Sticky rubber footwear flourishes with new technologies and players

A number of new sticky rubber shoes debuted at Summer Market as more players enter the field to compete with Five Ten's Stealth technology.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Scramblers, climbers, paddlers and hikers have grown to expect a Spiderman-like hold from their footwear. And this season, brands are shaking up the sticky-rubber market in an effort to deliver the grippiest soles yet.

The biggest shift in the sticky-rubber world for spring ’14: After being acquired by Adidas in fall 2011, longtime category leader Five Ten will no longer supply its iconic Stealth Rubber compound to other brands (exception: some fly-fishing shoes will continue to sport Stealth). “It gives [Adidas] an edge over everyone else,” said Charles Cole, president of Five Ten. “We’re making sure we have the best, most technical product,” said Tristan Reapor, head of customer service for Adidas Outdoor.

Adidas, which first added Stealth Rubber soles to its shoe line last fall, is introducing two more models at Summer Market. The Terrex Scope (MSRP $160) is a lightweight approach shoe; the Slack Cruiser (MSRP $95) is a more casual design that targets slackline aficionados.

Five Ten continues to push the boundaries of stickiness with the release of its new MI6 rubber compound, for now only available in Five Ten shoes. “It’s a complete game-changer,” said Cole. “It’s the softest rubber ever made for an outsole.” Cole developed the compound after producers for “Mission Impossible 4” asked for a rubber that could stick to glass. He said the MI6 rubber nails the elusive combination of both softness and strength. Look for it in the Team VXi (MSRP $170) climbing shoe and the Freerider VXi (MSRP $120) mountain biking shoe.

Astral had to make a quick switch when Adidas shut the door on Stealth, which it had been using in its kayaking shoes for the last two years. The solution: a new, proprietary rubber compound designed for use on wet rocks. The soft rubber employs siping (like a tire) to increase grip in slippery environments. “One of the building blocks of a water shoe is the ability to stay planted firmly, especially when you have a kayak on your shoulder,” said Astral CEO Phillip Curry.

Rather than starting from scratch, Vasque completed an ongoing switch from Stealth Rubber to Vibram’s new sticky-rubber formulas, Idrogrip and Megagrip. Both appear on the hybrid sole of the Grand Traverse (MSRP $130), a fast-and-light mountain shoe.

Patagonia debuts its own form of sticky rubber this season. “We wanted to have the flexibility to design different zones on the shoe,” said Director of Sales Jamie Barbor. The new Rover (MSRP $125) has Patagonia’s latest compound on the forefoot and a harder, more durable rubber on the back of the shoe.

And Keen also introduces its own brand of sticky sole in the Rapid Series, a collection of four sandal designs (MSRPs $50-$90). “These work well on rocks and other slimy green stuff, both in and out of water,” said Jeff Dill, business unit director for trailhead and waterfront. The “undercured” rubber is non-marking to prevent scuffing up a kayak or canoe.

--Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

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