Posts Tagged ‘gear review’

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Pole

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any gear info …honestly I’d rather write about running and dogs. But I just got a question about trekking poles and figured I’d post some useful information here.

For the past year, I’ve been using the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles. But just last week, I finally broke down and bougth the new Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-Poles. All the cool kids where using them at Bighorn and I was envious of how light and compact they were.

This last weekend I took them out for a test run up Pikes Peak and for fast and light trail running, I loved them. The weight is barely noticeable. Both of the carbon Ultra Distance Z-Poles were about the same weight as just one of my aluminum Trail Ergo Cork poles. I worried that the 3 section fold would be a bit of a hassle but they strapped onto the back of my Ultimate Direction Wasp pack perfectly. And taking them off my pack and snapping them together was super fast and easy. The sections just snap together like tent poles and there is just one lock button under the handle. It was much easier than extending, adjusting, and clipping in the 2 sections of the Trail Ergo poles. On a normal day, the difference isn’t critical but in the middle of the night on a 100 mile run, I think I’ll appreciate the simplicity of the Z-Pole.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the compact size of both sets of poles on two UD Wasp packs:

Black Diamond Trekking Poles

New Ultra Distance Z-Poles on the left and Trail Ergo Cork trekking poles on the right attached to Ultimate Direction WASP packs.

The downside to the Z-Poles is that the length isn’t adjustable. They have a lower grip on the handle but that’s it. So you really need to know what length works for you before you buy them. I went with the largest 130cm poles which by Black Diamond’s size recommendations would be for someone over 6ft tall. But I like to extend my reach and pull through with my full upper body like freestyle cross country skiing. And longer poles are helpful to reach down for stability on steep, technical drops. So it would be a good idea to test out some adjustable poles to figure out what length you like best before you buy the fixed length Z-Poles. And if you plan to use poles to pitch a shelter on an overnight trip, the adjustable poles would probably be best.

Another drawback to carbon is that when it does break, it will shatter. Aluminum can kink and bend and you can just bash it back into shape. The carbon Z-poles seemed sturdy and stable enough for running and hiking on steep hills but if I needed something to dig into a snow field to stop a fall, I think I’d prefer my sturdy aluminum Trail Ergo Cork poles. (Although Eric just made a good point that if you really are worried about falling on a snow field, you should use the proper tool and have an ice axe.) The Z-Poles don’t have interchangeable baskets either so the Trail Ergo would be my choice for an all purpose running, hiking, snow shoeing trekking pole. And the aluminum model is much cheaper so for general use, I think the Trail Ergo Cork model is the best value. I’ll definitely be taking the Ultra Distance Z-Poles with me to Hardrock. If you want the fastest, lightest, easiest trekking pole to use for trail running, I think these are definitely worth the extra money.

I just bought my new Z-Poles from Backcountry.com – they’ll take returns on anything, anytime which is nice to know if you test them out and end up hating them. Black Diamond rarely goes on sale so you might be able to use your next member coupon at REI to try to get them cheaper.

New Balance MT101’s

So I just found out I can’t blog about the latest New Balance prototype that I’m currently wearing. But that’s OK because I finally picked up a pair of the current MT101’s from our local Runner’s Roost.

I still need to put a few more miles on these before I can write up a full review. But here’s some basic info.

This is the trail racing shoe that New Balance developed with Anton Krupicka. They are super light at about 7.5 ounces with very little cushioning. The upper is mostly mesh with a very light stiff foam material to give some structure around the heel collar. So aside from being a great lightweight racing shoe, these are extremely breathable in hot weather and barely absorb any water in wet conditions.

These shoes are light, nimble, and great for short, fast racing. And with minimal cushioning and no medial support, these are great shoes to wear to focus on form and to strengthen your feet. For any barefoot enthusiasts, this is a good option for a lightweight shoe to wear through the winter or in any other circumstances where you must wear shoes. And anyone who is interested in trying barefoot running could use these as an intermediate step down from a full running shoe. I plan on using these for general training and shorter races but I don’t think I’d wear them for a full 100 mile distance. For anything longer than 50 miles, I’ll have plenty of other things to worry about breaking down so I’d prefer to have some more cushion and support for my feet.

This shoe does have a heel lift like a traditional running shoe. I’ve read stats quoted at 10mm but they don’t look like they have that much lift to me. It may depend on where the measurment is taken since there is a slightly thicker midsole under the arch which tapers off a bit at the back of the heel. My La Sportiva Crosslites have a 10mm lift and the MT101’s feel much lower. Regardless of the specs, the low profile is definitely noticeable so for anyone trying this shoe for the first time, I’d recommend that you ease into it slowly. There is enough protection to be able to really over do it in these and if you aren’t used to running in flats, you can really wreck your calves and achilles.

Despite the very minimal cushion, this shoe does have a rock plate which offers good protection on rough trails without sacrificing flexibility. Unfortunately one downside to this shoe is the tread. The traction is adequate for most of our hard packed dirt and rocky trails. But in really sloppy mud and deep snow, there isn’t much grip. This is really unfortunate since the light mesh upper makes this an ideal shoe for wet, sloppy conditions and water crossings.

The fit is fairly comfortable with plenty of room in the toe box to spread and move your toes. The lacing wraps the middle of the foot fairly snug. I prefer a lacing system that pulls more from the back to lock the heel in but I haven’t had any issues with my feet sliding around on hills or odd side angles. My only real complaint about the fit is the new upper has some firm plastic material that binds over the outside of my small toes. This might be a problem on very long runs but so far it hasn’t been any trouble on normal runs. I wear holes out the sides of any shoes I wear and I’ll have to wait and see whether the MT101 or my toes win this battle after a couple hundred miles.

And last of all, the price is pretty reasonable. $75 is much cheaper than most normal running shoes. Our Fort Collins Trail Runners can knock another 15% off at our local Runner’s Roost. Personally I think it’s downright offensive to see other shoe companies market minimalist running shoes and racing flats with prices up to $175. I’m glad that New Balance decided to offer these at a more sane price point.

What Shoes Do I Wear?

What shoes do I wear? I’ve been asked this so many times that I thought it would be helpful to finally publish some advice.

The short answer is that I wear a lot of shoes. I definitely believe in the minimalist approach to running. It just makes sense to train to run with good form, reduce impact, and learn to feel and adjust to the trail. But I also believe that shoes are extremely useful but should be selected based on comfort, protection, and function for the conditions you plan to run. I currently have 7 different shoes that I pick and choose from depending on what I plan to run or what mood I’m in. So I don’t think the new minimalist trend is going to put Runners Roost out of business any time soon.

Generally, the key features that I look for are:

  • Fit: I like a snug fit around the heel with a lacing system that locks the arch and heel back. But I like to have plenty of room in the toe box to allow for some swelling on long runs and to prevent my toenails from getting ripped off on hard downhills.
  • Flex: The forefoot should have a good amount of flexibility from heel to toe and side to side. Stability and pronation control are useless on uneven surfaces. Flexibility is critical to allow you to plant your feet exactly where you need to and then balance and adjust to the terrain. If I can’t bend or twist a shoe by hand, I won’t even try it on.
  • Traction and protection: Big tread lugs are great for soft, sloppy stuff. A less aggressive pattern with sticky rubber and more surface area is better for rocks and ice. The forefoot area should have some cushion and rock protection. I think minimalist shoes are great but you can’t run full speed down a pile of rocks without something protecting your feet.
  • Breathability and weight: Provided the shoe offers the right fit, traction, and protection, lighter is always better. Lighter shoes are easier to run in, are more comfortable in hot weather, and drain and dry quicker in wet conditions. Some of the new ultra lightweight trail racing shoes are pretty sweet at 6-8 ounces. But anything around 10-12 ounces seems fairly comfortable to me. If I was really that worried about a few ounces, I could probably leave my camera at home or just quit drinking beer and lose another 5lbs.

Unfortunately I still haven’t found the perfect shoe. But here are a few that I’ve used most often.

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