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Dispatches : Gear

A Guide to the Summer's Best Flip-Flops

It's summer's most casual shoe, but that doesn't mean you should settle for the drug-store variety. These flip-flops range from the $24 sunbathers' special to the $110 Birkenstock for hiking up a volcano, then heading to the bar afterward. Keep your feet happy with our 11 favorites for whatever adventure you decide to go on.     

Cushe Manuka Wrap ($70)

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Best for: Minimalists
This soft, full-grain leather flip-flop comes with a cupped suede footbed that breaks in well with wear to conform to your foot. The molded-rubber sole has a Manuka honeycomb design with canvas pressed into it for added durability and support. The sectioned sole isn’t restrictive, and makes walking in these as close to barefoot as you can get with shoes on.

Columbia Women’s Suntech Vent Flip PFG ($35)

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Best for: River Rats
These flip-flops are made for river trips, with drainage ports that effectively shed water and also help cool your feet. The cushioned sole was supportive, but not overbuilt, and the colorful straps added a fun pop to most outfits. Bonus: even after being submersed in water, they didn't get soggy, and they had surprisingly good traction on wet rocks.

OluKai Holomua ($90)

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Best for: Hikers
Developed in partnership with the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association, the adjustable-strap Holomua is technical footwear made for working professionals. Made for hiking through sharp volcanic rocks, its patent-pending, injected-plastic midsole plate is lightweight but protective. Micro hook-and-loop closure and an aluminum buckle let you dial in fit so you don’t lose them in a swell.

Sanuk Tiki Block ($24)

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Best for: Loungers
Sanuks’s Tiki Block is light on technical features, but heavy on comfort and smiley faces (hundreds of which are embossed into the EVA sole). The rubber strap is comfortable, and the sole will last longer than the drug-store version of a simlar shoe.

Ecco Colin Thong ($90)

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Best for: Party Animals
The closest thing to a dress flip-flop we’ve seen, the Colin has a distressed leather strap and lining. It’s perforated for breathability, with a microfiber footbed that won’t trap sweat. The direct-injected polyurethane sole won’t compress as quick as an EVA midsole, and of all the flip-flops we tested, this one offered the most support.

Teva Original Flip ($30)

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Best for: Raft Guides
Teva was the first to make technical flip-flops, and its Original is still a great buy. The nylon-webbing strap serves as a spot of color above the textured EVA topsole that molds to your feet as you walk. I found these shoes had the grippiest outsole of any other flip-flop I tested, not surprising considering these were originally designed for raft guides.

Chaco Reversiflip ($60)

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Best for: Travelers
The Reversiflips have everything you love about your Chaco sandals—good arch support and durability—but you can swap out the straps (which takes about a minute) whenever you want. The shoes come with black straps; colored straps are sold separately ($20). Choose from green/purple, blue/orange, and pink/yellow solid and print packages. They’re the only pair of shoes you’ll need on your next vacation—pack the right straps, and they’ll match any outfit.

$60 for the shoes; $20 for the straps.

Birkenstock Habana Oiled Leather Como ($110)

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Best for: Hippies
Birkenstock slip-ons have been a hippie staple since the 1960s. But it’s not just because they were the first sandals with structure. Birkenstock’s cork and natural-latex footbed is contoured to improve your posture and take stress of your back and knees. A toe bar gives your digits something to hold onto—grip and flex your toes to improve circulation and your balance, according to Birkenstock. 

Propet Harrison ($70)

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Best for: Recovering Athletes
Walking involves half of your body’s muscles and bones, along with numerous joints and ligaments. And if you’re suffering from any injuries, you could be putting additional stresses on certain parts of your body doing even this simple activity. Enter Rejuve’s sandals, whose topsole is designed to improve your posture, stabilize your gait, and supposedly reduce joint pain. This Nubuck leather thong has sweat-wicking neoprene lining in the upper and a cushy EVA midsole over a high-traction outsole.

Combat Flips Tuck Tuck ($70)

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Best for: Do-Gooders
Combat flip-flops aren’t designed for covert beach ops. The company was founded by a veteran who wanted to create job opportunities for entrepreneurs in areas affected by conflict. Afghanistan’s loud, flashy taxis inspired the bright-colored Tuck Tuck, which was made in Bogota, Columbia. Red, green, and blue with yellow stitching, it’ll get some attention. The Tuck Tuck has a cowhide leather deck and thong, a medium-density EVA midsole, and sturdy rubber tread.

Freewaters Scamp ($40)

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Best for: Sore Soles
The best thing about the Scamp is the squishy, springy, shock-absorbing Therm-a-Rest footbed. Bedroom slipper comfortable, the ribs massage your feet as you walk. The Scamp footbed absorbs some water when submersed, but take a few steps and it squeezes out. I found the soft webbing straps never chafed the top of my foot.

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Track Your Gluttony—and Lose Weight—with Jawbone’s New UP App

Fitness trackers (those little wearable pods that seem to be on everybody’s wrists or in everybody’s pockets these days) do a pretty good job keeping track of your activity levels and estimating your caloric burn. They aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing. The thing is, they can only see half the equation. It’s good to measure calories out, but what about calories in?

Well, an update to the Jawbone UP app for iOS is adding a bunch of new features to help you keep track of what’s going in your food-hole. For those who don’t know, the company's UP (and the more recent UP24) are among the more popular wrist-worn activity trackers out there.

Now, Jawbone's iPhone app will support easy search for food items. You just punch in what it is (hard-boiled eggs, for example) and the quantity (three, medium-sized) and it will be added to your food log, which will keep track of your daily intake of calories, protein, fats, carbohydrates, sodium, and other metrics.

What’s more, the app will come pre-populated with a database of menu items from popular restaurants across the country (mostly chains). This means you’ll be able to plug in an In n’ Out Double-Double to get the number of calories, rather than have to enter all the components individually (patties, buns, cheese, etc.). For smaller restaurants, you’ll have to add stuff in manually at the beginning, but as more people use the app, more menu items will be saved to Jawbone’s database, which means items will continue to get easier to find.

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. MyFitnessPal has been around for a long time (in both web and app versions) and has built up quite the database of food—over three million items as of now, mostly user-generated. That’s going to be hard to compete with. Also, MyFitnessPal already integrates with some very popular fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, Withings, and (curiously) even the Jawbone UP.

Where Jawbone may have an edge, though, is in the design. The app simply looks terrific. There are several layers of polish that MyFitnessPal just doesn’t have, which makes it cleaner and a whole lot easier on the eyes.

The company has also built some neat intelligence into it. For example, if you enter in cereal, it knows you’re likely also going to want to add milk, so milk pops right up, eliminating the need to search for it. It has created pairings for several dozens of food (many of which you can see in this interactive map), and that, combined with the smarts to learn some of your favorite meals, may make logging your food a quicker, easier process.

Creating a food journal is one of the most powerful weight-loss, fitness tools out there, but it’s notoriously tedious and tough to stick with. Anything that makes it easier is certainly a welcome change. The biggest downsides to Jawbone’s new app is you need to own an UP or UP24 device to use it, and the new version has not yet been released for Android.

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goTenna

Wouldn’t it be nice to communicate directly with the other members of your party without having to rely on shaky cell service or WiFi?

Thanks to goTenna, a new communications device that launched Thursday, you can. The rugged off-the-grid tool pairs with your iPhone or Android via BlueToothLE to enable users to send and receive text messages (160 characters max) and share their GPS locations. It’s a bit like a super walkie-talkie with a range of up to 50 miles, depending on terrain.

The big bonus: it only costs $150 per pair, with no subscription fees. Field radios or sat phones can cost 10 times that.  

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/gotenna-communication-device_in.jpg","caption":"The two-ounce goTenna hardware device is water-resistant and dust-tight."}%}

It’s a nifty, affordable solution to communication in the backcountry where you rarely have reliable cell service. Say everyone in your hiking party is on the system. It would be easy to relay messages between the group, even if you got separated on the trail. Or a guide could use the device to make sure all her clients make it safely back to base camp.

As handy as goTenna might be on a backpacking trip, it was initially conceived as a tool for emergency situations. Founders (and siblings) Daniela and Jorge Perdomo came up with the idea during Hurricane Sandy when millions of people across the East Coast were left without electricity or Internet. They realized people needed a way to communicate even when cell towers were down.

goTenna could also be used while travelling abroad (forget expensive, convoluted international phone services), or anywhere on-the-grid where it’s easy to lose members of your party (think music festivals and soccer stadiums). 

The gadget has one major limitation: you can only send and receive messages from other goTenna users. You won’t be able to send an emergency text to your girlfriend back home if she’s not on the goTenna network.  

So is it about to replace all our backcountry emergency communication devices? No. But is it a game-changing tool for the majority of us who hike without $1,000 field radios or travel without international phone plans? Absolutely.

Pre-order for $150, gotenna.com

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6 Beach-Ready Essentials

Instead of that old-school boombox, consider throwing a powerful water-resistant speaker or high-tech action camera in your beach bag this summer. Check out these six sand- and sun-resistant products guaranteed to make your hot summer nights even more fun:

Canon PowerShot D30 ($330)

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Go ahead and dive up to 82 feet below the surface with this 12.1-megapixel pocket camera. The tough outer shell can withstand drops on the dock up to 6.5 feet. The killer feature? Perfect for beach-goers, the screen uses a new LCD screen that’s viewable even in direct sunlight.

Outdoor Tech Big Turtle Shell ($230)

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Don’t dip your toes in the water unless you have the tunes to play in the background. This durable Bluetooth speaker is water- and splash-resistant (not waterproof), plays music at a loud 110 decibels, and connects to your phone or tablet from up to 30 feet away.

Quiksilver Rashguard ($40)

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This smart short-sleeve shirt has a hidden feature. Although it looks like every other T-shirt you’d wear to the beach, it uses a new Rashguard tech with a UPF 50+ rating for sunblock. The entire line includes long-sleeve shirts, swimming trunks, and surf shirts.

Miir Growler ($59)

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Not every water bottle is beach-ready. Not so the Miir Growler, which uses a unique clamp system that keeps sand and other residue from building up at the lip. The double-insulated shell keeps cold drinks cold for about 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12 hours.

Sprint Kyocera Hydro Vibe (Free with contract)

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A few years ago, companies started offering so-called “waterproof” phones. The Kyocera Hydro Vibe actually lives up to the claim—it can be submerged down to 3.28 feet for 30 minutes. The 4.5-inch screen is also crack-resistant and the phone wards off dust and sand.

Plantronics BackBeat FIT ($130)

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This Bluetooth headset, which is splash-resistant and durable, comes with a neoprene armband to hold your smartphone on your arm while you lay out at the beach. The headset lets you control music and answer calls with a quick finger press.

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Tested: Maximalist Shoes of 2014

There are few debates more polarized in the running world than the one between maximalists and minimalists. It seems everyone either subscribes to the super-cushioned cult or the minimal movement, and there’s not much common ground in between.

After the minimalist craze of the past few years, more top shoe brands are entering the maximalist fray. So we reviewed the latest beefed-up options to get to the bottom of the dispute. Or at least add more fuel to the flame.

Hoka One One Conquest ($170)

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Intended for: Road

This is the Cadillac of road runners. The Conquest—the latest edition from the brand known for its trademark giant foam—is Hoka’s first attempt at a road shoe. Perched on a 29mm stack, the Conquest has twice the cushion of most normal road trainers. This makes it a great option for runners who log a lot of miles and want some extra cush or for those returning from injury.

Noticeably narrower and slightly less cumbersome than Hoka’s trail-shoe options, the Conquest still has a boxy, stilt-like effect. With that said, it’s also astonishingly stable thanks to a new Rmat® midsole-suspended cradle system that cups your foot. This shoe is laterally stiff and so cushioned that there's very little ground-feel, which might turn off some runners.

I found the shoe to be quite comfortable thanks to a seamless upper. Take note: the collar and tongue are uncushioned, and although I didn't have any problems with this, it could chafe some runners. All the more reason to try before you buy. The Conquest's Race-Lace system (similar to Salomon's Speedlaces) did cut into the top of my foot, but this was easily fixed by swapping in a pair of normal laces (included with every pair of shoes).  

The Conquest’s 4mm drop and rockered forefoot accelerate your transition from ground-strike to push-off, delivering on the promised feeling of “weightlessness.” Hoka devotees will notice the new foam is less plush than that in other Hokas, but this shoe is still a great combination of cushion and responsiveness for the road. Alberto Salazar told us, ”The more you run, the more support your foot needs.” This is a big-mileage shoe for any road runner looking to extend their long run in search of racing glory.

Important note: Hokas run at least a half size larger than the number on the box, so be sure to try these on for sizing before you buy.

Weight: 11.8 oz.; Drop: 4mm; Geometry: 25/29mm

Brooks Transcend ($160)

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Intended for: Road

The Brooks Transcend, the company’s first foray into the maximalist market, looks a bit like it arrived on a spaceship from the future. The Brooks Super DNA midsole is 25 percent more cushioned than any of Brooks’ other offerings. Its rounded heel and 8mm drop helps you roll through your gait cycle and allows the shoe to maintain Brooks’ quick-footed lightweight feel. It’s a traditional road shoe that doesn’t compromise its midsole responsiveness for unnecessary cushion. 

For this shoe Brooks departed from a traditional shoe post—designed to keep you in proper biomechanical alignment—in favor of a new technology it calls “Guide Rails” to protect against pronation and supination. These rails are specialized plates along the upper on the outside of the shoe. The rails act like bumpers, so if your foot doesn't roll in or out, you won't notice them. If it does, they'll keep you from over-pronating or over-supinating.

The shoe’s plush upper feels downright luxurious, but I found the shoe could use a little more room in the toe-box. Runners with narrow feet shouldn't have any problem with the fit, but if you have wide feet, definitely try before you buy. The Transcend is a wonderful option for a focused road runner who wants a bit more cushion, but who isn't ready to make the jump to a Hoka One One.

Weight: 12.2 oz.; Drop: 8mm; Geometry: 22/30mm

Altra Olympus ($130)

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Intended for: Trail

Named after a peak on the edge of the Salt Lake valley, the Altra Olympus is the first maximally cushioned, zero-drop shoe. The heel is at the same height as your forefoot, as it would be if you were running barefoot. Altra believes this promotes proper biomechanics.

The wide toe box allows your toes to naturally splay, good for anyone with wide feet or runners who battle neuromas. The foot feel is soft and slipper-like, even without socks (if you choose to go that route). 

The Olympus forefoot rocker—like a early-rise ski tip—helps initiate your stride. And the Olympus’ wide platform makes it a very stable ride despite its relatively high stack height. If you charge downhill, or hope to, the Olympus will gobble up terrain like no other. The price for that, however, is less return of energy from the midsole. At times this shoe feels like riding uphill on your big travel freeride bike: the shock absorption is great until you have to climb. That means it can have a wet-shoe feel on the flats.

Our major gripe? The Olympus' tread looks more like what you'd expect on a road shoe. It wasn’t tacky enough for rock, and it wasn’t toothy enough for steep dirt trails. Finally, I found its tongue needed to be a bit longer and wider, or it needed an offset loop, to keep debris out. On long runs, I inevitably got rocks in the shoe.

Weight: 11 oz.; Drop: 0mm; Geometry: 32mm

New Balance Fresh Foam 980 ($110)

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Intended for: Road

Of all the new maximal shoes this year, the Fresh Foam 980 doesn’t feel like it belongs in the super-cush category. It has the slimmest profile of the crop and really doesn’t comply with it’s marketing copy of “soft, pillowy, and cloudlike.” What this shoe lacks in “pillowy” however, it makes up for in proprioception. That means it provides superior ground-feel than its competitors. Combine that with how light this shoe is, and you have a fast, lightly cushioned racer. 

Fresh Foam 980’s 4mm drop encourages a mid-foot strike and a quick cadence. A comfortable fit with a thick cushioned tongue, it features an elegant single-piece midsole and outsole that provide long-term durability (a technique made possible by new 3D-printing technology). The breathable upper uses welded overlays to eliminate seams and possible hot spots for blisters. It has a narrow forefoot, and sizes a little small—you should probably size up at least a half size when you buy.

The Fresh Foam 980 is the fleetest maximal shoe on the market today. It’s super responsive, light, cushioned, and wonderfully flexible for a maximal shoe with a lot of midsole. When your training volume increases and your long runs get really long, this is the high-mileage workhorse you’ll be happy to own. 

Weight: 8.8 oz.; Drop: 4mm; Geometry: 22/26mm

Vasque Ultra ShapeShifter ($170)

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Intended for: Trail

The “Ultra” in the name denotes who this shoe was made for—ultrarunners. The super-cushioned ShapeShifter subverts the traditional construction methods (and associated construction waste) by attaching the shoe’s upper directly to a one-piece injection-molded EVA outsole. This method eliminates the midsole and the insole entirely. Take note: that also means this shoe won't work for those who run with orthotics.

The Ultra ShapeShifter features a roomy stretch mesh sock upper and the Boa L5 lacing system. The latter is brilliant for on-the-run customization, and anyone who prefers their shoes loose for uphills and tight for downhills. Simply bend down and twist the mechanism to tighten your shoe to your preferred snugness. Because the laces are thin (about the size of fishing wire), they can cut into the top of your foot if they're too tight. 

The one-piece sole is malleable and conforms to the trail, and I found it gave me great traction even on loose kitty litter. It’s also a fantastic buffer between you and the hard ground, which increased my downhill running speed. Eliminating the layering comes with the added benefit of giving the ShapeShifter good trail feel for a shoe that lifts you 28mm off the ground. 

The biggest downside: I found the fit to be quite odd. The front of the arch/midfoot was much narrower than any other shoe I've worn. I couldn't run more than a few miles in this shoe, and if you have wide feet, either consider another option or definitely try before you buy. 

Weight: 10.6 oz.; Drop: 6mm; Geometry: 22/28mm

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