Thursday, October 18, 2012

SKORA BASE Real Review

The SKORA BASE in black and red

The clever people at SKORA appear to have a penchant for using all caps in their brand and product names. This is difficult for me to ignore and somewhat of a dilemma.

I'm of the mindset that the use of all caps is for logos, advertisements, and expressing anger in text across the internet. Every other example just demonstrates bad etiquette. So, one side of my pedantic brain wants to type the company name as a proper noun — Skora.

On the other hand, the empathetic side of my mind feels compelled to honor the branding desires of the company, thereby following their lead in always using capital letters for SKORA and their products, in this case the BASE.

Many of you will agree, I think, that using all caps in online discourse is tantamount to shouting. So, every time I see SKORA in the middle of a perfectly normal sentence, like this one; I imagine that the company's name is being emphasized rather frantically. Recall, if you can, those Sega game commercials in which the speaker grinds out the word "Sega" as if he'd just downed two cups of coffee, a Red Bull, and several sticks of beef jerky.

This is SkoraAlso, given the hard "r" sound and dual-syllabic structure, the word SKORA is quite similar in vocal action to, oh, say, Sparta. Thus, I imagine Gerard Butler fiercely shouting the word in that famous scene from 300 just before kicking that dude into a giant hole.

Is this good marketing? Clearly. SKORA's use of all caps inspired me to contemplate the brand name far more than necessary. And, the fact that the word's mere appearance conjures up aural and visual memories in my mind is definitely a good way to make an impression with minimal effort. That's real branding, folks! (Not that I know anything about branding)

I'm harping on the SKORA brand presentation, because the company's attention to detail should not go unnoticed. Their two shoe models, the leather FORM and mesh BASE are fairly unique. And, the company shares a lot of specifics about the manufacturing and design processes that mirror their Real Running philosophy.

Now, you've likely read a review of one of the SKORA shoes already, most likely the rather costly FORM. If not, it would be worthwhile to acquaint yourself with this perspective on both the FORM and the BASE. You'll get a good sense of the back story and see some interesting remarks in the comments section.

Back to BASE(ics)

Skora Base profile
Cool Fact: SKORA is Polish for skin. Thus, the Polish founder and CEO David Sypniewski took inspiration from the word to define the idea that the shoes are meant to fit like a second skin.

A 9mm stack height (13mm with the removable sockliner) and zero differential between the heel and forefoot certainly places this shoe on the minimal side of the marketing spectrum.

The midsole (black portion of sole you see pictured) is a rather dense foamy stuff. I guess it's EVA. But, it's not as soft and squishy as the usual EVA midsole material.

The outsole (red and blue pieces pictured here) are made of a dense, high-abrasion rubber that seems to be highly durable.

Skora Base

The rounded heel is a nice touch. Although, it can feel a little unstable while walking around in the shoe at first (good thing it's made for running!). This is probably why SKORA added more of that red outsole material to the heel of the shoe. It looks like extra weight to me. And, I'd be curious to know what the BASE would be like with some of that shaved off.

Skora Base insole

The removable OrthoLite® sockliner has little bubble things to "increase biofeedback". It is not too thick, as far as sockliners go. In fact, it's kind of dense for a sockliner. So, wearing the BASE with the sockliner inside is a very different experience compared to wearing the shoes without the liner. The shoe is very comfortable either way. And, if you prefer to run without socks, I don't think you'd be disappointed here.

Personally, I like the BASE without the sockliner inserted. It's even more flexible and relays a much higher degree of ground feel. It's fantastic, really!

Unfortunately, removing the sockliner means there's more space within the shoe. And, for me, that extra space is difficult to eliminate with the strapping system that secures the shoe to my foot. So, I'm left with a somewhat sloppy-floppy feeling when I take out the sockliner. If only there were a securing mechanism that allowed for a more precise shoe fit.

So, I wear the BASE with the sockliners. And, the dense sole in conjunction with the stack height makes the BASE's proprioceptive potential similar to that of the Merrell Road Glove. That's a really good thing, in my opinion. I get a sense of exceptional protection while detecting a decent amount of ground feel.

Mind you, the BASE definitely does not fit like the Road Glove. The latter offers a slightly wider toe box while the midfoot and heel are more fitted. Also, the BASE fits on the large side of standard. So, while I wear a size 12 Road Glove, I have plenty of room in a size 11.5 BASE.

Skora Base insole

Speaking of Fit

The REALFIT™ last on which the BASE and FORM are built is SKORA's version of an anatomical design. And, I'd say it passes for that. The toe box is wide-ish and probably allows for sufficient toe splay for people with a medium to narrow forefoot. Runners with exceptionally wide feet might find the toe box to be a bit pinchy, though.

The last curves somewhat dramatically on the lateral side, which gives the shoe something of an odd, banana-like profile from above. This profile is due, in part, to the extra body afforded by the upper. The actual last has a more foot-shaped appearance when you look at it from below.

Despite the seemingly obtuse profile curve to the last, I find that it works quite well for my foot shape. Unlike some shoe lasts that pinch the smallest toes, the SKORA BASE allows for plenty of room without having too much room there.

Skora Base

There is a slight curve under the arch area, especially with the sockliner in place. But, this is a very minimal structural element. And, I don't think it's worth noticing, really.

A pronounced toe spring is perceivable by most in the BASE's construction. But, I didn't find it to be conspicuous while running.

The counterless heel cup is pretty generous. There is a velcro strap at the back of the heel to enable a custom fit in this area. So, if the heel cup girth is too generous for you, the nifty strap may be helpful.

The x-strap system in lieu of shoe laces undoubtedly offers many runners relief when they do not feel like tying laces. I'm sure this innovative use of straps is awesome for triathletes when changing shoes during a race.

However, the x-strap system causes a conundrum for me. Due to the straps' limited cinching capacity, my low-volume feet are not substantial enough to enjoy a snug fit with the sockliners removed. This is disappointing, because I definitely prefer the BASE without sockliners.

Even with the sockliners in place, I must secure the straps as tightly as possible in order to obtain a secure fit. Obviously, this problem is not necessarily a fault of the shoe, but just a peculiarity of my foot.

Personally, I've decided that I just don't appreciate straps in place of laces on my running shoes. The BASE has helped me finalize this opinion. The Altra Adam's straps demonstrate the same shortcomings I've described here. So, running shoe designers, please, give up on the straps. They suck (for people with feet like mine, anyway).

Skora Base

Getting Real

Let's remind ourselves that SKORA's Run Real slogan is meant to describe the company's focus on creating shoes that "allow the human body to function as naturally and efficiently as possible". I'm usually skeptical of marketing verbiage like that. So, I've paid close attention to how well the BASE facilitates a midfoot strike.

After a few months with the BASE, I can honestly say that SKORA's shoe design makes learning and practicing a midfoot or forefoot strike simple. That combination of a zero-drop sole with the unique design of the outsole helps make it obvious to your body when your form gets sloppy. Again, I'll liken the BASE to the Merrell Road Glove here.

Skora Base

So, running in the BASE is essentially a pleasure. If my feet fit into the straps better, or if there were laces, I could wear this shoe for every run over appropriate terrain. But, as it fits me now, I'll probably just wear it for runs up to an hour or so. I have other road shoes that fit snugly enough to take on longer runs.

As for performance, the BASE serves well for all sorts of training activity. It feels fast enough for speedwork and comfortable enough for standard training runs.

The outsole works really well on pavement and gravel trails, of course. It could serve you well enough on technical trails if the BASE is all you have. (Plenty of accomplished runners have proven the BASE's potential over all sorts of trails) But, I'd pick a more trail-specific shoe over the BASE if I had a choice.

Should You Try It?

If I haven't totally put you off with any of the characteristics described above, then of course you should try the BASE. It's a great shoe overall.

And, at $110 with free shipping from the SKORA store, the BASE is as easy to virtually try as anything you'd find at RunningWarehouse or Zappos. It might just be your perfect shoe. I'll be anxious to see what SKORA has lined up for next season.

Thanks for reading!
Product provided by SKORA.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove Review

This is a post for parents who wonder if the Merrel Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves are really worth it.

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove

In a word, yes. If a shoe were challenged to be a shoe while not getting in the way of allowing the wearer to be a kid, that shoe would be the Barefoot Kids Trail Glove. I'll elaborate further.

First, let's talk about kids. Rather, let me write a few words about parenting kids and outfitting said kids with shoes.

As a parent, you tend to want what's best for your children. You become a student of the fictional children from studies and TV shows; arming yourself with the theories that describe how kids should behave, how long they should sleep, what they should and shouldn't eat, and how they should dress.

Of course, your kids never behave, sleep, eat, or dress they way they should. By the time you've had the sandwich-versus-muffin-for-lunch argument for the billionth time, you're pretty much relieved that the children — your children — eat anything at all.

You take any semblance of parenting success that you can get. And, one of those successes most heartily enjoyed is when you find a decent pair of shoes for the kiddos.

The thing about kids' shoes is that kids generally don't want to put them on, not when they're very young, anyway. That means you have to do it — every time. And, that's one more thing to add to the list of chores required just to get everyone out of the freakin' house for a fifteen-minute trip to the grocery store.

Dog chews Crocs
Chews Crocs at every opportunity

Alternatively, you can introduce shoes that are easy for even the most lazy unpracticed shoe wearers to place on their feet. Crocs and their ilk are a popular option in this case. They're simple as hell to put on and take off, kind of flexible, and aesthetically pleasing to children. We've had many Croc-ish shoes for the children in this household.

Emphasis on had.

Crocs are so easy to take on and off that they get lost fairly easily. It's happened many times while children run across the yard or through the park. The foam sandals are also easily destroyed by pets with a penchant for shoe chewing. Seriously. A dog can chew a Croc to bits in a matter of seconds.

So, in spite of their convenience factor, Croc-ish shoes are not necessarily an ideal choice for active children. Enter the Merrell Barefoot Kids product line.

As a minimally-inclined(?) runner, I knew that the concept and construction of the Merrell Barefoot Kids shoes would be something I'd want for my own lads. I'd been hoping to find a foot-friendly shoe that my kids could wear when needed. And, the quest had been difficult until the Kids Trail Gloves appeared.

But, as a cheapskate, I had a hard time justifying a $60 purchase for shoes that my kids may not even wear after a week. They'd accepted foam sandals for the time being. And, who was I to push my luck by trying another shoe on them?

Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove

Fortunately, a savvy and generous representative of Merrell took note of my plight. She said, "How about you figure out which size Merrell Kids Trail Gloves would fit your kiddos."

Long story short: I arrive home from work one day to find Middle Child showing me his new Merrells. He's beaming as he tells me that they're made for running really fast. And, then he runs really fast across the yard. And, dammit, those are just the cutest kids shoes ever!

That was seven months ago. To date, not a single Merrell Barefoot Kids shoe has fallen off, been lost, or chewed to pieces by a certain lab-hound mix (and, don't think she hasn't tried!) in this household.

Practicality aside, my boys love the shoes!

Middle Child says his favorite things about his Merrells are "The color and that they're for running fast."

Oldest Child says his favorite things about his Merrells are, "That they can be worn without socks, and they're good for running."

(I swear, I didn't tell them to say anything about running)

In short the Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves meet this parent's criteria for ideal kids shoes:

  • The velcro strapping apparatus means the shoes are easy for my boys to put on their feet.
  • They're flexible and designed without a superfluous rise in the heel, "zero-drop", if you will.
  • They feature a wide toe box, which allows kid-shaped feet to continue developing properly.
  • As you'd expect, the Merrell Kids Trail Gloves are incredibly durable.
  • They're suitable for pretty much every activity in which a kid participates.
  • My kids like them. And, that's saying something!
  • The Merrell Kids Gloves are machine washable. Just throw them in with a load of towels, or whatever, and wash them using your favorite detergent on a regular or delicate cycle. Don't put them in the dryer, though. I stuff them with newspaper and let them air dry overnight.

That last point is pretty important for two reasons:

First, kids get shoes really dirty. They step in anything. And, it's just easier to wash that anything off in the washing machine rather than scrape and scrub the crap off with a toothbrush.

Second, the antimicrobial insole touted on the product page is either somewhat faulty, or my oldest son's feet are severely toxic. After a week of wearing his Merrells sans socks, the aroma of Oldest Child's feet could clear a room. I mean, omg! OMG!

Middle Child's foot odor is not nearly as bad when he wears the Barefoot Kids Gloves without socks. So, it's clear that the smell a person creates with his shoes sans socks is an individual thing. And, of course, socks really help out with this unfortunate phenomenon.

Just be advised that, if you're not sure whether your kid is prone to stinky feet, you'll find out after he wears the Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves sans socks for a few days. Luckily, you can wash the smell away in the washing machine.

So, are the almost-perfect kids shoes worth $60? That's up to you, of course. But, after observing my own active boys do everything outside in their Merrell Kids Trail Gloves for several months, I would definitely say that these are worth their suggested retail price.

Admittedly, as a frugal shopper, I'll avoid paying full price while I have the patience to wait for a sale. But, that's just me.

If you need new shoes for your kids now, I'm confident that you wouldn't regret purchasing the Merrell BKTGs (the product name could stand to be shorter, couldn't it?).

Of course, Merrell has gone and complicated the decision by introducing the Barefoot Flux Glove Kids shoes. Those would require tying laces, though.

Anyway, the Barefoot Kids Trail Glove is available in infant sizes (3 - 9.5), little kids sizes (10 - 13), and regular kids sizes (1 - 7). There are lots of colorways from which to choose, too.

Thanks for reading!

After months of wear, these durable shoes aren't even close to falling apart. The outsole is quite worn. But, not terribly.

Oh, the Barefoot Kids Trail Gloves have a Vibram sole, by the way.

Product provided by Merrell.


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