Best Trail Running Gear of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012

Twice a year, every company that’d want its products in an REI shows up in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show. As usual, iRunFar was there to check out the latest and greatest. Here are the favorite GPS, headlamp, and winter running products that we saw. Check back tomorrow for info on our favorite shoes from the show.

From the Know-Why-You’re-So-Ridiculously-Tired Dept.

Suunto Ambit (March 2012 – $500 w/o HR belt, $550 with)
Suunto’s long made high-end technical watches and wrist-top devices for the outdoor adventurer. With the GPS-based Ambit, Suunto raises things to a whole new level. Suunto Ambit silverI’m honestly fumbling regarding where to start with this one, so I’m dropping some key features in bullet points:

  • The Ambit has a GPS, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, 3D compass, and, optionally, a heart rate monitor.
  • FusedSpeed is a feature that blends GPS and accelerometer data to provide more responsive pace and speed info. The barometer also improves the accuracy of the vertical speed.
  • Up to 50 HOURS of GPS tracking … when you take a point once a minute. Even with the GPS recording set at every second, the unit has an impressive 15 hour battery life.
  • Integration of Suunto’s real-time Training Effect and Recovery time tools.
  • A ridiculously resilient screen and band. I’m pretty sure it’s way more durable than your arm. It’s also water resistant to 100 meters. That should be enough for most of us!

Aside from the Ambit’s hallmark functions, the interface easily switches between different sports and their associated screen elements. The watch is fully integrated with Movescount.com, which also provides the Ambit with upgradeable software. The watch also changes from positive to negative screen and back (i.e., black text on white background or the reverse).

We’ll be reviewing the Ambit in full later. For now, check out the Suunto’s Ambit page for more.

From the Light-Up-The-Night Dept.

Petzl Nao (July 2012 – $175)
Petzl NaoJust when you thought you’d seen everything in headlamps and that brighter, lighter, or longer were the only differentiating factors, along comes the Petzl Nao. At 355 lumens max, the dual-LED Nao (pronounced “now”) is brighter than the “Oh Sh!t!”-bright Petzl Ultra, but what will really wow you is its Reactive Lighting. Simply put, the Nao’s Reactive Lighting uses a sensor to automatically adjust brightness. Look up and out for the next trail blaze and you get the full lighthouse-power of the Nao. Point your head down at a map – or, more likely, in the face of your running companion – and the Nao dims to a much lower brightness. Start running again and the Nao returns to its original moderate brightness. The effect is so subtle that you really have to pay attention to it. As all of the outputs are reprogrammable through your computer, you can adjust the transition time between brightnesses to really highlight this effect.

While it’s awesome to have a headlamp that will automatically minimize the chances that your trail running buddy will donkey kick you for continuously blinding him with 355 lumens, Petzl primarily touts the Reactive Lighting feature for its battery saving capability. There are two pre-programmed constant (i.e., non-reactive) output settings, 315 and 88 lumens, that last 1 hour and 20 minutes and 8 hours, respectively. Of course, if you’ll be out running for longer in the dark, you can reprogram the Nao for longer durations. There are also a high and low setting in Reactive Lighting mode that Petzl claims last 4 hours and 40 minutes and approximately 8 hours respectively.

The Nao fits comfortably with good distribution of weight in the front and back. Speaking of weight, we weighed the Nao at 6.7 ounces (190 grams).

For more information, you can head on over to Petzl’s Nao page.

Black Diamond Polar-Icon (August 2012 – $90)
Black Diamond Polar IconFor the past few years, Black Diamond’s Roch Horton has been sharing a handful of headlamps that you’re likely to have never heard about. Generally, the few lucky enough to have a Roch-Horton-Special BD headlamp had one of BD’s latest headlamps with a separate, detachable battery pack that accepted rechargeable or off-the-shelf batteries. In essence, that meant you could use Black Diamond’s latest and great headlamp without concern for the unit’s battery life (if it was rechargable) and without the battery weight on your head.

With the Black Diamond Polar Icon, we can now all have a Roch Horton Special. The modified Icon headlamp takes 4 AA batteries and, with batteries, weighs in at a claimed 8.1 ounces (230 grams). The light will spout 200 lumens from its main LED while two white and two red 35-lumen, low-power LEDs will give you longer-lived lighting options. Black Diamond is touting the headlamp as an extreme cold weather option as you can stow the battery unit against your core thereby maintaining the batteries’ effectiveness in low temps. However, there are advantages for those of us who but rarely run in the dark in sub-zero F temps, namely the option for swapping out external battery packs while taking most of the headlamp’s weight off your head. This should be perfect for the next bandit night run in the Wasatch…

From the Snow-Will-Not-Break-My-Heart Dept.

Yaktrax Run (Fall 2012 – $40)
Yaktrax RunFor the past few years, the Yatrax Pro (review) have been my favorite all-around winter running traction device. The main issue with the Yaktrax Pro was durability and a much more minor issue was traction while running on pure ice. This autumn, Yaktrax will debut an even better product for our kind – the Yaktrax Run. With the Run, Yaktrax upped the durability of their rubber compound while replacing the forefoot coils with six spikes. The front spikes should provide killer grip on ice while the rear coils will kill it on packed snow. The forefoot spikes are embedded in two plates that can easily be removed should you want to run without them.

In medium, a pair of Yaktrax Run protos weigh in at 9.0 ounces as opposed to 5.0 ounces for the current Yaktrax Pro and 12.4 ounces for Kahtoola Micorspikes. Like the Pros, the Run have a velcro strap over the forefoot to ensure a secure fit. Unlike the Pro, the Run’s vecro strip has reflective highlights.

Note: Yaktrax is also working to increase the durability of its Pro model.

Call for Comments

  • Are you psyched about trying any of the above products later this year?
  • Looking to learn about any other product categories (other than shoes)?

Ps. Yes, the headings are a tribute to /. founder CmdrTaco. Yes, I am that kinda geek… and, yes, I’m okay with it.

There are 21 comments

  1. David

    What a fantastic idea for the Petzl Nao. I almost can't believe I haven't seen that type of technology before; it seems so obvious!

    The Yaktrax Run a nice upgrade. Unfortunately the $40 price tag takes away the affordability that the traditional Yaktrax provided. However, if the durability pans out the $40 may be worth it.

  2. Brad Koenig

    Did you see any new super lightweight shells that are "real" waterproof and windproof? (for being caught on top of a mountain in a surprise storm, etc)

    By the way, the Petzl Nao sounds very interesting. All that light would be nice for those very technical 100s (like Massanutten or Hardrock). At 6.7 ounces it barely weighs more than the Myo XP (6.2 oz, I think?). Also, to have 88 lumens for a full 8 hours (regulated) is fantastic! Except the problem with regulated units is that they shut down with only a few minutes warning (versus the slow dimming over many hours with the unregulated units). It looks like the Nao takes a special battery pack, so for a race like Hardrock (being out there for a long, long time), I would have to buy an extra battery pack and have it waiting for me in a drop bag (I prefer to run 100s without crew or pacer). I think that I will stick with the more simpler solutions (something like the Myo XP, or Tikka XP2, depending on the course). Also, the reactive lighting feature sounds "neat", but I don't think we need it, right? (I'm running for hours and hours looking ahead at the trail, and don't need the light to adjust at all).

    Do you have any more specs on that BD lamp? (like battery life at specific output levels, etc).

    1. Anonymous

      I'd also be interested in any new super lightweight shells, I've been looking at the patagonia houdini as something I could bring along if the weather looks potentially inclement

  3. DDDDDDavid.R

    That Suunto watch is sweet! Bryon, about how thick/big is the unit, are we talking Garmin 310 or Garmin 210 thickness/size. I use to use the T6 from Suunto great watch! just no GPS, how does it compare in size to that?

  4. Hone

    500 bucks for a watch! 175 bucks for a headlamp!!

    I run a couple of hours every day in the dark and my $20 headlamp and 40 dollar watch work great.

    I am not saying that this stuff isnt cool but I am starting to think I was born in the wrong social class to be a runner.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Hone,
      For those without big trail running gear budgets, one can think of such items as akin to an F1 car. They're damned expensive and sure as heck don't need one, but someday some of that ridiculously cool technology is gonna be found in the beater car we drive.

      For example, just a few years ago a basic GPS watch would have set you back many hundreds of dollars while today I can find sub-$100 GPS watches from multiple vendors. I'd imagine that in the next five years (and probably sooner) most $50 running watches will come with a GPS feature of some sort.

      Just my two cents.

    2. grae

      Hone, you must be in the social class one notch above me. I run in a Walmart watch that cost me $9.99. This sweet piece even has a velcro band so I can strap it on over a jacket or shirt that has those stupid thumb loops. Plus the buttons are big and on the face so I can actually work them while wearing super thick winter gloves.

      1. Hone

        To tell you in honest truth I never wear a watch in training or races anymore. It stresses me out too much. I just run by feel and find out how lousy I did when I see the clock at the finish line.

  5. Charles Miske

    The T6 only had enough memory to store maybe 10 hours of training data. That was useless on any multi-day adventure, and many long days hiking or running, since it's hard to upload the data on the trail.

    It would be nice if the Ambit had real memory and could store hundreds of hours of data – we'll see.

  6. Ellie

    Interesting about YakTrax Run, I had given up on the Pros which seem fine for roads or maybe lower mileage but after wanting to use them on the trails I found them slipping off and then invariably breaking. As of a couple of runs I am on my way to being a Kahtoola convert – they might be heavier but they appear to stay on, provide great grip on slick snow and ice and overall appear to be much sturdier so will last longer – worth the weight. Also super fast to get on and off so can quickly slip them off for the rare bare section of tarmac. May give the YakTrax Run a go but right now I think Kahtoolas are worth the bit more money and weight.

  7. Kevin

    Looks like the Ambit is good for 50 hours with a 60 second refresh rate and "only" 15 hours with the one second refresh. Any idea what rate would be appropriate for the slower pace of a mid-pack 100 miler? No idea how often I'd need a refresh for it to be accurate.

    1. Anonymous

      Keep in mind that's "battery life" not "data storage" – the battery life on the T6 was about a year (no GPS) but it would only hold 10 hours of data.

      Depending on how many satellite locks you have, you'll be generally between 13 and 50 feet of correct on each measurement. The software then extrapolates the lines into a course and rounds off the errors. The longer the distance, the less important it is to measure frequently, since it'll all average out pretty good.

      So, imho, for a 5k one second might be appropriate if you'll be an age group leader, but for a hundred miler, I think 60 seconds would probably be fine, since you won't be looking at your watch a lot, and you won't be attempting to shave 12 seconds off your finish. YMMV

    1. Bryon Powell

      Actually, a number of authorities recognize the interchangeable use of ensure and insure. Regardless, I think I can rest assured in thinking folks understood my use of the word insure. However, I've changed it to satisfy the more conservative grammarians out there. :-)

      Do feel free to shoot me a note if you'd ever like to suggest corrections to one of iRunFar's articles. I do appreciate others' help in keeping iRunFar up to snuff.

  8. Kix

    Oh, I think I am in love! The Suunto Ambit looks amazing. I have been looking for something like it for a year or so. The price tag is steep but, like Bryon says, wait a bit and see what happens. I am not much of a techie but, I like that the Suunto Ambit has everything all in one unit. Move over shoe collection.

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