Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Salomon: S-LAB EXO Tights Review

It’s amazing how technology works this day especially on the apparels that we thought were just there to cover us. I’m not yet that old and I still have a lot of miles left on these legs, but I still remember how running was back in the day. All you have to do is grab a pair of shoes, shirt, shorts and off you go.

Well that mentality is of the past, the 21st century has seen a lot of improvements and one of those is how “technical” gears and apparels are getting these days. Running is not like other sports (cycling for example) that you have to have (at least) the best equipment in order to keep up with the group…well, WRONG! Running has evolved and you’ll be surprise that gears and apparels this day are very “techy” and sophisticated. I have nothing against it, it’s there to help us perform better and keep us safe from any injuries.

Salomon is one of the companies that really push the boundaries when it comes to performance. A good example of this “forward thinking” that is backed by a lot of research is the S-LAB EXO Tights. I have tested a lot of Salomon products and I don’t sugarcoat when I say that they’re one of the bests, because they are! You can read my previous reviews here, here, here and here.

The S-LAB EXO Tights is one special tights in my opinion that Salomon has put a lot of thoughts in it. I did a lot of testing on this since I’m thinking of using this for the California International Marathon this Sunday.


Features
·      Skin Fit: Next to skin fit
·      EXO Sensifit stability
·      2 gel pockets
·      Knee articulation
·      Reflective branding front and back
·      Advanced Skin Active Dry
·      Venus bi-stretch woven
·      Silicone grip tape

Benefits
·      Postural Control: Salomon EXO stability technology with carbon effect film provides real result.
·      Lightweight: Lightweight Advanced Skin Active Dry provides slight warmth and great moisture management.
·      Freedom of movement: moves with the body.
·      Muscle Support: Patented Salomon EXO print delivers maximum support for muscles to improve endurance.

Fit and Functionality
The S-LAB EXO tights that I requested is a medium size and it fits me perfectly. I compared this with my other running tights, even the ones that I use in cycling and the cut is pretty much the same. There is no size guide available on their website due to the fact that their sizes are based on the industry standard. So, if you know what size you wear for the most part then you’ll be ok.

This tight falls under the Nordic category on the Salomon website. The tight is primarily designed for skiing purposes. I’m aware that skiing is very much low impact activity compared to running but how this was designed is quite intriguing. I got curious and wanted to know if this can benefit me in running.  

Salomon has extended the EXO technology throughout their S-LAB apparels. If you’re wondering what EXO technology is and what it does, here’s my brief explanation. This is literally the honeycomb (or the hexagonal) pattern that you see on their apparels. It is a patterned material that is strategically infused / bonded to lessen the deformity of the fabric. Aside from the compression that you would normally get from a compression gear, this adds more stability to support the large muscle groups like quadriceps, hamstring, calves, forearms, triceps and biceps to reduce the jarring motion which could lead to a possible tear on the muscles. As a result, this prevents the early onset of muscle fatigue so that you can perform better and much stronger. Below is a short video courtesy of Salomon how it helps in controlling the muscles.


To give you a better idea of the construction of the EXO Tights and what it does, I will start from top, middle and bottom then the inside.

·   From the top: Unlike some other tights that I have tested, the EXO tight doesn’t utilize a draw string to secure to your waist, instead Salomon infused a very thin layer of silicon grip tape to grab to your skin.


Traditionally, you’ll find just one very small pocket on the inside (enough to fit a car key) on some tights but Salomon made a very clever design. The 2 pockets are integrated with the waist located at the front and back. Made of very thin and breathable material that are stretchable and elastic enough to hold some of your running essentials like gels, tabs, key and some cash.

My main concern when I saw this is, will it hold up or roll down once I start moving? I was really surprised that it stayed perfectly in place and the fact that I had some gels and fuels on those pockets, it really held up well. The only issue that I can see on this is if the person wearing this might be big on the midsection (no offense) then the silicon gripper will tend to roll down. So just a precaution that it may not function the way you want it to be.

·   Going to the mid portion of the tights. It is very visible how those honeycomb patterns were strategically placed to support the quadriceps, hamstrings and the lower portion of the back (lumbar). I don’t have massive quads but putting this tight needs a little bit of pulling especially when placing those honeycomb patterns to the right muscle that it’s supposed to support. The compression plus the honeycomb pattern is very confining. It might feel a little bit strange in the beginning but it doesn’t take much time to get adjusted to it.

 

·   On the calves’ section: There’s really nothing fancy about this area but I love that they used a very silky soft compression material that offers enough support on that precious muscle. It is also where they put the reflective material to keep you visible during low light conditions.


·   On the inside: Remember those honeycomb patterns that you see on the outside along the quads and hamstring? You might notice that there is a break in patterns (blue areas) that it doesn’t wrap around the legs, well actually it does. Looking on the inside, you’ll see that Salomon filled those gaps with the honeycomb pattern EXO technology as well, so your legs literally get a 360-degree of full support.


·   Lastly, on the knee section: Salomon infused a silicon gripper on both sides of the knee area. This gives an extra hold and prevent the tights from riding up that could be a potential cause of chafing especially on the inner thigh. This is also visible on the outside.


One of the benefits in wearing a full tight is you’ll get the full coverage that your legs need especially during cold season. My leg muscles tend to tighten up during the first mile of running when the temp is a bit cold but wearing this gives me some added layer to keep them warm. It doesn’t block the wind completely but it’s better than just wearing a short.


Performance wise, this tight is quite impressive in delivering the right amount of compression and perfectly stabilizing the major muscles needed for running. The excessive wrapping of the EXO technology helps eliminate the early onset of muscle fatigue by lessening the jarring motion and increasing the blood flow in my legs. The Advanced Skin / Active Dry technology did pretty good even on cold weather condition keeping the sweat and moisture out of my skin as it easily dissipates into the air.

My Verdict
Running is a high impact sport and even though this apparel is designed primarily for skiing, it still provides a good muscle compression and stabilization like other apparels that are made specifically for running, so I don’t see any reasons why people wouldn’t use this on running.


 Since I only been testing this for less than two months, the only issue that I can see on this is the durability of the silicon gripper tape on the waist area. Probably only time can tell for how long it will hold up but if for any reason that this fails and didn’t meet your satisfaction, Salomon have extensive warranty period and they will replace any faulty garments with a new one as quickly as possible.

The S-LAB EXO Tights is designed for pure performance and rest assured that they are built with high quality materials and craftsmanship. It comes with a whooping price tag of $250. Yeah, I know that it’s a steep price to pay and will surely put a dent in your wallet. But if you compare this with Opedix and Lululemon, that price is within that ball park. It’s evident that technology comes with a price tag and if you are willing to pay for that then I highly suggest that you give it a try.

So if this is something that you may want to consider this Christmas, you can purchase this directly on their website or at retail stores near you. You can also get it on Amazon on a much cheaper price and save you some buck.

Thanks for reading and hope you find this review helpful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Outdoor Research: Helium II Jacket Review

It’s been raining hard here in Northern California for the past few weeks and getting outside to do my runs is sometimes a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, treadmill is one way to get it done but for some reason I’m not a big fan of it. I prefer to be outside, see my surroundings and breath fresh air. My mind is more relax and I truly get the satisfaction from being outside. The only caveat is that I have to have some protection from pouring rain and other elements. This is where Outdoor Research comes into play.


Ever heard of the Outdoor Research? If you’re into outdoor adventures, then you probably heard of this company a lot. Outdoor Research (OR as known by many) is an American company located in Seattle, Washington founded in 1981 by a guy named Ron Gregg. He’s a physicist turned outdoor adventurer. OR was founded on the idea that life is an adventure and the best gear makes it more fun. I guess watching this video will do more justice than me telling you the story. So sit back, enjoy and know the company’s history on this short video:


Outdoor Research offers plenty of gears and apparels, so depending on your needs and the location of where you’ll be needing it most, guaranteed that they have something for you. Since Northern California is being pounded with some heavy rains lately, I opted to test the Helium II Jacket. It’s waterproof and extremely lightweight:


Let’s go down with all the details and see what this jacket is made of.

Features
·   Waterproof
·   Breathable
·   Fully seam tape
·   Laminated construction
·   Windproof
·   Lightweight
·   Adjustable hood
·   Aqua guard zippers
·   Zip chest pocket
·   Internal pocket (serve as a stuff sack)
·   Reflective logos
·   Elastic cuff and draw cord hem

Fit and Functionality
The Helium II is a very lightweight, waterproof and windproof jacket that is cut accordingly based on the industry standard. I wear a medium in nearly every shirt and jacket I own, and the Helium II is consistent with that sizing. It is a Standard Fit which basically means that it is tailored in a way that the sides go straight down from under the armpits, basically like a T-shirt.

Now, that we get the sizing out of the way, let’s get to the meaty part.

The Helium II has received many accolades and recognitions last year from:
·      Outdoor Gear Lab: “Top Pick Award Winter 2015”
·      Runner’s World: “Best Waterproof Running Jacket Winter 2015”
·      Canoe and Kayak Magazine: “Best Cold-Weather Kayaking Gear Winter 2015”

1.     First thing that really caught my attention was the weight of the jacket. We all know that most waterproof jackets are somewhat heavy and it goes with some bulkiness as well. The Helium II is not as beefy as the Gore-Tex and it weighs 6.4 ounces only. It is extremely lightweight and packable.


2.     The jacket has two pockets in total. The outside zippered chest pocket located on the left-hand portion is large enough to fit even the biggest phone in the market today. I just bought a new phone that measures 6.5” (outside to outside) diagonal and it fits perfectly. The other pocket is located inside the jacket that is secured by Velcro. This pocket also serves as a stuff sack for the jacket, easily converts your full jacket into a small packable bag that you can clip to your carabiner or throw in your bag.  


3.     The semi elastic cuff. It’s roomy enough that you can put this over the glove when it’s really cold. I like this better than the full cuff as it gives me more breathability since this jacket doesn’t have any vent holes like other jackets.  


4.     The draw cord along the hem of the jacket that you can easily tighten with just one hand. This hem is also a bit longer than the front to give you some added protection from water splashing into your bun.


5.     The hood is equipped with a brim that doesn’t block my peripheral vision even as I turn my head. Yes, it is roomy! this can easily go over a helmet if you decide to wear this during a bike ride or rock climbing. Unlike other jackets that have an elastic cord along the side of the hood, this doesn’t have any. But it has a more intuitive draw cord located at the very back that is connected to the front / side area of the hood giving it more secure hold and tight fit when needed.


6.     The zipper area is truly waterproof and bonded very well with the rest of the material. It also has a long textured cord attached to the zipper that you can pull easily even while wearing a thick glove.


7.     Lastly is the reflective materials to keep you visible during low light conditions. The thing that I noticed was that it doesn’t have any reflective materials at the back. I suggest that you carry some extra light (a headlamp or an LED Vest) to give you more visibility.


I have tested this jacket over some nasty rains and strong winds with a temperature between 40oF and 50oF. This jacket is equipped with Pertex Shield + that enabled me to stay warm and kept the rain and cold wind from getting in. It is extremely lightweight and it moves along with my body as I move and swing my arms. The adjustable hood is a snap when I pulled it over to secure my cap and it stayed perfectly in place. I put my phone inside the chest pocket with a piece of paper towel to test the waterproofness on this area, well true to what they advertised, even the inside is waterproof. I tend to sweat a lot and the material of this jacket is extremely comfortable to my skin, it didn’t give me that clammy feeling.

The jacket is extremely breathable on the conditions that I have tested it but as I mentioned on the above, it doesn’t have any venting holes or zipper along the arm pit for a quick ventilation. This is the only thing that I would recommend if they decide to do some upgrade, but other than that, this is a perfectly well-done jacket that you can depend on. There’s no reason to leave the house without it.

Before and after 9 miles of running
My Verdict
The Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket is one of the best jackets that I have tested. The waterproofness, wind blocking protection, breathability and comfort are truly remarkable. The fact that this jacket is rated to be waterproof, OR still manage to deliver this jacket with a mere weight of 6.4 ounces. This is unheard of for a jacket with this caliber!

If you’re still on the fence, and have some thoughts about the durability, Outdoor Research gears and apparels are backed with their Infinite Guarantee. They strongly believe on the quality of their gears will last forever and if by any reason that the product fails to meet your needs, OR will be happy to replace it. Their primary goal is your total satisfaction.

This jacket comes with a price tag of $159.00 which I believe is pretty reasonable for its quality, its price is comparable with other jackets in today’s market. I would highly consider this jacket if you’re looking for some upgrade this season and for any activities that you plan on doing under the rain or even if the sky decides to open up…you’ll be glad that Helium II Jacket got your back!

Thanks for reading and feel free to post below if you have any comments or questions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

CamelBak®: New Gears for 2017

2016 is coming to an end whether we like it or not, few more weeks and we will welcome a new year. So, what does 2017 looks like for CamelBak? Well, I don’t know what lies ahead of them but one thing I know for sure is that they have quite a few new products that will soon be out to the public. I have to admit that these new gears are remarkably awesome!

CamelBak needs no further introduction. You can ask anybody about hydration systems and guaranteed that the first thing that they will say is CamelBak. They’ve been in the sports industry since 1989 and trust me…they know how to deliver. I’ve been given the privilege to review some of their products in the past and you can read those here and here.

I know your anxious to find out these new gears so let’s cut to the chase.

Quick Stow Flask & Quick Stow Chill Flask


These are the newer addition to the CamelBak lineup. These flasks are soft sided bottles created from the same material as their Reservoir which gives it a much better feel in the hand. These are collapsible soft flasks and the main difference between the two is that the Quick Stow Flask is not insulated while the Quick Stow Chill Flask is insulated and keeps the fluid cold 2X longer. Below are some of the features for both flasks:
·      17-ounce capacity.
·      Big bite valve.
·      Leak proof shut-off valve.
·      Large-mouth opening is easy to fill with ice and water and a breeze to clean.
·      Compact, lightweight and packable.
·      100% Free of BPA / BPS / BPF.
·      Dishwasher safe.
·      Volume indicators.
·      Easy dry hanger loop.

Ultra Handheld Chill


Another new addition to the CamelBak family is the Ultra Handheld Chill. It is a holster made of 3D ventilated mesh designed to accommodate the insulated Quick Stow Chill Flask. Ultra-runners are absolutely loving this new system as it offers quick and easy access for hydration. I have a few handheld hydration systems but this one is definitely the best as it offers so much comfort and the variations on how I can properly secure and carry it on my hand. I have a Nexus 5 and it fits perfectly inside the zippered pocket but any phones bigger than that like the iPhone 6S or Galaxy will not fit. Notable features of this are:
·      It is made of 3D ventilated mesh.
·      Provides multi directional air flow and cushioning to maximize comfort and breathability.
·      Secure elastic strap that you can customize depending on how you want to hold it.
·      Zippered phone pocket
·      Small stretchable pocket for gels and extra fuel.
·      Reflective material for early and late evening runs.


Crux Reservoir


As we always say “there’s always room for improvement”…so that’s what CamelBak did. They did some enhancements to an already great hydration bladder, the Crux Reservoir. This reservoir comes in 3 different capacities (1.5L, 2L and 3L). Below are some of the upgrades that you’ll see on this new reservoir:
·      Increased in tube diameter which now offers 20% more fluid delivery per sip.
·      One silicon piece big bite valve.
·      More intuitive “on and off” lever ideal for one hand operation.
·      Angled bite valve for easy access.
·      Longer cap holder for easy filling (it’s like holding a frying pan).
·      New cap that flips away so it’s not inhibiting while filling or re-filling.
·      Ergonomic and easy to screw on cap.
·     100% free of BPA, BPS and BPF.


Circuit Vest


The Circuit Vest is one of CamelBak’s top seller that received some new cool upgrades. I was already impressed with this year’s model but I’m even more impressed with the new one. If you’re not familiar with the Circuit Vest, it’s the small version of the Marathoner. Similar to the current models are these features:
·      2 large storage pockets in the front. You can even fit water bottles or the Quick Stow Flask.
·      Dual side cinch fit system, designed to prevent water from sloshing and close to the body.
·      Sweat proof pocket on the strap that lets you carry your phone and other running essentials.
·      A total of 6 pockets.
·      Reflective material located on the front and back.

Here are the new upgrades for 2017:
·      A new 1.5L (50 ounces) Crux reservoir.
·      A new 3D ventilated mesh material that offers multi-directional air flow and cushioning to maximize comfort and breathability.
·      A new dual adjustable sternum strap that you can reposition based on your comfort and liking.

I really love the new features of the Circuit Vest especially the 3D ventilated mesh that offers so much comfort during hot and muggy conditions. On top of that is the new Crux reservoir that offers more fluid per sip. Lastly, is the easy access for the new angled bite valve and the “on and off” lockout system can be done with just one handed operation.
  
Ultra Pro Vest


Fresh from the drawing board is the Ultra Pro Vest designed for competitive ultra-runner or minimalist runner (like me). This is mainly designed to accommodate the new Quick Stow Flask that fits perfectly on the front storage pockets.
·      Two 17 oz Quick Stow Flask that are lightweight
·      3D ventilated mesh that offers multi directional air flow and cushioning to maximize comfort and breathability
·      Secure phone pocket
·      Dual adjustable sternum straps for increase stability and offer a range of adjustments for customization
·      Stretch overflow pocket that serves as extra storage for gears or a hydration bladder storage
·      Built in whistle for safety
·      A total of 8 pockets
·      Available in 3 sizes [chest size] (S: 28-34 in) (M: 32-40 in) (L: 38-46 in)

The Ultra Pro Vest is somewhat similar to the Circuit Vest except that there is no side cinch that you have to adjust. Though there are no side cinch, their sizes are close to a perfect fit. Not having the side cinch eliminates any unequal pressure on the sides cause by accidental over tightening.   

Since this is designed for minimalist runners, keep in mind that this doesn’t come with a hydration bladder. However, the overflow back pocket is still capable of holding a 2L (70 ounces) reservoir in case you need to for longer training / races and if there’s minimal support along the course. I’m a big fan of the Circuit Vest but I love the Ultra Pro Vest more. It’s lighter and more versatile in my opinion. Similar with the Circuit Vest, the 3D ventilation mesh is an outstanding piece of material that is so comfortable and it helps circulate more air fresh air around my body.

Note: These gears might still be out of stock on CamelBak's website but you can get them at REI.
Circuit Vest: Click here
Ultra Pro Vest: Click here

Overall Verdict
Hydration is the name of the game regardless of whatever sports or activities you do in life. This is even more pertinent for endurance athletes that need to perform on the highest level. This new gears offered by CamelBak will surely and can bring you to your next level. I am highly satisfied with all these gears and I shouldn’t be a surprise…it is expected from a brand like CamelBak.  

CamelBak is not all about business like other companies, they make sure they build a strong relationship with their customers and meet their demands. Their products are built and tested to last for a long time and perform according to its function.

CamelBak stands behind their products … Like they say: CamelBak® Got Your Bak™ Guarantee: If we built it, we'll Bak it™ with our lifetime guarantee.

Check out these new gears for 2017 and I bet you’ll love it!