The Best New Running Gear for Summer 2015
Ingenious solutions to make the season's simplest sport even better
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The grill, the beer, the apple pie a la mode, and the miles you’ll run to burn the calories—sound like summer’s cycle to you? Time to arm yourself with the season’s best new running gear, from track-inspired road shoes to talking earbuds to compression tops that will never rub you wrong.
Pearl Izumi E:Motion Road N3 ($130), 11.7 ounces (men's size 9)
After one 18-miler in Pearl Izumi’s EM Road N3, one female veteran marathoner and wear tester characterized the footwear as the tale of two shoes: roomy and soft on the one hand, and perhaps a bit too unstructured on the other. “With all the cushioning, my feet felt great for the long run,” she wrote, “but my calves….” Let yourself be seduced by Pearl’s generous foam cushioning, as well as the shoe’s roomy toe box, nearly seam-free upper, and a forefoot midsole designed to bounce you forward. Just be aware that it’s best for runners with fluid strides.
Hoka One One Speedgoat ($140), 9.7 ounces
For those seeking a roomier Hoka—some runners have complained that Hokas generally feature narrow front ends—your shoe has come in. At least according to my feet, which are narrow and slight. In fact, on technical descents, I actually found the trail-specific Speedgoat to be at odds with itself. Hoka’s signature chunky foam midsole—the Speedgoat is 28 mm in the heel and 33 mm in the forefoot—sometimes got in its own way, and I couldn’t quickly place my feet where I wanted. Plus, the roomy upper, featuring only four eyelets meant for cross-lacing to each side of the tongue, failed to keep my foot completely secure. No complaints on the uphills: Vibram’s lugged outsole grabbed at dirt, sticks, and stones. Smoother downhills, meanwhile, were a fast-moving pleasure.
Ampla Fly ($180), 10.5 ounces (men's size 9)
If you dismiss the bizarre-looking Fly as a gimmick—the midsole/outsole appears as if it has come unglued at the shoe’s arch—you’ll sell Ampla’s two leading employees short: David Bond developed the Nike Free, and Dr. Marcus Elliott trains top pro and amateur athletes in a variety of sports. The Fly, which is meant to sharpen your running technique, is their first brainchild. The shoe is built on the premises that a rigid track shoe is the best platform for efficient levering and that running does the least impact-related harm when done at a high cadence (a fast transition from one stride to the next). Sure enough, the Ampla’s midfoot carbon plate feels plenty rigid, and the unattached segment of the EVA midsole underneath levers you forward as you run, behaving like a mechanical spring. At first, the shoes feel like afterburners that slap at the ground and thrust you forward. But concentrate on smoothing and quickening your stride—and stay off uneven trails, where the Amplas feel unsteady—and the footwear feels far less obtrusive and awkward. Consider these departure shoes an investment in stride mechanics.
Garmin Fenix 3 ($500 to $600)
At first glance, the pricey Fenix 3 resembles Big Ben. That thing goes on a wrist? But the Fenix wears smaller than it looks, and to my thinking—even for its considerable price—I’m happy to claim that it’s the wrist gizmo to have. Even on runs starting beneath tree canopies and busy overpasses, Garmin’s latest model quickly located and locked onto GPS satellites. I found the cadence (Garmin’s heart rate strap, the $100 HRM-Run, enables the Fenix to display stride cadence and ground contact time), customized interval workout, and pacer functions to be particularly useful. I didn’t love the Fenix 3’s function buttons, which are somewhat illogically placed and small, and the watch inconsistently synced with Garmin’s fitness app on my iPhone. Meanwhile, the smartwatch details—like text message and incoming call notifications—were convenient when something could not be missed. Overall, the watch feels solid, and because it capably measures swim and bike workouts, the Fenix 3 has seldom left my wrist. One more thing: I found the battery power to be far superior to that of the Apple Watch.
Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Earbuds ($199)
Buy the Sport Pulse Wireless knowing there’s a hurdle or four ahead of squeezing the potential out of these impressive Bluetooth earbuds. Download not one but two apps (Sport Life and Jabra Sound) to your smartphone, input your physical profile, perform a calibration test, select your activity, choose your workout, goals, and target pace… you get the picture. The payoff? An all-knowing female voice with a soothing British accent occasionally chimes in midrun—and over your music—to provide updates on heart rate (the right earbud sports an LED that tracks pulse from within your ear), running cadence, distance traveled, and so on. “Slow down to meet your target,” she told me halfway through a 10K training run. The headphones, of course, require that you carry your phone—which I’d sometimes prefer to leave behind. I also learned, after the headphones went silent on me during one long run, to plug in the Jabra Sport Pulse after every workout. I never enjoyed the manufacturer-claimed five-hour playtime between charges.
SmartWool PhD Ultra Light Short-Sleeve Shirt ($70)
Graduate from your cotton or scratchy old base layer to Smart Wool’s PhD Ultra Light. The merino/polyester blend has a silky hand, and the shirt runs cool: Even in humid Texas heat, sweat was consistently wicked away from my skin, and the PhD never weighed down with moisture. Clever seam design keeps chafing to a minimum.
Lululemon T.H.E. Short ($64)
These Lulu shorts offer crazy all-day comfort. I slipped them on one morning—to “force” myself to do a later workout—and still happily wore them at 5 p.m. (but hadn’t yet run). They’re equally inviting during your shorter runs, when a little extra fabric doesn’t feel intrusive. The soft, stretchy polyester liner has a long inseam to minimize rubbing, and the generous waistband never dug into my flesh. They dry quickly and look good enough (and sport enough pockets) for an après-run coffee. One thing to consider: The soft outer material might snag on sharp branches during trail runs.
Skins A400 Men’s Top Short-Sleeve ($120) and Half Tights ($90)
Dare to look like a track dork during your 20-miler? I do now, and I’m better for it. Skins’ A400 compression wear consists of very finely knit nylon that has a slippery and sleek consistency yet still provides good breathability and moisture transfer. That slickness worked wonders for me—my CamelBak straps didn’t chafe me at all, even during two-hour-plus efforts. I can’t really speak to the core “compression” panels reducing my lactic-acid buildup, as Skins claims, but the tight-fitting stuff is supportive—that is, once you get it on. One female tester loved the $100 A400 Women’s Tank Top (save for the hot neoprene trim), but never enjoyed the “sausage dance” required to get into the clothing.
A Trio of Good Socks
Finally, a trio of good socks. SmartWool’s PhD Run Ultra Light Micro Socks ($16) feature effective venting to stay cool and have gender-specific heel pockets for a satisfyingly snug fit. Stance’s Cadence Crew ($18) hugs feet quite tightly and has a virtually seam-free toe box. The Asheville 1/4 Crew ($15) from Farm to Feet packs in the technology: a dash of merino wool for hot/cold insulation, strategic use of loop stitching to provide cushion without bulk, and particularly smooth nylon yarns to prevent blistering and moisture buildup. One tester, however, found the socks a little too slick, reporting that her foot moved around excessively inside her shoe.