Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Compareview of the zero Hi-Rez and the three Sum

When I saw the pre-production photo of the 3-Sum shoes by Altra, I was smitten. I have a largely positive experience with the Torin, and the 3-Sum looks like a lighter, handsomer Altra, sans the tongue!

The 3-Sum with its brethren Torin


The other shoe in this compa-review is the NB Minimus Hi-Rez, footwear that looks so thin and fragile, you wonder how it would ever get into mass-production.

NB Hi-Rez with its Minimus brethrens

Let's take a more detailed look at these two orange zero droppers.

NB's ultra-flexible Hi Rez and Altra's 3-Sum


Before we go into the review, I'd like to once again thank +John Shepard for doing some magic in getting the shoes to my feet, 10K miles away.

FIT, BUILD, and APPEARANCE:

Tongueless

My first running shoe is the Nike Free 3.0, which has the integrated tongue. I really like this "feature," because there is no tongue slippage when I put on the Nike Frees. IMO the shoes look much "cleaner" without the tongue all over the place when unused. The 3-Sum's integrated-tongue made the purchase decision a snap. Even though these Altras are made for triathletes (with the presumed need for quick slip on and slip off from swimming to biking/running), I will only be using them as road shoes.


When I first put them on, I was glad that the 3-Sum's mid-to-forefoot area fit my wide feet well. In terms of length, there is a small gap at the back (heel) of the shoe, which is a little disconcerting for me.

In terms of build quality, the 3-Sum has proven itself, during a 'bumped-by-motorbike" incident, where I practically scraped the front of the shoe (and my knees) falling forward in them. Though the 3-Sum looks battered, everything was practically still intact, as the following photo shows:


The 3-Sum bruised and battered, but ready for another go-round.

The Minimus Hi-Rez is a different breed altogether, minimus being the operative word, EXCEPT for road-feedback, where it would offer the opposite = maximus.

 
"Paper-thin" upper.

Minimus. Indeed!


If I were their branding man, I would've suggested NB to consider naming the shoe "the Minimus Maximus." As it is, I believe the model's name Hi-Rez refers to the "high-resolution" feedback that your feet get when using them.

The summary (first number is the Altra 3-Sum, the number in brackets is the NB HR):

• FIT = 7,5 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
• BUILD QUALITY = 9 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
• APPEARANCE (subjective) = 9,5 / 10  vs. (8,5 / 10)



TOEBOX: I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes. I truly believe an adequate toebox helps allow a more natural running motion, especially when one runs sockless, or use 5-finger socks (I always wear the latter for running). Both shoes are simply excellent in this department.

RIDE and COMFORT: I like running shoes that are light (nothing over 400 grams / 14 oz, the lighter the better), and preferably with heel-to-toe differential of 6 mm or less.

In both weight and (zero) drop, again both shoes are top notch. Considering the amount of decent cushioning, I was pleasantly surprised to see the 3-Sum weighs in at a relatively light 240 grams / 8,4 oz, for my size US 11 (!)



At 120 grams (4,2 oz) though, the Hi-Rez is in a different weight-class altogether! It is almost weightless, and it has the material to show for it.


A shoe's weight, or the lack of it, is a very important 'feature' to me; and I believe, to most runners as well. +Peter Larson cited an SGB Weekly study in his recent blog-post "The future of minimalist running," which seems to point towards one common trend, cushioned or minimalist notwithstanding: the consumer's desire to carry less weight on their running shoes.

The hundred twenty five dollar (the two shoes' median price) question is, what does less weight, and zero drop, give you in terms of ride?

Altra names its midsole compound "Abound," comprising of dual-layer EVA to enhance effective cushioning. The outsole is "mapped" like the metatarsal bone-structure of the human foot (photo below, right hand side).

Same size (!), yet very different (sole) appearance.

The sole of the 3-Sum looks rather stiff but it is in fact quite flexible:


The Hi-Rez is, again, very different down there. There is practically no midsole, save for the "rubbery-plastic" skinny layer. The outsole consists of "pods," each one "magically" attached to that midsole skin-layer.

Both shoes have 'pods' on the outsole, but the On Cloud's (TOP shoe in photo above)
are glued to a non-flexible midsole


What, then, does "all of the above" do?

After taking the 3-Sum for a couple of runs (10K and 5K), I am happy to report that the ride is wonderful. It is neither soft nor harsh, and its zero drop platform facilitate a natural ride. The adequately flexible sole also gives plenty of great road feedback.

After two runs in the Hi-Rez (3,3 km and 5 K), I am happy to report that my legs (and bones) escape unscathed. Seriously, you feel everything in these shoes. And I mean every single thing, including uneven surface, gravels, pavement vs asphalt, etc.




My other most-minimal shoes would be the Vivo barefoot, followed by the more cushioned Skechers Go Bionic:

Vivo barefoot and the Hi-Rez

Skechers Go Bionic and the Hi-Rez

The Go Bionics are shoes I enjoy wearing, while the VIVOs are used sporadically, on those few days where I want to connect to the pavement. 

Neither of the above can hold a candle to the Hi-Rez in terms of "ground-feel." 

In fact, the NB Minimus is a "feel everything" shoe, it tells you the "truth" about:
  • what kind of ground you are stepping on
  • which part of your foot is making contact
  • how efficient/sloppy your strides are


The question to the wearer of the Hi-Rez is = "can you handle the truth?"

The 3-Sum, on the other hand, feels much more like a 'normal' shoe. In terms of ride, it compares favorably with the GoRun 2, with the latter having a softer feel.



The 3-Sum's midsole is relatively firm with a touch of bounce, albeit not in the same league as the Adidas Boost:


IMHO the litmus test of any shoe is how comfortable you are running in them, how you feel "they are not there," yet they are able to provide confidence through effective cushioning, for moments where you want to pick up a bit of pace, or go up and downhill without trepidation. 

I mentioned earlier about the 3 Sum's small gap at the heel area. During the two runs in these Altras, I felt my heel unsecured, and I became worried about getting blisters from heel-rubbing (due to the loose fit back there). 

IMO the Yankz' lacing system has not added any value to the whole package. In fact, I swapped to Lock n Lace with better results, in terms of comfort and fit over my midfoot.

The 3-Sum, lock 'n laced.

As for the NB Minimus Hi Rez, they fit like, well, a pair of socks. These shoes are meant to be worn sockless, as their material is already sock-like in terms of thin-ness and almost total flexibility.

I don't like sockless running as I like to have a layer of sweat absorption between my foot and the shoe, and the next best thing is wearing the 5-finger socks. Wearing normal socks, particularly the thicker ones, may defeat the purpose of the Hi Rez.

  
Wearing socks with the Hi Rez? Go with 5-finger socks, brand notwithstanding.

Comfort-wise, though the NB Hi Rez provides great glove-like fit, they are not a comfortable pair of shoes, in the cushioned sense of the word. If your definition of comfort is maximum no-holds barred road-feedback, then the NB Hi Rez is for you.

CONCLUSION

I very much want to love the 3-Sum, but the unsecured heel is proving to be too much of a distraction. That said, I believe the 3-Sum are absolutely great shoes, for feet that fit securely in them. In other words, don't buy these mail order (or buy from web stores that allow free return shipping).

As for the NB Hi Rez, it is a bone-breaking ..I mean ground-breaking piece of footwear. 

The Hi Rez correlates with the word proprioception to a tee (defined by Merriam Webster's dictionary as "Perception of stimuli relating to position, posture, equilibrium, or internal condition. Receptors in skeletal muscles and on tendons provide constant information on limb position and muscle action for coordination of limb movements"). If you want footwear that gives you maximum sensory perception, and you can handle the 'truth,' by all means go for these hi-resolution ultra-minimalist shoes.

As for me, these two pairs of shoes will only get occasional use in my shoe rotation, for all the aforementioned reasons.

Going back to the SGB's report, I too am finding myself gravitating towards low-drop but effectively-cushioned shoes, with lightness as a very important purchase-decision factor. More cushioning, even if they are light, is not always better. Effective yet light cushioning is the operative word.

Going along this train of thought, there are two shoes that come to my mind, the HOKAS, which pretty much shook the market with their relatively light "bucket-style-sofa-seat" cushioning, and Skechers' upcoming GoRun Ultra (I have no clue what the latter would be like, my only guess comes from the GoRun Ride being one of my most favorite shoes).

It would take the 3-Sum on top of the Hi-Rez, to match the Hokas' stack height!

In my previous post comparing the Hoka Stinson Eva Tarmac and the Altra Torin, I mentioned the possible trend of runners wanting to get that "natural" feeling (via minimal heel lift), but still feeling protected (via effective cushioning) in their running shoes. It seems we must add another factor, a shoe's desirable lightness of being, as perhaps a crucial 'feature' moving forward.

What about your preference? Given the recent development from extreme minimalist to cushioned-barefoot (oxymoron alert), what has or has not worked for you?  

Everyone is different, and this is what makes it all so interesting, minimal or otherwise.

 

Zero-drop = NOT a zero-sum game?