FitBit Charge HR – Worth The Price?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

The FitBit. I’ve wanted to try out one of these since they first came out on the market a few years back, but let’s be honest, they seem like very expensive pedometers, right? As luck would have it, I recently got the chance to try out a FitBit Charge HR free of charge, and see if they’re truly worth the money that could otherwise be spent on race entries and minimal shoes.

Initial Impressions

Before even trying it on, I had to admit that this is an attractive bit of kit. I really love the minimal styling of the FitBit Charge HR, and can understand why this particular model seems to be the current most popular style.

I couldn’t help trying it on before charging it up, and with a nice wide band, and plenty of notches, it was easy to adjust and very comfortable on my wrist.

I even liked the colour tone on the device. I was given the blue band, but there are five colours to choose from (black, plum, blue, tangerine and teal).

Actually setting up the FitBit was pretty straight-forward. I simply plugged it in and followed the instructions to download the client software to my computer (via a web link), and to my Android smartphone (via the Google Play store).

I left it to charge while the software installed and let it get fully charged before giving it the initial obligatory run-in-place test.

To my chagrin, none of my steps were being counted initially and my heart rate was in the mid hundreds. Sure I haven’t been exercising much recently, but that seemed like a very high resting heart rate. In retrospect, this issue may have been related to my device being a testing sample, and was likely refurbished or at least tried and returned at some point.

Others that I have spoken to had no such issues and their FitBit Charge HR just worked.

I admit it was a bit disappointing to have issues right out of the box, but at the same time it gave me an opportunity to test out the FitBit help resources. A quick Google search led me to the FitBit help pages, which are pretty comprehensive and very helpful. Within minutes I had learned how to reset my device, and my problems were resolved.

Features

For such a small, and minimally styled device, the FitBit Charge HR packs quite a lot of features into a small package:

Heart Rate Monitor

The heart rate monitor is arguably the most high-tech feature on the Charge HR. It uses LED lights on the bottom of the device to track changes in the blood flow in the veins of your wrist. I was expecting it to need to be worn on the underside of my wrist, however it works fine in the regular watch position.

The FitBit lets you check your heart rate via a menu option accessed by the small button on the side of the display. I’m not sure why, but my heart rate usually appears elevated when I try to view it this way, though the recorded stats, viewable via the FitBit site or mobile app, seem about right. This is a bit annoying, and I wouldn’t use the device as a dedicated HR monitor because of it. I do find the historical tracking interesting though.

Other users have reported the same issue, so it may be fixed in a later update. Many users, however, report no such problems, so YMMV. Post your experiences in the comments section as I’d love to know if any of you have a similar issue.

Pedometer

The core function of all FitBits is the built-in accelerometer that is used primarily as a smart pedometer. The Charge HR is no different, and it does a great job. Like any off-the shelf pedometer, the device can count your steps as you walk around or engage in exercise. What makes the FitBit different is that it can work out when you’re driving or riding in an elevator, and stop recording your steps appropriately.

Of course, the pedometer isn’t foolproof and there will be times when it doesn’t record, or over-records your steps. Try to keep the air-drumming to a minimum though, and the differences should just about average out.

There is a default 10,000 steps goal programmed into the device which causes the device to vibrate and alert you that you’ve reached the goal. The amount of steps can be changed via the settings panel.

Sleep tracking

Sleep tracking is the killer app that you didn’t know you were missing. The data received from your device is compiled onto your FitBit account, where funky algorithms are applied, and the quality of your sleep is assessed.

It shows the duration of your sleep, periods of restfulness, and periods of wakefulness, measured based on the movements of your arm and what, if any, major movements or steps you’ve taken during the sleeping period.

As a parent with 2 sleep deprivation-inducing kids, I’ve found tracking this a morbidly fascinating experience.

From what I can tell, it’s pretty accurate, though it only records sleeps of more than an hour – power nappers and polyphasic sleepers, you have been warned.

Stairs

On top of the built-in accelerometer, the Charge HR also has an altimeter, allowing it to measure distance travelled vertically. Like the pedometer, it has built-in smarts to avoid recording elevator or plane trips.

Clock

I know, right, a watch with a clock in it – how novel. Actually the only reason I mention it here is that the FitBit Charge HR has a neat feature whereby it turns off the display when you’re not looking at it. To activate it, just lift your wrist and turn the watch face towards you, and it lights up , showing you the time (or one of the other metrics if you choose to change the defaults via the FitBit site).

It’s a cool, futuristic-feeling feature that I like, though there have been many phantom wrist-lifts where it didn’t turn on, requiring a press of the button to light it up, or else a repeated arm movement (a sure-fire way to spot another FitBit user by the way!)

Calculated metrics

All of your stats are compiled instantly as your device is synced with your FitBit account via the included WiFi dongle, or bluetooth-enable device. A couple of these are also calculated and shown directly on the device.

These include Calories Burned, and Distance travelled. Calories Burned is calculated based on your basal metabolic rate using your provided height and weight, and factors in periods of activity and rest. It’s hard to say how accurate it is, though FitBit insists that it’s very accurate.

Distance travelled is also calculated based on your height and activity, though is not as accurate as a GPS would be, and as a barefoot runner with a short stride, I’ve found it pretty unreliable.

Field Testing

The FitBit Charge HR is designed to be worn as often as possible, during the waking and sleeping hours. It has a great battery life, allowing it to function continuously for several days.

I’ve found that taking it off and charging when showering (it’s not waterproof), gives it enough of a boost to keep it fully charged without losing too many tracked steps.

And that’s my next point. Wearing a FitBit really focuses you onto the number of steps per day you’re taking. I’ve never really given it much thought before, but now I find myself pacing, or taking the longer route home, or looking forward to forgetting something.

It’s a really strange and subtle change, but does make an impact. I’ve struggled for years to get back into a regular training routine. Being focused on steps has encouraged me to move more, which has in turn helped with setting up a training schedule.

With regards to accuracy, the FitBit pretty much behaves as you would expect. Steps counted seems reasonably accurate, barring jarring hand movements, etc.

As described above, the heart rate monitor seems accurate on the app, but not on the device. I suspect that there may be some extra noise filtering going on once the data gets online, which is why there is an apparent difference. I’m guessing here though, and don’t know for sure.

The sleep tracking has been a lot of fun to look at. It’s really fascinating to see just how well/poorly you slept, and how that is affected by external factors, such as late nights, big runs, alcohol, or kids. It’s one of my favourite features, and I hope they expand this metric in future iterations.

Another cool feature that I hadn’t realised was even on there until a spoke with a friend who has one is the Friends list. This lets you create a community of FitBit wearing friends, allowing you to compare steps taken (basic default), or else challenging each other to various missions involving activity within specified timeframes. It’s surprisingly motivating if you have competitive friends.

Conclusions

I’ve been using my FitBit Charge HR for a month now, and am honestly quite surprised at the results. Since week 1, I’ve increased my weekly mileage significantly, am sleeping longer, and am now consistently taking over 10,000 steps per day.

As a tracking device, it does a fair job of reporting metrics.  Sure there could be some improvements in accuracy, but in all honesty, a minor improvement in accuracy wouldn’t change how I use the device, or give me much more useful information.

I was lucky enough to receive a testing device without charge, but knowing what I know now, the price tag (be sure to look around for deals as price can vary tremendously) seems more reasonable than it did at first, and if that’s all it costs to encourage me off the couch and onto the trails more often, then it’s money well spent.

Where the FitBit excels is as a conduit to more exercise. Its very presence encourages you to move more and pay more attention to your habits. I’m really looking forward to the next generations of these devices, to allow tracking of weight, food intake, etc. If they can do for those areas what they’ve done for movement, FitBit will be unstoppable.

Beginning barefoot would like to thank the fine folks at FitBit Australia for providing a device for testing. Have a look on Amazon.com or at a local retailer to try one of their devices out.

The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

By Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been running barefoot now for four years, and blogging about it for two. I admit that I started out, alongside many others, after reading the now famous book ‘Born To Run’.

At that time, the barefoot running resurgence was just starting out, amid criticism of the large shoe companies. The majority of this criticism was centred on the question of whether or not they were misleading the public as to the safety that their shoes provided.

There was an interesting study that came out of Newcastle University[1], in Australia, which basically stated that despite a huge and time-consuming search, there was no evidence that the pronation and motion control features of modern running shoes had any benefit at all.

This questioning of a hitherto nearly universally accepted truth was one of the fundamental drivers for the barefoot/minimal revolution, which saw the exponential rise of the minimal shoe, and the unprecedented uptake of barefoot/minimal running.

Here was our chance. There was a vacuum of useful, relevant data and proper studies, which was damning in its absence. The shoe companies were lying to us, and we were all being played for fools.

I, like many others, embraced the new style of running, and waited impatiently for the inevitable mountain of studies and evidence demonstrating the superiority of barefoot running.

It never came.

In fact, just recently a new study did come out[2], and it was woefully reminiscent of the Newcastle study. This one, however, tells the story of a lack of evidence that barefoot running has any benefits at all. It points to the few studies that exist, most (all?) of which are poorly crafted, and even unscientific.

Barefoot had a chance to become something more than a fad, and become the next big thing in running. Instead, its legacy is more overpriced shoes with questionable usefulness in injury prevention.

So, what do we do now? We can’t sit back and hope that somebody, somewhere manages to get the funding together to put together a clever, well-crafted study. Or hope that someone publishes one that proves conclusively, one way or the other, which style is better. 

What we can do is to take responsibility for our own testing and assessment of whichever style of shoe, or lack thereof that, we choose. We need to stop looking to major corporations to hand us the magic pill that will stop us getting injured. We need to take the time to learn how our own bodies want to move, and what style of running feels right, whether shod or unshod.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in running. Each of us has slightly different styles, preferences, pain thresholds, etc, so it’s on us as individuals to intelligently weigh up the options and make the best choice for ourselves.

What brought you to try barefoot running? Have you got any views on how the scientific community or running shoe industry are handling things? Let us know in the comments!


[1] C E Richards, P J Magin and R Callister. 2008. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?, Br J Sports Med 2009 43: 159-162 originally published online April 18, 2008 (doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680)

[2] Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D., 2013. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53. (doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0084-3)(Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23996137)

Join Us On #BareChat Tonight (Plus Earth Runners Giveaway!)

#BareChatOn Wednesday, January 9th, at 7pm Mountain Time (GMT-6) BeginningBarefoot.com will be hosting #BareChat!

What’s #BareChat you ask? Well, it’s a chance for barefoot twitterers to connect with one another, share experiences, answer some questio

So how does it work?

At 7pm (MST) on the 9th of January (tonight!) head onto your favourite Twitter client and search for hashtag #BareChat.

@BarefootDawsy will be asking a series of questions about your experiences in barefoot running. To join the conversation, just add #BareChat to any of your tweets, and they’ll show up as part of the search results.

EarthRunners_logoTo kick off the first #BareChat of 2013, we’re giving away a unique prize – a pair of EartherRunners sandals. These sandals are specifically designed to allow a runner to remain connected to the earth via conductive materials. If you’re at all interested in ‘Earthing‘ then these are the perfect shoes for you. If you’ve never heard of Earthing before, then come along to #BareChat where we’ll be talking about what it is, what the skeptics say, and how it fits in with barefoot running.

Earth-Runners4

All you need to do to enter is to participate in the #BareChat conversation tonight!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment here, or hit me up on Twitter (@BarefootDawsy).

See you there!

We’re always looking for new questions to ask during #BareChat, and for sponsors for our giveaways. Please email me if you you think you can help!

Merry Christmas From Beginning Barefoot!

Beginning Barefoot will be taking a well-deserved break over the holiday season, but fear not! We have all sorts of great articles and reviews planned for the New Year. Of course, #BareChat will also be back too (January 9th 7pm MST), so we’ll see you there!

We wish you all a safe and happy holidays!

To say thanks to all of you for your support, here’s a little poem I wrote for you last year 😉

Merry Christmas!

TwasTheBarefootNightBeforeXmas

A Day Out With Slackline Australia

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Slackline1As a runner, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of ONLY running, which is one of the leading candidates for overuse injuries. A great way to avoid this is to add some cross-training activities into your routine, to mix things up a bit and strengthen muscles, tendons and joints, that otherwise may not see much work.

In my experience, the best type of cross-training is one that you enjoy, so it’s important to try new things to see what else you might like.

Recently, my own cross-training experimentation has led me to Slacklining. Slacklining looks a lot like tightrope walking, with a few noticeable differences. It consists of a nylon rope strung between 2 anchors, such as trees or boulders. Unlike a tightrope, which is taught and rigid, the elasticity of the nylon allows the rope to bend and flex, making it a real challenge to balance on.

Slackline7I haven’t done much slacklining, but I was recently lucky enough to have the opportunity to join Phil Piper from Slackline Australia for a day of slacklining. Phil was a huge help, and took us through the basics of what gear to use, how to set it up, and ultimately how to get up and start balancing on the slacklines.

Gear

At its most basic, a slackline is essentially just a rope that’s tied between a couple points, but in practice, there is some essential gear that makes the experience safer and more enjoyable.

  1. Slackline4Slackline
    No surprise here. The first thing you will need is the rope itself. As slacklining has grown in popularity, so have the number of styles, widths and brands available. We used 50mm and 35mm Elephant brand slacklines. These are the 2 most common widths, but lines are available in a variety of sizes. For barefoot slacklining, the 50mm was a lot more comfortable and slightly easier to use.
    With regards to length, how much you will need is entirely dependent on how far you’re willing to take it. To start out a 10m line should be more than adequate. Slacklines can last for years though, so future-proofing by buying a longer slackline is not such a bad idea.
  2. Ratchet
    The Ratchet is the scary-looking metal bit that’s used to tighten the slackline up. It’s actually a fairly simple machine. All you need to do is thread an end of the slackline into it, and crank it until you’ve reached the desired tension.
    When choosing a ratchet, the main consideration for the beginner is size and weight. If you’re planning to just throw your gear in the car to bring it to the local park, then a heavier, larger ratchet is not an issue. If however, you want to carry it in a backpack, a smaller ratchet could be the better choice.
  3. Carabiners/Shackles
    Most slackline kits will include some form of metal loop that makes it easier to attach the line to the tree opposite the ratchet end. This can be a locking carabiner or a shackle. The main thing here is to find one that it large enough to accommodate the width or the line so that it doesn’t get twisted or squished when tension is applied. Generally, the included parts in any decent kit will be sufficient.
  4. Tree Gear
    Since a lot of slacklining tends to be done between two trees, it’s important to pick up something to protect both your line from the tree and the tree from your line. Enter Tree Gear. It comes in a variety of materials but it’s essentially a mat that sits between the rope and the tree to stop them from rubbing on each other. An optional extra, but well worth the small investment as it can dramatically increase the life of your line, and is more environmentally friendly.

Getting Started

I honestly think that if you’re at all interested in getting started with slacklining, that you should take an hour or 2 course at a minimum. This will help ensure that you know how to correctly position and care for your gear, and will get you up on the line quickly and safely.

That being said, there are a few things that you can expect to learn on your first outing.

  1. Preparation
    Before you even think about stepping up onto the slackline, there are a few things that need to be done.
    First, you will need to find a suitable location, which should be flat, ideally with a soft area below the line. This is ideally grass or sand, or even mats if you’re that way inclined.
    Make sure that you don’t set the line up across a walkway or high traffic area, and be mindful of any low branches, etc that might get in the way when you’re standing on the line.
    Once you’re all set up, take some time to warm up with some dynamic stretching, or a bit of yoga. Being nice and limber will help you stay balanced and reduce the chance of injuries.
  2. Assisted BalancingSlackline5
    When you first get up on a slackline, you’re going to be surprised at how tricky it really is. When you see the videos or watch the pros, it looks simple, but in reality it will be mere seconds before your legs are shaking and the ground is rushing up to meet you.
    For this reason, it’s a good idea to start with a buddy. Get them to help you on to the line, and use them as support as you get the feel for standing up on the slackline.
    Don’t worry about walking just yet, just try small things like standing without support, or crouching down.
  3. Assisted Walking
    Once you get a feel for the slackline, you can try a little bit of walking. Get up on the line, and with your friend walking next to you (on the ground), slowly place one foot in front of the other. Keep your hand on your friend’s shoulder for balance.
    Focus on a point in front of you to keep your head up. Try not to look at your feet. Slowly ease your foot along the line and gently transfer your weight onto your lead foot.
    Try going forward and backwards, and gradually try removing your hand from your buddy’s shoulder. This is great practice, so do it as much as you can until you start to get a bit more comfortable.
  4. Slackline2Unassisted Balancing
    When you’re ready, you can try doing some unassisted work on the slackline. Try sitting on the rope and balancing with your feet off the ground. Shift your weight around and see how this affects your balance. Try spinning around to face the other way. Again, just take the time to get familiar with the feeling of the line.
    You may find that it’s easier to start out near the ends of the rope as they will be more stable.
    Eventually, you’ll feel confident enough to stand up on the line by yourself. Try stepping up, then back down a few times. Don’t try to do too much too quickly. It’s going to take you a while to get used to doing it on your own so don’t get discouraged. Take your time, keep practicing, and you’ll get there.
  5. Slackline6Unassisted Walking

    Eventually, you’ll be ready to try walking on your own. Start with a step forward, then a step back. Take your time, remember to breathe, and make your way slowly along the line. Most people won’t get to this point until they’ve a had a good few sessions on the slackline. If you can’t do it on your first go, don’t worry, just go back a step, keep practicing, and you’ll get there eventually.
  6. Tricks
    If you decide that you like it, and persevere, there is some pretty cool stuff you can do on a slackline. It may take a number of years to get to this point, but have a look at some of the videos below and tell me it’s not worth it!

Slackline3Slacklining is a great way to improve your balance, core and foot strength. It’s also a lot of fun to do. If you’re interested in getting started, then I strongly recommend getting some professional guidance. There are a lot of great companies out there, and short, afternoon courses are pretty easy to find, and relatively inexpensive.

If you’re in Australia and are interested in purchasing some gear, exclusive to Beginning Barefoot readers, you can get 5% off any order for slacklining gear from Slackline Australia, just use the code ‘barefoot‘ when you make your purchase!

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Phil and Logan from Slackline Australia for taking us out and showing us the ropes (literally!) Also, a big thanks to Sam Dunworth for taking all of the pictures in this article!

Review: Luna Sandals Leadville Huaraches

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Luna Sandals LeadvilleIf you’ve read Born To Run, you probably remember the story about how Barefoot Ted met Manuel Luna of the Raramuri, and learned how to make huaraches from salvaged car tyres. What you may or may not realise, however, is that Ted later used this knowledge to create a line of hand-made sandals, named in honour of his mentor – Luna Sandals.

Luna Sandals started out relatively simply, featuring leather straps and a Vibram sole, that mimicked the construction of the car tyre version, but using lighter, high-tech rubber. I’m sure that if he had wanted, Ted could have just ridden the tide of Born To Run and sold his simple sandals, but what he did next is what sets Luna Sandals apart.

Since the first version of Luna Sandals, Ted and his ‘Luna Monkeys’ (as his staff call themselves) have proceeded down a track of innovation and experimentation that has transformed the simple huarache into an incredible piece of footwear.

Luna SandalsI have recently been lucky enough to try out the latest pinnacle of this process – the Leadville.

Featuring a thick Vibram sole with a no-slip MGT footbed and the clever ATS Lacing system, the Leadville really looks like a high-tech huarache. What’s most exciting about this sandal though is that it’s been race-tested by Ted himself at the 2010 Leadville 100 ultramarathon. If this isn’t enough to make you want to try a pair, I’m not sure what will.

Construction

As mentioned, the Leadville comes standard with an MGT footbed. MGT stands for Monkey Grip Technology, and refers to the thin layer of textured rubber that your foot sits on. This seemingly simple feature is actually a marvel for trail runners, as it’s waterproof, comfortable, and as advertised, non-slip.

The sole of the Leadville is made of 10mm thick Neoprene rubber and has a great zig-zag tread on it to help grab onto those rough trails.

Luna ATS LacingArguably my favourite part of the Leadville is the ATS lacing system. At its simplest, it’s a nylon cord with a plastic buckle for adjustment. However, it’s clear that a lot of tweaking has gone on, as beyond being a simple cord, it includes elasticised sections to make it easy to take them on and remove them, while also keeping them very comfortable.

The toe attachment point is hidden using a plug made of similar material to the sole, so there’s no problem with wearing down the knot on the underside.

Performance

I’m not quite ready to test out these sandals on terrain as harsh as Leadville, but I have had a great time tramping around the local trails in them.

When I got them, I spent a couple minutes getting acquainted with the ATS laces. They are a bit different to anything I’ve tried before, but they definitely simplify the huarache tying process immensely. Getting the initial tension just right is a bit finicky since the laces are threaded through a couple holes and wrapped around each other, but this is par for the course for any huarache.

Once I got them adjusted just-so, the top buckle made any final tensioning quite easy. What I really love though is the elasticated heel strap. This is a great feature as once you’ve got your sandals set up how you like them, you can easily slip them on and off. The elastic also reduces rubbing on your heels, and I haven’t had any issues with chafing at all.

Once the Lunas were fitted, it was time to hit the trails. As luck would have it, I got caught in a rain storm on my first excursion. This was actually quite a lucky eventuality as I got to see first-hand how my Lunas performed in the wet.

The first half of the hike was great. The Leadvilles are quite light, despite their sturdy construction, and my feet were cool and comfortable the whole time. With 10mm of sole underfoot, there was minimal ground-feel, but since I was hiking on some pretty rocky terrain, this didn’t really bother me. I was at least able to get a full range of motion, and my toes could wiggle.

Vibram LogoI really like the treads on these sandals. They’re very grippy, yet don’t use lugs. Instead, they have a great zig-zag pattern that seems to shed dirt and mud very well. If I had one complaint, it would be that there are Vibram logos peppered among the treads. These logos tend to fill up with dirt and are tricky to clean. It’s not a deal-breaker, but a mild annoyance. Given the choice, I’d just have the zig-zags.

When the rains arrived, I turned back and headed home. As I walked, it was great to notice all the dust and dirt just wash away from my feet and shoes, leaving them looking brand-new again. I did, however find that my feet slipped a little bit on that first outing, though tightening up the laces helped out considerably. (EDIT: After wearing my Lunas daily for over a month, I’ve found that they slip less as my feet are making impressions, helping my feet to stay put).

Again, the treads behaved remarkably and shed mud just as easily as dirt. When I got home, I left them out on the porch, and found they were dry shortly thereafter.

Impressions

Overall, I loved testing out the Luna Leadvilles. It’s always a treat to wear shoes built and tested by the people that wear them. The quality and thought put into these sandals are reason enough to buy a pair, but their performance has secured them as part of my regular go-to rotation.

I’m planning on racing the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km race next year, and up until I tried Lunas, I never considered wearing sandals for it. Now, however, I think I’ve found my main footwear for the race. Yes, they’re that good.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Luna Sandals for providing a pair of Leadville huaraches for testing. If you enjoyed this review, why not visit (and Like!) the Luna Sandals Facebook page, or better yet, buy a pair for yourself (or a loved one!).

Thanks For A Great Year!

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

It was a year ago today that I hit Submit on the first ever Beginning Barefoot post. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people, try out some awesome gear, and learn more about barefoot running then I could have imagined.

So, to celebrate Beginning Barefoot’s birthday, it seemed fitting to say a big THANK YOU to all the people who have helped make this year a great one.

First off, I’d like to thank all of those companies and individuals that were generous enough to offer their time and provide samples to review on this site.

Of course, all this wouldn’t be possible without all of you out there reading the articles and following Beginning Barefoot on Facebook and Twitter.

To all of you wonderful people, thank you!