Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)I should start this review by admitting that I own a LOT of shoes.  This isn’t necessarily a fashion statement, but more of a statement of how many shoe-specific things I do.  I’m an active runner logging over 25-miles a week, I’m a fairly experienced hiker with a typical vacation encompassing over 50-miles and I’m involved in more than a few activities that involve other athletic shoes.  I’ve had low-arch feet all of my life and I’ve learned over the course of time how important shoe choice is and how it can make the difference between enjoyment and pain.

A recent conversation with some of my running friends lead to a discussion of not only shoe importance, but lacing importance as well; and this led us to the new elastic lacing systems.  There are a lot of choices on the market and quite honestly most of my running friends didn’t know where to begin.  After a few google searches, we also realized that there were very few good comparison article available on-line and a lot of new choices in the market.

With that in mind I decided to reach out to what I consider to be the major players in the elastic lacing market to see if they would like to participate in this article.  There are a lot of lower-priced options that I did not include, simply because the laces would be used for more than just walking around.  With running and hiking involved, I want to be sure we were comparing the best and safest options the market has to offer.

This led us to three vendors:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies.  Each vendor takes a bit of a different approach to lacing systems and as you’ll see, each have areas where they stand out.  Caterpy uses “elastic bump” technology with small bumps embedded in each lace.  Xpand is the most normal-looking lace system with a small clip on the end of each lace…and Hickies are the most unique with stretchy bands that can simply connect across each eyelet from side-to-side.

All three lacing systems are roughly the same price; what equates to just under $10 for two shoes.

Methodology:  With shoe laces being used in so many ways, I decided that I’d test the shoe lacing systems in different activities and in different shoes.  I will test each of the lacing systems in simple casual shoes just used for walking and non-athletic activities.  Next up I’ll test the lacing systems in pure running shoes in a running environment; and finally I’ll be testing the lacing systems in low-top hiking shoes as well as mid-height hiking shoes.  For direct comparison purposes I will initially leave normal laces in one shoe and rotate the elastic lacing systems in the other shoe before setting up both shoes with the lacing systems.  This should give me a good comparison and feel for how the lacing systems stack up against regular laces as well as each other.

Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Installation:  The Caterpy and Xpand lacing systems install like a normal lace, however they are created to be one-size-fits-all, so once installed, they are each cut to length.  For comparison purposes, I decided to start with the shoes requiring the longest laces first so I don’t run into an issue with the lace companies that only sent one pair.  The Caterpy and Xpand systems both installed easily as long as you noted the path that your original laces followed.  The Caterpy elastic bumps were a bit of a challenge in some smaller lace openings, but in the end that may have ultimately worked to their advantage as far as lace tension (more on that later).  The Hickies bands also clipped on easily and did not require any cutting.  The only issue that initially concerned me is that Hickies are sold in sets and many shoes have a different number of eyelet pairs (each requiring one Hickies band).  I also noted that the some shoes don’t have a traditional eyelet and have more like a loop as an eyelet.  This was an issue for the Hickies and while they worked, they didn’t seem to fit correctly in this type of eyelet even with the multiple installation options.

I strongly recommend NOT cutting any of your laces until you live with them for a day or so.  I unintentionally set mine very tight and ended up loosening them.  If you discover this after you cut, you may not have enough laces remaining to reach your last eyelets.  Test them out for a few days, then cut when you’re happy with the length.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Non-Athletic Shoes:  My typical daily kickers consist of retired running shoes or just regular sneakers, and while the shoes may be similar, the function is not.  All three lacing systems offer a convenient improvement over lacing your shoes and having to tie the knot each time.  It took a few tries to get used to pulling your shoes open and stretching the opening over your foot, but after that, you quickly get used to your shoes becoming slip-ons.  For walking or general use like shopping, all three lacing felt secure and comfortable.  For working in the yard, the Caterpy laces felt the most secure and safe.  The Xpand laces felt good, but pushing the lawnmower made them feel like they stretched open a bit too much.  The Hickies felt OK as well, but I did have one actually pop loose while pushing the lawnmower up the hill.  Overall I’d say all three lacing systems were acceptable for daily use and perhaps light yard work.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Running:  How these lacing systems performed in pure running shoes was how this article really started, so I’ll admit I pushed the laces a bit further and tested them for much longer while running.  With different terrain, different weather and different shoes, I spent a lot more time testing all three systems.  The lacing systems were subjected to sunny days, rainy days and both paved and dirt paths.  I should also mention that my low-arch feet sweat quite a bit on hot days and longer runs, so all three lacing systems were wet at some point either by sweat or by rain.  I’m also fussy with comfort, so I did have to adjust the tongue of the shoe for comfort after pushing my foot in on all three lacing systems.  This has a lot to do with how easily your foot goes in and your technique for holding the tongue as you put the shoes on.  I should also mention that I like my shoes just a bit on the loose-side when running so I don’t normally tie my shoes REALLY tight.  I suspect this will be to my advantage with the elastic lacing systems, but it may not be how you like your running shoes tied (your mileage may vary).Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

My current running shoes are ASICS Gel Nimbus, Gel Kayano and Gel-Kahana shoes.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

The Caterpy laces really excelled where running is concerned.  The elastic bumps used on the Caterpy laces really seem to pull the sneakers more snug against your feet once you stretch them to put your foot inside.  The bumps hold secure against the shoe eyelets with just enough stretch to feel secure, but just enough give to get your foot into the shoe.  It’s a unique combination, but it worked well for me with little or no adjustment of the bumps with each run.  I also noted that the Caterpy laces allowed me to even snug up the shoes a bit more if I wanted by puling additional bumps through the lace openings.  Overall I think the Caterpy laces worked really well for running, even if you like your running shoes really tight and even if you’re running on a trail or non-paved surface.  Over time I saw no degradation of the Caterpy laces from sweat, rain, dirt or exposure to sun.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

The Xpand laces also worked well for running, however once again they were a little less tight and snug.  The adjustment tab and lace design makes them a bit easier to get your shoes on and I felt very secure running on pavement.  They Xpand laces did feel a bit like they needed to be tighter when running off-pavement, and over some rough surfaces, they felt a bit less secure.  I’m being a bit picky here, because I had no issue trail running with Xpand, this was more of a feeling for me that they were just not tight enough.  After a few miles I did lose this feeling and they seemed just fine; so perhaps it was just my brain adjusting to not having to tie a knot.  Over time I saw no degradation of the Xpand laces from sweat, rain, dirt or exposure to sun.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

The Hickies laces had perhaps the best durability for running.  Their material is more rubber-like compared to the more elastic/cloth of the other systems.  These Hickies “laces” connect horizontally from side to side, and they don’t go diagonally from shoe eyelet to shoe eyelet like the other laces and traditional laces.  This makes them have not only a different look, but a different feel when running.  I have a fairly calm stride so this was less of an issue on pavement, however when leaving the pavement, the support offered by the Hickies didn’t inspire confidence for me.  On rougher areas, my feet felt like they were moving around in the shoes a bit too much and it seemed like I needed a tighter adjustment on these laces.  Overall I think the layout and pattern of the Hickies, made them feel less secure for running, but likely still very acceptable for most.  Because of the material that Hickies uses, these laces were the best of the group at holding up to rain, sweat, dirt and sun exposure.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Overall I’d say the running category really highlighted how the Caterpy laces feel and in the end they were my favorite choice for running.  The bump design made them easy to get your shoes on and really secure for on and off-pavement running.  I should also mention that the Caterpy laces are currently still on my running shoes even after this article was completed.

Hiking:  I do quite a bit of hiking each year and I cover a wide variety of conditions.  This would include dirt trails, wet rocky trails and even desert sand trails.  I’m extremely picky with my hiking shoe choice, so I’ll admit up front, that I’ll also be extremely picky with lacing systems.  Truth be told, shoes and lacing systems are not only about comfort, but also about safety.  Nothing pushes your shoes more that real-world hiking conditions and with 10+ mile hikes, comfort and safety are really important.

With that in mind, we pushed all three lacing systems across rocky rough trails, up wet trails, down muddy trails, over tree roots, in the rain, through stream crossings, in the hot sun, across hot pavement, through desert sand and through some really extreme conditions (including 10+ mile hikes).

Hiking Low Top Shoes:  My current low-top hiking shoes are the Merrell Moab Edge.  These shoes offer support and comfort in a lightweight package and I can say all three lacing systems installed easily.  These shoes are a bit stiffer than my light-weight running shoes so I will say that with all three lacing systems, it is slightly more difficult to slip these shoes on.  This was a minor thing and mostly about comparing the heavier materials of the hiking shoes to the lighter materials of a pure running shoe.

The Hickies laces once again had the most durable construction material for rain, mud, sweat, dust and dirt.  I was concerned that over a longer time period, that the material may dry-rot, but I have no long term evidence to suggest that.  These things survived everything I threw at them, and other than one popping off when I caught it on a rock, they remained secure.  Once again I do feel the Hickies suffered a bit because of their non-diagonal layout.  Going downhill over roots and rocks, my feet felt a bit like they were pushing forward against the toe of the shoe too much.  Going uphill seemed ok with just a touch of heel lift.  Again I was wishing for just a bit tighter setup to eliminate these uphill and downhill issues, but keep in mind I’m really rough on hiking shoes….again your mileage may vary.  As a minor update, Hickies does now offer suggestions on how to install your Hickies in a diagonal manor for “tight” and “extra tight” fitment.  I did try these suggestions out and they did tighten the grip a bit, but they still felt less secure on “tight” and the “extra tight” felt oddly too tight for my feet.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

The Xpand laces worked well across all surfaces and in all conditions.  They did well with wet conditions but perhaps dried a bit slower that the other laces.  I had no issues, but the Xpand laces just seem to look and feel a bit more fragile that the other systems.  Uphill and downhill hikes seemed fine, however I did tighten the Xpand lacing setup much more than in my running shoes.  This helped keep my toes from pushing forward too much and eliminated heel lift as well.  Overall I’d say the Xpand laces worked well and I’ll be curious to see how their long-term durability works out.

The Caterpy laces also worked well in my low-top hiking shoes.  I did also adjust the Caterpy laces on the first use to be a bit tighter than the running shoes.  Once again the overall feel of the Caterpy laces definitely inspired more confidence when hiking.  Of the three lacing systems, the Caterpy laces were the only system that I didn’t think about or worry about during hiking.  In other words, I simply forgot I had to think about my laces at all.  This to me says a lot, and these laces just work well.  My toes and heel stayed where they should be and the laces survived some serious rain, sharp rocks and gnarly roots.  Of the three lacing systems, the Caterpy felt the most like traditional laces when hiking with the added advantage of being easy to put your shoes on and with a constantly adjusting snug feel.  The Caterpy laces felt snug when I needed snug, and a bit more relaxed when I was just hiking on flat trails.  This auto-adjusting feel made the Caterpy just feel right for hiking.

Overall I definitely had a strong favorite lacing system for hiking in my low-top shoes.  With a 10-mile hike, your body is keenly aware of everything from a small irritation of a shirt seam to discomfort in any of your equipment.  Longer hikes expose weaknesses in equipment and in this case the Caterpy laces fared the best.  The Xpand and Hickies laces did really well on shorter hikes on traditional surfaces, but on longer hikes or rougher hikes, they felt just a bit less secure, and definitely enough to be noticeable.

With all three lacing systems, I absolutely would pack an extra set in my pack to protect against failure, but this is no different from typical laces.  Sharp rocks, tree roots and other obstacles seem like they would be really unfriendly to elastic laces.  To date I have not had any such failure with any of the elastic systems and I suspect this is probably not an issue most of the time.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems: Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

Hiking Mid:  This category of hiking shoes turned into a curve ball right out of the gate.  This is completely my fault, but I will mention it here just in case any of you are considering these lacing systems for your mid-hikers.  My mid-hikers are Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX, and they don’t have a top eyelet.  Instead they have a hook on either side, geared toward traditional laces.  I did try all three lacing systems with the hook scenario and they simply are not designed to work with hooks as the top eyelet.  This is not an issue with any of the lacing systems but more a limitation with this type of shoe.

I also just recently added the new Adidas Terrex Free Hiker shoes, and these mid height shoes have traditional lacing systems and no top hook eyelet.  These shoes are very sock-like and as such they are really snug and comfortable with or without laces.  All three lacing systems worked really well with these shoes, however the caveats here are that the shoes feel really good even without laces AND I don’t have very many miles on these shoes.  The design of the lower eyelets on these shoes made the Hickies difficult to install, but beyond that, all three lacing systems performed well with this mid-hiker.

Trail Running:  While I’m not a full-on active trail runner, I do use trail running shoes as hiking shoes for more casual hikes.  These shoes are lighter than traditional hiking shoes and a bit sturdier than a traditional running shoes.  I did test all three lacing systems on my ASICS Gel-Kahana shoes, and the results were consistent with the Low Hiking shoe details above.  These shoes don’t see much activity with really long or really technical hikes, so all three lacing systems performed well.image

Summary & Conclusion:  It’s very subjective how shoes and laces feel to most people and if you mix in different styles of shoes and different feet, it’s a bit of a moving target.  I did however give all three lacing systems a real-world test in a variety of conditions.  It should be noted that I used the lacing systems for just over a month and I will update this post as I use them for a longer term.

For me there are no real winners and losers among the three lacing systems I tested.  In most conditions, all three lacing systems provide for a more convenient way to put on your shoes and an ability to change shoes quickly.  This consistently worked well with all three lacing systems.  When pushed into more extreme conditions like longer runs, more strenuous hikes and more difficult weather, the three lacing systems continued to do well, but their differences become a bit more obvious.  For most people and in most conditions, you, like me, will likely have a favorite, but none of the lacing systems will disappoint.

Overall, while I liked the durability of the Hickies laces, I didn’t feel as secure using them and the lack of a diagonal lace seemed to limit their effectiveness in more technical hikes and on longer runs even with the suggested crossed “tight” and “extra tight” settings.

I liked the familiarity and simple design of the Xpand lacing systems and with some adjustment, they not only worked well in typical conditions, but also in more difficult hikes or longer runs.  They did feel a bit more fragile and a bit less snug and this minor difference helped highlight my favorite lacing system of the three.Mybeerbuzz .com Highlights Elastic Shoe Lacing Systems:  Caterpy, Xpand & Hickies (Review)

While the differences were slight (but significant) in the end the Caterpy laces ended up being my favorite.  For running, the Caterpy laces made my feet feel secure but not too tight, and the adjustability made that feeling easy to obtain.  For casual to rough hiking, I felt the Caterpy also held my feet in place when I needed it, but made my shoes feel relaxed and comfortable when I also needed it.  This feeling of auto-adjusting to conditions ended up making the Caterpy laces become one with my shoes and my feet.  This may sound silly, but the ultimate compliment to these lacing systems was being able to forget that you even had them on….and the Caterpy laces did just that.

I will continue testing all three lacing systems long term and I will update this post below with any significant updates.  All three lacing systems provided convenience and easy installation and only pushing them to their limits differentiated them in a noticeable way.  Your mileage may vary, but I would encourage you to give this sort of lacing system a try for yourself and let me know what YOU think.

About MyBeer Buzz

Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor for mybeerbuzz.com. Producer and Co-host of the WILK Friday BeerBuzz live weekly craft beer radio show. Small craft-brewer of the craft beer news sites and one-man-band with way too many instruments to play.

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