Gear review: Patagonia Houdini Jacket

Grant Guise is bit of a gear expert – as an elite trail runner, he has professionally banged gear along trails and up mountains for years – he knows his stuff. And he was intrigued enough by murmurs of Patagonia beefing up its trail running presence Down Under. Here he gives the lowdown on the Patagonia Houdini jacket along with a brief four-one-one on just what the hell is the point of a wind shell anyway… (RUN IMAGES: Brook van Reenen)

5The “wind shell” (wind breaker) must be the most undervalued and under-utilised piece of kit in trail running. Certainly, it is the most misunderstood piece of kit, at least in this neck of the woods.

While our North American brethren, whom we seem to most closely follow with trends and gear, have long been rocking this super lightweight, packable layer for mountain missions of all kinds, we here in New Zealand (and Australia) are a little slow on the uptake….

I have witnessed many an excited consumer grasp a sleeve of a feathery light windshell, rubbing the tissue paper like fabric between their figures in amazement. The first thing to spew from their mouth in excitement “is it waterproof” and before that can even be answered, “is it seamsealed?!”.

The only thing dropping faster than the jacket sleeve from their hand, is the excited look on their face, as you answer “no” to the two quick-fire questions. It is like you just pulled a cruel joke on them and they walk away, unimpressed and uninterested before the merits of this amazing little jacket can be explained……

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-31But it is to be expected – many races in New Zealand require “waterproof, seam sealed jackets”, so what use is a jacket that is neither of these things?!

Well, very useful! OK, not for your required “race jacket”, or if it is totally bucketing down, but those days are few and far between in the bigger picture.

Much more common are cold frosty mornings, windy summits and light showers, and this is where the windshell shines. And from my experience of trying many different windshells over the years, the Patagonia Houdini shines the brightest.

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-03I am a big fan of carrying as little as possible – it is one of the reasons I go trail running and not over-night hiking – and on those days when the weather and conditions are a little iffy, the Houdini is a great piece of insurance to carry.

Packing down to the size of a kiwi fruit, in its own stuff pocket, I tuck the Houdini into my running shorts and set off for the summit of Roy’s Peak, above Lake Wanaka. It is warm and calm down at lake level and quickly I work up a sweet on the 1200m climb to Roy’s 1578m summit. I reach the ridge a few hundred meters below the summit and the only thing that hits me more than the stunning views into Mt Aspiring National Park, is the cool westerly wind, that whips over the ridge. This cool breeze, and my burning legs, are enough to make me second guess pushing on to the top of Roy’s today……. Then I remember the forgotten piece of kit, stashed away and unnoticed and unneeded till now. Without missing a beat, I don the Houdini and keep pushing on. The wind is cut from my core and because of the jacket holding in my own body heat I quickly warm up.

4The fitted hood protects me further as I take a few moments to appreciate the hard-earned view over Wanaka township, the Pisa Range and Mt Aspiring. As I bomb back down the way I came up, the Houdini is removed a few hundred meters below the summit, stashed away and forgotten about again…….

This scenario has played out dozens and dozens of times for me – running over Flagstaff and Swampy in Dunedin, around the Port Hills above Christchurch and even ski touring in the Craigieburn mountains – a windshell is almost always there.

The super lightweight Houdini is made of 1.2-oz 15-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, which makes it feel very light and unrestrictive on, meaning you can still move fast, and not be weighted down like you might with a traditional “hardshell” jacket.

You need to pack accordingly, but if you are a fan of going light, and the conditions allow, the Houdini is a great piece of kit. I will often carry this jacket, a “buff” and my phone, all stuffed in the Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts (a review for another time) and head out for a few hours in the hills.

It’s not all rainbows and lollipops, no. For me, the biggest drawback for the Houdini is its weight. At a tad over 100grms in a size Med, it is not heavy, but there are lighter options out there. But, they lack a hood and/or a full-length zip like the Houdini – two things that are a must for me in a jacket, so I can deal with the little extra weight.

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-26-38Patagonia Houdini

  • 102gr/ men’s med
  • Full zip
  • Zipper chest pocket/ stuff pocket
  • One pull adjustable hood
  • Reflective logo’s front and back
  • $129 AUD/ $160NZD
  • Details at 


Stryd Footpod – early review

Gear guru, Paul Day, is lucky enough to get his hands (and feet) on a bunch of run technology well ahead of the retail curve. We’re lucky enough to be able to get eyes on – and permission to publish – his insights, here investigating the latest (maybe greatest?) Stryd Footpod, where it’s all about measuring and reacting to your instant power output, more so than being dictated by your heart rate (which is kind of a horse has bolted indicator).


It’s not often that Australia gets something first! But somehow that’s exactly what’s happened with Stryd’s latest offering. After being a Kickstarter backer of the original Stryd Pioneer a year ago now, Stryd were kind enough to reward us all with early access to their second model – and mine arrived extra early.

With an intensive 48 hours of testing the new unit under my belt – and now being stuck on a plane for twenty hours – the guys at Stryd asked me if I was willing to share my thoughts and my initial impressions about this new unit. So armed with numerous cups of really bad airline coffee and a copy of Microsoft Paint, lets dive in!



The Stryd in its package

After reading the Stryd Forum and seeing another Australian user mentioned his unit had just arrived, I walked downstairs to have my 4-year-old son excitedly run up to me: “Dad! There’s a package for you!” Even after all these years, receiving a package in the mail is like getting a present on your birthday. And this present just happened to be the new Stryd.

With the assistance of an additional pair of eager hands, I pulled open the cardboard to get to reveal the new Stryd.

The design is quite unique and has more in common with an expensive piece of designer furniture than your average piece of sporting kit. The curved concentric lines of the unit continue into the packaging and onto the new wireless charger. The Stryd crew have clearly departed from the somewhat boxier look of the Stryd Pioneer of a year ago.

Stride with accessories

Stride with accessories

Inside the box is the foot pod unit itself, two shoe clips, the wireless charging base and a standard USB cable. The inclusion of two shoe clips is a nice touch. Stryd are obviously assuming (probably correctly!) that we’re all going to lose at least one shoe clip – so a second one is there at the ready.

The clip simply slots under your shoe laces, you then place the wider end of the unit into the clip and press down on the narrower end until it clicks into place. The clip seems quite secure and knocking it around with my hand I was unable to get the Stryd to pop out. To remove simply press down on the exposed section of the clip and lift the Stryd up.


Footpod in place

Unlike the Pioneer, the new Stryd is a completely sealed unit. You don’t need to replace the battery – instead charging it with the new wireless charger. I haven’t owned a piece of sporting tech that charges wirelessly before and I’m hoping Stryd’s lead here will become a trend. There’s no need to replace coin cells, you can easily ensure the unit’s 100% charged before a big race and you don’t need to physically plug a cable in to achieve that. Simply place the unit on the charging base every now and again to keep it topped up. Sounds simple, right? Well, about that…
It just looks… right – right?

Bzzzt – clearly my credentials as a self-appointed tech-savvy user are mis-placed. That or Stryd’s design team simply put far too much effort into the underside of the wireless charging base! I posted about my “faulty” charger on the Stryd Forum. Within a few minutes one of the guys at Stryd responded at 11pm his time asking me to jump on Skype to help trouble-shoot the issue. There aren’t many companies you’ll get that level of support from!


Ok, that worked

Fortunately, I realised my mistake before being embarrassed on a Skype call. To charge the unit you place it within the feint concentric lines on the flat-side of the base. The distinctive orange LED lights up as it starts charging. The cable is a normal USB plug that can go into any computer, USB hub or wall plug – or even a USB battery pack if you’re in a bind.

After only 48 hours of use I obviously can’t give you an estimate of real life battery usage.

Stryd in use

With the unit securely on my shoe, it was time to put it through its paces (pun intended!).

My training over the last two days has been:

  • AM: 30min upper body and core strength
  • PM: 30min short hill sprints with a 10min tempo run in the middle
  • AM: 120min long hill shuffles on trail
  • PM: 45min moderate run

I tested the unit out with a Suunto Ambit2, Ambit3 Peak and Spartan Ultra – along with the Stryd app on my Android phone. I also ran some side-by-side comparisons between the new Stryd and the Pioneer. For all your Garmin people out there, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint. As a die-hard Suunto user, I don’t own a Garmin to test with (although if anyone wants to donate a Fenix3…). Finally, I also threw in one of the Dynastream foot pods that many companies rebadge to compare the pace and distance measurements supplied by the new Stryd.trm-web-banner


In true Stryd fashion, the unit has plenty of connectivity options to maximise its compatibility with as many devices as possible. If you have a smart kettle I’m pretty sure there’d be a way to hook the Stryd up to it to measure something.

The Stryd supports both ANT+ and BLE (Bluetooth Smart), sends power/cadence on the bike power profile and pace/distance/cadence on the foot pod profile. On my unit I did have an issue with cadence on the ANT+ profiles but given I was running the very first v1.0.0 firmware, one bug isn’t going to have me picketing the Stryd offices in protest and it will no doubt be addressed shortly. Cadence was fine on the BLE profiles, although like the Pioneer it’s in spm (steps per minute) rather than the rpm (revolutions per minute) that Suunto users will be used to.

Unlike the Pioneer, the new Stryd obviously doesn’t send heart-rate and the neat trick the Pioneer has of re-purposing cadence in the foot pod profile as power to really maximise compatibility options has been replaced with actual foot pod pace/distance/cadence measurements.

The BLE-compatible Suuntos (Ambit3 and Spartan) are currently only able to pair and connect to one profile on a device at a time. This means you need to choose either the power pod or the foot pod functionality – not both. Suunto dealt with this via a firmware update upon the Pioneer’s release by having the user pair it as a heart-rate pod and then the watch would silently connect to the bike power profile and take only power. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar appear with the new Stryd so you can use both the power pod and the foot pod functionality. The older Ambit2, which uses ANT+, has no problem connecting to both profiles at the same time.

I also updated and then paired the Stryd with the Stryd app running on my Android smartphone to set my weight and height on the unit. The app is available in both the iOS and Android app stores and requires you to register an account with Stryd. This step is necessary for the Stryd to calculate your absolute power rather than simply a comparative number. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet managed to re-do a Critical Power test with the new unit. I know – I was devastated. Who doesn’t love a run that leaves you feeling nauseous?!

Time for a run!

The first thing I noticed with the new Stryd is that it’s noticeably more responsive than the Pioneer. Given one of the selling points of running power is that it measures the physical load your body is under rather than waiting for your heart-rate to respond to that load, this increased responsiveness is definitely a positive.

I was only sync-ing the new Stryd to Stryd Powercenter via the app, so I’ll need to revert to Suunto Movescount to demonstrate the increased responsiveness compared to the Pioneer. I did my short hill repeats session with the new Stryd sending power to my Ambit2 and the Pioneer sending to my Spartan. The two graphs below show power vs time of one of those repeats. They start with the slow downhill recovery jog of the previous repeat, turning around, immediately starting to sprint and then the start of the next downhill.

mc-shorthills-pioneerPower from the Pioneer on a short hill repeat

mc-shorthills-footpodPower from the Stryd on a short hill repeat

You can see the new Stryd is clearly more responsive as I turned around and started sprinting. On average, it responded in approximately 66% of the time the Pioneer took to respond.

You’ll notice I haven’t yet calibrated my Pioneer – hence a difference in the raw power and the average that’s drawn as dotted horizontal line. Apparently wearing the Pioneer in different positions can impact the power calculation and Stryd have recently included a feature in the smartphone app to calibrate the unit. Without calibration for your preferred position the numbers are still perfectly useable as a comparative measure, but – like setting your weight – may not be absolute. Check out this email for the full details.

The Wind

The other improvement I noticed was the new Stryd’s response to wind.

Both units have a barometric air pressure sensor in them to help measure ascent and descent to help with power calculations. A drop in air pressure means you’re going up – an increase means you’re going down. Unfortunately, wind hitting my chest also creates a pressure increase on the Pioneer’s sensor, fooling it into thinking I’m now running downhill and artificially dropping my displayed power. The new Stryd is still impacted by strong winds, but the impact is noticeably less. Turning a corner on my 45min moderate run and hitting a fresh breeze I noticed the power drop on the new Stryd was generally about 30-50% of that on the Pioneer. Likewise, when the wind dropped off the rebound increase in power was noticeably less on the new Stryd. And yes, I got a few strange looks from passers-by as I ran along with both elbows sticking out with my eyes glued to the two watches held up in front of me!

Stryd App and Powercenter

As with the Pioneer, your run data can be loaded directly into the Powercenter web app via the smartphone app or via your watch of choice (including Garmin Connect and Suunto Movescount). Using a GPS watch or recording your run with the app (which obviously requires running with your phone) adds the benefit of a GPS track.

stryd_app stryd_app_summary

Above: Stryd app – mid-run and summary

Sync-ing with Movescount I was able to pull the power details across from my 45min moderate run into Powercenter. I then sync-ed the Stryd via the app which automatically combined the two sources of data and added in the Stryd-only metrics of Vertical Oscillation (VO) and Ground Contact Time (GCT). VO and GCT from the Stryd aren’t currently recorded by any watches on the market (although the Garmin HRM-Run pod does generate the same metrics for Garmin users).

pc-45min_mod-footpodStryd Powercenter with power, GCT and VO displayed

Users of both the Stryd Pioneer and Garmin HRM-Run will be familiar with these two metrics which, along with cadence, are useful for measuring your running form. A high vertical oscillation suggests you’re bobbing up and down too much, wasting energy in vertical movement rather than putting it into horizontal. Along with cadence, these metrics can also be useful in determining where you’re fatiguing and losing your form later in an endurance run. Comparing Tuesday’s run when fresh with the second half of Wednesday’s second run, I was able to see clear signs of fatigue and a drop in form.

The new Stryd goes one step further and adds an additional metric in the form of leg spring (or stiffness), measured in kN/m. I was only able to see this metric by recording my run using the Stryd app – sync-ing the Stryd via the app after a run didn’t generate it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this updated in a coming firmware/app release as the Stryd crew are pretty good about presenting us with every possible option.


Stryd PowerCenter with power and leg spring showing

So, what’s leg spring and what use is it I hear you ask? Sorry, but I don’t have an answer for you yet! I ran out of time to really research this new metric and work out how it can be useful. The collaboration that occurs on the Stryd Forum is a great asset and I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing discussion and different uses around this new metric shortly.

As a foot pod

A side effect of what is essential a set of very smart accelerometers attached to your foot is that the Stryd is measuring your foot’s movement in 3-dimensional space. This in turn allows it to measure your speed/pace, distance and cadence and present them to you via the standard ANT+ and BLE foot pod profiles.

But foot pods are those clunky things we used to stick on our running shoes back before GPS watches became available, right? Well, not entirely. I often do my 13km run home from work as a snowball – increasing it by 5s/km every 1km until my final km is at a pace I can barely maintain. Good times! However, my run home takes me under numerous bridges, underpasses and hangs under a freeway for a good portion. Even the Suunto Ambit3’s GPS struggles to give me accurate pace when there’s a foot of steel and concrete above it.

Enter the foot pod. Calibrated properly, it will beat my GPS watch when it comes to accurate pace in challenging GPS environments.

But the new Stryd seems to take the foot pod’s accuracy to a whole new level. It doesn’t require any calibration to give very stable pace and accurate distance measurement. My testing obviously wasn’t exhaustive, but on a flat road run I found the accuracy and stability of pace data was clearly best from the Stryd, followed by my calibrated Dynastream, the Suunto Ambit3 and finally the uncalibrated Dynastream.

But the other exciting thought is that this provides accurate measurements off-road. The Dynastream’s accuracy tends to fall away once you get outside the running conditions you calibrated it in and fall even further when you take it onto the trail. The Stryd shows a lot more potential off trail. Accurate pace is generally of limited use for trail running, but one application would be for 100km+ events where your GPS watch battery may not last the distance: turn the GPS accuracy down to make the battery last the distance while still recording a semi-accurate track, but continue getting accurate distance measurements by using the Stryd.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough time to truly test the accuracy of the Stryd’s distance measurements on trail. Check out the Stryd Forum where I’ll share the results of testing at a race in a couple of days’ time – and other users have already planned to share their own testing.


Despite the length this “initial impressions” review has turned into (thank you aircraft coffee!) I definitely feel I’ve only briefly touched on everything the new Stryd has to offer. So far it looks like the crew at Stryd have taken their learnings from the ground-breaking Pioneer device and improved on them further with the release of the new foot pod design. And no doubt we’ll continue to see improvements in the form of firmware and software updates.

Join Paul on the Stryd Forum or in the Stryd Facebook group where he and many other enthusiastic Stryd users and the staff at Stryd happily hang around sharing thoughts and answering questions.

Check out TRM’s trail test of the new Suunto Spartan: 

Suunto Sartan

Screenshot 2016-08-30 11.11.35

Review: new Suunto Spartan Ultra

When it comes to gear releases, trail running has come a long way – the anticipation surrounding the new Suunto Spartan Ultra GPS watch has been speculatively spectacular. The murmurs. The guesses. The pre-judgements. It’s the trail equivalent to the release of a new Apple Mac. The trainspotters and tech geeks go a bit manic. They wee themselves a little. Luckily we have access to our own ‘Q’ (hello Bond fans) when it comes to inspecting the intricacies of space-aged boxes that can tell you a whole lot more than just how fast and high you run, at what rate, how hot it is, what your heart is doing, is your pace okay, how’s your power output doing, oh and there’s a message from your mum – will you be home for dinner? Yep, a watch ain’t a watch no more. It’s its own life force threatening you with near-AI. And the goal posts just shifted again with the Spartan… here’s the inside line on what to expect when your order does through, courtesy of Paul Day. Trail runner. Statistician. Data Guru. Tech Jedi. He got down and dirty with a pre-release Suunto Spartan Ultra. This is what he found. 


As Beta Tester for Suunto, I have the fun job of testing out the majority of new hardware, firmware and software Suunto release before it gets pushed out into the public. This means I get a product while it still has a few rough edges and I then put it through its paces to report back any bugs, issues, unexpected behaviour or even just things I don’t like. I’m a rather particular guy and I don’t like it when a piece of technology is not working as it should!

Not surprisingly, the last few weeks have been spent in a serious relationship with the new Spartan Ultra Black HR – Suunto’s next major release that went on sale globally on the 15th August. And I’ve agreed to give you all a bit of a preview of this new beast. This isn’t designed to be an exhaustive review – I don’t think I’ve spent enough time with the watch to deliver that.

Despite being a tester for Suunto, I’m not under any obligation to say nice things about them. That said, I’m obviously a bit of a fan of their gear so feel free to consume a small pinch of salt before proceeding!

Most of my testing of the Spartan Ultra was done with an Ambit2 on my right wrist. If I’m such a Suunto nerd, why the old Ambit2? Because the Ambit2 is still a very capable watch and this way I only need to wear one heart-rate strap: the dual BLE/ANT+ Stryd power meter which will talk to both my Ambit2 (ANT+) and a more modern BLE watch like the Spartan Ultra.

Release Timeline

While the public release occurs mid-August, this is really only the start for this watch. Suunto have a solid track record for continuing to supply firmware updates long after a watch’s release and the Spartan is looking to be no different (if anything it’ll be more so). Even the old Ambit2 received an update in June 2016 – 15 months after being superseded by the Ambit3.

Suunto has already released details on a number of new features for the watch that are planned for release in late September including new planning tools and personal bests and there’s plenty more in the pipeline.Mt Buller

The watch I’ve been testing is prototype hardware (almost identical to what’s now going out), has been running pre-release versions of the firmware and is connected to a test instance of Movescount via a pre-release instances of the new SuuntoLink and Android Movescount applications. Long of the short, that means I am dealing with bugs and some missing features – the exact reason I’ve been given the watch! By the time you’re reading this, some of what I’m writing about will already be out-of-date, updated or have had more features added.

Additionally, I’ve only been using the watch for a few weeks now and I really don’t feel that does it justice. There’s plenty I just haven’t had a chance to touch and plenty that I’ve drawn some initial conclusions about but need more time to test exhaustively.


Let’s get physical and yep, it’s gone – the bump is gone.

Personally I don’t mind the GPS antenna bump that sticks out of the Ambit line of watches – I’m out on the trail to get dirty, not win a fashion award. Maybe it’s also the nerd in me that appreciates it for what it is: a mighty fine GPS antenna! More on that later.

That said, I personally think the Spartan is a big improvement in the “good looks” department when it comes to wearing the watch day-to-day. Heading out the door with the wife to a show the other day she asked “are you going to wear your new dress Suunto?”. I think it’s a strong competitor against the better looking Smart Watches now on the market and the suave looks of the Garmin Fenix 3.

Not having a large manly wrist, I was a little worried that the wider bezel (and screen) would result in a watch that’s spilling over my wrist, but it actually fits surprisingly well – better than the smaller Ambit3 Peak. The weight is also quite light at only 73g. Compared to the Ambit3 Sport (80g), the standard Ambit3 Peak (86g) and the Ambit2 (~89g), it’s noticeably lighter on my wrist. It’s also marginally thinner than the Ambit3 Peak it’s designed to replace.

Here’s a few pictures of how it sits on my wrist compared to an Ambit3 Peak (Nepal Edition – same size as the standard Peak, different bezel):

Combined views

LEFT: Spartan Ultra vs RIGHT Ambit3 Peak NE


Another concern area I had was around the new display. I’m not even a fan of the negative display (ie, black background) you can set the Ambit’s LCD screen to because I find the positive display far easier to read when running. I also find my OLED mobile phone screen is sometimes difficult to read in strong sunlight or flat overcast light even with the backlight is on 100%. How will I be able to read a colour LCD screen with the backlight on or off while running?

Surprisingly, quite easily. The reflective colour LCD is easier to read than I was expecting. With the backlight off you do definitely lose some of the colours’ vibrancy, but when out running the display is quite readable – even the new seven-metrics-on-one-screen. With the backlight on (which happens automatically whenever you interact with the watch – although that can be disabled), the colours look similar to an average mobile phone’s OLED display.

I’m not going to try and do the screen shots justice when Suunto themselves have already done a far better job than I’ll ever be able to, so I’ll simply link to this page if you want a better idea of the screens and lay-out:






Images courtesy of Suunto. Source:

Likewise, I was suspicious how well the new touch screen would perform out in the field: sweat, rain and gloves. Like most modern mobile phones, the Spartan uses the more sensitive capacitive touch screen. My mobile phone’s touch screen gets rather confused when I simply breathe on it – let alone add sweat or rain. The screen simply has to be dry to work properly. The Spartan Ultra, on the other hand, works quite well with moisture. Condensation, drizzle, light rain and thin polypro gloves were all no problem for it. Heavy rain (ie, me testing it out directly under the shower head!) was a bit more of a struggle and operating it underwater was, not surprisingly, out.

Navigating using touch interface is quite simple and calibration of the finger movements and taps required is about right.

Should you not like the touch screen or be in a situation where it doesn’t work well (heavy rain or big fat ski gloves), the Spartan does still have three physical buttons on the right hand side of the watch which can be used to navigate all the same functions that you can access with the touch screen. Even compared to some of my newer Suunto watches that aren’t yet full of sweat and sunscreen, the buttons feel very nice – easy to push, no stickiness and a nice positive rebound.


The user interface of the Ambit line has stayed roughly the same from the original Ambit right through the latest v2 firmware release of the Ambit3 series. Moving to the Spartan has not been the same as moving from the Ambit2 to the Ambit3. Suunto have completely re-designed the user interface from the ground up and comparing it to my Ambit3 is more like when I moved my old Nokia Symbian phone (remember those things?) to my first Sony Xperia Android phone.

It took a little while for me to give up on my pre-conceptions based on years of the Ambit but overall the interface is really quite straight-forward and very easy to navigate. The learning curve to get used to it was literally minutes.

After you’ve customised the watch display itself (you’re not stuck with just a digital display), you can navigate down to get to activity tracking, training and then recovery information. Navigate up and you get exercise, navigation, the logbook and settings. From each of these you can swipe right (or press the middle button) to enter them and interact.

The new interface includes adds an upgrade to activity monitoring. Personally this doesn’t tickle my fancy much – I’m more interested in my training – but a lot of users have been asking for it. There are now a screen dedicated to a 24/7 step counter, along with the same calorie monitoring you find in the Ambit3. A 7 day history screen is coming soon.

Sports mode displays have also been completely redesigned and you can have up to 7 metrics displayable at a time. I was worried this would be too difficult to read while running but it’s actually not too bad. If you find the touch screen is being activated while running (eg, from long sleeves) you can lock it by pressing and holding the bottom right button.

Companion applications

Not surprisingly, The Spartan is compatible with the iOS Movescount app at release and the updated Android app with Spartan compatibility is planned for release in late September. As I don’t own an iOS device and the Android app hasn’t been publicly released yet, I’m not going to go into too much into detail here.

Via the Movescount app the Spartan does display system notifications from the smart phone is much the same way as the Ambit3 series did. However, the larger screen and higher resolution does allow for more text to be displayed with is nice.


As with the Ambit3 series, most notifications are supported, including incoming calls.

The Moveslink2 PC and MacOSX application has been replaced with the new SuuntoLink application. Essentially it achieves the same functions: sync moves/settings/routes, GPS pre-caching and firmware updates. Unlike Moveslink2 it does, however, come with web proxy support which corporate users without direct Internet access should appreciate.


GPS Performance

So the first thing I’ll point out here is that the pre-release version of the firmware I’m running doesn’t have the Russian GLONASS system activated, despite the chip in the watch supporting it (SiRFstarV – same as the Ambit3). As with the Traverse and the Vertical, it’s likely this will be enabled in the watch shortly after release. It will improve accuracy a little further than what I’ve noted below, but the benefits are likely only marginal down here in Australia and New Zealand.

Firstly, the bump. The bump on the Ambit3 is a thing of beauty. It’s lovely. It sticks out there saying “I am an awesome! Challenge me with rain! Cloud cover! Thick undergrowth! I will smite them all!”. Ok, so maybe it doesn’t go quite that far but that stellar performance is because in that bump is a very sensitive ceramic patch antenna perfectly located to face up at the sky while sitting on top of one of the best consumer GPS chipsets available. For me, the Ambit3 is the gold standard for watch GPS measurements. But heck, don’t believe me – check out this extensive testing done by fellrnr:



GPS watch comparison by fellrnr. Source:

Some people have commented about the drop in GPS quality of the Ambit3 Vertical – myself included. The pace measurements on the road fluctuate more than the Peak and on the trail the post-processing done by the GPS tends to log points only every 3-4 seconds. On tight winding single track that can lead to corners being cut and distances being slightly under-measured. Additionally, the track does lose a little accuracy in tough conditions (eg, valleys with thick foliage under cloudy skies). Does that make the Vertical a bad GPS watch? No, it’s just not as good as the Ambit3 Peak – which is a very high standard to be held to. The Ambit2 (with the older SiRFstarIV chip) also logs points a little less frequently than the Ambit3, but it’s overall accuracy is still a little better.

It comes down to form over function. Sacrifice the bump to get a better looking watch and you’re sacrificing some GPS performance. There’s simply no avoiding it.

So, how does the Spartan and its no-bump antenna perform? Well, you’re probably spotting a trend here but… surprisingly well. Overall it’s considerably better than I expected given the new antenna, better than the Vertical and probably about on par with the Ambit3 Peak – perhaps a shade below it. It’s generally logging more points and they’re almost as precise as the Ambit3 Peak. Note that in the following pictures one watch was on my right and the other on my left wrist. This seems to create a few meters of offset between the tracks – so ignore that.

Here you can see the higher sampling rate of the Spartan over the Ambit2:

Ambit2 vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

Ambit2 vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

And here you can see where that highly sampling rate doesn’t lead to the same cut-corners as the Vertical:

Ambit3 Vertical vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

Ambit3 Vertical vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

But sorry Spartan, I’m not sure you can’t quite yet compare to the raw beauty of the Ambit3’s track:

Ambit3 vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

Ambit3 vs Spartan Ultra GPS track

The difference in the “smoothness” between the Ambit3 and the Spartan could simply be the software filtering (eg, applying stronger Kalman filtering across the data) rather than the GPS performance itself. It’s not necessarily an indication of one unit being more accurate or better than the other.

By using Suunto’s new heatmaps feature and the rule of averages, you can accurately estimate where a track is: the hottest part of the heat indicates where most people’s watches placed them, suggesting that’s the middle of the track. At the 70km Berry Long Run this past weekend the Spartan stuck to the centre of the heatmaps far better than my Ambit2.

Overall, I was really quite surprised at how well the GPS tracks were recorded.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had a chance to test the new power save 1 second mode and how its accuracy compares to the Ambit’s “good” 5 seconds mode. Feedback from one of the other testers was quite positive.

The Spartan’s distance measurements are pretty much spot-on with the Ambit3 Peak and Ambit2. I have all my watches set to auto-lap (and beep) every 1km and they will reliably beep within a few seconds of each other on anything under 30km – road and trail. At the 70km Berry Long Run trail race on the weekend the Spartan did slowly separate from my Ambit2 by a factor of 0.897%. Which one measured the more correct distance? Who knows! Given the Spartan’s better ability to track the centre of the heatmaps I’m going to award it the medal. I’ll wait for someone to successfully ride the course with a Jones-counter-fitted road bike to give me an IAAF approved course measurement to prove me wrong!

The Spartan’s pace measurements are also considerably better than what I experienced with the Vertical. Based on holding a steady power output on a flat road run I’d say perhaps not quite as good as the Ambit3 Peak – but very close and in need of further testing. Interestingly, the Spartan no longer rounds to the nearest 5s/km like the Ambit series: it gives you per second granularity. If you’re really after spot-on pace, get yourself a foot pod. Like the Ambit3, the Spartan allows you to pair a Bluetooth foot pod. I tested mine with the Adidas MiCoach SPEED_CELL – the same DynaStream foot pod that every company re-brands but with BLE rather than ANT+. People often dismiss foot pods as an inaccurate relic from the past. However, if you calibrate one properly on a typical run of decent length it will out-perform any current GPS watch when it comes to accurate pacing info. Again, don’t take my word for it: fellrnr still lists a calibrated foot pod as the most accurate.

So in conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised and really quite impressed with the Spartan Ultra’s GPS performance given the loss of the bump. It will be interesting to see how much of an improvement the addition of GLONASS and other future firmware tweaks makes to the Spartan Ultra. Perhaps it might completely out-perform the Ambit3, which would really impress me!


With the higher resolution of the screen and colour, navigation is a little easier to follow on the Spartan compared to the Ambits. A real-time bread-crumb trail is also recorded as you move which makes it easy to retrace your steps without having to go into the menu and create a “Track Back” route to replace your current route.


Typical navigation screen

One navigation feature that hasn’t yet been implemented in the current firmware is full way point support. Personally when creating a route I will create way points at intersections telling me which way to go. On the Ambit series this means as I approach the intersection my watch beeps and says “Approaching Left”. As I exit the intersection I get another beep and a dialog saying “Continue to Right”. Currently on the Spartan way points are simply displayed as flags on the map – no notification or dialog displaying the name.

Ascent and descent measurements on the Spartan Ultra are pretty much spot on and very closely match my Ambit3 Peak and Ambit2. As with distance measurements in trail running, it’s very hard to say which one is “right”. FusedAlti works well – after 7h19n on the run and a mild weather change, the Spartan said the finish line was 2m above what it did at the start. The Ambit2 said 10m. Use of a barometric altimeter is old hat for Suunto and even FusedAlti is well and truly tested having been introduced back in the v2.0 firmware of the Ambit2. Pretty much any of the Suunto models with a barometric sensor and FusedAlti is going to give you a very good result.

Battery Life

Ok, so this is one area I will admit I was little let down on (hey, I didn’t want this to be a complete puff piece!). That said, I’m not yet convinced it’s exactly as it appears – I need to do more testing.

When trail running I’ve found all of the Ambit series (other than the Vertical) get very close to their specified battery life on the best GPS setting (the main consumer of the battery). When taking the Ambit3 Vertical out on trail I did notice that despite having the same GPS chip, battery size and specified battery life (10 hours) as the Ambit3 Sport, I would only get a little over 9 hours when out on the trail. Given the only thing that changed significantly was the antenna, my suspicion is that with the slightly less sensitive antenna the GPS chip is working slightly harder to maintain a fix and is drawing slightly more from the battery in the challenging conditions of trail running – tight turns, foliage, hills and valleys blocking the view of the sky.

After Saturday’s Berry Long Run 70km, my Spartan Ultra went from 98% to 40% after 7h19m of running time with the GPS set to best/full power. That implies a total running time of 12.6h as opposed to the specified 18h. The other item to note here is GLONASS is not yet enabled which will likely utilise a little more battery life.

Now this could be a number of things. One suspicion is around the fact that I’ve noticed the battery depletion rate on road (less challenging conditions for the GPS) is much closer to the specified 18 hours. So this could simply be similar to what I noticed with the Vertical’s battery: trail running is more challenging for the GPS than road for the new bezel-mounted antenna and it depletes the battery faster. The other thought I had is that I’ve never run this new watch to empty (LiIon/Pol batteries prefer frequent short discharge/recharge cycles) and the percentage meter may not yet be calibrated properly between “full” (100%) and “cut-off voltage” (0%) to give an accurate linear drop over the full course of the battery life. And finally this move was made with a pre-release version of the firmware which I am aware had at least one potential minor power-hungry bug.

As mentioned above, I also haven’t yet tested the new Power Save mode, but the specifications sheet has it listed as adding an additional 44% battery life at 26h.

So I’m afraid this jury of one is still out deliberating!


Overall I’ve been very pleased with the new Spartan Ultra. Suunto have built an impressive looking hardware platform and I believe we’re going to see plenty of additional features and improvements over the coming month.

Would I use this as my primary watch for trail running over my Ambit3 Peak? Yep, I already am!

It also goes nicely with a shirt, tie and suit.

TOP: Spartan vs Ambit3 Peak NE – top view BOTTOM: Spartan vs Ambit3 Peak NE – side view.


The editors of Trail Run Mag would like to thank Paul Day for his awesome contribution, time on trail (and in front of screen) in testing and allowing us to run this review of a pre-release test model of the Spartan Ultra for the the benefit of the rest of us gear geeks. He who treads the path first…and all that jazz. Thanks legend. 


Trail shoe review: Adidas Terrex Agravic

Aggravated Assault

First up: what the hell is the use of a pretty darn good trail shoe if it’s hard to come by, try and buy? Worse still, if you don’t even know that it’s in the market? When it comes to the Adidas Terrex Agravic I didn’t, until I walked into Run Stop Shop in Melbourne. And my eyes lit up.

Men Shoes adidas Terrex Agravic Shoes - Green DuFLB91 501_3_LRG

Spoiler alert: it’s a top end performer. But who knew? So when I tell you it’s a contender, you’d better be quick in your purchase because they are as rare as a heartfelt apology to an illegal Mexican immigrant by Donald Trump.

It’s a common thing in the Australian market amongst bigger sneaker brands – the Nikes, New Balances and Adidas of the world – where their stock-in-trade units (footy boots, road runners, fashion) hoover up all the local marketing team’s attention. The poor cousin trail models are begrudgingly taken on locally at brand-HQ insistence only to gather dust in a disinterested sales rep’s car boot. If only they knew that trail running is one tenant of what researchers are now calling a ‘megatrend’ movement away from traditional team sports and towards individual, nature-based outdoor pursuits. Hello, trail running. Hello sales opportunity going wanting.

Anyway, away from the failings of big brands to recognise an emerging market (and do something about it), to the shoe, the sexy if hard to find beast it is. [Yes, I know you can order it online, but who’d do that without trying one on, no matter what a reviewer says! Ed.]


I went in with a notion that Adidas not being a mountain sports pedigree brand would fail dismally at off road. But then, overseas they play in the space much more and they do a handy football boot to boot.

With that in mind, let’s start with the obvious on these suckers: the grippy sole. Lugs protrude handsomely, 6.5mm to be exact, and have been smartly designed.

There are enough of them to dig deep into all forms of terrain, but spread enough across the sole to drop mud clumps quickly. The forward lugs are tapered providing excellent up front toe-in and transition to acceleration. Further back they work hard for better control including laterally, when on the brakes and when bombing downhill. Interestingly, the compound is as sticky as any other on market and was created in collaboration with Continental, the technology mimicked and adapted from that brand’s mountain biking tyres, including the shape of the lug. What works for one dirt warrior…

Moving through the sole, Adidas heralds its ‘Boost’ technology which most pundits agree delivers on its claim for better ‘energy control’, meaning you get a measured return of spring, enough to give increments of energy return but not enough to destabilize your foot on landing nor impinge on ground feel. This balance of bound and sensitivity on the foot strike is what for me makes the shoe a sure-footed choice.

In a way it is very much in line with the Salomon Sense Ultra – nimble, racy, with trail feedback providing confidence and grip nailing your cornering and downhill bombing. Where the Adidas excels further here is in giving a smoother ride than its competitor, assumedly courtesy of the Boost and some added EVA in the rear carriage.

Even so, it remains little stiffer through the sole than other more conservative trail runners, making them disciplined enough to take mountainside where a little ‘platform performance’ can help, but not so harsh as to give bruised feet over longer distances.

Screenshot 2016-08-01 17.12.49

Beneath your feet, after all, is a 24.5mm heel/18mm forefoot rigging. This delivers a mid-range 6.5mm drop, perfect for those leaning toward better technical running form, but enough up back if you still get the lean-backs on tiring.

Inside the foot fits snug, without being restrictive and the overall comfort factor is high out of the box. This is one of those shoes that feels like it instantly connects with your foot becoming an extension of rather than an addendum to your appendage. Of course, the snugger a shoe, the more chance there is your particular foot won’t agree with the shape, but I believe for most average Aussie slabs, (not too fat up front), the shoe will fit.

The ride is as mentioned fairly supreme, its only weak spot is super hard and flat surfaces that drag on – here the shoe can feel a little ‘slappy’, the overall undercarriage preferring more technical or soft ground underneath.Mt Buller

Lacing is solid in design. Despite looking a little weird, it seems to pull in where needed and give some where required. No issues there.

The rock plate in the forefoot is slim and flexible, but combined with the substantial outsole offers bomb proof protection from the hardest hits on the sharpest rocks, while still maintaining relatively good trail feel and torsional flexibility. If anything it can become to firm on the forefoot when running flats.

The Agravic is a seriously strong performer on most styles of Aussie trails. It’s just aggravating that the try and supply equation is somewhat restricted – but check Run Stop Shop in South Melbourne (or online) as a first port of call.

Great for: technical trails, grip, racing, all round fun
Not-so-great for: if you want to try and buy them – they are hard to find once stock is out!
Test Conditions: singletrack, lots of technical, soft ground, rocky, approx. 125km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $200




Scarpa, one of the world’s best hiking boot brands, have so far not had much success breaking into the Australian trail running market so when Dan Slater got the opportunity to test out their top model, the Atom, he was intrigued as to whether they deserved a fair go.


*NOTE: this one’s for international readers or those looking to get a feel for Scarpa trail shoes in general, as this particular model is not available in AU unless you’re an online shopper with a mate in Euroland or the US. But it’s sibling, the Proton, is and will be reviewed soon by TRM.*

With a 4mm drop and base weight of 249g per shoe (size 42), the Atoms are a different beast entirely to my current chunky runners, but with those guys finally falling to shreds and a big race on the horizon, I snatched up the offer and launched into testing like Hermes knocking off the Mt. Olympus Sky Run.

I’m not sure if the name is a nod to their minimalism hut I was immediately impressed with the weight, or lack of it, especially since I would be carrying them in a backpack for a few weeks before the race. Being built around a European-style last (the Scarpa TRM) means they aren’t the widest-fitting footwear ever, duck-hoofed flappers might need to look elsewhere, but they suited my European foot well enough.Mt Buller

I liked the little lace pocket in the tongue, reminiscent of the classic Salomon design but for real laces, of which the Atoms came with a spare pair (I never needed them). It took my pampered pods a few kilometres to get used to the lower drop but soon I was comfortably training in the 20km range. The few miles of tarmac on the way to the dirt, however, convinced me that I’d be better off strapping frying pans on my feet and stomping around Lake Eyrie than using them on roads. The 1.4 to 1.8 cm compression moulded EVA midsole just isn’t adequate for metalled surfaces, nor is it intended to be.IMG_7638

The next level of testing involved a training run through The Labyrinth on Tasmania’s Overland Track. The Vibram Genesis Lite sole’s space invader-shaped lugs gripped the mud, roots and rocks just fine and the lightweight polyester mesh fabric precluded overheating. Also, a good splash about in the mud produced no ill effects. However, that same thin fabric soon began to show signs of wear. Being a clumsy clodhopper I trip up a fair amount so the toes take a beating, and after less than 100km total run time I could see the garish upper colours beneath the thin black TPU of the toe bumper, plus the gel Scarpa branding was being knocked off letter by letter. However, they were still comfortable.

Satisfied with their performance during training I decided to trust the Atoms on the NUTR, or Nui Ultra Trail Run, a 68km course around the coastline of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It was a fantastic event but I learned that as great as lightweight minimalist shoes are on an even dirt track, the rigours of bounding over rubble strewn volcanic grasslands require slightly more supportiveness. Over the course of the day I kicked, skidded, skated and hoofed rock after porous lava rock, tripping hundreds of times and falling flat on my face on several occasions. By the finish line the uppers of both shoes were wearing through at the crease points and my plantar fascias were sore and stretched, but I was still upright and blister-free. And hell, I even won!



So, with roughly half a million trail shoes on the market to choose from, do Scarpas deserve consideration for your next shoe purchase? Absolutely. Here’s the thing – the Atoms aren’t currently available in Australia. What? I’ve just wasted five minutes of your precious time? Well, not quite. Given the choice now I would probably plump for the new Scarpa Proton anyway. It’s similar in many ways (welded upper, lace pocket, polyester mesh) but sits a little further along the weight/durability scale, and while the Atom is a good minimalist choice for even distances, the Proton boasts a fat 10mm drop and a full Vibram Genesis sole with more cushioning and deeper lugs. The weight compromise is almost 100g but let’s face it – unless you are going to carry them on your back for several weeks, that’s not a huge issue. I’ll personally be sticking to a bigger drop on longer runs from now on.


Great for: mid- to long-distance even trails; running travellers/travelling runners
Not-so-great for: rubble strewn south pacific volcanoes; tarmac
Test Conditions: Centennial Park circuit; The Overland Track; Easter Island; 263km total
Tester: Dan Slater, organiser, sole runner and reigning champion of the NUTR
Tester Mechanics: slight pronator; heel striker; narrow foot
VITALS:   Scarpa Proton – $259.95/$229.95 Gore/Non-Gore

Screenshot 2016-04-11 21.50.21

TRAIL SHOE REVIEW: Saucony Peregrine 6

The Rock biter. Careful. It bites. Just look at those teeth! It’s like they’d chomp your fingers off of you put your pinkies anywhere near them. Whomp! Luckily the new Saucony Peregrine 6 are vegetarian: they don’t eat meat (that we know of). Rather they eat dirt. And rocks. A bit like the Rock Biter in The Never Ending Story: munch, crumble, munch, swallow. The trail is just no match (or thinking about it another way, the perfect match) whatever its form.Saucony2

**THIS SHOE REVIEW WAS PUBLISHED IN EDITION#20 of TRAIL RUN MAG along with plenty more shoe, gear and trail guide reviews, all available for FREE! Download your pdf copy HERE.**

Okay, so that’s a hyperbolic introduction to the latest (version 6) Peregrines, but seriously, the first thing everybody does when they pick these snarling things up is to turn them over, raise the eyebrows and caress its underbelly. While not quite footballer lugs, I reckon you could get away with using these on the oval as much as on the trail. Rear facing stoppers on the front and forward facing pegs on the back, the Powertrac sole leaves nothing to the imagination and in motion allows you to plant your foot firmly wherever you place it and stick it every time. The result is a confidence on trail that is astounding. Prior to these, a particular member of the Icebug family – attuned as much to obstacle course market as the trail – were the kings of grip in our estimation (with a few others nipping at the heels including Salomon and Inov8 models). Peregrines were always near the top of the grip tree, too, but these take the art of clawing the ground to a new level.

While the grip is the most visual difference and benefit of the latest Peregrines, there are some handy features in the architectural structure, too. Infused with Everun technology, these give an almost perfect balance of trail feel and cushion. The function of the Everun is to absorb more at impact, return more at toe off and weigh less than EVA, claims we reckon are all valid. The ride on this shoe is certainly responsive, the supple chassis giving enough flexibility to really turn over and get a feel for the earth, yet with enough mush to soften the edges should Mother Nature get grumpy. There are no hard or hot spots underfoot. Just comfort spots.Saucony3

Initially, I admit to thinking the Peregrines would be “too much shoe”, with a fairly beefy exterior, seemingly high stack and thick ankle padding. But on the foot they are deceivingly light and agile. The comfort factor is out of the box good and only becomes better with every kilometre run.

A major change in these over previous models is the space given in the forefoot. The toebox is bigger, wider, which will please many feet in the traditionally slab-like market Down Under (apparently, as folklore has it, because we all ran around without shoes for most of our childhood, as opposed to the shoe-incarcerated European ‘endless winter’ children and their resulting narrow plodders).

Another upgrade addressing a traditional Peregrine weakness is a more robust upper. Past Peregrines have all suffered from quick wear, easy tear characteristics. The new model retains a breathable, wicking mesh upper with a welded Flexifilm giving more structure and hopefully life where once there were holes all to quickly.Mt Buller

There’s only a minimal toe guard, surprisingly, so watch the rocks ahead. But there is plenty of protection underfoot, the combination of big lugs, decent stack and a rock plate dulling any serious impacts. The sole is firm enough to protect the foot from angry, sharp rocks, yet it is supple enough for faster pace and quick-turn running.

While there is a stack height, the heel to toe drop is a minimal 4mm, which we believe sits in the sweet spot for those looking to encourage better form.

You know a shoe is good when a to-remain-unnamed elite trail runner supported by another flavor sees these on your feet and quips: they are awesome; one of the best trail shoes out there.

I concur and, slipping on my Peregrines, I swear I can hear them paraphrasing in the same gravelly voice of the Rock Biter: “Ah, ha! Now I can see why you picked this trail! Limestone rock, my favourite…munch, munch, munch.”


Great for: grip, mountain racing, cornering, technical trails, varied terrain trails.
Not-so-great for: extreme maximalist or minimalist runners. Otherwise, these are good for all.
Test Conditions: technical singletrack, fire roads, approx. 95km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $220

THIS SHOE REVIEW WAS PUBLISHED IN EDITION#20 of TRAIL RUN MAG along with plenty more shoe, gear and trail guide reviews, all available for FREE! Download your pdf copy HERE.

Screenshot 2016-04-11 21.50.21


Shoe Review: Saucony Nomad TR


This review first appeared in Edition #19 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.

Nomad: a member of a people or tribe that has no permanent abode but moves about from place to place, usually seasonally and often following a traditional route or circuit…Saucony-Nomad-TR-Shoes-AW15-Offroad-Running-Shoes-Red-Black-Orange-AW15-S20287-2

With a model stamp carrying that kind of meaning, I just had to try out Saucony’s new Nomad TRs by kicking them along a few of my ‘traditional routes and circuits’.

One thing made me wary at first – the fact that the colourway looks like I’ve had a night on the turps and thrown up all over them didn’t tickle my fancy, but then fashion sense is not my strong point – maybe that’s what all the trail hipsters are wearing these days? Of course, as one trailite buddy pointed out, they actually just look pre-muddied, as though they’d already sloshed through a paddock of mud before being put into the sales box. Instant cred, perhaps?

Other, more important and notably functional aspects noticed before getting them on trail: the sole construction is like nothing else out there and the toe box shape is a new direction for Saucony, especially for those used to slimmer Kinvara architecture.

First, to the grip. Where others look to get traction from spiking things up with bigger (or more) lugs, Saucony has looked to an elongated hexagon made of so-called (nonsensical capitalised marketing claptrap nomenclature alert!) PWRTRAC outsole – a tacky rubber compound that’s “engineered to adapt to various terrain types while providing excellent traction and durability.”

Sure, the rubber is a softer, stickier yet seemingly durable compound, but I think what gives these such awesome grip is the design of the hexagons and the interlocking between four separate plates of grip. This allows the hexagons to open up as the curved foot lands and then close up as the foot flattens out, effectively making the grip ‘pinch’ the ground as it moves through the impact motion.saucony-nomad-tr-s20287-2

For smoother surfaces – groomed trail, packed dirt, slippery rocks – it works in the same way that road bike tyres have more grip in bitumen than mountain bike tyres: there’s more contact area between rubber and ground. In mud there’s less clogging if any as no ‘cleats’ for mud to get stuck between. But whereas a road bike is useless in the mountain biking off road territory, take the Nomads off road and their grip remains strong on most trails. Sticky wet, claggy clay is the only kryptonite, but then that is a hard ask for any shoe and who wants to run in it?

In terms of ride, the Nomand offers a highly agreeable balance between cushioning and response. It runs firm enough so as not to feel unstable on semi-technical terrain, but also runs forgivingly on flatter, smoother trails. In many ways this is a door-to-trail shoe, given the mix of comfort and flatter grip, yet it can easily push deeper into wilderness than most other door-to-trail offerings, making it more versatile than most trail shoes.

No rockplate means where it starts to struggle is in the steeper, more technical stuff where sharp rocks are a puncture and bruise problem. Even so, those with strong technique will be able to take these to the very edge of roughness.Mt Buller

The shoe does have a ‘heavier’ feel to it – not by the grams as much as in how it feels on the foot, in the same way a Brooks Cascadia feels like it has a little beef. For those who like a feeling of some structure especially around the rear if the shoe, this may be a good thing.

Then there’s the new up-front expansion, in terms of the toe box widening out (unlike Saucony’s traditionally more narrow toe box, especially the Kinvara). The Nomad sports what they refer to as an oblique, toe-shaped last.  It’s a wider fit in the tradition of the Altra brand, although not quite as big. Where the Saucony trumps the Altra is that from the midfoot to the rear it reverts to a more average corridor width coming back into a snug heel. Just because you have a flatter, wider slab of meat up front doesn’t mean you have fat ankles. To me this fits with a broader range of foot shapes, gives a much firmer overall fit, and also allows for the swell of the forefoot on longer and ultra runs.

The drop is a lower end 4mm but the stack height 22mm at the heel and 18mm at the front, is where the cushioning is found. So a good shoe for those trying to transition to a forefoot strike but liable to get lazy and drop technique as tiredness sets in.

Saucony’s Nomad TR – despite a label hinting at homeless wandering – have found a place in my home. Welcome to the tribe… 

Great for: grip, hard-packed dirt and gravel trails, comfort, trail response, those wanting more toe room, long runs
Not-so-great for: hardcore mountains and seriously technical trails
Test Conditions: groomed trails (MTB), fire roads, semi-technical singletrack
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $199.95
Retailers: The Running Company Clifton Hill and Geelong

Landscape_Saucony version 



Shoe review: Mizuno Wave Hayate 2

This review first appeared in Edition #17 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.

I was ready to dislike the Hayate. Why? Nothing tangible, admittedly, aside from years ago, I had average experiences with an earlier Wave (too snug a fit eliciting hot spots), and rightly or wrongly, I never associate Mizuno with grassroots trail running – in terms of product or community support (Two Bays being the only real involvement with trail running I’ve seen from them in Australia). Ergo, I thought they as a company didn’t care about trail, so why should I care about them?SH_J1GJ157209_01_Hayate2_ElectricBlue

Fast forward a few years and I bump into newly-employed Mizuno staffer, Ash, whom I know from the trails. I know she runs trail. She loves trail. I know because I’ve shared some great singletrack with her. So we catch up and chat. She flings the shoes to test. Maybe, if they’re now hiring trail peeps, they actually – at least peripherally – care about trail? And everyone deserves a second chance, even big brash commercial brands.

Of course, a shoe’s performance on trail and its design heritage has zero to do with whether or not the local mob selling invests in a niche sport or not. Nike invests nothing in trail in Australia. Zero. Squat. But its trail shoes work for many. So let’s get these Hayate’s (meaning ‘fresh breeze’ in Japanese) on the dirt.

They plug the Wave Hayate 2 as the “thriller of off-road. Built for agility on difficult terrain, and speed on everything else, it is the ideal shoe for the off road race day and cross-country seasons.”

Its racer positioning on the trail totem pole is immediately obvious – put them on and the lightness, suppleness and comfort makes you want to trot off at pace immediately.

The upper presents as a fairly traditionally running shoe: mesh, straightforward lacing, a little too-minimal toe coverage for my clumsy liking. But on foot it is, as mentioned, comfortable as heck: you smile when you lace up.SH_J1GJ157209_02_Hayate2_ElectricBlue

Turn the shoe over and some of Mizuno’s more unique design features present: luggy X-grip traction up front bridged by an X-shaped separation under the arch which allows the fore and aft to move independently according to the terrain (more on the pros and cons of that in a minute). The lugs are spaced widely, allowing enough channel to clear mud easily. Up back the grip eases off some. On trail I was a big fan of the performance in latching on to all styles of terrain. Apparently the compound used is a carbon rubber for increased durability – I haven’t run far enough in them to date to comment.

In the midsole, the Hayate sticks with Mizuno’s signature ‘Wave’ technology.

The genesis for the Wave was apparently inspired by the way nature deals with impact forces. From Mizuno’s website: “From sound waves to tidal waves, waveforms spread and dissipate energy incredibly quickly. Inspired by nature’s simple efficiency, we created the world’s first … mechanical midsole.”Mt Buller

The idea is that as the shoe impacts the ground, the Wave inside the midsole actually reduces and redirects impact forces away from your foot, much like your car’s suspension does, offering high end cushioning without bounce and keeping your foot centered throughout the stride.

Most of that technology works through the rear and into the mid foot. Up front, for forefoot strikers, the ride is fairly firm – too firm for long runs on firm surfaces unless your conditioning and technique is up to scratch. But on flowy, technical trails especially those with some give (soft bush ground or rainforest carpets, for instance) these are a stellar choice. The feedback is first-class, making your run nimble and full of agility.

Some of that response is down to the X-groove under the arch. Designed to give independent movement between fore and aft, it certainly gives your foot the flexibility to do its natural thing. Sometimes this can backfire a little if you are seeking a bit more platform support from your shoe – especially in steep technical terrain where a little underfoot rigidity can benefit. Thus your foot sometimes has to work harder, making the shoe more suited to highly technical terrain that is not in the Big Mountain category – think 28km Two Bays rather than 100 mile Alpine Challenge.

The fit on the Hayate 2 is snug – something common to Mizuno trail models – the forward box on the smaller, pointier side; so these are not for runners with big, wide toe splays and those wanting them for the long run need get a half to full size bigger than usual.

Overall the Hayate 2s are an awesome racing flat equivalent for trail running – light, fast, grippy with great feedback and comfort, but their benefits fall away over the longer the run, and on firmer, steeper the terrain. As a runner who mostly runs medium-range technical stuff (20-50km) they are a great choice, especially for event days and when headed to my favourite, fun, fast, flowy trails. 

Great for: grip, flowy, technical trails, soft packed, shorter runs, racing, cross country
Not-so-great for: steep mountains, hard packed long runs
Test Conditions: groomed trails (MTB), fire roads, semi-technical singletrack
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
RRP: $199



Larapinta strip


On the up – new Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical

Technology moves faster than Kilian on Kilimanjaro. So it’s no surprise then that the New Year brings with it a new Suunto Ambit – this time the “3 Vertical”, with a heads up that in 2016 its all about how high you can get, how fast. Our resident trail tech geek and Associate Editor, Tegyn Angel, received a special preview unit before launch to put the unit through its paces. He also gives a final tip to the word that will soon be on every trail running geek’s lips: STRYD. 

medium_SS022226000 VERTICAL Lime Perspective View_Route altitude profile metric NEGATIVE_pngUnboxing the Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical, the first thing I completely failed to notice was the absence of a chunky tumour-like antenna poking out along the band. It’s been such a stalwart feature of previous Ambit watches that it took me nearly two weeks to realise why the watch felt – and looked – so much more refined. Because it’s visually so much simpler, it almost makes it look like a cheaper, lower-end model, though that is hardly the case.

Suunto have developed a completely bezel design that incorporates the antenna, meaning no more bulge and a much more streamlined unit. While aesthetically much nicer, this should also mean a better fit on smaller wrists (i.e. the female half of our population!)

For all intents and purposes, the Vertical looks like a slightly stripped down version of the brand’s flagship, the Ambit 3 Peak. And that’s exactly where it’s positioned: between the Ambit 3 Peak and the Sport. In essence, the Vertical is an updated Peak with half the battery life that presents a handful of new metrics targeted specifically at people who care about their elevation profile. By basing the elevation measurement on barometric pressure the Vertical is able to achieve a far greater degree of accuracy than is possible with the GPS-only Sport and Run models.

Screenshot 2016-01-07 17.35.34Okay, so it measures elevation more accurately. Is that it? Big deal, go and tell all your Strava buddies. Hold up! Not so fast! Flicking through the watch mode screens (i.e. outside of an activity) you start to get a taste of how the new technical capabilities have been utilised to prevent genuinely relevant information. Screen two presents your 7 day, 30 day and 12 month ascent totals along with your total time climbing.

However, once you get into an activity mode you start to realise that elevation gain/loss is no longer a trivialised measure of total meters gained or lost per workout. For every activity that records GPS/Altitude data, the watch displays a real-time elevation profile allowing the wearer to better visualise the route so far. While existing Ambit3 models allowed you to pre-program routes online or via the Movescount App and to track your horizontal position visually, the Vertical takes things into the 3rd dimension. The Vertical actually displays an elevation profile of the entire pre-programmed route and tracks your progress on the same with a progressive slider. Very cool!Mt Buller

By themselves, the antenna redesign and vertical functionality are pretty good additions and deliver an update almost as significant as the upgrade from Ambit2 to Ambit3. But Suunto haven’t stopped there. One of the most requested features has finally been included: Vibration! Vibration! Vibration! As seen on the recently released Traverse, button presses now feature haptic feedback and alarms (both time and user-determined alarms like pace, heart rate and so forth) now vibrate. It’s about time! (sorry…). Suunto have also added Recovery and Sleep tests though we’ve yet to test the efficacy of these.

medium_SS021844000 VERTICAL Black Perspective View_Recovery time POSITIVE_pngSo should you buy one? As always it depends. If you own an Ambit3 Peak, probably not. I say probably because in the Vertical, Suunto has released a watch that’s positioned below the Peak yet it sports features that the Peak does not. However, if you: own anything else; care about Vert; don’t need a read out of barometric pressure and; don’t plan on running an event that lasts longer than about 10hrs – it’s well worth considering.

The Vertical is a very solid entry into a crowded market and a definite sign of things to come for Suunto.

Epilogue: What the bloody hell is a Power Meter? Well, apparently they’re the go-to training tool in cycling. According to Wikipedia (yep, that’s how little I knew about them), they “provide an objective measurement of real output that allows training progress to be tracked very simply—something that is more difficult when using, for example, a heart rate monitor alone.” So what? Well, when running at a given pace on a flat, consistent surface (i.e. a road) with no relevant environmental factors (i.e. headwind, snow), heart rate combined is a pretty consistent measure of effort. Fortunately, we’re not road runners (never mind cyclists) and so these factors DO affect any measure of effort.

[You didn’t enter a valid video URL. Please try again.]Until now Power Meters were only readily available for cyclists. Until NOW! Enter stage left, STRYD. The first power meter for runners. While not a Suunto product, Suunto is working very closely with STRYD to ensure that all of their watches are compatible with power meters in all relevant sport modes and that includes running. We haven’t had our test unit long enough to give a thorough review but possibilities are massive.

Let’s look at a quick example: You’re running a trail ultra, lets say the Ultra Trail Australia, and want to pace yourself consistently. Half the course is very hilly, while the other half is pretty fast (according to Sir Kilian). So how do you pace consistently? If you’ve ever looked at your heart rate next to a measure like pace you’ll notice a significant lag between output and BPM. As STRYD put it, “power gives an instant picture of the work input, heart rate shoes how your body reacted to that workload.” By using power as your pacing measure you would be able to pre-establish and monitor a consistent level of output.

It’s an exciting concept! Watch this space.

The Suunto Ambit3 Vertical has a RRP of $629 AUD ($679 AUD with the Suunto Smart Sensor) and is available from the end of January.

For more information, visit                    



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Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N2

This shoe review appears in the latest edition of Trail Run Mag (Ed #18), downloadable for FREE here. You can also purchase a subscription on iTunes for your iPad/iPhone or Kindle Fire.

A Pearler Performer

It says it on the tongue of these: “Run like an animal.”

So I do. Or I can. Because these shoes let me. They give me the confidence to.

And not just on any old trails but knarly, rocky, bitely, slashy, trippy ones like the Larapinta Trail, in the harsh but beautiful desert heartland of Australia. They were worn out of the box, too. And damn did they perform.

I’ve been waiting for Pearl Izumi to hit our (Australian) shores for a while now, first being exposed to the brand overseas. With origins in Japan and the United States, now based in Colorado and Germany, Pearl Izumi has a background in cycling, triathlons and road running, but has successfully extended to off road running, its shoes finding favour from the moment they hit the market. The secret – a focus on innovation in materials and design without too much of the waffle for the sake of sales, and with a dose of punk attitude. I like that.

There are two models for trailites in the main, the N1 and N2 (pictured), the former being a racing shoe and the latter a training, although they are essentially the same shoe with a few key point differences, so you can use both interchangeably. I mainly tested the N2 (pictured). Billed as a neutral shoe, the last has been dialed to accommodate a neutral to supinator running gait in the main (okay they use a bit of waffle here dubbing it the E:MOTION – why do marketeers always feel the need to capitalise!?).Mt Buller

From the outset these shoes felt sublime on. The mid-foot fit and feel benefits from a foot-hugging upper with a seamless inner meaning no-socks is possible (not for this stinky duck, though).  The thin mesh upper breathes beautifully (it got warm up in the Red Centre), the fine fabiric again providing comfort feel. The no-fuss, broad and flat(ter) outersole, is composite carbon rubber, which proved incredibly durable against the seriously rippy terrain. The grip at first glance seems less aggressive than the best performers in this sphere, with lower and more spread out lugs. But the set up works nevertheless, the shoe locking on anything I leapt upon.

Underfoot protection is high, yet balanced by reasonable trail sensitivity and superior foot stability. It seemed to hit a sweet spot between feedback and protection, delivered via a 24.5mm stack height (including mid and outsole), with a dynamic offset of 4 mm at initial contact to 7.5 mm at mid-stance. Double take? Doesn’t a shoe usually just have one figure for it’s heel-toe differential? Not the Izumis. Designers pushed back the ‘spring’ action of its cushioning about 2cm towards the mid foot, and created a dynamic range of offset that changes through the stride. So this is a heel-toe that ranges from minimalist 4mm to getting more traditional at 7.5mm (traditional rated as being in the 12mm+ range).

The result is a smoother ride than I have ever experienced throughout the foot strike. I believe this especially suits me as someone who tries to strike in the forefoot but falls back a touch (maybe by 20mm?) as I run long. The foam used throughout the sole gives good energy rebound – how that plushness plays out in durability, or disintegration of the stack structure over time, is still to be judged.

A rock plate in the forefoot adds further protection making it idea for the super techy trails we tested this on.

What about the N1 ‘race’ version? Differences? It has a more minimalist trail cushioning platform with a dynamic offset of 1mm (rather than 4mm) at initial contact to 4.5mm (rather than 7.5mm) at mid-stance. It’s lower profile with a heel stack height of 19.7mm (includes midsole and outsole), 4.8mm less than the N2 and it has been on a slightly better diet, at 261gm (size 9), 22grams lighter.

TassieTrailFest_SIMON MADDEN-7612Overall both shoes seem to strike the perfect chord across all the major checkboxes: comfort, grip, stability, trail feel, durability. Fittingly, then, Pearl Izumi literally translated, means, “fountain of pearls.” And as we know, a pearl has long been a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable. Spot on: this certainly is a gem of a trail shoe.

Great for: Everything. Seriously. Everything.
Not-so-great for: pronators at a stretch – but there is a pronator version. Otherwise, they are all round goodness.
Test Conditions: Larapinta Trail – rough, sharp, super technical, hard underfoot
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running routes, mostly 15-30km range outings.
RRP: AUD$199 / $209

This shoe review appears in the latest edition of Trail Run Mag (Ed #18), downloadable for FREE here. You can also purchase a subscription on iTunes for your iPad/iPhone or Kindle Fire.

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