One month ago, the new ROCLITE arrived at my home, not just one pair but 3 pairs – the 290, 305 and 325. I wrote a first impressions article HERE and it would make sense to have a read of that before reading on.
In summary, the 290 is 4mm drop, the 305 8mm drop and the 325 is 8mm drop but a running boot. The running boot is for a specific audience I believe and although it’s a product I love using, I am going to save any talk on the 325 for my review that will come out in the New Year. Having said that, much of what I write in this review of the 305 directly transfers to the 325 – they are to all intents and purposes the same!
I run in shoes of varying drop all the time, however, lower drop shoes like the 290 (4mm) are usually reserved for shorter runs be they fast or slow. Once I run beyond an hour, an 8mm drop shoe works perfectly for me and without doubt it is my ‘drop’ of choice.
Therefore, when the ROCLITE’s arrived late November and I had a trip planned to La Palma (the home of Transvulcania) it was an easy decision to pick up the 305 with the intention of well and truly giving them a battering on this tough, challenging, rocky and gnarly terrain.
The ROCLITE range of shoes, for me, are designed for mountain running in wet or dry conditions when the trail can be very varied or unpredictable. Although the shoe can handle a little mud, it’s not a shoe for those conditions and without doubt, if you plan to run on grass, mud, fell or similar, I think inov-8 make far better shoes for that, try the X-Talon for example.
I have used many, many shoes and I have tried and tested countless inov-8 shoes and despite the ROCLITE being around for appx 10-years, it’s not a shoe that I have used a great deal. So, I hold my hands up, this review is based on ‘this’ shoe and I can offer no comparisons to previous incarnations.
As with many inov-8 shoes, the looks and colours are very pleasing. You can’t go wrong with red and black and out of the box they were saying to me, ‘wear me!’
Looking over the shoe, a couple of things stood out. The tongue is part of the upper and not a tongue sewn into the upper. Anyone who reads my shoe reviews knows that I LOVE gusseted tongues so I was eager to slide these shoes on. I was not disappointed. I would go as far to say that the 305 is THE most snug and comfortable shoe I have worn – that is saying something! They are the most slipper like run shoes I have worn, so much so, that I could imagine removing the laces and walking around the house in them. Adding to the package is a completely seamless inner, even the ‘insole’ is part of the shoe (you can’t remove it) making it snug, snug, snug!
Going for a run in them instantly felt comfortable. I mentioned in my ‘first impressions’ that I thought the shoes in the ROCLITE range sized a 1/2 size too small. Now I am not sure? Sorry for being indecisive but I have run in them for 1-month and I have been very happy, I must stress though that I used a thinner sock than normal. What is noticeable, say over the TRAIL TALON (here) and X-CLAW (here) is that the ROCLITE is narrower in the toe box. I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘precision’ fit shoe but it is certainly less spacious than the Talon or Claw.
The other notable point is that the front of the shoe (toe box) is just material with no additional overlays or support other than a reinforced bumper to protect toes against unwanted collisions. This had pros and cons. The pros were simple – a comfortable shoe that allowed my foot to flex, bend and adapt to the terrain. The cons were on technical descents, I found that at times I wanted just a little ‘more’ to hold my foot. It was a minor point and caused me no problems. What I did do to compensate was make sure I had the laces adjusted and tightened correctly.
The trails in La Palma are harsh, really harsh. It’s jagged, volcanic, gravel, sand and abrasive rock that is irregular and punishing. It ruins shoes. In recent years, I have been out here and I have had shoes last for just the holiday. I must stress that this is not a criticism of the shoes but an indication of how harsh the terrain is.
One’s foot is moved constantly to the left, right and it is twisted back and forth, noticeably the huge red ‘X’ on the rear of the ROCLITE offered some great stability and I didn’t roll my ankle once – unusual for me.
The out-sole did work well on all the dry terrain, be that gravel, soft black lava sand, jagged irregular rocks or solidified volcanic lava. A run through a river bed that offered all manner of possibilities to slip and fall through a technical boulder session were brushed at one side with ease with the ROCLITE. Once you have confidence in a shoe, you can push harder and faster and the 305’s gave me that.
Importantly though, on this terrain, protection is as important as grip and the META-SHANK and rock-plate combined with additional cushioning gave me a really solid and comfortable day out. The longest outing here has been 8-hours and my feet felt great. Rocks and rough terrain didn’t penetrate through the sole leaving me and my feet feeling jaded. Powerflow in the heel provided some real comfort and reassurance, particularly when walking… it’s tough out in La Palma and walking is a big part of any outing. Daily I always did anything from 400 to 2000+m of climbing and the META-FLEX at the front of the shoe allowed my foot to bend without hindrance.
The lacing is unique as you pull in on web loops. It really does work! It works so well that you can pull the laces too tight. I struggled with the lacing at first, at times I tied the laces too right and other times I tied them too loosely. I eventually found a balance after 3-4 runs and once I got it dialed in, I found I had no need to adjust or adapt my laces once running. I am pleased to say that extra eyelets are provided at the top of the shoe should you need to ‘lock-lace’ or similar. The heel box was plush and caused no issues.
inov-8 have thrown a curve ball in at the end of 2016 and may well have provided me with one of my favourite shoes of the year. Yes, the ROCLITE 305 is that good. I have battered them on the trails out here with approximately 50-hours of running and they are showing signs of wear but they have survived really well and are good for many more hours. I can’t say the ROCLITE is my all out favourite shoe as it has a specific use. By contrast, to explain what I mean, the inov-8 X-CLAW for example can handle grass, mud and sloppy stuff and it would still be able to perform on rocky and mountainous trails like here in La Palma. Is the X-CLAW a better shoe? No! However, it may very well be a better all-rounder? If you are running on trail, be that a canal tow path or a rocky mountain trail in the Alps, the ROCLITE will take some beating and without doubt it’s going to be a shoe of choice for me in 2017. The fit, the snug upper, the seamless build and the gusseted tongue just make the 305 one of the best shoes I have run in. Add to that package 8mm drop, cushioning, a great outsole and other key inov-8 features such as the ‘X’ Lock, Adapterweb, Meta-Flex and Meta-Shank and this shoe is one to consider.
There are some downsides. The upper may lack some support in the toe area when running on technical terrain allowing the foot to move a little too much. The toe bumper is adequate and does offer protection but maybe it could be a little beefier? It’s a minor niggle. Finally, although the ROCLITE 305 is not a precision fit shoe, it is narrower than the Trail Talon or the X-Claw and therefore it may not work for some people? However, I would counter that by saying that on mountain and technical trails, too much movement in the toe box leads to insecurity and a lack of precision and confidence.
Ultimately, the ROCLITE 305 is a winner.
inov-8 website and shoe details and prices HERE