December 13, 2011

Flint's Gear Blacklist

This is a usual time of year for wish lists and gear awards. I think it’s very useful to know other runner’s opinions about gear, but realized the other day that I’ve never seen a list of gear that a runner does NOT recommend. Since I often test various pieces of equipment, I decided to not only list the ones I like, but also the ones I don’t, and to explain why. I hope this can be useful and maybe avoid you costly mistakes.


The Power Balance Bracelet







Why it’s blacklisted
Because it’s a total sham! The company marketed their “magical” bracelet with multiple professional athlete endorsements and numerous ads in sports magazines, stating that the mylar holographic disc (whatever that is) it contains adjusted your body’s vibratory levels to improve your strength, balance and overall performance. The problem is, the company’s marketing was so deceitful that the Australian government forced it to declare in an official statement that “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.” . To top things off, the construction of said bracelet is so cheap that its “hologram” will crap out and fade away in a couple weeks. So, in a nutshell, 30$-worth of absolute bullshit.


What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Admit it misled consumers, reimburse everyone and go live the rest of its life in shame?

Alternative gear
A couple sessions at the gym, some yoga classes and you’ll kick more butt than any “magical” bracelet ever will.



FuelBelt - multiple products







Why it’s blacklisted
This one’s a special case, as I am tempted to blacklist all their products. So far, I have tried the traditional 4-bottle belt, the 2-bottle “Revenge” series and 2 handhelds – the “Sahara” and the “Dash”. Of all these products, I only still use the “Dash”, even though its bottle has lost its transparency and molded up a bit. That’s the worse thing about FuelBelt; their bottles quickly mold up, whether you use soap, don’t, or put them in the dishwasher. I have tried everything I know to keep my bottles clean, nothing worked. There’s also something to be said about a hydration specialist whose bottle lids leak. How hard would it be to add a rubber washer? The worse experience I had was with my “Sahara” holder, whose zipper tore off, neoprene bottle collar fell to bits and bite valve molded up badly, all in a matter of weeks.


Considering the high price I paid for every piece and the disappointment they brought, none of the FuelBelt gear I have is worth your trouble, or money. There are way better solutions out there.

What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Improve the quality of their bottle material
  • Offer no-leak lids
  • Improve the quality of the fabric / zippers on their holders
Alternative gear
There are a lot of very good hydration solutions out there. Generally speaking, Camelbak and Nathan / Human Propulsion Laboratories offer way better products at comparable prices.




New Balance Minimus Trail


Why it’s blacklisted
Fundamentally, I have nothing against the Minimus design. It offers a wide toe box, breathable upper material and a lightweight build, all the things you would expect from a good minimalist shoe. However, I find it preposterous to call this a trail shoe, because it is really not. Look at the sole for a moment, and you’ll quickly realize it is filled with holes. Anyone who’s ran single trail before will know that if there’s one thing a trail shoe needs to have, it’s the protection of a rock plate, no matter what type. Punching dozens of holes in an already thin sole transforms a run on hard, rocky terrain into a bruising lottery, where you lose every time your foot falls atop a sharp object that pricks through one of the holes.


What should it do to leave this blacklist
  • Call itself a road runner; or
  • Change the sole design to include some form of rock plating

Alternative Gear
The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail offers a similar design but features an aggressive outsole with rubber studs and rock plating that is very efficient, yet super flexible. Plus, it’s waterproof.


Merrell Sonic Glove

Why it’s blacklisted
It’s mind-boggling how similar the Sonic Glove is to the Trail Glove in terms of design, but how different it feels on the run. The Sonic Glove is supposed to be an all-weather alternative to the other “barefoot” shoes from Merrell, when basically the only difference it offers is a different upper fabric. Sadly, this fabric makes the shoe much stiffer, so much that it actually stops moving with your foot and starts doing pretty much the contrary. I wore the Sonic Gloves the first time for a 5k commute, a very small run, and actually had to run back home barefoot because the back of the shoe had ripped the skin on the back of my Achilles. Furthermore, it gave me a blister on the top of the foot, where the upper fabric is supposed to bend to let my toes move and push off. All that in only a couple kilometres. Imagine a long run… Thinking maybe my low-cut Injinji socks had interfered with the shoes on my first run, I tried the Sonic Gloves again a couple weeks later, this time wearing above-the-ankle Ironman socks, to the exact same results. Since then, the shoes are picking dust on the lowest shelf of my shoe rack.


What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Retire, really. It doesn’t bring anything to Merrell’s “barefoot” line anyway.
Alternative gear
Surprisingly, the Trail Glove! It’s almost identical in every way, except for the upper fabric. This one’s breathable and moves perfectly with your foot, and is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a good minimalist shoe fit for both road and light-trail running.




Under Armour Half-Sleeve Compression Shirt


Why it’s blacklisted
I don’t know if Under Armour had a specific use in mind for this shirt when they designed it, but if they did, I’m sure it wasn’t endurance running. The large white stitches that run around the shirt are very abrasive on the skin and cause irritation in the worst of places; your armpits. If you wear a hydration pack, a running backpack or run long distances, this shirt is a bad, bad choice.


What should it do to leave this blacklist
  • Be redesigned with running in mind
  • Replace the large-stitch concept with seamless construction


Alternative gear
The Adidas TechFit compression shirt, with its “power bands” that stretch the shirt to cling tight to your skin and the special vented fabric under the arms is an excellent choice that will completely eliminate any skin friction issues, no matter what else you wear or how long you run.

Got some gear you'd like added to this list or reviewed? Contact me with your info!





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