Review: I got these shoes in preparation for Blizzard Blast and WinterDash with the expectation of running in the snow. Unfortunately, we had quite the mild winter and Blizzard Blast was well over 50 degrees and no snow for WinterDash. I only got to run in the snow with them one time and the traction was phenomenal, but it was one time.
With that said, I have also used these at FIT Challenge and other trail races or events with lots of wooden obstacles and climbing and the spikes provide extra help getting over obstacles.
They are very light and low profile and kept my feet super warm when it was cold outside.
We posted our first look at the Icebug Zeal OLX on April 10th, 2015 – since then they’ve been on many courses, many laps, many miles – and I wanted to do a recap discussing their long term wear. With the 2016 season coming, the chances are high we’ll see shoes from last season on sale and getting moved by retailers for cheaper – so, how did these guys hold up?
Icebug released the Zeal to the market in 2015 – the first wholly dedicated shoe for the OCR market. Today, I got my hands on a pair of the OLX, studded versions, and wanted to put out a short unboxing video, some photos and initial thoughts before getting them muddy and breaking them in at FIT Challenge this weekend.
Things I like, immediately out of the box.
The large plastic panel on the inside of the foot – this should be a great addition for rope climbs and general rock protection.
The wide grip on the tread – some studded bugs have a less aggressive tread, despite being studded – and I’ve missed this more aggressive tread pattern.
Toebox – after wearing them, the toebox is wider than my Spwider OLX (similar to the Accelerita’s) – but not as wide as the Pytho2’s. They feel very comfortable on.
Things I’m holding judgement on.
The nylon upper is a very coarse fabric – likely very good for durability and water absorbtion, but it has a rough feel and will take some breaking in.
That same plastic panel gives the shoe a moulded feel – likely it won’t fit everyone. Take a trip to Shale Hill and try them on.
More when I’ve worn them in a race, and broken them in.
Video reviews seem a great way to show off the gear, and talk about the relevant points in an easy to digest manner – so, I’d like to present our latest shoe review – this time for the Icebug Speed athletic boot
I recently received a pair of the new Reebok All Terrain shoes – and wanted to give a video walk through of the shoe and compare it to a pair of Salomon Fellraisers and my current favorites, Icebug Spwider OLX
Apologies for the black video in the last two minutes – audio is fine.
A quick Pro and Con list – from my entirely subjective opinion and experience!
Good sole protection
Too light for some
Durability (remains to be seen)
Not available yet
Roughly a year ago, 11 New England Spahtens took a chance and drove to Vermont to a farm where the owner was promising an 8 hour OCR event that sounded too good to be true.
You can read here (Polar Bear Challenge 2013) – Rob Butler delivered, and we’ve been back a few times over the year to experience his ever expanding, always tougher permanently installed obstacle race course on Shale Hill Farms in Benson VT.
And here we are again – it’s one year since we arrived at Shale Hill for the first time – and we’re back in the snow, staring down an 8 hour event – and it was clear that the race has grown, and Shale Hill has matured in that time.
In 2014 Shale Hill were expecting a lot more people than before, and our community was bringing nearly three times as many athletes as last year. We had arranged accommodation at local guest houses, hotels in Rutland – and come Friday night, we were checking into the event.
Shale Hill prides itself on being a grassroots event. If you’ve raced with them before, then every time you show up, they’ll be greeting you by name and dishing out the handshakes and hugs – it’s the most welcoming event on the race calendar. The barn was finally finished, with easy access racks for our bins and bags, an office area for our packet pickups, and a nice communal area full of tables for us to hang out – with great views of the penalty box for the spectators and resting athletes. My personal favorite shoe vendor, Icebug were sponsoring and vending, with Icebug product experts on hand to help people. The Butlers had brought World Toughest Mudder female Champ Deanna Blegg over from Australia to provide some competition and give a motivational talk on Friday – and Robs eyes were gleaming as he described the new starting loop and obstacles, and told us what a world of hurt we were in for. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on Deanna’s talk on Friday night, and her story was amazing and inspiring.
Checkin provided us with an Icebug drawstring bag, a super nice 50/50 blend long sleeved T, another sponsor T, a form for entry into the USA OCR sanctioning body we’ve talked about before – and a few stickers and goodies. As usual, some pretty nice stuff 🙂
6:15am on a Saturday morning, in February in VT, and with much muttering of needing new friends, needing a new hobby … we were arriving for athletes briefing. Rob explained the rules – try every obstacle, the new penalty box system (you pick up a chip at anything you fail, and trade that chip in for punishments in the area in front of the heated barn) – some of the newer obstacles like Gut Check and The Loom were explained (it didn’t help) and we were left to eat bacon until the 7am start time.
Lets talk about what this race was … and what it wasn’t … Rob’s course is already legendary. It’s the most challenging course out there. Seriously, the obstacles at Shale Hill make anything you’ll find at Spartan or Tough Mudder look like tinker toys. They don’t have to be moved, and they don’t have to be dismantled. Unlike the summer events that consist of one lap, the Polar Bear is won by the person who makes the MOST laps in an 8 hour time frame. This race isn’t for sissies. At 6 miles long, the course is about as long as Shale Hill can physically accommodate, and what it lacks in elevation change, it makes up in seriously steep descents and climbs – usually under sandbags. This race is not easy, and anyone not prepared to be challenged and put outside their comfort zone shouldn’t bother signing up.
Fortunately, as a community, we tend to appreciate being pushed outside our comfort zone. If you read this, and you haven’t been to Shale Hill, you owe it to yourself to go.
7am came around quickly. The count down and starting siren were a little chaotic, but when everyone vanishes down the hill, you get the idea that the race is on pretty quickly, and we took off. Rob had already warned us that his new starting loop was fast, with a few obstacles that would cause the pack to be bunched up – and his new teeter totters and tire flip station did that, but I think they caused a little bit too much of a backlog – at least on the first lap. Still, those teeter totters were amazing – I’ve seen them before at other races, but never as big! After the tire flip, we were back onto the more familiar course.
I’d show you a video, but sadly my GoPro crapped out around two and a half hours, and my single lap took more like 4 and three quarter hours. Did I mention that this 6 mile loop is epic? and tough?
It’s impossible to give you an obstacle break down. The new teeter totters were fantastic, and got bigger each time. The old favorites of the lincoln logs and traverse walls kicked serious ass *again*. New obstacles like the gut check – a log a couple of feet off the ground, then a second one about 4′ higher that you had to jump over too – caused people to double take. The Loom, a series of horizontal logs you had to weave through, over then under, then over, then under and so on was a major challenge – very impressed by the people getting through this one! I defeated my nemesis, the 60 degree sloped wall that I’ve fallen off time and time again, usually to a muddy splash down – this time I made it.
It goes on – and giving you an obstacle by obstacle break down is almost pointless – I’ve ran this course four times now, and it’s different every time, despite some of the “old favorites” being present each and every time.
While this was generally regarded as one of the toughest events on the OCR calendar – and I fully agree – for me personally, I was disappointed in my own turn around the circuit. Initially planning two laps, I was doing great for the first couple of miles before an old back injury started causing me problems and slowed me WAY down – I was quickly swept up by Mamma Hen and Amy, before bumping into Nele, Ben and Copie – forming a small pack kept me moving, despite several points where I thought seriously about hopping on the quad or snowmobile and taking a ride back to the barn “to go out again later”. By the final obstacle, the devious Anaconda I was hurting bad, but determined to make it home. I want to be clear – the course is amazing. Rob has done wonders, and I’ve loved every minute on that farm – this just wasn’t going to be my day.
The worst bit about the Polar Bear Challenge was that after you had been chewed up and spit out by a challenging course, you have a penalty box. Hand in your chips, roll some dice and you’re assigned your penalties. This year, the penalties were brutal – and dare I say it, too brutal? Climbing over a wall is one thing, but doing it 20, 30 times – mixed in with 10’s of PUP pipe pushups, rope climbs, tire hoists and log flips – you could be there for some time and lost a LOT of energy. The goal of the penalty pit is to get you motivated to do the obstacles, and for sure it does that!! I’ll admit, I had very little left at this point – I flipped the log a couple of times, hoisted the tire and crawled indoors, tale between my legs.
The results spoke for the difficulty. Last year, the winner Randy came in with 5 laps – this year, he DNF’d at lap one after a log bounced off his toe and broke it. This year, the winner Deanna Blegg managed three laps – and those who did three looked beat – really really beat.
All this talk of a difficult course? Don’t ever let it discourage you. Rob is an ever present face out there, buzzing around on his snowmobile or quad and handing out advice and chocolate milk to elites and new folks in equal measure. I saw him showing elites how to get a good foot lock on his 2″ rope, and encouraging new runners over walls and through carries. This course is about showing you your limits, and helping you get through them – this is a place to build your strengths and discover your weaknesses – in positive and supportive ways. Robs friendly, grass roots approach is refreshing in a sport where we run with 8,000 of our closest buddies – and back in the barn, Jill keeps things running smoothly.
The Spahtens had a great showing – 31 team members, and we placed well on the podium, with Corrine getting second place female behind Deanna Blegg, and some slight confusion on the mens side means at time of writing, I’m not sure who placed where – but man, any athlete who did this course competitively needs to be proud. We had many athletes go out for their third lap (not all finished it), many more going for two – and lots of us doing a single lap and being happy with that (again!).
So, it’s very safe to say that the Polar Bear Challenge was the hardest course I’ve ever done – and the most challenging – and the most rewarding. I didn’t do what I set out to do, but I learned a lot in the process – and thats really what Shale Hill is about. To complete this course with no penalty means you are truly in the elite levels of this sport – but every time I’ve taken a spin around, I’ve completed one more obstacle I’ve previously struggled with – this time being the Lincoln Logs and Alcatraz Wall. To run this course shows you the areas you need to develop, and provides you with the most fun you can have, 10′ off the ground hanging off a rope with tired hands.
Shale Hill is opening up its warmer weather, single lap, Benson Bear series – along with some high school challenges and an obstacle triathlon – and they are always open for training sessions – you owe it to yourself to get up there and check them out.
I decided to try them out during the Hurricane Heat. This was approximately 3 hours of wear at Amesbury Sport Park, and it’s surrounding roads and parking lots.
During the hurricane heat, we ran on tarmac, buddy carried each other up and down the main tubing slope, completed several of the Spartan Race obstacles, such as the traverse wall, slippy wall (with no ropes), inverted wall, over / under / throughs, rope climb and the barbed wire crawl.
We ran, walked, burpeed, planked and carried heavy stuff all over the place.
They were awesome.
They weren’t perfect. I don’t know any shoe is. But for their intended use, and the use I can see them being used for in the obstacle course world, they did an amazing job.
Icebugs are designed for slippery, icy conditions. The Spwider model especially has a bunch of tiny metal studs for additional grip, although the range does include a shoe that isn’t studded – and still has a more aggressive grip pattern than something like an x-talon 190 from Inov-8, and WAY more than my Inov-8 Trailroc 245’s.
In practice, when you are in the grass, or the trails, or the sloppy, goopy mud – I had amazing grip. The metal studs worked especially well when climbing ropes, or going up the slippery wall (it almost felt like I could walk up it!), as they were able to bite into the soft materials, and not shift.
I felt this was at a cost though – hiking Wachusett Mountain, which has very rocky trails nearer to the surface (large, flat rocks several paces wide, not small pebble trails), I didn’t feel I had the same level of grip as my Trailroc 245’s do – and this was also replicated when we ran on the tarmac roads for ~1 mile at the Hurricane Heat. I never lost my footing – but I did sound like a herd of horses, trotting along as the metal studs and the paved surface met.
However – considering how much obstacle course racing is done on large flat rocks, or on paved roads (none of it), I don’t see this being a particular big problem for me in the long term.
As a shoe, the Spwider is much more solidly constructed than I’m used to. Despite it only having a 4mm heel to toe drop – which means it runs and feels like a minimal shoe (the Trailroc 245’s are 3mm, for example – and Salomon Speedcross 3’s are in the 9mm to 12mm range), the sole is solid, and the upper of the shoe is supportive. Icebug sell multiple inserts too, for those who feel the need for different types of support – however, those minimal shoes that show you how you can roll them up into a teeny tiny ball? Not happening with the ‘bugs 🙂
This particular model was their Medium width, which with my flat and wide feet felt just fine. Many of their racing shoes have a narrow fit for performance, which felt snug to me – and many of their hikers and boots have a wider comfort fit.
Icebug rate this particular shoe as a 300g shoe (in US size 9), which is the same weight system Inov-8 uses, so these are 55g heavier than my Inov-8 TrailRoc 245’s – barely noticeable when moving – to be honest.
One thing I did notice with the Icebugs, that I did not notice with my Inov-8 TrailRoc 245’s, was the amount of small pebbles and crud that got into them. To be entirely fair, I didn’t crawl the barbed wire in the Inov-8’s, and did in the Bugs, so that may be the cause of that right there – but I do plan on picking up a pair of the very neat looking gators that Icebug sell for their shoes. While water drained well enough (the tongue isn’t sealed), rocks did annoy me a little more than I wanted – the gaters will fix that.
On a 5 star rating, I would happily give the Icebugs a solid 4.5 – I’m docking a little because of their “rock/paved road” performance, and I do tend to prefer a slightly more minimal shoe – both of which are about as much criticism as I can find on this solid performing option for OCRs.
Icebug has several shoe options available – many without studs, some with more of a heel to toe drop, some narrow, some wide – and Shale Hill Adventure Farms is now an outlet for them with many models in stock and ready to ship. I tried mine on when I was at the third Benson Bear event, but found they ran very very close to Inov-8 for sizing.
I’ll be wearing these at future races – and can see them being my “go-to” shoe for many events. The TrailRoc 245’s are going to stay in my shoe rotation for training – due to their on road and on rock grip and confidence – but there’s no arguing or debate, the Icebugs have second to none grip everywhere else.
January 15th 2014 UPDATE
I wrote this review after running the Hurricane Heat in Amesbury in them. Post HH they were so crud covered I didn’t wear them for the race, and I missed their grip when I got to the walls and similar obstacles.
So, when it came to picking a shoe for the longer 8mile Super in NJ, and the 13mile Beast in VT – sticking with the Icebugs was a no brainer. I have played with fit and sock combinations a little after Smart Wool socks gave me a heel blister in NJ – but switching to a Darn Tough brand sock, and adding a “surgeons knot” to the middle of the laces, I had no problems with blisters at the Beast, or since.
The grip these lend to an OCR athlete of any level is unbelievable. Specifically, these studs make rope climbs much easier, as they grip into the fibers and don’t slip. They bite into wood obstacles, like traverse walls and vertical walls. I was able to get my ass over every single wall in NJ and VT by myself simply by stepping into it with the shoe first, it provided enough grip to give me a single step that no one else had. This was highlighted when I ran the Fenway event in Inov-8s and could NOT get over the tall wall first time.
As a word of caution, while these are loud (but well behaved) on Tarmac, you want to avoid wearing them on wood flooring or lino flooring – they will leave marks.
At time of writing, the Polar Bear Challenge – an 8 hour endurance event in the snow of VT is coming. I’ve just placed an order for my third pair of Icebugs – the Speed running boot. This will give me grip, but also a bit more thermal protection than this reviewed model. Expect a review of the Speeds to follow!
Icebug is a shoe manufacturer you’ll probably not have heard of. Founded in 2001, this Swedish company has been a huge hit in their home country, and their shoes have been on the feet of champion off road orientering and winter ice and snow runners.
Now, they are pushing into the North America market, and we’re fortunate enough to have them available to us through the fine folks back at Shale Hill Adventure Farms, in VT.
This post is a more of an introduction to the brand and what they do differently – long term, I’m going to be wearing a pair of their shoes to races and OCRs, and will be able to provide some wear testing too.
Primarily, I’m going to be comparing them to the Inov-8 range – more specifically the X-Talon 190’s and TrailRoc 245’s, which are the shoes I’ve had most experience with.
The shoes I’ll be testing are the Spwider 0lx model, in mens 12. These were not “test shoes”, and I purchased them out of my own money, so the testing and review will be independent.
One of the big selling points for me, and one of the big things that makes Icebug different to many other shoes on the market, is the BUGrip. This is a special rubber compound sole, with a bunch of tiny carbide tips in them. On ice, or mud, or trail, those carbide tips will grip and grab the ground – in a way I’ve certainly never felt on another shoe. Once you hit something hard, like tarmac or rock, the tips are pushed back into the sole of the shoe, and the regular (aggressive) rubber grips kick in, and the shoes perform like a normal trail shoe would.
Rather than just post this, I headed for a 5k hike/run up Wachusett Mountain – covering a bunch of different types of terrain, from gravel path, to sloppy mud, to sheer rock, over approx 1800′ elevation change.
I was impressed.
A couple of things I noticed – when stepping up onto fallen tree limbs, something that could be quite treacherous in another shoe, was never a problem – the studs gripped the branch and didn’t slip. Same for the gravel and muddy trails, never a single slip.
Running across the tarmac roads, the shoes are noisy. Those studs will tip and tap along as you run – those who have run roads in x-talons will be familiar with the noise of it.
My only concern, and to date, this is unproven, but when I was in the boulder / rock section of the trail – a spot that had sheer, flat rocks to hike up – I didn’t feel *quite* as confident that they were gripping to stone in the same way my Trail-Rocs would, and when I was running back down the hill, I was being pretty careful through here. I never slipped or lost grip, but I was being more careful than I normally would.
Having said that – not many races involve that kind of terrain, so I’m not too worried about that, long term.
As for fit – the sole has a 4mm heel to toe drop on this model, so they fall into the “minimal” category (the Trailroc 245’s are 3mm, the X-Talon 190’s are 0mm), but they are definitely a lot more of a rigid and structured shoe than the Inov-8’s I’m used too. Icebug also sell sole inserts for those who need specific types of support, but that wasn’t something I needed to worry about. This particular shoe falls into their medium width toebox, and me, with my wide and flat feet, had no problems. Many Icebugs have narrow toe boxes, with their winter shoes going wider again for comfort.
I’m planning on wearing these to the weekends races, and getting some real wear on them – I’ll be reporting back next week to let you all know how they go.