inov-8 TERRACLAW 220 – Shoe Review

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The Terraclaw 220 is the stripped down version of the recently reviewed Terraclaw 250 by Niandi Carmont on this website (HERE).

I have been using both the 220 and the 250 for the last 4-months and in all honesty, much of what I have to say applies to both shoes. The biggest and most obvious differences are:

4mm drop in comparison to 8mm drop

220g weight in comparison to 250g weight

Less cushioning in the 220

Different lacing system

If you are new to inov-8 shoes, they always add the weight of the shoe (based on a UK8.5) to the name. In this scenario 220 relates to 220g. I like this, from first glance you get an understanding of where a shoe fits in the big picture. It’s safe to say, the less weight = more minimalist.

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For me, the 220 and the 250 Terraclaw shoes are an extension from the Race Ultra models, the 270 (4mm drop) and 290 (8mm drop). The Race Ultra, as the name implies was designed for longer days running and the shoe had a sole that was good for dry trail and road. A key feature was the wide toe box that would allow the toes to spread out and also allow for swelling. It’s a shoe that had many new features and I must add it proved (and still proves to be) very popular. My initial impressions were good but that is where it stopped for me. I found the Race Ultra in both models lacked feel for the ground, comfort and responsiveness. They just didn’t light my candle.

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So when I received the Terraclaw models I was not over excited to take them out for a run. My preferred shoe drop is usually 8mm so I went out in the Terraclaw 250 (black and blue shoe) first and I was amazed how different this shoe felt. The sloppy feel of the Race Ultra was gone and I found this new shoe more flexible, supple, cushioned, responsive and the feedback with the ground was good. I have gone on to run many miles in the Terraclaw 250 and love them. You can read Niandi’s review HERE and for the most I agree with her thoughts.

However, I do have some other thoughts and they relate to both the 220 and 250 models.

Review

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As mentioned above, the Terraclaw 220 and 250 are almost identical.

The 250 has a cool colour way of black, yellow and blue and the 220 does not! Oh boy do I hate this pale blue and yellow. I have visions of the first Hoka’s and people saying, ‘why are you wearing clown shoes!’ Of course looks mean nothing in regard to performance but I do like my shoes to look good and I have to say, inov-8 usually do a great job of making shoes look ‘sexy!’ Not in this case, not for me anyway.

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That big ‘X’ that goes over the front of the shoe is ‘X-Lock’ – inov-8 say that is a welded overlay to hold the foot in place. I will admit that the ‘X’ adds some structure to the shoe but it does not hold the foot in place!

Why?

Well this shoe and the 250 is all about foot splay. The toe box has been designed to let the toes splay out, move around and yes, even swell if they need to. It works. Both the 220 and 250 versions give me a ‘barefoot’ feel of movement. However, the ‘X’ adds little structure or hold.

This for me is a real plus and a real negative.

1. If you are running on mixed terrain that involved some road, hard trail, a little mud, soft grass and the profile is relatively flat with a few undulations and descents – the 220 and 250 are great shoes.

2. But if you are running anything technical, running up or running down, the movement within the toe box is way too much (for me). You have no control and your foot slides inside offering no reassurance.

The two comments above are comments that relate to the shoes ‘best practice’ running scenarios. So, if you are intending to run in the number 2 scenario, the 220 or 250 is probably NOT the shoe for you unless you have a foot as wide as a Hobbit. Look at a 212 (HERE) or 300 (HERE) instead.

Niandi needs a wider toe box and this where the needs of one varies to the needs of another. To take a step back and understand the needs of the individual, for me, the wide toe box is too much when I need control but for Niandi it works. We both agree though that the outsole is NOT for muddy or slippery terrain.

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The outsole is an extension of the Race Ultra and I would imagine has come about from all those Race Ultra lovers who wanted more grip. Well they have it now but it has limitations. We must remember here that (for me) inov-8 are trying to create an ‘all-purpose’ shoe that transitions from different surfaces; road to trail? Like I always say, no shoe that compromises will ever do the extremes well. That applies to the 220 and the 250 – they are not as good as a road shoe and they do not offer the grip of an out-and-out fell or soft-ground shoe. BUT if you want a shoe that you can put on everyday and use for mixed terrain, the 220 and 250 are great for that.

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The outsole uses different compounds to provide grip on a multitude of surfaces and the grip is made up of little triangles that provide adequate grip on soft ground but not muddy ground. The spacing of the cleats is supposed to allow debris to release quicker. It made no difference for me; mud is mud and it sucks on to your shoes.

A ‘Dynamic Fascia Band’ has been embedded in the midsole and this provides some propulsion on the ‘lift-off’ phase when running. I would say that I noticed this more on the 220 (4mm drop) shoe but in all honesty, I believe that this comes from me wanting to run better in the 4mm drop shoes. You (or I) need to think more about my run style in a lower drop shoe as the mid to forefoot strike is so much more important. Hence the ‘awareness’ of the DFB working.

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The noticeable difference between the 220 and the 250 is the lacing. The 250 is conventional and the 220 sweeps off to the side. inov-8 call this Ray-Wrap and it’s designed to line with the foot’s first metatarsal. They are not the first shoe company to do this, I seem to remember using a pair of Brooks with a similar system. Ultimately it works. I am not convinced it is any better than normal lacing methods though. I personally like my shoes to hold my foot so in both the 220 and 250 models I use a lacing method like THIS and in the 220 it is a little harder to use because of the offset. The 220 also has less additional support added to the upper around the lacing. The heel box is snug and plush and the shoe fits true to size.

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Both shoes feel like slippers when you slide your foot into them and this is due to the lack of stitching. The shoes have little or no seams to cause any issues. The toe box of the 220 has less protection than the 250 and this only an issue if you are planning running on more rocky terrain or terrain with obstacles when the risk of stubbing a toe increases.

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In Use

Although the 220 and 250 are very similar, are they for different runners? The 250 is a great ‘all rounder’ that will appeal to many runners because of the following features:

8mm drop

Good cushioning

Mixed terrain outsole

Wide toe box

Great for longer runs

The 220 though is a much more streamlined shoe and the 4mm drop and less cushioning will appeal to more efficient runners who cover ground quicker with a forefoot/ mid-foot run style. For example, I can see a runner using the 220 for short training sessions, faster training sessions or racing. They then may well use the 250 for longer training runs or longer races. I don’t think that 250 users would necessarily drop down to the 220.

I have enjoyed the 220 for ‘keeping me on my toes’ on runs of up to 60-75 minutes on road, grass, forest trail and canal path. When I have wanted to run longer I have used the 250.

When running on technical trails with more mud, rocks and longer descents and climbs I have always preferred to use a different shoe. Currently the Mudclaw 300 (HERE) as this seems a natural extension of the 250 with a more aggressive outsole, precision fit but good cushioning.

Ultimately, if you need a shoe that will allow you to run on mixed terrain and you need a wider toe box, the 220 or 250 should be on your list of shoes to look at.

Despite misgivings on the lack of support in the upper, I have found the freedom that both shoes provide very liberating and they do give a ‘natural’ feel similar to running barefoot. The outsole has worn well even with road use and they compare well to other shoes on the market.

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Conclusions

I have always admired inov-8 for thinking of runners when they make shoes. Silly thing to say you may think, but how many other brands provide shoe models with varying drop: 3,6, 9 and 12mm or 4 and 8mm and at the same time have offered standard or precision width fittings in certain models. The arrow system on the rear of the shoe in many ways inspired a whole new generation of runners who wanted to get ‘lower’ with drop and inov-8 facilitated that. So, I’m an inov-8 fan. Over time, they have tweaked models and expanded the range. The Race Ultra and now the Terraclaw are shoes that hove come about with the growth of ultra running and the need (or desire) for a wider toe box. They have answered that demand and in doing so, once again they have provided two options in drop to ensure that nearly everyone is happy. If you are in need of a shoe that can handle a mix of terrain (not all road and not all mud) then a 220 or 250 may well answer your needs.

Pros

Wide toe box

4mm drop for the more efficient runner

Fast shoe

Lightweight

Responsive

Cushioned (but not too cushioned)

Great feel

Outsole for mixed terrain

Cons

I’m not convinced on the lacing but then again it caused no issues

Outsole lacks grip on mud, when climbing or descending

Toe box (for me) feels sloppy on technical terrain, when climbing and when descending

Less cushioning than the 250

Upper lacks support when required

Technical Specs

Weight: 220g/ 8oz

Fit: Standard

Footbed: 6mm

Midsole: Compressed EVA

ShankL DFB

Drop: 4mm

Sole: Terraclaw

Outsole: Dual C

What inov-8 say:

inov-8 say:

From single track to steep descents, the TERRACLAW™ performs on the widest range of trails imaginable. Our unique lug design releases debris and grit like no other, delivering optimum grip with every foot strike. At just 220g, the lightest version of the TERRACLAW™ is stripped-back for racing super-fast with a finely tuned balance of performance and protection.

inov-8 MUDCLAW 300 Shoe Review

 

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C’mon, get a grip! If you run in mud, you will no doubt be familiar with inov-8. For years, inov-8 has provided the ‘go-to’ shoes for running when the ground gets wet, slippery, muddy, gnarly and so on!

The Mudclaw 300 is not a new shoe in the massive inov-8 line up. The 2015 incarnation though does have a wicked and eye grabbing colour way and having used many versions on inov-8 (fave the 212 here) I was keen to put the Mudclaw 300 through its paces. Believe it or not, I am (was) a 300 virgin!

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Red, blue and a white logo. Have to say, inov-8 does a great job of getting shoes to jump off the shelf. I love this colour way and yes, it makes me want to wear the shoe. If you have the previous version of the ‘300’ in yellow and black, don’t be fooled into thinking this is the same shoe. It’s not.

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The sole and heel have had a revamp. The previous model really flared up at the rear, the new incarnation (red and blue) sits much closer to the ground, does not flare up and the heel box sits lower so as to cause no problems with the Achilles.

It’s still a 2-arrow shoe, so, 6mm drop.

Drop is a personal thing but I am a firm believer that 6mm/ 8mm drop shoes provide a great middle ground and if you are running longer, a slightly higher drop is kinder on the calf and legs. Of course, this is all down to personal preference. If you don’t know what the drop of the shoes you run in is, it’s worth finding out. Going too low too soon could cause injury.

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The sole has 8mm lugs. If Wolverine™ wore run shoes he would most likely go for the Mudclaw. Yes, they are grippy buggers. The rubber compound is soft and grippy but be warned, the shoe is called Mudclaw for a reason, you want to keep hard ground and abrasive surfaces to a minimum in these shoes as the sole WILL wear down. My test run includes 1-mile of road before and after the trails and I have to say, this shoe feels wonderfully comfortable on the hard stuff despite its ‘off-road’ pedigree. You can actually hear the sole grip. Sounds weird I know, but it’s very clear and you can feel it. At the front of the shoe, just behind where the toes would sit is a clearing in the sole with a META-FLEX™ this allows the shoe to bend without restriction when running. Works great when climbing!

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As the name suggests, the weight of the shoe is 300g. inov-8 always name the shoes based on the weight of a UK8.5 in case you didn’t know. It’s a pretty cool system actually as you can see at a glance, based on weight, if a shoe may or may not be suitable for you.

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The upper is treated with DWR coating and has a ‘Precision’ fit. Let’s be clear here, inov-8 now makes many shoes in a ‘standard’ and ‘precision’ fit. If you have a wide foot, this is good news because you may now well be able to wear a shoe that you were not able to wear in the past. But for me, the Mudclaw and shoes like it are all about control and precision. A shoe for really muddy and technical conditions should hold your foot and allow no movement. You need that controlled feel. Control gives precision and precision means faster running and less mistakes. Of course I am giving a very personal opinion here but I hope you see the logic? What I am saying is, be careful when choosing a shoe. Precision for my relatively wide foot is great when I need it but I wouldn’t want to be running all day with my toes cramped into a shoe. For me, the Mudclaw although precision in fit still had a relatively roomy toe box and this was great on the technical muddy stuff.

The tongue is held in place by elastic to stop it slipping. It’s a great move. However, the Mudclaw  doesn’t fit as tightly or as snug as say the Salomon S-Lab Sense SG (the perfect fitting shoe for me!) but if laced correctly (try this), pulled tight and double knotted your foot should feel super secure; my feet were!

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Getting lacing right is particularly important as the heel box has been tweaked so that it sits lower on the Achilles Tendon to avoid tension and potential injury problems. On my first run I felt as though my heel was slipping and I was unsure if this was a good move. Once re-laced, tightened appropriately, I can confirm that the lower heel is a good idea.

The rand around the lower part of the upper is now stitched and should in principal last longer and be more durable. Toe protection is relatively minimal.

The sides of the shoe are reinforced with a series of zig-zag support (webbing upper support) to hold the foot in place and these extend to the back of the shoe. They do the job, I had no issues with feeling that I had any lack of support.

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Cushioning for me is one of the key factors of this shoe. I have long been a fan of the 212 (here) but when running longer I found it just a little too minimal. Not so with the 300. The EVA foam, 6mm drop and Meta-Shank all work together to make this a great shoe for longer days out. The stack height is 28mm and therefore considered low but obviously not as low as some. It has average stiffness that works exceptionally well on varied terrain. It has no rock plate but does have a performance last and Met-Cradle.

The shoe is as you would expect in an out-and-out off road/ mud shoe fits NEUTRAL.

In Use

My first run in the shoe was mixed. I found my foot moved around a little and I felt insecure with the lower heel. When I got home I looked at the shoe, re-laced it and then the following day went out and ran the same 8-mile loop. It was a completely different experience.

First and foremost, these shoes grip and really grip. If it’s wet and muddy these are now my go to shoe. I recently ran an uphill and downhill trail in Ireland that was on the Mourne Skyline MTR race route and the trail incorporates many elements – forest path, tree routes, gravel, stone steps, mud, road and it had rained heavily before the run and drizzled whilst running. At no point did I have any question on grip! For a shoe that is designed to keep you secure on muddy trail, I was amazed at the security on wet and slick rock. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. You need that 100% reassurance so that you can relax, the the Mudclaw 300 gave me this.

Although a precision fit shoe, I found the toe box roomier than my inov-8 212. No bad thing and it certainly caused me no issues. The added cushioning was superb when running longer or when getting off soft ground and on to harder trails. Certainly a shoe I would choose when training or racing longer.

6mm drop for me is perfect and the stack height of the shoe made me feel 100% confident; no rolling! Depending on your experience, preferred distance and ability, the Mudclaw 300 is a perfect training shoe that will keep you happy for many a run. I personally would be more than happy racing in it over any distance. For the more experienced, they may well prefer a slightly lighter shoe? The Mudcaw 265 for example is 35g lighter, has the same outsole and 3mm drop.

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Summary

The Mudclaw 300 is a shoe for when you need grip. It’s comfortable, secure, provides excellent traction and if laced correctly will hold your foot firm. It’s not a shoe for running on the road even though it’s remarkably comfortable. Just keep in mind, the more you run on the hard stuff, the quicker the sole will wear out. My daily training run has 1-mile of road out and back and I have been using the Mudclaw 300 on a regular basis. I currently can see minimal wear after 80-miles. The shoe is true to size. I wear a UK9.5 and the inov-8 fit perfectly in the same size.

Specs:

  • Weight: 300G / 10.5OZ
  • Fit: PRECISION
  • Upper: SYNTHETIC, TPU
  • Lining: MESH
  • Footbed: 6MM
  • Midsole: EVA
  • Shank: META-SHANK™ 1
  • Drop: 6MM
  • Sole: MUDCLAW™
  • Compound: STICKY
  • Gender: UNISEX

What inov-8 say:

The legendary all-terrain animal has undergone a makeover for SS15. Now boasting the same flatter heel unit as the mudclaw™ 265, but still maintaining its 6mm drop, the mudclaw™ 300 also has an improved, more flexible upper. A fully gusseted tongue helps keep any debris out. Its hero-status outsole remains as aggressive as ever, guaranteeing the ultimate grip for mountain, obstacle and adventure racers on the muddiest, steepest terrains. Website HERE

PHD Summer Lightning Review

© www.NICKMUZIK.com

Fast and Light. They are buzzwords in the world of trail, mountain and ultra running. We could argue all day about how this came about. Many would potentially give Kilian Jornet credit for the movement but I think it’s fair to say that men and women have been going light to the mountains and trails for quite some time, it’s just recently that we have all become far more aware.

Light does have its problems!

We have many documented reports, articles and stories of runners, mountaineers or alpinists being ‘caught out’ on a mountain and as a consequence in certain circles, mountain runners have gained a bad reputation.

Travelling light is all well and good providing that you are able to move fast! The two words go together; FAST and LIGHT! But what do I mean? Well quite simply, the process of going light will almost certainly mean that what you carry as a runner or alpinist will be minimal. Minimal of course is subjective and dependent on the person. For arguments sake, lets call light as follows:

  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Pack to carry water
  • Mobile phone

In essence, that is going light to the trail or mountain. Should conditions become difficult or problematic, this is where FAST comes in. You need to get out of trouble, danger or the cold fast and to safety. In many respects, this is part of the challenge. Running in the mountains is not a risk adverse sport.

Question:

What if though you could add a 1000 fill down product to your pack for a weight addition of 3oz (85g) or 6oz (180g)?

I kid you not.

UK based company PHD currently have 2 remarkable products that embrace low weight, low pack size and ultimate functionality in a limited availability range of products called Summer Lightning.

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PHDwafer-vest-28-4-15_med

A SUMMERLITE DOWN JACKET (£199 6oz) and a WAFERLITE DOWN VEST (£99 3oz) are part of the K Series range of products that offer ultimate warmth against minimal weight. Filled with 1000 fill power European goose down (responsibly sourced) the jacket has a water-resistant Ultrashell outer fabric, stitch through construction and the vest has a 10x inside and out fabric that is not water-resistant and stitch through construction.

I have to say, having tested both these products I think PHD should make them available all year around. As a brand, my understanding is that they see them as a warm alternative for summer months but to be honest, they are a great addition to any kit list irrespective of the time of year. Both products would provide ideal warm layers to any multi-day adventure such as MDS. The potential to combine a warm layer and lightweight sleeping bag are endless. The apparel would also make a perfect addition (for every run) to any mountain runner’s kit list and lets face it, for fast packing they are brilliant. You see, these products are so light, so small I simply can’t think of a reason not to take them! I even have the jacket packed away in my day-to-day laptop bag or camera bag for that ‘just-in-case’ scenario.

On Test

I have had both products for 1 month and I have tested them ‘in situ’ at Richtersveld Wildrun in South Africa and at the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira. Both races provided me with changeable weather and an opportunity to test each product to the full.

On first impressions it’s difficult to believe that when one looks at these items compressed in a small stuff sack that they could possibly be a down vest and a down jacket. You pick up the vest and you don’t even notice any weight. It is just 3oz. The outer Ultrashell fabric on both products is silky smooth and a pleasure to wear against the skin. I wore the vest and jacket with just a t-shirt underneath and found them both really comfortable.

They may be light but they are warm, really warm. Let’s be realistic, they are not for polar conditions. But if you need a warm layer to protect against morning or evening chill, daily colder or cooler temperatures or an additional warmth layer to be added under a Gore-Tex (or similar) or windproof jacket, they are the perfect choice.

They are arguably the lightest down products in the world? Both pack to the size of an apple!

I have to say, I was spoilt; having a vest and jacket did allow me to regulate my temperature extremely well and on one occasion I actually wore the vest under the jacket on a very cold and damp night in South Africa.

They are simple, no frills products. The vest has no pockets and just a half-zip to reduce weight. The jacket has a full-length zip, two side pockets and a short stand up collar with no hood. However, it is possible to add a hood when ordering for the additional cost of £27.

As with all PHD products, items are made to order and this does allow you to customize any apparel exactly to your needs. For example, you could have a jacket with a half-zip, no pockets and a hood! The choice is yours.

Please keep in mind that if you need or require products by a certain date, you will need to allow for manufacturing time.

On the go, I found adding or removing either the vest or the jacket easy. They pack so small that I could actually just stuff either item in the pocket on my shorts. This is important because as soon as you start to move quickly, they retain heat exceptionally well and you find that you need to remove them so that you don’t sweat. Of course, as soon as you stop, you can quickly access the vest or jacket and wear them so that you don’t get cold

I wore the jacket all day on a very wet and chilly South African day and the Ultrashell outer fabric did a great job protecting the down from wet and moisture. Admittedly, I did wear a waterproof layer over the top. But in and around base-camp I was often moving from one tent to another with no waterproof layer and the product held up well with no problems despite constant drizzle and rain. Notably, the vest and the jacket did a great job of blocking out the wind.

Summary

PHD has come up with two incredibly light and small items of apparel that are now part of my ‘essential’ kit. They are so small, light and effective that I can’t be without them. Yes, they are that good!

Do I have a negative comment?

Down does not like rain, wet or moisture and it effectively becomes useless should this happen. Ultrashell fabric does protect the insulation in the jacket but this would only protect to a certain extent. So, if you anticipate bad (wet) weather you would almost certainly need a Gore-Tex or similar 100% outer layer to maximize the 1000 down fill. To be honest though, if you were going to the mountains a waterproof outer layer should be mandatory no matter how light you are going!

On a final note, I can’t recommend these two products enough. They may not be the cheapest apparel available but what you get are two incredible products that are functional, pack small and are superlight. Did I also mention that PHD has two sleeping bags that are also part of this range: ELITE RACER DOWN BAG (8oz) and RACER DOWN SLEEPING BAG (90z) more news on those to follow.

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PHDelite-racer-down-sleeping-bag-10-5-15-1_med

 

Specs as provided by PHD 

Summer Lite Down Jacket £199 

PHDsummerlite-jck-1-5-15_med

  • A PHD ‘K Series’ product: Ultimate warmth / weight performance
  • PHD’s Unique 1000 fill power European Goose down
  • Water-resistant Ultrashell outer fabric (our lightest-ever proofed fabric)
  • Ultralight 10X inner fabric
  • Stitch-through construction for lightness
  • Pockets: 2 zipped hand-warmer pockets

Not only is this our lightest-ever insulated jacket, it’s made in water-resistant Ultrashell fabric too.

A super-light down jacket with exceptional summer race and trekking performance.  At just 180gr it weighs less than many base layers, and it packs down tiny taking the absolute minimum space up in a summer rucksack.

The amazing Ultrashell outer fabric (our lightest water-resistant material) protects the down from damp and its 100% wind block qualities enhance the performance of the unique 1000 fill power Down insulation.

  • Ideal companion for summer nights
  • Pack without noticing the weight or bulk
  • Outer layer or mid-layer warmth
  • Warmer, lighter and a smaller pack size than a fleece jacket and 100% wind block too.

5 deg C

180g / 6oz

Add a hood £27

Three colours 

XS, S, M, L, XL

 

WAFERLITE DOWN VEST

 PHDwafer-vest-28-4-15_med

  • A PHD ‘K Series‘ Product: Ultimate warmth / weight performance
  • PHD’s unique 1000 fill power European Goose Down
  • Outer & Inner fabric: Ultra light 10X
  • Stitch-through construction for maximum weight saving
  • Down-filled collar to seal in the warmth

At 85g (3oz) the WaferLite vest is the lightest down vest in the world. 35% lighter than our superlight standard Wafer Vest.

The 10X fabric gives total wind block and the unique 1000 fill power down provides the highest warmth-for-weight performance possible. Packed into a tiny stuff sac, the WaferLite vest is simply breath taking for summer racers and ultra-light trekking.

The WaferLite vest will fit snugly under any of our down jackets, even the Minimus or the Yukon.

  • Ideal companion in a cool camp, bothy, or hut.
  • Pack without noticing the weight (or the bulk).
  • Midlayer to boost warmth

Add performance to your sleeping bag.

5 DEG C

85G / 3OZ

£99

 

PHD are available HERE 

SummerLite Down Jacket and WaferLite Down Vest are currently only available in May/ June.

 

 

The North Face Ultra Cardiac Trail Running Shoe Review

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In recent years, The North Face have continually been improving their run shoes. Foe me, the Ultra Guide was a stand out shoe and it was a shoe that friends and readers of this website also enjoyed. The upper held the foot well the shoe was cushioned but not too cushioned, it had an 8mm drop and it was ideal for those longer days on the trail and the grip worked well on dry trail, rocks and and muddy (not too muddy) trail/ rocks. It was a winner!

When I heard about the Ultra MT shoe for 2015 I was excited. I thought this shoe would be a step up from the Ultra Guide and the new incarnation would be even better. I have to say, when I first got the Ultra MT I was impressed. Vibram sole, tough durable upper, great toe protection, good grip and so on…. the running experience for me though did not live up to the look of the shoe or my expectations. I did several runs in them looking for that glimmer of hope but for me they just didn’t do it. Sorry TNF but I just didn’t like them. They lacked life, responsiveness and they made my runs feel flat.

I was disappointed! The Ultra Guide would no longer be made and I thought the Ultra MT was the replacement! But then I got hold of the Ultra Cardiac.

All is forgiven TNF!

The Ultra Cardiac is the shoe I was hoping for. It has taken all that was good in the Ultra Guide, tweaked and fine tuned it and what we now have is a rock solid trail running shoe with good cushioning, a grippy Vibram sole and a plush feel when running.

The Shoe

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First off, this is a good looking shoe. Okay let me clarify, this is a good looking show in my opinion! Looks are personal but the Ultra Cardiac ticks all the boxes for me. Although on paper, Quill Blue and Acid Yellow may not sound appealing. Visually it works especially with the addition of a good dose of black. You can’t go wrong with black.

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True to size, I have a UK 9 and it fits exceptionally well, holds the foot firm, hugs the heel well with no rubbing, slipping or movement and the toe box is roomy but not ‘too’ roomy. At 301g/ 10.6oz for a UK 9 (UK 8 is 272g) the shoe is certainly comparable to the competition. Cushioning is plush with 20mm at the rear and 12mm at the front. This provides an 8mm drop (difference between front and back) that is definitely becoming the ‘norm’ in the trail running world. It used to be difficult to find a 6mm or 8mm drop shoe, now you have loads to choose from and 11mm/12mm drop shoes are becoming harder to find. In principal that is a good thing but lets be clear here, although we may be (to coin a phrase) ‘Born to Run’ not everyone should be running in low drop and minimalist shoes.

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For me, 6mm and 8mm drop shoes really do provide a sweet spot for running and particularly when running long. They allow you a more natural feel (mid to forefoot) but also allow you a more relaxed foot strike (mid to heel) and comfort when you get tired. As mentioned, there is nor shortage of shoes with 6/8mm drop so although it’s not possible to compare like-for-like you may want to consider the following:

  • Salomon Sense Mantra 3 (HERE) 15mm/ 9mm has less cushioning, 6mm drop, very wide toe box, plush ride and all the wonderfrul ‘Sense’ attributes. A favourite of mine.
  • inov-8 Race Ultra 290 (HERE) 10mm/ 18mm has been a disappointment. Initially I liked the feel of it but over prolonged running I found the shoe sloppy, it lacked feel and responsiveness and it didn’t hold my heel. I know many out in run land who love the Race Ultra in the 290 and 270 versions (I don’t like the 270 either) so it may just be me.
  • Kinabalu Supertrac (HERE) 21mm/ 29mm is a really beefy cushioned shoe with serious grip. To be honest, it’s the odd one out here as the Ultra Cardia, Mantra 3 and Race Ultra all have similar outsoles whereas the Supertrac is all about grip!

Believe me, these are not the only shoes available at 6/8mm drop, but the above will give you a start point.

I have real confidence in recommending the Ultra Cardiac to anyone. It really is a great shoe that is well suited to everyday runs, dry trail races and even some road. This is not a muddy trail shoe, it can handle some wet stuff and even a little mud in places but the Vibram outsole is all about gripping dry trail, rocks and yes, wet rocks.

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The upper is breathable and uses Ultra Airmesh and FlashDry™ to keep you cool and dry. It works! I found on repeated runs in warm weather that my feet didn’t over heat or expand. A sure sign that the upper is doing the job it is meant too.

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The tongue is loose and well padded. After using attached tongues in other shoes and the Salomon Endofit I am always a little wary now when I see a tongue not attached to the shoe at the sides. To me it just makes sense! Rest assured. The Ultra Guide tongue was comfortable and had little side movement.

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The heel box is well padded, curved and holds everything in place with no rubbing. It gets a big thumbs up.

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Toe box has some protection with the outsole extending up the front of the shoe and then you have a reinforced area of blue and black. It’s minimal protection!

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On the side of the shoe you can see the reinforcement to hold the foot in place and this does a great job without adding any restriction. The most notable areas are the yellow sections on the sole.

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At the front you have EVA to give that plush feel on the trail and at the rear the ‘Cradle’ is designed to keep ones heel in place. I find it hard to be objective on the Cradle. Certainly my foot was held secure in the shoe and I had a very precise and controlled feel with the ground. However, I do strike mid to forefoot and therefore the Cradle may have to do less work for me?

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The sole is made by Vibram so it’s fair to say that it works! The sole has no cut away so effectively it is one flat piece which gives a great reassurance on the trail. What I like about this shoe is its ability to switch from road to trail easily. It isn’t a road-to-trail shoe but it does a great job. The outsole is not aggressive but it does have lugs and it works on dry trail with loose debris such as rocks, stones, shale, pebbles and so on exceptionally well.

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On rocks, the Vibram grips and provides reassurance even in the wet. When the trail gets muddy you are going to loose grip and this is where my comparisons with the old Ultra Guide leaves me just a tad disappointed. The new ULTRA MT has a sole that was similar to the old Ultra Guide. Don’t get me wrong, this new Ultra Cardiac is a great dry trail shoe and it’s a shoe I will use a great deal. But for me, TNF can you please but the Ultra MT outsole on the Cardiac upper and then you will have two great trail shoes for mixed conditions.

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Summary

TNF have repeatedly had a mixed reputation when it came to running shoes. The Ultra Guide changed that and many hailed that shoe as a real step forward. The Ultra Trail shoe was also well received and it’s a shoe I still use for dry fast trail. The Ultra MT was a step back (in my opinion) and I was seriously concerned after several outings in them. However, the Ultra Cardiac has changed all that. The ‘Cardiac’ (I still question that name!) is a great shoe and one that I would gladly purchase and run in regularly. The cushioning is plush and I would say that if you need some added comfort on longer runs or races, this shoe would be well worth considering. As the name suggests, it would make a great ultra shoe.

Pros:

Cushioning is excellent

Vibram sole

8mm drop

Padded heel box and Tongue

Cons:

Toe box protection is minimal

Tongue not attached to the sides

The North Face say:

Featuring a breathable FlashDry™ upper and Vibram® outsole, this lightweight-yet-protective performance trail runner delivers an exceptionally smooth ride over the toughest of terrain. With its traction and balance enhancing full-length Vibram® outsole and fast-drying and cool Ultra Airmesh upper, this trail running shoe screams speed and comfort with maximum support. Read the full product feature list below.

FEATURES

  • Ultra Airmesh and FlashDry™ keep you cool and dry
  • Zonal protection in the heel and toe
  • Pebax® heel CRADLE™ for proper heel positioning and support
  • Luxurious cushioning in the collar lining and tongue for a comfortable fit
  • 20 mm heel /12 mm forefoot
  • EVA underfoot
  • Vibram® full-length outsole engineered for optimal traction and balance
  • 8 mm offset
  • Approximate Weight: 548 g (pair) *based on Men’s 8

Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra SG (Soft Ground) – Review

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C’mon, GET A GRIP!

Oooooh grip! I love grip…. before you read anymore, I strongly suggest that you read my very recent review of the new Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra HERE

I loved the Sense 4 Ultra but I did say that due to the precision fit, 4mm drop and relatively tight toe box, it would not be a shoe for everyone! I suppose the same should apply here… it does BUT I do think that other factors come into play for the ‘SG’ version.

First and foremost, when running off road and when running in muddy, sloppy or technical terrain you most definitely need a shoe that is going to hold your foot, allow little or preferably no movement and of course be precise. That is the Sense 4 Ultra SG. So you see, although normally I wouldn’t say squeezing your foot into a shoe is a good idea, with a SG version it is acceptable based on two key principles:

  1. The shoe is not ‘too’ tight and in anyway causes discomfort, pain or unnecessary stress.
  2. You are not running for hours and hours.

If you fall into the above two options and you are thinking that the SG maybe or maybe not for you; it may well be worth a risk for the supreme fit, comfort and grip.

As with the Sense 4 Ultra (non SG) the new shoe has had thorough reworking taking into consideration much of the feedback not only from everyday runners like you and I but also the elite Salomon runners such as Kilian Jornet.

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SG stands for Soft Ground and as such, this shoe is all about grip when it’s needed. So, for many, the Sense 4 Ultra and Sense 4 Ultra SG go hand-in-hand and I think it’s fair to say that many will have (or at least wish for) both pairs of shoes.

©iancorless.com_Sense4SG-9072 The new shoe has been left alone in certain areas and tweaked and improved in other areas. Lets be clear, although it’s called SG it does make a perfect trail shoe for all conditions in my opinion. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to run a pure hard trail in them but if I was mixing up dry trail, rocks, gravel, water, mud and a whole multitude of other surfaces, this is and would be my shoe of choice.

The Salomon S-Lab range very much follows the ethos of FAST and LIGHT but as the ‘Ultra’ name suggests, the shoe has a little more added to increase longevity and comfort. As with the Sense 4 Ultra, cushioning is 9mm and 13mm with a 4mm drop. I keep saying it but 4mm drop is not for everyone so don’t be tempted to use this shoe just because Kilian and the rest of the team use it… be sensible with shoe drop! The Fellraiser or Speedcross may be better options for you?
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The SG upper, like the Sense 4 Ultra has been revised. The fit has been tweaked with additional support added to the mid foot. Additional room has been added to the toe box but it’s marginal in my opinion. Sensifit has also been tweaked and the mapping on the upper is now different and holds the foot more secure.

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Sense 4 ULTRA on the left and the Sense 4 ULTRA SG on the right

Materials on the upper vary between the Sense 4 Ultra and the SG, the SG is more durable and arguably less breathable. The Sense 4 Ultra had additional toe box protection and the SG has even more added wich makes complete sense considering the shoe will be used in tougher terrain. If you read my Sense 4 Ultra review you will know how much I love Sensfit, Endofit and all the usual Salomon buzzwords. In a nutshell, for me, no shoe on the market fits as well as a Salomon Sense and I am inclusive in that statement; the Sense Pro, Sense Mantra 3 and so on all have that wonderful precise and secure hold. It’s the best! (If the shoe fits you)

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The SG is obviously a shoe for the rough and tough and the tongue has been changed to provide added protection and security. The fit between the upper and the tongue has been re-designed to reduce any possibility of debris entering. The lacing system and lace pocket again make the Salomon Sense stand head and shoulders above other shoes. It’s reliable, logical, provides great overall tension and of course, what you don’t need is stored away. The obvious downside is that adjusting tension is very difficult. So you’d have to make a call if that works for you! Many have said to me, ‘what if the lace breaks?’ In all honesty, I have never had a lace break and I don’t know anyone else who has.

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As with the Sense 4 Ultra, the SG has a complete overhaul of the outsole. The Contragrip lug pattern has been changed and the lugs are deeper to provide additional grip when the ground is soft and muddy but not so much grip that you cannot run on dry, hard or rocky trail. The compound has been revised and I noticed a difference on wet rock. The shoes have better bite. I said in my Sense 3 Ultra SG review (HERE) that although the shoe is called SG I wouldn’t necessarily say it would be my out-and-out soft ground shoe. The same applies here! I think the Sense 4 Ultra SG is an improvement on the previous model but if I just wanted a shoe for mud, I would potentially look at another option. Don’t get me wrong; this is not a negative comment. For example, Salomon make the S-Lab Fellcross and that would be ideal… the Sense 4 Ultra SG is designed for multiple surfaces, including soft ground and in those uses, they excel!

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In Use

What can I say, the SG runs as well if not better than the Sense 4 Ultra. They do feel a little different and this is primarily down to the lugs on the bottom of the shoe. With the extra lug height, it does make the SG feel a little more cushioned, it may be placebo but I don’t think so.

Fit between the Sense 4 Ultra and SG is almost the same. No, it is the same. The only difference comes in the material used on the uppers. The ‘Ultra’ has a more breathable and lighter upper in comparison to the SG which is a great call by Salomon. One could almost say that the shoes are Summer (Sense 4 Ultra) and Winter (SG). Of course it’s not that simple, particularly if you run in the UK! We don’t have summers, so, they are both winter shoes ;-).

The toe box of the SG feels the same as the Sense 4 Ultra in use but does have more protection..

Running in the shoe is a dream. Foothold and protection is awesome. The shoe has plenty of flex and suppleness (especially after 3-4 runs) and the Endofit, Sensifit and Quicklace make the precision feel of the shoe shine. I really struggle to find any negatives. Grip in the heal area is brilliant and once on and laced up, you have no foot movement. Just whaT I want from a shoe that would tackle technical terrain.

The grip is definitely improved over the Sense 3. On my local trails I noticed improved grip on softer ground and transitioning between surfaces is seamless. Ironically, the SG does feel nice on the road but I don’t recommend too much, particularly if you want the sole to last! On wet rocks, pavement and tarmac the outsole noticeably provided a more secure and reassuring contact with the ground. Is it the best out there? No, probably not. But this outsole is designed for ultra and mixed terrain, soft ground just being one aspect. I’d have no problems with the SG being my ‘go to’ trail shoe for any race or training run.

On that note, is it really an ultra shoe, by that I mean could I run for hours and hours in it? No I couldn’t. I love the 4mm drop but for me, I think I’d need something a little more relaxed for real long stuff, a 6mm or 8mm drop version would be sweet. Lets be clear though, that is me being greedy. The Sense 4 is an S-Lab shoe and as such, it’s all about speed and efficiency. On the right feet, these shoes will fly!

PROS:

  • Light
  • Responsive
  • Grip
  • Fit
  • Black and red (my fave colours)

CONS:

  • Too tight for some
  • Expensive
  • I struggle for cons!

It’s always difficult reviewing a Salomon S-Lab shoe as to be honest; I find it very hard to find negatives. The negatives are more often than not based around the shoe not being suitable for some people because of width, drop and so on.

The same applies here! The Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra SG were both brilliant shoes and the Sense 4 incarnations of both shoes are better! It’s hard to believe but they are.

Weighing in at 260g for a UK 8.5 (true to size fit), the Sense 4 Ultra SG is without doubt one of the best ‘grip’ trail shoes I have used. I do wish that Salomon would make this ‘exact’ shoe with a 6mm or maybe even a 8mm drop.

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As with the Sense 4 Ultra: the Sense 4 Ultra SG has OS Tendon, Profeet Film, dual density EVA, racing last, Quicklace, Sensifit, Endofit and a series of other notable technologies making this shoe the best 4mm drop shoe on the market… should the precise fit work for you!

Recent changes in the Salomon Sense range now make the Sense 4 Ultra (dry fast trail), Sense 4 Ultra SG (mixed trail) and the Sense Mantra 3 (road and trail) my shoes of choice. I keep going on about the Sense Mantra 3 (Here) but I think this is a great everyday shoe.

My final question is, will we see a new Sense Pro?

 

Specs for the Sense 4 Ultra SG

  • Sensifit
  • Quicklace
  • Racing Last
  • EndoFit
  • Lace Pocket
  • Quick Dry Mesh
  • OS Tendon
  • Profeet Film
  • Dynamic Traction
  • Contragrip Aggressive Outsole
  • Midsole Dual Density EVA
  • Cushioning Front – 9mm
  • Cushioning Rear – 13mm
  • Drop 4mm
  • Weight 260g / UK8.5

Check out the Salomon S-Lab range HERE

Salomon Logo

 

 

Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra – Review

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Okay, calm down. Yes I know it’s the Salomon S-Lab Sense 4. Yes, I know it’s the shoe that Kilian uses… yes, yes, it’s arguably one of the most desired shoes out in the market place. But is it any good and is it the shoe for you…?

Well, first and foremost. Is it the shoe for you?

Potentially NO!

Shock horror. Easy, easy, don’t go and throw your computer on the floor or punch the screen. More importantly don’t hate me. In all honesty, this may well not be the shoe for you!

To clarify, I am not saying the S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra is not a good shoe. Quite the opposite, it’s a great shoe with loads of great features and it’s a shoe that will delight and provide many a happy mile for the appropriate runner.

So what am I going on about?

Well quite simply, S-Lab is the pinnacle of the Salomon line up. It’s the bees knees, the dogs bolx, the big kahuna, the… you get the drift! Yes I know Kilian uses them! But I am not Kilian and to be quite honest, neither are you.

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The Sense 4 range of shoes currently Sense 4 Ultra and Sense 4 Ultra SG are the evolution of the original shoe pioneered by Kilian on the trails of Western States many years ago. It has evolved and arguably the current model is the best shoe to date. Salomon have listened to the feedback and most notable improvements are:

  • Improved grip
  • Slightly wider toe box (slightly)
  • Durability
  • Protection

I don’t disagree. All the above boxes are ticked. Without doubt, if you are a Sense 3 user, lover and aficionado, you are going to love the Sense 4 Ultra. The shoe does feel different and from experience they feel great out of the box but even better after 3-4 hours of running in them. they just soften up a little.

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The shoe is designed to be light and it is, 240g for UK8.5. It’s designed for dry trail, rocky and mountainous courses and in many respects the shoe is designed for long racing, hence the ‘Ultra’ name. However, this is not an ultra shoe for everyone! (more on that later.)

A 4mm drop shoe, cushioning is 9mm at the front and 13mm at the rear, for comparison, the Sense Mantra 3 has 9mm front and 15mm rear.

You may be asking, why has Ian mentioned the Sense Mantra 3?

Well actually, I personally feel that for many runners out there, the Sense Mantra 3 may very well be a better choice… controversial I know but I will go on to explain.

But first lets look at the Sense 4 Ultra in detail:

The shoe upper has been revised and is one seamless piece uber technology. Overall fit is better (that is hard to believe as the Sense 3 was awesome) and the toe box is a little wider.

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To be honest, I did notice a little extra width but it’s marginal. If you thought the Sense 3 had a tight toe box, you won’t try the sense 4 and think wow, that is so much wider. If you want that, you need to look at the Sense Mantra 3. But toe protection has been improved and you have a great bumper to protect from rocks.

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Sensfit mapping on the upper has been tweaked and I find it hard to believe but it does hold the foot even better than the previous model. I go on about Sensfit, Endofit and the Quicklace system all the time but for me, it’s the shoe fitting system that I compare all other shoes too. Yes, it’s that good!

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The fit of the tongue has also been improved. Again, the Sense 3 was awesome so any improvement here is a bonus and after several runs I can confirm less debri/dust enters the shoe as the  fit is ‘snugger’ than previous models.

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The Contragrip sole has had a significant change with extra depth added to the lugs. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an aggressive sole. I merely compare to the Sense 3.

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I would say that the most noticeable change is the outsole compound; It most definitely has greater grip on rock, road and gravel. Salomon say durability has also been improved? I can’t comment on that at the moment as it is too early in testing.

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Slipping the shoe on, I noticed the improved fit immediately and almost questioned if I needed a size bigger? I didn’t. I just needed to tweak my foot, pull the tongue and adjust appropriately. I was a UK9.5 in Sense 3 and I am a UK9.5 in the Sense 4 Ultra (and Sense 4 Ultra SG for comparison.)

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The S-Lab Sense was always designed to be worn with or without socks. Same applies here. Snug, snug fit and no seams to cause any issues. Endofit, Sensfit and all the usual Salomon S-Lab wonders are present and the shoe fits like a dream.

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The heel area is plush, snug, has no hot spots and holds the foot firm. Uphill or downhill you have 100% reassurance.

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The S-Lab range of shoes excel with a precision fit. By precision, I mean snug and for some that may well be perceived as tight. But that is the point… the shoe is designed to hold the foot secure and allow little to no movement. When running on tough and technical terrain, you don’t want a sloppy shoe. This is why I said in my introduction that this may not be the shoe for you!

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If you are not a fore to mid-foot runner this is not the shoe for you. A drop of 4mm keeps you on your toes and you need to be efficient to make the most of the Sense 4 Ultra. Cushioning at 9mm is very good and ironically is comparable with the Sense Mantra 3. I did it again, I mentioned the Mantra 3!

Looking at the outsole you will see grip on the forefoot and the heal but no grip in the middle of the shoe.©iancorless.com_Sense4-8580

To explain things a little more clearly, look at the image below comparing the Sense 4 Ultra to the Sense Mantra 3.

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It’s really noticeable. The Sense 4 Ultra is more streamlined, narrower in the toe box, most definitely narrower in the middle of the shoe and a touch narrower at the back of the shoe. To clarify, the Sense 4 has a racing last.

You may now begin to understand my constant mention of the Sense Mantra 3 and why for many, it may well be a better choice.

Running in the Sense 4 as you would expect is wonderful and secure. The shoe is precise, has great flexibility, improved grip and overall improved feel over the Sense 3. It’s a winner! On technical terrain you have a constant feel for the ground and due to the tight fit, the shoe goes exactly where you want it to go and importantly your foot does not move inside the shoe. The Quicklace and Lace Pocket are still my favourite lacing option of any shoe. As in the Mantra 3, the OS Tendon really works in providing spring and the Profeet Film protects from sharp objects on the trail.

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Although the shoe is called ‘Ultra,’ I see this model as being a great mountain race shoe for dry and rocky terrain. Could you run an ultra in them? Well, that depends on the runner, the distance of the race and how long you would be running. For me, I personally don’t feel I could run for longer than four (ish) hours in this model. As I say, this is very personal.

Summary

Awesome shoe for the efficient ultra trail and mountain runner who needs a shoe that offers precise control, awesome fit and grip for dry (non muddy) technical terrain.

DING DING DING

Okay, that is my alarm bell ringing – read on!

I said in my intro, ‘Shock horror. Easy, easy, don’t go and throw your computer on the floor or punch the screen. More importantly don’t hate me. In all honesty, this may well not be the shoe for you!’

The combination of tight fit, 4mm drop, racing last and narrow toe box may well mean that the Sense 4 Ultra is not the shoe for you to use. Don’t despair…

I have used the Sense 3 in both versions for months and loved them. I love the Sense 4 Ultra but having used the new Sense Mantra 3, I can honestly say that the Mantra 3 may well be my preferred choice for certain types of running.

If I was going for an out-and-out technical trail mountain run I would choose the Sense 4 hands down, The secure fit, improved grip and combination of features make it a winner. But I wouldn’t want to be out all day.

If I was going for a long run on dry trail with rocks, technical terrain and plenty of miles, I would go the Mantra 3.

The Sense Mantra 3 finally provides a real opportunity for many runners who wanted to use a Salomon Sense but couldn’t get a shoe wide enough in the toe box. The addition of 2mm to the drop is also an added boost to the less ‘race’ orientated runner. Yes I know Kilian doesn’t wear the Mantra 3 but you can’t have it all!

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Final conclusions:

The Sense 4 Ultra has all the usual S-Lab traits and they have been tweaked to provide you, the runner, with arguably the best incarnation of the Sense yet. But it’s a specialist shoe as mentioned previously. The combination of 4mm drop, tight fit and narrower toe box will not be for everyone. However, if you have been using a Sense 3, you will almost certainly love the Sense 4.

If Salomon and in particular the Sense have been too tight and too low (drop) for you, don’t despair. The Sense Mantra 3 is an absolutely incredible shoe, has all the important ‘Sense’ features and you will not be disappointed.

Read a review of the Sense Mantra 3 HERE

Technical Specs for the S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra

  • WEIGHT 240
  • WEIGHT 1
  • CUSHIONING 2
  • STABILITY 2
  • PROTECTION 2
  • BREATHABILITY 5
  • DURABILITY 2
  • MIDSOLE HEIGHT 13mm/9mm
  • DROP 4mm

Quick drying breathable mesh

Propriotection™

Sensifit™

Quicklace™

Racing last

Lace pocket

EndoFit™

Outsole: Non marking Contagrip®

OS Tendon

Dynamic TRACTION

Chassis: Profeel Film

Midsole: Dual density EVA

Sockliner: Die cut EVA

 Check out Salomon S-Lab range HERE

Salomon Logo

 

Salomon Sense Mantra 3 – Review

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When Salomon signed Ellie Greenwood and Max King (just ran 2:17 for Olympic qualifier) for 2015 sponsorship, the two current 100km champions, it was a clear statement that the brand wants to make some headway on the road as well as trail.

The new S-Lab X Series (Here) is an out-and-out road shoe but Salomon are also very keen to capture all of hose runners that run on road, trail, road, trail and then road… but not necessarily in that order. The birth of CITYTRAIL. It’s not rocket science but if in doubt, CITYTRAIL shoes combine the best of a road shoe and then mix it up with a trail shoe.

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The original Salomon Mantra (2012) was ground breaking. However, the shoe has come a long way from its original incarnation and although the new Mantra 3 does hold some of the original traits, it’s fair to say that the Sense Mantra 3 is a completely new shoe.

Imagine taking the much loved S-Lab Sense, breeding it with the original Mantra and in many ways you have the Sense Mantra 3.

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Do you like the S-Lab Sense in either normal or soft-ground versions? If so, you are almost certainly going to like the Mantra 3.

The shoe has all those wonderful S-Lab characteristics that we have all come to love:

  • Sensfit
  • Endofit
  • Lace pocket
  • Quicklace
  • OS Tendon
  • Ortholite
  • Profeet Film

So many buzz words but in brief they all add up to…  awesome!

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Okay, I fully appreciate that here I am again waxing lyrical about another pair of shoes and arguably another pair of Salomon’s that are a joy to wear. But I only tell it like it is… I loved the Sense 3 SG and I loved the Sense Pro, so, combine those two shoes and you arguably have the Sense Mantra 3. BUT the shoe has some significant differences.

©iancorless.com_Mantra3-7596First and foremost, the sole of the shoe has been redesigned and it has a completely new look. Need a shoe for soft or muddy ground? Look elsewhere. But if you are mixing road, hard trail, rocks and anything in and around that scenario, the Mantra 3 is a dream.

©iancorless.com_Mantra3-7565 The shoe feels very cushioned and plush. This almost certainly comes from Endofit. Lets face it, once you have used Endofit; other shoes feel a little sloppy. Endofit holds the foot snug, secure and as such provides great feel and security. Basically it’s a wrap for your foot.

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The Mantra 3 has 15mm cushioning at the rear and 9mm at the front. I was a little surprised by those stats. The shoe feels a little more cushioned than that but I don’t mean that in a negative way. You still have plenty of feel, loads of response and arguably the 6mm drop provides an ideal sweet spot.

Weight is awesome at 275g (UK8) and the shoe feels light. Flexibility is great and when out running, the shoe actually makes you want to increase your cadence and pick up the pace. I loved that feeling… I just wish my lungs and heart could keep up with the shoes.

©iancorless.com_Mantra3-7573Lacing is legendary and the ‘Quicklace’ system works flawlessly. I have no problems with this system but it is fair to say that if you like to tweak your laces and loosen them in places, that is difficult to do here. Excess lace is stored in the equally legendary ‘Lace Pocket.’

I personally found that my shoes sized a little small. I use UK9.5 in Sense 3, Sense 3 SG and Sense Pro but I found that I needed a UK10 for the Mantra 3. Of course this may just be a one off? However, if ordering online, keep this in mind.

©iancorless.com_Mantra3-7593 The noticeable difference in the Mantra 3 is the toe box! It is without doubt considerably wider and roomier than any other Salomon shoe I have used. So much so that I found myself tweaking the tightness of my laces to compensate. I know only too well how many people complain that Salomon shoes are too narrow. Well, this may well be a shoe for you to try. I thought the Sense Pro had a wider toe box but the Mantra 3 is definitely wider. This all may be part of Salomon’s new strategy as the S-Lab Sense 4 and Sense 4 SG have a slightly wider toe box too. Depending on how you run and what your preferences are, the wider toe box can be a negative as much as a positive. Having used both versions of the Sense 3 and the Sense Pro (and loved them) I found that at times I had a little ‘too’ much movement in the toe area on the Mantra 3, which didn’t give me the precision feel I am used to. We have to remember here that the Mantra 3 is a hybrid shoe, so this additional freedom is intentional. Certainly on longer runs this additional area was welcome should your feet swell and expand.

©iancorless.com_Mantra3-7585The heel area of the shoe is plush, holds the foot tight and has no friction. Toe protection at the front of the shoe is minimal, so, should you get on some really rocky terrain, be careful of your toes.

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The outsole as I mentioned has been redesigned and I have to say that if you keep to hard trail, rocks or road the grip is great. Equally I had full confidence in wet conditions. If you are heading out into the mud, this is not the shoe to take… look at the Sense 4 SG, Speedcross or Fellcross.

As mentioned, the Ortholite/ Sensifit combination provides a plush and cushioned feel and the addition of a Profeet Film adds security and protection from the road and/or trail surface.

In summary, the Mantra 3 is a great shoe for someone who mixes up road running and trail running on a daily basis. But don’t be put off by this ‘compromised’ approach. For me, the Mantra 3 is a great dry trail shoe or a great road shoe, I would have no problem running for extended periods on either surfaces. The 6mm drop is ideal for many providing a sweet middle ground and the cushioning is ideal for long runs. It is arguably a perfect long distance dry trail shoe. If I was running a race similar to Western States, I personally think the Mantra 3 would be my preference over the S-Lab Sense 4. The additional cushioning, roomier toe box and extra height on the drop for me make this shoe a winner for ultra runners.

Pros

  • Endofit
  • 6mm drop
  • Weight
  • Cushioning
  • Wide toe box
  • Lacing
  • Lace pocket

Cons

  • Toe box may be too wide for some
  • Sizes a touch small (for me anyway)
  • No good in mud

Specs

  • Weight 275g
  • Drop 6mm
  • Cushioning 9mm/ 15mm
  • RRP £90.00
  • Available early 2015

Salomon really are extending the CITYTRAIL range in terms of shoe range and clothing. Take a look HERE

Salomon Logo

SCOTT KINABALU SUPERTRAC – First Impressions

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Spring is here and new run shoes are a plenty. Christmas takes place in December but I have to say, if you are a runner, February is stepping up to be a great month for a few surprise presents. Recently I have had new shoes from The North Face (Ultra MT, Cardiac and TR2, the Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 is due to arrive any day and several weeks back I looked at the Scott Trail Rocket and mentioned the Kinabalu.

Today we are taking a look at a new shoe from SCOTT, the KINABALU SUPERTRAC.

This is a shoe I asked Scott to make some 12-18 months ago! Having used and loved the Kinabalu (Here) I pleaded with them to come up with an 8mm drop shoe with a more aggressive sole. They have only gone and done it!

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This shoe is a winner!

Looking at current shoe trends, Scott like The North Face, Salomon and other key brands have realised that a lower drop is the way forward. For many companies, 8mm provides that sweet middle ground. New Balance, TNF and now Scott have confirmed this while Salomon pave a way with 4mm and 6mm drop shoes.

As mentioned previously, if you are after a fast trail shoe (for dry conditions) and with a lower drop (5mm), you can’t go far wrong with the Scott Trail Rocket. But if you are after a shoe that can handle mud and a multitude of different conditions then the 8mm drop, Kinabalu Supertrac may be for you!

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Carrying over many of the characteristics of the Kinabalu, the Kinabalu Supertrac in summary :

Fits like a glove, laces up nice and tight, hugs the heel without rubbing, the toe box provides a secure hold of your foot with a precise feel and grip is AGGRESSIVE!

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In Detail

The Kinabalu Supertrac introduces a new level of technical shoe and a completely new concept of superior grip. The shoes are designed to match the needs of trail and mountain runners in the most extreme conditions : mud, snow, rock and mountain! Delivering great traction on soft and rough surfaces and all within a shoe that provides great comfort, cushioning and with an 8mm drop.

It comes as no surprise to me really. As I said previously, I loved the Kinabalu. I just wanted more grip and lower drop. Scott have that now provided me with that, so this can only mean one thing: happy runner!

If you are familiar with the Kinabalu, this ‘Supertrac‘ version will feel familiar. The tongue is padded, extremely comfortable and the laces are thin and textured. Importantly, the laces stay tight when tied. Scott’s ‘Lace Locker‘ is present and this provides a no nonsense simple solution to store loose laces.

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The shoes are neutral fitting and cushioned using AeroFoam+ which provides additional cushioning, increased durability and great rebound. The upper is breathable mesh with synthetic overlays and the lower part of the shoe is constructed from EVA and rubber.

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The toe box is reinforced extremely well and will withstand some serious contact with rocks or unwanted obstacles. I usually prefer a wider shoe and the Supertrac allows for this but still holds my forefoot firm and without hot spots.

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The heel is injection moulded, plush, soft has no harsh contact points and provides a secure firm grip irrespective of when running on the flat, descending or going uphill. I had no movement at all.

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As one would expect, Scott carry over many features that we have seen on other shoes in the range. The eRIDE is a ‘rocker’ platform that is designed to guarantee a more efficient foot strike. If you already strike mid to forefoot, this may be less noticeable. However, if you are heel striking, the rocker really does roll you forward on to your toes.

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The most noticeable aspect of the shoe is the GRIP! I can’t write about the GRIP without putting it in capital letters. Boy do they GRIP…

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Think JCB meets running shoe. The outsole is extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces. I am really impressed with just three to four runs*.

Conclusion

If you are looking for an out-and-out trail beast with great cushioning, 8mm drop and a comfort rating that will least all day, the Kinabalu Supertrac is going to be a serious contender. It has very quickly become my ‘go to’ when heading out on my local muddy trails.

Expect to see Marco De Gasperi, Elisa Desco and Joe Gray using this on the trails and mountains of Europe and the USA.

Pros:

  • GRIP
  • Cushioned
  • Spacious toe box with protection
  • True to size fit

Cons:

  • Not the lightest shoe

Details:

RRP £105

Available SS2015

Technology:

  • Lace bungee
  • Wet traction rubber
  • eRIDE Platform
  • AerFoam+
  • Self cleaning lugs
  • Upper: Mesh/ synthetic overlay
  • Lower: EVA/ Runner
  • Drop: 8mm
  • Weight: 340g (UK8)
  • Sizes: US7-14

#noshortcuts

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*I will provide an updated review after 1-month and plenty of nice muddy shots to show the shoe’s durability in the upper and outsole

The North Face ULTRA TR II and ULTRA CARDIAC shoes new for 2015

TNF Men Ultra Trail II Shoe angle

The North Face are stepping things up for 2015 with three new shoes that will allow all of us to choose a specific shoe designed for the trails and conditions we are running on. Just the other week we had a first look and several test runs in the ULTRA MT (read HERE). The ULTRA MT is a bullet proof shoe built on a firm last, 8mm drop and a super grippy Vibram sole.

The ULTRA MT

Sticking to their guns, TNF now have the ULTRA TR II and the ULTRA CARDIAC. As a brand, TNF have obviously decided that 8mm drop is the perfect sweet spot and comprise when coming to a one drop for all scenario. I have to say, I agree! Purest and low drop enthusiasts out there will say, no, no, it needs to be 6mm, 4mm or even lower. To an extent I agree and understand but when you are only making three shoes, you need to commit. For many, particularly when running long, 8mm provides a great compromise and as we run longer and our run style and technique fades, 8mm drop allows for some leeway. I run in 4mm and 6mm drop shoes on a regular basis and I find the 8mm option a pleasure and a joy. Ultimately, there is no shortage of shoes on the market and a selection of drops. If TNF and an 8mm drop shoe is of interest, read on.

TNF ULTRA TR II

TNF Men Ultra Trail II Shoe angle

 

The 2014 Ultra Trail shoe received much praise for it’s look and feel when running on dry trail. However, it did gain some criticism for the the longevity of the upper! So, the launch of the Ultra Trail II is a great sign that all previous pluses and minuses have been pooled to create a new and fast shoe.

The Vibram sole of the Ultra Trail was arguably one of the highlights of the shoe, it’s great to see this carried over to the Ultra Trail II. Vibram are synonomous with grip and this sole had an abundance of grip on dry trails, rocks and road. I do think that the Ultra Trail will work very well as a shoe that can switch between road and dry trail seamlessly.

TNF Men Ultra Trail II Sole

Influenced by cross-country spike shoes, the upper is a featherlight rip stop upper that provides a snug fit. As one would expect, the shoe is using TNF’s CRADLE technology to offer support in the heel and the midsole.

TNF Men Ultra Trail II Shoe side

The Ultra TR II is a lightweight performance shoe that will weigh 230g (UK8) and without doubt, the shoe is all about speed and feel for those faster training sessions or races on dry trails. It is anticipated that the shoe will be available in two colours for men and one colour for ladies.

TNF Men Ultra Trail II Shoe orange

TNF Ladies Ultra Trail IISpecifications:

 

  • Ripstop-tent-fabric
  • Pebax® heel CRADLE™ for support and proper foot positioning
  • Glove-like heel fit with protective suede overlays
  • Suede forefoot and toe protection
  • 16 mm heel
  • 8 mm forefoot
  • Dual-injection-molded EVA CRADLE™ GUIDE midsole platform
  • Vibram® full-length road-to-trail outsole engineered for optimal traction and balance
  • 8 mm offset
  • Approximate Weight: 460 g (pair) *based on Men’s 8

TNF ULTRA CARDIAC

TNF Men Ultra Cardiac Shoe angle

 

The Ultra Cardiac looks to be an exciting shoe… I have long hailed my love for the Ultra Guide (no longer made by TNF) and on first looks, the Cardiac may well take off where the Ultra Guide finished. I hope so!

As mentioned, the Ultra Cardiac follows on with an 8mm drop providing a great sweet spot for many runners. Unlike the Ultra TR II, the Cardiac will ideally suit runners as a one-stop shoe. It will provide grip through a Vibram sole on a multitude of terrain: road, hard trail, rocks and wet/ muddy trail (providing it’s not too muddy.)

TNF Men Ultra Cardiac Sole

The upper has FlashDry technology and it really is a great multipurpose shoe with enhanced cushioning: 20mm rear and 12mm at the front. When compared to the Ultra TR II (16mm/ 8mm) it’s easy to see how these two shoe differ not only in weight but cushioning and purpose. The Ultra Cardiac is a shoe that you can slip on, run all day on mixed terrain and not get home battered and bruised from the experience.

TNF Men Ultra Cardiac Side

Despite a full length Vibram sole, fast drying upper and great cushioning the Ultra Cardiac still weighs in at a lightweight 275g (UK8) which is extremely appealing.

Ultra Cardiac Sole

 

Available in one colour for men, the ladies colour option is as below and will size from UK4 to UK9.

TNF Ladies Ultra Cardiac

Features:

 

  • Ultra Airmesh and FlashDry™ keep you cool and dry
  • Zonal protection in the heel and toe
  • Pebax® heel CRADLE™ for proper heel positioning and support
  • Luxurious cushioning in the collar lining and tongue for a comfortable fit
  • 20 mm heel /12 mm forefoot
  • EVA underfoot
  • Vibram® full-length outsole engineered for optimal traction and balance
  • 8 mm offset
  • Approximate Weight: 548 g (pair) *based on Men’s 8

A full review of both shoes will be available in the coming months. The ULTRA TR II and ULTRA CARDIAC will be available from March 2015 prices are expected to be £85 and £105 respectively.

 

Read a ‘first impression’ review of the new, TNF ULTRA MT HERE

TNF Ultra MT angle

Check out The North Face HERE

the-north-face-logo

 

 

 

The North Face ULTRA MT Shoe – First Impressions

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I have been waiting for this shoe….

I wrote recently that If the ULTRA MT is an improvement on the Ultra Guide then this is a shoe I am going to be very keen to try. As you will know from my Ultra Guide review, I thought the shoe was a real winner offering a great combination of comfort, grip and an 8mm drop. Read HERE

The ULTRA MT has a new Vibram® Megagrip outsole with unrivalled traction to keep you close to the ground. It also has enhanced upper support as well as a breathable Ultra Airmesh. The innovation continues underfoot, where precise stability and protection ensures a better performance with every step.

So what do I think?

Well, fresh from the box, the ‘Power Orange’ colour hits you and you will immediately make a decision if this is a positive colour or negative colour. Me? I don’t mind. Once you have been for a couple of runs, any brightness subsides and the shoes start to look like real trail shoes. I guess the most starling observation, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice this, but the ULTRA MT sure does look like a Salomon Speedcross.

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Salomon Speedcross

I am not going to go into the pros and cons of this similarity but I am pretty sure all you good folks out in ultra land would notice this, so it would be silly for me not to acknowledge this.

First Impressions

The ULTRA MT is bullet proof.

The upper is thick and durable.

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The toe box is well protected.

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The heel box is plush and the tongue is padded.

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The tongue is secured within the shoe to stop movement and provide a secure foothold.

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This shoe will take a battering and survive many a run in harsh conditions.

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The sole of the ULTRA MT is aggressive and is Vibram® Megagrip. It’s actually very similar to the previous Ultra Guide shoe but has a much harder feel and it feels hard when running on non-soft ground.

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As mentioned, I am a real fan of the TNF Ultra Guide and considering that TNF no longer make that shoe, I was anticipating the ULTRA MT to not only be a replacement but an improvement!

Putting the ULTRA MT on for the first time was an eye opener. It felt much more solid, less flexible and less cushioned than the Ultra Guide. Although 8mm drop, the shoe feels lower to the ground, this may well be because of less cushioning (I don’t have fore and rear foot cushioning measurements at the moment). The ULTRA MT also feels less flexible. The Vibram sole is most certainly harder (more durable?) than the previous Ultra Guide sole and in my opinion has less feel. I do wonder why they make the sole in different colours? From experience I have nearly always found a coloured sole under performs when compared to the same sole in black. Of course I am speculating here! Contact with the ground felt a little harsh initially.

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The shoe sizes on the large side. I usually take a UK9.5 and I have a UK9 in the ULTRA MT. The toe box is wide and roomy (maybe why the shoe feels larger) and for those of you that have been looking for a wide roomy trail shoe with an 8mm drop, you are going to be very pleased with the ULTRA MT.

The tongue is padded and I am pleased to say that it is fitted within the shoe to provide a secure foothold and to stop the tongue moving around. A mesh panel is added to reduce debris entering the shoe. The laces are thin (too thin for me) and gnarly but they do pull the shoe tight and stay fastened. For a non waterproof shoe, the upper really does restrict what enters the inside. I have been in some really muddy and wet ground and my socks remained dry.

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The heel box is snug holds the foot well and providing you have the laces tied appropriately you don’t get any movement or slipping.

In Use

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It may come as no surprise that the ULTRA MT is designed for muddy trail. If used in this scenario I am pretty sure you are going to be happy with the results. The Vibram sole provides grip on a multitude of surfaces but does feel a little hard when the terrain becomes harder.

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The shoe really is built to endure tough conditions. The upper, the toe box and the sole all look as though they will take a repeated beating and just keep asking for more… but I do question if this comes at a compromise for feel and feedback? The upper also has body mapping layer system on the upper to enhance support on the medial side, protecting the toe area.

It’s early days in the test and I will update in 3-4 weeks how the shoe has progressed with repeated use.

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The ULTRA MT will be available to purchase from March 2015. Weight is 295g for a UK8 and the estimated RRP is £120.

Check out The North Face HERE