It was a year of incremental advancements and innovations in the sports and fitness world. No single product blew us completely out of the water, but there were still many that got us excited. Material technology again took steps forward, as it did last year, and that continues to be a driving force of innovation in the outdoor industry as brands continue to make offerings lighter, more breathable, more waterproof or simply more comfortable.
Salomon S/Lab ME:sh
ME:sh was born out of a request from trail runner Kilian Jornet to Salomon’s Footwear R&D team for a pair of shoes designed specifically to match the anatomy of his feet. That was back in 2008. Now, you don’t have to be an ultramarathon runner or hold the fastest ascents and descents of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Denali to get some ME:sh custom runners from S/Lab.
In order to produce the perfect fit, Salomon simplified what a shoe is meant for (anatomical biomechanics, transportation through local environments, aesthetics) and what a shoe is (ME:sh is built from 12 components instead of the average 50). The Twinskin upper is woven using a 3D knit technique; the lower is built according to the consumer’s drop, cushioning, and outsole specifications; and the two are then joined manually. ME:sh will be available in four different models, including the fully custom Unique To Me model, location-specific Unique to Community models and two Kilian Jornet models.
Polartec’s new Delta Fabric works to move sweat away from your body more efficiently than anything else on the market. It’s constructed from a knit of two different fibers, one hydrophilic and one hydrophobic. The fiber closest to the skin is hydrophobic, to move moisture away from the skin and out to the outer layer; the fiber on the outside is hydrophilic, to absorb that sweat and evaporate it out.
The fabric first launched on Outdoor Research’s Guage tee but is now available from other select partners like Rhone. On paper, Delta sounds like it would be mostly marketing jargon and you’re probably thinking that your standard synthetic weave workout tee does just fine. All it takes is one workout in a Delta tee to be converted.
Giro Prolight Techlace
The Prolight Techlace weighs just 150 grams and utilizes TeXtreme, some of the same carbon fiber that’s used in many Formula 1 cars. Along with using one of the lightest carbon fibers available, Giro trimmed weight everywhere that they could. Instead of using replaceable rubber sole pads, they opted for non-replaceable, glued-on pads, which saved upwards of 10 grams. They also stripped away as much material from the upper as they could while still providing the support the brand is known for. The traditional Teijin microfiber has been combined with an ultra-light and breathable techmesh.
Giro estimates, by some clever math (i.e., not in actual results), that if Richie Porte had worn the Prolight Techlace up the Alpe d’Huez instead of his Sidis, he would have saved 15 seconds. 15 seconds. The Tour de France is won and lost by narrower margins than that. But even if you aren’t a pro cyclist, the Prolight Techlace offers impressive features and upsides. In practice, the shoe is incredibly comfortable. The Techlace system evenly distributes pressure along the top of your foot. As far as ideal shoes for summer riding, it doesn’t get much better — it’s unmatched in breathability. The one downside? The shoe will retail at $400. But if you’re serious about your cycling, there simply isn’t a better lightweight shoe.
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR
The Spartan Sport Wrist HR was Suunto’s first entry into wrist-based heart rate monitoring. The brand shied away from the wrist HR technology in the early iterations because it was notoriously inaccurate. Now, however, the heart rate tech has gotten to the point where Suunto feels comfortable applying it to the Spartan, one of the best all-around fitness-tracking GPS smartwatches out there.
If you’re serious about your fitness and need the most accurate data in the smallest, most approachable package possible, this is your fitness tracker. If you’re looking to see how many steps you can log in a day, there are other products on the market that accomplish that for a significantly smaller sum. But in the realm of performance running watches, our friends in Finland nailed this one.
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Specialized Diverge S-Works
Gravel grinding and adventure cycling are at the front of the zeitgeist for the cycling industry. Stretches of dirt road and pea-gravel-laden switchbacks are the dream scenario for many cyclists today. In following that trend, Specialized redesigned its Diverge adventure bike using some of the most innovative tech it has developed to date — most notably, a shock absorber in the headtube and a 35mm seat post dropper.
The headtube shock-absorbing technology is called Future Shock, which is actually a bit humorous considering shock absorbing stems have been around for some time — ever heard of Softride? It first debuted in the Specialized Roubaix but has been refined even more for the Diverge. Instead of using a linear spring like the Roubaix (designed to absorb small road chatter), the Diverge’s mainspring is progressive, or more like a mountain bike shock, and ramps up as you go through the 20mm of travel. Additionally, the Diverge comes with a storage compartment above the bottom bracket with room for a tube, CO2 inflator and cartridge, valve extender, multi-tool, and tire lever. To power through the gravel and help soak up road chatter, the Diverge comes standard with 38mm tires.
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%
Many running insiders believe that plates, made of carbon fiber or similar materials, are the next technological innovation that will drive the industry forward — ourselves included. The Zoom Vaporfly 4% is one of the first shoes to hit the market containing that technology. In combination with Nike’s new ZoomX foam, it makes Adidas’s Boost foam shoes feel like wet noodles.
The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% hit the market this year and made waves with Nike’s Breaking2 project. Despite coming up just short in that endeavor, the 4% had it’s fair share of successes this year — including Shalane Flanagan’s win at the New York City Marathon, the first time an American woman has won that race since 1977. Winners at Chicago and Boston were also wearing the Vaporfly 4%. The shoe is currently unavailable unless you’re an elite marathoner, but Nike currently has a page up on its site with a red version of the shoe with “Coming Soon.”
The North Face Hyperair Jacket
The North Face Hyperair Jacket was one of a few products that launched this year with Gore-Tex’s “membrane out” technology. Instead of being laminated with a face fabric and lining material like a traditional 3L jacket, the Hyperair is effectively a 1L jacket. This was the biggest technological advancement in rainwear this year. But beyond just being a 1L jacket, the Hyperair also features Gore-Tex’s Active membrane, which breathes better than any other Gore-Tex product on the market. According to The North Face, it’s the brand’s most breathable lightweight running jacket ever.
Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt
It’s best to think of the ELEMNT Bolt as a bit of a trust buster. Ever since GPS cycling computers were a thing, Garmin was really the only company worth buying. Sure there were others but clunky design and less-than-stellar performance cemented the monopoly. The Garmin Edge series was good, but it has grown complicated and bogged down with features, while at the same time failing to embrace a lot of newer tech that could help manage that mess. Thankfully, last year, Wahoo fitness (also makers of stationary trainers) introduced the ELEMNT — a fully featured, beautifully designed cycling computer that fixed just about all of the issues with Garmin computers. Then, this year, Wahoo released the Bolt which is essentially the same tech as the ELEMNT in a smaller, prettier, more affordable package ($100 cheaper than the ELEMNT or Garmin Edge 520). It’s the cycling computer that Teddy Roosevelt would want you to buy. — Henry Phillips
Oakley EVZero Stride Prizm
There were countless pairs of sport-specific sunglasses released this year. If we were to try to list them all here, this story would be 60 pages long. Instead, we picked only the best pair: Oakley’s EVZero Stride Prizm. The Stride by far the best iteration of the EVZero series which also includes the Path, our previous favorite pair. The Strides are significantly more stylish than the Paths and feature Oakley’s Prizm lens technology.
There are a number of different Prizm lenses including Sport, Snow and Everyday. So, let’s say you’re on top of that mountain — the Prizm Snow lens would bring out crucial details in snow texture by precisely enhancing the color contrast normally hidden in winter environments. It’s been a game-changer for athletes (and even bike commuters — hello, shitty asphalt). While we recommend the Stride for road cycling, you could easily use it for just about everything and we wouldn’t judge you for wearing them social settings.
After years of and ogling the smooth carbon fiber and sleek branding and design of German bike brand Canyon, cyclists in the U.S. are finally able to take to the road on the forbidden fruit. Just as motoring enthusiasts covet the performance edition cars and wagons of Europe, cyclists have long awaited the stateside arrival of Canyon bikes — and for good reason. The company operates on a direct-to-consumer model, which allows them to bring high quality parts and frames to market at competitive prices. Previously, the only way to ride a Canyon in the US was to bring one back through customs after a trip abroad, or to borrow one for a ride from one of the Rapha Cycle Clubs. In 2017 though, that finally changed and now anyone interested in a Canyon bike can order directly from Canyon’s website.
The Aeroad is the brand’s flagship aero road bike and is a worthy example of Canyon’s prowess and engineering capabilities. It’s impossibly light and stiff, quick and comfortable all at the same time. A handful of Canyon’s other models have also come stateside including the Strive and Spectral on the mountain side and the Ultimate and Inmountain the road/gravel side.
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