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The interaction between the shoe and the ground requires grip and traction, which are the two qualities of our "contact" promise.
The idea of the Contact technology on our hiking boots is to combine technology and design in order to create a good mix of grip and traction, sole design and tread pattern.
"Outdoor Contact, Contact", developed for our summer hiking boots, also has a "Snow Contact" version for all winter boots, with a different tread pattern and rubber, specifically for frozen or snow-covered surfaces.
Our Contact technology guarantees the grip and traction of the sole for the use concerned (Outdoor Contact in summer, Snow Contact in winter) and a sole technology for every type of terrain that you will come across when hiking in the mountains.
There is a secret to the high level of innovation and technical features on our shoes, and our soles in particular: we have the capability to manufacture everything ourselves, including the mixing of the rubber materials. At the Footwear Industrial Division (FID) in Lille, our teams of chemists and engineers are able to develop our own rubber formulas. We can go for a high level of grip and combine it with abrasion resistance, on an eco-design platform. Thanks to this capability, we have been able to get a head start with the mixture that we currently use, which is also biosourced, partly recycled and offers excellent performance characteristics.
Our Contact technologies are a combination of material selection and design. Soles are a bit like car tyres. They come in very different shapes, from the almost smooth "slick" tyre that you see in Formula 1, to the very bumpy tractor tyre. The lugs of our Contact shoes are angled to provide good traction, and have different depths on the Outdoor and Snow versions. To this end, our designers were particularly inspired by the winter tyres that we put on cars, with grooves that work mechanically.
Traction and grip are really the two key factors of our technology, and we are constantly looking for formulas to find the best balance between the two. To take an extreme example, the shoes for climbing are smooth because we are looking for maximum grip. For hiking, to cope with the mud and rolling stones, a real blend of traction and grip is needed to provide a product that is both comfortable and effective.
The tread pattern is a mix of individual lugs and a general pattern, with very practical designs which naturally depend on the rubber mix. Indeed, there are multiple factors involved, i.e. the shape of the shoe, the width of the sole and the contact surfaces of the midsole all play a role. What's more, for mountain hiking, there is an ascent and a descent, which means that the lug design at the front of the foot and at the heel may be reversed, to slow you down in the descent.
At the Sporstlab in Lille, we conduct laboratory tests, which give us a grip score, using a plateau with snow and water. Our teams combine these data with traction tests, which are conducted using 3D simulations in extreme situations, on soft ground (mud) which is the most "slippery" that you can encounter. You can then space out the lugs more, in the knowledge that a lower density of lugs (total number of lugs on the sole) will also reduce grip.
This is the field test which can then be used to optimise the balance between the two criteria. All our shoes are tested during hikes of varying lengths to validate the durability and the compliance with the restrictions.
To innovate in the footwear sector, we work in a Project Group (designer, product manager, product engineer, prototype developer/pattern designer, etc.) with close ties to the industrial world (choice of components, optimisation of manufacturing processes) and sole and upper specialists who are able to make a shoe with their hands. These technologies do not all arrive at the same time. It is a long iterative process that is continually evolving. We get the rubber experts (component engineers in Lille) and lug experts (engineers specialised in grip and traction research) to work together.
From advanced 3D printing to complex moulding techniques, the FID can make almost everything in-house, through its branch in the Mont Blanc Valley that specialises in waterproofing/warmth and Outdoor Contact. We manage to produce the entire shoe, using shoemaking expertise where all the industrial processes come together in a completely integrated way, as well as our exclusive suppliers with whom we have "sample rooms" for developing more advanced prototypes for production purposes.
The Outdoor Contact and Snow Contact are not patents, like the Air Cooling label for backpacks. They are a promise or guarantee that the product is suited to hiking. We provide the contact technology for everything in our product ranges, even the entry price items, regardless of their levels of performance. Everything is tested in the same way and must comply with the same standards.
As for the eco-design aspects, by manufacturing our rubber compound in-house, we are able to achieve high levels of performance by integrating 30% recycled material (tyres, latex gloves, etc.) What's more our silica is biosourced, and offers the best level of performance we've ever had. The same goes for the midsole, with EVA using 30% bio-based materials coming from sugar cane waste.