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At Adidas Outdoor, Function is Back in Fashion

An interesting phenomenon has crept into the outdoor footwear space over the past few years, Greg Thomsen, the chief outdoor officer for Adidas Outdoor USA told Sourcing Journal at the brand’s SoHo showroom last week.

“Outdoor is now kind of fashion,” Thomsen said, explaining why the newest crop of outdoor silhouettes from Adidas’ outdoor branch boasted a wide range of colorways, mixed materials and mainstream styles.

“The fashion guys are saying, ‘This is a fashion shoe.’ And the hiking guys are saying ‘This is a hiking boot,’” Thomsen explained. “And so now we have Kith showing them as cool fashion shoes and Dick’s Sporting Goods selling them as hiking boots.”

Thomsen is speaking primarily of Adidas’ popular Terrex Hiker, released in February of this year. Combining technical proficiency with popular features like its Boost midsole and Primeknit uppers, Adidas had one goal in mind when it created the silhouette: to make the hiking boot of the future.

Thomsen said Adidas designers started with the Boost midsole—possibly the most recognizable Adidas feature outside of its signature three stripes at this point. However, Boost was designed to be used on pavement and asphalt and was soft and pliable, as a result. Hiking boots, however, need to be thick and stable to prevent accidental falls and foot injury.

“So, they came up with a special thermoplastic molded piece that’s shaped like a fork and when you push on one side,” Thomsen said, “it pushes on the other and gives the shoe more stability so you can stand on the edge of things without falling off.”

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Deep within a Boost midsole, the Free Hiker’s thermoplastic fork helps to give the shoe stability while maintaining the bounce Boost is known for. Adidas

Covering Adidas’ thermoplastic fork is a thick coating of Continental rubber. Continental is exclusive to Adidas footwear and the high-end tire producer provides the majority of the soles for its outdoor division. In fact, in some cases, Continental simply re-engineered the treads from some of its mountain bike tires to be used as the soles of Adidas’ hiking, trail running and climbing footwear.

Adidas also was able to use its experience in footwear to provide its fellow German company with its own fair share of tread innovations, influencing a whole generation of Continental mountain bike tires, in turn.

Thanks to this relationship, Thomsen added, Adidas Outdoor’s rubber soles are some of the best in the business and feature the Continental name under the authority of much more than licensing—giving the brand best-in-class traction and abrasion resistance.

The upper of the Terrex Free Hiker is no less engineered to provide the fit of the future for hikers, boasting a sock-like silhouette familiar to fans of Adidas footwear. Much like the Boost-infused midsole, the sock-like silhouette is more than just for show. It keeps rocks and other trail debris from finding its way under the wearer’s foot, another marriage of fashion and function.

Not to be left out, Primeknit is also put to work in the Free Hiker line and in most of Adidas’ outdoor footwear. A knitted, flexible upper makes a good deal of sense for footwear that is designed to respond to a variety of conditions.

“As your foot swells, or not, depending on temperature or altitude—the shoe will be able to accommodate your foot,” Thomsen explained.

That versatility comes in handy, he suggested. From the beginning, Adidas designed the Free Hiker to be suitable for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,653-mile-long hiking trail that runs from the Canadian border down to where the U.S. meets Mexico. Aligned along the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, the trail ranges from just above sea level to more than 13,000 feet above it in places—a trek that demands a shoe adaptable to challenging conditions.

This fall Adidas plans to add a model outfitted with a brand-new GORE-TEX lining that should give the silhouette even more versatility. To demonstrate, Thomsen held his finger up to a point high on the shoe.

“You could stand in water up to this point and the shoe will never get wet,” he explained.