Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hands On: PowerPads from Zhik

Hey hey! After a short summer hiatus, we're back.

After 170 posts, we've earned a little time on the beach with a cold one, right?



Well, anyways -- a couple of weeks ago, we had a special Sunday installment of the APS Civil War in Lasers. It was special for two reasons: there was a good bit of wind and, mercifully, it was the last installment. And while the results of the day aren't all that important (read: I did poorly), I left the day thinking that it might be time to invest in a little hiking assistance (read: I hurt).

The next morning, I limped down to our storefront here at the shop and started looking into my options (having just throwing down a handful of Aleve that was big enough for even Michael Jackson's doctors to show concern). While the hikers that we carry get good reviews from staff and customers alike, the first thought that entered my mind was "Sakes alive, I bet those things are a might toasty in the summer". Yes, I'm from the 1870's.

Personally, there's little appeal to wearing a 3mm Neoprene suit that covers from my knees up to my mid chest on a typical August day here in Annapolis, where it's 90+ degrees and the humidity is pushing 3,412%. Sure, that neoprene helps out when it gets cold -- but I'm a pansy that won't be setting foot near a Laser when it gets colder, so it doesn't help.

Full Hikers = Hot as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?

So, while I was taking a closer look over Zhik's options, I started to wonder if I could just use their PowerPads by themselves, below a pair of shorts. That would be a great, low bulk solution that would be infinitely more desirable. It could also prove to be a great solution for days with mixed forecasts -- you could go out without them on and quickly pull them on between races if the conditions warranted.

For those who aren't familiar with Zhik's PowerPads, here's a quick rundown. Zhik moved away from sewing/building pads into their hikers, opting to make the pads a separate item to allow the wearer to customize where the padding is placed. To pull this off, they created a 2.5mm neoprene sleeve that slides over your leg with an integral pocket for the hiking pads to be inserted.

The pads are made with two pieces of 6mm neoprene sandwiched together with high grade/high strength fiberglass battens running down the length of the pad for support with a separate EVA foam facing pad that goes between the battened pad and the deck for protection. The pads have two swatches of Velcro on them, which sticks to the inside of the sleeve to help hold them in place. The sleeve, with the pads in place, stretches to fit snuggly on your leg. After all is said and done, you have a compact hiking solution that works great with Zhik Wetwear.

But, one thing that Zhik does not address in its literature is using the PowerPads by themselves. All references regarding their use revolves around a combination of their numerous Wetwear options and the PowerPads. Was that because they wanted to encourage the sale of both PowerPads and a piece of wetwear or because they needed to be used together to work properly? If it was the former of the two options, it would kind of make sense -- between the stretch of the PowerPad sleeve and the form fitting nature of the wetwear over the top of the PowerPad, it would certainly hold the pads firmly in place. So... will the PowerPad stay in place by itself? Let's find out.

When I started to think of the ways that I needed to test the PowerPads, I had to first figure out the ways in which they could move. It's pretty clear that if they were going to move, it would be on one of two planes -- up and down or twisting on your leg. In order to test their "sticking ability", I simply put on a pair underneath a pair of shorts and tried to get the PowerPads to move.

I started out by wearing them around the shop for awhile while I worked. I figured that if the PowerPads would move while I was just walking around or sitting, there was little point in going any further.

From there, I did the best that I could to simulate sailing while, you know, not actually sailing. I'm not 100% on this one, but something tells me that the boss might have gotten a might touchy had I peaced out at Noon for a few hours of Laser sailing, even if it was in the name of research. Mercifully, nobody was around when I sat at the top of the stairs and used the top step/landing to simulate a Laser deck, sliding back and forth, to and fro, to see if I could get the pads to move. No, there's no pictures or video of me moving across the carpet like a dog with worms...

Results after all of the movement were relatively positive. There's almost zero "twisting" of the PowerPad on your thigh -- the elasticity of the sleeve creates a firm grip on your leg that prevents any side to side movement. Now, it's important to make sure that the PowerPad sleeve itself is properly sized. If it's too small, you won't be able to get it high enough on your leg and it will cut off circulation, causing your leg asleep before you reach the race course. If it's too large, it WILL twist -- I tried on the next size up and got it to roll. Zhik has one of the more exact/innovative sizing charts of any clothing manufacturer and the PowerPads are sized to work with that sizing chart (clicky).

When it came to getting the PowerPads to move up/down my leg, I found that due to the elasticity of the sleeve, it's really quite impossible to get it move up your leg. However, over the course of my little experiment I was able to get the PowerPad to move down a couple of centimeters. This was enough movement on my leg to get the battened hiking pad close enough to the back of my knee to impede my mobility.

Personally, I think that some of this has to do with the sleeve "settling in" once you've got it on and worn it a bit. Getting the sleeve on can involve a some effort and various techniques to get it high on your thigh -- I'm pretty sure that as I used the PowerPads, all of the techniques ironed themselves out as each time I was able to get it to move down my leg a little, it seemed to stop moving and hold in about the same place. To offset this settling, I set the pad just a little higher in the sleeve and it seemed work great.

As for putting the pads on when you're on the water -- no. They're tricky to get on and the only way that I could get them to sit properly was to drop my shorts and do a little dance to get them on. Now, if you're not the shy type who appreciates the challenges that a pitching Laser or other dinghy might provide, have at it... but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd most definitely want to hit the course with them already on.

So, in conclusion, you can certainly use PowerPads by themselves under a pair of shorts if you're so inclined to do so. It's probably going to take a small adjustment period so you can figure out the best placement for the pads, so don't pick these up from your favorite neighborhood APS walk-in store or APS website and immediately head out for a regatta.


  1. My kids have used the Powerpads under board shorts all season (ever since we picked them up from APS when we were in Annapolis for ACCs) and they absolutely love them.

  2. I'm sorry to say that I have found just the opposite, when they get wet.

    I've been trying all summer to wear them under my baggie board shorts, and every time they get wet (which is every time I sail my laser) they slip down to my knees.

    Its gotten to the point where I won't wear them if there is any breeze at all, which means I've gone back to my old neoprene 3/4 hiking pants.

    I'd be happy to buy the zhik hiking pants, if I knew that they would solve my problem.

    Try them out wet, and let us know what you think.

    Howard M.

  3. Wish I had read it before trying to figure out the same question! I had 3 requirements: 1) Waist lock!!!…no suspenders, not ever. Ugh. 2) 3/4 knee. 3) comfortable in hot weather.

    Here’s some comments from my emails with them:

    1. Are there any plans for ¾ waist-lock hiking pants that you can use Laser sailing in warm climates? I don’t see them on your site. I’m not interested in suspenders but the pants are just too much.
    2. Also, is microfleece as cool as SEA’s Airprene? Microfleece is generally warm, but the site says they’re appropriate for summer. I guess it could be for softness but I really need something that’s cool.
    We do not make ¾ waist lock pants. The Microfleece is cool enough, in fact, I think cooler in the hot and warmer in the cold. MicroFleece is designed to work nicely when the water temperature is also working in your favour. We wear it all year round in Sydney. Winter and summer. A little bit of Microfleece down the calfs is nice. ¾ is not needed. Our champion sailors like the ‘skiff’ design the most. Definitely not too hot in summer when worn with a Spandex top. They are cool in Microfleece. When the regatta is super hot, and you want less weight, the Zhik Hybrid gear also works with the PowerPads. This was worn in Qingdao and won Gold.
    You’d recommend ZhikSkin Hybrid Pants + PowerPads over MicroFleece Pant PowerPad Hikers for warm weather then?
    If you want to be reeeaaaallly cool. Get the Hybrid gear. That’s what it is designed for!

    You can use the Powerpads under anything you like, but I advise the Hybrid gear at least. Our Hybrid gear has the abrasion resistant rear panel you need to hike in. (and perforated for extra coolness).
    In the end I got to try both on. The hybrid was extremely cool though I worried it wouldn’t last long enough. Plus, the white hybrid fabric is fairly see-through when dry and totally sheer when wet…the white goes all the way up the side of my leg so my underoos were showing (wouldn’t be a huge problem if I wore shorts over or was just wearing a bikini bottom, but STILL). So, I went with the full-length waist-lock pants to wear when it’s crazy and then bought some lycra shorts to wear over the powerpads when it’s hot. Have not tried them yet, but the PowerPads SUCK to try to get on, hope I don't gain any weight! I'm told they do loosen up when they get wet though as Howard's experience might indicate.

    PS: I completely disagree with and don’t understand Zhik’s casual “3/4 is not needed” comment in the orig email (why do they make ¾ suspender style then?).

  4. To clarify, I went with the microfleece full-length pants, not the hybrids. They don't have the sheer white fabric and also the neoprene seems much more durable. Figured I'd be wet enough not to notice the heat when it's windy enough to suit up, and the rest of the time I'd be wearing them with my own shorts. So with cold and hot weather options I almost got two suits for the price of one!

    Still wish for the 3/4 waist lock though!