GoLite on Your Feet
Tucked in the very back of the Salt Palace, far away from the hustle surrounding the trade show homes of Patagonia, Columbia, The North Face, Arc'Teryx, and even GoLite, sits a rather unassuming footwear company with a big story. That company is also GoLite, sort of, and specifically, GoLite Footwear.
GoLite Footwear is a division of Timberland, with an exclusive license of the GoLite Brand. GoLite "Boulder", the company well-known for its lightweight backpacking gear, retains its own corporate identity separate from GoLite Footwear.
Upside Down Sole Construction?
In order to understand GoLite Footwear, you need to reverse what you already know about sole construction.
Conventional soles are comprised of a "more rigid" (or hard, and thus, more protective) outsole and a "less rigid" (or soft, and thus, more shock-absorbent) midsole. The result is that makes walking on pavement rather comfortable. In fact, most trail running shoes are built on this concept that has defined the construction of road running shoes for decades.
The problem with this construction, says Bill Dodge (General Manager, GoLite Footwear), is that when the outsole strikes an irregular surface (e.g., a rocky trail), the rigid sole rocks over the surface, creating instability in the biomechanics of force distribution in the body's joint system and musculature.
A hard outsole (represented by the white hard plastic plate in this model) and soft midsole (represented by the green soft foam in the model) results in instability on irregular terrain because the outsole is unable to adapt to the terrain.
That's where "Area 51" comes in.
Timberland Skunk Works
Area 51 is Timberland code for footwear R&D, which has analyzed the biomechanics of trail running and fed the data to the Timberland Invention Center, responsible for brainstorming and implementing footwear prototypes no matter how stupid - or brilliant - they might be.
One such prototype was a foot last supported on a wide, flexible, and articulated plastic base plate with shock absorbers. Not the virtual shock absorbers that shoe companies claim in their midsole construction, but real shock absorbers. Yeah, the kind with springs (see photo).
From concept to pre-design. The fruit of brainstorming out of Timberland's Invention Factory, the spring-shoe is the precursor to GoLite's new footwear line.
Before proceeding, reflect on the construction analogy of this shock absorber prototype (soft outsole, hard footbed) and how it compares to conventional running footwear (hard outsole, soft footbed).
A soft outsole (represented by the green soft foam in this model) and hard midsole (represented by the white hard plastic plate in the model) results in greater stability on irregular terrain because the outsole absorbs impact caused by irregularities in the terrain.
This model eventually led to the design basis of GoLite Footwear.
Rugged, Light, Stable: The Face of GoLite on Your Feet
The most striking visual feature of GoLite shoes is their aggressively lugged sole. Lugs are spaced far apart, and are huge: more than 5/8" deep (see photo).
The Trail Speed Outsole consists of 14 widely spaced legs in a symmetrical pattern for more predictable trail conditions.
At first glance, one might think that such a construction (high lugs) would cause tremendous instability as they deflect off of rocks.
But here's the thing.
As a lug hits a rock and the shoe is weighted on the strike, it actually sort of disappears into the outsole of the shoe. It sort of looks like, well, a compressed spring. And because the footbed is rigid, the lug takes the brunt of the shock, not your foot.
GoLite calls this an isomorphic suspension system, and Mary Grim (Manager, Information and Technology, Timberland Invention Factory) describes this as the process by which each individual lug displaces independently, thus creating a more stable shoe. Contrast this, Mary says, to the process by which the body tries to balance itself as a conventional shoe rotates against irregular terrain on its flat and rather rigid outsole plate.
GoLite offers two key trail outsoles: the Trail Speed Outsole offers a symmetrical lug design created for speed and support (used in the 10.9 oz Sun Dragon shoe) and the Vertical Motion Outsole offers an assymetrical lug design created for extra traction and durability on steeper and/or more irregular terrain (used in the 11.7 oz Trail Fly shoe).
the Vertical Motion Outsole includes only 10 widely spaced lugs combined with an assymetrical toe strike surface for more stability and propulsion on more irregular surfaces.
The shoe technology does not stop with the isomorphic oustole suspension.
A one piece upper made with molded EVA foam bonded to well-draining mesh fabrics offer support without stitching. The upper absorbs absolutely no water. Fans of the now-discontinued Timberland Delerion Pro adventure racing shoes will be thrilled at the well-draining and minimally water absorbing design of the uppers of the Sun Dragon and Trail Fly.
When I briefly wore the shoes today, I was pleased to find a huge toebox, a footbed that includes toe sleeves to adjust toebox volume, sticky but seemingly durable rubber, and a terrific heel cup. The shoes definitely have a different "feel" to them. You feel "higher", which you may think makes you feel more unstable. Ironically, however, when I walked up and down a pebbled ramp, not only was I aware that the impact of the pebbles were being absorbed by the outsole, I felt more stable on the foot wearing the GoLite shoe (Sun Dragon) than on the foot wearing a conventional trail running shoe.
The Sun Dragon is GoLite's lightest shoe, offering a good mix of aggressive sole and upper stability for the weight, with excellent breathability and drainage.
For a first generation product, GoLite Footwear offers plenty of promise and hope. The shoes are unique, incredibly light for the stability they offer, and should be a terrific choice in wet environments where good drainage and minimal absorption are important factors to consider in your shoe.
The lugs will probably limit their applicability on ice due to lack of contact surface area, but the jury will have to remain out until we actually try that. I expect them to perform very well on snow, tundra, gravel, and under most trail conditions.
The Spike Tail is GoLite's most rugged shoe, with an aggressive outsole, plenty of forefoot protection (note the prodigious use of molded EVA foam in the outsole), but at the expense of weight and probably some drainage ability.
|Sun Dragon||10.9 oz||$95||Trail Speed|
|Set Wing||11.5 oz||$100||Trail Speed|
|Trail Fly||11.7 oz||$110||Vertical Motion|
|Spike Tail||11.9 oz||$115||Vertical Motion|
All weights are for a single shoe, Men's size 8-8.5. Women's sizing is available in the Sun Dragon and Trail Fly models only.
Sun Dragon: "Our answer to sky running, the Sun Dragon offers maximum performance and protection in our lightest weight trail shoe."
Set Wing: "Built for speed in more rugged terrain, the Set Wing offers more protection from loose gravel and jagged rocks."
Trail Fly: "Created for long mountain runs in hot weather, the highly breathable Trail Fly stands up to the terrain while allowing the foot to breathe."
Spike Tail: "The ultimate protection for hardcore performance, the Spike Tail is built to fly through the most grueling terrain."