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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gear review: Ecco Ulterra – First thoughts

Plimsolls, Sir? Plimsolls???

Yes. Back in July you would have found me stumbling along a part of the Greater Ridgeway with Lord Elpus. The weather was delightful – delightful enough to be lounging at the side of a pool in the cooling shade of an umbrella, with half hourly deliveries of Seybrews. But no. Phil had me toiling up and down chalk downs on iron hard prehistoric flinty/chalky tracks. My heavy boots made for hot work.

I was dreaming of plimsolls to lighten my load and cool my fevered feet. But there were none.

My previous forays with trail shoes had me tripping across Scotland in Terrocs (twice) and Raptors, and I was sort of a convert, but not quite so much so when the weather was cold and horrible. A compromise was required. And now, I believe I have found it.

ECCO ULTERRA

ECCO ULTERRA – CLICK TO ENLARGE

So, that’s a very nice picture, but let’s get down & dirty, and have a little dig around these babies. Are there any naughty little secrets that need airing? What company do they keep? Are there any kinky little foibles you just have to know about?

But let’s start by channelling good old John Major. He was a thoroughly decent fellow and rather partial to getting back to basics. The naked basics. Here’s a picture of my beautiful bare feet. I know; You’ve seen them before, but not, dear reader, with Edwina draped over them staring lasciviously right at you through the lens of my camera.

I HAD TO HAUL EDWINA AWAY TO TAKE THIS PICTURE

I HAD TO HAUL EDWINA AWAY TO TAKE THIS PICTURE

Yes. As I may have mentioned before, any review of shoes should start with reviewer’s feet. What’s the point of reading all about the fantastic fit of these babies, if your own feet bear no resemblance to those of the reviewer? It has been said (I think it was an ex-wife who said this) that your feet are an expression of your character. Perhaps. My feet are slim, elegant and, oh yes, shallow. I have slim ankles and a reasonably wide forefoot, when I stretch out and wiggle my toes ~ which all good hikers do when sitting on a hot day beside a tinkling stream. Your shoes should accommodate your feet. There’s no point at all in trying to pretend there’s a match made in heaven if you are slopping about in cavernous shoes or squeezing your tootsies into plimsolls that are way-too tight. It will end in tears; Trust me on this.

So. Why did I choose a pair of Ecco Ulterras?

I had been mightily impressed by the build quality and thoughtful design of my Ecco Biom Hikes. They were made of Yak leather and Ecco’s own sole unit. The Ulterras are also made with Yak leather but with a Gore-Tex liner. Yak leather is over twice as strong as normal boot leather, which means it’s robust and can be made from slightly thinner hide, giving you a more supple upper. (Try saying “supple upper” quickly a few times, after a few Taliskers) The Ulterras also have a wonderfully aggressive sole unit, that’s good on roads, grass and rough tracks. There’s a lot of rubber beneath your feet, and from my first month or so of wearing them, I’ve found them very grippy and they appear to be very hard wearing as well.

Let’s have a few more pictures so you can see for yourself:

BUILT-IN ROCKER SOLEBUILT-IN ROCKER SOLE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The sole has a natural rocker to it, which makes walking less of an effort. This is necessary, as the sole unit is stiffer than most trail shoes I have tried in the past. This stiffness gives you excellent protection from hard pointy rocks.

P1020148

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Although the Ulterras look like they have a thick squidgy sole, they do not. If you look carefully you’ll realise that your foot is cradled within that exterior moulding. I can’t find any information on the Ecco website about the “drop” from heel to toe of the shoes, but I would estimate it to be middling – not flats, but there’s certainly not a lot of drop, which gives you a more natural stride. I like this. There’s not a great deal of soft cushioning, which means that you have a better ‘feel’ of the terrain and the shoe is more stable. More on that in a minute. The tongue is comfortable. It’s padded and is of the bellows variety ~ sewn in so that you don’t get water or grit inside your shoe. Standard fare, really.

GOOD RUBBER TOE BUMPER

GOOD RUBBER TOE BUMPER – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

ROLLED HEEL FOR COMFORTABLE HEEL STRIKE

ROLLED HEEL FOR COMFORTABLE HEEL STRIKE

 

I SHOULD HAVE WASHED THESE BEFORE TAKING THEIR PICTURE

I SHOULD HAVE WASHED THESE BEFORE TAKING THEIR PICTURE – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

GENEROUS TREAD DEPTH

GENEROUS TREAD DEPTH – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The picture above shows the aggressive sole unit off really well. (I waited until the evening to get this shot, for the slanting sunlight, I’ll have you know!)

BEAUTIFUL HEEL CUP

BEAUTIFUL HEEL CUP – CLICK TO ENLARGE

This picture shows a feature that  every Inov-8 wearer will lust after! A perfectly formed, beautifully smooth heel cup, with no sign of any stitching to grab your socks and fall apart after a few weeks’ use! Ecco really do think things through and the craftsmanship here is first class.

However! (Oooh! there’s a “however!”)

P1020155

Like all shoe manufacturers, Ecco provide a textile and foam insert. Let’s be honest now. These are worse than useless. I expect every walking boot / trail shoe manufacturer knows that the first thing a hiker will do is tear out these useless bits of cosmetic nonsense and replace them with the insoles of their choice. They want an insole that will offer foot stability.

There are quite a few choices out there, but mine is, and always has been, Superfeet. I won’t bore you by banging on about these miracle insoles, apart from telling you that they hold your heel firmly in position, holding your fatty heel pad (yes, even I have a fatty heel pad!) so that it does not spread outwards on heel strike but retains it shape to give your bones natural protection, and stopping your foot sliding forward on long down-hills by providing a contoured arch support that holds your foot firmly at the back of your shoe. You’ll be able to see this clearly from the following pictures:

LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET

LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET

LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

UNDERSIDE OF LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET

UNDERSIDE OF LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Now then. (Sit up straight at the back – this bit needs careful attention!)

These babies have a Gore-Tex lining, and it cannot have escaped your attention that my low profile Superfeet have very sharp knobbly studs under the heel to cradle the heel cup and keep it in shape in your shoes. How, then, will these studs affect the Gore-Tex membrane?

I don’t believe it’s a problem, as I think the clever chaps at Ecco have thought this through: Lets take a close look at the inside of the Ulterras’ heel cup.

ULTERRA HEEL CUP

ULTERRA HEEL CUP – CLICK TO ENLARGE

You’ll see from this picture that the Gore-Tex booty does not extend to the heel cup. It has no need to be there, as you’ll have seen from the pictures, the heel cup is substantial, with no internal stitching. No water’s going to get in through the heel. This means that the studs of the Superfeet are sitting on the heel cup material itself, so it cannot puncture the membrane as it is further forward in the shoe.

For the gram counters in the congregation. These shoes, with the supplied insoles, weigh exactly 500 grams per Size 44 shoe. That’s not superlight, but they do feel like dancing shoes after a hefty pair of boots.

And finally, I was not too kind about the laces supplied with the Ecco Biom Hikes. These are lovely. Grippy and no stretch.

 

***

Now, to the price of these little beauties. Steady now. Hold on to something firm. On Ecco’s own web shop they retail at a cool £140.00  Yes. That’s a lot of money, whoever is paying for them (Look, it’s coming up to Christmas.) But I have found them elsewhere on the web in the UK for £119.95 HERE, for example.

There are quite a few trail shoes out there that profess to do the same as the Ulterras, but picking one randomly, say, an Inov-8 Roclite 282 GTX shoe (a good shoe but with a sole unit with less grip and a heel cup that will more than likely fall to pieces) found on offer at the moment HERE and you’ll see that that even this will set you back a hundred pounds.

My advice would be to get a much better designed & built product, the Ecco Ulterras, that will last you much longer for twenty pounds more.

***

In conclusion. I like these shoes. They are robust, comfortable, they have a fantastic sole unit and they come with all the care in design and manufacture from Ecco, using materials that will last and stand up to a good hammering.

ECCO ULTERRA

More info on these little darlings can be found HERE.

21 comments:

  1. I quite like the Mid boots version of this model as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm becoming a bit of an Ecco Acolyte, Al.
      I've had a pair of their casual shoes (I do love the term "casual shoe - it makes you think of 50's Beatnicks in dark roll-neck sweaters lounging against walls) for some years now, and my Ecco Biom Hikes were a revelation in comfort on this year's Challenge.
      They've taken the walking market by the scruff of the neck in recent years and now their effort is paying dividends.

      Delete
  2. A great review Alan but there are two things i would like to know and that is how the hell did you get the shoes to stand up straight and where can i get a pair of these superfeet insoles from .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chris
      :-)
      It's all about balance, Sir - and infinite patience - coupled with an incredibly expensive squidgy down quilt.
      You can buy Superfeet insoles from most good outdoor shops. Failing that, Google them Sir.

      Delete
  3. 'Plimsolls'? Why, there's posh. Where I come from it's pumps. And in the land of your fathers 'daps'. Or 'sand shoes'. But a useful review thanks. Like you, I also have a pair of Ecco Biom boots. Normally very comfortable. Recently been getting hurty ankles, though, so am forking out sixty quid for a walking gait analysis, which should be interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps I was being posh. We used to call them plimmies.
      Hurty ankles, Sir? That's not good. Not good at all. I hope your sixty quid is well spent Sir. I'm thinking about locations for the PreWalkDaunder. It might have to be camping on your lawn.
      But not to worry - We'll manage the heavy lifting of emptying your drinks cabinet. We don't want to put too much load on your hurty ankles.
      :-)

      Delete
    2. We called them plimsolls when I was a kid in Kent. Moved to Lancashire and they were called pumps. More a regional than a posh thing I think.
      Norma

      Delete
    3. Hello Miss!
      Plimmies, pumps, daps, sand shoes...
      I think these trail shoe manufacturers are missing out on a few marketing opportunities here!
      :-)

      Delete
  4. Excellent review Alan. I really like the sound of these shoes. Lynne has always liked Ecco shoes and is, as I write, looking at the ladies version - and more besides. You have much to answer for this morning Alan -:) but as you say, Christmas is looming. All the best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lynne is obviously a girl of taste, Sir.
      These plimmies don't have the garish charms of other makes and can quite happily be worn around respectable tea shops and Marks & Sparks.
      Like all good backpacking products - dual use, Sir - value for money.
      :-)

      Delete
  5. They are good, and I like them.

    Indeed My own Write Up from a few weeks ago
    I used mine with the original inners and they were fine.

    With ECCO, it is always worth looking to see if they are discounted somewhere.

    And for all those fold looking here that think they are worth looking at, THEY ARE!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's probably good to know for walkers with broader feet like yours, Andy.
      The Superfeet also reduce the volume very slightly, which suits my feet well.
      It seems that these shoes will be able to accommodate quite a variety of tootsies, Sir.
      :-)

      Delete
  6. Good review, and good to see that new players are expanding into a market that was ready for a bit of a shake-up!

    I've recently equipped myself with new footwear (of which more on the blog in due course) so am not in the market for anything at the moment. But things change: what once was good might soon not be, and vice versa. So keeping abreast of the current offerings is really useful.

    However, despite looking to "lighten up" my footwear, I still find the idea of going to a shoe (as opposed to a mid or a boot) rather daunting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to think exactly the same. But, if you think logically about this, what do fell runners wear on their feet? A shoe gives the ankle free mobility, which puts less stress on your knee and hips.
      You do end p with wet feet - that's inevitable, but with a thin wicking liner sock and a good outer this isn't a problem as eventually they dry out when underfoot conditions improve.
      Best to use a good quality foot cream morning and evening.
      The advantages of lighter footwear and extra agility really are worth the obvious disadvantages. I have gone off mesh uppers as they are freezing cold in a nithering wind with wet feet - which is why I like these Yak leather shoes.
      Try it for a weekend, Jules - see how you get on!
      :-)

      Delete
    2. Probably should give it a go, but now I have two nice new shiny pairs of boots! Both are quite light - the heaviest probably about 1050g the pair - so I'll see how I get on. :-)

      Delete
  7. Ten bob sliders in Fife, apparently, sandshoes or plimmies in Lincolnshire I think.
    I am intrigued by these shoes (and boots) I might have to save up my pennies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ladies version can be found by clicking
      HERE
      Ten bob sliders, eh? A bit more these days...
      :-)

      Delete
  8. How do they compare with Inov8 Al? I tried the latter but found them too narrow. Felt like ballet dancer as opposed to rugged chap knocking off manly mountains. Keen sandals are my favourite footwear but might be nice to have some light weight wonders for rain and cold. "Wonderfully aggressive". Oh yes. Sounds almost "political" and just right for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mr Walker has broad feet and likes these shoes (see his link further up this thread)
      My feet are moderately broad at the toes, but narrow at the heels (hence the Superfeet)
      I would say they were similar to Inov-8's but Andy currently has both so he's the best person to give advice on this one.

      Delete
  9. I like the look and sound of these. Particularly the look, as they are conservatively coloured and virtually monochrome; perfect for someone no longer in the first flush of youth. Or the second; or third...

    I shall look into these further: it will make a change from waiting for my current shoes to disintegrate before the penny finally drops.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, Dave.
      My last trail shoes were La Sportiva Raptors - they looked like angry wasps - not really suitable for an espresso and pizza in an autumnal sunlit Italian square.
      These will do the job nicely.
      :-)

      Delete

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