Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '05 Trends: Footwear

Just slap some insulation in a summer shoe and call it a winter boot. Unfortunately, more often than not, that has been the trend for outdoor companies seeking to enter the winter market. This year marked a shift of sorts, with winter footwear that appeared to be, well, actually designed specifically for winter use -- including well-thought-out color palettes and sole designs that provided both traction and comfort in and out of snow. Travel too was a noticeable theme -- as might be expected with the travel market inching back toward profitability and growth.
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Just slap some insulation in a summer shoe and call it a winter boot. Unfortunately, more often than not, that has been the trend for outdoor companies seeking to enter the winter market. This year marked a shift of sorts, with winter footwear that appeared to be, well, actually designed specifically for winter use -- including well-thought-out color palettes and sole designs that provided both traction and comfort in and out of snow. Travel too was a noticeable theme -- as might be expected with the travel market inching back toward profitability and growth.

As is often the case, there was simply way too much footwear (though certainly less than what we'd see at Summer Market) to mention everyone. So, what follows then is a quick glimpse at a few of the many products being offered. No, it is not a comprehensive report. We're just offering up those companies and products that really made us dance a jig for joy. If you're not included below, chalk up the absence of your mention to the fact we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, we were taking a nap, or we were clearly looking at our own feet too much to see what was good -- you pick one.

Inov-8 -- While most trail running shoe designs of late are simply variations on a standard theme, there's no doubt that the shoes from UK-based Inov-8 are indeed very different. Originally designed for fell running (cross-country over hill and dale where trails are considered optional), the line has models far lighter than any standard trail or even road running shoes we've seen. Our first take is that the Inov-8 offering features products for advanced trail runners with good technique so it will take a real specialty shop to sell them -- which is the kind of shop good trail runners seek out. www.inov-8.com

Dunham -- The Terrastryder Extra is Dunham's foray into the insulated boot category, and it is a good one. Built on the Waffle Stomper platform, the Terrastryder features Dryworks (proprietary waterproof/breathable) to keep the feet dry in tandem with 400 grams of Thinsulate to keep the toes toasty. True to the Dunham tradition, the shoe comes in multiple widths. Also of interest is the Voyager Collection -- targeting active women who are as at home living out of a suitcase as they are living out of a pack. The shoes are lightweight, compact, and feature athletic shoe fit and styling and slip-on convenience. www.dunhamfits.com

Teva -- Taking a different approach to Timberland's innovative travel series of footwear (multiple outers combined with one structural and interchangeable insole/midsole for maximum traveling compactness and versatility), Teva introduced the very cool Nomadic line of shoes. The outers of shoes in the line features a casual waterproof nubuck leather with webbing accents and a foldable and flexible gummy rubber outsole. Inside is a removable midsole that provides structure to the outsole. What is so cool though is you can remove the midsole, flip up a strap over the forefoot (hence the term Flipsole) and you end up with a very serviceable flip-flop -- perfect for tooling around a hotel room, beach or city street. www.teva.com

Lowa -- The Winker II joins the Active Travel Series team. A good looking travel shoe, the upper is split-leather and the outsole is a durable rubber compound that Lowa says is at home on wet brick and cement sidewalks as it is on dirt trails -- albeit groomed ones. The comfort selling point is found in the heel cup that has been newly designed to conform to the wearer's heel shape, providing a more secure and stable fit. Gore-Tex XCR lines the shoe, providing waterproof/breathable protection for those times when negotiating puddles and raindrops is part of the wandering package. In the winter footwear category, Lowa introduced four insulated boots with Gore-Tex Motion fleece, Primaloft insulation, and a synthetic or nubuck leather upper. www.lowaboots.com

Timberland -- Working in tandem with Ed Viesturs and Vibram, Timberland came up with a hiking shoe that is very lightweight (2 pounds, 3 ounces), durable and, at first glance, very comfy. The Cadion relies on Schoeller Keprotech fabric for a durable upper material in tandem with Gore-Tex XCR membrane for waterproof/breathable protection from the elements. www.timberland.com

Vasque -- Staying true to the company's hiking heritage, Vasque's line of insulated footwear isn't being marketed as snow boots. Instead, the shoes, of which we really liked the low-top Spindrift, are being touted as "backpacking suitable shoes insulated with Thinsulate." While the Zephyr (for men) and the Luna ST (for women) are all leather and more traditional in look, the Spindrift (men's and women's sizes) is designed for moving and best suited for snowshoeing and fast hiking or trail running on sloppy terrain -- read slush and mud. www.vasque.com

Montrail -- The Kenai GTX features Primaloft insulation and a Gore-Tex membrane for waterproof/breathable protection from snow, slush and wet weather conditions. True to Montrail design, the shoe is sleek in appearance and intended for folks on the move, not folks standing around watching snow melt. www.montrail.com

Merrell -- In the Merrell booth, it was clear the company takes winter very seriously with a full line of footwear from Thermo boots, mocs and shoes providing varying degrees of insulation, performance and comfort with one common theme -- less bulk and sleeker, more pleasing-to-the-eyes looks. Merrell Continuum Thermo collection is designed for consumers ranging from those who demand the ultimate protection against cold, wet weather to those consumers who take part in wintersports activities and are looking for maximum protection. The Thermo series is available in watertight TPU shell styles for very wet and cold climates and Gore-Tex leather designs for waterproof protection in foot-conforming, sleek leather styles. Insulation and warmth is ensured through varying weights of Thinsulate and Polartec linings. www.merrell.com

Spenco -- Yeah, we know -- it ain't footwear. However, the company's new Outdoor Adventure series of after-market insoles deserves mention not because the products provide superb cushioning, outstanding support and solid motion control (which they do) but because the line of insoles is being sold only to outdoor specialty retailers. www.spenco.com

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