Tough, yet cute
These comfy, versatile and trusty shoes will see you through many kinds of terrains and far-flung journeys. -The Star
US-based KEEN and French-based Salomon outdoor gear companies made their debut in Malaysia early this year, and for six months, we put on their footwear and did the worst we could do to them. What has become of them? Let's find out.
Practical, hybrid sandals
My friend Jo tested the Venice H2 on her hiking and caving trips. She used it regularly for her treks in Bukit Gasing, at waterfalls and on multi-day caving trips that involved clambering over boulders, trudging on mud and dirt trails.
She also donned the sandals for strolls around town.
Jo finds she gets a better fit by using a sandal half a size bigger than her usual size 5, but was surprised at how these sandals fitted her well.
"My feet are used to ill-fitting high heels, so it took a little while to get used to shoes that are comfy and fit well!" said Jo.
Aside from the different webbing design, the Venice H2 shares the same features as the Zerraport - rugged soles, Eva midsoles and toe guard protection.
On her caving trip, Jo's feet started getting sore after more than eight hours of vigorous activity. The sandals didn't grip as tenaciously when she stepped on muddy or moss-covered surfaces. But after two days of caving, she was still blister- and pain-free.
"But it's not a good idea to use the sandals on tough hikes as it lacks ankle support," Jo added.
Jo's feet sweat easily, so she needs shoes that are airy like the Venice, but the protective toe guard still lacked the ventilation of open-toed shoes.
The sandals tended to smell if she didn't air them after use.
"I love the fact that I can wear the sandals in all sorts of conditions - wet, dry, muddy, dusty - and not worry about my shoes getting dirty," said Jo.
"I can wear it around town, then walk into the jungle without bothering to change. The sandals dry quickly too."
The Venice is the only footwear Jo brings on her backpacking trip overseas and locally.
"It's an all-purpose shoe cum slipper. It's light and sturdy," Jo summed up.
"So far, none of my friends have said it's ugly, but the design is more practical than stylish."
Fast trail trompers
Adventure racers worldwide swear by Salomon's high-performance, trail-running shoes.
While the cream of the crop is the Salomon XT Wings (which earned the Runner's World magazine's Best Debut Award in April this year), the lesser known cousin, the XA Comp still sprints like a winner. It also costs about RM100 less.
My friend, Ray, laced up the XA Comp for some trail- and road-running, short treks to waterfalls and forests, and during fieldwork in oil palm plantations and the jungle.
The trainers fit snugly around Ray's long, skinny feet but what he liked most about it was how the shoes provided good motion-control and stability for overpronators, like him.
Overpronators (mainly people with flat feet) suffer from excessive inward roll of the foot after landing, often resulting in the twisting of the foot, shin and knee. Overpronation causes extra stress and muscle tightness.
As Ray found out, the combination of dual density Eva midsole and the shoe's chassis plate meant he had a spring in his step while benefiting from maximum cushioning and control.
And what's really cool about the XA Comp is Salomon's latest innovation, the Agile Chassis System (ACS), a feature also highlighted in the XT collection. ACS apparently increases a runner's efficiency. You get more speed and power without increasing your energy expenditure.
"With the XA Comp, I feel like I'm running faster and with less effort," said Ray.
Built to tackle rugged terrain, these trail runners are light enough to be efficient on the streets.
Ray loves the shoes' Contagrip outsole - Salomon's signature outsole lug design and deep tread - which gave a good grip even in loose and slick terrain.
"I had no issues with the shoes on both asphalt and dirt trails. It has sufficient grip on steeper sections of the trails and slopes," he added.
He also likes the Quickfit lacing system that's unique to Salomon. With a quick tug, the tough Kevlar lace gives a secure fit and there's even a lace pocket to tuck your lace into to keep it out of the way. Four times stronger than regular lace, the Kevlar lace has a tear strength of 150kg.
It's bad news, though, if the Kevlar lace snaps. You either have to chuck the shoes away, get a replacement pair under warranty or buy the Quickfit Lace kit over the Internet (it's not available in Malaysia/Singapore).
"I tend to try to find one pair of shoes that does many things, and the XA Comp meets that goal," said Ray. "And the price does provide value for money when you compare it with the other running shoes in the same bracket."
Keen and Salomon footwear are available at all World of Sports (WOS) outlets. For more information on WOS locations, click here
A funky, versatile performer
A long-time fan of Teva sandals, I found it hard to switch to another sandal brand. But the unique Keen (above) sandals with its signature bumper toe guard piqued my curiosity.
At last, a pair of sandals that solves one of the outdoor buff's perennial woes - banging a toe against a rock or sharp object in the river or on the trail.
Basically, with Keen you get a footwear that offers the protection of a shoe and the comfort of a waterproof sandal.
The Zerraport and I tramped on dirt trails, ran river rapids, skipped over slimy boulders, darted across sailboats, ambled on sandy beaches and trudged on city streets.
Other than its open-strap design, the Zerraport boasts the same features as Keen's trademark Newport H2 - a rugged outsole, an Eva (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) midsole and protective toe caps.
But the Zerraport is "cuter", has great ventilation for our hot climate, yet is just as tough as the Newport.
Its "grippy" outsole with multi-directional lugs gives good traction in wet or dry conditions. I darted around easily on a slippery dinghy when changing sails.
And yes, there was no bashing of toes on the cleats or winches of bigger sailboats.
On wet and steep dirt trails, I didn't lose my footing or slide down easily. But the Zerraport sole doesn't come with 3mm-deep lugs, like the Newport, which give better traction on rough terrains.
The moulded footbed cradled my feet snugly and gave good arch support.
The Eva midsole provides ample cushioning and absorbs shock, Even after tramping around the streets of Kyoto for about eight hours on one day, my feet had nary a blister.
And good news for those who are prone to smelly feet - the sandals are coated with an anti-microbial shield that prevents odour and stains. But a friend of mine who owns the Newport still frets about stinky sandals after wearing it for long hours.
Well, you can easily dump the sandals into a washing machine for a good scrub and to get rid of the smell.
Zerraport comes with a removable heel strap, so if you're heading to the beach, remove the strap and - Voila! - it's a flip-flop.
My only gripe is that when gravel and pebbles get inside the sandals, you can't shake them out; you have to take off the sandals.
Overall, the Zerraport performed as a great pair of sandals should. It is tough and versatile, great for water sports and short treks, and looks pretty cool as city wear, too.
Though it's a tad pricey, it's worth every penny if it turns out to be as tough as my Teva Terra Fi 2 (which has taken all kinds of abuse for six years now).
Photos by The Star
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