shoe is also designed to lengthen the life of the EVA in the midsole. www.vasque.com
Mary Jane is Ms. Popular
Seems everyone has a Mary Jane-style shoe these days: Chaco, Keen, even Patagonia. Merrell’s Chameleon Mary Jane blends style with function, including a Vibram sole and a serious midsole for walking comfort.
Merrell’s women’s programs have given the brand a big boost, and the company is serving up an impressive array of products, such as the broad Siren line, which includes nine styles of open-toe and closed-toe sandals that sport midsoles to suit a woman’s stride and antimicrobial footbeds (MSRP $60-$110). Also, the Chameleon Arc line for women has expanded to include the Chameleon Arc Wind, a lightweight hiking shoe with a mesh upper for comfort in warm climates. www.merrell.com
Outdoor companies have taken notice of the growing popularity of skateboarding shoes and they’re incorporating skate-shoe looks into fashion-forward and youth-oriented products. In addition to the Patagonia Boris and Merrell Epoch, a good example is Five-Ten’s new Freerider, which is a two-tone, black and white shoe with bold patterns, a full-grain leather upper and sole of Stealth Phantom rubber. You can take it to the skate park, wear it pedaling to work and keep it on the rest of the day. www.fiveten.com
What’s old is new
If you’re feeling nostalgic, Teva has reintroduced its original sandal to celebrate its 25th anniversary. There are a few technical updates, including a shock-absorbing heel pad and a sole made of sticky rubber. Teva also redesigned the Sunkosi, covering the plastic shank with rubber so it’s not slick on the bottom. www.teva.com
What’s cooking at Oboz
Already an item after only a year, Oboz is working on a new, substantial insole to be used in shoes such as the new Wind River backpacking boot (MSRP $160). The insole has multiple layers of material, including an EVA topsheet, and beneath it EVA in varying densities. It’s good to see an increasing number of companies working to offer more than a flimsy insole. www.obozfootwear.com
The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (in a product category, at a company or affecting the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.