When you think about technology in apparel, your mind might not go directly to footwear — but according to Shane Downey, global product director for Columbia’s footwear line, it should.
Downey’s only been with Columbia for about two years and brought on a whole new team to really revitalize and turn over the product lines, bringing the technology Columbia’s well known for into the footwear they offer.
“We’re repurposing the technology from our main lines into our footwear lines,” says Downey. “We’re tapping into the core of innovation to unlock the outdoors for everyone.”
Downey calls Columbia’s trajectory in its footwear products “seismic,” and says the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic has actually helped business.
“This period of time has helped to fuel footwear growth — 2020 was a really active, outdoor year,” says Downey. “It doesn’t hurt that people are getting outdoors more than ever.”
As a well-known brand, Columbia is already who people turn to for jackets, hats and other active apparel. Now they’re set out to become the brand people turn to for footwear.
“From the peak of the mountain to the parking lot,” explains Downey. “We’re delivering the performance you need, wherever you need it.”
Columbia’s technology all starts in what Downey calls the “underfoot” experience, from their “Tech-Lite Plus” cushioning compound to their Adapt-Trax system.
“Think about a mattress,” is how Downey explains it. “A really soft one isn’t good for your back, but it feels nice when you lay on it for five minutes. We’re modelling that kind of feeling, but it’s hyper resistant to wearing out based on the cell structure of the cushioning compound.”
The Tech-Lite Plus compound is brand new and debuts in the Trailstorm hiking shoe.
When it comes to Adapt-Trax, the root is traction — “the single most important thing that consumers ask for on the trail,” says Downey. “It’s the difference between safety and risk.
The Adapt-Trax system includes a rubber compound with slip-resistant material, coupled with a lug shape on the sole that acts as a brake going downhill and a grip going uphill.
“It’s engineered biomechanically based on what your foot does,” says Downey. Add in the orientation of the “lugs” and it becomes a full system.
Guess who’s on staff at Columbia in their footwear division? A biomechanist, of all roles, who’s worked to develop a new technology called “Navic Fit,” which is intended to secure the navicular bone in your foot.
“You’re not often very flat in the outdoors,” says Downey. “There’s a little bar in our shoe up into the ankle, because your navicular bone isn’t locked down properly. We wanted a shoe that operates with your body on ascent and descent.”
One other piece of tech squished into just a shoe is the Out-Dry system.
“This is apparel technology that we repurposed,” says Downey. “We reduce weight, but we still deliver waterproof. This is a laminate that goes directly against the material, so you don’t have additional layers and have reduced weight of the overall shoe.”
As Downey puts it, the new footwear line from Columbia is great for the entry-to-moderate consumers looking for on-trail experiences.
“It’s all about inclusivity in the outdoors,” says Downey. “We’re trying to build products that are relatable.”
RCGS programs and digital fundraising manager Angelica Haggert tested out the new Trailstorm on a few rainy hikes this spring.
“This comfortable, lightweight hiking shoe was great for the drizzly days of spring, where you never knew if the grey skies would turn into a full blown thunderstorm. There was no need to break them in — they fit like a glove right out of the box. The ankle support is so comfortable and secure, I could even wear these with socks that didn’t go above the shoe. At $140, they’re about what I’d expect to spend on a hiking shoe to wear all season. I’d definitely recommend these to new hikers who aren’t tackling big scrambles or too-difficult downhills!”