equipment

Gear I like

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.

Review: Bedrock Syncline Sandals

Bedrock

When I got home from the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, my new Synclines were waiting for me. They came in the mail, courtesy of the good folks at Oakland, California-based Bedrock Sandals, in the small burlap bag pictured above. (I love neo-hippie minimalist marketing!)

Presenting the Bedrock Synclines…

Bedrock Syncline

I’m a big fan of evolution. Without it, I wouldn’t have espresso, the Internet, modernist architecture – or Bedrock Syncline sandals. The Synclines represent the evolutionary peak of minimalist sandals technology for me right now. They offer a solution to some of my present trail and ultra running issues, and they promise great things for the future.

First, though, a little bit of backstory…

Shortly after I started running barefoot six years ago, I got my first pair of minimalist sandals – a pair of Barefoot Ted Macdonald’s pre-Luna sandals. Later on, I got a pair from Invisible Shoes (now called Xero Shoes). After that, two pairs of Xero Shoes – the Connect (4mm sole) and the Contact (6mm). Then I was an early reviewer for the Xero Shoes Sensori Venture.

Sandal evolution

In the image above, you can see some of the sandals I’ve worn, along with my new Synclines. (The Barefoot Ted sandals are long gone. After about a year of wear, the soles broke at the lacing side holes, and I pitched them.) The Xero Shoes Contacts are at the left, with the leather laces from the BFTs. Next are the Xero Shoes Connects, with nylon laces in a slip-on lacing pattern. Then, the Xero Shoes Sensori Ventures, with stock/out of-the-box lacing. And, finally, the Bedrock Synclines, with straps (straps at last!)

Pre-Syncline, each of the sandals has presented its own joys and sorrows. I like the openness and freedom sandals offer. But the BFT sandals’ leather laces, which I tied Tarahumara style, cut into the thin skin on my upper feet when I’d run long distances (30K+). And they eventually broke. The nylon laces on the Invisible/Xero Shoes sandals broke after about 300K of use. And all of them made a slappy sound when I ran in them, no matter how good my running form was. (And you can be sure that, after six years of running barefoot, my form is reasonably good.)

The Synclines are different in a number of ways.

First, that shape. I followed the sizing chart on the Bedrock site, and ordered the indicated sandal (size 8, which is a size smaller than I usually take). Not only do the Synclines fit my foot shape perfectly, they also follow the curve of my foot in an almost eerily precise way. Point one to Bedrock.

Next, the sole. The Synclines offer an 8mm Vibram sole, with a nubbly rather than chevroned bottom surface. This thickness choice, say the folks at Bedrock, provides wearers with more protection on trails and more durability. That makes sense to me, as long as it doesn’t inhibit groundfeel. (It doesn’t.) Point two to Bedrock.

Now, the really good stuff – the Synclines’ straps. They’re “U.S. Military Grade” (I don’t quite know what that means, but it sounds good), with a lightweight pull-tab at the heel, an elastic heel strap, and a patent-ending buckle adjustment system (very nifty, as it makes tweaking the sandals’ fit an absolute breeze).

Syncline Straps

Bedrock has also tried to solve some of the wear-and-tear issues normal to sandals with inlayed bevels on the lower sides of the soles to protect the straps from abrasion. Big point number three to Bedrock!

Bedrock side holes

The straps are available in your choice of colours – black, gray, teal, lapiz blue, sage green, yellow, olive drab, and red. I’m told by Bedrock that black and olive drab are customers’ most popular choices. That makes me feel good, as I’ve always thought that brightly-coloured straps or laces on serious sandals are a bit weird. (Then again, I don’t like the sight of brightly-coloured running shoes either.)

Colours final

One feature worth noting is the new corded toe-straps that come on the Synclines. According to Bedrock, the toe strap has always been the weak point on thong strap sandals, and so they made this change. It’s “Our way of making Bedrocks much harder to kill.” To date, they say, none of their customers have reported a broken corded toe-strap. I agree – but it’s nice to have an interchangeable feature if ever needed, so I plan to order a pair of replacement toe straps to tuck away in my race/run bag.

Corded straps

So far, I’ve run on trails, roads, and my treadmill with the Synclines. They fit perfectly, they don’t slide around, they don’t chafe, and I don’t make loud slappy noises in them. I’ve run in some mud, though it wasn’t deep mud, and am prepared for some slippage when I get to the deep stuff. I haven’t done any really long runs in them yet, as I’m still on healing journey after shredding my feet at Elk/Beaver (read my race report for all the gory details), and may try some band-aids or blister strips behind the heel straps as needed for really long distances. However, I have a feeling that the better way to resolve that will be to find the right adjustment for those straps.

“Walking wounded” doesn’t quite convey the post-Elk/Beaver picture, by the way. After EB, my feet were completely shredded, swollen, and very, very sore. However, with some bandages and my new Synclines, I was able to run – albeit slowly and tenatively – within a few days. That would have been a much slower process without the Synclines, and I’m grateful.

(It’s worth noting that Bedrock plans to add a new sandal model to their product line late this summer. It’ll have a completely new lacing system as well as a new sole, and will be market-positioned as an all-around adventurer built for hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc. Worth watching for, I think!)

My Bedrock Synclines have made me a happy man and a happy runner. I have a feeling that they’re also going to make me a better trail and ultra runner. ‘Nuff said.

Note: Product was provided by Bedrock Sandals for this review.

Coming Up: Bedrock Synclines

Bedrock Syncline

A pair of Syncline sandals is now on its way to me, courtesy of the good folks at Bedrock Sandals.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of minimalist sandals (aka huaraches). Oakland, California-based Bedrock has taken the huarache to a new level, I think, with some innovative features. The Syncline is their latest effort, with an 8mm Vibram sole, a new corded toe-strap system, and an improved elastic heel strap. I plan to do a lot more trail ultras, so I’m looking forward to putting the Synclines to the test.

(It’s worth noting that, each year, Bedrock donates one percent of its sales to help conserve and restore the environment through an organization called 1% for the Planet. Good on ya, Bedrock!)

Stay tuned!

Review: Sockwa X8

sockwa_02

I’m a barefoot runner. I only run with footgear when I absolutely have to. That means when it’s too cold (-5C is about my lower limit for anything except very short barefoot runs), when the ground surface is too rough (I’m still learning to run barefoot on gravel trails), or when the run distance is too long to be barefoot (like the Niagara 100K ultra I’ll do in June). Or lastly, when I’ve been putting in a lot of distance to train for an upcoming race, and my soles just need a bit of a break from all the asphalt.

In those circumstances, I’ve had only two choices – my Soft Star Moc3s or my Xero Shoes Sensori Ventures. The way that usually works out is Moc3s in the cold, Sensoris in the warm. So far, so good.

Enter the Sockwa X8.

Sockwa X8

The X8s are a deceptively simple piece of kit. Essentially, they’re just a sock with a sole. That means that wearing them feels a lot like being barefoot, but with a little protection. That’s the premise of most minimalist footwear, for sure. But – in my experience, at least – nothing comes close to the X8 experience. And I say “deceptively simple” for a good reason – the X8s are a brilliant piece of technology. They’re carefully made, with high-tech materials, and they’re made well. So it’s worth, I think, spending of bit of time looking at what goes into each pair of X8s.

The uppers are made of Ariaprene, a synthetic rubber material. (Think of it as “see through” neoprene.) It’s breathable, decomposable, non-allergenic, rubber- and latex-free, and stretchable. All good!

Sockwa upper

The upper is stitched together as a one-piece bootie, and then glued to the TPU sole.

Sockwa Curve

The X8 outer sole is 1.2mm thick Thermoplastic Polyurethane. Then there’s an inner sole made of a thin piece of fleece. And there’s 0.7 mm of added tread on the outer sole. The inner sole plus the outer Ariaprene fabric means a total of 4.5mm. Sockwa claims that 2.5mm of that compresses when you step on the ground, so you’re really only feeling about a 2mm sole. TPU is noted for its abrasion-resistant qualities, so I expect the sole will last a very long time.

(Curiously, though the X8s are obviously shaped to fit each foot, they come with prominent labels on the insides of the footbed heels. Do we really need to be told “LEFT” and “RIGHT”?)

I haven’t needed to wash my X8s yet, in spite of running through innumerable puddles and on some gravelly trails. But, when I do, it’ll be easy – they’re machine-washable in cold water, and can be dried by hanging them on a line.

Bare foot and Sockwa foot

You can see the snugness of X8’s fit in the above image. That felt kind of odd when I first put them on, but I quickly got used to it. And I soon discovered that they’re a real joy to run in. They feel extremely “barefooty,” offering tons of good groundfeel and ease of motion.

I’ve worn the X8s a lot in the past few weeks, as I’ve needed to put in some serious weekly distances (111K last week) as I prepare for the upcoming Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra. The temperatures have been cool in the early mornings (as low as -11C), so, on most of those runs, I’ve worn very thin, low-cut socks with the X8s. But I’ve also work them sockless, and, aside from being able to feel the flat-stitching on the Ariaprene uppers, that hasn’t been an issue at all.

A notable feature of the X8 soles is that, though they’re very flexible, there’s a slightly-raised pattern on them that gives a surprising amount of traction (far more than is offered by the Soft Star Moc3s, which are completely pattern-free). And the X8s don’t make the slappy noise that my Sensori sandals make (as do all minimalist sandals, as far as I know). Nor, of course, are there laces and toe plugs to get in the way. The X8s offer a lovely combination of elegant comfort and high-end functionality.

All of that said, they’re extremely minimalist. I’ve been running barefoot for six years, only wearing footgear when absolutely necessary. So I like to think my barefoot form is reasonably good. If you’re new to minimalist kit, you might want to go easy on the distances until you’ve got your form sorted. Don’t get me wrong -that’s not a criticism of the X8, but rather a caution to the newbie.

Long story short… Brilliant design, excellent execution, and a great price point at US$59.00.

How much do I like the Sockwa X8s? Well, let’s just say that I think I’ve found my ideal footwear for the Niagara 100K ultra in June!

Note: Product was provided by Sockwa for this review.