Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '06 Trends: Active winter footwear

Active winter footwear -- shoes for snowshoeing, winter hiking or just playing around -- really began to gain traction in the late '90s, and the category is still getting plenty of attention. This year, companies continued to refine their blend of technologies borrowed from pac boots, light hikers and athletic shoes.
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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by imported dark chocolate and numerous espresso shots (not necessarily in that order), zigged and zagged around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor 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 when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, our brains were either too frozen from our early morning runs to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking espresso shots too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for active winter footwear:

Active winter footwear -- shoes for snowshoeing, winter hiking or just playing around -- really began to gain traction in the late '90s, and the category is still getting plenty of attention. This year, companies continued to refine their blend of technologies borrowed from pac boots, light hikers and athletic shoes. Plus, we're still seeing some attitude injected into these shoes, which now sport bright colors and the design lines you see on snowboard boots and even basketball sneakers.

Tecnica's new Evolution GTX ($169) has an upper with an eye-catching array of fabric patterns splashed with plenty of bright color. Made with a Gore-Tex upper and Duratherm insulation, it's rated to minus 20 degrees F. Like a modern hiking boot, it has a high-tech midsole constructed with polyurethane and multiple densities of EVA. The adjustable gaiter attached to the shoe's throat is a nice touch, as is the TPU heel piece designed to secure a snowshoe strap.

On the not-so-technical side, Tecnica tells us that the Moon Boot look is in again this year. (Maybe we're still seeing the Napoleon Dynamite ripple effect. Who knows?) In any case, a person at the company told us, "Some seasons we sell 400 pair (of Moon Boots), and this season we'll sell 400,000."

The trend could explain why women were flocking to try out the new Neos Luna boots at this year's Backcountry Basecamp. Packed with Primaloft, these puffy, quilted overshoes are available in chartreuse, metallic bronze and silver.

Also visually interesting was Merrell's Thermo Pathfinder ($125), a winterized light hiker with more overlays, stitching and curved lines that its plain, black Thermo brother. The Pathfinder is also built to function well and is constructed with waterproof leather and Polartec 100 insulation. In addition to this insulation, it keeps feet warm via the Cold Proof insulating footbed and an insole layered with silver reflective film.

While bright colors and Moon Boots may be hot stuff this winter, we saw plenty of footwear with traditional looks, such as Aku's Snow ($190) and Powder ($180) Gore-Tex shoes. Built for active winter activities, they have suede uppers (black, brown and gray) that look good and, equally important, should prove flexible and comfortable while tromping through powder. You've probably noticed that outsoles have become much more varied and advanced over the past couple of years. Aku shaved weight in these shoes by using a Vibram Mars outsole with a low profile.  

Another subtle-looking, yet functional hiker is the Lafuma Kolar ($119). The waterproof upper of nubuck leather and fabric comes in light beige for women and dark beige for men. The shoes should be plenty cozy, with Thinsulate 200 insulation, and a nice padded, gusseted tongue. Also, the women's model is made with a women's last.

The Vasque Flurry ($110) is an insulated shoe built on the same platform as the company's Kota multisport shoe (which we've tested and give two thumbs up). The Flurry's well-constructed midsole, which stabilizes the heel and cushions the forefoot, should perform well for higher levels of activity, like long hikes or snowshoeing. The synthetic upper should dry easily, and it has a waterproof liner.

We noticed a few upgrades of previous shoes, like Lowa's Creek GTX ($175), which is an 8-inch-high version of the previously introduced Echo model. Like the Echo, the Creek has an upper of full-grain leather and a fleece lining. Another new tall boot, the Rimco ($175), is 10 inches high with water-resistant, breathable Primaloft insulation and a one-pull lacing system that's glove friendly.

Another upgrade is Montrail's new Hurricane Ridge XCR ($125). Basically, it has fewer layers of material and less bulk in the forefoot, so it's more flexible. Plus, an improved tongue makes it easier to get into the shoe.

Garmont, distributor of the Icebug brand, told us that the winter running shoes with studs are selling very well, and the line continues to grow. (For a SNEWS® review of the Icebug, click here.) The line, originally comprised of seven styles, now includes two racing shoes, four training shoes, two boots for active winter pursuits, and four warmer winter boots, including two women's models. The women's Sorsa ($119.95) in cherry or metal stands out.

The most interesting news from Kamik is that the company is funding third-party testing to create standardized temperature ratings for footwear. (Think of a copper foot, similar to the copper mannequin used in sleeping bag temperature ratings.) The company told SNEWS® that in 2006, every shoe in the line will have a temperature rating, and kids' shoes will be color-coded to indicate their rating. As for new product, the women's line drew our attention the most -- especially the new Pedigree, a 9-inch-high, minus 40 degrees F waterproof boot with a clean, suede leather upper of gray and highlights of light blue, nickel, pink or light green.

As far as looks go, Salomon has scored major style points with its B52 shoe. The line has been so successful that the company launched a line of similar products that also look like a cross between a light hiker and snowboard boot. The mid-cut Avo ($100) is getting lots of attention, and we just love the fact that there's a women's model that alternates "machiato" and gray colors to form a style called "Chipmunk." But most impressive from Salomon are the Fushion soft shell winter shoes ($130). Seamless, with welded uppers, they look super slick and should offer a more breathable option for those who require less heat retention.

Timberland has also introduced a soft shell which is more of a running shoe. The Endurion Drift ($110) is constructed with an outer Toray Soft Shell fabric to block out snow and a Fieldsensor liner to wick moisture.

Along with the soft shell trend, we're also still seeing plenty of waterproof/breathable low-cut shoes being introduced for fall and winter fast-paced pursuits. Scarpa launched the Enigma XCR ($129) for fast packing and the Cyclone XCR ($119) for trail running. Teva -- working to prove it's an all-season brand -- introduced the Terra Wraptor XCR ($125). You'll recognize the Wraptor fit system from previous seasons, but the shoe adds a ratchet closure to further refine the fit.

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