Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '10: Footwear leans to the past, but also steps toward the future

The recession has sparked an appreciation for proven brands and products with a long history. But boots with plaids and distressed leathers are balanced by new technologies to keep us warm, dry and steady on our feet.
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“When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.” In 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Mike Damone understood an important principle: It’s a good strategy to rely on the classics. And that’s what we’re seeing in outdoor footwear, with companies highlighting their heritage and introducing products that resemble those from past decades. This is really the result of the recession, which has consumers seeking familiar things from yesteryear that remind them of better days. With this comes a bit of nostalgia and desire for vintage products, particularly pieces of Americana.

“The consumerism that we saw two to three years ago isn’t sustainable, and heritage-rooted brands are now showing up. Consumers are seeking pragmatic, functional product,” said Brian Moore, Timberland’s vice president of global men’s footwear.

But shoemakers are not only looking backward; we saw plenty of forward-thinking innovation, with the introduction of new insulations, membranes and sole traction devices. Another notable trend is the reinvention of the sneaker, as new versions built for snow are becoming more fashionable, like basketball high-tops.

Below is quick rundown of products that exemplify these prevailing trends. It’s not a comprehensive list of everything out there, but you’ll quickly get the gist of things. So, drop the needle on side one (hey, we’re going vintage vinyl), and you’ll be done before “The Battle of Evermore.”

>> Heritage & Americana

“When the world went neon, it was hard for traditional outdoor companies such as Timberland to keep up. But now the trend is right in our wheelhouse,” said Moore of Timberland. 

With consumers seeking classic American styles, Timberland partnered with Woolrich to produce the Premium (MSRP $155), a 6-inch-high, lace-up boot with wool plaid fabric lining the collar. www.timberland.com

Yes, plaid was everywhere at the show -- and we realized the plaid revolution was in full swing when it even showed up in Khombu’s waterproof rubber boot, the Wellie Plaid (MSRP $65). www.khombu.com

The key feature of the Sanita Gurli clog (MSRP $110) is, of course, the multicolor wool plaid upper. Part of the Wood Collection, the Gurli also has a wooden sole that is specially designed for easy walking. Fun fact: Sanita’s inspiration is based on the Danish word “hygge,” which when translated means “making everything cozy.” www.sanitaclogs.com

Sorel’s Suka II boot for women (MSRP $150) has a waterproof leather upper, moisture-wicking fleece lining and removable PU footbed. The alternative closure system provides easy on and off entry, and the plaid trim adds a pop of style. www.sorel.com

Few iconic images are more American than that of Neil Armstrong standing before the American flag, with his big space boots planted in the moon’s soil. Realizing that consumers are enamored with Americana, Tecnica is embracing its Moon Boot design (introduced in 1969), greatly expanding the collection to include everything from shiny, vinyl styles with fur trim, like the Elite (MSRP $250), to less poofy, modern versions, like the Butter Mid (MSRP $150). www.tecnicausa.com

Speaking of chunky footwear, the folks at Kamik say they’ve actually seen an up-tick in sales of traditional pac boots, which bodes well for the company’s new Heritage collection. With suede uppers and shearling collars, Heritage boots have the look of vintage winter pac styles, but models such as the Pearson Jr. for kids (MSRP $80) have the latest waterproof seam-sealing materials, plus advanced rubber compounds in the lower shells and outsoles. www.kamik.com

>> Looking distressed

You can draw a direct line from the heritage/Americana trend to products that appear aged, including shoes with antiqued or burnished leathers.

Ahnu’s Anselmo clog (MSRP $110) boasts a distressed waterproof leather upper, while Neutral Positioning System (NPS) technology centers the foot and provides heel support, comfort and stability. www.ahnufootwear.com

With an upper of rough leather with a waxed finish, Chaco’s new Toe Coop (MSRP $110) is a closed-toe sandal intended to convey the brand’s history of rugged performance. Also, the upper is sewn directly onto the midsole, so the Coop feels the same underfoot as the brand’s original sandal, which loyal customers will appreciate. www.chacousa.com

Men’s casual shoes in the Merrell Boreal collection have waxy, full-grain leathers for a rough, retro look. We gravitated to the Bergenz Waterproof (MSRP $150), a mid-height pull-on boot that’s insulated with Primaloft and has an insulating footbed. www.merrell.com

The men’s Timberland Earthkeepers 2.0 6-inch Moc Toe Boot (MSRP $150) is clearly work-inspired as evidenced by its burnished leather upper. The boot is also eco-friendly and designed for disassembly when it reaches the end of its useful life. www.timberland.com

>> Hot technologies

If it sounds like companies have both feet planted in the past, their minds have actually been focused very much on the future. This year, we saw clever, new takes on traction systems, waterproof materials and insulation technology.

Over the last couple of years, new footwear traction systems have emerged, and you can add to the mix the G3 sole on Lowa’s Baikal GTX boot (MSRP $275). Designed for snowshoeing and winter walking, the Baikal has an outsole with textile blended into the rubber to improve grip. When you look at the sole, the material looks like oval-shaped stitching, and while we can’t yet testify to the effectiveness or durability of this system, Lowa rarely if ever leans on technologies that don’t perform well in the field. www.lowaboots.com

ORWM10_Ftwr_LowaG3sole.jpg

The Vasque Mindbender trail running shoe (MSRP $145) is the first footwear style to utilize Gore-Tex conformable laminate technology. The new Gore pattern utilizes a stretch component panel to create a custom bootie exclusive to the shoe’s specification, and the panel is located over the metatarsal heads and the tongue allowing for greater flex and freedom of motion in the forefoot. The gusset folds are eliminated via a floating tongue design that reduces weight and improves fit. This technology will soon be used in other footwear brands as well. www.gore-tex.com; www.vasque.com

ORWM10_Ftwr_VasqueMindbender.jpg

Wenger continues its push to get a strong foothold in the outdoor footwear market, packing some serious technology into its new products. The Boar boot (MSRP $250) includes OutDry, a waterproof/breathable membrane that eliminates dead spots between the membrane and fabric to increase warmth and dexterity. But the boot is also outfitted with an adjustable heating system that’s similar to what Columbia introduced last year. Also, Wenger’s new Saber boot (photo left) includes “zero-loft” insulation underfoot. This thin material developed for the space program does not lose its ability to insulate when compressed. www.wengerna.com

>> Snow sneakers

Winterized athletic shoes have already carved out a place in the market, but some companies are now rolling out winter shoes that look less like runners and more like fashionable sneakers.

The Sorel Chesterman Sneaker (MSRP $95) is designed to provide protection and comfort in cold weather, all under the guise of a casual sneaker. It’s made with a waterproof leather upper, recycled felt construction and a traction-enhanced lug outsole. www.sorel.com

Keen’s Snowmass boot for women (MSRP $140) and its Alta boot for men (MSRP $90) resemble standard street sneakers, but they’re tough enough for nasty conditions. Not only are the uppers made with waterproof nubuck leather, but the boots also have the Keen Dry waterproof/breathable membrane, as well as a faux shearling lining and removable footbed that reportedly reflects heat from the foot and blocks cold from the ground. www.keenfootwear.com

Tecnica’s No Stop snow sneaker collection offers casual looks and winter performance. These shoes have PrimaLoft insulation, TecniDry waterproof/breathable linings, TecniGrip outsoles and, of course, fun colorways. The No Stop Mid (MSRP $120) is available in gender-specific sizing. Men also get the No Stop Moc (MSRP $110), and for women, there’s the No Stop High (MSRP $130). www.tecnicausa.com

Couple of cool, new things…

To help celebrate its 25th birthday this year, Five Ten is reissuing its iconic Five Tennie approach shoe (MSRP $69.95) -- with a twist. The New Five Tennie boasts the comfort and high-friction Stealth rubber outsoles of the first generation, but also incorporates lightweight materials, updated aesthetics and a low-profile toe for modern-day performance. www.fiveten.com

Patagonia’s Advocate Moc is not only super lightweight -- and perfect for wearing around camp -- but it’s also good for your local environment. As part of the 1% For The Planet program, retailers can donate a percentage of Moc sales to a local conservation organization of their choice. Customers will also appreciate that the shoe is made with a 20-percent recycled EVA footbed and a 15-percent recycled insole. www.patagonia.com

--Marcus Woolf & Judy Leand

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