By Therese Iknoian
For the complete story, see GearTrendsÂ® Summer Outdoor 2005 magazine, p. 24, "Hive Mentality"
And where are all those trail runners living?
According to OIA research, done by Leisure Trends, the most are trotting around the South Central States. No, really. A third of participants call the South home, with 39 percent of enthusiasts calling that area home. Next up for both participants and enthusiasts is the West, with 30 percent of participants and 32 percent of enthusiasts lacing up their sneakers there. OIA reasoning is that those regions have weather that is most conducive to year-round outdoor activity.
Who are they?
We might all say the trail runners of today are the 30-somethings, aging Boomers and perhaps beyond. Don't tell OIA what you think. The just-out statistics on participation from the OIA Outdoor Recreation Participation in the U.S., 7th Ed. (2005) that looks at data through 2004 show that Americans who trail run are between the ages of 16 and 24. Waitâ€¦ Huh? Maybe those are high school and college cross-country runners, but not trail runners. Reality checks tell us that the age range is more likely the 20s and 30s and beyond, with more ULTRA runners likely in their 30s â€“ with more of an emphasis on the "beyond" part. The recent OIA data found that nearly half (45 percent) of trail runners are in that youngster bracket, nearly a quarter (24 percent) are 25 to 24, while 14 percent are 35 to 44, and 17 percent are older than 45. Funny, they don't ask beyond that.
If you compare that to 1998, when OIA first tracked the activity, it seemed to skew older slightly with 36 percent being 16 to 24, 21 percent in the 25-to-34 group, 23 percent being 35 to 44, and 20 percent being older than 45.
Companies and product: Are there too many and too much?
Said Timberland's global category director, outdoor performance, Jay Steere: "The more people who talk about trail running, the less time they spend on a treadmill."
A 2003 Brooks survey, although relatively small in respondent numbers, showed about 37 percent of outdoor specialty retailers representing 229 storefronts carrying Vasque trail runners, 32 percent carrying Montrail and Merrell, 28 percent carrying Salomon, 25 percent carrying The North Face, 20 percent carrying Nike ACG and New Balance, and 15 percent carrying Asics and adidas. Granted, in the trail running category, two years is an epoch with changes to match. Brooks, too, stepped in since then.
A quick roundup of what's new in trail running footwear
Vasque â€“ As of 2005, Vasque has four models (including the fast and flashy Amp and the motion-control Endorphin, both suggested retail, $90) and, with introductions at 2005 summer Outdoor Retailer market to take the line to six. To support the sport and its product development, it created a trail-running team in 2004 and sponsors some local events. www.vasque.com
The North Face -- For 2006 product the feature the company is highlighting is the new BOA lacing System on its new Endurus XCR trail runners (suggested retail, $130). It has thin stainless steel laces with a polymer coating that tighten with a dial-like twist on the back of the shoe, giving the advantage according to the company of no pressure points, the ability for the runner to fine-tune snugness, and no chance of coming unlaced. The company's line will have seven models, with styles for both women and men. www.thenorthface.comÂ Â Â
Montrail â€“ It will have three new models for spring 2006. They include the Highlander, which is more of a mountain and fell-racing shoe but with a less flat shape and sole (MSRP $85), the Odyssy to replace the lightweight and breathable Masai (MSRP $95), and the Continental Divide, replacing the long-timer in the line, the Leona Divide (MSRP $105), which the company said will have a low-to-the-ground feel with improved traction and a broader toe box. www.montrail.comÂ Â Â
La Sportiva -- For spring 2006, the company will have six new styles, including the Crossroads, intended to "cross" over to road running and the Pikes Peak, with an extra cushy ride but still "serious stability (MSRP $95, men's and women's). Those will jump it to a total of 16 models. www.sportiva.com (Fyi, www.lasportiva.com is the site of its Italian parent company, so take a look â€¦ if you parla italiano.) "We're in trail running because those of us internally who practice the discipline were egotistical enough to think we could do a better job than everybody else, and it paid off," Sales Manager Mark Day said about the efforts of the David-sized company looking around at a few Goliaths. "We pay virtually no attention to what everybody else is doing; we aren't in a lot of those guys' leagues."
New Balance â€“ For Spring 2006, New Balance will introduce the 10th generation of the original 801 that launched the company into trail running. Called the 809, it is the "all-terrain" part of the company's trail-running collection (MSRP $80) and will be introduced atÂ Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. www.newbalance.com
Inov-8 -- The British are coming, the British are coming. Inov-9's line of five models, including the more trail-running-oriented Terroc and Flyroc (both MSRP $90), will grow to a whopping 10 for Spring '06, including two new trail shoes, one with a new upper design and one adding just a skosh more cushioning to help satisfy stateside demands. To help you sort through its shoes, know that a model's name (i.e. Flyroc) is really identifying the outsole type, while a number after it (i.e. 310) is identifying the model and really translates into its weight, albeit in grams. So niche is the company that it is also introducing an orienteering shoe. www.inov-8.com
Timberland â€“ Going back to trail running but keeping its Timberland name and tree (in contrast to its former Mountain Athletics brand: "At the end of the day the customer wanted the Timberland brand and the Timberland tree," said Jay Steere. After doing a little navel contemplation, the company turned its focus to hiking. At 2005 summer market, Timberland will show it's the new line, groomed specifically for a "trail-to-street" look and, as Steere put it, "a blend of off-road traction with on-road mind-set." Look for three models: the Low GTX XCR (men's and women's, MSRP $110), the Performance Leather Low (men's, $90) and the Low (men's and women's, $85). www.timberland.com
Salomon â€“ The company's first trail running shoe, the Raid Runner, was offered in 1998, putting it right on the forefront. For 2006, the company will have nine models and is one of a handful that gets named as a leader by most people. For 2006, Salomon will offer a new cushioning system called SCS. www.salomon.com
Helly Hansen â€“ The Scandinavia-based company entered the market in Spring 05 with a shoe called the Trail Beater that the North Americans may have mistakenly labeled a running shoe, we heard from the company at the OutDoor show in Germany in late July. When GearTrendsÂ® spoke to European reps they showed off the company's Juell shoe for Spring 06 (the founder'sÂ name!) and pointed out they never called they Beater a RUNNING shoe â€“ "note that the name is 'Beater,' we were told." When we confided that our tests determined it really was too soft and not stable enough for trail running and was likely better at lifestyle use, non-technical hiking and off-road easy walking, they agreed wholeheartedly, pointing to its new JuellÂ shoe as the go-to for that. In fact, the company has determined that running is its new story for 2006 (and we presume beyond) with clothing, outerwear and footwear, including a most amazing water-resistant, windproof jacket that weighs 75 grams (about 2.6 ounces). IT's called Mars for the men's and Venus for the women's -- something that translates in English, but the German guy we spoke too had no idea where the name came from. www.hellyhansen.com
Wait, there's moreâ€¦
Not as if trail-running is only about footwear, although most will say, all you need is a good pair of shoes. Just because something is marked "trail running" doesn't mean trail runners will buy it. Making shorts baggy with pockets and shirts beige doesn't necessarily make it trail gear. A bit of extra padding under the forefoot in socks could be nice, but that's a matter of personal taste.
Once runners get the right shoes, all they really need is water. The rest â€“ including GPS units, dog leashes and hats with pockets for ice â€“ is frosting. Even special nutrition is optional since raisins, fig bars, Paydays, Jolly Ranchers, Fritos, Jolt gum and Gummi Bears are some of the foods that can work just fine. Still, many still pack pockets full of Gu, Honey Stinger, Cliff and Power bars and gels, among other brands.
Patagonia -- For Spring '06, the company's best-selling short, the Long Haul runner (MSRP $42), will be made from 100-percent recycled materials. The Ultra shorts ($45) will be made from lighter, smoother and quicker-drying materials. Patagonia will also apply its variable, seamless knit technology in its snug garments and apply it to looser Ultra Airius-T shirts, placing the knit mesh in needed ventilation areas that are different for men and women (MSRP $75). Now, about that lack of footwear? BonDurant said the company will not do it just to compete in what he called a saturated market, but Patagonia has "a unique point of view about where the opportunity exists. Stay tuned!" www.patagonia.com
The hydration category is mostly owned by CamelBak (www.camelbak.com) and Ultimate Direction (www.ultimatedirection.com), but a not-so-newcomer getting a makeover may make some inroads. Nathan Performance â€“ now dubbed Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratories (www.nathansports.com). A tweak new bottle has a finger loop that incorporates a spring-loaded carabiner for attaching to belts and packs, a textured surface and standard-size water filter threads (MSRP $6). A new hand-carry strap called the QuickDraw Plus (MSRP $12) may offer the UD FastDraw some competition. The Elite 2V two-bottle carrier (MSRP $45), as all waist packs, has a moisture-wicking backing and a patent-pending bottle cradle that contours to the body with belt tightening. The 2V also has two, small, removable, front zippered pockets and a shockcord for carrying a lightweight jacket. At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, he said retailers can look for a harness hydration system, as well as some new women's-specific items that are "not just a men's pack in pretty colors."
From the mouths of retailers
And, from a couple of retailers who know all about the lifestyle element:
"It is a growing category for us, driven by market demand," said Keith Rousch, president of retailer Pine Needle Mountaineering in Durango, Colo. "It's what we wear to work. In our community, dentists, doctors, professionals and everyone else wears trail runners to work more often than not."
Said Joe Butler Jr., owner, Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville, Fla., "We do sell trail runners, but more as a lifestyle piece. Most of our customers do not know what a trail running shoe is, but buy them because they are the path of least resistance â€“ they look durable, they are lighter, and they are cheaper."
Don't miss the full story, "Hive Mentality," in the GearTrendsÂ® Summer Outdoor 2005 issue. To download the full issue, go to www.geartrends.com/magazines