The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Footwear

The Outdoor Exchange: Never Buy Gear Again

If your friends’ lack of kayaks keeps spoiling your dreams of organizing flotillas in nearby lakes, weep no more: last week, a small group of New Jersey men formally quit their jobs to focus on The Outdoor Exchange (OX), a subscription-based gear closet.

The brainchild of outdoor enthusiast and startup veteran Dariusz Jamiolkowski, five-week-old OX gives subscribers access to a catalog of high-end, expensive gear. Basic subscriptions to OX (there are a few options, the cheapest of which is $100) allow users to rent one item per week. You can rent more items at 10 percent of each additional product’s value. OX recently started an Indiegogo campaign to boost its membership, and expects to be “fully operational” by July, after which point basic subscription costs will double. 

So far, most of the rentals come from New Jersey (OX is based in Fairlawn), but subscribers hail from California, Colorado, Florida, and even England. Jamiolkowski estimates the young company rents about 10 items per week, and he hopes to attract more than 1,000 total subscribers by the end of summer, mainly by preaching the company's cause at big events like the Philly Folk music festival and relying on word of mouth. 


But while OX is still young (currently it only has a couple hundred paying members), it's run by seven business- and tech-savy teammates whose resumes are padded with names like Lockheed Martin and Novo Nordisk. Jamiolkowski officially left his position as Handybook’s vice president of finance in February after being accepted into startup incubator TechLaunch, while marketing lead Adam Hackett quit his day job on June 6.

That team has come up with a unique gear-sharing model. Unlike GearCommons—another peer-to-peer program that depends on its users to supply gear—OX stocked its warehouse full of gear by working directly with manufacturers and distributors. The majority of the 300 products in its inventory were provided by companies like Black Diamond, Hobie, Maverick, and Folbot, a foldable kayak manufacturer. It's a relationship that benefits both parties. 

“The issue (Folbot’s) having is that they have a great product, but it's hard for somebody who hasn't been in a foldable kayak to spend $1,200 on a foldable kayak,” Jamiolkowski said. “So we're putting butts in the seats for these guys. We're gonna get people to try the product and nine out of 10 people are gonna try it and say it was great, but one person is gonna end up purchasing the kayak...And our customers are going to be happy because they get to use a premium product at a low entry-point.”

The company is still working out some kinks, including how to streamline shipping costs. For New Jersey residents, OX will drop off and set up gear at trailheads within 25 miles of its warehouse for $20. But the idea of spending $100 a year on shared gear doesn’t sound as good if you have to pay an additonal $200 in shipping.

This week, OX began testing what its founder calls the Trailblazer Program. For a set $74 per year, subscribers can ship all their rentals for free within the continental United States. Ultimately, the team hopes to open local warehouses where subscriptions are most concentrated to help defray costs. 

You may be wondering, “What happens if the gear gets damaged?” Well, Jamiolkowski and his team have set up a system to incentivize good gear treatment. OX rates both customers and gear internally when products are returned. If a customer gets low enough marks, she can’t rent gear anymore. “In order for this to work, it's gotta work both ways,” says Jamiolkowski. “Have you seen Meet the Fockers? We're building the Circle of Trust.

“We have families to support and mortgages to pay for, but we strongly believe in what we're doing, based on everything we've done so far to build a very successful, not only business, but a community for outdoor enthusiasts,” he says. 

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El Naturalista Meteo

El Naturalista, a socially-responsible footwear company based in Pamplona, Spain, joins the ranks of Birkenstock, Simple, and Keen in producing some of the most comfortable travel footwear I've ever owned.

The Meteo features full-grain, vegetable-tanned uppers, but the secret is in the sole's anatomical design. Ideal for collapsing arches (there's a removable insole you can swap out for your custom one) and pancake-footed adventurers, the Meteo will hold up on planes, trains, bikes, and all the walking your European sabbatical will entail. Available in a variety of cool colors, from mediterranean blue to conservative black.


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Toning Clothes: Not a Perfect Fit

In April, New York University medical students won $75,000 in an entrepreneurship competition at New York University's Stern School of Business. The startup judges deemed worthy of the investment: a clothing company called Skinesiology, which “offers functional fitness apparel that resists movement to help people tone muscle and burn extra calories during everyday activities.”

The 75G check was made out on 4/25/14, making it clear that this is neither an April Fool’s joke, nor 2010. Which brings us to a segment Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler first popularized on Saturday Night Live: Really!?

Really!? In 2010, Reebok’s EasyTone shoes were killing it. According to DailyFinance, the company generated an estimated $1 billion in revenue from global sales of sneakers the company claimed would work women’s glutes 28 percent more, and their hamstrings and calves 11 percent more than wearing regular shoes.

Other sports brands put out their own “toning” kicks as well. Fila had Sculpt and Tone sneakers. Skechers made Shape Ups. The world was crazy for gear that made doin’ your thang i.e. walking to the store, standing in a meeting, etc. a calorie-incinerating workout.

“Body toning apparel is a natural progression of the recent successes in the toning footwear market,” said Jon Epstein, President of Fila USA in a press release from October 2010. That’s when Fila announced the creation of its Body Toning System, or BTS clothes. The company was careful not to make any quantifiable claims, stating simply that “BTS apparel is designed to increase muscle exercise which improves the efficiency as well as recovery of an existing workout.”

Reebok launched a line of EasyTone clothes around the same time. Then researchers started looking into the toning clothes’ effectiveness.

The American Council on Exercise funded a study looking into Fila’s fluffy promise that a woman could “achieve amazing results in half the time” with Fila’s new $50 Toning Resistance Tight Capri. Researchers threw 16 women between the ages of 18 and 24 on a treadmill and had them walk for five minutes at different speeds while wearing the pants, and again with regular pants. The result? Here’s what ACE Fitness reported:

Although the research showed a slight increase in calorie burn while wearing Fila’s toning capris, in a real-world scenario that boost would be negligible… 

In response to the claims of a 50-percent increase in muscle workouts, the researchers reported that the Fila capris didn’t deliver there either… 

“In order to provide enough resistance to be beneficial, the pants would have to be so restrictive that you wouldn’t be able to easily move. To achieve a 50-percent increase in muscle activation, you’d have to be wearing something akin to a straight jacket.” 

That last quote is from researcher John Porcari. On the up-side, Porcari’s fellow researcher Alexa Kleingartner told ACE, “I wouldn’t recommend buying them to make a difference in the effectiveness of your workout, but the extra compression and tightness may give you a butt lift and a better shape.” If looking good makes you feel like working out, that’s a plus. The pants, in other words, were like Spanx you could show off; they’d make you look skinnier, but they wouldn’t actually make you skinnier.

(Another study found that toning pants increased calories burned while walking up a 5 to 10-percent grade because the clothing resisted hip flexion. But that study was partially funded by a toning clothes company, making it difficult to take seriously.)

Meanwhile, ladies started stuffing their jiggly bits in to resistance pants hoping the clothes would be the miracle companies promised.

Then came the bombshell lawsuit. The Federal Trade Commission fined Reebok $25 million for making false claims about its toning shoes and apparel. The settlement barred Reebok from “making any health or fitness-related efficacy claims for toning shoes and other toning apparel unless the claims are true and backed by scientific evidence.”

Reebok discontinued their EasyTone clothes. Fila doesn’t appear to sell their toning line of clothes anymore either. The closest thing they currently stock is a $35 Chiseled Capri that says it’ll give a “body sculpting boost.”

So really!? NYU medical school students? In Skinesiology’s promo video, the students claim they’ve invented “clothes that work you out!” by naturally resisting the body’s mechanics, “kind of like moving in water which burns up to 50% more calories.” Fifty percent more than what? Sitting on your bum all day?

The video then goes on to state that the “average woman walks 1.5 hours per day, burning 280 calories.” Maybe in New York City? If that were true, nobody would need toning clothes—we’d be infinitely healthier already. According to the CDC, only 21 to 34 percent of US adults walk for 30 minutes five times a week.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say that yes, women walk 1.5 hours per day. That’s how long you’d have to walk, according to Skinesiology, to reap an extra 100-calorie benefit from wearing their tights. So if you’re already walking around a lot, maybe these pants can provide a small benefit. But if they’re as uncomfortable as researcher John Porcari thought they’d have to be to give you a workout, who’d keep them on all day to find out?

Live Science explains that Skinesiology’s claims come from the students’ own lab testing. It’ll be interesting to see what objective researchers find. Have these students stumbled upon a radical new resistance band design that neither Reebok nor Fila’s R&D teams could create?

I hate to lay into entrepreneurial youngsters, but it does seem like you’re repeating the errors of those who have gone before. Please prove me wrong. 

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Hoka One One Conquest

Hoka’s trademark giant foam polarized our test group. Some loved it, especially the way the rockered sole felt on long downhills. Others hated it.

But all noted how light, responsive, and stable the new rubbery injection-molded midsole material is, considering its elevator-shoe proportions. “There’s more bounce than squish in these Frankenstein midsoles,” one said, although the foam is firmer than you might expect. The upper drew similarly mixed opinions: some found it comfy and secure, while others found it underpadded and boxy.

Try it—you might love it, especially if you’re a hill climber or a long hauler. 12.3 oz; 4 mm drop 


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Mo Farah's Favorite Shoe

Who doesn't love Mo Farah? The current Olympic and world champion in both the 5,000 and 10,000 ran a 2:08:21 in the 2014 London Marathon, coined the Mobot, and—thanks to his huge smile and wide eyes—inspired one of the most hilarious running tumblrs ever.

And now you can run in his shoes. 

Well, kind of. This weekend, Nike released the Air Zoom Pegasus 31, designed specifically with Farah's input. "They listen to [elite runners] and work with you," Farah told reporters at a Nike Zoom media event. "I pretty much wear a neutral shoe, and the Pegasus gives me what I need."

So what exactly does a world champion require? Keeping in mind that Farah is about five-foot five and 125 pounds, not a lot (although he does wear orthotics). He can get away with much less stability and cushion than many runners.* 

Which is why the Pegasus works well for Farah. The 31st iteration of the responsive, lightweight shoe is designed to be a neutral runner's go-to trainer for high-mileage running.

Mo Farah leads a warm up on Hayward Field.

"The Pegasus...just keeps getting better," Farah says. The improved upper is simple: snug mesh with subtle supportive layers that are built in (instead of stitched on) to reduce weight. The toe box can accommodate wide feet, or just cinch the laces for a more secure fit across narrow feet. 

Where this shoe gets just the slightest bit complicated is the sole: Basically, a pocket of pressurized tensile fibers (Nike's "Zoom Air" unit) in the heel collapses when you land; as you toe off, the fibers snap back and push your foot off the ground. The result is super responsive cushioning, which is particularly awesome if you're a heel striker.

"I loved that snappiness," Farah says, "combined with the soft cushioning and protection that I need for my 100-plus miles a week." 

Runners also feel that fast snap off the ground thanks to a 10-millimeter drop sole (lower than previous models) that incorporates a slight curve under the toes to propel through foot strike and toe off. A crash rail down lateral side further aids energy transfer through the toe. 

So what's not to love about this shoe? If you're a forefoot striker, don't even bother. The Peg doesn't do a whole lot to protect the ball of your foot. Same goes for overpronators. No major arch support here. And if you're looking for a shoe for both roads and trails, keep on looking. The mesh upper is basically a sieve for dust and dirt. A five-mile run on Pre's Trail was enough to make fresh-out-of-the-box shoes and socks absolutely filthy—even on a sunny and dry Eugene day.

But, if you're a neutral runner, possibly with a bit of a heel strike, this is your shoe. Even if you're not doing 100 miles a week.

Pegasus 31

Outsole of the Pegasus 31.

* If you're a fore-foot striker, try the Nike Air Zoom Elite tempo trainer, which has the air bag in the toe. Overpronators might try the Air Zoom Structure, which incorporates a medial post in addition to Zoom Air in the forefoot and more stability in the heel. Those seeking an even lighter shoe than the Pegasus might like the very minimal Air Zoom Streak racing flat, which is built on a midsole platform with Zoom Air in the heel. (Nike says the Streak has won more marathons than any other she in Nike history.) 

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