Six months after REI Co-op revealed to FN that it was creating its own footwear, the outdoor retail giant is ready to deliver its debut range to both new and longtime adventurers.
The initial offering will feature two adventure-ready hiking boots, the Traverse and the Flash, which is pared down from the three-shoe range REI initially had planned. (The retailer told FN in December that the third look, a lifestyle shoe dubbed Beyonder, would release later in 2021.)
“Every product has to be killer, and we felt like going out with one activity focus was going to enable that,” Isabelle Portilla, REI’s divisional VP of design and strategy for Co-op Brands, told FN. “A bit deeper into the work we realized how far we are going to take footwear and how big the range was going to get, so the more we can focus each drop, the better.”
This two-boot range, according to REI Co-op Brands product manager for footwear Bennett Grimes, is ideal for the current hiking boom, which is seeing a new wave of adventurers in addition to those who have long loved the outdoors.
“This is partly why you’re seeing us come out with two products. The Traverse is a little bit more focused on backpacking-hike combination, so you’ll probably see a more experienced person gravitate to this boot,” Grimes told FN. “Then the Flash being our lighter weight, more versatile product, we’ll probably see a combination of both new and long-time enthusiasts that are looking for a lighter weight, more versatile product.”
Before deciding to move ahead with the launch, Grimes said that roughly 100 people did more than 2,000 hours of wear-testing of the Traverse and Flash over eight weeks throughout the U.S.
“We made sure that we were getting all type of terrain, sand, dirt, snow, mud, rain,” Grimes said. “One of the best stories was from a tester in Alaska who got the boots and that exact same day put the Flash on and went on a 17-hour hike. He sent a video when he got back saying, ‘I’m a fan, I’m in. This is it.’ We were happy to see what we were working on functioned and did what we were hoping it would do.”
Prior to hitting retail, Grimes said REI made a few fit adjustments based on wear-tester feedback.
For instance, the company updated the Traverse with additional width and depth in the forefoot to offer a more open toe box area to allow the foot to splay out. Also, REI discovered through wear-testing that the original recycled aluminum eyelets did not meet its durability standards, so the company opted for a thicker virgin material instead. Lastly, it changed the recycled nylon shank to a virgin material.
“Every other element has either recycled or bio-based content; there’s only two pieces that we are using 100% virgin material,” Grimes said. “And that is coming out of feedback from wear testers and making strategic durability decisions for our product.”
Speaking with FN, the company confirmed that REI-branded models will debut in April.
Although using virgin materials deviates slightly from its mission to create “footwear with a lighter footprint,” Grimes said REI would not put a product into the market that didn’t offer peak performance. But he said REI could come up with components made with recycled content to replace the virgin materials sooner than later.
“We need to lead with function, and if we’re not able to create something that’s functioning for our customer the way we want it to, then we’re we’re not going to make a poor decision to use the recycled content,” Grimes said. “But we are testing and innovating every single day to get closer, and absolutely at some point we’re going to be able to say every component has a recycled or bio-based material.”
As for the Flash, the original speed lacing system was changed to a traditional one (with thin and lightweight laces made with 100% recycled content) to offer a more dialed fit. And the sock-like collar was swapped out with a flat knit material that’s rolled over the padding all the way to the edge for a more secure fit around the ankle.
What all wear-testers were fond of, Grimes explained, were the TerraGrip outsoles and TerraLoft midsoles that REI developed.
“What’s winning is our grip and the durability of our outsole. People are excited and pumped that we were able to do that with a 20% recycled content,” Grimes said. “And then underfoot, our compound is super comfortable and soft, yet responsive — really good feedback across the board.”
Also, Grimes said the feedback on REI’s proprietary waterproofing let the company know it was on the right track.
“We learned that our HydroWall, our proprietary waterproofing technology, is totally up to snuff. We are happy to go head-to-head with some of the biggest waterproofing you can get in footwear. We’re winning with 75% recycled content,” Grimes said.
Moving forward, Grimes said REI will continue to innovate in with sustainability in mind, and will focus on building new materials. Also, he confirmed that there will be new silhouettes added to the line in the future.
“Every single season, you’re going to see a new drop off from us in footwear and it’s going to be really focused on sustainability and getting the right trail product for our members,” Grimes said.
The Traverse and Flash are available for preorder now via REI.com in men’s and women’s sizing, and will also be sold in all REI doors. The Traverse will retail for $150 and the Flash will come with a $130 price tag.