(published in Trail Walker Spring 2014, official publication of New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, nynjtc.org)
High tech companies keep trying to push their products onto the trail either in your backpack or on your wrist. Mapping apps for smart phones and ipads. Solar powered recharging stations so you can recharge your ipad and smart phone. But many hikers, backpackers and trail runners continue to eschew the idea of letting technology get between them and the trail. But this spring the newest high tech product for hikers will actually come between you and the trail – as long as you are wearing socks. Really smart socks.
This spring a new high-tech sock will be available to runners and hikers that will record and project an image of exactly how your feet are striking the ground. Are you a heel striker, forefoot striker or mid-foot striker? Do you put all your pressure under your great toe but no pressure under your smallest toe? Understanding how the foot strikes the ground can be an important distinction especially for runners since many researchers suggest that mid-foot and forefoot strikers are less prone to injuries than heel strikers. (Walkers and hikers are normally heel strikers). The socks can also detect if the wearer’s gait has changed during a hike or run.
Called Sensoria, these socks will also record distance traveled, cadence (number of foot strikes per minute), number of steps taken, calories burned, as well as other metrics. A number of existing products can also tell you similar information, such as the Nike+Sportswatch. But no other device on the market geared for the athletic consumer can generate data and images of the pressure generated under your feet.
The Sensoria sock made of a washable, synthetic wicking fabric will be available this spring from Heapsylon LLC, a Redmond, WA based technology company, Ceo Davide Vigiano said in a telephone interview. The company also manufactures a shirt and sports bra that use a sensor to record heart rate.
The sock incorporates three sensors, one each under the heel, near the big toe and near the small toe, which are less than 1 mm thick. To activate the sensors, the hiker or runner attaches an anklet to the sock via snaps. The battery powered anklet contains an accelerometer and other technology which allow it to capture data from the sensors in the sock. The user can then see the data as it is being collected on his or her smart phone or even Google glasses, with pressure reflected as either green, the lowest reading, or yellow or red, a high reading. Or the user could download the data from the anklet via Blue Tooth technology or using a USB connection, after the hike to see a video strip of their foot strike history and other data, like distance traveled. Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman Ph.D, who has authored many studies on barefoot running and is the author of The Story of the Human Body (2013 Pantheon) is collaborating on the mobile application, according to Mr. Vigiano. The sock sensors do not have a GPS but can be paired with existing GPS units, Vigiano said.
These smart socks are ideal for trail or road runners who not only want to know how far and fast they have traveled but also want to modify their gait, be notified if they have started suddenly pronating or supinating and want to try and minimize injury. Moreover, the sock could give a before and after look at exactly how an arch support or foot orthotic changes the pressure under the foot.