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 – 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
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:
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.
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 – CLICK TO ENLARGE
ROLLED HEEL FOR COMFORTABLE HEEL STRIKE
I SHOULD HAVE WASHED THESE BEFORE TAKING THEIR PICTURE – CLICK TO ENLARGE
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 – 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!”)
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 – CLICK TO ENLARGE
LOW PROFILE SUPERFEET – CLICK TO ENLARGE
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 – 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.
More info on these little darlings can be found HERE.