This is the last in a series of articles about the Outdoor Retailer (OR) Summer Market 2013 tradeshow. Part one covered my visits to VIVOBAREFOOT, Luna Sandals and Altra; and Part two covered my visits to several non-shoe related booths including, CEP Compression, Nathan Sports, and Liberty Bottleworks. If you haven't already read those articles I recommend you check them out first. Now, onto part three, my second day at OR Summer 2013.
With day one in the books I was officially no longer an OR rookie, well, I guess that's a relative statement, but I at least no longer felt like a rookie. On day two my schedule actually contained a few pre-scheduled appointments so instead of just wandering the floor I had to be at booths at specific times to meet with reps. The first such meeting was one of the ones I had really been looking forward to, New Balance.
I actually met the New Balance team on day one, when they hosted a launch party for their Fresh Foam 980 shoe. From what I gathered at the launch event, the Fresh Foam 980 shoe came about from work that applied analysis software to determine where material could be removed from a shoes midsole without compromising its ability to provide support. The Fresh Foam 980 also combined multiple midsole materials into a single foam material reducing the need to bond materials, while maintaining the benefits provided by the typically distinct materials. The Fresh Foam is a 4mm drop shoe, and though its not fair to judge a shoe without first running in it, I would say it is geared more towards mass market runners versus the minimalist community. As a minimalist runner, I've come to enjoy little to no midsole and therefore was less excited by the Fresh Foam than the typical runner. I will say though, that the shoe carries the typically great New Balance styling and is sure to attract runners who enjoy more traditional footwear. I also like that it is a 4mm drop allowing a more natural gait, and hope that New Balance applies the selective removal of unneeded material to their other families of shoes.
When I hit the show floor on day two I walked straight to the New Balance (NB) booth for a meeting with the team I had met the previous night. After a quick detour for some free coffee I was ready for some fun. The team must have gotten the impression from the previous night that I was most interested in their minimalist line, because when I was taken into a meeting room they immediately laid on the table the newest additions to the Minimus line. First on the table was the Minimus ZERO Road v2 (MR00v2); the follow-up to the Minimus ZERO Road (MR00v1), the first zero-drop Minimus road shoe released by NB. When the MR00v1 arrived I was quick to visit a store to exchange a gift certificate for a pair. So much did I trust the design of the MR00v1, that I ended up running 18 miles in them right from the store while they held my old pair of shoes. The MR00v1 felt good and stayed in my shoe rotation for quite some time. I eventually ended up replacing the shoe with an even more minimal model, the NB HI-REZ, but the MR00v1 always seemed to have the potential to be my go to shoe for everything from short and fast runs to half marathon and maybe full marathon races. Like many I've waited for the second generation MR00 for sometime and was happy to finally get to see and touch the MR00v2.
Upon inspection it appeared that the MR00v2 kept the same last as what was used on the original shoe but improved on the upper by switching fabric to an even thinner material and removing or modifying the overlays. The sole appears unchanged, Vibram rubber in high wear locations and an EVA base. The MR00v2 weighs 5.65oz in men's 9.5 and the WR00v2 weighs 4.45oz in a women's 7. The MR00v2 isn't due until Spring '14 but I tell you, if I was a size 9 I would have asked to borrow a pair for a quick 10 miles around Salt Lake City. Light, wide, flexible and flat, all of my favorite qualities in a shoe.
Next, the NB team then pulled out a shoe that surprised me, the Minimus ZERO Trail v2 (MT00v2). The MT00v1 was a very minimal zero-drop shoe that had a really thin almost paper-like upper over an outsole that was made up of continuous EVA base with Vibram rubber in key areas. I ended up purchasing multiple pairs of the MT00v1. I tried the MT00v1 on a few trail runs, but found that while they were fun to run in, they didn't provide the protection I desired when bombing down rocky terrain. I eventually settled on using the MT00v1 for road running, and frequent day-to-day wear. As soon as the MT00v2 was set on the table it was obvious this was a very different shoe. Gone was the paper-like upper, replaced with retro-looking fabric upper. The shoe weighs in at a respectable 8.8oz in men's size 9.5 and 7.2oz for women's size 7.
The soft podded outsole was replaced with a very aggressive rubber outsole that appears made of two materials. The MT00v2 is so different from the MT00v1 that I surprised it kept the same name; the key similarity being that it was a zero-drop trail shoe. Irrespective of the name, the MT00v2 did look like it would be fun to run in and definitely ready to bomb some trails. As a runner who ran a pair of NB MT110's into the ground after hundreds of miles over varying terrain and conditions, I am definitely looking forward to taking the new iteration of the MT00 out for a nice long trail session. The MT00v2 is expected to launch in March 2014.
The next two shoes NB shared with me are aimed more at the cross-fit, or adventure/mud-running community, but seemed cool nonetheless. The Minimus 007 (MX007) has a 4mm drop with a welded, no-sew mesh upper that includes a significant amount of supportive overlays as well as the to-the-toe lacing that is found on climbing shoes.
The rubber outsole has traction lugs, but not very large ones, that look like they would be perfect for running over muddy obstacles or doing crossfit-type explosive moves both in and out of a gym. I haven't personally participated in either crossfit, nor mud-races, but since I like all my shoes to be light, relatively flat and flexible I could see myself using the MX007 for such activities. The MX007 is due in April 2014.
(Editors note: The MX007 is not part of the Minimus line and thus is not based on an anatomic last, so the toebox may not be ideal based on what we usually like to see here on Toe Salad.)
The last shoe I saw in my meeting with NB was a shoe I was sure was a minimalist basketball shoe, the NB MX20v3 Midcut. The 20v3 Midcut is an old-school looking high-top with lacing up the ankle, hence my thoughts of using it on a basketball court. The shoe is built on a 4mm-drop platform and has an EVA based outsole with a significant amount of Vibram rubber. It is identical to the MX20v3 released in 2013, with additional ankle support. The shoe is intended to be used as a cross-trainer, again think cross-fit, but I am still not convinced it couldn't hold its own on a basketball court. I am not sure about the release date but believe it won't be until Spring of 2014. It will be interesting to see if people do decide to take it out to the blacktop for some fun; I know I'd like to.
After New Balance I had an hour until my next appointment and set out looking for another booth to drop-in on; it didn't take long to decide where I would go. Across the aisle from New Balance sat Vibram.
I haven't run in a Vibram shoe since the Bikila. While I understand why many people really like the five-toe-pocket shoe style, I eventually came to prefer a traditional single-pocket shoe. I figured it was about time I caught up with Vibram to see what had changed and also learn about what they had coming for the next seasons.
Ironically enough, the first shoe I was shown in the Vibram booth was the follow-up to the Bikila, the Bikila EVO. The Vibram representative mentioned that the Bikila EVO was Vibram's response to their customers wanting to run longer distances in their VFF's. They took the Bikila and added a bit of thickness to their EVA foam layer to soften the shoe. I know some Vibram fans will complain that Vibram is going away from their core minimalist traditions, but I personally see the benefit of a bit of cushioning in a shoe for longer runs or races. For the Bikila EVO Vibram kept the speed-lacing system (elastic with sliding lock), and redesigned the upper using a soft and super-stretchy material with only a few supportive overlays across the top of the foot. Since I happen to be the Vibram test shoe size, I was encouraged to try on the Bikila EVO in the booth. The shoe did feel softer than I remember my Bikila's feeling, but reasonably so. As I jumped around the booth, my landings felt responsive enough and I was reminded of the toe splay that fans of VFF's love. On my foot the Bikila EVO looked and felt more like a running shoe than I'd previously experienced in VFF's. My impression was that Vibram saw an opportunity to develop a shoe to fill a space in their line-up and has done a good job of executing on that opportunity.
Another Vibram favorite is also getting the EVO (evolution) treatment, the KSO EVO. With the KSO EVO however, it appeared the the evolution was focused on improvements to the upper. The KSO EVO appeared to use the same outsole and tread pattern that was used on the earlier generations of the KSO. The sole has a zig-zag pattern to allow grip and flexibility in all directions and the upper is also a polyester mesh combined with a speed lace system. It appears the KSO EVO is geared at the gym/cross-fit crowd but I wouldn't be surprised if some gentle trail runners took it out into the wild.
Vibram also shared an update to one of their lightest running shoes, the SeeYa LS. The LS in the shoes name stands for laces, making this shoe a step closer to a traditional design. The SeeYa LS is built on a lightweight TPU midsole with a minimal amount of rubber at the forefoot and heel. The maximum sole thickness is 2.2mm plus a 3mm insole for a total stack height of about 5.2mm.
Lastly, the Vibram rep was excited to show a new addition to their kids' line of shoes, the V-On Kids. I've never personally had to help a child put on a pair of VFFs but I can imagine that getting all the toes lined up into their pockets can be a bit of a challenge. To improve the process of putting on the shoes, the V-On includes a large velcro flap that swings open to allow easier access to the toe pockets.
After wrapping up at Vibram I was off to another appointment.
Topo Athletic is the footwear company launched in December of 2012 by Tony Post the ex-CEO of Vibram who was at Vibram during the rapid growth of the VFF line of shoes. Whereas the Vibram line of shoes is focused around a 5 pocket toebox, the Topo line has adopted variations of the 2 pocket tabi-style shoes. On each of the Topo shoes the big toe is separated from the rest of the toes and with some models having a full split of the big toe from the other four and some models having an internal split of the shoe.
Since the Topo products were so new, I was happy to see that the team traveled to OR with a set of test shoes to allow booth visitors to try on a pair and experience the feel of a split toe. Specifically the Topo team brought along the RT, the one of three currently available 3 gender-specific models.
The Topo RT is the zero-drop Topo shoe built for everyday training, it includes a fully-split toe pocket that separates the big toe from the other four toes, a 3mm removable EVA footbed over a 8mm EVA midsole and 4mm rubber outsole. The upper of the shoe is a breathable mesh that is paired with a traditional lacing system. At 6.9oz for a men's size 9 the Topo RT is relatively light for a trainer. The styling of the shoe also looks more like a traditional shoe which should improve the broad appeal of the shoe. I took a few laps around the OR aisles and enjoyed that the shoe felt light and firm during landing.
After the RT, I was shown the second of the Topo shoes that is currently available, the Topo RR. The RR is Topo's race model. The shoe weighs in a little lighter than the RT at 6.5oz for a men's size 9. The zero-drop RR also features the removable 3mm EVA footbed, but drops the midsole down to 6mm of EVA and the outsole to 3mm. The RR upper features heat welded seams on the upper to reduce any potential friction, particularly important when moving quickly during races. Like the RT the RR model has a fully-split anatomical toebox with the big toe living happily in its own toe pocket. In addition to the thinner midsole/outsole combination the RR also replaces the traditional laces of the RT with a BOA closure system. The BOA system, uses a rotating/locking disc to pull a thin cable around to foot to allow for a literally dialed in fit.
The last of the three Topo shoes that is currently on the market is the Topo RX. Again a zero-drop shoe, the RX is designed for the cross-training/cross-fit community. Again a 3mm removable EVA footbed is used, this time with a 6mm EVA midsole and a 4mm rubber outsole. The RX includes additional rubber along the sides and outsole of the shoe, likely to improve traction when making the quick cuts associated with cross-training. To further support the explosive movement associated with cross-training the RX also includes a velcro strap over the top of the foot.
After looking at the shoes that were already for sale, I was shown the first of the Topo shoes that is not yet for sale, the Topo ST (Speed Trainer). The ST includes the internal split toe that was previously mentioned, therefore instead of having a big toe that is entirely separate from the other four toes, the big toe on the ST is only separated on the inside of the toe box. This internal split will help to anchor the foot inside the shoe, and makes for a shoe that looks just like a traditional running shoe. The ST is due at the end of the year, right in time for the holidays.
Update (11/10/2013): I just learned from Topo that the internal split toe that I saw previewed at OR is NOT going forward. After additional testing they decided that it compromised the integrity and benefits of the split toe without adding much in return. They mentioned that the ST is going forward, but we will have to wait to see how it has been redesigned, stay tuned.
While I saw even more at OR, and undoubtedly missed several other companies at the massive event that was OR, I'm going to wrap-up my coverage here. I will be working with all of these companies and a few others to test these products as soon as they are available and will be sure to keep you all informed of that testing.
Please feel free to ask questions about anything presented, if I can't answer myself I will reach out to the various companies to find you an answer.