The SNEWS® trade show reporting team, which was 15 editors strong thanks to the addition of our Backpacker magazine comrades, scampered around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out or you cry "uncle." 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 Winter Footwear.
So, let's say you've wandered outside your Arctic Science Station, it's 100 below zero, and your colleagues lock the door behind you as a prank (Ha! Ha!). Well, you can take comfort in the fact that your Baffin boots are not only warm, but also lightweight, so once you're back inside you can chase down your comrades and beat them with a large icicle. It's notable that weight and warmth continue to improve for all types of insulated footwear, even the most extreme products. At this year's Winter Market, Baffin was touting the "integrated polyurethane" base used to shave weight from pac boots such as the Barneo, which is rated to protect you down to minus 148 F (OK, we're gonna just trust the R&D folks on that).
While pac boots are being upgraded, the biggest trend with insulated footwear has to be fashionable boots for women. Mukluks and similar styles stood out at Winter Market, and the great news is that manufacturers are outfitting many of these boots with functional materials, so they not only turn heads, but also keep feet warm and dry.
And there's one other footwear trend we'd like to note. This could be the winter when soft shell footwear finally gains traction. The week of Winter Market, a member of the SNEWS® crew was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the jury is still out on whether soft shell shoes will succeed. And that's still our judgment. But manufactures plowed ahead this year, offering new models at the show, and we heard reports that soft shell footwear sold well at REI.
While consumers and retailers are just warming up to soft shell footwear, they're on fire for stylish winter boots for women. Even Lowa, a brand known for technical product, launched its first fashion-centric line of insulated boots for women. Borrowing technology from its hiking shoes, Lowa's utilized its PU "monowrap" construction for the women's AL-S 435 (MSRP $180). This high lace-up boot has an upper made of split leather and synthetic material, and the collar is lined with synthetic fur. Built to be waterproof, it also has a Gore-Tex Partalana fleece liner to add some warmth.
Sorel used lots of shearling in the 1970s, and it has brought the material back in its women's 7-inch-high Pakua boot (MSRP $140) and 15.5-inch-high Kaska boot (MSRP $180). These styles also have a natural rubber sole to prevent the lower portion from getting wet. The general consensus is that, with these types of boots, the more fur the better. One of Sorel's best-selling women's products is The Joan of Arctic (MSRP $120), which has a shaggy mane of faux fur at the collar.
Sorel's Japan series represents the brand's furthest leap into fashion. Appealing to the Bergdorf set, these rain boots have waterproof uppers featuring subtle, Asian-inspired leaf designs. The 7-inch Shibuya retails for $80 and the 10-inch Roppongi retails for $90.
Ulu was acquired by Chaco last year, and this is the first season that Chaco's influence has shown up in the Ulu line of women's insulated boots. Most notably, the rabbit fur that once adorned Ulu boots has been replaced by New Zealand shearling. New products such as the 9-inch Talkeetna (MSRP $200) are also constructed with Event to be waterproof. The general aesthetic trend for these types of boots is to make the uppers look somewhat busy, with layers of materials adorned with an array of colors and textures. The Talkeetna has a suede upper with an overlapping closure that has shearling lining its edges. The bootlaces run through wide leather loops that are lighter in color than the surrounding suede to really stand out. You'll also find styles with embroidery and stamping to catch the eye.
Active outdoor styles
While companies have put great effort into women's casual and après-ski styles, they have also focused on creating insulated women's shoes for more active pursuits. Two products you should check out are the Merrell Thermo Arc (MSRP $120) and Thermo Arc Forecast (MSRP $120). Rather than appearing bulky like a pac boot, these are more streamlined, like a light hiker, and sport waterproof uppers as well as Polartec and Thinsulate insulation materials. The mid-cut Thermo Arc is the more fun-looking of the two, with faux fur at the collar, and it has a ridge at the heel to secure a snowshoe strap.
Lowa's Khumbu Ice GTX (MSRP $225) appears to be a super-solid pick if you're looking to bring in a high-end winter hiking shoe. Really a cold-weather version of the brand's Khumbu Mid GTX, it has a rugged upper of split leather and Cordura, as well as a lining of Gore's Partalana fleece.
There's a cool technology story with Salomon's new Tundra Mid boot (MSRP $160). Constructed to be extremely warm and light, it has a lining made with "aerogels," a durable material that has an incredibly high R-value and thin profile, and adds little weight to the overall construction. The Tundra weighs 24 ounces (men's size 9) and is rated for minus 40 F.
Kamik has its own lightweight story with its new Shadow and Charmed boots for children (MSRP $65) and Synergylite boots for women (MSRP $120). Kamik claims that the kids' boots (rated to minus 40 F) are 30 percent lighter than typical kids' boots, and the Shadow weighs just 1.13 pounds per pair. (They really do feel insanely lightweight.) The 10.5-inch Synergylite boots are 1.6 pounds per pair.
Sorel has one of the coolest-looking shoes for kids, the 8-inch Sneaky Pete (MSRP $60). It has the appearance of a snowboard boot, and kids will like the single-pull lacing toggle. Plus, it's built with a waterproof bootie.
The inside scoop on wool
Over the past few seasons, we've seen merino wool move well beyond the sock and base-layer categories to inhabit all types of other products, including insulated footwear. You can expect to see wool lining a greater number of winter lifestyle products, such as Timberland's Beach Life Frozen Coast collection. The Frozen Coast Low shoe has a liner of expedition-weight SmartWool, and a thick patch of wool rings the collar, signaling to consumers that this is clearly a cool-weather product. The upper is made of waterproof leather, and rubber at the toe and sides of the midsole ward off winter slush. A women's waterproof, 10-inch boot also sports a SmartWool liner.
And now for something completely different: Mion has launched the Water Snake (MSRP $70), a neoprene bootie with a SmartWool liner. This is the first hardcore bootie for paddlers that we've seen with a wool liner, and it seems like a logical idea. Sure, wool absorbs and holds water, but so does neoprene, so no big deal. And wool maintains its insulation qualities when wet. The Water Snake also appears to be an especially protective shoe, with a heel counter and rugged toe cap. And it has an EVA footbed to provide ample stability and support when wading or hauling a boat over land.
Soft shell footwear
Could this be the season that consumers embrace soft shell footwear? We're not sure. Folks at The North Face reported to us that its soft shell models sold very well at REI this fall, but when SNEWS® contacted REI to double check, its representatives declined to confirm or deny sell through. Also, we were told that REI would not be bringing in The North Face's soft shell women's models in the near future and only a limited selection for men…hmmmmm.
However, shoe manufacturers continue to introduce new soft shell models and take the design to whole new levels. This winter, Vasque launched the Aether Tech (MSRP $120), a low-cut multi-sport shoe outfitted with the Boa lacing system. One smart move -- it placed the Boa adjustment knob at the tongue, rather than the heel, for convenient adjustments.
Salomon has seen its soft shell footwear sell better online than in stores, the company told us, but no one could explain to us why this is the case. Salomon representatives are upbeat about the category, though, they said these shoes might succeed initially because of their aesthetics rather than their performance benefits. Taking advantage of the trend toward high boots for women, Salomon introduced the Uma soft shell boot that reaches above the calf, and is actually one of Salomon's best-selling women's shoes.