#TestedTough – Columbia Montrail Caldorado II & Apparel

Columbia Montrail Caldorado II

I said a while back, when I revamped pixelscotland.com, that I wasn’t going to do any more reviews, especially of product that was unlikely to replace the various items that I’ve pulled together over the past 7 years of running ultramarathons, items that I have come to trust to see me through both training and events, and I will stand by that.

However, I was recently introduced to Columbia Montrail shoes and apparel, which I put my faith in to see me through the 53 undulating miles of the Highland Fling ultramarathon on Saturday 29th April. Based on my experiences at the Fling, those items are now my ‘go-to’ kit and, as such, are deemed worthy of review. I say review but it’s actually more just a collection of my thoughts on the items from the new Columbia Montrail range that I have tried and tested to date.

It all started when I came across a review of the Columbia Montrail Caldorado II over on iRunFar.com, at a time when I was disillusioned with my current trail shoes, which either felt unresponsive or that had proven to have a lifespan considerably far short of expectations.

When Columbia took on the mantle of main UTMB sponsor, a role that had, up until then, been synonymous with The North Face, I think it took most people by surprise. Here was THE premier ultramarathon event, at least as far as Europe is concerned, with a sponsor that didn’t have a particularly well established brand presence in European trail running.

Trail running specific product had to follow and, indeed, it has, albeit with a fairly ‘soft launch’, available from only a few retailers. When I first read the Caldorado II review, which was full of praise for the shoe (see below for a brief excerpt), I new that I had to at least try them out:

“This is now a shoe you can pull out of the box, lace up with double knots, and run any distance without a second thought. There is no break-in period, and no stopping to retie your shoes.”

I put out some feelers to try and get a review pair of the Caldorado II but, before I heard back, actually managed to track down a pair from GoOutdoors of all places and, what’s more, I ended up getting them for something like £67.00, approximately half what I would normally expect to pay for my trail shoes. (Out of interest, checking this morning, I see that they are available from GoOutdoors for the bargain price of £60.00!)

So, time for some disclosure: I was also fortunate enough to receive a men’s Titan Ultra™ Short Sleeve Shirt and a men’s Titan Lite™ Windbreaker jacket to review from Columbia.

On the strength of initial experiences with the kit, I soon ordered myself a second pair of Caldorado IIs, a men’s Titan Ultra™ Half Zip Shirt, and a pair of men’s Titan Ultra™ Short.

Now, again in the interests of disclosure, it’s not the first time that I have received items from Columbia for review. A few years back I was fortunate to be sent a pair of Columbia OutDry walking shoes, an Omni-Freeze tshirt, convertible walking trousers/shorts and a shirt. My experiences with the gear were positive, wearing both the shirt and trousers/shorts until weight loss rendered them overly large for me, whilst the tshirt and shoes are still worn to this day. As such, I hoped for similarly positive experiences with the new gear.

Further, it’s safe to say that I’ve spent considerably more on items than the value of those received. So, down to business! Lets start where I did, with the Caldorada IIs.

I’d definitely recommend reading the aforementioned review over at iRunFar.com by Kristin Zosel. It covers everything you need to know and more in much more detail than I could hope to convey. Kristin goes as far as to suggest that the shoe might appeal to Western States runners, a race that most ultramarathoners will recognise as America’s oldest 100 mile trail run and a race that, alongside Hardrock 100, is likely one of THE most famous American ultramarathons. It doesn’t get much better than that!

“This shoe tackles almost any surface for any amount of time for those whose feet prefer a cushioned ride with ample rock protection while still maintaining flexibility to cruise on smooth surfaces.”

“A shoe you can pull out of the box, lace up with double knots, and run any distance without a second thought”

I’d certainly agree with both of the above statements, taken from the iRunFar review. There was no break in period, with the Caldorada IIs providing a good level of comfort straight out of the box and, further, accommodating my wide feet, something that so many running shoes fail to do.

I’ve experienced more than a few ‘dunkings’ wearing these and, fortunately, I’ve found that they quickly drain of any water. There is a waterproof version of the shoe but I have yet to try these. Perhaps one for the typical Scottish Winter! The Caldorada IIs provide excellent traction and I’ve found myself with greater confidence ascending and descending technical routes, most recently on Conic Hill, approx. 18 miles into the Highland Fling.

In terms of cushioning, I’d suggest that the cushioning is ‘just right’, neither overly cushioned and spongy, nor overly stiff. I was happy with them straight out of the box and, by the end of the 53 miles of the Highland Fling, my somewhat undertrained feet and legs were in pretty good shape, all things considered – 2 bruised toenails, most likely from my kicking rocks (accidentally I should add!) and not a blister in sight.

Next up, the Men’s Titan Ultra™ Short Sleeve Shirt.

I was struck by just how fine the tshirt felt when I first opened the packaging. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to take a fall in the garment, nor would I like to get into a ‘fight’ with a spiky bush. Having said that, neither of those scenarios would do much good for any garment! That aside, as a typical Scot, who suffers in the heat and who often finds himself ill-prepared when a hot day does finally arrive, I was looking forward to the claimed sweat-activated cooling properties of the Omni-FREEZE ZERO and Omni-WICK material. I was not disappointed.

The idea behind these technologies is that they utilise your sweat to lower the temperature of the material, whilst the wicking properties keep your skin dry and comfortable.

First outing was a fairly short, fast blast around Ellon on an unseasonably hot day, a perfect opportunity to put the claims to the test, and I was pleased to see the garment excelled in these conditions. Returning home, I removed my shirt only to find that it was drenched in sweat and I had been none the wiser to this whilst running, feeling cool and dry.

Thinking back, I shouldn’t have been overly surprised at this. When I first tested Omni-FREEZE ZERO technology a few years back, I first put it to the test on a treadmill in a sun-house where the thermometer had already maxed out at 30°C. I was shocked then at just how dry I felt despite running some miles in those conditions.

The Men’s Titan Lite™ Windbreaker not only provides the same wicking and temperature control properties but, also, affords an element of wind protection, making it the perfect garment for pre-run scenarios, early on in the run, before you have warmed up, and, of course, on windy days. Further, the Titan Lite™ also repels light rain, negating the need for a waterproof unless conditions deteriorate. The Titan Lite is vented, aiding breathability, and packs into its own pocket when no longer required. I’d used the jacket a few times in training, typically for the first mile or so on a chilly morning, until I warmed up. On the morning of the Highland Fling, it provided sufficient warmth and protection from the elements to keep me feeling comfortable from the 4am start through to the actual race start at 6am and, thereafter, for the first few miles of the race itself.

Normally, I would always run a race in a short-sleeved t-shirt. However, I donned the men’s Titan Ultra™ Half Zip Shirt for the Highland Fling. Retrospectively, this was a stroke of genius. For the first time in as long as I can remember Fling conditions were not unseasonably hot. Rather, conditions varied throughout the day, from a chilly morning start, to conditions that were edging towards ‘too hot’, to rain showers of varying ‘ferocity’, to the occasional bit of wind.

Whilst others around me found themselves reaching for an additional layer, I ran the majority of the 53 miles in just the Titan Ultra™ Half Zip, having removed the Titan Lite™ Windbreaker after I had warmed up in the first few miles. The rain showers were initially very light, with heavier rain to follow. If anything, I found the rain refreshing as I racked up the miles, and at no point did I see the need to add an additional layer. Despite the rain, at no point did I feel ‘wet’, which I can only put down to the garment technologies.

The sleeves were a perfect length, not as long as to cover my hands, but long enough to cover my Suunto without getting caught up in it. Given the material employed in the construction of the sleeves, with its wicking and temperature regulating properties, I didn’t feel as if I had ‘sacrificed’ ventilation by opting for the longer sleeve.

Whilst the Fling was held pre-midge season, as someone who has run the full 96 miles of the West Highland Way when the midges have been particularly bad, I am glad to have discovered a sleeved garment that I am happy to run in. I appear to be the midge equivalent of a ‘happy meal’ and, as such, am delighted to now be able to cover as much skin as possible!

As with the Titan Ultra™ Short Sleeve Shirt, the Omni-FREEZE ZERO and Omni-WICK technologies served me well. I opted to run the Highland Fling wearing a Salomon S-LAB vest pack but experienced no problems with sweating and/or sweat induced shivers and cold.

One of THE standout aspects of the garment was the half zip, which facilitated easy ventilation when temperatures and/or effort levels necessitated some cooling and, similarly, which afforded protection from the elements when the temperature and/or pace dropped. When I initially saw the Columbia Montrail range, I’d considered the Titan Ultra™ Half Zip Shirt to be more of an Autumn/Winter item. However, based on my experiences at the Fling, this will be THE go-to top for my long distance events. Further, I’m more likely to utilise the full sleeve garment when ascending up into the hills.

Finally, the Men’s Titan Ultra™ Short, with Omni-WICK and Omni-SHIELD properties. When these shorts first arrived with me, I will admit to having had some reservations. The lack of a drawstring waist was a serious omission as far as I was concerned. I typically like to be able to tie my shorts tight for some unknown reason(!) and was concerned that the lack of a drawstring would prove to be a problem for me.

However, I needn’t have worried. The Titan Ultra™ Shorts were a perfect fit, with a comfortable waist band. Now I don’t know if Columbia will thank me for this comparison but, on seeing the shorts, my wife commented that the waist band reminded her of the type of comfortable, elasticated waist bands typically found on maternity wear! Regardless of anyone’s thoughts on that particular comparison, one thing is for sure, the Titan Ultra™ Short were supremely comfortable and, what’s more, I didn’t have any issues at all with movement from the inner compression brief. Typically, I find myself adjusting and ‘rearranging’ shorts throughout an event but, this time around, the only adjustments followed toilet stops (too much information?). As such, along with the Titan Ultra™ Half Zip, the shorts were one of THE kit successes of the race as far as I was concerned.

It will be interesting to see, longer term, how the garment fares after repeated washes. This is, perhaps, where a drawstring might prove useful, to remedy any loss in elasticity. Time will tell if that proves to be the case.

With regard to the pockets on the Titan Ultra™ Shorts, I can’t really comment. There’s a centrally placed zipped pocket at the rear of the short, with an elasticated pocket at either side. However, given that my training runs typically see me running with a waist pack, and events typically see me run with a waist pack or vest pack, I’ve yet to utilise the additional storage afforded by these pockets.

So, that about sums up my thoughts on the new Columbia Montrail range. Hopefully there’s some food for thought there. If you are anything like me, you’ve either ran or aspire to run one or more of the UTMB events and, if that proves to be the case, these offerings from the event sponsor may be of interest. The Caldorada IIs are, for example, touted as shoes that meet with the event kit requirements.

Given the massive appeal of the UTMB events to trail runners and the quality of the shoes and apparel on offer from Columbia Montrail, I would not be surprised to see a huge increase in the brand awareness throughout Europe and, further, in increasingly seeing athletes clad in Columbia Montrail shoes and apparel on the start lines of events.

Whilst none of the garments are what would be considered ‘cheap’, I’d suggest that £45 for shorts, as an example, is far less than similar offerings from other brands, where shorts can be priced at anything from £80 upwards. Similarly, where the Caldorada IIs are concerned, if you take advantage of current prices, considerably below RRP, it’s possible to pick up a couple of pairs for the cost of a single pair of similar shoes.

The shoes and apparel on offer are undoubtedly of quality and, in terms of functionality, certainly fit with the kind of requirements that I have when it comes to choosing race (and training) kit. Without a doubt, I will be clad in Columbia Montrail for the foreseeable future.

Links and full details for each of the aforementioned items contained below:

Men’s Titan Ultra™ Half Zip Shirt, £50.00

Columbia-Titan-Ultra-Half-Zip-Shirt

“This shirt is made specifically for strenuous and extreme exertion activities, such as training for an ultra-trail, or taking part in trail running. A high-performing shirt could just give you the edge you need, with its sweat-activated cooling technology that keeps your skin dry and comfortable so you can concentrate on your own performance. As a bonus, antimicrobial treatment protects it from bacterial growth, so you stay fresh. Features drop tail hem and reflective detail.”

Features:

  • Omni-FREEZE ZERO™ sweat-activated cooling
  • Omni-WICK™
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacterial growth
  • Drop tail
  • hem
  • Reflective detail

Fabric:

  • Shell: 100% Polyester
  • Shell: 86% polyester / 14% elastane
  • Omni-Freeze™ ZERO – Sweat-Activated Cooling
  • OMNI-WICK® – High-Performance Wicking Fabric

Men’s Titan Ultra™ Short, £45.00

Columbia-Titan-Ultra-Short

“These shorts have all the specialist features you need for optimum comfort during your ultra trail training or any high-performance activity. The fabric’s advanced repellency works to shrug off moisture and stains, and its wicking properties keep your skin dry no matter how hard you work. Antimicrobial treatment keeps you fresh, and the interior compression briefs ensure your comfort. Zip-closed security pockets keep valuables safe and reflective detail lets you be seen.”

Features:

  • Omni-SHIELD™ advanced repellency
  • Omni-WICK™
  • Antimicrobial treatment on brief protects this product from bacterial growth
  • Interior compression brief Hand pockets
  • Zip-closed security pocket
  • Multi-functional pockets
  • Reflective detail

Fabric:

  • Shell: 94% Nylon, 6% Elastane
  • Liner: 90% Polyester, 10% Elastane
  • Omni-Shield™ – Water and Stain Repellent
  • OMNI-WICK® – High-Performance Wicking Fabric

Men’s Titan Ultra™ Short Sleeve Shirt, £40.00

Columbia-Titan-Ultra-Short-Sleeve-Shirt

“If you’re training for an ultra-trail, or taking part in trail running, you know you need specialist gear that’s as dedicated to top performance as you are. This short sleeve shirt provides long-lasting cooling by utilising your sweat to lower the temperature of the material and its wicking properties are second to none in keeping your skin dry and comfortable. To help keep things sweet, antimicrobial treatment protects from bacterial growth. Features drop tail hem and reflective detail.”

Features:

  • Omni-FREEZE ZERO™ sweat-activated cooling
  • Omni-WICK™
  • Antimicrobial treatment protects this product from bacterial growth
  • Drop tail
  • hem
  • Reflective detail

Fabric:

  • Shell: 100% Polyester
  • Shell: 86% polyester / 14% elastane
  • Omni-Freeze™ – Cooling and Wicking Fabric
  • OMNI-WICK® – High-Performance Wicking Fabric

Men’s Titan Lite™ Windbreaker, £80.00

Columbia-Titan-Lite-Windbreaker

“When the breeze whips up out on a hike, trail running or for any mountain action, you need wind protection that also keeps you cool. This windbreaker has technology which uses your sweat to lower the temperature of the material, accelerating the wicking process and keeping your skin dry. The repellent material resists light rain and stains through its low surface tension technology. Vented for extra airflow, a drawcord adjustable hem for fit and reflective detail so you can be seen.”

Features:

  • Omni-FREEZE ZERO™ sweat-activated cooling
  • Omni-SHIELD™ advanced repellency
  • Vented
  • Drawcord adjustable hem
  • Reflective detail
  • Packable into security pocket

Fabric:

  • Shell: 100% Nylon
  • Shell: 86% polyester / 14% elastane
  • Omni-Freeze™ ZERO – Sweat-Activated Cooling
  • Omni-Shield™ – Water and Stain Repellent

Men’s Caldorado™ II Shoe, £90.00

Columbia-Caldorada-II

“Fans of ultra-trail and trail running know that the perfect balance between support, cushioning and traction is the ultimate aim for a trail running shoe. Here it is! This shoe combines those ultra-trail essentials in a high-tech construction, with a great feeling fit, in a comfortable and lightweight package. The seamless upper with a foam collar, fully integrated gusset and reinforced toe cap give you great comfort and protection. The midsole provides exceptional cushioning, flexibility and support, and the light and flexible outsole protects you from rocks, roots, and other trail debris.”

Features:

  • New seamless upper, coupled with enhanced collar foam, fully integrated gusset, and reinforced toe cap provide comfort and protection
  • Ride heights: 19mm heel / 11mm forefoot
  • Full length rubber outsole
  • Multi-directional lug patterns provide traction on varied surfaces
  • 4mm outsole lug height
  • Weight: size 8.5, pair = 297 g
  • Imported

Technologies:

  • FluidFoam midsole for exceptional cushioning, flexibility and support
  • Patented FluidGuide technology for enhanced midfoot stability and a smooth ride on the trail
  • TrailShield protection plate integrated with forefoot flex grooves
  • NOTE: 1/2 sizes available.