For all the products discussed on TreeHugger there are only a few we get to test, to see if any of those suppliers claims hold water. Late in 2008 I was sent a pair of trail running shoes by END Footwear to thrash about. The names stands for Environmentally Neutral Design. This is those shoes story.(I’ll try not to rehash our previous coverage of END in this review, but would suggest looking up the links at the end, for more info, including an extended interview.)
Light as A Feather (Almost)
The Stumptown 12oz wears its weight on its sleeve, or at least in its model name. And that was the first thing I noticed when I lifted them out of the box. They were just so light, they seemed hardly there. And when pulled onto my feet the sensation remained.
Of course they do weigh something, so it was off to the kitchen scales to determine just how much. 620 grams (22 oz) At first this confused me no end, but I twigged that END must give the weights for a single shoe, not a pair. Anyhow for a more scientific comparison I weighed other shoes on the same scales. My favourite Gore-Tex-lined approach shoes weighed in at 1150 grams (40oz) and my pair of Crocs tipped the scales at just 320 grams (11oz). So ... The END Stumptown 12s are much closer on a sliding scale of weight to a holey lump of foam than a full-on trail shoe, yet still with all the function of the latter. (And END make other models 25% lighter than these!)
And why worry about weight so much? It is a long held view that heavy footwear reduces performance. In hiking circles there is a rule of thumb that a pound on the feet equals at least five or more pounds on the back. Your feet have to lift that weight every time they move forward, so it makes sense to reduce it as much as possible -- so long as you can still provide other important needs. Such as support, stability, stone protection and little thing called ‘comfort.’
But for END the weight reduction is not solely related to performance. It also importantly pertains to eliminating materials and production steps which in turn limits resource extraction and energy use. (Check out some of the posts noted below, for much more on END’s green design attributes.)
No Silver Linings (Thankfullly)
One aspect of the minimal weight is that the Stumptowns have very little foam in the body of the upper. There is no padding or waterproofing membranes in the main upper. At first this concerned me as I do enjoy stomping around in inclement weather, but have to say I’m very pleasantly surprised. Although my feet do get wet from dew, rain and puddles, they don’t feel that ikky, soggy sensation you experience from lined footwear that do eventually become soaked. And the Stumptowns dry out so much quicker. Nor did I feel that I had cold feet from being wet (mind you, it has been summer down here in Australia).
Shoes (and boots) with waterproof membrane uppers are great at keeping the water out -- when new -- but over time the effectiveness wears off. And when water does get in, either over the top, or through a compromised membrane/coating, the moisture stays inside, and is quite uncomfortable.
Additionally, most waterproofed shoes trend towards mini saunas on long, hot outings. I found the unpadded Stumptown uppers to be much cooler on humid days, and thus less prone to over heating or becoming stinky. Maybe the bamboo infused linings help here, but I can’t honestly confirm that aspect as the reason.
The actual outer of the uppers are made of nylon with a very techno-looking diamond shaped ripstop pattern. To date it has proven rugged enough to endure a good deal of off-track travel.
I was suffering from a bout of Achilles tendinosis just before the shoes arrived, so can’t say I rushed out madly sprinting along remote trails -- the use for which they are intended. However I wore them doing just about everything else for the past couple of months; bushwalking (hiking) on tracks, bush bashing off track, mountain biking, running errands around the city, gardening, to the movies, ...
The Stumptowns were very comfortable to wear, straight out of the box. At first I noticed a tiny degree of slippage at the heel, but not long after I started wearing the shoes that soon dissappeared. And when wearing the shoes it felt like they were soothing the painful beast that was the tendinosis.
A very minimal heel counter is employed but still provides solid stability. The low profile tongue doesn’t catch too much leaf litter and track debris, as bigger tongues tend to do. They fit so well I have little need to readjust the front two thirds of the lacing.
The recycled rubber outsole is more than a match for most trail use. It gripped to most every terrain I could find for it, only being thwarted by wet, mossy rocks or slick, rain covered granite pavement. But no footwear copes well those surfaces. Traction was similarly excellent, except for rain soaked clay, which clung to the soles like the proverbial ‘#@!% to a wool blanket.’ The spongy partly recycled mid sole absorbs ground shock very well. I haven’t noticed any impact from stones on the ball of my foot, so have to assume the co-moulded protection plate is doing its thing.
The lightweight unpadded uppers might not offer enough protection for running rocky terrain, like scree and talus. The laces don’t always stay tied (I’m not sure if this a result of their unusual triangular cross section, or not). The toe bumper rand is very effective at protecting the front of the foot and the shoe. But I’ve notice the mine is starting to lift away from the upper. (I’ve corresponded with END about this. They’ve not heard of any such from issues from anyone else customers or testers, and they wonder if is simply a problem with the pre-production samples I received -- ahh, the trials and tribulations of being a size 9 -- the size samples are made in.)
I also wonder if the current trend to webbing ‘eyelets’ for lacing systems in outdoor footwear is the most robust. Continually pulling lace around webbing can cause abrasion and eventually it can shear through. Not that this has occurred with my test pair of Stumptowns, but as they employ a thin recycled polyester webbing it does remain a future possibility.
Those few observations aside, I’ve found I now gravitate to the Stumptowns for the bulk of my outdoor activities, mostly because they offer great support and comfort in an incredibly lightweight package. And although initially skeptical about their lack of waterproofing, I’m finding this much more of benefit, than a hindrance.
Oh, nearly forgot to mention the shoebox. Made of 100% post consumer recycled paper, and printed with soy based inks., but more importantly, it is free of any metal staples or nasty adhesives, making it even easier to recycle.
Thanks to ::END Footwear for the opportunity to test the shoes.
More END Footwear on TreeHugger
• END Outdoor: Greener Footwear for the Long Run
• END Footwear Hits the Trail Running
• END Footwear Is Finally Out Of The Box
• END Footwear Now Likes it Hard and Wet
Photo credits: END Footwear