equipment

Gear I like

Coming Up: Earth Runners Circadian X Review

I’m delighted to announce that, in the very near future, I’ll post a full review of the Earth Runners Circadian X minimalist sandal. This is an exciting new product from Michael Dally of Earth Runners, featuring 8mm soles with conductive inserts, suede leather footbeds, and fully-conductive leather straps. Given the impressive design, construction, and performance of my present Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, I expect the CircXs to be quite something. Stay tuned!

Review: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X minimalist sandals. That’s been a treat – they’re very good sandals indeed, with a couple of features that set them apart from others that I’ve worn.

Overview

That’s not to say that the Alpha Xs stray very far from the basic huarache-like minimalist sandal concept. The soles are cut to size and shaped to the foot, there’s a strap/lace system to hold them on, and they allow your feet to stay open, flexible, and to breathe. All good.

But they’re different. You can see a couple of the “set apart” features in the photo below.

Earth Runner Alpha X sandals

First, the straps… They’re leather, rather than the usual nylon – a lovely, soft, treated leather with the Earth Runner logo showcased nicely. They’re incredibly comfortable. And they’re complemented by a suede leather footbed that adds some moisture-wicking capabilities to the footbed, and has – even over a couple of weeks – already helped the sandals shape to my footprint.

The Alpha X strap pattern is different from that on the Bedrock and Xero Shoes sandals I own. From the toe, it comes back and across the foot to the outside, crosses in front of the ankle, goes around the heel, then back to fit into a locking buckle. It’s a design that works very well for my high instep feet. (If you’re uncomfortable with a strap between your toes, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.)

Alpha X strap

The photo below shows the bottoms of the Alpha Xs.

Alpha X soles

The Alpha X soles are from Vibram, which is no surprise, as almost all minimalist running sandals do that. But the tread pattern on the Alpha Xs is something called “Woodstock.” It’s not a very aggressive tread, but sturdy enough to hold its own on most surfaces except the most technical. (I find that good running form usually trumps extreme tread patterns anyway.) The Alpha X soles are 11mm thick, but surprisingly light, each sandal weighing only 141 gm (5 oz.). For all that, they’re reasonably flexible. Not the “once ’round the circle” flexibility you get with 6mm or 8mm soles, but still pretty good.

Alpha X flex

Testing, testing…

As I said, I’ve been testing the Alpha Xs for a couple of weeks. That means running in them – on neighbourhood roads and sidewalks – and walking in them as well. They’re good to run in, and even better as an everyday sandal. The leather straps are easy to adjust, which is a good thing, since they stretch a little at first. Not a big deal at all, just something to be mindful of.

It’s the combination of the leather straps, the lightweight/light-density sole, and the tread pattern that makes the Alpha Xs into a sort of “do everything” minimalist sandal. That was a bit of a surprise – I’d expected to wear them for running, but was completely unprepared for the other. The simple fact is that these are an extremely well-designed and well-constructed sandal. Given the attractive price point of the Alpha X (US$72 , not including shipping), they’re a good choice in the increasingly busy minimalist sandal market place.

A couple of caveats… As noted above, the toe strap thing might not be for everybody. And the strap pattern may not work for everyone’s foot shape. Leather straps? Great for comfort, good for security, but I’m not sure they’d be ideal for a lengthy trail ultra. And I worry a little bit that the bit of leather that goes under each side of the sole (see photo of the Alpha X bottoms) may wear out over time. As for the “general purpose” tread – you may want a more aggressive tread pattern for very technical trails.

Bonus!

I have to add that Michael Dally, the man behind Earth Runners, was kind enough to send, along with my pair of Alpha Xs, a pair of Smartwool tabi socks.

Tabi socks

These, to use a phrase from a much younger generation, are The Bomb! Here in southern Ontario in mid-November, my morning runs happen in temperatures at about 0C to 5C (32F to 41F). That’s certainly doable without socks, but the tabis make cool temperature running just that much more comfortable. I’ve never worn tabis before, but am now a convert!

Conclusions

The Earth Runners Alpha X is a great sandal. I recommend it highly.

The thicker sole means that there’s not as much groundfeel as with my Bedrock Synclines. That’s to be expected. But Earth Runners also offers the Circadian (6mm sole) and Circadian X (8mm) models for that. They’re similar strap design, but with less sole and are available with nylon laces.

I think the Alpha Xs will really come into their own when I’ve run and walked long enough in them that the footbeds have become even more shaped to my feet. When that happens, they’re going to be close to slipper-like comfortable, while keeping to their minimalist sandal roots. I’m looking forward to that!

For comfort, looks, and general goodness, I don’t think there’s a sandal on the market that can beat the Alpha X.

Earthing

I have to say something about the concept of earthing. It’s controversial, so bear with me.

Earthing is central to what Earth Runners are all about. In a nutshell, the theory behind earthing is that one’s health and well-being can be improved/enhanced by “grounding” oneself to the earth. The idea is that “earthing can help normalize your circadian cycle and avoid the harmful effects of high-frequency-man-made EMF” (from the Earth Runners website).

I’ve looked at it from all sides, and read and watched testimonials froma number of sources, including this video from Earth Runners’ own Michael Dally:

I’m willing to entertain the idea that there are benefits to earthing oneself. I’m not entirely convinced. I know how much better I feel when I run barefoot, but have always ascribed that to improved form, the joy of contact with the ground, and optimized groundfeel. But perhaps there’s more to it than that.

As it is, my Alpha Xs are only marginally conductive. You’ll see in the photo of the underside of the Alpha Xs that there’s a copper plug at the bottom of the toe plug. If the leather straps are moistened (by rain, sweat, or pre-soaking), they will, according to Michael Dally, become minimally conductive. For earthing to be fully effective, though, Earth Runner sandals with the full range of conductive copper inserts are needed. (The good news is that Alpha X sandals are available with conductive nylon straps instead of the leather straps I have.)

As I said, I’m reserving judgement. I will say, though, that I like the design and quality of my Alpha Xs enough that I can see myself ordering a pair of Earth Runner Circadians sometime in the future.

Note: Product for this review was provided by Earth Runners.

Earth Runners

Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano à mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Coming Up: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Earth Runner Alpha X

I’ll soon be testing – and reviewing – a pair of Alpha X minimalist sandals (shown above), which are coming from the good folks at Earth Runners. The “X” stands for an “extreme” version of their existing models; you won’t see this one yet on the Earth Runners website.

Earth Runners does things a little bit differently, both with its products and in its philosophy.

The company’s website says that Earth Runners’ goal is “to create affordable USA-made earthing sandals that allow your feet to function closest to how they’re naturally designed – and that’s barefoot. We’re passionate about promoting a more grounded way of living that’s possible when we’re connect to the electrical energy of the Earth.” “Earthing” is a new concept to me, so I’ll explore that a bit in my review.

Earth Runners is also doing its bit for a larger community. For every ten sandals it sells, it donates a pair to Seva Sandals, a non-profit organization which provides protective footwear to children in India. I like that a lot.

After the AlphaX’s arrive, I’ll do some serious testing, then write and post a full review. Stay tuned!

Sugoi Helium

Sugoi Helium

I recently bought a Sugoi Helium jacket. It replaces a couple of jackets I’ve had for a long time, neither of which meets my current needs.

The Helium’s perfect for me – lightweight (85gms/3 oz), wind- and water-resistant, and nicely fitted. Though pretty minimalist, it’s got the requisite reflective thingies, a couple of zippered pockets, and rolls up into a tidy, small package. It’ll serve me well for cool weather runs this fall, and will be ideal for the Race to the Stones 100K next summer, where the weather will be variable and, well… English.

(For a good summary of the Helium’s features, check out the short review of an older version of the jacket by Tom Caughlan for iRunFar here.)

I bought the Helium online from Running Free Canada. Not only was it on sale, Running Free’s excellent customer service made the transaction a pleasure. I recommend these folks highly!

Compression Kit

I’ve recently started wearing compression clothing on my runs. Never thought I’d see the day, to tell the truth. I’ve long been a “less is more” kind of guy – my usual kit has been just a pair of old school side-split shorts and minimalist sandals.

Why such a dramatic turnaround? Because compression kit works for me, that’s why.

The theory behind compression clothing, in a nutshell, is that it optimizes bloodflow, thereby improving performance, enhancing stamina, and speeding recovery. Proving that it actually works is very much under discussion, though. Folks who like compression garments won’t run without them. Folks who dislike them say they’re more about fashion than fact.

That said, my research turned up this study (among others) in favour of compression clothing. (The journey to a decision also involved anti-anxiety garments for dogs and my Asperger’s Syndrome. But that’s a story for another post.) So I decided I’d give them a try.

I’m pleased to say they work for me. They work very well, in fact. I now own two Under Armour compression shirts (one long-sleeve, one short-sleeve) and a pair of 2XU compression shorts.

Long story short… I run better when wearing my new compression kit. Form is better, pace is better, and recovery is better. The shirts seem to enhance better arm swing, and the shorts allow for better hip extension and flexion. I’m better able to hold my core firmly and strongly.

A couple of added benefits are: 1/ Compression clothing keeps me cooler on a hot day. It spreads out the sweat, which then evaporates more efficiently. 2/ Because compression garments move less against the skin than loose clothing, chafing is reduced or eliminated. No more BodyGlide. No more nipple tape. That makes them a very good thing.

A note of caution: If you’re self-conscious about your body image, you may not want to go the compression route. Compression garments are, by definition, tight. I’m reasonably lean (142 lbs/64.4 kgs on a 5’7″/170cm frame), but I felt like a sausage in a too-small casing the first time I put on a compression shirt. It didn’t take long to get used to it, though.

For me, it’s all good. Highly recommended, if you’re willing to try something new.