Arc’teryx Soleus Running Shorts (2016 Version)

If you recall, I did a review of the Arc’teryx Atom SL Jacket last December; a product that I was pretty impressed with.  Based on this experience, I decided to reach out to Arc’teryx to see if they had anything they wanted a review on ahead of the upcoming running season.  They sent me over their newest Soleus shorts, which they updated for for 2016.

DISCLAIMER: Arc’teryx provided me with the product for the purposes of this review.  As always, I do my best to maintain a non biased review for the benefit of my readers and the company itself.

Product Overview

I would describe the Soleus as a minimalist, light weight race short.  Everything about these shorts screams long and fast.  They have a couple of pretty slick features, outlined here and described in more detail further in the review.

  • Lightweight materials, (weighing in at 4.9 oz for the Medium)
  • Short length, with side splits for unobstructed movement
  • Built-in liner for a secure fit
  • 5-pockets for maximum storage to keep your hands free
  • SPF 50 for sun protection

     

Price: $89 here on Amazon

In Action

To start, here is a picture of me with the shorts on to give you a feel for the overall length.

I ran in these a few times, with the primary test being a 16 mile trail run.  I really loved these shorts, and will call out a few areas.

Liner

I don’t run in shorts with liners all that often; I generally opt for compression shorts beneath a regular pair of fitness shorts.  One of the first things I noticed about the liner is that it provided more than enough support while being WAY more breathable.  This kept sweat to a minimum, which I am sure contributed to the overall comfort and lack of chafing.  The liner didn’t have any rough seam spots either, so no weird rubbing was present during the run.

Pockets

The Soleus has three pockets on the back.  The left hip is a zipper pocket; the middle pocket is the widest one with a smaller entrance to keep things from falling out; the right hip pocket is smaller, ideal for gels.  I was worried about how these would feel (i.e., bounce) while running, which ended up being unwarranted for the most part.  I ran with my keys in the zipper pocket, a Clif food pouch in the middle, and a couple of gels in the right.  The bounce was there, but minimal to the point of being mostly unnoticeable.  I wouldn’t recommend carrying much more than that, but what I did pack into the pockets was more than enough storage to get me through my long run and from aid station to aid station on race day.  It was definitely nice having my hands free and being able to use a minimal hydration pack.  I didn’t really use the two front pockets.  They are pretty shallow and I kept stressing about things falling out.

Length

While not the shortest I have seen, I usually run in shorts that are a bit longer than these.  It took a little getting used to for me, but the length was a major factor in the breathability, non-chafing, and freedom of movement.  Each leg has  about a two-inch side split that makes movement more free flowing.  I almost felt like I wasn’t wearing any shorts (although thankfully for those around me I was).  So aside from getting used to a shorter short, I enjoyed the fit and found that it contributed to the overall performance.

Conclusion

Arc’teryx makes some of the the highest quality products in the space.  They use top materials and the finest construction.  Of course, you have to be willing to pay for a product of this quality.  While I believe the cost versus longevity more than justifies the $89 price tag of these shorts, I can also understand why it might be a large pill to swallow when it comes to buying a pair of shorts to do your 6ish mile training runs in.  For me, this is the perfect short for both long runs and on race day.  In fact, I am buying a second pair to make sure that I always have a pair available.  To summarize, here is a list of pro’s and con’s.

Pro’s

  • The liner provided enough support that it basically eliminated the need to wear a pair of compression shorts.  As it was more breathable too, it actually worked out better for me.
  • The back pockets were super handy.  While I was worried about bounce while running, I was able to put my keys in the zip pocket and my nutrition in the other two with no discomfort or fear of losing things.
  • No chafing.  With other shorts, I normally have problems with materials rubbing against my thighs and causing chafing after longer distances.  I feel like the combination of the liner, length, and split legs eliminated this problem for me.

Con’s

  • The two front pockets are shallow.  I was worried about putting anything in them for fear of stuff falling out.  As such, I found them to be pointless.  In the future, I would rather see them either make these pockets a little deeper or get rid of them all together.
  • They rode up a little.  I am not used to wearing shorter length shorts, so this may be normal.  It didn’t cause any problems, but will take some getting used to.

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: Topo Athletic HydroVenture

Ah, Spring…the time of the year when the snow starts to melt and rain begins to fall from the sky.  No matter where you are at (with some exceptions — I am looking at you Arizona!), Spring typically means copious amounts of mud and rain on the trails.  Despite this annual occurrence, it has always surprised me that there isn’t a wider selection of waterproof trail running shoes on the market.  Sure, there are a few, but a majority of waterproof gear comes in the form of a hiking boot and other clunky footwear.  Well, that is no longer the case.  Just in time for the wet weather of 2016, Topo Athletic released their waterproof shoe, the HydroVenture.  As a member of the Topo team, naturally I was going to try it out…so I did and now I want to share my thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo athlete team and this pair of HydroVentures was provided to me for free.  However, my goal with every product review is to provide an unbiased review so that you can make informed decisions and I can help the company improve on their product.

Overview

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The HydroVenture follows the same design principles as all of the other shoes in the Topo product line:

  • A wide toe box allowing for freedom of movement and natural splay of the toes.
  • A narrower mid foot and heel that provides a more snug fit throughout in order to provide a secure feeling without slippage.
  • A low heel drop to promote natural foot motion.

In addition, the HydroVenture incorporates some additional features to round out the shoe and make it the lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market.

  • A partnership with eVent incorporates a waterproof membrane that keeps water out without sacrificing breathability.
  • A rockplate to promote underfoot protection in the front of the foot.

Specs

Release Date: March, 2016
Price: $130
Weight: 9.7 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 23mm/20mm (2mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size to 1/2 Size Small

Design/Fit

The HydroVenture uses the same outsole lug pattern as the MT-2 and the RunVenture.  After using both of these shoes extensively over the past year, I say if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.  The outsole has proven to be an extremely durable, multi-purpose choice for all types of terrain.  The stack height, ride, and responsiveness are all very similar to the MT-2.  In other words, it is a mid-cushion shoe that provides ample protection underfoot without sacrificing too much responsiveness.  The upper is similar in appearance to other Topo trail shoes, but adds the eVent waterproof membrane.  The special thing about this membrane is it gives you true waterproofing without a significant addition to the weight or without sacrificing breathability.  In fact, the HydroVenture weighs only about a half ounce more than the MT-2.

As far as fit, I did notice a slight difference here.  Whereas the upper on the MT-2 seems to have a little bit of stretch, the HydroVenture, likely because of the waterproofing, didn’t have as much give.  As a result, the shoe felt just a slight bit tighter in the upper mid foot.  I accommodated this by loosening the laces a little bit, which seemed to do the trick.  Another option for some may be to go up a half size.

Performance

Light

The shoe comes in at 9.7 oz for a Men’s 9, which is middle of the pack for a mid-cushion trail shoe.  I personally did not see this as an issue as the shoe still felt pretty light and responsive.  Also, considering the trade-offs, dry feet are more important on some runs than a little bit of (barely noticeable) added weight.

Waterproof

Prior to trying on the shoes, I made a video illustrating the waterproof capabilities.  I put a paper towel in the shoe and poured water over it.  The end result, a dry paper towel.  You can find the video here:

Now that is all fine and dandy, but how about real world application.  I purposely delayed my review of the shoe until I could put it through the ultimate test; the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  During the race, we crossed more than a dozen waterfalls and just as many stream crossings.  While the race didn’t go as planned performance wise, my feet did not get damp in the least.  Furthermore, the shoe provided great traction over the wet, mossy, rocky surfaces.  Lastly, the shoe didn’t seem to sacrifice breathability.  Most hiking shoes that I have that are waterproof trap in the heat…not these.  My feet stayed cool the whole time.  Honestly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance of the shoe on the course.  Here are some pictures and a link to the run on Strava:

Gorge Waterfalls 100K on Strava

Comfortable

My longest run in the HydroVenture was the 50 race miles on wet, rocky terrain through the Columbia River Gorge.  During this run, I felt the shoe had more than enough cushion.  Even on the pavement sections, they provided a smooth, comfortable ride.  As is typical with Topo, my toes had plenty of room to move freely.  What is even more important is that I experienced no blisters or hotspots thanks to the secure fit.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Topo no doubt, but putting that aside, these are a game changer in my opinion.  I clearly favor the the Topo design methodology, but beyond that, to release such an effective waterproof trail shoe in such a lightweight package is truly an accomplishment.  If you haven’t found a reason to try out Topo yet, this should be it.  As I said, most of us are in grave need for a waterproof trail runner that feels great and works without feeling like we are running in cement shoes.  This is that shoe.  I see these playing a key role in my shoe rotation anytime I am running in wet conditions.  As far as pro’s and con’s:

Pro’s

  • Definitely the waterproofing…it works!
  • Lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market!
  • Topo design more closely aligns with my foot shape and the natural mechanics of humans.

Con’s

  • The upper is a bit more restrictive than their other shoes.  You will want to loosen the laces or size up a half size.
  • Speaking of the laces, they were a bit short.  Double-knotting them was a bit iffy in a standard lacing configuration.

If this review wasn’t incentive enough to try the HydroVentures, how about a 10% off code at TopoAthletic.com.  Just use TOPODEANJ10.

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Gear Review: Coast FL70/75 Headlamp

At the end of last year, I did a review on the HL27 headlamp from  Coast, a company that I ran across at the Outdoor Retailer Summer show.  This product, while not marketed toward the running community specifically, caught my eye because of its economical cost compared to similar products from other vendors in the market.  As it turns out, I was super impressed with that product.  Since then, Coast has released a couple new products that I had the opportunity to review, the FL70 and FL75.  These two are similar, but there are a couple differences.  I will review both together and call out the differences.

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with Coast in any manner however, these headlamps were provided by Coast for the purposes of this review.

In The Box and Specs

In the box, you have the headlamp with 3 AAA batteries included.  The major design change with the FL70/75 is the combination of the lamp and batteries into a single unit (previous Coast models had a battery pack as a separate compartment on the back of the head — more about the advantages and disadvantages later in the review).  It also uses AAA batteries versus AA in other models.  The headlamp uses a single adjustable strap to hold it in place..  The lamp is a single LED center-mounted light, which tilts to adjust the aim of the light.  It includes a pretty simple interface, with an on/off button that allows you to quickly toggle the light output mode and a bezel on the lamp unit that allows you to transition between beam and flood mode.  Additionally, the FL75 as a second button that toggles on/off the low power red light mode.

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The $9 difference in price is likely to do with the added functionality of the red light in the HL75, because as you can see, they are nearly identical in specs otherwise.

Fit

The fit of this headlamp is actually quite nice.  Given the light weight of the lamp/battery box, the single strap is more than sufficient for holding it in place.  The box on the front has a relatively small footprint when compared with other products on the market.  Moving the batteries to the front allows Coast to bring a product to market for those that don’t like obstructions that rear battery packs can cause when carrying things on your back.

In Action

First, the back yard test.  I usually take this picture as a means of getting a general idea of the light output, range, and spread pattern.  The first three pictures below show the High, Medium, and Low lumen output settings.  I didn’t see a huge difference between High and Medium on spot beam mode to be honest, with only a bit of a drop off from Medium to Low (not very apparent in the pictures).  The next two pictures show the flood mode in Low mode, the first being 50% between spot and flood and the second being 100% flood.  You will see a large difference as you transition from spot to flood mode, with the light coverage favoring width over distance.  A lot of different views here to consider, but I found the sweet spot for me while running trails was about 40% spot / 60% flood on Medium mode.

 

Second, is the run test.  Winter is a great time to test headlamps…lots of darkness!  I mentioned my ideal sweet spot setting with this lamp, but found it to be a simple click of a button or twist of the bezel on the lamp to make on-the-fly changes.  It was really easy to do with gloves on too, which is not always the case with the smaller buttons on other products.  This allows you to extend battery life by quickly making qucik adjustments with changing outdoor lighting conditions.

A big trade off with this design versus past Coast models that I have reviewed is the dropoff in battery life.  For similar output and performance, the FL series offers less than half of the battery life as the previously reviewed HL series.  It also lacks a battery life indicator, so it is hard to tell when you are about to run out of light (although there is some dimming).

Overall Thoughts

Pros

  • Super light and compact with a small footprint.  It doesn’t feel bulky compared to “battery pack on the back” models do.
  • The light output button and flood-to-spot bezel offers full flexibility and control to the runner in regards to adjusting light output in real-time.
  • The strap is reflective!  This is a small detail, but still handy, particularly for light sources behind you that might not necessarily see your forward-facing beam.
  • Overall value.  For $50-60 depending on the model, this is solid headlamp.

Cons

  • Still would like to see Coast incorporate a battery life indicator on their lamps.
  • The dropoff in lumen output is significant from Low to Medium (53 to 230).  53 is a bit weak for the Low setting.  It would be more useful if it was somewhere around 80, which would allow me to operate almost exclusively in that mode.
  • Battery life at Medium and High is not really feasible for long periods of overnight running due to the drain on battery life.

Overall, the new FL series from Coast is solid as far as running headlamps go.  $50-60 for a max 405 lumen headlamp is a great deal.  They are price competitive to other comparable products and, in my opinion, the lamps on the Coast products may be the best on the market for light quality and output.  The battery life will be a challenge for some people on these, so the lamp is ideal for those races/runs where you only need it for a couple hours at the start or finish of your run or for use as a lightweight emergency backup.

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!