New for 2015: Gargoyles Performance Eyewear Zulu and Classics

Some pretty exciting new additions have been released over the past few months into the Gargoyles sport and lifestyle product lines.  While there are several new models (half a dozen or so), as a runner, it was the Zulu and the Classics that caught my eye (for different reasons…more on that in a moment).  If you have read any of my past reviews, you know that I LOVE Gargoyles products, which I find to be unmatched in terms of clarity and durability.  I am stoked to see them experiencing a resurgence and expanding the product line to give people even more options to choose from.  In past reviews, I have exhaustively commented on their high level of quality, durability, and clarity.  I can say right up front that both of these new models did not deviate from that same standard of excellence.  So instead of rehashing the same info, let me take a different approach to each.

DISCLAIMER: I run exclusively for Team Gargoyles in 2015.  They provided both of these models for my personal use and review.  As always, I will make every effort to remain impartial in my feedback for the benefit of you as a potential user and for Gargoyles in the spirit of continuous product improvement.

Zulu
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Price: $160 ($120 for non-polarized)

Key Features:

  • Full-rim design
  • Aluminum frame construction
  • Polarized, mirrored lens
  • ANSI Z87.1+ certified durability and protection standards
  • Anti-reflective and water repellent
  • 100% UV Protection

I have stated pretty openly in previous reviews that I don’t particularly care for full-rimmed frames while running because they tend to obstruct my view.  That being said, what caught my eye about the Zulu is that the bottom of the frame seemed to be fairly thin in comparison to other models.  I wanted to try them out to see if my observation was true and was glad to find out that it was.  If you are a bit picky like me when it comes to this, these might be a good middle ground for you.  I did not find them much obstruction at all and have even gotten so used to them that I don’t really notice anymore.  The aluminum frame is a super light alternative to plastic that adds durability without the weight.  One thing to definitely point out is the fit.  If you have worn Gargoyles before, you should know that they made the Zulu slightly more narrow compared to other models.  The plus side to this for me is that they hold super secure to my head and face and do not bounce at all, even on a fast downhill.  The down side is that if you gravitate toward a wider fit, these likely are not the best model for you.  If you are thinking of picking up a pair of these, I would definitely suggest measuring your face and comparing it against the specs on their page.  With that said, I have been running almost exclusively in these since I got them a little over a month ago, mostly on runs under 3-4 hours long, and am pretty satisfied with them.  So, other than ensuring that the fit works for you, I don’t really have anything negative to say about the Zulu.  This is definitely a solid add to the product line…if the fit is right.

Classics
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Price: $100

Key Features:

  • Rimless design
  • ANSI Z87.1+ ANSI Z87.1+ certified durability and protection standards
  • Anti-reflective and water repellent
  • 100% UV Protection

They are back! Yes, that was a miserable attempt at a Terminator reference, but how can I avoid reminding you that it was the original Classics that graced the faces of both Arnold’s model T-101 as well as Clint Eastwood’s old school tough guy Dirty Harry!  Gargoyles really made the right decision when they decided to re-release the Classics, which come complete with some subtle design updates (to stay true to the originals) while also incorporating some of the latest technology.  For me, it took some getting used to “the look” since I don’t generally wear aviators or other large-lens styles, however, if aviators are your thing then you will love these (so says my wife).  From a running perspective, I also tend to run in sport style models.  So while you can run in these, and those of you that prefer to run in aviators will love them, they fit more into the lifestyle category for me.  They didn’t bounce like I expected…in fact, the didn’t really bounce at all while running.  All of that aside (because that was really nothing more than a rant about my personal preferences) I love wearing these around.  They provide phenomenal, unobstructed viewing, but that is not what stood out to me the most.  No, with the Classics, it was the clarity.  I know, I said I wouldn’t beat the “clarity” dead horse, but these far surpassed even the stringent lens quality standards that I have become used to with Gargoyles.  In fact, I can honestly say that I saw more clearly with them on than I did with my naked, LASIK-enhanced eyes.  So yeah, while I may gravitate toward other Gargoyle models that better suit my preferences on the trail, I will be rocking the Classics everywhere else…and looking like a complete bad ass while doing it!

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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Gear Review: Scarpa Spark

I have been working on this one for some time, but didn’t feel like I could release it until I got a really solid long run of 20+ miles in, which I did this morning.  Some of you may have read the review that I did of the SCARPA Tru last fall (found here), which was not only my first review of a Scarpa shoe, but also my first experience with them.  Since writing the review, I have continued to have success with the Tru, including during my first 100 mile completion and, most recently, a podium finish at the Grand Canyon 50K.  This has made me want to take a closer look at the brand, so I reached out to Scarpa to see if I could take a look at another one of their shoes, the Spark.  They were happy to oblige…let’s take a closer look.

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal affiliation with Scarpa, however, they did provide me with a demo pair for my review.

Product Description

From the SCARPA website:
“Somehow the Spark feels weightless on your feet, but offers substantial support and protection, too. We use a slightly shallower lug profile and less drop (6mm) to give the Spark a minimalist feel underfoot. Same grippy HDR rubber as the Ignite. A high-tensile fabric, protective layer in the forefoot armors your feet’s most vulnerable area. The Spark delivers a slightly more nimble feel, but even so–we’ve had some of our athletes complete ultras in them. If you prefer a more minimal, less-structured shoe, then the Spark might be the perfect solution to your run. ”

Out of the box, you can definitely tell that these are related of the Tru.  They share the same outsole lug pattern and have a similar feel underfoot.  The main difference aside from a bit more cushioning is in the upper, which definitely has a heavier/sturdier look to it.  Despite that, the shoe only have ad added weight of 0.7 oz compared to the Tru.

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Specs

  • Weight: 9.2 oz
  • Drop: 5mm
  • Fit: Normal/True to Size

Fit

The Spark fits very similarly to the Tru, which is to say, it is not too snug and not too loose on the foot.  It holds the heel fairly well in most scenarios and fits the foot well from back to front.  It does feel a bit softer in the upper than the Tru, especially in the heel where there is a bit more padding.  A couple observations on the fit…it does seem to slip a bit on steep downhills.  However, unlike the Tru, it has an upper lace eyelet that allows you to tie a heel lock that helps to alleviate this a bit.  I also noticed that after running on side-sloped trails for a longer period, I got a little sore on the ball of my foot (although had no blisters).  This, of course, is a problem I have had with most shoes and may not be completely avoidable.

In Action

As I mentioned, the outsole is identical to that found on the Tru, so my experience was basically the same.  The shoe performs well on varied terrain.  No blisters or hot spots and no slipping around.  One thing I will note here about this outsole that I didn’t cover in my Tru review is how well it sheds mud.  I wore the Tru through some severely muddy conditions at the Grand Canyon 50K (after my initial review) and had ZERO issues.  I mention it here because, as I said, the outsole is the same and therefore I would expect it to perform similarly..  Lastly, the shoe has a very stable platform, which is of high importance with me as I have a tendency to roll my ankles from time to time.  I try to test all of the shoes I review on technical terrain for this reason (sometimes to my own peril) and I didn’t have a single incident with the Spark.  Here are details and Strava links for a few of my main runs with the Spark.

Test Run #1 – 7.0 Mile technical trail, damp/wet trail conditions (Strava Link)

Test Run #2 – 11.25 Mile rolling terrain trail, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The upper is definitely more sturdy than the Tru.  If you are looking at Scarpa and don’t know which one to get, I would recommend this one if you are looking for a slightly heavier trainer or you have a history with wearing out uppers quickly.  This one will last longer.
  • The outer works well on just about every surface, giving you the confidence to run to your fullest without worrying too much about losing your footing.
  • The one thing that this has that this shoe has that the Tru doesn’t is an upper lace eyelet, which is a big deal for me.  I like having the ability to tie the laces further up my foot or tying in a heel lock if needed.
  • Solid, yet flexible platform.  I had no issues with ankle stability at any point in this shoe.

Cons

  • I know this is personal preference, but they feel a bit too soft and bulky for my taste.  Even though they aren’t technically that much heavier than the Tru…they feel like it.  I prefer a lighter feel.
  • Still seems too have a problem with slipping forward into the toe box on steeper declines.

Recommendation

Score: 4.3 of 5 (Recommend)

While I like the addition of the upper eyelet as I have already mentioned, I definitely like the lighter feel of the Tru, so I am going to give it a slighter lower score in comparison.  I think there are ways in which they could offer a sturdier upper without having a bulky feel to it, and I hope that they do that in future iterations.  Still, this is a solid shoe from Scarpa and worth trying if you are feeling on branching out.

One additional note as I am posting this the weekend after the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 show.  I got a chance to see the new trail shoe line from Scarpa.  Now I have been impressed with what I have seen so far from them overall, but the new line looks AWESOME.  They are due out next Spring and I am not sure what this means for the current line (they couldn’t say), but I would guess they may move away from it.  That being said, would I hesitate to buy another pair of these?  Nope.  They are a good shoe and worth getting some use out of while waiting to see what else Scarpa brings to market.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Product Spotlight: Injinji Compression 2.0 Socks

The compression market is certainly a crowded and finicky one.  Som runners use full-length compression socks and others that use calf sleeves.  Some use them while running, others use them for recovery only.  No matter what your style or method if use, if you are a fan of Injinji, you should at least take a look at their Compression 2.0 product…the only compression performance toe sock on the market.

Description
Injinji Compression is a full-length graduated compression sock using Injinji’s toe sock design.  It is made of a blend of polyester, nylon, and lycra.  They are designed to provide graduated compression from bottom to top of the calf in order to enhance circulation, performance, and muscle recovery.

Injinji Compression 2.0

Price: $49

Review
I am typically one of those finicky compression users that I mentioned at the start of the article.  I usually wear calf sleeves during events so that I can easily change socks if needed and socks during recovery for the full benefit.  Either way, I decided to give these a try in both scenarios so that I could provide a well-rounded review.

Comfort
In terms of comfort, you really need to rate compression socks a bit differently and I would rate these as positively.  The compression was consistent and not overbearing.  There were no spots where the sock felt or rubbed weird. On my 20 mile long run in them, never once did I have to adjust them or did I find myself wishing I would have worn different socks.

Protection
Protection was a non-issue on the road.  It provided a solid amount of padding underfoot to protect my feet while on the pavement.  On the trail, I am not sure I like it as much.  The overall feel of compression sock material tends to be a bit more abrasive in my opinion.  I should call out though that I have this problem on the trails with EVERY compression sock I have tried.  This is why I typically use calf sleeves and my Trail 2.0 socks when running longer trail distances.  Others may be different and not have the same issues.

Breathability
Nothing really to note here.  My feet seemed to stay a pretty consistent temperature during my long run, which indicates to me that they were pretty breathable.  They didn’t feel hot whatsoever during my test runs.  I also experienced no issues wearing them around for recovery during the day.

Moisture
I didn’t get them too wet during my use, but the bit of dampness I did experience wasn’t an issue.  They do a good job at wicking away water and sweat.

Conclusion
The Injinji Compression 2.0 offers consistent, graduated compression from the foot to the top of the sock.  I would say that it is at least as effective as any other high quality compression sport sock on the market, plus the added benefits of individual toe design that Injinji does better than anyone.  The one thing I did notice about this sock is that it does take some time to get it on.  I am not saying that the time required to put them on is some long, drawn out process, but the compression material combines with the individual toe design does require a bit of patience.

As far as personal preference, the materials that are required to make a good compression sock are not what I would choose for long trail runs since I prefer a thicker, softer feeling sock.  The polyester/nylon/lycra blend just doesn’t provide this for me.  At the same time, they provided a good experience on the road and an even better one as a post run recovery sock.  It offers solid compression on top of the unique features that I love about Injinji.  I am definitely glad that they decided to introduce it into their lineup.