Monthly Archives: April 2013

Enell Sport Bra Review

The Best Running Bra for the Well-Endowed
As a woman with large breasts (I’m a 36DD for the curious), I am often asked by other women runners what running bra I use. There is only one: Enell Sport. I have tried many brands and models over the years and nothing compares to the support and comfort of the Enell. Until I found the Enell, I used to wear two running bras: one for compression and one for support. Since I found the Enell Sport, it is the only bra I wear for running or any high-bounce activity.

Support
What I appreciate most in the Enell is its superior support. The DDs barely move vertically under the harshest bounce conditions and not at all laterally. The shoulder straps are wide, distributing chest weight over a large are, and have no stretch so the chest is locked in place once fully closed. The enclosure is 11 hooks in the front of the bra (which you enclose from the bottom up with the occasional stuffing of the girls into the garment); it is more like a breast vest than a conventional bra. The bra comes up quite high for full breast coverage, which also minimizes bounce. The full back is designed with cross straps for back support and extra structural stability in the bra that keep breasts in place.

Comfort
While running, I have always been utterly comfortable because the girls aren’t moving up and down. The Lycra material is velvety soft against the skin. The edges around the neck and arms are wrapped in an extra soft material so there are no rough edges against the skin. The rib cage elastic is extra wide so doesn’t dig into the skin and moves with your body.

The only chafing issue I’ve ever had with the bra is with the bottom-most hook against the skin at the bottom of my ribs, but only when the bra is very wet. This problem was easily solved with the application of Body Glide to my skin in this area before running and has never occurred since finding that solution.

Moisture
The Enell is made of a Lycra and Spandex blend (90% nylon/10% Lycra) that wicks moisture away from your skin. I have rarely felt wet even under heavy sweat conditions. After washing, it does take a few hours to dry completely.

Although I have read of women wearing them for triathlon, I chose not wear it in the pool because of the potential damage caused by the chlorine. In addition, I did not want to deal with a soaking wet bra for the bike and the run as I doubt it would dry completely after swimming.

Quality
I bought my first Enell in 2008 and I still have it and wear it after all these years for exercise with less bouncing than running. After 5 years, I noticed that the rib cage elastic has stretched out a little and it doesn’t support quite as well as it did when it was new. When I bought a new one to replace it, I noticed that it does support better. However, for a sports bra to last 5 years holding DDs at least once a week, I think is pretty amazing! The $65 investment is well worth it.

Sizing
Enell has a unique sizing number system but the online sizing chart is very clear on how to choose your correct size. You can either take measurements of your bust and rib cage or compare your regular bra size to the chart. Both methods make me a size 1 and that is the size that fits me the best. I recommend trusting the numbers on the chart if you’ve never tried one before.

Summary
Enell, Inc.’s stated mission on their website is “Dedicated to providing well-endowed women with the opportunity to fully participate in an active lifestyle by offering state of the art, high quality performance apparel.” Before Enell, I wore two running bras and I still bounced. After discovering Enell, I have worn nothing else. As a runner and running coach, I highly recommend this product to my fellow well-endowed women runners and clients.

The Enell Sport is currently available in a variety of colours: black, white, cream, pink, and a limited edition purple (which I think I’ll have to buy before they’re out of stock because how cool is it to find a sports bra in colour rather than just the ubiquitous, albeit important, black and white?).

For more information about the Enell Sport bra or to find a store or online retailer, check out the Enell website.

Nathan Sports Minimist Review

A Hydration Vest After a Minimalist’s Heart
If you couldn’t tell by the types of shoes I review, I consider myself a minimalist. I like to bring the bare minimum wherever I go and most especially running. The Nathan Sports Minimist Hydration Vest is the perfect accessory for me for short and long runs when I need to bring some hydration or nutrition. I am not a fan of holding anything in my hands while running so a hydration vest is the best option for my needs.

I had considerable difficulty finding a hydration vest that works for me. As a well-endowed woman, I can attest that most hydration vests are not made for large chests. Most racing vests I found have large pockets on the front of the shoulder straps, which doesn’t provide enough room for arm swinging when the shoulder straps are pushed off to the sides. Another difficulty is finding a front strap system that accommodates a larger chest; the top strap needs to go above and the bottom strap needs to go below without squishing. The Minimist is the only hydration vest I found that fit all of these criteria in addition to many more bonus features.

Comfort & Fit
I tried on several different brands and models of hydration vests before I decided on the Minimist. I am relatively well endowed in the chest area and I wanted a vest with straps that did not impede my arm movement and had straps that lay horizontally above and below my breasts rather than cutting across them. The Minimist was by far the most comfortable vest I tried on and satisfied my criteria exactly. The top horizontal chest strap is attached to piping on the shoulder straps for maximum adjustability. This design makes the vest highly versatile for both men and women. Both the top and bottom horizontal straps are adjustable in length as well with an added bonus of elastic wraps to tuck in the unused length to keep it from slapping around while running. The straps are not stretchy so when you cinch them in place, the vest does not move, minimizing chafing.

The material that touches skin is mostly mesh to allow for maximum breathability. The edges are wrapped in a velvety soft material so there are no sharp edges against your skin.

Whether loaded with water or mostly empty, the Minimist feels barely there due to its soft material and solid adjustments that minimize bounce. The vest itself is feather-light and most of the pack’s weight is in the tube of the hydration bladder. This vest barely moves while running, which is an important property for a hydration accessory.

Features
As the name implies, there is not a lot of storage space in the Minimist. It has enough pockets to hold running essentials like keys, a little food, perhaps some toilet paper or tissue, ID, some money, and perhaps an mp3 player or small phone. The zippered pocket on the front is made of a stretchy material allowing for oddly shaped items to fit. There are two open pockets on the front straps for easily accessible items. A small Velcro-top pocket is a great place to store keys without worrying about them bouncing out (not that the vest bounces much).

A new feature included in this year’s model (mine is from last spring) is an added zippered pocket in the back of the pack between your back and the hydration bladder. This will probably allow for a little extra storage space but for soft items only like small and light unneeded clothing layers.

The hydration bladder holds 1.5 L of liquid and has the easiest closure method I’ve seen: simply fill, fold the top over, and slide the closing bar. There are easy-to-follow instructions right on the bladder, too. In the past, I’ve had difficulty with the ziplock-type of bladder enclosures and ended up with spilled water all over me and the pack, so this new enclosure system is great for me. The nozzle has a twist lock to ensure against leakage and a squeeze valve if you want easier access to your hydration without worrying about constant dripping.

The bladder slide bar has a hook in the middle to attach to a loop at the top of the back of the vest. This wonderful feature keeps the bladder in place no matter how much liquid is in the bladder.

The vest has a bladder tube loop on each strap so you can choose which shoulder the tube goes over. On the version that I have from last season, there are no clasps to hook in the tube of nozzle so I tuck it in one of the bottom horizontal straps. This year’s model has a clasp on the top horizontal strap so you can lock it in place over your chest. This new feature gives you a choice of where you want the tube to rest while not in use.

Quality
The quality of the materials and manufacturing of the vest is excellent and there are no flaws in the seams or construction. There was a problem with the bladder when it arrived, however. There was a tiny hole in a seam at the top of the bladder that allowed water to leak out. Upon notifying the distributor, they immediately send a replacement bladder and it has no manufacturing defects. The bladder material is quite pliable and thin so I recommend keeping any sharp or puncturing objects away from it.

Summary
The Nathan Sports Minimist Hydration Vest is fantastically comfortable as it feels barely there while running with very little perceptible bounce. For large breasted women, it fits great with ample adjustability to fit most sized chests. It doesn’t have a lot of storage room, which is a plus for me as I don’t want extra material that I don’t use, but just enough to hold all my running essentials. All the material that touches skin is soft and mostly mesh for maximum breathability and temperature control. It is currently available in grey/red/orange and grey/white/orange on the Nathan website. Found online at $55–60, the Minimist vest is priced competitively for a 1.5 L hydration pack.

For more information on the Minimist and to find a retailer near you, check out the Nathan Sports website.

Balega Socks Review

To begin, I must admit that I spend a considerable amount of time wearing toe socks. For me to wear a conventional sock, it has to be something pretty special.  I found that “special” something in Balega socks, which I also refer to as my “butter socks” because they are that soft.

The most important features of anything I’m going to wear on my feet are 1) it is comfortable and 2) it allows my feet to function naturally. I have wide forefeet and my toes can spread quite wide as well. I usually prefer to wear toe socks because they allow my toes to have the freedom and flexibility that I need to feel comfortable. There are very few conventional socks that have enough room for me to feel that, Balega products are among them.

Balega is a joint American/South African company whose goal is to produce run-specific socks out of the highest quality raw materials. Their on- and off-road socks are available at specialty running retailers throughout the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. Although their products are designed to be run-specific, I find them to be the most comfortable conventional sock for everyday wear I have found yet.

I also must admit that I can’t find on their website what Balega socks are made of nor do I have the packaging as they were a generous gift from a friend last year. But I have come to love their luxurious softness, durability, stretchiness, and overall comfort so much that I felt their awesomeness deserved to be shared with others in a review.

I have two models of Balega socks and I thought I would share some of their specific attributes separately. I believe I have the correct model names based on current website model pictures but I can’t be entirely sure as I no longer have their packaging.

Soft Tread No Show
The Soft Tread could not have a better name. All materials used are butter soft. These low profile socks have comfortable padding underfoot and around the toes, wherever the grey material is located. The thicker padding allows for greater comfort on long runs as well as a longer life for the sock. The white area on the top of the sock is a stretchy, loose mesh that allows for high breathability and form fittingness. The coloured-area on the top of the sock is a little less stretchy and provides structure to the sock, which keeps it from slouching or bunching. The heel of the sock has a pillow-soft tab that provides extra blister protection and keeps the sock from sliding down into your shoes. This tab is the only part of the sock that can be seen while wearing shoes, hence the “No Show” moniker.

This model is currently available in unisex and women’s sizing in six different colours for $14 USD.

Women’s Enduro 2 Low Cut
I don’t have photography for these socks other than what is provided on the website (mine are all white and do not photograph well against my white background). My only complaint of these socks is that their soles are all white. They therefore show their wear quickly in discoloration, unless you use bleach in the wash, which tends to wear out fabrics faster than normal washing. However, they are still one of the softest pairs of socks I have ever worn. They are not as thick as the Soft Tread so allow for a closer interface with your shoes and the ground. They are also cut a little higher so more of the sock can be seen and they cover more of the ankle, protecting it from rougher shoe materials. The cuff is doubled over for added structure and to keep from slipping down into your shoe. I’m amazed at how well this sock stays in place, which is due to a stretchy band that hugs the foot all around the midfoot. The rest of the top of the sock is again a stretchy mesh that aids in ventilation.

These socks are women’s specific and made for running performance with their soft but thin material. They are currently available in white/blue and white/pink for $11 USD.

Summary
My sock drawer contain quite a few conventional socks but only two pairs that I wear regularly: my Balega “Butter” Socks. They are made of the softest material that my feet have had the pleasure of encountering. Although they are made for run-specific activities, I wear them often for everyday wear. They are also competitively priced for run-specific socks. Balega makes a variety of socks by height and thickness and you can check out more about them at Balega.com.

Injinji Performance 2.0 Run Review

You know the day after “laundry day” and you have everything you own to choose from to wear? If you’re like me, you probably choose your favourite clothes that day. On that day, I choose one of my new pairs of Injinji Performance 2.0 Run socks. You may have noticed over the years that I have somewhat of an obsession with toe socks (for example, this post or this review). The new Injinji Performance 2.0 is the best toe socks product I have had the pleasure to review yet. Injinji recently sent me three versions of the new Run line and I wear them every chance I get.

Injinji Performance 2.0 Run

Improvements in the Performance 2.0 Run line
The new Performance 2.0 compares to the original Performance line in thickness of the material but the new fabrics seems to be slightly higher quality. After several washes, the new fabric has not pilled at all like the original did. They seem a little more fuzzy on the outside than when they were brand new and still in-package but no balls of fluff or pills have formed. They also seem softer to the skin because of this.

The new line is somewhat less stretchy than the original so sizing will be slightly less forgiving but there is also less structure lost after hours of wear. This means that cuffs won’t sag at the end of the day and the socks stays in place better. Another feature that helps the sock stay in place is the tighter stretch around the midfoot. Although this may be called an “arch support”, I think the material just hugs the midfoot keeping the sock in place better and preventing bunching under the arch. Despite my extremely short toes, the toe pockets surround my toes without bunching.

The new Performance 2.0 line is also two-toned in colour rather than solid, at least in the versions that I was sent for review. I think the new colour design provides a higher quality look to the product in addition to more character.

One other observed change between the original Performance product and the new is the branding method. In the originals, the logo was added with, I assume, screening of some sort, on the No-Show length or added as a non-stretchy, stitched-on-all-sides tag on the Mini-Crew and Crew lengths. The screening rubbed off in places making the product look worn and the tag limited the amount of stretch in the collar of the sock. The new 2.0 branding is stitched right into the top and/or collar of the socks in an accented colour making it much more visible but also not subject to rubbing off and looking worn over time. The Mini-Crew and Crew length socks now have a stretchy logo tab stitched on two edges rather than all four. This allows the tab to stretch along with the collar of the sock. These may appear to be minor changes but they both improve the overall quality of the product and the new tab material and attachment method especially improves in thoughtful design, donning ease, and potentially overall comfort.

Original Weight (OW) No-Show
The new No-Show version is made of COOLMAX® XtraLife that is two-toned in colour adding considerable personality. It has an articulated heel, which prevents bunching at the ankle and helps keep the sock in place in addition to the other features listed above. The collar is quite low in the front and has a slightly raised back to protect the sensitive Achilles area from rubbing against the interior of shoes. As the name suggests, not much of the sock is visible while wearing shoes, only the very top of the raised heel area with most footwear.

Original Weight (OW) Nuwool Mini-Crew
The Nuwool material is the softest Injinji I’ve tried to date. It is made of a blend of micro-fine Merino wool, nylon, and lycra, is super soft and not at all scratchy. The delineation between colours is much more obvious in this version because there are overhanging threads between the layers. They are soft with no knots and mostly on the inside of the sock so are not that big of a deal in my opinion. Because they are made of Merino wool, they have all the inherent properties of this fabric, my favourite being the odour resistance.

Midweight (MW) Mini-Crew
The MW fabric is slightly thicker than the OW fabric. The MW Mini-Crew Run toesock feels like it has a little extra padding in the midfoot and heel for added comfort. It is also made of COOLMAX® XtraLife like the OW No-Show above. Like the NuWool Mini-Crew, there are some threads on the inside of the sock where the two colours meet, and again they are quite soft with no knots and can’t be felt while wearing them. With the thicker material, they are a little bit warmer than the OW but mostly I like them because of the extra padding for longer walks, runs, and hikes.

Summary
The new Performance 2.0 Run line includes a number of significant improvements over the original Performance line of Injinji toesock products. I appreciate their added durability, structure, and two-toned colour option improvements the best. Injinji is one of the those companies that asks for feedback from their customers and incorporates improvements in their products based on these responses. Although not yet available for purchase on their website, I look forward to seeing the rest of the Performance 2.0 line in the other categories including Trail, Compression, Sport, Liner, and Yoga in addition to some of the Run models I was given the opportunity to review. It looks like Injinji is about to launch a new and improved line with an option for every use there is for toe socks in a very wide range of colour varieties.

For more information about Injinji and to stay tuned about the release of the Performance 2.0 line for sale, you can check out their website at Injinji.com.

OTZShoes Troop Shearling Review

A Minimalist Boot as Comfortable as a Slipper
OTZShoes has achieved a triumph in comfortable footwear with the OTZ Troop Shearling boot. This is definitely one of the most comfortable pairs of minimalist footwear I have reviewed to date. The anatomical shape, the soft shearling material, the customizable lacing, as well as the flexible and perfectly flat outsole make this boot a joy to wear.

Quick Details
Price: $270 USD
Width: Average to Wide
Sole Thickness: ~1 cm
Drop: Zero
Weight: 11 ¾ ounces or 332 grams (without insole)
Insole: Original Cork weighs 2 ounces or 57 grams, Minimal Cork weighs 1 ½ ounces or 42 grams
Sizing: 36–41; Full Sizes Only; Fit True to Size (with a little extra room)
Category: Boots

Comfort & Fit
I think I covered how comfortable I think this boot is above other than to say they are one of my favourite boots to wear because they feel so much like a slipper. The shape of this boot fits me exactly perfectly. As I have wide forefeet, I can see how they might feel a bit sloppy or oversized if you have narrow feet. The laces will help keep the boot in place at your ankle but with a narrow forefoot, you might find them quite roomy.

Sizing is listed on the website in European sizes. The review pair is a size 38 and fits me fabulously so I will say that they fit true to size as I generally fit a U.S. 8 (I drop the “3” between U.S. and Eur sizing). If you are familiar with OTZShoes, the Troop Leather fits a little shorter than the Troop Shearling. This is probably to accommodate the extra volume needed for the thicker shearling leather.

Insole
The insole that came with the Troop Shearling is OTZShoes’ CORKFit® arch-supported, high-heeled, cork and latex insole. I took it out immediately as it is as anti-minimalist as an insole can get. Thankfully, it is easy to remove. Unfortunately, in this model, an insole is absolutely necessary as there is no material covering the inside of the outsole and it is full of circular holes. There are two solutions to this problem: 1) find an insole from another shoe and hope it fits or 2) acquire one of OTZShoes’ brand new minimalist cork insoles. I whole-heartedly encourage the second option!

The new minimalist cork insole is comfortable, flexible, and fits perfectly into the spring/summer 2013 collection of OTZShoes. It is 6 mm think and perfectly flat. In the future, I believe customers will have their choice of insoles and I recommend the minimalist option for those of us who prefer our insoles as minimal as our shoes.

The Original CORKFit® Footbed

The New Minimalist Cork Footbed

Barefoot Feel & Function
The rubber outsole of the Troop Shearling has amazing ground feel. The 6 mm minimalist insole mutes it a bit but I can still feel rocks underfoot. If you choose to slip in a generic foam insole, even the smallest of rocks can be felt. With a flat and uniform grip depth, feet can move naturally with plenty of room for toes to wiggle in the toebox.

The rubber tread design has more than sufficient traction on wet or dry man-made surfaces and dry natural terrain. I have never felt a lack of traction while walking as the circular patterned outsole in the heel area holds the ground quite well while the stars in the forefoot keep the foot from slipping while lifting the foot with each step.

At over 300 grams, they aren’t the lightest of minimalist footwear but they are boots and not shoes. I leave the laces loose enough that I can easily slip the boots on and off without unlacing and I have never noticed the weight of the boots while walking.

Upper Qualities
The upper of the Troop Shearling is somewhat self-explanatory in its name but is shearling sheepskin. Uncompressed, it is approximately 8 mm thick and is luxuriously soft against the skin. I’ve always worn the boots with socks but neither my hand nor my feet can feel any obtrusive seams within the upper. Sheepskin tends to wick moisture and the fluffy interior allows for excellent temperature regulation and my feet have never been too hot or too cold while wearing them indoors or outdoors down to 10C or 50F temperatures. There was no break-in period required as they were immediately comfortable right out of the box.

The outside of the Troop Shearling is suede and requires a leather footwear protector to keep it looking like new. If you choose not to protect them with such a product, I recommend keeping these for dry weather-wear only.

Sole Qualities
The outsole is made of TPU compounds and is approximately 1 cm thick. It flexes easily in all directions providing excellent ground feel. Once you remove the original insole, there is no footbed overlaying the rubber outsole so some sort of insole needs to be added. Although the rubber is flat across its length, the surface is covered with deep circular holes, presumably to decrease weight and increase flexibility. The outsole itself has no arch support in it.

Overall Quality
The luxuriously thick shearling sheepskin and rubber outsole appear to be of excellent quality. The two are stitched together precisely with minimal use of glue. The laces are thick, square leather with silver paint on one side and somewhat decrease the overall look of quality of the boot, in my opinion. Whenever I have relaced the boots, they leave shredded leather debris stuck to the suede upper. It brushes off and I think that eventually the laces would probably stop doing this, but it is the only feature of the boot that could use quality improvement.

Once treated with an appropriate leather protecting product, I am confidant that the Troop Shearling would last a long time while maintaining their good lucks.

Style
Despite what I mentioned above about the laces, their extra long length is one of the awesome features of this boot. It allows you to customize not only your fit but also the look of the boot. You can wear the lace loose coiled at the top of the ankle, which allows the boots to easily be slipped on and off without retying and the shearling upper folds over at the corners at the top of the boot. Alternatively, you can wear the boots with the lace wrapped around the length of the top of the boot for a completely different and more form-fitted look. Whichever way you choose to wear the laces, the style of the Troop Shearling exclaims “warm and comfortable”.

The Troop Shearling is currently available on the OTZShoes website in four colour options: black, sand, grey, and tan.

Uses
The Troop Shearling’s suede exterior somewhat limits their uses to dry weather excursions unless you repeatedly treat with a suede leather protector or you don’t care that the suede shows the edge of where they get wet. So far, I’ve tried to keep mine relatively dry because I like the look of the untouched suede. If you care less about the pristine look of the exterior, I have no doubt that they would make perfectly comfortable and warm winter boots, although probably on surfaces that weren’t too slippery.

Value
Priced at $270 USD, they are not the cheapest of leather boots but there are so few of those options in the minimalist market. They are among the most comfortable of minimalist footwear products that I have reviewed to date and that holds considerable value to me. If you treat these boots well with a quality leather protector, I believe they will last you a few seasons worth of wear which would more than justify their cost.

Summary
The most important features of minimalist footwear to me are comfort and ability for natural foot function; the OTZShoes Troop Shearling Boot excel in both of these categories. They are among the most comfortable minimalist footwear I have reviewed to date as well as being wonderfully wide with a completely flat outsole. They also have superior ground feel, as long as you remove the original anti-minimalist cork insole. I am extremely pleased that OTZShoes has heard the requests from their customers for a minimalist footbed option, which should be available for purchase soon. The new footbed is a truly comfortable, flexible, and minimalist addition, too. The extra long lace allows you to personalize not only the fit but also the look of the boot. OTZShoes has created another stellar minimalist boot in a market niche with few competitors.

For more information about OTZShoes, to check out their newly expanded Spring/Summer 2013 collection, or to purchase the Troop Shearling (or any of their models), you can visit their website at OTZShoes.com.