Hiking boots use hydraulic pistons to stabilize ankles on rocky ground
Nothing stops a relaxing hike dead in its tracks quite like an ankle-crumpling misstep off a jagged rock or slick root. The high-rising Ascent boot from German startup Terrein is designed to make such incidents a problem of the past. What looks like a springy, stretchy bungee dog leash running diagonally down its side is actually a cover hiding the ankle-stabilizing piston that stiffens upon hard, joint-wrenching impacts.
As a hiker and trail runner, I am very familiar with how quickly and unexpectedly rough, rocky ground can cause expletive-amplifying ankle twists. I'd like to say it mostly happens on steep scree climbs to once-a-lifetime vistas, but far more often it happens while casually hiking or walking the dog (without bungee leash) on meandering local bench trails. I've been lucky to walk away from such incidents with little more than brief but pronounced pain, but according to research cited by German startup Betterguards Technology, 40 percent of full-on hiking injuries affect the ankles.
It's Betterguards' adaptive ankle protection system that features so prominently on the Ascent boot, which becomes the first hiking footwear application of the young technology. During regular strides, the boot is designed to provide the same range of motion as any traditional hiking boot, and the piston extends and retracts as necessary to support natural movement. The idea is to prevent any stiffness or discomfort that something like an ankle brace might cause.
When the force of an ankle-rolling-type impact is detected, Betterguards' hydraulics stiffen instantaneously to stabilize the ankle, prevent injurious buckling and allow the hiker to quickly regain level footing and keep striding forward naturally. The video below illustrates.
Betterguards says its strut reacts three times faster than simple human reaction, helping to avert twisting that would otherwise lead to injury. Beyond Terrein hikers, the tech is also finding its way into ankle braces and sneakers and is being explored as an ankle injury solution by the NBA's new Launchpad tech incubator.
The piston system is integrated into a pliable, non-constrictive upper wrap that closes via Velcro. Below that, the Ascent boot includes a breathable laced upper, cushioned PU midsole optimized for energy absorption and return, and high-traction rubber outsole with proprietary O-shaped lugs. The design still looks a little unpolished and prototype-like to us, but if it delivers on Terrein's promise of unrestricted movement and ankle-locking protection, that shortcoming would be quickly forgiven on the first uneven trail stumble.
The Terrein Ascent was a nominee for a Q2 2022 ISPO Award last month but surprisingly did not walk home with any hardware. Unfortunately for interested readers in places like North America and Australia, Terrein is developing the Ascent specifically for the European market and local, sustainable production and supply chain reduction are integral cornerstones of its business plan (or marketing, at least). It plans to manufacture the boot in Europe, where product design and engineering are also taking place.
The Ascent boot will come in both men's and women's versions, both of which are still listed as "coming soon" on the Terrein website. Those interested can sign up for information and preorder updates on Terrein's website.
Sources: Terrein and Betterguards
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Ankles get stronger by using them to react on unstable ground, and relying on devices like these only train you to be clumsy and unable to traverse unstable terrain unless you always plan to wear your special piston boots.