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Reviews > Footwear > Trail Shoes > Vasque Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes > Test Report by Gail StaisilVasque Aether Tech SS
Test Series by: Gail Staisil, Marquette, Michigan
March 30, 2009
Name: Gail Staisil
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 145 lb (66 kg)
Normal Shoe Size: 10.5 US (42.5 EU)
Location: Marquette, Michigan USA
Email: woodswoman2001 AT yahoo DOT com
Initial Impressions and Product Description
Upon their arrival, I quickly accessed the qualities of the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes. The first trait that I noticed was the innovative lacing system. Quite frankly it is nothing like I've ever seen before as it had a 1 in (2.54 cm) in diameter adjustment knob at the top of each tongue of each shoe. I knew I should read the small hang tag that came with the pair of shoes before I proceeded.
I quickly read the tag and learned that the adjustment system is called the BOA Lacing System. This system is patented by BOA Technology, Inc. and that company sells their system to footwear manufacturers such as Vasque. The system consists of a BOA reel, steel cable laces and custom elongated lace guides.
The reel or knob can be adjusted by pulling it outwards and then pushing the tongue forward on the shoe to loosen. To tighten the shoes, the knob is pushed in and then rotated clockwise until the desired tension is found. I completed the first step, placed my feet into the shoes and then completed the second step. Seemed simple enough but totally a new experience for me. I thought back to the early 1990's when I was doing duathlons and had to quickly change my shoes. At that time using cordlocks was considered innovative!
I had requested my usual size of trail runners which is 10.5 US (42 EU) and they fit perfectly in length. They do seem a bit extra roomy in the toe box areas but I think if I wear a slightly thicker pair of socks that might work better for me. I normally wear very thin socks. The shoes are possibly the lightest trail runners I have ever worn (I am going just by the feel of their weight as I've worn trail runners seemingly forever and I don't have the actual weights of all the pairs I've owned).
The shoes look exactly like they do on the website. In fact, the colors are very exact and there weren't any surprises there. I haven't found any noticeable defects other than a few spots of what appears to be glue on the padding of the heel counter on one shoe.
BOA - More about this system.
According to the manufacturer of the BOA Lacing System it is designed to eliminate pressure points by the use of elongated lace guides (note top picture) that distribute closure force and the precise adjustment of the reel.
Reportedly as my foot works and flexes the laces will continually adjust much like a suspension system. Another advantage would be that it is easy to stop and adjust the reel at any time without having to fumble with shoelaces. The shoes also could be worn without tightening them around camp without having shoelaces dragging on the ground.
Although the steel cables look fragile they are made out of 49 individual strands of aircraft grade stainless steel wire covered with a polymer coating.
The Vasque Aether Tech SS Shoes are designed specifically for trail running (actually for "fast pace runners" according to Vasque). They are low cut and feature low-stretch softshell fabric uppers. The material is really very lightweight without much structure by itself however there are areas on the sides and back of each shoe that are reinforced with welded TPU (Thermo Plastic Urethane). Those black-colored areas almost form a spider-like effect on the shoes. The uppers also feature synthetic nubuck leather on each toe box, each tongue and a diagonal wrap up each side of each shoe.
Padded pale green-color mesh material forms the collar of each shoe and this fabric extends into the area underneath the BOA Lacing System forming a bellows tongue. The tongue features a (partial) synthetic leather nubuck (30 percent recycled) overlay and it features a plastic guide through which the steel wire is centered or kept in place. The bellows tongue presumably will deter dirt and water from entering the shoe. The rest of the inside of each shoe is lined with a soft fleece-type material.
The back of each heel edge features an olive green-color ribbon loop to facilitate pulling on and removing each shoe. A simple and tiny "V" label is located an inch (2.54 cm) beneath each loop. Another "V" symbol plus a small "BOA" label is located on the top side of each shoe. The words "VASQUE" are printed in small letters on the outside area of the toe rand. Reflective trim is piped along the back of each heel and there are small touches of reflectivity on the toe box and the "V" symbols on the sides of the shoes. The toe rand consists of synthetic nubuck leather and does feature a dotted-grip pattern in a distinctive design.
Soles: Outsoles, Midsole and Insoles
The outsoles of the Aether Tech SS Shoes feature the Vasque Aether Outsole. I could find little information about this particular outsole other than it likely prevents slippage. The outsoles feature a lug pattern with "V" shape lugs on the forefoot and the heel area of each sole. The "V" shapes or arrows point forward on the forefoot and they point towards the heel on the heel area of each shoe. I assume the pattern has something to do with motion control and stability.
According to the website the midsoles consist of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) with high rebound heel and forefoot inserts. That would likely add to overall comfort.
The insoles feature dual-density EVA covered by a light mesh material. They appear to have just a slight or very moderate arch.
I didn't find any accompanying care instructions with the shoes or on the manufacturer's website. However, taking care of footwear is usually intuitive so I'm not sure if any details are really necessary. The shoes are covered by a 1 year limited warranty against defects in materials or workmanship.
So far, I'm intrigued with the design of the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes. I find them to be very light duty shoes in appearance but feature an array of good attributes to likely combat foot fatigue and to provide foot protection on the trail.
I'm looking forward to wearing the Vasque Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes for trail running, dayhikes and light duty backpacking.
June 3, 2009
USA Locations and Conditions
During the field test period, I have worn the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes during three backpacking excursions. They included a two-day trip to the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, a four-day trip to the North Country Trail in Wisconsin, and a two-day trip to the Fox River Pathway in Michigan (total of eight days). The Aethers have also been extensively used for trail running and dayhiking approximately twenty times total. Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to lakeshores and hiking trails. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to approximately 1300 ft (400 m).
Early April Backpacking Trip:
Location: Kettle Moraine State Forest - Ice Age Trail - Wisconsin
Type of Trip: Trail along glacial features including eskers, moraines, kettles and kames
Distance: 18 mi (29 km)
Length of Trip: 2 days
Pack Weight: 30 lb (14 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, windy, sleet
Temperature Range: 33 F (1 C) to 45 F (7 C)
Precipitation: 0.18 in/0.46 cm (snow/sleet)
Late April Backpacking Trip:
Location: North Country Trail - Wisconsin
Type of Trip: Mostly trail
Distance: 18 mi (29 km)
Length of Trip: 3 days/3 nights
Pack Weight: 27.5 lb (12.47 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, sleet, hail storm, rain, sunny
Precipitation: 0.37 in (0.94 cm)
Temperature Range: 33 F (1 C) to 68 F (20 C)
May Backpacking Trip:
Location: Fox River Pathway - Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Type of Trip: Trail
Distance: 17.5 mi (28 km)
Length of Trip: 2 days/2 nights
Pack Weight: 28 lb (13 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Mostly sunny
Temperature Range: 25 F (-4 C) to 51 F (11 C)
Running and Dayhiking:
Location: Noquemanon Trails, Harlow Lake Trail (all in Michigan), Ledgeview Nature Center Trails (Wisconsin)
Distance: Usually 4 to 6 mi (6.5 to 10 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Snow, rain, clouds, sun (low-mid range humidity (30 to 70 percent)
Temperatures Range: 26 F (3 C) to 75 F (24 C)
Performance in the Field
Trail Usage for Trail Running and Backpacking
During the first part of the field test period the conditions of the trail where I run were challenging. Winter was slowly phasing out and there was still a significant ribbon of ice and crusted snow down the center of the trails that circumnavigate a local peak right near my house. I carefully proceeded with the first run wearing the Aethers and then gained more confidence in their ability to keep me from slipping.
After a few runs I felt confident to take them out on a short backpacking trip in the neighboring state of Wisconsin. Even though the trip was only two days in length I walked over 18 mi (30 km) carrying a pack of approximately 30 lb (17 kg). My feet were mostly comfortable but the soles of my feet were a bit sore. I attributed this partly to the fact that I was walking on barren hard surfaces (for the first time since early November) as compared to walking on the cushion of snow all winter.
After the backpacking trip I returned to trail running. I was still dealing with partially-melted trails and then a huge late winter storm blew in and deposited 20 inches (51 centimeters) of wet snow. During the early phase of the storm when only about 3 to 4 in (8 to 10 cm) of snow had fallen I ran my normal five mi (8 km) route. I thought the Aethers would wet out immediately but surprisingly I only had wetness seep in through the tops of the shoes and then later only from the bottom when I stepped into deep water and snow-sogged areas. The Aethers are not supposed to be waterproof so this is normal.
After the snow melted in late April I was finally running on rocky surfaces again. At that point the overall comfort of the Aethers was limited. I wasn't particularly confident at the start that they would have enough support for the very rocky, narrow, steep and very irregular surfaces that comprise the majority of my running endeavors. Although they certainly allow me to run on these surfaces my feet can often feel the rocks below them.
My next backpacking trip in late April was a real test for the shoes. I debated whether it would be the right choice to wear the Aethers as normally in those types of conditions I would have instead worn waterproof boots. The woods were a real mess. Between mushy snow-covered areas and huge wet areas containing much seasonal runoff there wasn't a whole lot of dry surface encountered.
The first day of the trip was a bit warmer (65 F/18 C) than I was used to after a long winter so I decided that wearing the shoes wet would be no big deal. Minutes into the trip my feet were wet and of course stayed wet throughout the 11.6 mi (17 km) day. I wore crew-length cushioned Darn Tough Socks with the Aethers and my feet felt fine even though they were wet. When I got to camp I changed into sandals and let some of the moisture evaporate from the shoes in the windy weather.
That evening the temps dropped to around freezing and the next two trail days would produce weather mostly around 45 F (7 C). Since the weather was cooler I decided to wear a pair of calf-high waterproof Sealskinz Socks with the shoes. This was a great combination and even though my shoes were wet my feet stayed dry. I also wore short gaiters the whole trip not necessarily to keep water out but ticks and such.
After the trip the Aethers looks awful. They were very heavily covered with mud so I removed the insoles and rinsed the shoes and the insoles under running water and left them to air dry indoors. They actually dried quite quickly and I was able to wear them the next day.
My next backpacking trip took place in May and while the temps were still rather cold the forest areas were a lot drier than my previous backpacking trips. The trail surfaces were mostly soft including sandy soil and much forest debris on a seldom-used pathway. My feet were content on these surfaces.
Finally I continued to wear the Aethers for more trail running. Although they get me through my trail runs they are less comfortable than a lot of my other trail runners have been for those endeavors. Although I often day hike on rocky surfaces as well they are definitely more comfortable for that purpose.
Field Test Conclusions for the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes So Far
Although I don't really have any big issues with the Aethers, they are not the most comfortable shoes in the world for me. Being rather lightweight they lack a lot of cushioning and lateral support features which I'm starting to miss (they do have reinforced areas on the sides of the shoes but they are very flexible and don't offer a lot of control).
If I wasn't testing the Aethers I most likely would be wearing something else. I don't think it is truly the fault of the Aethers because the surfaces that I run on are highly irregular and severely rocky. They are hard on footwear and aren't the ordinary kind of packed earth trail that the Aethers are probably intended for. With that said, even though they are marketed as trail shoes there are many kinds of trail and one type of trail shoe just doesn't always work. What is really ironic is that my feet are more comfortable in the Aethers on multi-day backpacking trips than they are on the trail runs. I'm sure it is definitely the type of surface difference and the fact that I am not running or pounding on backpacking trips.
After the majority of the field test period using the included insoles I decided to switch them out for a pair of more cushioned insoles. Although I have noticed some difference there is still something lacking.
I do really like the adjustment feature (BOA) on the Aethers and it has worked well in all sorts of conditions. I wondered if walking through water all day would affect the performance of the laces but it hasn't. I do find that once I set out I usually stop to tighten my shoes at least once. It's not because the laces have slipped but the fact that I didn't snug them as much as needed at the start.
I have worn the shoes with a variety of socks but have come to the conclusion that I need to wear cushioned socks with them to take up a little bit of slack and to provide a bit more cushion. I must add that the Aethers have been comfortable otherwise as I haven't experienced any blisters or rubbing.
The shoes have gripped exceedingly well. They have been worn on snow, rain-covered surfaces, rock, and plain old dirt as well as through water, and sand. The shoes still look fine in appearance even though they have been through a lot of messy conditions. All parts of them remain in good condition after approximately 135 mi (217 km) of wear.
I will continue to wear the Aethers for trail running and my shorter backpacking trips during the long term period. I will most likely stick to wearing them with thicker inserts and cushioned socks for more comfort.
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Long Term Report:
August 3, 2009
USA Locations and Conditions
During the long term reporting period, I have worn the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes during one backpacking trip and for trail running and day hiking. Actual use is estimated to be about 15 days covering over 75 mi (121 km). Locations ranged from and included conifer and deciduous forest communities with many rock outcroppings to lakeshores and hiking trails. Elevation ranged from 600 ft (183 m) to approximately 1300 ft (400 m).
Early June Backpacking Trip:
Location: Craig Lake Wilderness/North Country Trail - Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Type of Trip: Trail, bushwhack
Distance: 6 mi (10 km)
Length of Trip: 2 days/1 night
Pack Weight: 26.5 lb (12 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, rain
Precipitation: 0.52 in (1.35 cm)
Temperature Range: 31 F (-1 C) to 58 F (14 C)
Running and Dayhiking:
Location: Noquemanon Trails, Harlow Lake Trails (all in Michigan)
Distance: Usually 4 to 6 mi (6.5 to 10 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Sun, clouds and light rain
Temperature Range: 50 F (10 C) to 85 F (29 C)
Performance in the Field
My early June backpacking trip was a short two-day trip in rugged conditions. Although the first and last part of this trip was on semi-maintained trail half of it was bushwhacking. It wasn't our original plan to be bushwhacking but I found out quickly that the Aethers were a poor choice for that endeavor. Due to the highly uneven ground and forest debris, my feet rotated sideways inside the shoes and were very unsupported. The Aethers also became sogged at areas where we traveled at the edge of a bog. This is not the fault of the Aethers as they are not waterproof.
I have come to the decision that the Aether Tech SS are not the best choice of footwear for me. Although I have owned and worn several pairs of other products by Vasque that I've been happy with, this particular model is too lightweight or unstructured for the types of activities I do. I believe the best use of the Aether Tech SS would by a person who is light in body weight and runs or hikes on semi-smooth dirt surfaces and wants a fast and light trail shoe for racing (racing flat).
The lack of cushioning and lateral support features are a big negative for use on the type of trails that I encounter. As stated in my field report those surfaces are highly irregular and rocky. I tried using thicker insoles and heavier socks to provide more cushioning but it was simply not enough. During the long term period I rotated the Vasque shoes with other trail runners that I have to not only give my feet a break but also to justify that I wasn't imagining that they didn't work well.
I did love the BOA lacing system and found it extremely easy to use as well as a neat way to customize the fit. The other main perk for me with the Aethers is that I found them to grip quite well on many types of surfaces wet or dry. I also liked the fact that the Aethers dried quickly when they became wet. This is a great asset when wearing the shoes day after day.
During the entire testing period I have worn the Aethers for a total of over 210 mi (338 km). Other than the TPU overlay coming partially off of one side on one shoe (as shown in the picture above) the shoes look very well after four months of use. The BOA system is still working perfectly and the uppers and soles are in good condition.
In conclusion, the Vasque Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes are very lightweight shoes that are trail worthy for light duty. They have some great characteristics such as the BOA lacing system and outsoles with great traction but they lack cushioning and lateral support. I will most likely retire the shoes for trail usage but will still wear them for short excursions or yard work.
Thanks to Vasque and BackpackGearTest for this opportunity to test the Aether Tech SS Trail Shoes. This concludes my Long Term Report and the test series.
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