CEP Compression Socks Review

Compression socks are a bit like Marmite; some people love them, some people hate them (even if they’ve never worn them!) There are plenty of claims by manufacturers that wearing compression clothing can result in: “increased blood flow, faster clearance of lactic acid, reduced swelling, reduced post race soreness, faster recovery times” etc etc however it is hard to find any scientific studies that prove that compression socks actually improve your performance. So why wear them?

I’ve recently been using CEP compression socks and calf sleeves for some of my runs. I must admit that a couple of years ago I was in Marmite camp 2 – thinking that compression was for the European Ultra runner and was worn more for fashion rather than function. Now though I can seen some instances where wearing compression socks is beneficial.

blue sky, blue CEP socks

blue sky, blue shoes, blue CEP socks

My first impression on opening the packet was “wow, funky colours!” Most compression socks I had seen before had been black but not these. Lime and Hawaii Blue “great they’ll match my Trail Talons” Sunset and Hawaii Blue “yep got some X-Talons in orange and blue” Lime and Pink!!… (yes they do women’s and men’s versions) A cursory glance through the accompanying literature had me smiling when I saw that there were instructions for putting them on; I’m an adult, they’re a pair of socks, how hard can it be! Ten minutes later I was rummaging through the bin looking for the instructions as I was having difficulty getting them on! The trick is to start with them inside out – obvious now. Once on (eventually) the 85% Polyamide & 15% Spandex socks give a snug fit around the foot, being shaped to fit left or right feet and there are compression bands around the midfoot, ankle and calf that target the compression to specific areas. They feel snug, comfortable and well made. It’s important to get the correct size by measuring your calf’s circumference rather than shoe size.

CEP compression socks

matching shoe / sock combo – very important!

The first few runs with them I was a bit self conscious, I noticed adults having a surreptitious glance at my legs whilst young kids just openly stared. (they are available in plain black if you are really that concerned) So other than wanting to be the brightest clad runner in the Peak District when else would I choose to wear them?

Chilly mornings. I prefer to run in shorts rather than tights, even in winter unless it’s really cold and a knee length compression sock helps keep the calf muscles warm. This is especially important if I’m planning on running fast or steeply uphill where the calf muscles will be contracting more forcefully.

CEP compression socks

CEP compression on a chilly spring morning

Extreme weather. At the 2017 Marsden to Edale “Trigger” race I wore a neoprene sock over compression socks. This combination gave some protection to my feet and lower legs from the numbingly cold snow melt streams that had to be crossed. Thankfully this meant that once across the streams I could run straight away as I was still able to feel my legs and feet. Long socks also give protection against the cold and abrasions when running in snow.

Montane Fang in use

cold legs! definitely not ideal for racing

Long mountain days. I wore compression socks when completing the Ramsay Round and also whilst supporting others on their rounds. The long climbs take a toll on the calf muscles and I like the feeling of a tight sock (I don’t claim that the sock makes the climbs any easier though!) They also offer protection from stones whilst ascending and descending scree and whilst negotiating pathless sections of knee deep heather! Also they can help guard against ticks especially in areas of Scotland where they are prevalent.

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

wearing CEP compression on Ramsay Round support

Recovery runs. I often get sore / tight calves especially after races or hard, hilly training so I often wear calf compression the following day on an easy paced recovery run. This isn’t down to believing that wearing compression will speed my recovery – it might or might not – it just feels comfortable.

CEP compression on an easy paced run

his and hers CEP compression on an easy paced run

As well as  compression socks CEP also make Calf Sleeves. What’s the difference and why would I choose one over the other? The socks offer compression around the foot and ankle, the calf sleeves only around the calf. The calf sleeve is a bit easier and quicker to get on. The socks get wetter and sweatier and so need washing more often whereas the calf sleeves can be worn a few times before they need washing. Calf sleeves can be combined with neoprene or waterproof socks for winter running whereas the sock would be too thick. The calf sleeves are cheaper.

CEP full sock and calf sleeves

CEP full sock or calf sleeves? – your choice

The case for CEP compression socks:

Well made
Comfortable
Supportive
Protective
They look great!

The case against CEP compression socks:

Expensive
No firm scientific evidence to prove enhanced performance / recovery
Tricky to put on – read the instructions!
Tan lines!
They look ridiculous!

The verdict:

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves offer support and protection in a range of funky colours. Other compression products may be cheaper but CEP feel like a quality product and made to last. They may or may not enhance your performance but they are guaranteed to enhance your appearance (fell runners take their appearance very seriously!)

RRP – CEP Run Socks 2.0 £39.99 CEP Calf Sleeves 2.0 £29.99

CEP compression socks and calf sleeves are available from Millet Sports

 

There Is No Map In Hell – Review

Most people who climb the 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District do so over a number of years. In 2014 Steve Birkinshaw managed to complete a continuous circuit of them; over 300 miles and many thousand metres of climb, in just over six and a half days. There is no Map in Hell is Steve’s written account of his tremendous achievement.

There is no Map in Hell

There is no Map in Hell

Legendary Lakeland runner Joss Naylor had completed the round in the 1980’s, taking just over seven days and it was thought that the feat would never again be attempted let alone bettered. However Steve’s background as a highly experienced fell runner specialising in ultra distance challenges (including winning the 2012 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race) meant that he more than anyone had the fitness and determination to give it a go.

In the book Steve gives an insight into his family background and previous long distance adventures before he moves on to explain what the Wainwrights are and recall some of the history of early attempts by runners to complete the challenge. He describes the huge logistical task of planning the route, calculating a schedule and recruiting a team of helpers. He also discusses his training in preparation for the run.

Steve then gives the reader a day by day account of his progress including details of each leg of his route and recounts his feelings, both physical and mental which unsurprisingly deteriorate as the week goes by. There are also short accounts from Steve’s wife Emma and support crew which give a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes and the highs and lows that they too experienced along the journey.

Steve Birkinshaw during the Wainwrights attempt

Steve during the Wainwrights attempt (from community.berghaus.com)

Finally he describes what he calls “The Aftermath”; the physical and mental toll of running the equivalent of two marathons with over 5,000 metres of ascent a day, every day for a week.

There is no Map in Hell will appeal to any fell runner who is familiar with the Lakeland fells or those who have experienced or are planning their own long distance challenge. Rather than being purely full of facts and statistics it gives an insight into the human side of a determined, family man who pushed his body to extraordinary lengths to achieve a running feat that many thought impossible.

There is no Map in Hell is published by Vertebrate Publishing.

fell running guide

Shoe Cue Insoles Review

Shoe Cue insoles look like an interesting concept designed to prompt runners into adopting a more efficient running technique. They look like a standard insole but with a textured plastic heel plate covered in small pimples which the wearer can feel. The idea is that by being more aware of how your feet are contacting the ground the insoles act as a prompt or “cue”. This encourages you to favour the ball of your foot rather than the heel and thus reduces over striding. That all sounds plausible so I decided to test them out using a bit of sports science technology.

Shoe Cue insoles with the pimpled heel plate

Shoe Cue insoles with the pimpled heel plate

The first thing I did was to go for a short, easy run wearing the insoles to get used to how they felt. I even wore one shoe with a Shoe Cue insole and the other with just the standard insole so that I could compare how they felt.

How do they feel?

You can definitely notice the pimples under your heel, they don’t feel uncomfortable, just unusual and you do get used to them the longer you have them on. Obviously the thinner your sock the more aware you are of the textured heel plate. My first run was on gently sloping, hard packed trail wearing them inside a pair of Inov-8 Trail Talons. I was aware of the insoles although didn’t find them uncomfortable. On my next run I used the same shoes but over terrain with some short, steep up and downhill sections. On the steep downhills the insoles were uncomfortable, especially at a fast pace as more impact was taken through the rear of my foot. (To be fair the insoles probably aren’t designed for that type of terrain)

testing Shoe Cues with Inov-8 Trail Talon 275s

testing Shoe Cues with Inov-8 Trail Talon 275s

Scientific testing

It would be a subjective guess to say if the Shoe Cues made any difference to my running technique so a bit of science was needed. I asked the kind chaps at Front Runner in Sheffield if they could help and they offered carry out a test using their treadmill and RunScribe technology. RunScribe uses small devices attached to each foot which measure data such as Stride Rate, Ground Contact Time (GTC), Braking Force and Footstrike Type (forefoot, mid-foot, heel).

treadmill testing using RunScribe technology

treadmill testing using RunScribe technology

Test protocol

Indoor treadmill wearing Inov-8 Trail Talon 275 shoes. After warming up I ran for 5 minutes at a pace of 10km per hour without the insoles then repeated the 5 mins at the same pace with the Shoe Cue insoles.
I then repeated the 5 mins without / with the insoles but this time at a faster pace of 15km per hour.
The RunScribe data was taken for the middle two minutes of each run.

The results

Shoe Cue test data

10k per hour without insoles

 

Shoe Cue test data

10k per hour with Shoe Cue insoles

The RunScribe data shows that for the slower paced run there is very little difference in stride rate (cadence) and GCT with a slight reduction in braking force with the insoles. The foot strike type (lower number = more heel strike) shows that I actually went a little closer to heel striking whilst wearing the Shoe Cue insoles.

Shoe Cue test data

15k per hour without insoles

 

Shoe Cue test data

15k per hour with Shoe Cue insoles

The RunScribe data for the faster paced run shows almost identical stride rates and GCT with and without the Shoe Cue insoles. As for braking force it decreased on my left foot but increased on my right foot when wearing the insoles (work that one out!) A similar discrepancy with foot strike type saw no change in my left foot whereas my right foot landed closer to the heel whilst wearing the insoles.

Do they work?

That is the big question! The scientific data here certainly doesn’t point to a big change in my own running metrics whilst wearing the insoles, however there could be a number of reasons for this:

  • I’ve been running regularly for many years, performing fairly well in competitions – maybe I already have a reasonably efficient technique?
  • Although I could feel the Shoe Cue insoles I didn’t actively try to change my technique – maybe I also subconsciously resisted changing.
  • It might take a longer period of time to adapt to using the insoles.

A less experienced runner or someone who over strides (having a cadence closer to 160 steps per minute) might find the insoles more beneficial. It is difficult to over stride and still land on your mid-foot, hence how the sensation of feeling the pimples under your heel can help overcome this.

However as with the recent popularity of barefoot, minimalist and zero drop shoes, any change should be made gradually. There are lots of stories of runners who actively tried to change their running technique to a more “efficient” mid-foot landing only to suffer from calf and achilles problems. Anyone trying Shoe Cues should avoid making radical changes to their technique.

Personally I probably won’t use the insoles although I may use them as a coaching tool to lend to clients to enable them to become more aware of their own running technique.

More information on Shoe Cue insoles can be found here: https://www.shoecue.com/

Footnote:

What I also found interesting was that I landed more on my heel the faster I ran whereas you would expect the opposite to be the case. Attentive readers will also note some Left / Right discrepancies particularly regarding pronation (I’ve been told by different physios that I have one leg slightly longer than the other which may explain it)

Thanks to Ali at Front Runner for providing the RunScribe data.

fell running guide

The Protein Ball Co. Review

The Protein Ball Co. are a UK based company producing healthy, high protein snacks using natural ingredients. Neatly packaged in a range of six interesting flavours (I like the Goji and Coconut best!) each 45g bag contains six bite size balls. They are all gluten free and vegetarian with a couple of vegan choices too.

Protein Ball Co.

six interesting flavours

As well as being high in protein they also contain a decent amount of carbohydrate; a 45g bag of Lemon & Pistachio balls contains 187 kcal for example.

Protein Ball calorific content

plenty of calories to fuel long runs

This means that on long events like Ultra races or 24 hour Rounds such as the Bob Graham these would be ideal “hill food”. They are much more palatable than sickly sweet gels and satisfy your hunger unlike a gel. The high protein content also means that they make a great snack immediately after a hard training session or race or following a long run.

Protein Ball Co. each bag contains 6 tasty little balls

each bag contains 6 tasty little balls

At £1.99 for a 45g bag they aren’t particularly cheap and at the moment they aren’t available in supermarkets although they can be found in Holland & Barrett and also purchased online. So if you fancy something healthy, tasty and made in the UK to fuel your running these bite sized little balls are worth a try.

For more details and to find a stockist visit the Protein Ball Co.

fell running guide

Osprey Duro 1.5 Review

Osprey, the Californian company renowned for their packs and rucksacks have introduced a new range of trail running backpacks for Spring 2017 – the Duro. Available in three sizes; 15, 6 and 1.5 litres, here I review the smallest, the 1.5L version.

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

Features:

The Duro 1.5 is a unisex, minimalist vest type pack, available in two sizes; S/M or M/L. It comes supplied with two 250ml soft-flasks with straws. The pack I tested was the S/M version which weighed 283g on my scales (without flasks)

The back of the pack has two zipped pockets with large zip pulls making them easy to open. The smaller pocket has a handy key clip and will just about fit a windproof or minimalist waterproof top whilst the slightly larger, deeper pocket is designed to carry a bladder (not supplied). I found that I could easily fit a set of lightweight waterproofs into the larger pocket.

pockets on Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack

2 rear pockets for kit & optional bladder

On the top of each shoulder there is a small elasticated bungee that is designed to hold a pair of folded walking poles.

There are also two stretch mesh pockets at either side / back of the pack. These can easily take hat, gloves, food etc and I even managed to stuff a small windproof into one.

Osprey Duro 1.5 pack

2 decent sized stretch rear side pockets

On the front there are four stretch pockets, two on each side. The larger, top pockets house the 250ml soft-flasks that come supplied with the pack and have small elasticated retainers to keep the flasks from moving around (these also make a handy attachment point for a compass). The two lower, smaller pockets are again handy for hat, gloves, food and compass. There is also a whistle attached to the inside of one of the upper pockets.

There is also a vertical zip pocket on the front left which is big enough to take a phone or sections of map.

Osprey Duro 1.5 pack

zipped pocket for phone, maps etc

The pack is fastened by two elasticated sternum straps that clip across the chest and can be removed and re-positioned in 6 positions. One of the straps has a magnetic clip designed to hold the drinking tube on the optional bladder. This can be easily removed if you don’t intend to use it. I would take it off so that it doesn’t interfere with your compass. The straps can be easily adjusted to fit your chest size.

Osprey Duro 1.5 running pack front view

stretch pockets and adjustable straps

There are two more adjustment straps on the side allowing the pack to be tensioned according to size of the wearer and how much kit is being carried.

Osprey Duro adjustment

side adjustment strap

The whole frame of the pack is slightly elasticated with a ventilated mesh fabric on the inside where the pack is in contact with your body. The graphics on the pack are reflective which is a useful feature if you find yourself running on unlit roads in the dark.

How it performed:

I wore the Duro 1.5 over a couple of weeks, with and without the soft-flasks on runs of up to 10 miles at different paces and also lent it to clients on group runs to get their feedback. My first impression was that it was very comfortable to wear, fitting snugly without being too restrictive as the material stretches slightly as you move and breathe. The bottles didn’t bounce excessively even when running at a fast pace. I was impressed by the amount of storage there is despite the pack’s small size; hat, gloves, map, compass, whistle, food, drink and phone are all accessible without having to take the pack off.

If you intend to use the large rear pocket to carry items you need to pack it so that nothing digs into your back (just as you would with other lightweight packs) and the rear / side pockets are difficult to reach whilst wearing the pack. I found a way of reaching round the back with both hands that helped me remove and replace things from these pockets – ok at easy jog pace but difficult to do whilst running quickly!

Osprey Duro 1.5

reaching the rear side pockets was tricky!

The supplied soft-flasks are only 250 ml each. This has pros and cons – the weight is more evenly distributed, particularly if you only take one flask but at the price of not being able to carry much drink. I would prefer larger flasks (I tend to only take one flask as it’s less hassle – only 1 to fill and clean etc – plus extra storage space in the spare pocket) I found that it is possible to swap in a long, thin 500 ml flask although the elasticated retainer doesn’t fit (this wasn’t a problem).

soft flasks on Osprey Duro

250ml flasks supplied or find an alternative 500ml

I found that fastening the chest straps could be a bit fiddly, especially when wearing gloves. The plastic clips need to line up to locating points on a plastic rail and if you don’t line them up exactly they don’t clip on. A simple buckle would have been easier to fasten.

Osprey Duro chest strap

the clip was fiddly to fasten

I don’t use poles whilst running so I didn’t test the pole holders. I certainly think you’d have to be either very well practised or a contortionist to stow and remove them without taking the pack off!

The pack looks really neat, the bright yellow and black is a nice colour combination but mine came with grey chest straps that look a bit out of place (am I being too fussy?)!

What would I use it for?

The Duro 1.5 is just the right size for when you can fit all your kit in your bum bag but doing so makes it really big and bulky. So for example on runs when I want to carry waterproofs and a drink, yes I can fit it all into a bumbag but the bumbag then bounces around whilst I’m running. I would use the Duro 1.5 on long summer runs when I need to carry water but little in the way of clothing or on races where full kit is needed which makes my bumbag too bulky.

Recommended Retail Price is £60

Verdict:

A comfortable, well designed running pack with plenty of storage options despite its small size. Ideal for runs or races where you need to carry just that bit more than comfortably fits into a bumbag.

runner wearing Osprey Duro 1.5

a comfortable pack for racing or training

Available from Osprey https://www.ospreyeurope.com/shop/gb_en/duro-1-5-17

Asics Stripe Tights and Top Review

It’s Spring! Time to ditch the thick winter leggings, take off a few layers, forget the waterproof jacket and run in something a bit more lightweight for a change. I’ve had a few weeks trying out the Asics Stripe running tights and half zip, long sleeved top. Here’s what I found:

Asics Stripe running clothing

Asics Stripe – ideal for cool, spring training runs

Asics Stripe Tights:

I tested the small men’s tights which weighed 169g on my scales. They Polyamide / Elastane material is soft and stretchy and gave a tight, almost compression like fit. Fit around my 28 inch waist was fine (I often find a small men’s size to be too baggy but not these) so I didn’t need to tie the internal waist band to get them to stay up. Length wise I’d say they were slightly too long for me with a bit of spare material at the ankle (but that’s more to do with my tiny legs than anything else!) The athletic fit makes them ideal for both training and racing and I found that the material shed moisture rather than soaking it up.

Asics Stripe tights

the tights have an athletic fit

A small zipped pocket on the back right is just big enough to take a car key or gel and a mesh panel behind each knee allows a bit of ventilation. This is useful for faster paced running but you do notice a chill if the wind is particularly cold.

Asics Stripe zip pocket

does my zip look big? just enough room for a gel!

Asics Stripe leggings

mesh behind the knees allows ventilation

Reflective logos on the bottom of each leg are a useful feature for night time road running allowing you to be easily illuminated by car headlights and a short ankle zip makes it easy to put the tights on and off.  The zip is particularly useful if you’ve been for a run in muddy conditions as you’re less likely to flick mud everywhere as you take them off. The zip also locks to prevent it opening whilst running.

Asics Stripe reflective leggings

reflective logo on legs, useful for dark country roads

Asics Stripe tights

zips make taking off muddy tights much easier

Recommended retail price is £40

Verdict:

A comfortable pair of tights with an athletic fit, ideal for running in cooler temperatures. I’d use them for winter races and for training in cool conditions and also for mountain running in bad weather.

Available from Millet Sports:
https://www.milletsports.co.uk/product/black-asics-stripe-mens-running-tights/260148_firstsport/

Asics Stripe Half Zip, Long Sleeved Top

Again I tested a men’s small which weighed 156g with the 100% Polyester top having a soft, slightly stretchy feel to it. The size small gave a fairly loose rather than athletic fit although the slight stretch would still allow a good fit for a larger – small runner. The high neck keeps the chill off your chest in cold conditions but then the deep zip allows good venting if the going gets hot and you need to cool down. A zip guard keeps the zip from rubbing when it is fully done up; a nice touch.

Asics Stripe LS Zip top

features: high neck, deep zip and zip guard to protect delicate skin

A reflective logo and pattern on the shoulders means that you can easily be picked out by car headlights if running on roads at night.

Asics Stripe LS zip top

reflective logo and shoulder pattern

The sleeves were easily long enough to cover the wrists and not too tight at the cuff which means that you could roll them up if you got too hot. The “Motion Dry” material is breathable and so wicks away moisture from the skin. I quite like the understated light grey with a hint of colour in the reflective yellow Asics logo – a nice match with my shoe laces!

Asics Stripe Half zip top

enough length in the sleeve and loose enough to roll up

Recommended Retail Price is £29

Verdict:

An affordable, comfortable, long sleeved top with a useful long zip. I’d wear it for chilly conditions that are too cold for a tee shirt or under a windproof or waterproof in colder, wetter conditions.

Available from Millet Sports:
https://www.milletsports.co.uk/product/grey-asics-stripe-half-zip-mens-long-sleeved-training-top/260145_firstsport/

Alpkit Viper 2 Head Torch Review

There are a lot of very bright, very expensive, feature laden head torches on the market these days. But not everyone needs a hugely powerful torch with batteries that last all night. What if your night runs take less than a couple of hours and are done at a fairly slow pace on easy ground; are there any head torches that are up to the task that don’t cost a fortune? The new Alpkit Viper might be worth a look.

Alpkit Viper head torch

Alpkit Viper 2 head torch

Alpkit have built up a reputation for cheap, no frills head torches and their Gamma has become very popular. The Gamma along with the original Viper provided a lightweight effective torch for less than £20. However at less than 100 lumens these torches weren’t really bright enough for anything but slow paced running on very even ground. However Alpkit have recently upgraded their torches giving them a bit more power.

Alpkit Viper & Gamma

Alpkit Viper & Gamma (mark 1) – great value torches, but not quite bright enough for trail running

Features:

Several things have changed on the 2017 version of the Viper. The new model now offers 160 lumens (compared to the previous 100) which makes it bright enough to cope with slightly faster running on more uneven terrain. The most obvious change though is a cosmetic one; the large button on top of the torch has gone and been replaced by two smaller buttons underneath the housing. This includes the on / off button and also a boost button designed to give a quick, focused beam of 280 lumens. This is ideal for picking out distant objects such as looking for the gate or stile to exit a field.

Alpkit Vipers version 1 and 2

Alpkit Vipers version 1 and 2

Alpkit Viper buttons

the buttons are now underneath the torch

The torch still takes 3x AAA batteries contained in the torch housing and is compatible with rechargeable batteries. The head unit itself can be angled down, pivoting through 5 positions whilst the elasticated strap is easy to adjust and can be removed for washing if it gets grubby from sweaty foreheads!

Alpkit Viper head band

headband is easily removed for washing

The Viper is very easy to operate; a single press gives a sequence of; Medium (51 lumen), High (160 lumen), Low (6 lumen), Red Constant, Red Strobe, Off.  The white light being provided by a single central LED and the red light by two small side LEDs. Mine also came supplied with batteries and in a handy little stuff sack which is useful for protecting it inside a rucksack or bum bag.

Alpkit Viper 2 x red LEDs

2 x red LEDs

What I like:

The Viper is lightweight, reasonably bright and easy to use. The button sequence is intuitive – no double clicking or press and hold just a simple, single press to change lighting modes. The boost button is a great feature when you want a quick burst of extra light. Even with the batteries housed in the unit itself the torch feels balanced and doesn’t bob too much when running. 2 hours battery life on full power is enough for most night runs and using rechargeable batteries makes it affordable. At less than £20 it is a very good value torch.

What could be improved:

Having the buttons underneath the torch housing takes some getting used to and I found that I inadvertently pressed the boost button when trying to adjust the angle of the housing. (It also means that you might instinctively put the torch on upside down!) Also the buttons are quite small and can be difficult to locate whilst wearing gloves. My biggest problem with the Viper is that I found it very difficult to open the battery compartment and I was worried that I was going to snap the little clasp. I found it tricky even indoors with warm hands so swapping the batteries mid run with cold fingers wouldn’t be a an easy task!

Alpkit Viper battery compartment

opening the battery compartment was tricky!

When would I use it:

The Viper is fine for short, steady paced runs on fairly even terrain where brightness and battery life aren’t paramount. I also find it useful on night time club coaching sessions when I use the low power or red mode so that I can talk to runners and see them without dazzling them. It’s an ideal torch to go into my emergency kit for mountain running and it will also go in my bum bag on evening “twilight” runs when I might just need a torch for the last fifteen to twenty minutes of a run.

Verdict:

The new Alpkit Viper is a great value for money head torch for times when you don’t need a huge amount of brightness or long battery life. It gives enough light for trail running at a steady pace on terrain that isn’t too technical. It is great as a back-up torch or to chuck into your bum bag just in case. At less than twenty quid can you afford not to have one?

Technical Information (as measured by me, not manufacturer’s stats)

Weight: 93g including batteries
Battery life (tested with 3 fully charged AAA eneloop batteries): 2 hours on full power before dimming
Price: £18 (as of Feb 2017) direct from Alpkit

 

Rooster Sailing Neoprene Sock Review

Fell running in winter results in wet feet, there’s no avoiding it!

Over the years I’ve tried different brands of so called “waterproof” socks but found that after a couple of outings they cease to be waterproof, water that does get in stays in and you end up with a heavy, soggy sock. Yes your feet stay relatively warm but they certainly don’t stay dry. Also, waterproof socks are expensive so when I threw my last pair away I wanted to replace them with something cheaper that would keep my feet warm if not dry.

running through puddles

winter running means wet feet! (photo Fell Running Guide)

Someone recommended Rooster Sailing neoprene socks as a cheaper alternative to waterproof socks so I thought I’d give them a try. (I got the 3mm neoprene Superstretch Wet Socks) As the name suggests, these socks are designed for sailing rather than running and my first thought on seeing them was that the stitched seam that runs under the heel would be uncomfortable. However I needn’t have worried as it was much less noticeable than I feared. The extra thickness of the 3mm neoprene means that your shoes will feel tighter than normal and so you might struggle if your shoes are already a tight fit. The stretch of the material makes the socks easy to get on and off and the top extends to the lower calf and gives a snug fit.

Rooster Sailing sock

3mm stretchy neoprene

On short runs I was pleased to find that my feet were warm and damp at the end but the real test would come on longer runs in very cold conditions. Luckily the Trigger fell race provided an excellent testing ground; 24 miles across high moorland with melting snow!

runners crossing river

ideal testing conditions! (photo Mossienet)

After four and a half hours with wet feet from the numerous river crossings I was very happy that I could still feel my feet! Other runners were complaining that their feet felt like blocks of wood, mine were fine. Since then I’ve used the socks for long runs in bad weather and always found that my feet end up warm and damp rather than cold and wet.

The Verdict

The Roosters aren’t the cheapest of neoprene socks, (a pair will set you back about £20) but they feel robust and well made and they are still significantly cheaper than a well known brand of waterproof socks. The super stretch material fits the shape of your foot without any baggy areas and so gives a comfortable fit.  It is worth keeping your big toenails trimmed to avoid wearing a hole in the socks – which I seem to have done with previous waterproof socks – although unlike waterproof socks a hole in the toe won’t compromise the effectiveness of the sock.

runner crossing stream

another wet run! (photo Fell Running Guide)

I can certainly recommend Rooster Sailing Neoprene Wet Socks, I’ve worn them in some pretty harsh conditions this winter and I haven’t had cold feet!

runner in snow

cold weather, warm feet (photo M. Scotney)

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runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

Inov-8 AT/C SOFTSHELL PRO FZ Review

Windproof running jackets are usually very thin and lightweight and offer little thermal protection to the wearer. The Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ is different.

It is made with a mix of materials; Pertex Quantum® which is the type of fabric you expect to find in a windproof and Pertex Equilibrium® which is a stretchy softshell fabric. These materials are zoned so as to give both protection from the wind and offer more warmth than in a traditional windproof. It is designed for cold, windy days when you need more protection from the cold than your regular windproof allows.

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ windproof

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ windproof

First Impressions

“I’d wear that every day!”  Rather than being a shapeless windproof the Softshell Pro FZ has a tailored look and it wouldn’t look out of place if you wore it down the pub. The 4 way stretch  softshell allows a nice snug fit without feeling restrictive. The jacket feels more substantial than a flimsy windproof and my size XS (well done Inov-8 on catering for us small folk!) weighed just over 300g.

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ on scales

304g for the extra small jacket

Features

The full zip (FZ) makes the jacket easy to get on and off. Two zipped waist pockets allow easy access to map, compass, gloves etc and a drawcord hem allows the jacket to be tightened at the bottom. There is also a small internal hole that allows you to route a cable from each pocket to inside the jacket. This means that you can carry a battery in your pocket and run the cable of your head torch up the inside of the jacket. (oh and you could do the same with your phone and listen to music if you weren’t a fell runner!)

Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ features

nice features: hem draw-cord, 2 pockets & internal cable routing

One of the things I like most about the jacket is the hood. Often jackets have a hood but no way of tightening it which means that in very windy conditions it flaps around at best or even blows down. No such problems here as the hood has a rear volume adjuster and two elasticated tensioners at the front allowing it to be fastened down nice and tight. This also lets you twist your head and still see where you are going.

inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ hood

adjusting the hood

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ hood

a hood that stays put!

When not required the hood can be rolled back and kept in position by a small press-stud to prevent it flapping around.

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

hood rolled and secured

The cuffs can be extended to cover the back of the hands and held in place with a thumb loop. This results in a tight fit which is great for keeping draughts out of your sleeves but if you wear a watch you’ll need to put it on over the jacket if you want to look at it!

AT/C Softshell Pro FZ cuffs

extendable cuffs

On Test

I’ve been wearing the AT/C Softshell Pro FZ for a few months and in a range of conditions including cold, cloudy winter days and crisp, frosty winter mornings. I’ve worn it with the hood up and down and in both still and windy conditions.

Runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

on test on a cold winter day

Runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

and on a frosty winter morning

The Pertex® material wicks moisture away even when running fast and the close fitting, stretchy material gives an athletic fit that hugs the body and doesn’t billow in the wind unlike some windproof jackets. The softshell material certainly adds a bit of warmth, so much so that one morning after early fog had burned off I felt a bit too warm.

What would I use it for?

The softshell is not designed as a super-lightweight windproof, it is intended as a more substantial running jacket to be worn in colder, windy conditions. It is great for winter days when you know that you want added protection from the cold. It would also be good for longer runs when you might not be moving particularly fast and thus not generating as much heat, for example on something like a Bob Graham round. It is also ideal for cold days out in the mountains and will work well under a waterproof as an additional mid layer. It is also good for wearing pre or post race and will even look good worn as a casual jacket.

Verdict

The Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ is an ideal jacket for cold, dry winter days or for mountain running in cold, windy conditions. It is comfortable and well designed with useful features. It looks good too and it almost seems a shame to wear it for running – I’d happily be seen wearing it to the pub!

More details about the jacket can be found on the Inov-8 website

runner wearing Inov-8 AT/C Softshell Pro FZ

ideal for a cold, winter morning run

fell running guide

Inov-8 X Claw 275 Review

Inov-8 have introduced a new model to their range of fell shoes; the X-Claw 275

The aggressively soled Mudclaws and X-Talons in their various guises are already well established favourites amongst fell runners; you only need to look down whilst at the start line of any fell race to see that Inov-8s tend to be the shoe of choice. So this being the case you might ask where does the new X-Claw fit in and is there any real need for it alongside its siblings?

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

X-Claw 275 – Features

At first glance you might think that the X-Claw is a new model of Mudclaw. Although not identical the sole unit certainly shares the same aggressive look with triangular 8mm lugs whilst the upper has the durable water resistant material, rand and toe bumper that Mudclaw users will be familiar with. It requires a closer look to spot the differences.

Looking at the outsole of the  X-Claw you notice a change in the stud pattern compared to the Mudclaw (a design that it shares with the new X-Talon 225) It still uses the “Dual C” mix of hard and sticky rubbers aiming to give both friction and durability .

 Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

get a grip! Mudclaw 300, X-Talon 225 and X-Claw 275 compared

The X-Claw has an 8mm drop (compared to the Mudclaw’s 6mm) with a midsole that is said to give better shock absorption and energy return. A significant feature is that the X-Claw 275 comes in “Standard” fit whereas the X-Talon and Mudclaw are both “Precision” fit. This means that the shoe is wider in the toe box. This may come as welcome news to runners with wide feet who like the grip of the other models but find the precision fit too tight. Likewise, runners doing particularly long distances might prefer the extra cushioning and toe splay that the X-Claw allows. Looking at the X-Claw and Mudclaw together you notice that the shape of the heel cup is slightly different with the heel tab being ever so slightly higher on the X-Claw.

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

heel to heel X-Claw (L) Mudclaw (R)

inov-8 X-Claw & Mudclaw

and again Mudclaw (L) X-Claw (R)

X-Claw 275 – Tested

Anyway, enough of the technical stats – what are they actually like to wear? Although I’ve had the X-Claws for a while and been keen to give them a blast it’s only recently after a bit of wet weather that I’ve had the chance to try them in the conditions that they are designed for! I wear either X-Talons or Mudclaw 300’s for racing depending on the distance and type of terrain, and Mudclaws for winter training on the fells so I had a good idea of how I wanted them to feel.

First on they felt comfortable, I’m a 6.5 in almost all shoes and the six and a half were fine (and well done to Inov-8 for going back to making men’s shoes starting in a 6 – saves me having to get the women’s model!) Being used to the precision fit of the Mudclaws and X-Talons I wondered if the standard fit might feel a bit sloppy but it didn’t. I noticed that it wasn’t as tight but I didn’t feel that my foot was moving around inside the shoe. I was pretty confident that the grip was going to be positive even on the wet and muddy stuff, and so it proved as I was able to run quickly through thick mud, hopping over the biggest puddles and landing without slipping.

fast running on muddy terrain

fast running on muddy terrain

Running on mixed terrain the X-Claws gripped excellently on the gritstone boulders (as expected) but also coped well with thick muddy ground and damp fallen leaves.

running through mud

dealing with the deep stuff

On downhill sections of soft ground they allowed me to run fast with confidence and they were reassuringly grippy on steep wet grass. All this hints that they would make a good race shoe despite not being as snug as my usual choices.

Inov-8 X-Claw 275

race pace descent on soft ground

running downhill

reassuringly grippy on steep, damp grass

My only concern is with the heel tab; I’ve had achilles problems in the past and my old yellow Mudclaws used to aggravate it. However I’ve been using them for 3 weeks now without a problem so hopefully it won’t be an issue.

What are they good for?

The design of the new X-Claw 275 makes them suitable for longer training or racing over rough, muddy and boggy terrain. That makes them good for most of the year! They will particularly suit runners with wider feet who find the precision fit models too tight. I think that anyone attempting one of the big rounds i.e. Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley or Charlie Ramsay rounds would find the X-Claws to be an ideal shoe.

Personally I will be using them as my autumn / winter / spring training shoe on everything apart from hard packed trails whilst saving the X-Talons and Mudclaws for race days.

The Inov-8 X-Claw 275 are available from good retailers including Pete Bland Sports

fell running guide