From Mountaineering to Mountain Trails: Kailas’s Journey to Trail Running

In 2003, passionate mountain biker, skier, and outdoorsman Baggio Zhong founded the brand Kailas to address the needs of China’s growing population of campers and trekkers. As it happened, his friendship with numerous dirtbag mountaineers led to the brand developing and producing a growing selection of technical mountaineering products for these same friends.

Kailas, named after Mount Kailash, a famous Tibetan pilgrimage mountain, soon found itself as a leading figure in China’s nascent mountaineering community. For instance, the brand’s been a sponsor of the Chinese Mountaineering Association’s guide school since the school’s founding. Since 2006, Kailas has sponsored athletes attempting first ascents and new routes on more than 30 peaks as part of its Unclimbed Peak Project while also sponsoring events like the Yangshuo Climbing Festival and the Kailas Ice Climbing Festival. Along the way, the brand has won international industry (ISPO) awards for its ice screws, ice axes, technical climbing packs, harnesses, and more.

Kailas - Unclimbed Peak Project

A target peak from Kailas’s Unclimbed Peak Project. All photos courtesy of Kailas.

After nearly a decade of Kailas making camping, trekking, and mountaineering gear, outsole manufacturer Vibram approached Kailas about making apparel for the fledgling Vibram Hong Kong 100km (HK100) around 2012. While Kailas didn’t make any dedicated trail running gear at the time, they agreed to make running shirts as well as hoodies for the event. HK100 co-founder and recently elected International Trail Running Association President, Janet Ng, reflects that Kailas’s mountaineering heritage, which requires lightweight products that don’t sacrifice any performance, suits it well in the trail running space. Her favorite Kailas product at moment is the HK100 race shirt, which stands up to hot, humid runs on Hong Kong’s trails.

“They were very open to ideas and suggestions, and I think having that mountaineering background helped… you need light equipment but without compromising the performance at the high-end technical quality,” said Janet, of Kailas’s gear.

Kailas - Hong Kong 100k

Kailas runners preparing to run the Vibram Hong Kong 100k.

Back in January 2015, Janet invited iRunFar’s Bryon Powell to run the HK100. At the race, he received a short-sleeve Kailas running shirt. Given it was winter back home, the shirt stayed on his shelf back in Moab, Utah until summer rolled around. When it finally did, he discovered just how amazing a running shirt it was. It instantly became one of his favorite hot weather shirts, such that he wore it for many days while running across Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument in 2017 and it continues in his summertime shirt rotation through its seventh summer.

Still, it wasn’t until 2017 that Kailas really started promoting its trail running products, even within China, and by 2018 it had a fully-fleshed-out, dedicated trail running kit, including shoes and packs. Admittedly, the brand was hesitant to expand into trail running shoes. It did have one model, the Fuga, starting in summer 2016, but didn’t want to rush in while it found the right suppliers and dialed in its shoes. That didn’t take long, as in 2019 the Kailas Fuga Pro trail running shoe won an ISPO award on the basis of the shoe’s AWS 2.0 system that allows ideal foot wrapping from the upper.

Kailas Fuga Pro

The award-winning Kailas Fuga Pro.

New Zealand’s Scotty Hawker, who’s made the podium at both UTMB and CCC in Kailas shoes, ran in the brand’s shoes for the first time in late 2018 as a member Team Vibram. He did so simply to test a new trail shoe featuring a Vibram outsole, but liked it well enough to choose it from his large quiver of shoes to run the HK100 in January 2019. In that timeframe, he also gave Kailas feedback on their trail shoe, particularly about the brand’s hallmark lacing system ported from the company’s mountaineering footwear and wanting firmer EVA in the forefoot midsole. He was impressed when he received a pair of prototype shoes incorporating his ideas a few weeks later. He signed on as a Kailas athlete in February 2019.

“Seeing the amount of effort and attention to detail… the whole process of research and development…. [It was] really cool being part of that process.”

Scotty spoke to the support and flexibility he experienced while working with the brand.

“It’s nice for me… being sponsored and backed by a brand that I really feel had my back… that listened and had understanding. It’s nice to know they’ve got your back through all the ups and downs.”

Scotty Hawker - Kalias - Kamil Sustiak

Scotty Hawker running in Kailas gear.

Scotty continues to be impressed be the brand’s eagerness for feedback and desire to improve. At the moment, he’s rocking the Kailas Fuga Pro 3 and he insists he’d be running in the trail shoe, which he loves on big mountain runs in New Zealand as much as for UTMB or CCC, even if he wasn’t running for the brand.

Janet also spoke to the quality of the shoe, saying, “The [trail shoe] I wear at the moment is the Fuga Pro 3. It’s super comfortable, super grippy…. I’m pretty picky with shoes, I’ve got to be like, wow [when choosing a shoe].”

Kailas continues to grow, both overall as well as into the trail running and mountaineering world. Within China, Kailas has more than 350 of its own stores as well as being found in more than 650 additional outdoor shops. With its commitment to trail running, not only in China but also around the world, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Kailas in the future.

Kailas Store - Made to Climb

One of the more than 350 stand-alone Kailas stores in China.

[Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by Kailas. You can purchase Kailas running products on its website and in many Amazon stores around the world.]