The Great North Face Gear Debate – Salomon Dominates Survey Results

We decided to run a poll to get a sense as to the type of gear that people were using  in what is probably the biggest individual ultra of the year in Australia. What’s interesting here for us at Ultra168, is that we provide advice on gear and let you know what we think about stuff. But it’s also about listening to what you guys actually use as well, and looking at what the market is demanding and what is the best gear.

Indeed, just judging by the comments section on the article, many of you are also happy to impart your wisdom as to what worked for you as well, and we thank-you for that. You may even see some of your own comments peppered in amongst this article too.

And this we think is very important too. It’s all about what you guys find useful for you. There’s a very good saying in ultras, which is probably applicable in most walks of life, but it goes along the lines of this, “Ask everyone and follow no-one’, i.e. do what works for you.

In total we received  185 votes, which looking at the number of people who actually started the race (650-ish), means that we’ve managed to capture nearly 30% of the runners who started, and is a pretty good representation we feel. In addition, judging by the numbers of votes on the nutrition side of things (600), it seems that most of you had roughly three different types of nutrition throughout the day that you used too.

So without further ado here are the results of our poll, starting with probably the most important thing you take on the trail, your shoes.

What shoes did you wear for the North Face 100?

Salomon kind of killed it here didn’t they? Although we didn’t ask for specific shoe type (we did think about it, but it would have been a little tricky), it’s clear to see that many of you are putting faith in the guys for your footwear. On a personal front, I’ve resisted jumping on the Salomon shoe bandwagon front for a few years. I’ve tried the Speedcross and for me they just don’t feel right, and as such I’ve always been a trusty Inov8 wearer. In my view the Roclite 295s have been and always will be one of the best trail shoes you can find – but that is simply my view. But for North Face, I became a traitor and donned a pair of the shoes made from the tears of Kilian, The Salomon Sense. We’ll be doing a full review of them shortly, and they are a great shoe, but for me personally, I would probably still turn towards my Inov8s.

We’re assuming for the most part that people wore either the Salomon the Speedcross or Slab ranges, along with others for North Face and we can see why. A good solid choice that provides you with that all round mix that you need for a race such as North Face. Todd Hayward left this comment on our original post and had this to say “Ran in Salomon Speedcross 3s great grip, support, comfort.” Although we know that Todd did have some issues with the material wearing away on his Speedcross. Salomon do offer a 12-month warranty on all their shoes, so our advice is that if you feel that your shoes are not up to scratch and lasting as long as they should, take it up with the manufacturer – and that goes for any brand. I had a very similar experience with a pair of Inov8 190s a few years back, and after one run they started to fall apart. It didn’t change my opinion of Inov8’s though, sometimes, you will get a dud pair of shoes that were missed at quality control. We’ve found that most manufacturers are pretty good at simply replacing them.

What’s surprising for us is seeing the likes of Asics up there at number three. Traditionally known for their road shoes, Asics do make a few trail shoes, but it seems that many still put their faith in one of the biggest shoe brands worldwide and rightly so.

Tom Sampson, the man behind Footpoint Shoe Clinic offers some perspective, “While Salomon dominates the trail running scene with their shoes, we still sell huge amounts of Asics and Brooks too, with Inov8 being very much an up and coming brand. Many people who turn to trails have started on the roads, and this is where Asics is so dominant. As such, people feel comfortable wearing those types of shoes as they begin their trail running careers, so it’s no surprise to us to see that they are the shoe of choice for many of the North Face runners.”

The Hoka boys have a good showing, and it will be interesting to see how they shape up in a year’s time. I would have maybe expected to see Inov8 with a slightly stronger showing too. What’s not shown in this table is that under ‘Other’ Mizuno was inexplicably left out of our choices and gained six votes, which would place it just under Saucony. So what do you the readers think? Do you agree, disagree?

What back pack did you use for the North Face 100?

Big red strikes again in the backpack category…

Big red has done it again… and it’s very easy to see why. If you managed to score yourself a 12l s-lab (which we know many did judging by how many I personally saw in the race), then you have probably the best backpack in the world right now. This pack is spot on for the likes of North Face, where there is a fair bit of mandatory gear and you need ample number of pockets to store stuff. I personally pack pretty light, in that I know I’m not going to be on the course for more than 14 hours and when it comes to my gear selections, it’s about weight. As I packed my s-lab 12 on Friday night, I couldn’t believe that I still had half of the main storage area in the back free for space. The pockets at the side are superb for carrying rain jackets and pants, and as I wear my thermal on race day anyway, the pack was probably lighter than the when I was training for this race!

So what do we make of this Salomon domination? One of the things we hear at Ultra168 is that we have tendency to lean towards the big red and white machine. But when you look at the survey results  – quite simply the market is demanding it and they make by and large gear that runners want. That’s not us saying it, it’s you the readers telling us. Yes we know that people do have individual preferences, but by and large the masses lean towards the Salomon machine.

I know I was pretty taken aback by just how dominate they are right now, especially in the shoes category. In some respects, it’s a bit of a wake-up call for other manufacturers, however we appreciate that in the grand scheme of things, the ultra-marathon scene is a pretty small part of most manufacturers pie. BUT… it’s one of the fastest growing pies right now…

In speaking with Jez Bragg after the race and getting some further insights, different manufacturers support the running community in different ways and that is a good thing for the sport. The Salomon approach is to focus on their athletes and get together a crack team that will go out and win races for them, thus increasing brand profile in that regard. It’s very much a focus on a team and the individual runner.

North Face approach in a different way. They have a team of athletes too, but their focus is to fund and help races, hence their involvement with this one, as well as UTMB and the sister race to this, UTMF. For them, it appears to be more about the community. Both approaches are valid and as runners, both approaches benefit us in some way or another.

When it comes to gear, the Salomon approach is working well and we at Ultra168 know, having spent quite some time with the guys that design the Salomon gear, that a hell of a lot of time and effort, as well as thinking goes into getting the gear that we as runners want. Now, we appreciate that many other companies probably do the same, but for some reason Salomon is pretty much the only company right now that is ‘opening’ this process up to media and is actively on the front foot when it comes to promoting what they are doing. When it comes to getting information and insight from other manufacturers it can be like getting blood out of a stone.

It’s an interesting time for our sport and like many industries, there will always be innovators who take the lead. Over time, the other companies will catch-up and follow suit, which is only good for the sport and the choice to you as runners.

What nutrition did you use at the North Face 100?

The people have voted and we all still like real food in our bellies!

As far as food is concerned, its clear that real food still rules the roost for getting your calories in. I was pretty surprised to see Endura at number two – I can’t stand the stuff. But you guys seem to like it, and that’s good enough for us!

Hammer was a very strong showing with four products in the top ten. What’s interesting to note is how people get their electrolytes into their body. We’re assuming that’s why Endura is so high, but the likes of Hammer Endurolytes, S-caps and salt sticks are lower than we thought. Maybe we take this area for granted, as I was knocking back one of these once every 45mins. If you suffer from cramps, then any one of the three items above can help you in this regard.

Even in the colder weather, its important to make sure you’re knocking back the electrolytes as on windy days, like it can be in the mountains, you don’t feel as though you’re sweating much and losing vital salts and nutrients, and it’s often in those conditions that you can suffer.

In the ‘other’ category, fresh fruit featured strongly, as did Gatorade too. Something I used to use, before switching onto Perpetuem. I had a pretty ordinary day on the nutrition front, suffering with bad guts from around 20kms onwards. Not sure why, most likely I went out a little too hard as so often can be the case. If your stomach does have issues, and you can’t work out why, this can often be one of the most likely causes – so back off the pace a little and try to let it settle.

We hope you enjoyed our little analysis. The name of the game is choice and what works best for you as a runner… but at the moment, you’re choosing Salomon, so it will be interesting to see how our gear progresses over the coming 12 months, and what this survey shows after TNF 2013.

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions, as well as any advice you’d like to impart to other readers too. It all helps to better us as runners and the sport overall. I’m sure some of the manufacturers will take note too.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

25 thoughts on “The Great North Face Gear Debate – Salomon Dominates Survey Results

  1. Thanks Dan, I would say Endura was so high because it was free & at all check points. It would be interesting to see what votes it gained if had to be purchased.

    Cheers Darren

      1. You will see Endura for sale at bike shops, health food stores, and selected Pharmacies. They intentionally stay out of grocery/supermarkets. Like any poll though, you will only get so much information from your results. Not sure how the poll was phrased, but I imagine most athletes used a combination of real food, gels, supplements, water, Gatorade, coke, coffee, etc; and yes the results will be skewed because of what is on offer at CPs. Personally, I think it is hard for consumers to be objective about any performance enhancements they get from their choice of nutrition, and so things that aren’t that therapeutically important: availability, familiarity, flavor, consistency, cost, branding, recommendation; become the decisive factors. Which is intriguing, as nutrition would have to be the most important factor for an athletes performance at an Ultra.

      2. Hey Phillip, indeed people were asked to pick multiple answers for the nutrition question as we realize that most people will use a combination. Based on the numbers, most people would have had 3-4 different types of food or gels they used. I personally used perpetuem. Hammer gels and some chips at cp5…

  2. …….Each year at Ironman the bike and gear count is highly valued marketing “prize”, can see ultras heading this way.

  3. I’d be interested to see if the ‘real food’ intake of faster runners is a lesser percentage than with slower runners. (I suspect so)

    1. I think from observations on the day Rohan you can assume that. Perpetuem and gels were mostly order of the day up front. Although not what I would call a ‘front runner’ by any means. Liquid was my main form of intake, bar a bag of crisps and quick couple of spoonfuls of noodles at 89km…

  4. The footwear results mirror closely what I saw in Europe over the last few weeks at the various SkyRaces Ultra168 attended. At the very hot and rugged Transvulcania out of 800 plus races the majority went with Salomon S-LAB 4 ‘s and some SpeedCross followed by Asics and TNF Single Tracks. At the wet, icy and snowy Zagama Marathon the majority shoe was SpeedCross 3’s and some FellCross. Those that struggled with the conditions most went with more minimal NB and Nike’s. As for the podiums. Just like Oz Salomon dominated. One shoe missing from European races was the Hoka – not a shoe for the elites and definitely dangerous for Zegama as pointed out by its UK rep who would have gone SpeedCross if racing. I used my Sense on both course and they were remarkably good in both conditions but due to be in short supply and recently released were only on the Salomon International teams feet such as Andy Symonds and Kilian. The exception was Dakota Jones who wore his Montrail Badgers straig out of the box to victory at Transvulcania.

  5. Great article and good info from the polls…. I too suffered gut upset for most of the race…. Not sure what to blame (my first 100km) but I suspect it might have been the Endura at Cp1 and 2… I didn’t use Endura while training and decided to quickly grab it instead of mixtung up my Hydralyte sport that I had trained with in conjunction with Endralyte caps…. My own fault I guess…
    Got so bad that heading towards cp5 trying to cosume Hammer Bars were making me dry retch…
    Basically Nil by mouth after leaving cp5, even water was an issue at that stage…
    But still loved the race all te same 🙂

  6. Can you good people at ultra168 please ask Salomon to make shoes with wider widths, pleaaaassseeeee?

  7. Nutrition is definitely hard to track down. Personally I drank a few litres of endura, lots of water, endurolytes every 45mins, perpetuem consistently, hammer gels and then a smattering of other things to keep the boredom at bay – but i ticked all these boxes in spite of the dominance of Perp & Endura.

  8. I drank Endura ( 4 cups) which i usually dont drink at Checkpoint 1 and had the worst stomach cramps and vomiting all the way to tarras ladders.Yes i believe someone got the mix wrong on race day.

    1. 2 things you did wrong there Gordi 1-you drank 4 cups , 2-you said you usually dont drink it; not a good idea to do something new on race day. On a funnier note , i heard you once ate about 10 salt tablets at once and were quite thirsty after that,i have no idea why ?!!!cheers mate

  9. I also made the mistake of drinking Endura at CP1 when I hadn’t trained with it. I felt sick within about 5 mins and my stomach didn’t really come right until CP5. I also dry retched everytime I tried to take a gel after that. Have learnt my lesson for next time. I assumed the mix was ok as others seem to have been fine drinking it, I think it was the newbie mistake of trying something different on the day!

  10. I used Perpetuem and Hammer gels all the way, with just a nibble of fruit at the CPs. I believe the problem some runners have with gut issues is mixing the likes of Perp with gatorade, endura and other high GI drinks. I don’t believe this is recommended and unless you have a cast iron stoomach will likely lead to gut issues.

    1. I had perp and endura all the way. I don’t mind endura, but afterwards I had crook guts for a week. Perhaps I’ll stick to HEED and endurolytes next time.

  11. It’d be interesting to see if the runners counted-
    Number of hours ran and total calories, salt and water intake
    OR per hour intake of calories, salt and water

  12. Nice work with the survey. I’m with many others here – the Hammer products all the way. These guys give great info, have a great range of products and back it all up. Loving the Salomon strategy too. Makes a ton of sense to get market to Ultra runners as what we use will filter down (I hope!) and be seen as very credible.

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