Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '07 Trends: Insulated performance footwear

When snowshoe sales rose steeply a few years ago, we saw an influx of insulated footwear designed for more active pursuits. It made sense, as people realized that beefy pac boots were overkill for a day hike on snowshoes. Now that snowshoeing is growing more slowly, companies aren't pushing insulated, athletic footwear quite as hard. But that's not to say it's a weak category. In fact, we saw evidence that plenty of energy is going into the functionality and aesthetics of this category.
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It is Winter Market trends wrap time again, and yes, your committed SNEWS® team of editors (some of whom should be committed, no doubt) fought through beer, sushi and dueling espresso parties 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 -- or you get bored. No, each report does not name every company with new product, and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. So if you're not mentioned, our brains were either too fogged out from the smog to think straight or we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently to garner a mention -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on noteworthy trends and new products for insulated winter performance footwear:

When snowshoe sales rose steeply a few years ago, we saw an influx of insulated footwear designed for more active pursuits. It made sense, as people realized that beefy pac boots were overkill for a day hike on snowshoes. Now that snowshoeing is growing more slowly, companies aren't pushing insulated, athletic footwear quite as hard. But that's not to say it's a weak category. In fact, we saw evidence that plenty of energy is going into the functionality and aesthetics of this category.

Many of the new shoes, such as the Sorel Timberwolf Low (MSRP $95), are built on an athletic last. And most now have the appearance of lightweight hikers rather than pac boots.

Kamik's new Viper ($50 wholesale) certainly has the trim profile of a light hiker and it sports a lightweight EVA midsole, but it's rated to minus 25 degrees. The upper is 8.5-inches high with ballistic nylon upper and Thinsulate insulation. Kamik told us that sales of its insulated, active footwear are very strong, so we should look for more similar products in the future.

Asolo's new Mountain Utility boots (MSRP $150-$160) literally stopped us in our tracks as we were walking through the convention center. Super stylish, with bright green and yellow highlights on the upper, these boots for men and women appear sleek and should really pop on a store footwear wall. Made with Gore-Tex and a synthetic wool lining, they lean more toward being breathable than super warm, but they could be a good option for those who snowshoe to raise their heart rate. Plus, the outsole looks seriously grippy, so people who aren't afraid to wear bright colors could wear them around town.

Merrell is taking this insulated, active footwear category seriously, and its new waterproof Chameleon Thermo shoes (MSRP $125-$135) are as technical as any hiking boot. Built on the platform of its highly successful Chameleon hikers, the 6-inch and 8-inch Thermo models have more features than we could list here. They're not only packed with 400 grams of Thinsulate, but they also have Polartec insulation and about a dozen other proprietary construction features, such as the Q-Form Triple Density Compression Molded EVA Frame. Whew! That does sound serious.

OK, so we have to give Lowa some grief for its really lame product names -- AL-S 465 GTX, ALS 455 GTX (MSRP $150) -- but we give the company big props for building some snazzy new winter boots. The aforementioned models incorporate Lowa's AL-X Monowrap technology, which is also used on its hiking boots. Basically, during construction the midsole material (made of PU) is injected around the upper, so the midsole and the pieces of plastic that reinforce the upper are included in one, lightweight piece of material. And it just looks cool, too.

Clearly, insulated boots are getting an injection of new technology, and Hi-Tec has also found a way to produce its lightest insulated boots yet. The V-Lite Matterhorn (MSRP $85-$90) has an outer shell made of blown EVA, which reduces the amount of material needed for construction.

While most companies no longer pitch these types of boots as being made specifically for snowshoeing or any other specific activity, The North Face came out and told us that snowshoers are a big focus with the new Storm Peak men's and women's boots (MSRP $130). They have a waterproof soft shell upper that is backed by a Hydroseal waterproof barrier, and they're insulated with Primaloft. At 2 pounds, 1 ounce per pair, they're relatively lightweight and pretty good-looking, with thin horizontal stripes on the upper that jazz them up but maintain simple, clean styling.

As a testament to the importance of the category, the folks at Keen told us the company needed insulated, active models to be a complete footwear brand. Last year, they launched the Growler and Winterport models, and this year added two more, the Snoqualmie and Blackcomb, both with an Event waterproof barrier and Primaloft insulation.

And in the "it ain't cheap but it's cool" category, TSL was getting some ooohs and aahhs of its own with the Step-In Nordic Race shoe, a lightweight, insulated shoe with a built-in gaiter designed for racing or high-end stepping lively in snowshoes. The men's size 8.5 weighs in at 1.14 pounds we were told and yep, the shoe looked mighty fast. Of course, it is priced at $259 MSRP and only works with the 1.8-pound high-end racing snowshoe from TSL with the matching integrated binding, so add $109 for a package price of $468.

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