The North Face Spring Summer Range 2015 & The Ultra MT

I wasn’t sure what, if anything, to expect from The North Face in terms of new trail friendly product given the news that they would no longer be the headline sponsor for UTMB. However, having now had a peek at the new The North Face Spring Summer range 2015, it appears that it’s full steam ahead, with, dare I say it, some sexy looking product!

What’s more, my UK size 8 feet, also happened to be the right size to fit into a pair of the pre-production Ultra MT trail shoes which The North Face kindly supplied me with. I’ve been testing those out for the last couple of weeks now. More on that below.

Unfortunately, both the Men’s Storm Stow Jacket and Better Than Naked Long Haul Short were only available in size M and, even with recent weight loss and the best of intentions, there was little hope of shoe-horning my XL frame into those garments. But hey, can’t win them all!

The TNF Ultra MT – A First Look

I really liked the The North Face Ultra Guide, running a 33 mile ultra in them after just a couple of test runs, and continued to use them until the soles started to wear through. (TNF Ultra Guide review)

As such, I was really looking forward to the prospect of getting to test out the new TNF Ultra MT.

I have to say that the brochure just doesn’t do them justice. Again, I find myself resorting to use of the word ‘sexy’. Unboxing the TNF Ultra MT for the first time, I was impressed with the striking orange and black colour-scheme and the overall aesthetics of the shoe, and then there’s ‘that’ sole – the ‘gnarly’ new Vibram® Megagrip outsole.

Unlike the Ultra Guide, there’s no way the Ultra MT is ever going to be described as ‘retro’. There was also something else that struck me about the shoe and, it would appear, I was not alone…

The website running.competitor.com describes the Ultra MT as follows:

“The Ultra MT is the most technical trail shoe yet from The North Face. (And, yes, it was modelled off the Salomon Speedcross 3.) With a knobby array of sticky rubber Vibram outsole lugs and a water resistant upper, this shoe is built to run on gnarly terrain in the worst weather. 18mm/10mm heel-toe offset.”

(Sneak Peek: 17 New Summer/Fall 2015 Running Shoes )

Aesthetically and functionally, the latest offering from The North Face certainly invites comparisons with some of the offerings from Salomon, but then, considering the reputation and range that Salomon offer, this must surely be a good thing.

I’m going to leave a full review until I have had long enough to really test out the Ultra MT but first impressions are positive. I will say that I found the toebox on my right foot (my fractionally larger foot) slightly tight, and they are most definitely less roomy than the Ultra Guide. However, once running, this wasn’t something that I noticed. It will be interesting to see if that impacts at all on longer runs.

The fit is most likely a result of the new bodymapping layer system on the upper, intended to enhance support and, from initial tests, the shoes certainly are responsive.

My inaugural run in the Ultra MT was in the Quarrelwoods on the outskirts of Elgin, an often muddy, potentially technical trail at the best of times. On the day in question I was caught in a snow storm as well so it really was a baptism of fire as far as the Ultra MTs were concerned but they performed well as I charged around one of my favourite forest destinations.

Watch this space for a full review of the Ultra MT in due course.

The North Face Spring Summer Range 2015

The following information is taken from the TNF Spring Summer 2015 Performance Brochure.

Men’s Storm Stow Jacket

More daylight during summer means running longer, which is why you should be prepared if the weather changes. This ultralight jacket is fully waterproof and windproof, but also packs incredibly small, so you can keep it on hand for any emergency. When the trail takes you further, there is no better protection to carry with you.

Men’s Better Than Naked Long Haul Short

Stay comfortable on longer runs with a wider comfort-fit waistband, stitch-free design on critical seams, and maximum storage capacity for big days.

Ultra MT

No matter what terrain you’re on, the Ultra MT will keep you running along the toughest trails. Thanks to the new Vibram® Megagrip outsole, unrivalled traction will keep you close to the ground. You’ll also have the benefit of enhanced upper support as well as breathable Ultra Airmesh over the quarter. The innovation continues underfoot, where precise stability and protection ensures a better performance with every step.

  • Upper: A bodymapping layer system on the upper enhances support on the medial side, protecting the toe area
  • Bottom: 8mm drop between heel and forefoot ensures control on uneven surfaces and supports midfoot striking when needed / Overlasted midsole increases stability of the upper/bottom connection / ESS in the forefoot secures an impact distribution on the forefoot / Vibram Megagrip full length trail specific outsole.
  • Men’s Sizes: Approx weight pair: 580g (based on men’s 9)
  • Womens’s Sizes: Approx weight pair: 480g (based on women’s 7)

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 2015 Backpacks & 3 Generations Of Salomon Vests – A Comparison

I can’t recall exactly when I purchased my first Salomon S-LAB vest pack but it’s certainly going back a few years now. I remember initially thinking how ‘clingy’ the pack was, quite a bit different to the running backpacks I had used previously. But then, that’s the whole point of the vest pack approach, it’s more like an item of close fitting clothing than a bag per se.

It didn’t take long to get used to the snug-fitting nature of the pack, helped in part by wearing closer fitting t-shirts and, therefore, reducing the potential for uncomfortable folds of material, and I can’t actually envisage going back to a more conventional running pack now for anything other than perhaps a multi-day event.

I was fortunate to receive both the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack and the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack to review from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com and, to cut a long story short, I am totally sold on the new 12 Set version of the pack.

There’s an overview of the new packs directly below, followed by a look at the 3 different incarnations of the S-LAB vest to date.

Note that I will refer to the vests as v1, v2 and v3 for brevity, which relates to the original S-LAB vest pack, the second model, and the most recent offering, respectively.

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 & Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpacks

The most recent incarnations of the S-LAB vest are a world away from the original, as outlined in the comparison below.

Both the  Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack and the Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack offer close fitting packs that don’t move or bounce about and, thus, reduce, even eliminate, chaffing.

Thanks to the approach employed on both the 12 SET and the 5 SET, utilising stretchy mesh, the packs are as comfortable and compact when empty as they are when filled to their respective capacities. Unlike many conventional packs, there’s no excess of material to bob about when empty.

Whilst bladder friendly, the emphasis is on hydration via two 500 ml soft flasks, which sit on the front of the packs in specifically designed pockets.

Initially, I felt quite ‘booby’/’mooby’ with 2 full 500ml soft flasks but this soon passed. One definite benefit of having your hydration on the front is that, especially with the temperatures of late, your fluid is always chilled! With appropriate weather conditions however, this may actually backfire and result in frozen water. That’s thankfully something I’ve yet to discover!

Occasionally, when the fluid levels dropped, I would find that the soft flask would slip down further into the pocket, making it slightly more difficult to retrieve and drink from. If this proves to be an issue, air can easily be blown into the flasks, keeping them inflated and in place.

I found that, with a little squeeze, I was able to run and drink without actually having to remove the soft flasks. The only real criticism I have of the soft flasks and the pockets that hold them is that, when the flasks aren’t full, they can be a bit of a faff to reinsert, hence my preference not to remove them.

You can, on occasion, hear the water sloshing around but you would get this regardless of your approach to hydration. Certainly when it comes to training, I tend to plug in so it hasn’t bothered me in the slightest.

Every inch of the packs has been utilised some way or another to provide storage space, with a variety of pockets of all sizes. Check out the full specifications at the bottom of this review for a list of all of the available pockets on both the 12 SET and the 5 SET.

From a personal perspective, the 12 SET wins the day for me. Whilst I can appreciate the slightly lower weight of the 5 SET, the additional storage capacity of the 12 is more in keeping with my perceived use and, further, because of the stretchy mesh approach employed in the construction of the pack, you don’t actually notice when you are under utilising the space.

In terms of weight, there’s only 45g difference between the 270g 12 SET and the 225g 5 SET. Dimensions wise, there’s a more noticeable difference, with the 12 SET coming in at 42 x 20cm and the 5 SET at 33 x 16cm.

There’s some more specific details in the comparison below, which outlines how the S-LAB vests have developed and improved over time.

3 Generations Of Salomon Vests – A Comparison

The gallery photos best highlight the changes between the 3 packs, with a few very obvious changes which are covered below.

Hydration

The v1 pack offered a bladder approach to hydration. The v2 and v3 versions of the pack are geared towards the use of Salomon’s Soft Flasks, a product which, if I am not mistaken, wasn’t around at the launch of the v1 vest.

The v2 and v3 packs don’t even come with a bladder supplied, though they do, quite thoughtfully, come with a handy bladder sleeve, should you wish to use your own bladder.

Personally, I like the inclusion of the sleeve. Like so many others, I have a small collection of bladders, mostly unused, that have been provided with packs throughout the years. On the rare occasions that I do use a bladder, I have two favourites that I turn to, the Salomon bladder that came with my v1 vest, and an Osprey bladder.

Hydration in the v2 and v3 packs is by way of 2 500 ml soft flasks, with plenty of pockets to carry additional soft flasks if required. As a convert to soft flasks, this was one of the main selling points of the new Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 for me.

Arguably, with the focus on soft flasks, many people will never use a bladder with the pack and, as such, the inclusion of a bladder by default would be unnecessary and, further, would likely have increased the cost of the pack.

As a word of caution, I would advise that you remove the sleeve if you don’t intend to use it. On a recent long run I felt something at the back of my head and, on inspection, found that the sleeve was attempting to climb its way out of my bag. Had it succeeded, I would likely have been none the wiser until returning home.

Size

Size is one of the main differences between the packs, with the S-LAB vests slimming down with each incarnation. This is most noticeable between the v1 and v2 versions of the pack, with a more marginal slimming down between v2 and v3 versions.

In terms of weight, the v2 12 SET comes in at 320g, as opposed to the v3’s 270g, and the v2 5 SET comes in at 260g instead of the v3’s 225g.

Looking at the 3 packs side by side, it’s hard to believe that they all offer the same 12 litre volume. Which leads nicely onto…

Pockets

As previously mentioned, it’s quite remarkable to see just what can be packed into the S-LAB vests and, as such, they are prime candidates for races with compulsory kit lists, such as UTMB, and/or for long days on the hills, where sense dictates that you carry kit that will let you comfortably weather all conditions.

The original v1 pack contained a ‘bag-like’ zipped compartment with a stretchy mesh zipped pocket on the front.

This has been done away with in subsequent versions of the pack, with both the v2 and v3 packs employing the stretchy mesh for the main zipped pocket.

A further noticeable difference between the v1 pack and its successors is the positioning of the zips. On the v1 packs, the zips run horizontally, something that I have always found to be slightly awkward.

In subsequent versions of the pack, however, the zips runs vertically, something which is far easier to work with on the move. Employing both hands, with one hand around the back and holding the bottom of the pocket (picture that – hopefully makes sense!), I find that it is much easier to quickly and securely load and unload the pockets.

With regard to the size of the v3 pockets, I can quite happily store an iPhone 6 in a fairly chunky OtterBox case, all wrapped within an XS Exped waterproof bag in one of the side pockets, giving me easy access to my phone for calls/texts/camera.

It’s a bit of a squeeze, but the material used in the construction of the pack easily accommodates the phone and its coverings, once you get the knack of navigating into the opening of the pocket, past the zip.

Initially, in an effort to keep faffing to a minimum, I chose not to use an Exped bag. However, using the OtterBox case alone, I noticed condensation appeared on the case, which I can only assume was down to a combination of the positioning of the pocket, my sweating, and the cold temperatures. Keen to avoid a ‘water damaged’ phone, I quickly added the Exped bag into the mix.

V2 and v3 of the S-LAB packs have a ‘stash’ pocket on the bottom rear of the pack. With a bit of practice, this provides access to ‘stashed’ items such as a jacket, gloves, buffs etc. The stash pocket doesn’t employ a closure mechanism, but the stretchy mesh ensures that the contents are tightly held.

My only concern would be that I dropped something in the process of stashing it without noticing, and being none the wiser until it was too late.

The original v1 pack offered some flexibility with the front pockets, which could accommodate a range of items thanks to their size and pull tie closure.

The front pockets of the v2 and v3 packs are geared specifically to holding two 500ml soft flasks and, as such, are not quite as flexible. However, it does provide an almost perfect solution to the storage of fluids.

Sticking with the front of the pack, one of my pet hates on the v1 was the detachable pocket that utilised a Velcro attachment mechanism. I’ve found in the past that Velcro can be a destructive thing, especially when in close proximity to technical t-shirts, and, as such, try to avoid it where possible in favour of other attachment and closure methods.

The v2 pack did away with this removable pocket, replacing it instead with 2 smaller stretchy pockets on the upper part of the vest straps.

The v3 pack refines this slightly, with one of the pockets now being zipped, offering a bit more security than the fold over flap afforded by the previous version.

One huge improvement as far as I am concerned in the v2 and v3 models is the removal of what I call the ‘non pocket’ that can be found in the v1 pack.

What initially appears to be a pocket on the upper right strap is, in fact, just the back of the actual pocket, but with a gap between it and the strap. In the space of a few weeks, I accidentally lost a bank card which I placed in this seemingly secure location and then, admittedly stupidly, lost the only form of nutrition I was carrying, sport beans.

Overall, the use of space on the v2 and v3 packs is a considerable improvement on the v1 pack, with an assortment of pockets underneath and to the side of the soft flask pockets, space which just wasn’t utilised on the v1.

Fastening

I’ve always found the front fastening mechanism of the S-LAB vests to be ‘fiddly’ and there’s definitely a knack to it, which I unfortunately appear to forget whenever it comes to trying to quickly remove the pack!

This mechanism employs thin plastic rods at either side of the pack, with clips on the end of elastic located in the upper and lower chest areas, that hook on to the plastic at the most appropriate closure location for your build.

The v3 pack does away with the plastic rod and, instead, replaces this with cord which, I have to say, has so far proven much easier when it comes to fastening/unfastening.

My initial concern was that this wouldn’t be as robust as the plastic rod in the long term but there’s no evidence of that at this, admittedly early, stage.

Overall

My v1 pack has been a workhorse pack to me over the past few years and, whilst the v2 and v3 packs are considerably lighter, they don’t feel quite as robust as the v1. Having said that, until I put the v3 through a season of training and racing, I can’t really comment either way. Further, it begs a question with regard to how long do you need a pack to last? Whilst my v1 pack is still in great condition, it has dated, especially where the use of soft flasks are concerned.

Overall, there’s a huge jump from v1 to v3 and it’s definitely worth investing in one of the new Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 and Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 packs, especially if you are a fan of the soft flask approach to hydration.

The difference is less noticeable if you have a v2 pack already.  However, there is a weight saving of 50g and 35g on the 12 SET and 5 SET packs respectively.

Specifications

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12 SET 2015 Backpack

Hydration

  • 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included (with Hydrapak Blaster valves)

Pockets & Compartments

  • 2x Stretch mesh soft flask hydration pockets (with 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included)
  • 1x Zipped pocket (above one soft flask pocket)
  • 1x Stretch mesh pocket (above other soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Stretch mesh pockets (under each soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Secure mesh side pockets (vertical pocket with horizontal open top)
  • 2x Side Zipped Pockets (horizontal with vertical zip)
  • 1x Rear Double Access Stretch Pocket (‘kangaroo’ pocket – access with either hand)
  • 1x Rear Zipped Pocket (for secured storage)
  • 1x Battery Pocket
  • 1x Bladder compartment – with included insulation sleeve (Salomon 1.5L bladder fits)

Security

  • Reflective
  • Whistle included
  • Safety blanket included

Load Management & Comfort

  • Sensi Compression – for greatest stability on the go
  • Twin Link – for adjustable and stretch fit
  • Bindingless Construction – for soft touch and fit
  • Powermesh Sensifit – for stretch fit

Other

  • Soft trims
  • 4D Pole holder
  • 2x shoulder bungees

Dimensions

  • 42 x 20cm

Weight

  • 270g / 9.62oz

Sizing

  • XS/S : 31 – 38 inch chest
  • M/L : 38 – 43 inch chest
  • XL : 43 – 46 inch chest

Storage Capacity

  • 12L

Water Capacity

  • 1L (using 2x 500ml soft flasks included)
  • 1.5L Bladder (not included)

Materials

  • Elastic Power Pesh / Stretch Knit / 3D Air Mesh / 4 Way Stretch Mesh
  • PVC, Bisphenol-A free

Salomon S-LAB ADV SKIN3 5 SET 2015 Backpack

Hydration

  • 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included (with Hydrapak Blaster valves)

Pockets & Compartments

  • 2x Stretch mesh soft flask hydration pockets (with 2x 500ml/17oz. soft flasks included)
  • 1x Zipped pocket (above one soft flask pocket)
  • 1x Stretch mesh pocket (above other soft flask pocket)
  • 2x Secure mesh side pockets (vertical pocket with horizontal open top)
  • 2x Side Zipped Pockets (horizontal with vertical zip)
  • 1x Rear Double Access Stretch Pocket (‘kangaroo’ pocket – access with either hand)
  • 1x Rear Pocket (open top)
  • 1x Battery Pocket
  • 1x Bladder compartment – with included insulation sleeve (Salomon 1.5L bladder fits)

Security

  • Reflective
  • Whistle included
  • Safety blanket included

Load Management & Comfort

  • Sensi Compression – for greatest stability on the go
  • Twin Link – for adjustable and stretch fit
  • Bindingless Construction – for soft touch and fit
  • Powermesh Sensifit – for stretch fit

Other

  • Soft trims
  • 4D Pole holder
  • 2x shoulder bungees

Dimensions

  • 33 x 16cm

Weight

  • 225g / 7.93oz

Sizing

  • XS/S : 31 – 38 inch chest
  • M/L : 38 – 43 inch chest
  • XL : 43 – 46 inch chest

Storage Capacity

  • 12L

Water Capacity

  • 1L (using 2x 500ml soft flasks included)
  • 1.5L Bladder (not included)

Materials

  • Elastic Power Pesh / Stretch Knit / 3D Air Mesh / 4 Way Stretch Mesh
  • PVC, Bisphenol-A free

A Summer In Columbia

I’d love to tell you about a summer spent trekking in the Andes mountain range, or in the Amazon rainforest. However, the slight deviation in spelling, ‘Columbia’ rather than ‘Colombia’, may already have given it away.

The Columbia that I am referring to is, of course, the outerwear and sportswear company, who were kind enough to kit me out at the start of the summer with the Zero Rules Short Sleeve ShirtSilver Ridge Convertible trousers (shorts/trousers), Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt, and Conspiracy II OutDry shoes.

My summer was spent firmly in the UK and, it has to be said, it was excellent. Most importantly, I got to spend loads of time with my son Harris (quickly approaching his second birthday) and wife Leanne, with an added bonus being that we spent a good portion of our time in the Cairngorms, my favourite Scottish location.

Back in mid 2013, I was sent a Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt for review and, to quote myself, “was blown away at just how well it helped me maintain a desirable body temperature, from the extremes of keeping me cool while running on a treadmill in our sun house in 30°C+ temperatures, through to keeping me from freezing while being buffeted by winds at altitude while out on a trail run high in the Cairngorm mountains.”

I had high hopes for the gear on the basis of my previous experience and, to cut a long story short, I wasn’t disappointed.

Now I would be lying if I was to say that I had spent all day, every day in the provided Columbia gear, but the truth of it is that I have actually spent the majority of summer and autumn dressed in Columbia.

Last year I described my Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt as “without a doubt, one of the stand-out items of kit for me this past year” and, it has to be said, that same t-shirt still is.

It has, however, now been joined in the clothing rotation by the Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt that Columbia sent me and this garment has also gone down a storm, to the extent that I have purchased a further two Zero Rules t-shirts.  That alone should speak volumes with regard to how I rate the garment.

I will admit to having worn the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers as trousers on only a handful of occasions but have worn them as shorts on an almost daily basis.

This was always likely to be the case as I am firmly a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy, through pretty much most weather conditions. People actually do pass comment on the rare occasions that they see me in long trousers, either in person or in photographs!

On the occasions that I have attached the handy zip-off legs to the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers, the additional protection afforded has been most welcome, most notably in the face of continued ‘tick attack’ whilst walking amidst ferns in the Cairngorms.

Coming back from one particular walk, a thoroughly recommended trek up Torr Alvie and the Duke of Gordon Monument, I removed no less than 10 ticks of varying size. This was enough to make me reconsider my preference for shorts, especially given the potential for Lyme disease. As such, I made sure to carry and attach the lower leg portion of the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers whenever I ventured into potential tick hotspots. Thanks to the mild winter of 2013/14, the tick population has apparently thrived.

The versatility of quickly and easily being able to swap between trousers and shorts is a bonus, with obvious implications for travelling and packing light.

As a fan of minimalist shoes, I was initially slightly unsure about the Conspiracy II OutDry shoes, with considerably more cushioning than my normal shoes. However, putting the shoes on for the first time, it soon became apparent that they offered a supremely comfortable fit, with a spacious toe-box that was roomy even for my wide feet. Aesthetically, the grey/orange colourscheme is a real winner, that also works well for casual wear.

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximize durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.” (http://www.columbia.com/mens-conspiracy-ii-outdry-BM2580.html)

After a good few months of considerable use both the upper and the sole are in as new condition, other than accumulated dirt. I’ve used the shoe mostly for walking/hiking, especially where I anticipated spending long days on my feet, but have also used them for both trail and treadmill running.

I will admit to initially being slightly sceptical of the waterproof and breathable claims but have to admit that the Conspiracy II OutDry actually does pass both claims with flying colours. If you have any doubts, stick them on and stand in flowing water. It’s quite remarkable just how dry your feet remain. Obviously, as is always the case with footwear, once water levels are sufficiently high, any water will be up and over, seeping into your shoe around the ankle. However, I’ve found that the shoe soon dries.

Further, I’ve found in the past that waterproof shoes generally aren’t breathable but, even on the hottest days I have had no problems with the Conspiracy II OutDry and my feet have remained sweat free.

Of all the items, the Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt has received the least wear. As mentioned previously, I’m a shorts & t-shirt kind of guy and, thankfully, we were blessed with a pretty good summer, which looked favourably on my preferred clothing choice. However, as the temperatures continue to drop, I do expect to get more use out of this garment.

All of the items provided were generously sized and extremely comfortable. I did find that the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers were slightly long for me when used as trousers and, as a result, they did tend to ‘collect’ water on wet days. However, they are used as shorts rather than trousers approx 90% of the time so this rarely has any effect.

With regard to the items of clothing, I’ve found that everything washes well and dries quickly, facilitating a quick turnaround. As anyone with a toddler will tell you, this is a godsend, but, on a more serious note, it’s also perfect for travelling light and packing minimally.

Thanks to Columbia for providing me with the opportunity to test out their product, which I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending to others. I’m certain that I will still be wearing these items for many months to come.

Product Details

Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt

£25, Available at Blacks

A super-cooling tech tee with stretch and sun protection, this soft and lightweight men’s shirt sports Columbia’s industry-leading cooling technology, which reacts with your sweat to lower the material’s temperature and keep you cool during dynamic aerobic activity in the heat.

Construction:

  • Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling
  • Omni-Wick™
  • Omni-Shade™ UPF 30 sun protection
  • Modern Classic Fit
  • Comfort stretch
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacteria growth

Fabric:

  • 100% polyester ZERO interlock

Silver Ridge Convertible Pant

£55, Available at Blacks

These durable, quick-wicking pants feature built-in sun protection and plentiful storage making them the perfect choice for active days in warm weather.

Construction:

  • Omni-Wick
  • Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun protection
  • Partial elastic at waist
  • Gusset detail
  • Pockets with hook and loop closure
  • Zip-closed security pocket
  • Mesh pocket bags

Fabric:

  • Omni-Shade Main Body
    100% nylon Silver Ridge ripstop
  • Omni-Wick Mesh Panels
    57% recycled polyester/43% polyester mesh

Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt

£50, Available at Snow+Rock

This versatile button up features Insect Blocker™ technology to ward off bugs, UPF 30 wards off harsh UV rays, and Omni-Wick™ advanced evaporation keeps you cool and dry during dynamic activity.

Construction:

  • Insect Blocker
  • Omni-Wick technology actively breathes and pulls sweat away from your body to keep you dry and cool
  • Omni-Shade UPF 30 provides premium protection from the sun
  • Pocket with hook and loop closure
  • Mesh pocket bags
  • Rollup sleeves with tab holders
  • Sun protection collar
  • Vented

Fabric:

  • Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade 100% Insect Blocker nylon basketweave

Conspiracy II OutDry

£80, Available at Blacks

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximise durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.

Construction:

  • Upper
    • Protective rubber screenprint over mesh
    • OutDry waterproof, breathable construction
    • Synthetic toecap
  • Midsole
    • Techlite™ lightweight midsole, superior cushion, high energy return
    • FluidFrame™ multidensity underfoot support
  • Outsole
    • Omni-Grip™ high traction non-marking rubber
  • Weight: US size 9, ½ pair = 10.3 oz/294 g

Vivobarefoot Trail Freak Range Expanded

The excellent Vivobarefoot Trail Freak is one of my standout products of the year and, along with the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, I reviewed the shoe for Barefoot Running MagazineIssue 12, Summer 2014.

I’ve certainly enjoyed letting my ‘inner freak’ loose in the Trail Freak, walking, running & cycling, from Ellon, to The Cairngorms, to Gairloch & the West coast of Scotland.

My review of the original Trail Freak, and of the Evo Pure, is included below but watch out for new colour variations of the Trail Freak, including an excellent, almost autumnal looking Navy/Green colour combination and also the new grey winter-proof Trail Freak which I hope to get my hands on in time for some serious winter training.

“Wet weather, muddy tracks and steep hills are no obstacle for the Vivobarefoot Trail Freak Winterproof Mens trail running shoe. Durable and lightweight, with enhanced water proofing and a thermal insole to protect you from the elements, theres nothing stopping you hitting the trails all winter long.”

Vivobarefoot Trail Freak & Vivobarefoot Evo Pure

Vivobarefoot is “a shoe technology aimed at offering the optimum biomechanics and posture commonly associated with walking barefoot and barefoot running” and it has been described as “as close to going barefoot in the city as you can get.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivobarefoot)

The Vivobarefoot argument is straightforward – Your feet have all the technology you need. Their aim is to provide shoes that let your feet do ‘their thing’.

“The key for a long life of efficient movement involves reconnecting your brain and reconditioning your body. This is achieved by relearning the skill of locomotion by perfecting simple motor skill milestones and simultaneously, and gradually, building up adequate strength.” (http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/learn)

This is achieved via the combination of a wide toe box, ultimate flexibility, and an ultra-thin sole.

The above content will already be familiar to you if you read my review of the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail in Barefoot Running Magazine issue 11.

If you didn’t read the review, the above will serve as an introduction to the Vivobarefoot ethos and I would strongly recommend that you check out the excellent, highly informative, Vivobarefoot web site:

I was impressed with the Breatho Trail, other than a minor issue with the laces, and, as such, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review not one but two new Vivobarefoot products for this issue.

The products in question are the Trail Freak, intended, as the name suggests, for trail running, and the Evo Pure, essentially a road shoe but touted for use from everything from road and treadmill running through to weight lifting, court sports and gym classes.

As with the previously reviewed Breatho Trail, the Trail Freak and Evo Pure and, indeed, all Vivobarefoot product, are constructed to be as minimal as possible, with a wide toe box, ultimate flexibility, and an ultra-thin sole.

Fit

Both the Trail Freak and the Evo Pure provided a perfect fit straight out of the box, with a lovely wide toe box to facilitate toe splay, helping with both balance and running efficiency. I found the Evo Pure in particular was especially spacious, far removed from the typically cramped toe boxes of more traditional running shoes.

Styling

Trail Freak

The Trail Freak is available in navy/sulphur (not unlike the Breatho Trail) or red/orange male colour combinations and pink/teal and blue/turquoise ladies colour combinations.

Aesthetically, the Trail Freak will never be accused of being subtle and, as much as I do like the slightly understated navy/sulphur, there’s something really appealing about the fiery red/orange colour combination. It screams for attention and looks fast – It’s just a shame I don’t have the turn of speed to match it!

Perhaps with the exception of the navy/sulphur, the colour combinations may reduce the likelihood of people wearing the shoes casually, outside of their intended environment.

Evo Pure

The Evo Pure is available in red or blue/sulphur male colour combinations and blue/turquoise and white/pink ladies colour combinations. The colours are on the vivid end of the scale but I would go so far as to describe the male colour combinations as classy and, unlike the Trail Freaks, the Evo Pure would be far easier to pass off if worn casually.

The male designs focus more on a single colour, with any alternate colour used minimally on trimmings. The ladies design, however, sees the alternate colour used throughout the hexagon design of the upper material and, I have to admit, I find that the contrast clashes a bit where my tastes are concerned.

Build Quality

Trail Freak

The upper of the Trail Freak consists of a dual layer mesh with a laminated hexagonal overlay. It’s a very lightweight, highly flexible overlay, adding a slight element of protection. A more robust heel counter helps hold the foot in position.

The upper sits atop a patented, ultra-thin, puncture resistant sole, constructed from V-grip rubber specifically designed for off-road surfaces, with multi-directional ‘V-teeth’ for improved traction. The 2.5mm outsole, with 4.5mm lugs is, by all accounts, the same sole that is used on the Breatho Trail.

A Dri-lex lining with lycra collar provides supreme comfort and moisture wicking. The Trail Freak is just as comfortable without socks as it is with socks, though I have found on numerous occasions that the insoles have a tendency to come with the foot when you slip the shoes off and getting them placed in exactly the right spot can be a faff.

Overall, the construction results in a ‘barely there’, almost ‘second skin’ fit.

I’ve saved one of the best elements till last. My biggest moan where the Breatho Trail was concerned was the overly long, chunky laces that had a habit of coming loose mid run. Double knotting them resolved this but, because the laces were quite so fat, this resulted in an unsightly lump of lacing on top of the shoe. I wasn’t alone in finding this and Vivobarefoot have responded to the feedback with a totally different approach to lacing.

Gone are the laces, replaced instead by a speed-lacing toggle system similar to Lock Laces and the system employed in a number of Salomon trainers.

No more stopping to double knot laces mid run! What’s more, once you have found your preferred setting, there’s actually little need to alter the lacing as I have found that the Trail Freaks slip on and off with ease. There may, of course, be occasion when you will want to tighten the lacing but this is easily done. Any excess lacing simply tucks away, preventing it from flapping around.

Evo Pure

The upper of the Evo Pure consists of a thin, durable polyester mesh with V Web lightweight upper lamination for stitchless lateral support. The heel counter is considerably pared back in comparison to the Trail Freak, indicative of the reduced level of support required in an on road shoe.

The one thing that did catch my eye initially was the use of very thin strips of material on either side of the main flex point of the shoe, which I can only assume are intended to strengthen the area.

As with the Trail Freak, a Dri-lex lining with lycra collar provides supreme comfort and moisture wicking and the Evo Pure is also comfortable to wear both with and without socks.

The sole used on the Evo Pure is the V Multi 2, providing a ‘coned hexagon grip for perfect balance between on and off road (light trails) traction, control and sensory clarity’. By all accounts, this is a new approach from Vivobarefoot, replacing a thicker multi-terrain sole employed on previous road shoes.

Finally, the Evo Pure employs a standard lacing system. Thankfully, I have had no repeat of my problems with the Breatho Trail with the considerably thinner laces of the Evo Pure.

Performance

Trail Freak

The Vivobarefoot ethos is all about providing the necessary tools to let your feet do their thing, and there’s no doubt that the Trail Freak do just that.

“Your shoes and your feet will move as one, no matter what nature throws at them. The Trail Freak is a durable and lightweight barefoot trail shoe suited for the toughest mud sections, slipperiest descents, and filthiest climbs.” (http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/mens/trail-freak-mens)

Touted as shoes for ‘hot and fast trail running’, travelling, trekking, and even cycling, thanks to their pedal friendly, grippy lugs, the Trail Freak are a highly comfortable, highly breathable, trail shoe that manages to successfully combine a second skin feel with a spacious toe box.

One of the standout points of the Breatho Trail for me was the excellent off-road traction afforded by the patented ultra-thin, puncture resistant 2.5mm outsole with 4.5mm multidirectional lugs and this same level of protection from unknown terrain is equally as welcome on the Trail Freak. The lugs towards the rear of the shoe face the opposite direction from those on the front, helping to maintain traction on steep and slippery descents.

As with my experiences with the Breatho Trail, traction issues in the Trail Freaks have been limited to wet concrete, hardly the intended terrain for the shoe.

The Trail Freak isn’t a waterproof shoe, but then the jury is out on the merits of waterproof trail shoes anyway – far better to have a highly breathable shoe that drains well.

After a week of constant, often sockless, use in The Cairngorms, my Trail Freaks did start to develop an odour but this was nipped in the bud with a quick hand wash of the shoe and a machine wash of the removable insole.

My sole concern (no pun intended!) as far as the Trail Freak goes is the long term durability of the shoe. Given the lightweight upper and overlays, it’s not a shoe that affords much protection to the foot and, by virtue of that same lightweight upper and overlays, it’s also a shoe that might just suffer from continued use in harsh environments. I’m thinking specifically about the kind of damage that might arise from repeated exposure to dry Scottish heather, for example. Those concerns would apply, however, to any lightweight trail shoe and certainly not just to the Trail Freak.

The last time I enjoyed a shoe this much was the Inov8 Roclite 305, a shoe that felt like a favourite pair of slippers, and saw me through many, many miles of ultramarathon training and racing. By the time Inov8 discontinued production of the Roclite 305 (why!!!), I had gone through 5 pairs of them, and I can see a similar situation developing with the Trail Freak. If I had to choose a single pair of shoes to be stranded on the proverbial desert island with, they would be Trail Freaks!

Evo Pure

“There’s nothing holding you back, it’s just you and the Evo Pure working together. This road running shoe will let your feet perform, as if they were barefoot. They’re stripped back to ensure it’s your feet that are in control.” (http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/mens/evo-pure-mens)

I’m a trail runner at heart and, as such, I will likely never have quite the same affinity for a pair of road shoes as I do for trail shoes. However, I have no complaints whatsoever with regard to the Evo Pure and I am particularly fond of the versatility of the shoe. It’s touted as a shoe with many uses and I’ve certainly used it in this way, in running, treadmill, gym and casual environments.

I don’t have the same concerns vis-a-vis durability that I have expressed above about the Trail Freak. The Evo Pure is arguably lighter and with even less in terms of protective overlay. However, I just wouldn’t expect them to receive the same levels of punishment.

Barefoot Simulation

There’s little point in dealing with the Trail Freak and Evo Pure separately at this point. Barefoot simulation doesn’t get much better than this, other than actually running barefoot.

So lightweight you forget you are wearing them, so spacious as to provide ample room for toe splay, and with only millimetres of patented puncture resistant sole between your feet and the ground, both the Trail Freak and the Evo Pure certainly let your feet do their own thing, putting you in full control of the running experience.

Even the 4.5mm lugs on the Trail Freak do little to dampen the barefoot experience. You still have excellent ground feel and will no doubt need to rein it back a bit on the rockiest of descents.

Taking the Evo Pure off-road, on a short woodland walk, soon gave an idea of how good the ground feel on the Evo Pure is. I have to admit to finding the terrain underfoot actually made for an occasionally uncomfortable experience and was glad of a return to the pavement!

Price

  • Trail Freak RRP: £85.00
  • Evo Pure RRP: £90.00

Overall Rating

Having been suitably impressed with the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail that I reviewed for Barefoot Running Magazine issue 11, I was looking forward to the prospect of reviewing the new Evo Pure and, in particular, with trails being my favoured running surface, the Trail Freak. I’m happy to report that both shoes lived up to expectations, providing shoes that appear to be perfect for their respective terrain.

I would advise anyone looking for minimalist trail or road shoes to at least consider these offerings from Vivobarefoot. Both shoes certainly follow the Vivobarefoot ethos of providing shoes that let your feet do ‘their thing’ and do it well.

Specifications

Vivobarefoot Trail Freak

  • Upper material: 3M Mesh
  • Upper description: V Web Lightweight upper lamination for stitchless lateral support.
  • Collar/panel/lining: Dri-Lex Performance lining with thick mesh collar: Lightweight, performance lining for moisture wicking and superior comfort and thick mesh collar.
  • Sole unit: V Trek
  • Sole thickness: 2.5mm sole with 4.5mm lugs
  • Sole description: V Trek: Multi-directional teeth for the steepest, muddiest, wettest terrains. Ultimate off-road traction and sensory feedback (proprioception).
  • Closure/lacing: Lock-Lacing System with toggle: Webbing eyelets make sure the foot is secure in the shoe.
  • Eco-credentials: 100% Vegan

More info: http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/mens/trail-freak-mens

Vivobarefoot Evo Pure

  • Upper material: BR Mesh
  • Upper description: V Web Lightweight upper lamination for stitchless lateral support.
  • Collar/panel/lining: Dri-Lex Performance lining and lycra lining, thick mesh collar.
  • Sole unit: V Multi 2
  • Sole thickness: 3mm
  • Sole description: V Multi 2: Coned hexagon grip for perfect balance between on and off road (light trails) traction, control and sensory clarity.
  • Closure/lacing: Lace-up System: Fasten securely with simple tie-up lace.
  • Eco-credentials: 100% Vegan

More info: http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk/mens/evo-pure-mens

Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Review

I’m still hammering the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 on longer runs and on days when I require a little more protection than my uber minimalist Vivobarefoot Trail Freak afford. The soles are now, after many, many miles, starting to show their age and the shoe itself is far from fresh when it comes to odour.

Having said that, I just can’t bear to part with them and, having committed myself to return to running ultras after my short ‘ultra sabbatical’, I am faced with the decision of what 2015’s shoe of choice for training and racing will be.

Generally, I would go for the ‘new, improved’ version of a shoe. However, at this moment in time, I am toying with the idea of sticking with what I know, the Lone Peak 1.5. After all, I have found it to be the perfect shoe for longer distances. Zero drop, with a spacious toe box and just enough cushioning to be comfortable but not so much as to detract too much from ground feel. Certainly at this point, the Lone Peak 2.0 represents an unknown quantity to me and, from what I can see, there appears to have been some significant changes to the shoe.

I’ve included my review of the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 below, written originally for Barefoot Running MagazineIssue 12, Summer 2014. It has to be said that this was a difficult review to write. I was torn between an excellent shoe, one of my favourite shoes in years, and the need to assess it using the same barefoot criteria that we apply to all shoe reviews.

As you would expect, in comparison to the likes of the Trail Freak, the Lone Peak 1.5 was never going to be so flexible and was never going to offer the same degree of ground feel. However, it needs to be considered on its merits, as a shoe that enables distance runners such as myself to try and stay true to their minimalist preferences whilst, at the same time, adopting a realistic approach to injury prevention.

Definitely a shoe that I would recommend.

Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Review

In 2010 I discovered ultramarathons, defined on Wikipedia as ‘any sporting event involving running and walking longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi)’. Not long after that I first read Christopher McDougall’s ‘Born To Run’, which inspired an interest in barefoot/minimalist running. Since then, I have run a number of ultramarathons, in a variety of trainers and have even, for a period of time, dabbled with maximalist footwear!

I now find myself looking to complete the same kind of distances as before but, ideally, doing it in minimalist footwear. I do know of some ultramarathoners who regularly complete (and even win) events running in minimalist footwear but, on a personal level, I do not yet have the confidence to go beyond marathon distance in truly minimalist shoes.

For a start, I am a ‘larger runner’, with a far from perfect running form, though I am constantly working on rectifying both of those issues! I am also conscious that my running form alters when fatigued, and I find myself resorting to the occasional heel strike. Finally, my preferred races take part on some pretty unforgiving terrain. Combine all of the above and you can perhaps see why I have been looking for a shoe that adheres to the fundamental principles of minimalism whilst, at the same time, addresses some of the aforementioned issues.

It was the search for such a shoe that first brought the Altra brand to my attention, initially through the US/Canadian press. Altra has fairly recently crossed to these shores and, with the Lone Peak 1.5, offered a potential product to meet my requirements.

There’s an interesting story behind the Altra brand, one that demonstrates the importance of timing, and one that, not unlike my own, owes a debt of gratitude to the iconic ‘Born To Run’.

“Two friends are selling shoes at the family running specialty store, Runner’s Corner in Orem, Utah, and they start zero dropping traditional running shoes to see if they could prevent injuries. Word of mouth spreads and soon they are firing up the bandsaw to zero drop shoes for friends of friends. The pair initially tried to pitch their zero drop idea to established shoe companies and were mocked, but little did they know that Born to Run would be released around the same time. In the summer of 2009, Altra was born with a focus on developing anatomically correct footwear with zero heel-to-toe drop, a concept that has caught on a great deal over the past several years.”

(http://www.irunfar.com/2012/02/altra-lone-peak-review.html)

Generally, where minimalist footwear is concerned, I expect a lightweight shoe with an ample toe box, minimal or no cushioning, a high degree of flexibility, and a good degree of ground feel. The Altra Lone Peak 1.5 is not a minimalist shoe per se, but does attempt to embrace elements of minimalism and, in doing so, positions itself midway between a conventional shoe and a minimalist shoe. As a result, it excels in some areas but not in others.

This has actually made for a difficult review, written with ‘two hats on’, as a barefoot/minimalist runner, and as an ultramarathoner.

Arguably, the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 may be of limited interest to a lot of Barefoot Running Magazine readers but, hopefully, this review will serve some purpose, to those who find themselves with a similar set of circumstances to my own.

The Altra web site describes the Lone Peak 1.5 as follows:

“Inspired by Lone Peak, one of the rockiest, toughest mountains in the Wasatch Range, The Lone Peak™ was designed to conquer the Wasatch 100. While the foot-shaped design allows athletes to stay relaxed and comfortable for hours, this do-everything mountain shoe promotes happy feet, increases ankle stabilization and improves form with the Zero DropTM platform. The Lone PeakTM features an innovative, sandwiched StoneGuardTM system that deflects rocks into the midsole for a smoother, more stable ride. Stand above the rest with the ultimate trail running shoe.”

(http://www.altrarunning.com/fitness/en/Altra/Men/lone-peak-15-mens)

Fit

One of the things that most differentiates the Lone Peak 1.5 from your average trail shoe is the spacious fit, with a roomy toe box that would be the envy of any minimalist shoe. Trying it on for the first time, I did actually wonder if I needed to size down. Online reviews were mixed with regard to size, split between those who considered the shoe to be true to size, those who felt the shoe to be overly large, and, perhaps most surprisingly, one account where the reviewer felt the need to go up a size.

Given my own experience and the online uncertainty where size is concerned, it might be advisable to try the shoe on before purchase if at all possible. There is a useful ‘show me how if fits’ tool on the Altra web site which may assist with regard to size. It asks for a known trainer as input before then recommending the required size of Altra. I used this functionality to confirm that I did in fact have the correct size for me, a UK 8, and, further, the web site advised that the Lone Peak 1.5 was constructed true to size.

The spacious toe box is one of the strongpoints of the Lone Peak 1.5. From a minimalist perspective, it’s a desirable quality in a shoe as it facilitates toe splay. From the perspective of an

ultramarathoner, it means that the Lone Peak 1.5 should be roomy enough to accommodate swollen feet, something which is not uncommon on longer distance runs.

Despite my initial apprehension with regard to size, I found the shoe to be comfortable straight out of the box and would even go so far as to describe it as one of the most comfortable trainers that I have ever worn.

Note that Altra offer gender specific versions of their product:

“Women’s feet are anatomically different than men’s feet. Women have a narrower heel and midfoot, higher instep, longer arch and unique metatarsal spacing. While this has always been a fact of life, traditional running shoe companies have opted to make male and female shoe models virtually identical for years.

Altra is the first shoe company to introduce an entire line of truly female specific shoes. Every last of Altra women’s running shoes have been molded around the unique shape of the female foot. A shoe last is a 360-degree model of a foot used to create the shoe’s heel, instep, arch and toe box dimensions.”

Check out the www.altrarunning.com for further information on the gender specific fit.

Styling

There is a considerably more subdued, almost all black version of the Lone Peak 1.5 available which may have a wider appeal, certainly to those who don’t want to stand out. However, I personally liked my predominantly red Lone Peak 1.5, with its retro old school vibe.

The Lone Peak has a rounded, almost chunky look to it, thanks largely to the foot shape toe box, with a large toe bumper providing generous toe protection, ideal for a shoe intended for trail ultramarathons.

The shoe makes good use of overlays for protection, including a white silhouette of the Wasatch mountain range on each outer edge of the shoe.

The sole of the Lone Peak 1.5 has a cool footprint imprinted on it which, after considerable use, is only just starting to wear away on my own pair.

One aspect of the Lone Peak 1.5 that is quite unusual is the ‘Trail Rudder’, a continuation of the sole that protrudes out the back of the shoe. More to follow on this.

Build Quality

The upper of the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 consists of a quick-dry, abrasion-resistant mesh with minimal seams and the aforementioned overlays for protection. Despite considerable use, I haven’t encountered any issues with the mesh or overlays.

The Lone Peak 1.5 sole consists of the Abound layer, described as an energy-return compound, which sits directly beneath the foot. This in turn sits atop a 1mm thick plastic StoneGuard, intended to provide an element of protection for the foot, which sits above the EVA Midsole. Finally, the lower is finished off with the sticky rubber TrailClaw™ outsole which contains multi-directional lugs and the aforementioned footprint.

Despite the numerous layers, and the mention of ‘energy-return’, the Lone Peak 1.5 offers a fairly firm ride. Compared to most minimalist footwear, it’s quite a built up shoe. However, there’s no comparison to the likes of the Brooks Cascadia and the various Hoka models which provide a noticeable sponginess and energy-return on each foot strike.

There’s a small Velcro flap at the rear of each shoe, something that I will admit to not even noticing until I sat down to give the shoes a closer inspection! It’s a neat little addition that those of us who use gaiters will no doubt appreciate. After experimentation with numerous gaiter brands, I discovered Dirty Girl Gaiters (not just for girls!), that utilized a Velcro approach when securing them to shoes. This proved considerably more robust than those gaiters that relied on cord, leather and/or elastic fastenings that run underneath the shoe. Unfortunately, where the latter approach is concerned, the constant pounding on the trails and the potential for direct contact with rocks and other debris, generally resulted in a fairly short lifespan. This just wasn’t the case at all for the Dirty Girl Gaiters, with the only ‘problem’ being the need to add Velcro to the back of your trail shoes. The addition of the Velcro flap on the Lone Peak 1.5 negates the need to even do this, making it even more straightforward to use gaiters.

The only slight criticism is that, as is so often the case with Velcro, it tends to curl when used repeatedly over time.

Performance

Out on the trail I have no complaints whatsoever when using the Lone Peak 1.5. The multi-directional lugs on the sole cope well, providing excellent traction. However, a word of caution if you are not fortunate enough to step right on to the trail. I’ve had mixed experiences with the Lone Peak 1.5 on numerous hard/concreted surfaces when wet and, worst of all, took a really bad tumble on wet wood.

Despite these failings, I really like the Lone Peak 1.5 and it’s my current shoe of choice for trail runs of any length and/or when the terrain is really technical underfoot and I just want to run without undue caution.

I mentioned the ‘Trail Rudder’ previously which, by all accounts, is intended to provide braking assistance and stability on steep and/or loose downhill sections. In theory at least, it makes sense. Most of us will likely find ourselves leaning back, digging our heels in slightly, trying to control and manage our descent. The Trail Rudder should assist, providing some additional traction.

Now I’m not the fastest of runners so there’s a good chance that I just haven’t pushed things hard enough to feel the benefit of the rudder. I have yet to feel any more in control on steep descents and, as such, am yet to be convinced with regard to the Trail Rudder.

If anything, I have actually found that it gets in the way, catching on steps/obstacles/debris when my foot placement has been really precise.

Whilst I haven’t been sufficiently bothered by the rudder to consider removing it, it was an option that I saw suggested online, and a sharp Stanley knife would surely do the trick.

One final observation is with regard to the laces, an issue I appear to have experienced with a few different shoes of late, most recently with the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail. I’ve found that the laces on the Lone Peak 1.5 have a tendency to come undone over the duration of a run if not double knotted.

It’s worth noting that the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 was awarded a Runner’s World Gear of the Year award in 2013.

Barefoot Simulation

The Lone Peak 1.5 is a zero drop shoe with a spacious toe box. However, with a stack height of 23mm, the Lone Peak 1.5 was never going to score highly for ground feel.

The level of protection afforded by the Lone Peak 1.5’s cushioning comes at the expense of ground feel and, further, at the expense of flexibility. There’s limited flexibility in the Lone Peak 1.5, focused towards the front of the shoe.

A full-length rock plate sits between the layers of cushioning on the Lone Peak 1.5, shielding your feet from the worst that the trail has to offer.

There is still a higher degree of ground feel than most conventional trail shoes. However, there’s simply no comparison against the average minimalist shoe, with no cushioning and just a few mms of sole.

At the end of the day, it’s all about compromise, protection Vs. ground feel, and, considering the possible use for the Lone Peak, as an ultramarathon shoe, arguably ground feel is going to be less of an issue with the emphasis instead on maximizing ability to cover ultra distances without injury.

Price

RRP £105.00

Overall Rating

It’s possibly unfair to review the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 using the same criteria that I typically apply when reviewing minimalist shoes. It is essentially a conventional trainer with some of the trappings of a minimalist shoe. While it does have an ample toe box, it doesn’t fare so well with regard to ‘minimal or no cushioning’, ‘a high degree of flexibility’, and ‘a good degree of ground feel’.

As previously mentioned, it’s a shoe that may be of limited interest to a lot of Barefoot Running Magazine readers, especially those running short to medium distances, who would arguably be better served by one of the truly minimalist shoes on the market.

However, for those readers like myself, who wish to run ultramarathon distances in a zero drop shoe that still offers an element of protection, the Lone Peak 1.5 provides us with a potential tool to get the job done.

Ideally, I would like to be in a position to run ultra distance events in truly minimalist shoes. However, be it for reasons of form and/or terrain, the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 provides me with an excellent compromise option, letting me run with a zero drop heel/toe differential but with just enough cushioning and protection to hopefully see me to the end of the event without injury.

As I have found to my cost, once you start to add fatigue into the mix, even the best running form can start to slip, with an occasional heel strike, contact with some potentially race ending debris, or simply missing things underfoot. Further, if you find yourself running through the night, visibility may also be an issue.

Until my form is such that I can comfortably run ultramarathon distances in entirely minimalist shoes, I am likely to have a continued need for a product such as the Lone Peak 1.5 in my shoe rotation and, whilst it’s not a perfect shoe from a minimalist perspective, arguably, it is an excellent trail shoe. I very much doubt that this will be my last pair of Lone Peak 1.5 and I will, in all likelihood, check out Altras other minimalist leaning products.

There’s word that the Lone Peak 2.0 will be released mid-2014, apparently with significant differences including reduced use of overlays on the upper (goodbye to the Wasatch mountain range), an extra 2mm of cushioning in the midsole, and a second rockplate for additional metatarsal protection.

(http://www.irunfar.com/2014/06/best-shoes-of-winter-outdoor-retailer-2014.html)

The most likely result will be to add weight to the shoe and to further reduce the flexibility. However, as long as Altra retain the zero drop heel/toe differential and the spacious toe box, an updated Lone Peak will still be of interest as far as meeting my own ultra goals are concerned.

Specifications

  • Ideal Uses: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Ultra Marathons
  • Platform: Zero DropTM Platform, Foot-Shaped Design, NRS – Natural Ride System™
  • Stack Height: 23 mm
  • Midsole: Two-Layer EVA / AltraBound™
  • Outsole: Sticky Rubber TrailClaw™
  • Insole: Mountain Footbed
  • Upper: Quick-Dry, Abrasion-Resistant Mesh with Minimal Seams
  • Lacing Structure: Asymmetrical
  • Other Features:
    • StoneGuard™ Sandwiched Rock Protection
    • TrailRudder™
    • Gusseted Tongue
    • Vegan Friendly
    • Natural Ride System
    • Weight: 9.9 oz.
    • Cushioning: Moderate
  • http://www.altrarunning.com/fitness/en/Altra/Men/lone-peak-15-mens

Columbia Gear

Back in mid 2013, I was sent a Columbia Omni Freeze t-shirt for review and was blown away at just how well it helped me maintain a desirable body temperature, from the extremes of keeping me cool while running on a treadmill in our sun house in 30°C+ temperatures, through to keeping me from freezing while being buffeted by winds at altitude while out on a trail run high in the Cairngorm mountains. It has been, without a doubt, one of the stand-out items of kit for me this past year. Further, as one of my most comfortable t-shirts, I have turned to it on a daily basis as well, not just when I require the technical aspects of the garment.

As such, I was delighted to be presented with the opportunity to review some 2014 Columbia kit, including the Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt,  Silver Ridge Convertible trousers (shorts/trousers), Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt and Conspiracy II OutDry shoes.

Since I received the Columbia product last week, I have made a point of wearing each item as much as possible and have to admit to liking the versatility of being able to turn the Silver Ridge Convertible Trousers from trousers to shorts and back again, simply by zipping off the lower leg portion.

I will admit to being a shorts & t-shirt guy outside of work hours, regardless of the weather, to the extent that family and friends are genuinely shocked on the rare occasion when they see me in long trousers!

Unfortunately, when I am out and about, I appear to be the equivalent of a ‘happy meal’ for clegs, midges etc, and I also tend to react badly to any bites, turning red and blotchy and often requiring the use of antihistamines and creams to calm inflammation.

A few years back, a bite to my leg resulted in it swelling to the point where I had no choice but to elevate it for a week. This was bad enough. However, it was also 2 weeks before the 53 mile Highland Fling ultramarathon, hardly ideal race preparation! (I didn’t have the easiest of races but I did make it to the end)

On my most recent trip to the Cairngorms, I found that I appeared to be equally appealing to ticks, ‘helped’ no doubt by my tendency to seek out new routes on pathways that were often fairly overgrown.

As such, it makes sense for me to forego the shorts & t-shirt approach where necessary and to cover up a bit more. With approx. 3 weeks until I next return to the Cairngorms, I am already counting down the days and I am looking forward to putting my new Columbia gear through their paces. Full reviews to follow upon my return from the Cairngorms.

Product Details

Zero Rules Short Sleeve Shirt

£25, Available at Blacks

A super-cooling tech tee with stretch and sun protection, this soft and lightweight men’s shirt sports Columbia’s industry-leading cooling technology, which reacts with your sweat to lower the material’s temperature and keep you cool during dynamic aerobic activity in the heat.

Construction:

  • Omni-Freeze ZERO™ sweat-activated super cooling
  • Omni-Wick™
  • Omni-Shade™ UPF 30 sun protection
  • Modern Classic Fit
  • Comfort stretch
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacteria growth

Fabric:

  • 100% polyester ZERO interlock

Silver Ridge Convertible Pant

£55, Available at Blacks

These durable, quick-wicking pants feature built-in sun protection and plentiful storage making them the perfect choice for active days in warm weather.

Construction:

  • Omni-Wick
  • Omni-Shade UPF 50 sun protection
  • Partial elastic at waist
  • Gusset detail
  • Pockets with hook and loop closure
  • Zip-closed security pocket
  • Mesh pocket bags

Fabric:

  • Omni-Shade Main Body
    100% nylon Silver Ridge ripstop
  • Omni-Wick Mesh Panels
    57% recycled polyester/43% polyester mesh

Insect Blocker Long Sleeve Shirt

£50, Available at Snow+Rock

This versatile button up features Insect Blocker™ technology to ward off bugs, UPF 30 wards off harsh UV rays, and Omni-Wick™ advanced evaporation keeps you cool and dry during dynamic activity.

Construction:

  • Insect Blocker
  • Omni-Wick technology actively breathes and pulls sweat away from your body to keep you dry and cool
  • Omni-Shade UPF 30 provides premium protection from the sun
  • Pocket with hook and loop closure
  • Mesh pocket bags
  • Rollup sleeves with tab holders
  • Sun protection collar
  • Vented

Fabric:

  • Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade 100% Insect Blocker nylon basketweave

Conspiracy II OutDry

£80, Available at Blacks

Superior traction meets waterproof-breathable construction for an ultra-lightweight shoe that will keep you nimble, comfortable and dry during all kinds of outdoor activities. The mesh upper is fortified with a protective rubber screen-print to maximise durability while the Fluidframe midsole provides ideal underfoot support for a lively, responsive ride.

Construction:

  • Upper
    • Protective rubber screenprint over mesh
    • OutDry waterproof, breathable construction
    • Synthetic toecap
  • Midsole
    • Techlite™ lightweight midsole, superior cushion, high energy return
    • FluidFrame™ multidensity underfoot support
  • Outsole
    • Omni-Grip™ high traction non-marking rubber
  • Weight: US size 9, ½ pair = 10.3 oz/294 g

The North Face Isotherm 1/2 Zip Review

The following review was included in Issue 10, Autumn/Winter 2013 of Barefoot Running Magazine.

The North Face Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt arrived with me just in time for the drop in temperatures that heralded the end of a brilliant summer and, since that point, it has been in constant rotation, having been worn not just for running but for anything and everything from hiking and biking to general everyday use.

The Isotherm, billed as “an innovative hybrid trail running top designed for protection and warmth,” is available in both men’s and women’s styles and is definitely worth a look if you are considering what to wear to see you through the Autumn and Winter months.

When it comes to the worst of the Autumn/Winter weather, most notably the snow and rain, the Isotherm will be paired up with a breathable waterproof layer to add that additional element of protection. At the time of writing I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test the Isotherm in extreme cold but, from the forecast, it would appear that I will not have to wait too long to be able to do this!

Styling

The Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt comes in Nautical Blue/Estate Blue or TNF Black/Asphalt Grey colour combinations.

Fit

The Isotherm offers a really comfortable fit, neither overly large nor overly tight. My standard XL size provided the perfect fit and it was as comfortable sitting at a desk as it was out on the trail. The only potential issue would be with regard to the sleeves which, with their built in mitt protection, are slightly longer than standard sleeves. However, the mitt element can easily be folded up into the sleeve.

Build Quality

As you would expect from The North Face, the quality of the garment is excellent, well constructed with neatly stitched seams and good attention to detail. Despite repeated washes over the short time that I have had the Isotherm, it shows no sign of degradation at all.

The Isotherm uses proprietary fabrics developed by North Face, including FlashDry™, which incorporates microporous particles to improve moisture management and temperature regulation during outdoor activity. FlashDry™, used across a wide number of products in The North Face range, accelerates the removal of moisture from the skin, enabling the user to stay drier and more comfortable for longer. FlashDry™ is permanently embedded in the yarn and won’t wash out.

Performance

The Isotherm ½ Zip is part of The North Face’s Flight Series running collection, athlete tested and competition proven, and, as such, you have high expectations for the garment.

The Isotherm consists of a wind resistant core which blocks the wind and helps to retain heat, with a wool blend on the sleeves and FlashDry™ paneling for ventilation on the sides of the garment, down the back, and under the arms.

The built in sleeve mitts can be folded up inside the sleeve or simply rolled up around the wrists when not in use. However, chances are you are going to want to make use of the hand protection afforded by these, especially in the chillier temperatures. They are no substitute for gloves in really cold temperatures but are certainly useful on those days when gloves would be overkill and result in overly hot hands.

The double zip used in the ½ zip neck is one area where the attention to detail is evident. I actually overlooked this feature at first, not appreciating just how useful the double zip could be. It facilitates optimum control over ventilation, enabling full coverage when zipped up, ample ventilation when zipped down, or a combination approach if the bottom zip is used. Zipping up from the bottom permits easy ventilation of the chest area without the need to leave the neck flapping around, a useful feature for those days when the winter sun heats you up.

The neck of the garment has a cover to prevent the zip from rubbing against your skin.

There’s a useful zipped chest pocket that’s perfect for holding a key or a lightweight MP3 player.

360 degree reflectivity is provided as a result of reflective logos and use of reflective trims, with the traditional The North Face logo on the front, and a Flight Series logo on the rear of the garment.

I was initially quite surprised at the combination of materials on the Isotherm. The shiny core seemed at odds with the wool blend sleeves and FlashDry™ paneling. However, having tested the Isotherm in a variety of scenarios, I can see how well the separate elements work to provide the perfect conditions for running.

Price

RRP £85.00

Overall Rating

The Isotherm ½ Zip Shirt certainly ticks all the boxes if you are looking for a top that offers wind resistance, temperature regulation, breathability and comfort. It’s the quality product that you would expect to come from The North Face and the combination of a wind resistant core and FlashDry™ paneling results in a garment that doesn’t leave you chilling in your own sweat. The double zip and built in mitts are useful additions to the garment, adding to the overall functionality. Definitely a garment worthy of consideration if you are looking for something to see you through the colder months.

Specifications

Features

  • Two-way zip
  • Reflectivity at zip
  • Shaped hem
  • Thumbholes
  • Secure chest pocket
  • Reflective logo
  • Fabric
  • body: 200 g/m2 56% merino wool, 37% polyolefin, 7% polyester knit
  • panel: 76 g/m2 100% polyester woven

Vivobarefoot Trail Freak

Vivobarefoot have launched the ultimate off-road shoe, the Trail Freak.

“Vivobarefoot launch the Trail Freak, the next step in the brand’s performance range of shoes for trail running.

Scheduled for release in Spring 2014, Vivobarefoot’s most advanced trail shoe offers the ultimate off-road running aesthetic supported by the brand’s dominance in pure barefoot technology and performance.

Worn by trail running star A J Calitz (2 x Red Bull LionHeart Winner, 2012 and 2013), the Trail Freak is a lightweight, breathable shoe with a natural wide fore-sole design which allows toes to splay as nature intended, optimizing barefoot feeling and sensory feedback.

Featuring ‘V Trek’ outsole construction designed for maximum surface contact on off-road surfaces, a duo reflective mesh and printed structure giving a more comfortable and secure ‘second skin’ fit with maximum breathability, the Trail Freak is designed to allow your feet and shoes to move as one, no matter what nature throws at them.”

(Vivobarefoot Press Release)

Features:

  1. Outsole construction: V Trek Rubber outsole specifically designed for off road surfaces with multi-directional lugs to maximize surface contact for superior barefoot traction
  2. Outsole thickness: 2.5mm with 4.5mm lugs. Outsole material: V-grip Rubber
  3. Removable insole: 3mm Poliyou Insole for additional thermal protection when necessary
  4. Lining: Dri-Lex Performance lining with lycra: Lightweight, performance lining for moisture wicking and superior comfort
  5. Upper: Reflective Mesh. Thick, dual layer mesh with a reflective thread
  6. Upper: Printed Structure. Flexible yet strong printed upper gives a natural and secure fit
  7. Lacing: Toggle. Fasten securely with strong wire-like laces and toggle
  8. Eco-Credentials: 100% Vegan
  9. Weight: Mens 260g / Ladies 210g

Available in:

  • Mens: sizes 40-47 Red/Orange Navy/Sulphur
  • Ladies: sizes 35-42 Blue/Turquoise Pink/Teal

More information at: http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

The Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest, available from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, is one piece of kit that has everyone excited.

Ian Corless ultra-distance and skyrunning journalist Ian Corless, of Talk Ultra goes so far as to say:

“This new product from UK company; inov-8 may very well be the next key moment in pack design stripping away complication and providing a pack that would almost make a perfect accessory for Batman.”

Keith Godden from www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com described the Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest as follows:

“You could carry up to 3 litres of water quite comfortably if you wanted too but there would be limited space left for other stuff. It’s the first vest to come with two bottles and a 2L bladder too, so it gives some flexibility to experiment with ways to carry water and other gear.

The flat bottles are nice and close to the body and kept there very snugly by the stretch mesh pockets. The sternum strap clips can be a little tricky to get open and closed with your fingers at first so it takes a bit of practice if wearing gloves for sure.”

The Race Ultra Vest was voted best in the performance equipment category by a panel of expert judges and named a 2014/2015 ISPO AWARD GOLD WINNER

The Race Ultra Vest was also voted Best In Test in Trail Magazine.

From the Inov-8 web site:

“The Race Ultra Vest, which is new for spring/summer 2014, is the best-fitting pack ever brought to market. Made entirely of stretch mesh and fully-breathable 3D Airmesh, the insanely lightweight vest is form-fitting design innovation at its best.

Weighing just 195g and capable of carrying four litres of kit, the vest, which boasts seven pockets, delivers zero bounce when running. It feels more like a second skin on the body, rather than a rucksack. By positioning two pockets much lower than comparable products, a pair of 500ml bottles can sit flatter and more stable to the side of the body. This ensures easy access to bottles and minimal fluid bounce.”

Inov-8 Hydration Pack : Race Ultra Vest

Specifically designed for water bottles and a 2L shape-shift reservoir. An all mesh, fully breathable body-tight vest with stretch pockets ideal for ultra distance racing. Can carry three litres of fluid and features six adjustable straps to ensure a secure fit. Comes supplied with a two-litre reservoir and two 500ml uniquely designed flat bottles which hug the body to reduce unwanted movement.

Features

  • Large stretch mesh pocket to rear
  • Insulated reservoir sleeve
  • 2L shape-shift reservoir
  • Two large mesh pockets to front double as bottle holders
  • Two large mesh pockets to front top
  • Two smaller stretch mesh pockets to front top
  • Whistle

Specifications

  • Volume Capacity: 3.5L
  • Fluid Capacity: 2 x 500 mL bottles and 1x 2L bladder
  • Weight: 195 g (~550 g with bottles and reservoir) / 6.8 oz. (~19.4 oz. with bottles and reservoir)
  • Height: 36 cm / 14 in

Sizing At Chest (Unisex)

  • 31 – 44 in. / 78 – 112 cm
  • Note: Measure wearing the clothes you intend to wear

Materials & Design

  • Stretch Mesh

2x 500mL Flat Bottles included

Inov-8 Race Ultra pack series put to the test in the mountains:

Trail Running magazine – Inov8 Race Ultra range:

The North Face FL Race Vest

The North Face FL Race Vest has been in development for a number of years now and has been seen on the backs of The North Face athletes such as Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau throughout the development process.

Most recently, Jez Bragg made use of the vest on his Te Araroa trail expedition.

If you happen to follow Sebastien Chaigneau on Facebook, you will likely have seen how he likes to customize his own vest.

I have yet to see the vest in anything other than photos but Ian Corless provides an excellent overview of the vest over on his web site, describing it as sitting “between the inov-8 Race Ultra and Salomon S-Lab products”. Sounds like a great product that has found its own niche.