Shining Some Light On Headlamps For Running

Winter is looming. It’s dark in the morning and darkness arrives earlier and earlier in the evening. The lure of a treadmill or training in a gym is just not an option for some and therefore the need to be outdoors getting in some fresh air is essential for day-to-day function. So, if you are going to keep running during the winter months a headlamp is going to be essential. Here is a guide to help you make the correct choice.

Headlamps are an important piece of kit and arguably one that is ‘mandatory’ when heading to the trails, particularly during winter months or when racing. It may be light when you leave home, but have you noticed how suddenly the light switch is flicked off and how quickly light disappears. If you are on the road (with streetlights) this is not too much of an issue but if you are off-road, you are going to need a light that illuminates the trail, has durability and good battery life.

BEAM 

One thing I hate about running at night is that I eventually fall into the beam and I feel that I am in a tunnel. It affects my mind, my vision and my concentration. Many head torches have ‘beam options’ that usually are ‘narrow’ or ‘wide’. This option is an essential item to allow you to adapt to the environment and your vision needs.

Morning arrives in a trail race in the USA.

NARROW will focus the beam. For example, you may be running single-track and need vision in a very specific area. You need to see roots, rocks or any other obstacles. The narrow beam will facilitate your vision and allow you to make on-the–go decisions without losing speed.

WIDE as it suggests provides a softer more widespread light that provides a much more general field of view. This tends to work well with clearer skies or on open trail when obstacles are reduced.

Some head torches have two lamps, one wide and one narrow that provides the best of both worlds. some headlamps allow ‘variations’ between wide and narrow.

BRIGHTNESS

Brightness is measured in lumens and while many think more lumens are better, this is not always the case. Brightness is a key consideration for faster sports such as skiing and Mountain Biking when the need to react at speed is paramount. But for running, the pace is lower and therefore the need for a really bright light is not essential. Many headlamps have several settings, for example, a 400-lumen product may have a 50, 200 and 400 setting. This is useful when using a headlamp in mixed lighting/ darkness scenarios. If running on roads with streetlights, you may only need to be visible and then 50 lumens is ideal. However, if you are on dark forest trails with no ambient light, 400 lumens will be required.

In addition, some products have a ‘flash’ option that can be used for safety.  

Manually adjusting brightness with 1, 2 or 3 clicks is for me preferable to some of the new head torches that ‘auto-adjust’ to conditions. I have issues with these when in fog, mist, rain and so on as the sensor becomes confused. It over engineers a simple problem that a button click resolves.

Racing a VK during the night in a rainstorm. A double bean headlamp providing wide and narrow light.

Be careful of ‘boost’ modes, they are designed to produce brighter light for shorter periods, they will eat through battery life.

Understand your needs and be specific when purchasing. A light that provides too much power can be turned down BUT a light with not enough lumen cannot be turned up.

Also, when looking at power and brightness, this goes hand-in-hand with the beam. A narrow beam may well require less power because the beam is so concentrated, however, when on wide, you may wish to up the power as the light provided is softer.

BATTERY LIFE

Battery life, lumen power and weight are a delicate balancing act. Quite simply, autonomy comes from a larger battery and that will always mean more weight. If you are using a bright headlamp on a full power setting, then you need to balance this combination and understand your needs.

If you use a headlamp occasionally, using conventional batteries such as AAA or AA may be an option. However, regular headlamp use will almost certainly require rechargeable batteries which are better on cost and the environment.

Top tip: Choose a headlamp that can switch between conventional batteries and rechargeable seamlessly. Not only does this provide the best of both worlds but it will also allow you the opportunity to always have conventional batteries as a backup.

Silva Trail Runner Free can change from AAA to rechargeable.

Another key consideration is the option to use the batteries on and off the headband. The reasons for this are twofold:

The more power/ autonomy you need, the heavier the battery will be. The option to store in a pack or pocket is considerably more comfortable.

In colder weather, batteries last longer if warm. Storing off the head and in a pocket close to your torso will provide more autonomy.

Silva Trail Runner Free has a Hybrid case that takes AAA and rechargeable and can be used off the head.

Be specific. If you run typically 1-2 hours on dark trails, a 400-lumen light will be ideal, and the batteries will last for the duration of the run.

If you are running and you know you will have 8-hours or more under darkness, you will almost certainly need one spare set of batteries and maybe even two! So, the option to change rechargeable batteries and/or use conventional batteries can be a deal breaker. The Silva Trail Runner Free balances this perfectly with multiple options available.

On a final note, batteries can either fit in the lamp unit at the front (typically 2 x AA or 3 x AAA) or at the rear in a battery box that is sealed from the weather. The latter option usually means that you will have more power and the light will have more autonomy, but you will need to check! Is one better than the other? It all depends on your preference; I have found that a lamp at the front and batteries at the back balances the light well when in use. However, I do like the simplicity of everything in the head unit as it does allow you to use the light in other scenarios.

ADJUSTMENTS

Headlamps will tilt and some swivel. The tilt function is most important and will allow you to adjust the angle of the light based on your running style. This is important as we all have different run styles. You want the beam to be in a natural position taking into account your head angle whilst running and what field of vision you require. Usually, 2-3 meters ahead is ideal as this allows a natural run pace without slowing due to vision problems. If the trail is gnarly, you may need to adjust the angle, power and beam so that you are able to see obstacles.

Fog and mist can cause issues for any headlamp. Instinctively you try to increase the light to improve visibility only to find the light bounces back and makes visibility worse. In this scenario, using a light on your chest or waist can make improvements – just like they way fog lights on a car work. Simply removing the torch from your head and holding in your hand will improve matters considerably. Some actually prefer chest or waist mounted lights all the time. Personally I do not. I think they are a good addition to a headlamp but not a replacement.

Adjusting beam power is useful when reading maps.

Nearly all head torches use an elastic system to stretch around the head and hold the light in place. One or two also include a strap that goes over the top of the head too. This adds extra stability but often is a problem when wearing hats and so on. Ultimately you just want something that is comfortable.

SUMMARY

Night running is awesome. If you haven’t tried it, head out with friends at first, you will feel more secure as It can take some getting used to as you may feel disorientated.

But once you have the feel for it, it will be something you embrace and of course it adds some spice to your running.

If snow falls, embrace the opportunity of dark skies, white snow and the glow of a light!

Recommendations:

Moonlight Mountain Gear provide very powerful lights beyond 2000 lumens HERE

Silva Trail Runner Free specifically for running that takes AAA and rechargeable HERE

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Silva Trail Runner Free Headlamp Review

A headlamp, a good one! is an essential item for any runner, be that for racing or training. Winter, short days and what can feel like constant darkness can stop training and force sessions indoors, however, a good lamp can make all the difference for helping you get out of the door. Recently I looked at headlamps by Norwegian brand, Moonlight, HERE who produce lamps with serious lumens for running, mountain biking, skiing or any sport that takes place in pitch darkness and bright illumination is required.

Read a guide on headlamps HERE

Silva with the Trail Runner Free have taken the head lamp to a superb next level offering a specific product for running with 400 lumen output. Comfortable, lightweight with beams optimized for running this is proving to be my ‘go-to’ lamp. The ability to use AAA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery in a Hybrid battery case make this extremely user friendly, even for long and relentless outings.

Use 3x AAA batteries or a rechargeable battery for ultimate flexibility.

There are countless pluses to this new incarnation from Silva:

The free in the product name refers to the power cord being integrated into the headband. This provides a comfortable headlamp experience without distracting cords or tangled wires. The headband is soft with a silicone on the inside to stay in place. Gladly there is just one strap that goes around the head, there is no strap over the top of the head.

The weight is super-light coming in at 125g with the battery. Every part of the headlamp has been compressed and the unit only weighs 55 grams.

Hybrid battery case which can be used with AAA batteries (provided) and the option to purchase a Trail Runner Hybrid (1.15AH) battery for increased flexibility. The case has grip friendly surfaces and holds an integrated red rear safety light – adding extra visibility. 

There is a small switch with 3 settings: Off, permanent red light or flashing.

Importantly, the battery case can be used on or off the headband. An additional extension cable is provided so that you can store and use the battery in a pocket or a run pack – especially important in cold climates when warmth will allow the battery to last longer.

An extension cable (supplied) facilitates ‘off the head’ use of the Hybrid battery pack.

Customized light distribution via a double light beam with light settings that are perfect for running. A combination of a long reach spotlight and a close floodlight provides an excellent balance of close and long view perspectives which allows one to run with confidence, even at speed.

Spot and flood for ideal visibility.

It has 3 modes of varying brightness, 400, 200 and 50 lumens. In good weather conditions, you can expect 2.5 hours on full power or 12-hours on minimum power.

IPX5 water resistance

Price

77.00 (with AAA) 

The 1.5Ah Hybrid battery is an optional accessory for the Trail Runner Free and is supplied with the ‘H.’

Hybrid Battery is 32.00

The TRAIL RUNNER FREE H is 109.00 and includes Hybrid Battery.

The TRAIL RUNNER FREE ULTRA is 127.00 and includes 4.0 Ah long-distance battery.

OPTIONS

The base version Trail Runner Free is at a great price and is provided with 3x AAA batteries which means you can use it straight out of the packaging. The option to use AAA and a rechargeable is a deal breaker for me, especially if I am out on long adventures or if I was racing. The flexibility to be able to purchase batteries anywhere and use the head lamp is a win! 

Choose Trail Runner Free with the Hybrid battery case and 3 x AAA batteries if you don’t run on a daily basis, but still value long burn time.

3x AAA battery is great for flexibility and a back-up to the 1.5Ah Hybrid battery.

In reality though, the best option is to purchase the Trail Runner Free H that comes with a Hybrid Battery. I also purchased an additional spare battery for increased flexibility. This allows me to charge a battery while using the torch (I carry 3 x AAA in my pack as spares and for a ‘just in case’ scenario). Equally, I can carry a charged Hybrid battery as a spare too.

The Hybrid battery case takes 3x AAA or the 1.5Ah battery.

If you always run long, the Trail Runner Free Ultra has the largest battery and burn time offering 9-hours on full-power in good weather. This can reduce to below 5-hours in sub-zero temperatures.

TOP TIP

Choose Trail Runner Free Ultra if you want to go for really long sessions with the 4.0Ah long-distance battery. With Free Ultra you also get the Hybrid battery case which can be used with either 3 x AAA batteries or by complementing it with a Hybrid battery (1.15Ah).

IN USE

The head lamp, head band and Hybrid battery case is the same irrespective of which option you choose. Please note that with the Ultra, the larger 4.0Ah battery does not fit in the Hybrid case but can still be used on the head band or in a pocket using the included extension cable.

Comfort level is high with the Trail Runner Free and I would go as far to say, it’s arguably one of the most comfortable head lamps I have used, especially with no cables flapping around. However, because the cables are incorporated within the headband, adjusting is a little more laborious than in others I have used, it’s a minor niggle. On the head band the battery is well balanced, secure and comfortable.

Cables are incorporated inside the headband and you connect the battery via a connector.
The pack simply connects via a short cabe is the pack is attached to the head band.

The Hybrid battery pack easily attaches or removes from the head band allowing for great flexibility.

Using the battery off the head and it’s easy to change batteries and turn the red safety light on or off.
Off the head you use an extension cable so the battery can placed in a pocket or pack.

It has an inbuilt red LED for safety.

Rear red safety light can be off, flashing or permanent.

This rear light has its own switch which you turn on by opening the rear battery cover and moving the small toggle switch, flashing or constant is available. There are pluses and minuses to this. The plus is that you do not need the rear light on, which will save some battery, especially if storing the battery and using in a pocket. The downside is twofold: 1. It’s easy to forget to turn the rear light on. 2. Opening the door and flicking the switch is just one extra thing to do and if it’s cold, almost impossible to do with gloves on.

The lamp itself is small, rotates up and down easily (even with gloves on) and the switch on the left-side is easy to press for illumination.

Green shows good power in the battery, red shows recharging or new batteries are required.

You press and hold to turn off, if you see a red light, the battery needs charging or changing. If you see green, all is good. There are two lamps, a spot and wide and they work exceptionally well. 

At 400 lumens, the head lamp sits at a very comfortable balance of illumination v battery life. Lumens and brightness are not always the be all and end all for a head lamp, especially when running. For faster sports, MTB or skiing, illumination is crucial because everything is moving so much faster, with running, especially at night, everything is a little slower and 400 lumen works really well. I also feel that our eyes and perception adjust accordingly but I am aware that for some, this is not the case.

Not all head lamps are the same and the Trail Runner Free has become my ‘go-to’ and most likely the product I would recommend to others as a first option.

The reason being weight, comfort, price but most importantly the Hybrid battery combination and the flexibility it brings.

Using the battery off the head is a real plus of the Trail Runner Free.

I have actually only used the Hybrid case on the head band three times (it was comfortable, no problem.) I have found that the best solution for me is to store the battery pack either in my run vest or in a pocket on my clothing.

The reasons for this are countless:

  • Less weight on the head.
  • Keeping the batteries warm so that they last longer.
  • I can change batteries without having to take the head lamp off.

Another key point is the flexibility to daily use a rechargeable battery (thus saving on costs and the environment) but also having 3x AAA with me should I need to have additional backup power. Of course, you can carry another rechargeable too OR use the larger 4.0Ah battery.

CONCLUSION

The combination of battery options, free technology, comfort, flexibility and 400 lumens all packaged into a running specific lamp make the Trail Runner Free a winner. There are a couple of minor niggles, but they are nothing to worry about and are certainly not real considerations when considering should I or should I not buy this head lamp. When purchasing, consider which model best suits your needs. But have knowledge knowing that you have complete flexibility afterwards to switch between batteries and how the battery is used. Highly recommended. 

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Getting Layered – The three-layer system of base, mid and outer.

The concept of layering clothes for outdoor activity is fundamental, irrespective of the time of year. The three-layer system of base, mid and outer provides the opportunity to regulate one’s temperature whilst moving quickly or slowly for any outdoor pursuit.

BASE LAYER

The base layer is moisture-wicking layer that fits close to the skin is usually relatively thin and tight-fitting. Its primary goal is to wick sweat away from one’s body allowing the wearer to remain dry, warm and comfortable. Merino wool has long been hailed as the product to use as it has excellent wicking properties and retains heat, even when wet. Many consider the base to be just one layer, but two thin layers are often better than one thicker layer. Or a thin layer with thicker product over the top may well be required in extreme cold. Importantly with base layers, always take a spare with you. The opportunity to change to warm/ dry layers during long activities, particularly in extreme cold can be a life saver.

A base layer for the legs is only a consideration should you be adding a specific outdoor pant over the top. Again, merino works best for the base. If running, specific run tights (winter versions exist with windproof panels) are all that is usually required as the legs are moving constantly and therefore keeping warm. However, in extreme cold and wind one may need to re-think based on activity level. A base layer merino with a loose-fitting run pant over the top is an excellent scenario to start. The run pant could also be waterproof as mentioned below or for climbing, they could be down or synthetic such as Primaloft.

A merino base layer with another thin base layer increases warmth with flexibility.

MIDLAYER

Often considered as an insulating layer, the mid layer also is very important for transporting excess heat from the body and base layer. Unlike the base layer, a midlayer should be looser fitting to facilitate the capture and retention of air. Air between the base and mid helps preserve heat and transport moisture. There is no definitive midlayer and often, the choice comes down to the activity you are doing, in what conditions and how active or inactive one is likely to be. For example, 100% merino is possible, a synthetic product such as Primaloft or a down product. Each has their own unique properties and uses with warmth to weight ratio being a prime consideration, particularly for an outdoor enthusiast. Depending on the product, a Merino midlayer will usually be heavier than synthetic and down being the most lightweight. Volume is a key consideration, down compresses amazingly and can be made exceptionally small fulfilling the best of most worlds, small size and low weight. Merino by contrast will take up a great deal of space with additional weight. The weather conditions will often dictate which mid layer you will choose, Merino is good for all conditions (wet and dry), Synthetic equally works well in wet and dry with a smaller volume size and weight. Down historically has only been good with guaranteed dry conditions as the down (goose or duck, goose being the best) becomes ineffective when wet. However, many brands now treat down to withstand water. This often goes via the name of Hydrophobic. Hydrophobic down has been treated with a durable water repellent that enables the down to dry quicker and resist water for longer, meaning it will perform better in damp conditions. This makes down jackets that utilize hydrophobic down more versatile, as they can be used in cold, damp conditions without being damaged.

OUTER LAYER

Designed to protect you from the elements but equally allowing the person inside to lose excess heat, outer layers are essential for outdoor activities. Many products exist and many varieties exist such as Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, Pertex Shield, Proflex Waterproof, Hyrdroshell and the list goes on. If running and moving fast and light, your choice will be dictated by product weight and size. However, if hiking and mountaineering, a heavier duty and more resilient product will be required. Also keep in mind that pants will or may be required. Again, a running waterproof pant can be minimalist whereas a hiking pant will need to be more durable.

In Scandinavia, insulated shorts are extremely popular such as those by Haglofs. They provide extra warmth, without slowing you down or interfering with your activity. Primaloft Aerogel filling and treated with Fluorocarbon free DWR treatment to withstand all conditions.

EXTREMETIES

Feet, hands and head are key places that need protection during cold and extreme weather. Often, you can get away with less layers on your core if your feet, hands and head are warm. 

HEAD

Most of one’s body heat is lost through the head and quite simply, humans are designed to make sure the head and brain is kept warm. So, in cold conditions, hand and feet warmth will be sacrificed if your head is cold. Adding a layer to your head is a guaranteed way to warm up immediately so treat this as a priority. Equally, if you are too warm, removing a head covering is an easy way to cool down quickly. A merino wool beanie, Buff or wrag is superb for maintaining warmth and just as the base layer, it will remove moisture and still keep you warm even when wet.

HANDS

Cold hands make any outdoor activity miserable and there is no one definitive answer to how to keep hands warm as there are many variables based on the conditions you will be in. A good place to start is with a Merino liner glove. This liner can also be used as a stand-alone product on days when the ambient temperature requires. Over the liner, one has two options: glove or mitt. Mitts are guaranteed to be warmer, however, if you are climbing or doing a sport where finger dexterity is required, a mitt will not work. So, you need to assess your own personal needs. Finally, an outer waterproof layer can be an excellent idea if persistent rain and cold temperatures are to be encountered. You need to adapt the layers for the conditions and just like a hat, moving and adding gloves is a great way to regulate temperature.

FEET

Merino socks are essential for happy feet. In dry conditions they wick away sweat, in wet conditions they retain warmth. Just as with the body, layering socks is a great idea. Most of the time a sport specific merino sock will work, however, in winter, the demands on one’s feet increase. Consider a thin base layer sock with a thicker sock over the top, just like you would with your body. If you anticipate extreme cold and wet, a specific barrier sock may need to be considered such as a Sealskinz or equivalent.

CONCLUSION

Having multiple layers for any outdoor activity is a key to keeping warm and dry. There is no one-stop solution as the requirements vary from sport-to-sport. However, if you think base, mid and outer, you will be well equipped for any weather at any time of the year.

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Kilian Jornet #kilianPhantasm24h Part Two!

Kilian Jornet, Trofeo Kima 2014

On October 26th 2020 I released via this website that Kilian Jornet would take on a 24-hour run at the Måndalen Stadium in Norway on November 8th.

This post was news to the ultra running world and it created a stir. It was BIG news. Just the thought that mountain man, climber, skier, alpinist, explorer and adventurer, Kilian Jornet, would contemplate running around a 400m loop was, well, crazy!

Kilian ‘Skyrunning’ at the iconic Trofeo Kima.

My news was copied, posted, re-quoted, shared and many media took my content, provided no credit and then shared the story.

Ironically, the news was short lived. Kilian direct messaged me to say he was too injured to contemplate this and then said via social media:

“Wow! I was all the day out and saw this just now 😅 Thanks for the idea guys!! At the moment I’m trying to get back from a injury (literally did my first run since last weekend) but why not to try to run something that long in the future..”

Suddenly, all the media who had posted were left perplexed and while many supported my news, I received countless negative comments, questions and basically nasty comments. I think the assumption was I had posted fake news, to coin a phrase.

I had been with Kilian at Hytteplanmila 10km Road Race (HERE) where he ran 29:59 in his first ‘official’ road race. He told me of a niggling injury and that he would take a week off. In the following days (w/c Oct 19th), I heard news of the 24-hour attempt. This came from multiple sources, primarily athletes who were being invited to join Kilian on November 8th at Måndalen Stadium.

“In fact, the assault on the 24-hour challenge was scheduled for the first week of November, but Kilian was forced to delay it due to the discomfort that appeared after running his first 10 km race on asphalt, the Hytteplanmila, in 29 ‘ 59 ” in mid-October.” – Albert Jorquera writing for Runedia

It was difficult to confirm the story. That is until Sunday October 25th when a post on Norsk Ultra was made public. It was only a matter of time before this news became available for all.

I wrote my article HERE and reached out for quotes. The post once live went viral. I guess the rest is history… The announcement today by Salomon and Kilian is vindication, albeit the date of the event was wrong (injury doesn’t work to dates), of my original post.

*****

November 15th, Salomon and Kilian Jornet released simultaneously.

kilianphantasm24 announcement.

The date may have changed (due to injury) but the location and the concept remain the same. Kilian Jornet will run 24-hours on a track.

HERE

©Salomon

#kilianphantasm24

The release of the news by Salomon is extremely welcome and it so wonderful to hear the Kilian will push himself on a new stage. The original concept was an attempt to break the record of ultrarunnning legend Yiannis Kouros. The reality is 756 laps of a 400m track. Yiannis set the world record at 188.590-mile.

The event will take place at *Måndalen Stadium, and should have happened on the weekend of November 21/22 and as per my original post, the provision of +/- 2-days may need to be considered for weather. (*Lymbus who manage Kilian confirm the location to be Måndalen.)

Kilian writing on Facebook

The attempt has now been pencilled for Friday 27th November with a 1030 am start – to be confirmed! Weather looks cloudy with some sun but temperatures could drop to -7 if long term forecasts are to be relied on.

https://www.salomon.com/phantasm24.

Salomon say, “The start time of Kilian’s Phantasm24 challenge is slightly weather dependent…”

Currently, weather forecasts are very poor with 70/80% chance of snow and temperatures between -1 and -3 during the day, they would be much colder at night. The stadium Måndalen Stadium is outdoor and this in itself brings a whole new dynamic to any 24-hour should this be the confirmed location. Norway in November, minimal daylight and cold temperatures, this will be a tough 24-hour.

To follow all the health prevention measures against the Covid pandemic, the challenge will be closed to the public. But it will be possible to watch live HERE

Phantasm shoe – Kilian used this for the 10km road race.

Titled #kilianphantasm24 – the project will see Kilian push new personal boundaries and at the same time, provide exposure for the Phantasm shoe. I am currently aware (tbc) of several other high-profile athletes who ‘may’ join Kilian on the track, Didrik Hermansen, Simen Holvik, Sebastian Conrad and two more, Harald Bjerke and Jo Inge Norum I believe.

“My hopes are to set a new national record and to have the honor to run 24 hours with these fantastic people.” – Simen Holvik

Didrik Hermansen Oslo 2020.

“So, now we all know! Going to be exiting. I will do the 24h, zero degrees.. hopefully no wind!” – Didrik Hermansen.

For perspective, to break the Yiannis Kouros world record, any runner would need to be able to cover an incredible 7.875-miles per hour. Statistics show that from the ‘test’ run by Kilian earlier in August 2020 that this objective may be possible? He ran 84.89km in 5:58:13 with an average 4:13/km pace. The numbers speak for themselves, it’s a huge undertaking, especially on an outdoor tack. However, it is going to be fascinating to see what happens with each journey of the 400m.

“…and now I am super excited to test myself doing something that long (and far from what I like) but where I will learn so much and grow as an athlete. (And probably doing this 24h in a track because I love that pain feeling.)”

Kilian Jornet, Twitter

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Episode 198 – Mike McLean, Molly Bazilchuk and Jack Scott

Episode 198 of Talk Ultra brings interviews with Michael McLean, winner of the 120km Thailand by UTMB, Molly Bazilchuk who won the  first edition of the Rondane 100 in Norway and Jack Scott from the UK about his recent FKT.


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NEWS

Check FKT website for latest updates https://fastestknowntime.com/

Tim Tollefson and Nicole Bitter win at Javelina.

Pau Capell continued his personal projects and followed up UTMB and Trail Menorca solo by running in Tenerife starting at the sea, summiting Mt Teide and then dropping back down to sea level setting a new FKT 6:13:20 for the 55km route.

REVIEWS:

La Sportiva VK Boa shoe review HERE
Moonlight head lamp review HERE
inov-8 Roclite Pro boot review HERE

In other news…


00:11:11 INTERVIEW : MIKE MCLEAN

01:09:00 INTERVIEW : MOLLY BAZILCHUK

1:52:15 INTERVIEW : JACK SCOTT

02:22:06

Episode 198

Spotify HERE  

ITunes HERE  

Stitcher 

You can listen on iOS HERE, Android HERE or via a web player HERE  

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La Sportiva VK Boa® Shoe Review

Italian brand, La Sportiva, take running shoe specialization to the next level with the VK Boa®, a shoe that is specifically designed to go mountain as quickly as possible in the lightest package available.

To understand the shoe, you need to understand its purpose.

Dolomites VK, Italy.

The VK in the name refers to Vertical Kilometer® a sport created on the slopes of Monte Rosa in 1994 by Marino Giacometti, the founder and creator of the sport, Skyrunning. Governed by the ISF, the International Skyrunning Federation, the sport is simple in concept – To cover 1000 vertical meters in a course that is less than *5km long with average incline of 20%. Double (2000m) and triple (3000m) VK’s also exist.

Initially created for scientific research the VK concept grew and it has become a staple in the calendar of skyrunning with its own specific calendar and relative world and European champions. Often, a VK would be added on to a race weekend that included another longer race, the Dolomites being a prime example where a VK would take place on Friday and a SkyRace on Sunday. Competitors often do both races. The world record stands at 28-minutes 53-seconds by Philip Goetsch set at one of the steepest VK’s in the world, Fully, which covers the 1000 vertical meters in a course that is only 1.92km long. The finish line is 1500m altitude.

The VK sport was created in Italy and the La Sportiva brand was born in Italy, the synergy between the two is obvious.

To create a specific shoe for VK not only shows the demand, especially in Italy, for such a shoe, but also the enthusiasm for the sport. The 2020 the Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit, managed by SkyMan, was cancelled however, the ISF have confirmed the sport will continue and recently they announced a new 2VK circuit – HERE

La Sportiva VK Boa®

Like track spikes, the VK Boa is a very specific shoe.

It’s all about minimal weight, secure foot hold, grip and a package that turns the eye. I have to say, the classic black/yellow/red of La Sportiva has always appealed and here in the VK Boa® that is taken up a notch to make what I think is a really ‘sexy’ shoe.

The striking look pulls you in and then you pick the shoe up, at sub 200g for a standard UK8 (230g for a UK9.5) this shoe is amazingly light.

The upper is just one seamless sock with a narrow opening from which one inserts the foot. Three wide straps come across the shoe to create the foothold and structure and conventional laces have been removed to be replaced with the Boa® rapid closure system.

A minimal toe bumper offers toe protection.

The outsole is a story of two halves: the front using a black semi-aggressive grip with relatively small lugs (25) the rear has a different configuration in red.

Cushioning, as one would expect is minimal but surprisingly more than I expected.

Drop is 4mm.

The shoe is described as being ‘universal’, but I do feel some support under the arch.

Sizing is true to size.

The Shoe

Firstly, getting one’s foot into the shoe is a little tricky. This shoe is designed like a Formula 1 car and as such, excess is taken away. One you have your foot inside, take time to wiggle your foot, make sure your heel is in the correct place and ensure that you pull the upper up, just like a sock.

There is no tongue. Tightening the shoe is done from the Boa® closure by turning the dial. Do this slowly making sure the laces sit where you want them. Taking time here will ensure a great foothold, particularly on the important Navicular bone.

The heel box is really impressive and rightly so for a shoe that is designed for going uphill. A lack of secure hold at the rear and it would prove really problematic. I’d go as far to say that the VK Boa® has the most secure and tight-fitting heel box of any shoe I have tried.

The toe box area, just like socks, is free of any reinforcement and extremely slipper like. It is not narrow and not wide, but the freedom of movement offered by the bi-elastic mesh would make this shoe work for most people. La Sportiva call it Low Volume which is designed for a tight fit following foot shape.

The outsole is very clever, La Sportiva know that when doing a VK, the front of the shoe is used almost 100% with only occasional use of the shoe rear. The outsole reflects this with two different grips and notably there is ‘rock-guard’ only at the front of the shoe. The outsole is designed to have as many contact points as possible. Frixion Red is a combination of grip, long-lasting wear and shock absorption. VK’s take place on grass, rock, stone, scree, mud and even ice, the outsole does a great job of handling each of the conditions.

The cushioning is compressed EVA and I was surprised how much cushioning was in the shoe, but it is designed for softer ground where the requirement for shock absorption is reduced. Completely understandable for a shoe designed for VK’s.

In Use

This is a very specific shoe and as such will have a very reduced market. It’s not a shoe that can-do multiple tasks, having said that, they VK Boa® may work exceptionally well on a short mountain race but downhill support and comfort would be compromised.

This shoe is designed to go up.

Considering that most VK’s are completed in 30-minutes for the elite men, around 35/40 minutes for the elite women and then 60 to 90-minutes for mortals, you get a picture that this shoe needs to be light.

Light they are; super light! They really do fit like gloves and I am still surprised at how well they hold the foot. I have had mixed experiences with Boa® closure systems previously but on this shoe it all clicks together. The Boa® (L6 type) system is a logical closure step allowing the top of the shoe to be free of seams and additional stitching and the three straps, just like in cycling shoes, comes across the foot to create a really superior hold. It’s all about efficiency and it makes a really nice aesthetic.

The shoes are extremely flexible and notably they excel in three areas. 

  1. The hold in the heel area is superb, no, it is brilliant! The lack of slipping in the heel area for a shoe designed for going uphill is absolutely crucial and the VK Boa® may well be the best I have tried.
  2. The soft and flexible upper manages to provide enough structure and support but allows the foot to move and bend in the propulsive phase without restriction. Crucial for a VK when pretty much the entire race or run will be undertaken on the front of the shoe.
  3. The outsole is designed for purpose and I love the specific grip and rock-guard just for the front of the shoe where it is needed.

Precise, reactive, great foot hold, excellent proprioception and extremely flexible, the VK Boa® really is beautifully designed for the task it was created for.

Conclusion

This shoe is not for everyone and I applaud La Sportiva for creating such a specific shoe. Light and minimalist, they excel for the designed purpose and there is little to fault.

They look great, the Boa® system is a superb addition to the shoe that maybe is the best use of this product I have seen in a running shoe.

RRP is 170 euro, so, they are not cheap. However, such a specific shoe will have a long life as they will only be used for VK racing or training. More often than not, VK’s are located close or near cable cars, so, the need to run back down is not required. Having said that, if one does need to run down, the VK Boa® does lack some of the structure a conventional run shoe would have, so, that needs to be considered.

If VK’s and going uphill as fast as possible is your think, the La Sportiva VK Boa® are most definitely worth checking out.

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