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Raise your hand if you’ve come home from a winter run cold and sweaty with fingers too numb and body so tired that wrestling a wet sports bra off your clammy skin felt like an insurmountable task. Me too. Death by soggy bra is a good way to kill even the coziest pre-run situation but wriggling out of a damp bra underneath a pile of winter layers is the worst.

Enter the Brooks Fast Forward Zip Sports Bra.

I’m not someone who needs a lot of support from a running bra so I usually just go for whatever pullover racer back has the softest fabric or cutest pattern. I have never owned a sports bra that wasn’t a pullover until last month. I always thought the fancy ones with hooks or zippers weren’t for me.

And I was a little skeptical of the Fast Forward bra. Would the zipper make a weird bump under my shirt or bounce around? Would I hear in clinking as I ran? Would the zipper feel like cold metal when I put it on? Nope, nope and nope. Despite the zipper, this bra has a simple construction with a mesh racer back, sleek front panels and a wide soft elastic band along the bottom. Like most bras it came with pads, although, like always, I removed them right away. The zipper has a cozy panel behind it that protects your skin from ever feeling the zipper and the zipper lies smoothly under your shirt. The zipper pull locks down and doesn’t bounce. The best feature? When your run is done the zipper is smooth and easy to undo freeing you from a soggy bra in seconds. No struggle!

A note about fit and sizing: since I don’t need much for support I tend to buy sports bras a size bigger than my normal shirt size, so I can avoid feeling suffocated. This bra fits true to size, and the medium I tested was probably a little big but it was comfortable and I didn’t think about it while I was wearing it. I often find sports bras feel too short, and that I have to keep tugging them down, and that didn’t happen with this one, if anything the straps felt a tad too long. The elastic band around the ribcage is soft and supportive without feeling restrictive.

Despite having a zipper this bra feels light, breathable and sleek, and I’m sure it will be in heavy rotation all summer. I recommend this bra for anyone looking for an option that doesn’t require a clammy wrestling match to get out of.

Amelia is one of our RE ambassadors for 2018/19. She is very active in the community and is one of the makers of the maps we all know and love, Cairn Cartography! We have some awesome New Balance apparel so we asked Amelia to review the Anticipate Half-zip. See her thoughts below! You can also follow her adventures on instagram @cairncarto, as well as on facebook.

A good half-zip top is an essential piece in a winter running wardrobe, but not all half-zips are created equal. I’ve owned my fair share of versions where the sleeves weren’t long enough, or the zipper made an annoying clink through my entire run, or a scratchy seam on the back of my neck made it hard to focus on a run. This month I tried out the “Novelty Anticipate” half-zip from New Balance, which is one of the best running shirts I’ve ever worn.

The first thing I noticed about this top was how soft it is! The material feels amazing on your skin. And I think the stripes are pretty sharp. As someone who doesn’t always keep my running clothes separate from my everyday clothes I appreciate that this top looks and feels just as good with jeans as it does with running tights.

The fit is relaxed. It fits a little longer on me which I really like, to avoid cold drafts on my lower back this time of year. The sleeves have plenty of length and thumbholes to keep my wrists warm. It’s roomy but not bulky and fits under other layers comfortably. It’s a bonus that the material feels super soft when you use the sleeve to wipe your nose, and it dries fast so you don’t end up with a big soggy spot on your wrist (you know what I’m talking about).

Not only is the material really soft, it stays comfortable and manages temperature fluctuations really well. I’m a person who runs cold when I’m not running, and then heats up into a sweaty mess about fifteen minutes into every run, no matter what I wear. I’ve used this top layered over a tank top or layered under a wind shell and this last week I’ve even worn it layered under an insulated running jacket and it stays comfortable through it all.

Finally, this top has well thought out details that were obviously designed with runners in mind. There is some reflective accents for visibility during those inevitable runs in the dark. The zipper locks down and stays put. There are mesh panels that look stylish and help with temperature management and there is a small pocket that sits right on my hip that is big enough for a key or a gel.

This top would make a great gift for a runner on your list this holiday season, or for yourself to help motivate to get out on these frigid days. Happy Running!

Amelia is one of our RE ambassadors for 2018/19. She is very active in the community and is one of the makers of the maps we all know and love, Cairn Cartography! We began carrying the popular brand, Darn Tough, and we wanted Amelia to share her thoughts on the wool socks made in Vermont. You can also follow her adventures on instagram @cairncarto, as well as on facebook.

Darn Tough Vertex ¼ Sock Review

The week before every big race I do, I find my way down to Runner’s Edge and pick out a brand new pair of socks to wear on race day. I usually buy something I’ve worn before so I’m not trying something new on race day, but having new socks to put on gets me excited to run hard and feels like a nice gift to my feet for all the hard work they have put in leading up to race day.

I started to write that I’m not particularly picky about which socks I choose for my race-day present, but I realized that’s not true. I am pretty particular about my socks. I like them to be wool, or mostly wool, I like short no-show socks unless it’s brushy or snowy and then I like some of my ankle covered. I like my socks pretty thin, and I really dislike toe socks. Finally, I try to buy all my gear from companies with a conscience. All that means I was pretty excited to review both the light and ultra light version of the Darn Tough Vertex ¼ socks this month!

My first impression when I took the socks out of their packaging was that they were really soft and super cute. The days of a pack of 10 all-white cotton crew socks are long gone, and it takes some good design for socks to stand out on the wall in today’s market. These come in cheerful color options that I really like.

Darn Tough is a family owned business based in Vermont, close the where I grew up, and they still make all their socks at their mill in Northfield, Vermont. They offer a lifetime guarantee, on socks, and pride themselves on products that are built to last.

I have a confession to make: I love the idea behind Darn Tough but until recently I really didn’t like Darn Tough socks. They use a higher percentage of nylon than other wool sock brands which makes their socks much more durable, but it also makes some of their thicker hiking socks feel really thick and unbreathable. For years I’ve gotten a pair of their heavy-weight hiking socks every year for Christmas, and every time I wear them my shoes feel too tight and my feet end up a sweaty clammy mess.

In the last few years I’ve started coming around, and after trying these ¼ socks I’m a big fan. I’ve spent a lot of time running with wet feet lately and the ¼ sock height is perfect for cold, muddy, slushy conditions, and even when my feet are soaked they feel warm and comfortable. Another issue I’ve had with Darn Tough socks in the past is the ankle feeling too tight, but these feel soft and comfortable without being so loose they fall down. I didn’t have any issues with bunching or falling down or slipping or any other problems with the way they fit. Mostly I forgot I was even wearing them until I went to take them off and realized my feet were much wetter than I realized, which is a good sign I think. I’ve been known to get holes in the toes of my socks after just a few wears but these, like all Darn Toughs are built to last.

I highly recommend you try these out if you are looking for some new socks to add to your drawer. Especially if you haven’t always loved Darn Tough socks in the past. Thanks for reading!

Amelia is one of our RE ambassadors for 2018/19. She is very active in the community and is one of the makers of the maps we all know and love, Cairn Cartography! As the days get shorter and a lot of us are running in the dark, we asked Amelia to review the Light Spur from Nathan. Her thoughts are below. You can also follow her adventures on instagram @cairncarto, as well as on facebook.

This month I reviewed the Nathan Light spur, which is a small, horseshoe-shaped light that fits onto the heel of a running shoe (or casual shoe) to provide visibility when running or biking at night. Mine has a red light that can cycle through several different settings to be either solid or blinky. Contrary to the irate customer who left a one-star review on Nathan’s website, you do not have to undo the eight tiny screws in the case to replace the battery, you just plug it in to a USB port using the cable that comes with it! I’ve only had to charge it once in the last month of use and according to the packaging the battery lasts for 12 hours on a full charge.

I went to college in Maine, which is one of those places so far east in its time zone that it should be in the next one, but no one wants a time difference running through New England, so people just deal. But it means in the fall and winter it gets dark ridiculously early, like sunset at 3:30pm early. It also snows a lot, and the town I lived in took the opposite approach that Missoula takes and did a great job plowing the streets, but almost nothing to keep sidewalks or bike paths clear.

All that is to say I spent a lot of time running on the slush-filled shoulder of dark streets hoping the cars speeding by saw me, but always half-ready to dive into the snowbank if they got too close. The track team gave us dorky reflective vests, but none of us used them, so most days my only reflectivity was the little bits sewn into random zippers and logos on my clothes, and a velcro strap made of that yellow reflective material that I would put around my ankle.

I wish I had the Nathan Light Spur back then! I try to avoid running in the dark as much as possible now, but this time of year, as days get noticeably shorter every week, spending some time making my way through dark streets is inevitable. I’ve used the light spur on early morning and evening runs and I’ve also been throwing it on whenever I find myself biking in the dark.

I was worried the light spur would pinch my heel weird, or that it wouldn’t stay on, but I’ve had no issues with it on any of my running shoes or on casual shoes. The little teeth that hold it in place do scratch up leather shoes a tiny bit, but not running shoes. I was also afraid I might kick the spur off, since I sometimes kick myself in the ankle while running, but I didn’t, and really I didn’t notice the spur at all while I was running.The other thing I didn’t notice- the light itself! I was afraid the red light moving in an out of my peripheral vision would drive me crazy, but the light stays behind me, visible to cars and other people but totally out of my circe of vision.

If you are one of those runners whose headlamps I see making their way through town during pre-dawn hours, I applaud you, and I highly recommend the Nathan Light Spur to increase visibility during dark runs!

Amelia is one of our RE ambassadors for 2018/19. She is very active in the community and is one of the makers of the maps we all know and love, Cairn Cartography! As a frequent runner of the trails, we asked Amelia to review the new Summit Q.O.M from New Balance. Her thoughts are below. You can also follow her adventures on instagram @cairncarto, as well as on facebook.

Specs: 8mm drop, 28/20mm stack, 9.2 OZ, vibram mega-grip outsole

I received a pair of New Balance Summit QOM shoes to test. My favorite trail shoe of all time was probably the original New Balance Leadville, and I’ve run in several other New Balance shoes over the last few years so I was excited to try this new model. The Summit QOM replaced the 910 model and is designed to be an everyday do-it-all shoe for all types of runners.

I should start by saying that I’m super fussy about shoes. My feet are really wide, my arches are high, and I like the midfoot and heel of my running shoes to feel secure. I like a decent amount of cushioning but not too much, I want protection from rocks but I want to feel the trail underneath me, zero drop doesn’t work for me but I do like lower-drop shoes. I am always, always on the hunt for a shoe that fits my goldilocks standards. Shoes I’ve liked recently are the now-discontinued Pearl Izumi N2s, the original Brooks Calderas (but they fell apart too fast and this year’s version was too narrow), and the current Salomon Sense Ride, which I love, but I wish had a little more substance underfoot for long days.

So, with that qualifier (I’m picky!) here’s what I thought of the QOMs: Initially I wasn’t crazy about the understated grey color scheme but it’s grown on me, especially with the pop of yellow from the sole. The trail shoe market has gone a little crazy with super dark or really flashy designs lately, so these stand out for how understated they are.

How do they feel? These feel firm and burly! For the QOM New Balance took the same midsole as the 910, added a vibram mega-grip outsole and beefed up the toe bumper, and these babies feel ready for anything. I’ve worn them on a variety of  Missoula trails and they feel grippy and secure going up and down on the steeps, even with late summer loose gravelly trails. The underfoot protection is so good I find myself looking around at the view more instead of carefully watching my feet because they eat up sharp rocks underfoot. On flatter smoother trails that extra protection does feel a little bit overkill and these are not my first choice for road-to-trail or mellower runs, but they do turn over surprisingly well for how stiff they feel. A few weeks ago I took these on a trip to the Tetons and they were great for scrambling and boulder hopping in big alpine terrain.

Some fit specifics: Like a lot of New Balance shoes, the toe box in these feels roomy and I didn’t even have to order a wide width (but I appreciate that they come in wide, other shoe companies take note, feet come in different widths!). They did take a while to break in, but once they formed to my feet and the thick padding on the tongue and collar packed down a tiny bit they felt super comfortable and secure. They feel like a higher drop shoe, so I was surprised to see them listed as only 8mm, and the higher stack height combined with the firm sole made me feel a little further from the ground than I prefer, but some days that kind of protection is good.

These would be great shoes for races like the Rut or Bridger Ridge Run, or for training in the kind of rugged terrain featured in those races. I think they will also be great for shoulder season runs in mud and snow when a stiffer shoe and a burly sole can really save the day. I also really appreciate how durable these feel, I’m hard on shoes and it’s not unusual for me to wear holes in the upper in less than 200 miles. These seem built to last, about 100 miles in the uppers look great and the soles barely show any wear. I would recommend these as a daily trainer for people who like a firm, protective shoe, or for people looking for a good option for snowy/muddy/rocky trails.

Amelia is one of our RE ambassadors for 2018/19. She is very active in the community and is one of the makers of the maps we all know and love, Cairn Cartography! As a frequent runner of the trails, we asked Amelia to review a skirt from a local company, Kind Apparel. You can follow her adventures on instagram @cairncarto as well as on facebook.

I have to admit when I first heard I was reviewing a running skirt for my first go around I was a little disappointed. I tried a few running skirts four or  five years ago when they were really popular and never really found one I liked. They always feel like too much fabric moves around while I’m running. However, as soon as I saw this skirt, that disappointment went away and I got excited. To start with, the fabric is amazing. It’s light and comfortable without ever getting staticy or clingy and the colors are so fun! Plus it’s made from recycled plastic bottles and made by a local Missoula company.

The skirt I received has built in liner shorts that are pink cheetah print which is a fun little secret. The shorts fit like spandex but they don’t ride up or squeeze and any annoying bulges basically disappear and I forget about them unless I’m getting off my bike in a public place and realize I don’t need to worry about showing too much skin. The skirt sits at my hips, right where I like my shorts to sit, and falls to mid-thigh. The skirt feels well made and like it is up for being well-loved for a long time.

If this skirt had a drawstring it would be almost perfect. Truthfully, I only ran in this skirt once and I spent the whole run pulling it up or hoping it wasn’t falling off. I don’t think a smaller size would help but a drawstring would fix everything. However I’ve found myself wearing this skirt for everything except running: hikes with my dog, floating, to the brewery to meet friends and everything in between, and it stays on comfortably for all those activities. It’s comfortable, flattering and easy to wear. My only other tiny suggestion would be to add a gusset in the shorts for a little more mobility but that’s a minor complaint. I love the phone-sized pocket on the shorts which easily fits my phone, key and a doggy bag, although the weight of a phone in there does exacerbate the skirt-falling-down problem.

With the addition of a drawstring I could see this skirt being a great option for runs when it’s a little chilly for shorts but not quite cold enough for tights. The double layer of fabric and longer-than-shorts coverage definitely feels like a little too much for this hot weather we have been having, but it would be nice for cooler days. I could also imagine wearing this skirt over tights on super cold days. In the meantime I will keep wearing it for all kinds of summer fun.