Ecco Launches Trail Running Shoe For 2015
We don't make a habit of 'just popping over to Sweden' for a 90-minute odd trail run, but that's pretty much exactly what we did last week when Scandinavian shoe giant, Ecco, launched its new Biom FL trail-running shoe at the Kullaberg nature reserve in the south west of the country.
First though, having crossed The Bridge - yes that bridge, fans of Scandinavian television film noir - we were sat down for a briefing on the new shoes, which are due to be launched in early 2015.
One Big Brand
Ecco, if you're not aware of the brand, is best known for what you might call 'comfortable shoes' and produces some 20 million pairs of them every year. It owns its own tanneries and factories in China, Indonesia, Portugal, Slovakia and Thailand and has 18,500 employees worldwide. It is, in other words, big, the third largest casual shoe producer in the world in fact.
Which means that when it does stuff, it does stuff properly. It;'s now, for example, the fourth largest golf shoe maker in the world. And we're big fans of the Biom Terrain hiking boot for its blend of lightness, comfort and grip. Which brings us to the new Biom FL trail running shoe.
The Biom bit in the name refers to a 3D last developed after a research programme to scan more than a 1,000 pairs of athletes' feet and based on 'natural motion'. The shape of the shoe is markedly asymmetrical with the idea being that the big toe can work naturally, as it would barefoot, and with plenty of room for the entire forefoot to spread out in a natural way.
Looking at the shoe, you can see that it's narrow in the instep and heel, but quite roomy up front. There are other interesting touches too: the upper is designed to be light, very flexible and pretty much seamless to maximise comfort, there are heel and toe reinforcements using lightweight kevlar-based fabric and the footbed - 'sock liner' - has a silicone print on its surface to help minimise any slipping within the shoe.
The drop from heel to toe in the shoe is 7mm for men and 6mm for women, that's around halfway between traditional running shoes and 'zero drop' barefoot shoes and intended to encourage a 'natural' forefoot strike running style in the modern idiom.
All About Direct Injection
All of which is quite modern, but not exactly ground breaking. What is different though, is that instead of the EVA cushioning generally used for running shoes, Ecco has used a directly injected PU midsole, which is far less prone to degradation in use.
A simple way of comparing the two materials is that EVA contains tiny bubbles, which give it a distinctive spring and save weight while the PU is more fibrous. In time all those bubbles break down, which is why running shoe soles deform with use and eventually need to be replaced.
The downside is that EVA isn't as 'springy' in feel and also tends to be slightly heavier - at 362g per shoe, the Biom FL is around 45g per shoe heavier, than, say, the inov8 Race Ultra we're currently using for all-round running. Not the end of the world, but worth knowing.
Interestingly, Ecco has addressed the firmness issue slightly by using a plate under the forefoot for stone protection - hurrah! - but leaving a softer area under the heel, which also flares outwards for added stability. Finally, the direct injection technology makes for a really strong, seamless bond between the upper and the sole unit and also means the area under the foot is contoured for optimum 3D fit rather than being flat.
Other stuff we wrote down includes that there's a soft rubber outsole with plenty of serious lugs for all-round grip both on rocks and harder surfaces and when it gets soft and sloppy underfoot, that alongside the fabric version we tried out, there's also going to be a light but tough yak leather variant - Ecco also uses yak for some of its hiking boots - and, come autumn 2015, a waterproof Gore-Tex version.
Tales Of Trail RunningTerror
We all agreed that the shoe looked and sounded jolly good and pottered off for a convivial dinner accompanied by trail running tales of terror recounted by assorted Scandinavian ultra-running nutters. All of whom, unfortunately, were equally chipper when we reconvened for an early morning trail run which took place at what turned out to be 7 am, UK time.
The shoes, since that's what this is all about rather than our dismay at the timing of the run, felt decently comfortable straight out of the box, with plenty of forefoot room as promised and decent heel hold too. One thing we did notice straight away, was that on the firm ground of the car-park and on a short stretch of tarmac in mid-run, the shoes do feel quite firm underfoot with little of the springiness you get from EVA soles.
That's worth noting if you're looking for a door to trail typo of shoe or run in an area, like our local Peak District, where there are plenty of trails surfaced with rock slabs or similar. Once we were off road and running on forested tracks complete with a mix of softer ground, roots and rocks, that harshness pretty much disappeared.
The route was a pretty good test ground for the shoes being undulating with lots of short sharp ascents and descents and with a mix of roots, rocks, dead, wet leaves and softer surfaces too with the wet leaves covering slippery rocks and roots making it a real test of grip in places.
The Biom FLs coped really well, mostly we just got on with running and trusted the shoes to do their thing, although visually the rock resembled Peak gritstone, it was a little less grippy but the soft rubber of the soles mostly hung on in there just fine and we had no issues with traction on the short, steep ascents either.
The shoes were also decent through gnadgery little clusters of roots and rock with decent nimbleness and ground feel. And because they do sit quite low to the ground and thanks partly we suspect to the flared heel profile, we never felt unstable despite a distinctly tottery left ankle and there was enough underfoot protection to ward off sharp rocks underfoot without sacrificing too much ground feel.
So far we're impressed. The Biom Fl fits nicely and looks great in a contemporary trail-running shoe sort of way and it very definitely is a running shoe rather than a multi-sport outdoor shoe. On the trail it was mostly transparent in a good way - the soft rubber gave great all round grip and the shoe felt nimble and sure footed even on more nadgery terrain with great comfort straight out of the box.
It's definitely at its best on softer and mixed surfaces though and felt firm and a little slappy underfoot on a brief tarmac section; some of that will be because it's a low, stable-feeling shoe, but we suspect a little is also down to the firmer nature of the PU midsole cushioning.
The pay-off for that should be significantly better sole life, but it may make the shoe less appealing if your regular runs are door to trail with pavement sections or incorporate a lot of hard-surfaced tracks. For pure trail running though, of the type we did in Sweden, the shoe feels great and sits nicely somewhere between the minimalism of pure barefoot shoes and more traditional designs.
The Ecco Biom FL trail running shoe is in the shops in early 2015, price to follow, but somewhere in the region of £125 we think. More details of the current Ecco outdoor range at shopeu.ecco.com/uk/en/sport.
Just In Ecco Biom Hike
You might also be interested in our first impressions of Ecco's Biom Hike walking boot which uses the same Biom fit and direct injection technology as the Biom FL trail runners, but in a leather boot aimed squarely at all-round use below the snow line.