Inov-8 Roclite fell shoes

Inov-8 Roclite 1000 mile review

My Inov-8 Roclites have just done 1000 miles.

I’ve had the shoes for exactly a year and have used them as a bit of a workhorse, being my favourite training and work shoe.  They are the 282 model in a women’s size 6.5 (My old Roclite 285’s were discontinued and the 295’s didn’t come any smaller than size 7 in men’s – hence the choice)  They are the shoe I used for the majority of last winter’s training and for most of this year’s training on fell terrain.  I also used them for when my training required a shoe that could cope with both fell and trail running terrain.  They aren’t my only shoe, I used other models for racing and for training on purely trail terrain and once they got tatty I had to use something newer when working with clients!

The conditions that they’ve been used in are mainly those typical of the northern Peak District, i.e. wet, acidic soils, abrasive gritstone and rough heather.  It’s quite a testing environment, so how have the shoes fared after a year and a thousand miles of use?

Trail running in the Peak District in Inov-8 Roclites

Trail running in the Peak District in Inov-8 Roclites

Uppers

I usually find that it is the upper part of the shoe that fails before the sole.  Wet, acidic conditions, rough gritstone and coarse heather all eventually take their toll.  The Roclites have stood up pretty well, there are some small holes in the mesh and damage to the rand but they haven’t been holed completely.  I have been tempted to patch these up with shoe goo but I wanted to get to the magical 1000 miles before doing so!  The shoes have also retained their fit, i.e. they don’t feel loose or sloppy and I haven’t found that I need to lace them any tighter than I ever did.

damage to the mesh and rand on Inov-8 Roclite

damage to the mesh and rand

Inov-8 Roclite, damage to the rand

damage to the rand

Heel Cup

Another area that wears is the heel tab, due to repetitive putting on and taking off of the shoe.  Again although the Roclites show some wear here it is less than might be expected after such prolonged use.

Inov-8 Roclite heel tab wear

signs of wear on the heel tab

Sole

I have found that the Roclite’s sole stands up very well to wear and tear.  Even after 1000 miles mine still have a good amount of tread left on them.

Inov-8 Roclite tread pattern

plenty of tread left!

Overall Appearance

To be honest they’ve seen better days but it doesn’t take long for a fell running shoe to go from looking pristine to well used, especially when using it in wet, winter conditions.

Inov-8 Roclite fell shoes

Inov-8 Roclite, one careful owner!

So, what to get next?  Well I really rate the Roclite, they are a great all rounder and if I could only have one pair of shoes I’d choose these.  Their versatility means that I can pack them for holidays knowing that they will cope with the conditions.  From running on Icelandic snow to sunny French mountains and wet English fells, they haven’t let me down.

trail running in Iceland

from Icelandic snow

trail running in France

to French hill reps

mountain running

from European sun

Trail running photograph

to wet English days

So it would make sense to go with another pair of Inov-8 Roclites seeing as these have served me well.  I still have the problem that the men’s 295 and 280 start in a size 7 which is too big for me so might have to go for a women’s model which come in a 6.5.

But I might just eke a few more miles out of these whilst I decide!

fell running guide

head torch collection

What is the best head torch for running?

What is the best head torch for running? I’ve heard the question asked lots of times.

The answer is a bit harder to determine, a bit like asking which is the best car; whilst a Ferrari might be great for some things it’s not what you’d choose for taking the family on a camping holiday.  Go on any forum where the question is asked and you will have people swearing that their torch is the best and that everyone should buy the same model that they’ve got.  Well those people are wrong!!  What they actually mean is that think they have the best head torch for the type of running that they do. Whilst it might suit them it won’t suit the requirements of everyone. The person who says that their 100 lumen torch is perfectly adequate obviously doesn’t try to run down rocky, uneven ground at speed!

head torches for running

is your head torch a Ferrari or a camper van?

There is a huge range of head torches to choose from: cheap, dazzlingly bright Chinese imports, torches that automatically react to the ambient light levels, USB rechargeables, AAs, AAAs, 18650s, batteries in the head unit, batteries worn on the back of the head, batteries carried in an external pocket or waist belt, additional white, red and green LEDs, SOS mode, adjustable zoom, combined flood and spotlight…. the list goes on.

So rather than asking what is the best head torch you need to ask yourself some further questions.

What type of running will you do?

If you only intend to run at an easy pace on fairly even ground then you don’t need a very expensive or very bright torch. However if you’re planning long nights out on remote terrain then a more powerful torch with long battery life is essential.  If you are only going to be running for a couple of hours then again long battery life isn’t vital and so a torch with fewer batteries will suffice.  If you think you might progress to longer or more remote running it might be better to buy a torch that will be suitable for that rather than buying one that suits what you are currently doing and then finding that you need to upgrade.

Alpkit head torches

inexpensive torches for less challenging runs

Is brightness everything?

Some people mistakenly think that a brighter torch with more lumens is best; ever heard someone say “I got a cheap 1000 lumen torch off Ebay!”?  In some situations having a very powerful beam is important, for example when you need to see a long way into the distance, but if you’re night running rather than on a search and rescue exercise then the extra brightness can be overkill. What’s more it can dazzle other runners and dazzle yourself too if you are reading a map! Brighter torches need more powerful batteries which means extra weight, so your mega bright torch might weigh twice as much as your mate’s head torch which does just as good a job. In misty or foggy conditions a bright beam is actually worse than a dimmer one as the reflected light makes it harder to pick out features.

More important than brightness is the beam pattern. A bright, narrow beam is good for looking into the distance but doesn’t give a good spread of light. A wider, flood beam allows you to use your peripheral vision to see things rather than needing to turn your head and so is better for running, especially on technical ground.  A torch that lets you easily switch between spot and flood is a good option.

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

What features do you need?

Do you really need 8 different modes and brightness that is fully adjustable from bright to dim?  Is that red night vision mode really useful or is it just another setting that you need to cycle through before you get to the setting you want?  What about a rear light; some torches have a rear facing red LED which is great for leading a group, but not for leading a race!  Some torches can be turned off by infra red, you just wave your hand in front of them to switch them on and off.  That’s a great idea – until you scratch your forehead and accidentally plunge yourself into darkness!  Sometimes a simple on / off, bright / dim is all you need.

Will it be easy to carry?

A compact torch with batteries in the head unit will easily slip into a bumbag or even jacket pocket and can be put on in seconds. This makes it ideal for a twilight run when you don’t need to wear it at first but need it later in the run as it gets dark. That super bright torch with battery pack extension won’t be as comfortable to carry and your mates will have put their torches on and gone whilst you’re still trying to route the cable down the inside of your jacket and into your bum bag!

some torches have the option of carrying the battery off the head

some torches have the option of carrying the battery in a bum bag rather than on the head

Will it be easy to operate?

That might sound a bit daft but some head torches have tiny buttons. They’re easy to operate when you’re in the nice warm shop but what about when you’re out on the cold hillside with your thick gloves on. Will you still be able to feel the button then?  Most of the time you won’t need to change the mode whilst you’re on the run but sometimes you might want to turn the torch off to look at the stars or turn it to zoom to look for a field exit.  It can be really frustrating if you have to go through a sequence of clicks and holds to to do this, and then again to get back to the setting you were on.  Torches with lots of modes are fine, but sometimes less is more and simplicity wins.  Also have a look at the battery pack and imagine trying to change the batteries with gloves on or with cold hands.  Some can be very fiddly – not what you want to discover on a wet and windy night!

Will it fit your head?

Again, it may sound obvious but we’ve got different shaped heads! It might be that the torch your mate loves has a battery pack on the back that just doesn’t suit the shape of your head or that your pony tail gets in the way.

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

Do you believe the hype?

If you read the manufacturer’s technical details you might think that your 200 lumen torch has a life of 20 hours on maximum setting. It might last for 20 hours but the chances are that 16 of them will be too dim to allow you to run. Some cheap imports claim to put out a huge amount of lumens, but how do you know that’s accurate?

Dare you trust a cheap import?

It’s true that you can pick up a very bright Cree LED torch for less than £20 on Ebay and many people have bought them and are happy with them.  But there are others who have had them pack up and even catch fire or explode whilst charging!  Are those UltraFire batteries that came with it really the genuine article or are are they fakes?  If it does stop working you’ll be out of pocket as you won’t be able to send it back but that might not be your only concern.  If the lights go out on a country lane close to home it’s not the end of the world, if you’re up a mountain in the middle of the night it’s more serious.  So depending on what you’re using it for you might want to think about paying a bit more for a torch from a reputable company.

Can you justify buying two?

Anyone from a cycling background will know that it’s perfectly acceptable to have more than one bike, even if they cost thousands of pounds each!  Likewise you might justify that you can own more than one head torch; a powerful one with long battery life for serious outings and a lighter one for less challenging runs and as your “back up” torch.

head torch collection

it’s ok to own more than one torch!

Personal Experience

I’ve tried lots of different head torches in different situations, from long night outings such as the High Peak Marathon, the Paddy Buckley round and the Charlie Ramsay Round to short fast training sessions in the dark.  I use a head torch whilst coaching on winter evenings and whilst leading off road night runs.  I’ve also tested different torches for various magazines and the thing I’ve found is that there isn’t a “best torch”.  There are torches that are really good for the type of running that I was doing at the time and torches that weren’t suited to that type of running.  Even the most expensive torches lack some features that could be useful.

night running on technical terrain

night running on technical terrain

The first torch I bought was too bulky, the second had poor battery life and let me down on a night race. Only now on my third purchase have I found what works best for me for the majority of the running that I do – but this won’t suit everybody – and even still I use other torches for other runs.

So there’s no such thing as the best head torch for running, just an ideal torch for the run that you are currently doing, but tomorrow’s run might be different!

fell running guide

running in deep snow

10 things you need for winter fell running

Trail and Fell Running can be a bit more difficult in winter.

Short days, darkness, bad weather, snow and ice; all these could dissuade you from getting out onto your favourite summertime trails but with the right kit and a bit of preparation you can still enjoy off road running right through the winter months. Here are my 10 essential bits of winter kit that allow me to carry on fell running all year round.

Waterproof Jacket

It’s Britain, it’s winter and therefore it’s going to be wet and windy at some point.  These conditions, more so than dry cold, are the ones that can lead to hypothermia and so it is worth investing in a jacket that will protect you from the driving rain. There are plenty of decent jackets on the market from the very small and lightweight Montane Minimus and Inov-8 150 Stormshell which I use for short runs to the slightly more robust OMM Kamleika and Raidlight Stretch Shell which I choose for longer, slower runs.

waterproof running jackets

a decent waterproof is essential

Fell Running Shoes

Those lovely, dry, summer trails can turn into mud baths in the depths of winter and steep, wet, grass requires a shoe with a decent amount of grip. My winter shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Mudclaw as its aggressive sole lets me run confidently on even the boggiest ground.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

Inov-8 Mudclaw’s aggressive grip – ideal for winter

Head Torch

Just because it goes dark before you get home from work doesn’t mean that you can’t get out and enjoy an evening run on the trails and fells. Of course you’ll need to see where you’re going and so a head torch is vital. You don’t need to break the bank, Alpkit’s Gamma, Viper and Arc or Unilite’s HV H4 are cheap and adequate for short runs on non technical terrain. If you want to hit the high fells or mountains you’ll need something a bit brighter with a longer battery life. Torches such as the Petzl Nao, Suprabeam V4 or Hope R1 LED are more expensive, good quality torches for more serious nocturnal running adventures.

head torches for night running

head torches for night running

Warm Layer

You can stay warm even when running in the worst weather because your body produces heat as you exercise, but if you need to stop or slow down for any reason you can become cold very quickly. Carrying an extra, warm layer gives you that added bit of comfort and safety. I use the OMM Rotor Smock which is incredibly light yet offers a high warmth to weight ratio and is effective even when damp.

OMM Rotor Smock, excellent warm layer

OMM Rotor Smock – an excellent warm layer

Decent Gloves

Not only are cold hands uncomfortable they also make it hard and sometimes impossible to do simple tasks such as tying a lace, undoing a zip or opening food. Dry, toasty hands are good for morale! I like to layer my gloves starting with a cheap pair from Decathlon and adding a pair of Powerstretch wind proof gloves on top. In wet weather I use Goretex Tuff Bag Mitts over the top, these are very light and pack away to a small size.

winter running gloves

warm hands are happy hands – waterproof mitts & windproof gloves

Debris Socks / Gaiters

Don’t you hate that feeling when you run through deep snow and it gets into the gap between the top of your shoe and your foot? It then tends to compact into a lump of ice which you try to hook out with your finger, inevitably pushing it deeper into your shoe! I’ve found that wearing Inov-8 debris socks prevents this happening, they are a comfortable sock with an extra piece of fabric that folds down and attaches to the shoe to stop anything getting inside.

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

debris socks stop snow getting into your shoes!

Emergency Kit

I still like to run in more remote areas even in winter in which case I’ll take a bit more emergency kit with me just in case I or anyone I’m with is forced to stop. In addition to the usual map, compass, whistle and mobile phone I carry a survival bag such as a Blizzard Bag, a torch and some spare food.

Blizzard Bag in use

Blizzard Bag in use

Rucksack

This extra, winter kit is obviously going to take up more room and so in winter I opt for a running rucksack rather than a bumbag. There are loads to choose from, I use the Montane Jaws 10 which is a very comfortable vest type pack made from water resistant material that helps keep the contents dry.

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Montane Jaws 10 running sack

Micro Spikes

I love getting out running on the trails in really cold conditions, even when the ground is icy.  I use Snowline SnowSpikes; stainless steel spikes attached to a rubber cradle which simply slips over your running shoe. They can be fitted in seconds and really do work, allowing you to run on hard packed snow and ice.

Snow Spikes for running on ice

Snowline SnowSpikes for running on ice

Ski Goggles

If you’ve ever been hit in the eye by a hailstone you’ll know it hurts. Even a soft, fluffy snowflake in the eye is a painful experience! If you’re running into the wind whilst it’s snowing you’ll find it almost impossible to keep your eyes open and you’ll probably end up trying to run with a hand in front of your face in an attempt to shield your eyes. I carry ski goggles if I am expecting to it to snow and these mean that I can keep running even in a heavy snow storm.

running in ski goggles

ski goggles for eye protection

So, winter’s coming but you can still get out trail and fell running – just get your kit on!

running in deep snow

bad weather? No, just challenging conditions!

fell running guide

Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

Using GPS Watches and Smart Phones in Mountain Marathons

Mountain Marathons are a true test of a runner’s fitness, campcraft and navigation skills.

Only those who have trained to run in mountainous terrain, practised carrying and using a minimal amount of equipment and honed their map and compass skills can hope to do well.  Mountain Marathons have traditionally been regarded as “map & compass” events with rules stating that GPS devices must not be used and runners have generally accepted this.

In the past this has not really been contentious as the term “GPS devices” meant dedicated units designed solely for the purpose of aiding navigation.

a traditional GPS device

a traditional GPS device

However, advances in technology have meant that running watches and smart phones now have GPS capability and can be used as aids to navigation, even if the user does not intend to use them as such. It is now common for runners to record their training and load the data onto programmes such as Strava and understandably a Mountain Marathoner will want to know how far they ran during the event. Whilst in all likelihood most competitors would never attempt to gain an advantage by using their watch or phone as a navigation aid, it is impossible to disprove that they haven’t and this puts the race organiser in a difficult position.

Why is a GPS watch or Smart Phone a navigation aid?

Some runners will claim that their Garmin watch or iPhone isn’t a navigation tool because it doesn’t have maps loaded onto it. Regardless of maps these devices can be used to help navigate in a number of ways, most noteably:

1 – Displaying Location:

Many modern GPS watches such as Garmin’s 910XT have the function to display a very accurate grid reference.
Imagine the situation – a competitor in poor visibility finds themselves disorientated, the lake they were expecting to appear out of the fog doesn’t do so and they realise that somehow they aren’t where they thought they were. How tempting would it be to press a couple of buttons on the watch to gain a grid reference accurate to within 1 metre!?

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

GPS watch showing 10 figure grid reference

There are also several free apps that can be loaded onto smartphones that give accurate grid references even when there is no mobile signal. So even if a runner only wants to “map their run” or take photos using the phone the capability and therefore the temptation to get an accurate position fix is there.

smartphone grid reference app

smartphone grid reference app

2 – Measuring Distance:

The ability to record distance travelled is a huge navigational aid and even basic GPS enabled sports watches have this as a function.  A simple press of a button will begin recording a lap distance allowing the wearer to measure distance travelled over the ground.  Devices without inbuilt GPS but using foot pods still give the user this function.

GPS watch displaying lap distance

GPS watch displaying lap distance

Here’s a scenario:

mountain marathon map

locate control number 52

Competitors trying to locate the re-entrant at control number 52 could use the bridleway and path to the east and find where it meets the change in angle of the boundary wall or fence (the solid red line) and use this as an attack point. If they then ran on a bearing of 250 degrees for 300 metres they would be at the control.  The ability to accurately measure 300 metres over rough and in this case marshy ground gives a runner a huge advantage over someone who is trying to estimate the distance by timing or pacing.

What about altimeter watches?

The use of altitude to assist with navigation is allowed, as long as the watch or the device is not a GPS device that could also be used to give location or measure distance.  These such devices use barometric pressure rather than satellite to measure the altitude.

Suunto Core vs Garmin 910XT

barometric & GPS altimeter watches

Altimeter watches such as the Suunto Core are similar in size and appearance to more sophisticated GPS watches and it is difficult for a race organiser or fellow competitor to see at a glance if a runner is wearing a GPS watch.

What if you want to use your phone or watch in an emergency?

The policy at events where GPS is not allowed is usually to allow a competitor to place the device in a sealed bag which must be intact at kit check at the end of the race. This means that the phone or watch can be accessed in an emergency situation but if the seal remains unbroken then it is clear that the device hasn’t been used.

How to use your GPS watch as a training tool:

The great thing about GPS watches is that they make it easier to develop your navigation skills. If you have such a watch but don’t know how to use the functions mentioned above then you’ve got an expensive device that you are not making the most of!

For example if you set the pace function to minutes per kilometre you can soon get used to how quickly you run over a variety of terrain. Set the lap function and run uphill for a kilometre, then turn round and go back down noting the time taken for both laps. Run on the rough stuff, on the boggy stuff, with and without a rucksack, walk up the very steep hills and all the time keep an eye on your pace. Make a note of your pace over all the different types of terrain you encounter.

Use the GPS to measure 100 metres and count how many steps it takes to run it. Again do this both up and downhill on a variety of terrain. You’ll be surprised how this changes with only a small change in slope angle or type of terrain. Over time you’ll be able to get an idea of your paces per 100 metres and so be able to apply this to scenarios such as in the previous example.

Use the altimeter and compare your time over a certain distance on the flat with the same distance that includes a few hundred metres of climb (use metres not feet as that is what the contours are shown in on the map).

With practice you’ll get the hang of estimating distance covered and the time it takes to do so over all different sorts of terrain.

If you’re not a confident navigator (you might already be scratching your head about re entrants and attack points) or want tuition to learn further skills then it’s a good idea to book some running specific navigation training.

A solution?

It is understandable that runners want to see and analyse their track after an event but unfortunately battery life on GPS watches isn’t sufficient that they last the whole of a 2 day Mountain Marathon and so the option of turning it on before the race and leaving it running for the 2 days isn’t viable. The logistics of overseeing and allowing competitors to turn on their devices, get a satellite fix then bag them up on the start line then do the reverse at the end of the day is just too time consuming for a race organiser who will have enough on his or her plate dealing with downloads, retirements, broken or lost dibbers, emergencies, results etc etc.

Using a tracking system that collects satellite data and records the route of the competitor may be an option. This would allow runners to analyse their own (and other runners’) route choices after the event but inevitably there would be a cost involved that would be passed on through the event entry fees.

So please try to understand it from a race organiser’s point of view. They know you wouldn’t dream of gaining an unfair advantage over your fellow competitors but it has to be a level playing field. If you are allowed to carry your smartphone or wear your GPS watch there is no way of anyone knowing if you pushed that little button a couple of times when you were lost in the fog!

fell running in bad visibility

“It would be handy to know our grid reference right now!”

fell running guide

1000 Mile Socks

Socks are just socks aren’t they?  They keep your feet warm and stop your shoes from rubbing.

Well maybe that’s so for some socks but others are a little bit more technical.  Take the1000 mile Ultra Performance sock.  Not only do they have extra padding at the toe and heel where most impact occurs, and airflow channels on the top to help let your feet breathe, they are also made with Cupron copper fibre technology.

1000 mile socks

So, what’s that?  Basically, copper oxide is integrated into the fibres of the sock in order to combat bacteria and fungus and so keep your feet healthy and odour free!

1000 mile running socks

 

Is it a gimmick?  Well fell running comes with the inherent risk of damp or wet feet.  I spend a lot of time with feet that are moist at best, soaking and muddy at worst and no doubt in an ideal climate for bacteria to thrive!  Anything that can help keep my feet healthy is worth considering and at a tenner a pair they aren’t going to break the bank.

The 1000 milers are comfortable and easy to put on (unlike some other brands!)  They also have a clever little touch; the toe seam is a different colour for different sizes – great if you have similar pairs for different members of the family.  I’m not sure if I’ll actually get one thousand miles out of them and I doubt they’ll make me run any faster but at least I won’t have smelly feet!

 

Fell Running Guide

What are the best shoes for Fell Running?

One question that I'm often asked is "What are the best shoes for Fell Running?"  The answer is simple; "It depends..."

what are the best shoes for fell running?

what are the best shoes for fell running?

Ok, simple but not very helpful!  That's because there are a number of things to consider before making a purchase so you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is the terrain like?
The term "Fell Running" covers a wide variety of terrain including rough mountains, steep grassy slopes and hard packed trails.  Different shoes will be suited to different types of terrain.

What will I use them for? 
Are they for for training or racing?  Your day to day trainer can afford to be a little bit heavier than your racing shoe where you might be concerned about saving weight. Likewise with grip; a steady run requires less grip than when you're going eyeballs out with your nearest rival breathing down your neck!

What's the weather like?
We know what the British climate is like and a firm, dry path can change into a quagmire after a week of heavy rain.  Shoes that were perfectly adequate one week can have you slip sliding away the next.

fell shoe grip comparison

different grips for different trips

Quite often a run or race will include several changes of terrain.  The Moelwyns fell race in Snowdonia starts and finishes with a long section of hard quarry track where road running shoes would be fine, however the seven miles in between involves steep, wet, grassy descents where a shoe with an aggressive grip is vital.  The 3 Peaks Race swaps between fell and road and runners have been known to change shoes for different sections.

Unfortunately there is no one shoe that is best suited to all types of terrain so you need to compromise.  A heavily studded shoe is not ideal for a hard, dry track but it will cope but a road or trail shoe with little tread won't cope with wet or muddy conditions.  If in doubt go with the worst scenario. (or mix your trail and fell shoes, one on each foot!)

trail and fell shoes

mixed terrain? you could always try this!

So it seems that you probably need more than one pair of shoes, in fact you could convince yourself that you require several.  Personally I classify the type of running I do into 3 categories with a type of shoe for each one:

Winter training and racing.
This requires a shoe with the most aggressive grip.  Weight is less of a concern.

Summer racing.
This still requires quite an aggressive tread but I look for something lighter in weight.

Summer training.
This requires less grip and weight is not as important.  It makes up the majority of my running so needs to be comfortable,

There are several shoe manufacturers to choose from.  The once ubiquitous Walsh is nowhere near as popular as it was although some runners still swear by it.  Inov-8 seem to have taken over as the leading brand and have a huge range of shoes to choose from. Salomon have also appeared on the market and have a range of models to suit different conditions.

Personally I use Inov-8 shoes for the majority of my training and racing.  The Mudclaw is my weapon of choice for winter running and racing, it's super aggressive sole is what I have found copes best with the Peak District bogs.

inov8 debris sock

Mudclaws for winter running

For most other races out of the winter season I opt for Inov-8 X Talons.  The 212 are a good lightweight shoe with an aggressive grip that work well in a range of conditions.  I find these too lightweight for day to day training so they are saved as my race shoes.

X Talons for summer racing

X Talons for summer racing

For the majority of my running I need a comfortable shoe that can cope with a mix of terrain and I am currently on my third pair of Roclites.  These are my favourite workhorses and have served me well for a number of years.  I used them for the Paddy Buckley Round as I needed a shoe that would cope with the mountainous terrain yet provide a reasonable amount of cushioning and comfort.  I liked them so much that I literally wore them until they fell off my feet!

inov-8 roclite

Roclites, my faithful workhorses - they didn't look like that for long!

If I could only have one pair of shoes it would be the Roclites, for me they are the best all rounder.

Much depends on personal preference and I do have other shoes including less aggressive trail shoes and even a pair of road shoes for the odd run from home.  However these are my top three:

Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

my top 3: Roclite, X Talon, Mudclaw

So the best shoes for fell running?  It depends on a number of things and you're most likely going to need more than one pair.  One thing I'm sure of; there's always room in the cupboard for another pair!

Note - I am not sponsored by Inov-8, this post is based on my experiences of shoes that I have purchased myself.

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Salomon Fellraiser Review

Salomon’s Fellraiser is a recent addition to the ever growing fell running shoe market.

My only experience of wearing Salomon shoes is their XA Pro trail running shoe which aren’t really designed for most of the running I do so I was keen to get my feet into a pair of their dedicated fell shoes and put them to the test.

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

Salomon Fellraiser fell shoes

The Fellraisers aren’t the lightest fell running shoe on the market, my pair of size 6.5 tipping the scales at 542g but then they aren’t designed as a stripped down, super light race shoe and they look and feel like they are built to last.  The uppers have a tough, stitched rand with a breathable mesh which lets water in, but also allows the shoe to drain and dries quickly.  A substantial toe cap gives good protection for when running quickly over rocky ground. The 6mm drop from heel to toe makes them a lower profile alternative to Salomon’s more established Speedcross shoe.

Salomon Fellraiser

substantial toe protection

The outsole sports aggressive, multi-directional lugs that feel like they are made of a harder compound than the Speedcross’ chevrons.  Hopefully this means a good amount of mileage before the lugs wear down and grip is compromised.  The lugs extend all the way to the toe giving grip even at the “toe off” phase of the running stride.

Salomon Fellraiser outsole

good lugs!

The Fellraisers use the Quicklace™ system that allows the lace to be quickly pulled tight with the excess then tucked away into a little pocket on the tongue.  An OrthoLite® liner gives added cushioning whilst claiming to keep the feet healthier due to its fungus resistant properties!

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

Quicklace system with tongue pouch

How did they perform?

First impressions were that the Fellraisers were a little narrower than I was used to, not uncomfortably so and in fact giving a reassuring responsive feel but maybe a little too tight for very long races.  However I took them straight out of the box and onto a 13 mile, multi terrain run with no ill effects.

The most essential feature of any fell running shoe is how well they grip in a range of conditions.  The Fellraisers gave a secure grip on short grass and felt very reassuring in the peaty Peak District mud.  In wet conditions I didn’t have any problems running over rough gritstone but on limestone I found them to be pretty slippy to say the least!

The Quicklace system kept the shoes tight without needing any adjustment and whilst it worked well in dry conditions I found it to be a bit tricky to undo when the lace was muddy or gritty when it tended to clog up.

Trail running with Salomon Fellraisers

Fellraisers on test

Verdict

The Fellraiser makes a good training or race shoe over soft ground.  They perform particularly well in muddy conditions and so would make an excellent choice for winter training and racing.  As with most fell shoes care needs to be exercised if running quickly over wet rock!  They come up a little tight on me so definitely try before you buy.
The 6mm drop is a good compromise; close enough to the ground to feel stable but offering some elevation for runners who don’t want a “barefoot” structure.  Aesthetically the shoes looks good (I particularly like the women’s purple model!)

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Mammut MTR 201 Trail Shoes Review

Mammut MTR 201 Trail Shoes

Most of my running is done on terrain that requires a good grip, especially in winter when even some of the less arduous paths and trails are still muddy.  That means wearing a full on fell running shoe but with spring, and hopefully some warm, sunnier days on the horizon, some of the trails will dry up enough to warrant wearing a trail shoe.

Mammut isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when thinking of trail running but they are becoming more recognised by trail runners, as testified by their sponsorship of the Dig Deep Peak District races including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District.  So I was keen to see how their MTR 201 Tech Low shoes coped with some fast running on the Peak District trails.

putting the MTR 201's to test in the Peak District

putting the MTR 201’s to test in the Peak District

Fell running shoes tend to be pretty lightweight so I was expecting the 201’s to be heavier than I am used to and indeed they are, although at 540 grams for a pair of size 7’s they aren’t too heavy and certainly didn’t have me thinking I was wearing lead boots!

Mammut MTR 201 trail shoes

a pair of size 7 weigh 540g

Straight out of the box they felt comfortable and not too “clunky”, something I’ve found with trail shoes in the past.  Mammut haven’t gone down the “barefoot” road and the 9 mm heel drop is slightly more than the 6 mm of my fell shoes but to be honest wasn’t too noticeable on undulating ground.  I’m usually size 6.5 but needed a half size up, the 7’s fitting fine.  The upper is a mesh construction which should breathe well and hints at being good for summer training.  A rubber toe cap gives some protection from stones and stubbed toes.

Mammut MTR 201 Trail Shoe

lightweight, breathable, mesh uppers and rubber toe protection

The Gripex™  sole has a much shallower tread than all my fell shoes and whilst it coped well on short, dry grass and hard packed trail it did have me sliding around on the odd muddy patch that I encountered so I would only want to use it for dry conditions.

Mammut MTR 201

gripex™ sole, good in the dry not in the mud

My first run in the 201’s was a fast paced 20 minute effort on hard packed trail and I was pleased with the level of comfort and response.  In particular I liked the fact that I didn’t feel any pressure on my Achilles tendon as I find some shoes are too high in the heel cup.

One thing I don’t like is the Speed Lace system.  This is a small plastic toggle designed to allow you to pull the laces tight and stow the excess away without tying a conventional knot.  I found that once you’d pulled the laces tight you couldn’t then tuck them away and needed to tie the usual bow (which was made more difficult by the plastic toggle!)  On top of that the toggle is fiddly to release, even indoors with brand new shoes let alone with a bit of grit on the laces or with cold hands.  It’s not a major issue, you can just take the toggle off the laces and tie them normally.

Speed Lace system - a fiddly faff!

Speed Lace system – a fiddly faff!

The RRP for the 2o1’s is £120, roughly in line with the likes of Salomon and Inov-8 and although not the most commonly seen trail shoe, Mammut are stocked by Outside in Hathersage.

Verdict:
A comfy, breathable shoe with a moderate heel to toe drop.  Ideal for trail running or racing in dry conditions.

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Petzl Nao

Petzl Nao 575 Lumen Headtorch

Some types of trail and fell running only require a modestly bright head torch giving a couple of hours battery life.  For more serious ventures you need a torch with a bit more power and one that gives you several hours of battery life on a bright setting.  For example an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon requires runners to spend upward of 8 hours in the dark during which they must navigate across the notoriously difficult Bleaklow, whilst 24 hour rounds such as the Bob Graham require route finding in the high mountains during the hours of darkness.  In these situations, having a powerful head torch to see the route and not having to stop to change batteries saves both time and hassle.  So is there a head torch that is up to the task?  Step forward the new Petzl Nao 575 lumen.

Petzl Nao 575 lumen head torch

Petzl Nao (2014) 575 lumen head torch

The first version of the Nao got good reviews for its brightness and Reactive Lighting feature but fell short of expectations on battery life.  The 2014 model not only has an upgrade in brightness from 315 to 575 lumens it also gives a much better battery life.  I tested Petzl’s claim of 8 hours on constant lighting at 120 lumens and the battery lasted 7 hrs 50 mins before the torch flashed a warning and dropped to Reserve Mode (a dim light of about 20 lumens which should last for an hour)

Reactive Lighting – is it a gimmick?
When I heard about this my first thoughts were yes.  However I then found myself navigating on a night run and being dazzled by the glare from my laminated map and having to manually adjust my torch’s brightness.  When I tested the Reactive setting on the Nao I didn’t think it was working – the change in brightness was instant as I looked down to open my bum bag and then looked up again to continue running.  I also realised the other benefit of the Reactive Lighting function; improved battery life.  As you look at close objects such as the ground immediately in front of you the torch dims, thus saving battery life.  Only when you point your head to the distance does the torch illuminate on full power.  If you don’t want the feature you can simply twist the switch to turn it on to constant lighting with a choice of two brightness settings (the default settings are 480 lumens or 120 lumens but can be altered using the OS software)

I’ve heard stories that the reactive lighting gets confused in foggy conditions or by your condensing breath in cold, damp conditions.  I haven’t really found this to be a problem although the torch was affected by the glare from the reflective trim on someone’s rucksack when I was following them and it kept flaring from bright to dim.  I don’t feel this is a major problem because if it annoys you then you can simply switch to constant lighting mode.

Programmable Power
A clever feature of the new Nao is that you can customise the brightness using Petzl’s OS software.  You simply plug the torch into a computer with the supplied USB lead and you can change the torch’s settings.  For example if you know that you are going to need the torch for five hours you can tweak the settings to allow this.  The software allows you to set up different profiles for different activities.  To be honest, unless you are going to be in darkness for over 5 hours you probably won’t need this feature.  However for an overnight event such as the High Peak Marathon it is really useful to know how long your battery is going to last! Many people won’t use this software but the techie minded may love it!

customising the torch using Petzl's software

customising the torch using Petzl’s OS software

How easy is it to use?
Some torches can be quite confusing to operate requiring a sequence of press, double press, press and hold etc to select the desired light but not the Nao.  One big button needs a single twist to turn on (from the locked off position which prevents accidental turning on) and another twist to change between brightnesses.  A long twist changes from constant to reactive mode.  One thing I really like is that the big button is easy to find and twist even when wearing bulky gloves.  This is a huge advantage that the Nao has over Petzl’s other Reactive torch the RXP which is terribly fiddly to use.

A feature that is missing is a flashing / strobe. It’s probably the least used function on your torch but considering that the Nao is the type of torch that you are most likely to take on remote runs I’m surprised that it is missing.

The Lithium Ion battery pack is easy to disconnect and recharge, it simply plugs in to a USB charger (so can be recharged via 12v socket in a car).  A full recharge takes around 5 hours and three green LED’s indicate battery level.  These also illuminate briefly when the torch is turned off so you know how much battery is left.  In an emergency the battery can be replaced by two AAA’s but this gives reduced brightness and no Reactive Lighting functionality.

recharging the Nao's battery

recharging the battery (note the green LEDs)

The Nao is comfortable to wear and well balanced.  The whole unit weighs 185g with the head and battery units being connected by a simple elastic and cord system.  An additional over the head strap is supplied but I didn’t feel the need to use it.

Petzl Nao head torch

well balanced and comfortable

Performance
I’ve been using the Nao over the winter for both guided running and training.  I was particularly impressed when on a trip to an unfamiliar forest I was able to run on wet, technical, narrow trails at full pace; it was leg speed rather than illumination that was the limiting factor!  As much as the brightness it is the wide pool of light that the Nao gives off that is impressive.  Some torches give a narrow beam but the Nao allows you to use peripheral vision rather than you having to turn your head to see objects at the side.

I chose the Petzl Nao for my Charlie Ramsay Round. I needed a torch with enough power to illuminate the rough steep terrain (especially the descent off Chno Dearg) and yet enough battery power to last through the night with no faffing with battery changes. The reactive function also really came into its own, dimming every time I looked at the map then seamlessly brightening as I looked back at the terrain. I also pre-programmed the torch to give me 5 hours of battery life so I knew that it would last until dawn.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop on the Ramsay round

The power and spread of the Nao’s light is really noticeable when you compare it with other torches. When running in a group one thing you need to consider is that if you run behind someone with a dimmer torch you will put them in their own shadow!

the Nao outshines lesser torches

the Nao outshines lesser torches

Is it worth it?
Over £100 is a lot to pay for a head torch especially as there are some decent torches around for less than half the price.  But having used the Nao and got used to how comfortable and easy to operate it is and how it literally outshines the opposition I’d say it is definitely worth it. For serious winter fell running or for anyone considering night runs where both brightness and long battery life are important factors, the Petzl Nao is a great choice.

Nao 2014, good choice for serious fell runners

Petzl Nao 575 lumen, a good choice for serious fell runners

Verdict

Pros: Great battery life, easy to use whilst wearing gloves, simple sequence functions, reactive feature is excellent when map reading.

Cons: Expensive, no strobe function.

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Fell Running Guide