Celebrating 40 Years on the Trails

by Jeffrey Stern

Sponsored by Merrell

Looking back on the last few decades, Merrell has been synonymous with hardcore hikers, dominating the footwear sector of the outdoor industry with their innovation, style and durability. Afterall, they were founded when Rossignol ski company executives Clark Matis and John Schweizer teamed up with Randal Ivan Merrell of Utah, a craftsman of custom leather boots. Back in 1981, the team wanted a boot that was more cushioned yet could still go the distance in the mountains.

By the following season, Matis had designed a more affordable, high-performance hiker, and plans were put in place to start producing the inaugural line of Merrell boots in the footwear mecca of Italy. Now, 40 years later, the brand is ubiquitous around the world with outdoors enthusiasts, from novices to the most advanced mountaineers.

Clark Matis

What’s been most impressive about Merrell over the last four decades is how they’ve continually evolved to meet consumer’s needs and bring continually innovative product solutions forward. From their early leadership in the hiking category to minimalist technologies that allowed consumers to experience the outdoors in new ways, the evolution of the brand has always been cutting edge. Today, they’re still focused on being a trusted brand that provides the performance and style customers are looking for, while working hard to welcome everyone into the outdoors.

To that extent and to celebrate Merrell’s trail running month in August, they have launched their Merrell Wild Miles campaign to inspire runners around the world to switch up their running routines. Shaun Bohnsack, Merrell’s Vice President of Product Management explained, “We want to bring attention to the fact that you do not need to be a professional athlete or ultrarunner to enjoy running in nature. There are so many benefits of the outdoors and we want to help people experience the simple excitement, variety and vibrancy of stepping off the road and onto the trail.”

Merrell believes they have the responsibility to transform the outdoors and have taken impactful steps to drive change in terms of sustainability and inclusivity. They are driving sustainability through product design and materials, their supply chain and processes; and are making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. “We’ve been focused on continuing to build partnerships and products that amplify the importance of inclusivity within sizing and representation,” Bohnsack said.

One of Merrell’s core values is to share the simple power of the outside with everyone – no matter who they are, where they come from, what they love or how they move. “We strive to be welcoming, approachable and inclusive to everyone in order to share the simple power of the outside with all. This is our North Star, and this mindset is core to our business and the daily conversations of our team. These values are woven into our brand purpose and strategies across our organization and impact the decisions we make on a daily basis.”

In terms of the brand’s sustainable approach, he pointed out that Merrell was the first outdoor brand to be included in Zappos Adaptive Single and Different Size Shoe program. “From using sustainable materials to prioritizing the use of recycled materials such as polyester, yarn, EVA footbeds and TPU, we strive to reduce the impact of every footprint we create in the world.”

As part of their Wild Miles campaign, Merrell is also launching a “Wild Miles Challenge” across their social media channels to help encourage people to get out into nature and share their experiences. Through this campaign, they’ll be showcasing the latest editions to their extensive and growing trail running line: the Moab Flight, Agility Peak 4, Nova 2 and Antora 2.

“As Merrell celebrates its 40th birthday this year, it’s more important than ever to make the outdoors attainable for all,” Bohnsack continued, “The great thing about our trail running line is that we have a shoe for many levels and preferences. Our newly launched Moab Flight is an extension of our award-winning Moab collection and is a great neutral cushioned shoe that can go from hardpack to light trails with ease. Well-cushioned and flexible with a traditional drop, this shoe is great for new runners, and those seeking out a comfortable ride for training and moderate distance runs.”

Bohnsack explained that the Nova 2 and Antora 2 are very versatile shoes that are great solutions for moderately technical trails and have a stable, yet cushioned ride for longer adventures.

The new Agility Peak 4 is what he’s most excited about in this year’s updated 2021 line. Built for the most rugged trails, the Agility Peak 4 provides an ample amount of cushioning underfoot, has good protection and great mountain traction, yet still provides a lot of ground connection. “It’s stable, yet fast at the same time,” Bohnsack exclaimed, “I am logging all my technical trail miles in this shoe at the moment and loving every mile.”

Bohnsack is a firm believer that it is imperative for Merrell to inspire runners who have not previously considered trail running to give it a try because of the multitude of physical and mental benefits of getting outside and immersing yourself in nature during trail runs, such as lowering anxiety and strengthening different muscles.

“Often times the biggest hurdle for new trail runners is the unknown, and we want to work to educate runners on what it takes to step onto the trail.” He elaborated, “The truth is, it’s really simple and does not require a lot, but there are a few things that we believe should be considered to safely hit the trail.” Their marketing team is working to create different educational resources as well as sharing broad inspirational stories to help create a community of support for those willing to give it a try.

Beyond inspiring the next generation of trail runners, Bohnsack said Merrell is looking forward to leading the innovation front as they continue to expand into the next decade and beyond. “Consumers have developed a deeper appreciation for the outdoors, especially this past year, which grew demand for products in the hiking, trail running and outdoor categories. At the heart of our research and development is a continued focus on providing the best connection to the trail, and enhancing the comfort of our runners in all environments they find themselves in. The one thing that we love about the trail is that it’s always changing and the job our gear has to do for our runners is a versatile one.” Building gear that can transition from a multitude of terrain types is at the heart of every product decision they make, just as it has been since their start in the 1980s.

Even in a crowded market, Merrell is engrossed in becoming a key player by sticking to their roots as trail running pushes to new heights in the coming years. “We’re focused on welcoming new consumers to the trail through highlighting its benefits and being a resource on how to get started,” Bohnsack emphasized.

“We love that the trail running community will be growing, and we see our role as being a driver of building an inclusive trail running environment and the outfitter that enables all people to get out and hit the trail. We’ll continue to provide new, innovative technologies in our footwear with a style-forward look that draws more people into the sport.”

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