Kit Reviews

Choosing the right kit is essential in trail running, especially when running in remote and demanding areas such as the Alps. Therefore, we have added the following kit reviews in order to help provide some guidance on what to choose or indeed what qualities to look out for when investing in your own equipment. All the kit reviews are carried out by the Run the Wild Team, who are experienced trail runners. They are conducted in demanding conditions and are intended to be as an honest a review as possible. We hope you find them interesting and a useful guide to helping you choose the right product for you. Remember everyone is different and therefore what someone loves, another person may hate! These reviews are purely information to be considered when purchasing equipment and is not a substitute for professional and personal guidance.

  • Running Poles - Leki Micro Trail Vario
  • Sunglasses - Julbo Aerolite Zebra
  • Sunglasses - Aero Zebra Light

Leki Micro Trail Vario

Up until 4 years ago, over 90% of my running was based around the Chiltern Hills. Although aptly named, the gradients are more rolling hill than mountainous terrain, and as such I have rarely found the need for running poles. A little jaunt in the Sahara led to the acquisition of my first pair of poles, but the focus was for using poles to climb sand dunes, and low weight was the first, second and third priority!

4 years ago, I became part of the Run the Wild storybook, and found myself spending summers in the Alps. I’m not a big skier, so this was really my first introduction to the mountains, and suddenly the word ‘hill’ takes a whole new meaning! Over here, a running pole is not a luxury, or unnecessary add on, but more part of a runners every day kit bag. I have owned Leki walking poles for years, and the name is synonymous for a quality and reliable walking product. I have occasionally borrowed Simon’s micro Leki running poles when out with him, and found them once again to be great poles, but this was my first go testing the new version properly, the Micro Trail Vario.

RUNNING POLES VS WALKING POLES

Running poles vary from walking poles in that they are considerably lighter, with smaller baskets, and the Leki version has a half glove which fixes to the handle, meaning the height remains unchanged by different hand positions, and needs altering by the slider mechanism. They are designed to provide full body assistance while powering up hill, and extra touchpoints, and stability, while flying down. Since developing plantar fasciitis in October last year, and as turning 40 is appearing all too quickly on the horizon, im all for saving my body as much as I can, so will take any help I can get.

Technically, the Micro Trail Vario is 5-piece pole, available in 105-120cm length, made of 100% carbon, with the Trigger Shark Active grip and strap, and speed lock 2 length adjuster. Each pole weighs in at 191g, and are a fetching grey/orange combo. So, that’s the technical side of things, and allows for competitor comparison, but the real truth lies in the performance on the trail.

QUICK CONCLUSION!

First off, I love these poles! There, conclusion made before I provide any more info! I will go into it more I promise, but the reality is these are a really well thought through design that I struggle to identify even minor snags. The pole is light, attractive, easy to use, and super functional. Whether hauling me up a hill and spreading the workload through my upper body, or being 2 extra stability touchpoints on technical descents, these poles give me confidence. They may not make a vast difference on my 80m 8% inclines back in the Chilterns, but here in the Alps they are a godsend. So…onto the review…

THE REVIEW

The Trigger Shark Active Grip system requires some practice initially, a thumb press while hand lifting manoeuvre. Sounds simple enough, and honestly it is. Within a few goes the movement becomes pretty seamless, and the advantage of having the glove attached to the pole means the pressure is spread more consistently over the whole hand and doesn’t rely on grip strength. I do find myself delaying detachment, and carrying my poles, and similarly clicking back in, compared to an unattached pole, but given just how light these poles are, that isn’t a bad thing. I find when I’m really tired I have a habit of loosening my grip on the handle, and striding like a determined hiker, and letting the glove do the work in moving the pole in time with my strides. The design means you have a little less flexibility in the positioning of where you hold the pole while clipped in, so you are running with the same length pole whether up steep hill, undulating, or on the flat, unless you make the effort to adjust the pole length, but if you see the terrain ahead is more mixed, just unclip and hold the handle, and it works perfectly efficiently. I’ve had enough wipe-outs to always detach for a downhill section regardless!

Once detached, the handle is super smooth, it is comfortable to hold onto, and doesn’t catch on your hand at all (which I found the previous model did). The weight ratio of handle to shaft, as well as overall light weight is such that you can hold the poles at the end, in the middle, where ever you wish to while in the carrying position. I did find that the lack of discernible size difference between handle and shaft means if you try and too quickly flick the pole through your hand to catch onto the handle, it can sometimes slip right through, but I’m not the most coordinated of people.

The handle itself is made of cork, used for its sweat absorption properties as it remains grippy after a long run, and is very comfortable. Due to the more fixed positioning than a regular pole, my hands got fairly warm, but this would be the case regardless of the material, and the cork looks more hardwearing than the traditional materials, and certainly has given me no rub points as yet.

The poles are reportedly 191g, and to me they feel even lighter than they sound. It’s a huge difference to my walking poles, and means they are very easy to run while holding, whereas my walking poles I always fold up and stash in my pack when not in use. You can literally carry these in your fingertips without any risk of arm ache. The adjustment is via the speed lock 2 system, a catch that lifts away from the pole to loosen, allowing you to adjust, and then tighten back onto the pole. Its super easy to use and feels more reliable than the older systems which unscrew to loosen and screw back to tighten. The test of time will see if the lock holds, but for now, I much prefer this system. To fold the poles away, it’s a simple press in button and then the poles fold away, connected via a cord. Really easy to use. They fit down the side pocket of my backpack with ease and hold in tight with no flap around. The fact the handle itself has no straps actually reduces the flapping about to a minimum if you are carrying them.

The grey/orange colour combo is quite simply cool. The poles look serious enough, while being highly visible from afar, and especially the orange baskets and top of handle reduce any risk of fellow runners running onto my poles if I am carrying them. This means this is a great safety feature, and not purely aesthetics. Gone are the days of black tracksters being the only sort of outfit for runners, the new breed of runner can dress to stand out, rather than blend in, and these poles have moved with the times, fortunately!

GREAT ON STEEP TERRAIN

I tested the poles out on some pretty steep terrain, a mix of grass, rock, gravel and light mud, both up and down, and they held their own. The tip didn’t slip off the rock once, and they felt super secure on each placement. When I caught the end between two rocks, the pole did have slight flex enough to not snap and felt very robust. The poles did not reverberate when I struck rock or tarmac, so saves your arms too.

Now, I’ve mentioned the trigger shark active grip system already, which is the half glove thing you wear with a small loop which slides into the catch on the handle. The gloves are usefully labelled Left and Right and tightened via Velcro overlaps. It’s a small point, but the left/right labels sit on the inside part of the wrist and rub against your running top if you run like me, with both poles in one hand, and the other hand free. As I said, its not a big point, but nobody likes bobble patches on their new running t-shirts!

FINAL CONCLUSION

So, all in all, Leki are once again spot on. Maybe a few small tweaks, but they really are minor. I do find that when I speak to clients about poles, often being first time users, they opt for the cheapest pole on the market in case they don’t take. It’s a slight catch 22. The cheapest poles on the market are often so heavy and impractical, runners don’t like using them. Spend a bit more and get a quality pair, and you really do get what you pay for. Retailing at £159.95 its only really the price of the latest model of trainer, and I can guarantee you the poles will outlast the trainer hands down! Once you get used to the running style with poles on tough terrain, there is no going back. I myself am a lot quicker going uphill when I can share the load onto my upper body from my weary legs, and on the descents, I feel the chance of a superman style wipe out is lower, and as such, my confidence is far higher.

Would I recommend them to a friend: Definitely!

Written by Karin Voller, Logistics Director and Trail Runner

For further information on this and other models check out the Leki website.

Julbo Aerolite Zebra Light Sunglasses - Women's

Although I spend a minimum of 3-4 hours out on the trails in the Alps, for me sunglasses have always been reserved for stops at cafes, or at a push if I’m running on snow where looking both at the ground and at the route ahead can be blinding. I always opt for a visor otherwise, which protects me somewhat from the UV rays, while also giving me a clear enough view of the trail ahead whether I’m out on an open path across an alpage, or under dense tree canopy. I’ve always disliked fumbling around to try and take on and off glasses when in and out of shaded areas, and find the momentary blindness when I step into the shade with glasses on, really puts me off my stride.
 
When testing out my Julbo sunglasses, I chose not to read the in-depth information available as to what the individual features did, as I didn’t want to be persuaded before having even put the glasses on. I’ve broken down my review into fit, function, form and features.
 

FIT

These are nice wrap around frameless glasses that really do cover everywhere in my field of vision. The adjustable arms hug the glasses to the face. When running the only slight niggle I felt was that the nose piece felt quite harsh against my skin when I was bounding along and the glasses rose and fell a small amount with my stride. To be clear, the movement was negligible, as overall the glasses hung on very well, but I do know that the slight abrasion I felt after 3 hours, may have felt more accentuated had I been out for much longer. On returning home I played around with the adjustable nose piece further, and although I still maintain that it feels a little harsh, the adjustability does offer far more flexibility than other glasses I’ve worn. The glasses felt superlight, and a good fit on my fairly narrow face.
 

FUNCTION

Had I read the blurb beforehand, I would have understood that the ‘Zebra’ photochromic lens specifically is designed to transition you from dark to light and light to dark without that momentary blindness I allude to above, when running under tree canopy or patchy shade. Having set out without this knowledge, I was immensely impressed how well the glasses maintained my vision on an outing that was approximately 50% in tree cover of some description. I usually find my stride shortens the first few steps into the shade, but with these glasses I kept stride throughout the patches of light, and never once felt my ability to see the trail was compromised. A real testament to this is on my arrival back home, where I walk through a windowless garage to get into the main house, negotiating unlocking 2 doors, I didn’t even think to take off my glasses till I was settled back in! Given that minutes earlier I had been staring up (not squinting) at the snow-capped slopes of Dome de Miage, that’s impressive! The Zebralite lens transitions from almost clear to a category 3 lens tint (the standard tint for most sunglasses on the market). The slight pink tinge of the glasses when in near clear state possibly is a little off-putting for some, but variations of the lens are available.
 
The lens also boasts of antifog technology, which on the whole I thought was very effective. This slipped up twice however. The first time was when I took out my refreshment coffee flask, and cleverly blew on the scolding liquid to cool it down, finding myself in a momentary fog. Not the glasses fault! The second was near the end of my run, by which point I was perspiring pretty heavily as the days heat was really creeping up, and a 3-hour run in the mountains is enough to get me sweating on even my best day. I was descending a very steep section of trail, and the glasses developed a small fog patch right in my line of vision on the left lens. For some reason, this side the glass fits slightly nearer my face (I’m guessing I’m not quite symmetrical), and while looking directly down with my head bent over, clearly not enough air could pass through to allow the antifog to work. This is a minor point, and as I said, was an issue for all of about 20 seconds out of a 3hour initial test run. The lenses are made of a material called NXT which is more optically correct that cheaper polycarbonate lenses meaning a distortion free view of the world. The other advantage of this material is that the reactiv photochromic technology is built into the lens itself rather than just a coating as with some competitors which means that it gets a lifetime performance guarantee as it can’t wear off or out.
 

FORM

The glasses themselves are slick looking, and certainly do look the part. I don’t think I’ll be winning any fashion awards anytime soon with any of my chosen running gear, but as someone who will nearly always choose fit for purpose sportswear I can’t fault them. For all the features they hold, Julbo have produced a lightweight, smart looking pair of glasses, not being too bulky or cumbersome on a lady’s head. My pair have a mix of dark and light blue arms, and nose bridge.
 

FEATURES

Now for this part I will confess to receiving help from the Julbo website to explain 
some of the more technical terms, and actually find out the capabilities of these glasses. The glasses I tried were a women’s fit, but with the “light red zebra” photochromic lens. To all intents and purposes, the lens looks pretty pink to me, but maybe compared directly to the pink lens, the difference is more obvious. As mentioned above, the photochromic element means the glasses get lighter or darker depending on the intensity of the light (category 1-3) regardless of temperature. The antifog coating means no condensation, and maintenance just washing in soapy water. The air venting also allows the air to flow through the glasses also reducing fogging. Oil repellent coating allows water to bead and run off rather than sitting on the lens. Grip technology and 3D nose allow personalised sculpting of the glasses to your own face, and the airlink temple system features a shock absorbing elastomer inset at the end of the temples for comfort and lightness. To you and me this means a softer rubber arm sitting over the ear which should reduce bounce! I didn’t notice them bouncing at along the arms at all (only slightly on the bridge of my nose), so seems that works! The glasses are also panoramic with broad lens for improved vision. I did find this very impressive compared to other glasses I’ve used. The website states the glasses weigh 22g, but lacking accurate enough kitchen scales I can’t verify this, and this number sounds astonishingly low to me, though believable given how they feel on.
 
All in all, I’ve been hugely impressed. It seems my one reason for never running in sunglasses has been well and truly put to bed with this photochromic technology. As with all things adjustable, it will probably take me about 10 goes before I make all the adjustments for the sunglasses to fit me perfectly (at which point someone will pick them up and mess around with them no doubt), but a really comfy and lightweight pair of glasses straight off the bat. My eyes have never felt so well looked after!
 
Written by Karin Voller, Logisitics Director and Trail Runner
 
SRP of the glasses is £135.00, there are also options with standard non reactiv sunglasses lenses (cat 3 called Spectron 3) in the same build for a more budget friendly £75.00. For further information check out the Julbo website.

Julbo Aero Zebra Light Sunglasses - Men's

Julbo sunglasses review: forgettably good | Converting a sceptic

After several long, hot, sunny days of trail running, hiking and racing around the Alps, the Julbo Aero sunglasses have proven their worth. Having stupidly lost my previous pair after diving off a pedlo in Lake Lugano while wearing them, I’ve been making do with a wonky old pair. They’ve done the job, but having used the Julbo Aero sunglasses over the past month I now realise what I’ve been missing.
 
A short admission and moan here before I continue: I have mixed feelings about wearing sunglasses when running. There are clear benefits, but sometimes I prefer to keep things simple and go without. Especially in races, it’s one more thing to manage. They fog up when sweating, have to be removed and remembered when getting a head shower on route and fall off my head when tilting backwards. 
 
However, I’m happy to report that all but the second gripe is a non-issue with the Julbo Aeros. In fact, they were such an improvement over other pairs that I often forgot I was wearing them. 
 

FUNCTION OVER FASHION

There seems to be a dividing line between the functional and stylish designs. I might think twice about wearing them in a Parisian cafe, but they’re a perfect choice when on the run. At 26g they’re extremely light, comfortable and well ventilated thanks to a ‘suspended lens construction’ that keeps air flowing. 
 
During the recent Eiger Ultra Trail race in the Swiss Alps, I had them propped on my cap for the first early morning section, toiling up to Grosse Scheidegg. Once the bright sun emerged as I ran up towards Bachalpsee, I put them in place to protect my eyes. To my surprise they were totally clear with not a trace of fog from my sweaty endeavours. Nor did they fog up for the rest of the race (only the odd droplet of sweat disturbed my vision).
 
The Zebra Light photochromic lenses worked perfectly, darkening to the bright sunlight as we climbed above the treeline, and lightening when we descended into the darker forest. This also proved a bonus due to high bug activity when in more humid zones, protecting my eyes from multiple encounters with wayward insects. They felt more like car windscreens than sunglasses most of the time.
 
The only times I needed to take them off on the trail were after numerous head washes, and when looking at a message or the map on the phone in deep shade. Otherwise, whether on my nose or resting on my cap while running they felt securely in place. I’m not sure the elastomer inserts at the ends of the side temples were noticeably shock absorbing, but they certainly added to the comfortable fit.
 
Plus, every part can be replaced. Which gives them a very functional, almost futuristic prototype look. 
 
If you’re serious about your running (or cycling) gear and are looking to upgrade, I can thoroughly recommend the Julbo Aero sunglasses. 
 
Written by Alister Bignell, Lead Runner and Trail Runner
 
For further information on this and other models check out the Julbo website.