VJ Sport XTRM2 Shoe Review

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A new VJ Sport shoe is always exciting, this time, the XTRM2, which I guess is not really a new shoe but a re-working of a VJ classic. The XTRM has been a popular shoe in the trail, fell and mountain running world for a very long time, sitting in the middle ground of the aggressive iRock and the MAXx.

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The key to any VJ shoe is the outsole and the incredible grip that this outsole provides. The XTRM had 4mm lugs, the same as the MAXx but not as long as the iRock and therefore it was the ideal shoe for say skyrunning.

However, two things were often heard when fellow runners discussed the XTRM:

  1. I just wish there was a little more cushioning.
  2. I wish they could be just a little wider.

Well, the XTRM2 addresses both these issues and brings a couple of newer developments.

THE SHOE

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You should never judge a shoe by how it looks, and yes, some of you may love the look of the new XTRM2, I do not! Red is always great and when combined with black, superb. Look at the VJ Sport iRock HERE – now that is a nice-looking shoe! But this XTRM2 looks like someone had a little too much alcohol and dope in Hawaii and then designed the shoe. It’s a ‘me’ thing. Sorry.

Gladly, I can get past the looks because I know that a VJ Sport shoe will do all that I want and do it well.

As mentioned, the XTRM2 is designed to fit between the iRock, which is a short distance and soft-ground shoe and the MAXx which is a longer distance trail/ mountain shoe. Of course, there is now the ULTRA too. That is for the long stuff.

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Quite simply, if you loved the XTRM, the XTRM2 is going to make you smile. I had no issues with the original version, however, straight out of the box I welcomed the extra cushioning and the slightly rounder, more spacious toe box.

Drop is 4mm with 10mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. For perspective, the iRock has 8/14mm and the MAXx 12/18mm.

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With a reshaped last, CMEVA cushioning and a rock plate, the XTRM2 is the perfect mountain/ skyrunning shoe.

Pulling the shoe on there is a notable difference with the tongue, it is fastened on both sides. One of the issues in the previous XTRM and MAXx for that matter, was the tongue would move when running – often moving to the left or the right. This has now been addressed and in all my test runs so far, the tongue has remained in place and secure.

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Fitlock is a VJ Sport secret weapon and is one of the USP’s of the VJ brand. Once you have put your foot in the shoe, as you tighten the laces, the Fitlock grabs hold of the instep/ arch and holds it tight and secure – exactly what is required in mountainous and technical terrain when you need the shoe to be precise. With the more spacious XTRM2 toe box, this new Fitlock is even more welcome. I was initially worried if I would lose some of the precise feel at the front end, not so, the Fitlock compensates.

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The lacing is classic with 6 eyelets and the addition of a 7th eyelet on both sides should you require to lock lace or similar. There is reinforcement here ensuring that the laces can be pulled tight without causing any issue to the upper.

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The upper is Swiss Schoeller Keprotec® which is more durable than previous incarnations of the XTRM and it is also more pliable, allowing it to fit the foot better. Look at the old XTRM HERE – I reviewed this shoe back in 2018. Notably look how different the upper is… The original XTRM had many reinforced panels on the upper with a solid extension from the toe box and heel area. It’s a major change. I wondered, by contrast, if the new XTRM2 would feel less secure and sloppy – no. Foot hold has been excellent. The upper is excellent and repels moisture, water and mud.

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The heel area is slightly padded but not excessively, importantly it holds the foot and there is no slipping when climbing.

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Toe protection is adequate but could maybe be a little more? Certainly, in a skyrunning scenario when rocks, boulders and hard mixed terrain will be encountered.

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The outsole is a notable difference, the previous XTRM had 4mm lugs, they have now been increased to 6mm and in doing so, they now match the iRock. This is a key and notable change. For me, I would now only need an XTRM2 and MAXx (which has 4mm lugs). I do appreciate though, that the narrower and more precision fit of the iRock would be preferable for some.

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The outsole pattern is newly designed to optimize grip on all terrains and with the 6mm lugs, you now have an outsole that can handle softer ground. There is little to say about the grip of the outsole, VJ have the tagline ‘bestgripontheplanet’ and it is. No outsole from any other brand matches the grip, wet or dry, of a VJ outsole. However, be warned, that grip comes from a wonderful soft and grippy superior contact – it will not last and last and if you run too much road, that longevity will be reduced greatly. You cannot have amazing outsole grip and long life.

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There is a torsional rigidity in the shoe that is very noticeable when running on uneven and rocky terrain. If you have the Fitlock laced up and tight, the XTRM2 gives superb precision.

Flex and life are superb, and the propulsive phase is superb. There is a real ping behind the metatarsals when pushing off.

Weight is incredible, VJ list 250g for a UK8. My UK10 is 289g.

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I am always a UK9.5 in test shoes, however, I have noticed with extended use in VJ that I have often wished I had gone a half-size larger, so, with the XTRM2 and SPARK (review to follow) I decided to go to UK10. It was a good choice; I have found that extra space welcome. So, you may want to check this when purchasing.

CONCLUSION

Fitlock and a VJ outsole and you have a perfect shoe when precision and grip are required. The XTRM2 with a new upper, a new last, more cushioning and lugs increased to 6mm, and you now have the perfect trail/mountain and skyrunning shoe for short to middle distance. There are few shoes out there that can compete with VJ when this combination of elements is required. It is highly recommended.

Are there any negatives? I found prolonged running on hard surfaces (gravel road a good example) eventually tiring, but that is no real surprise. The outsole is soft and sticky and if you use on the wrong terrain, it will not last. I really dislike the look of the shoe, which is a petty thing to say, but the ‘look’ could put some people off before ever having the chance to run in the shoe and then find out how good it is. However, I may be alone in finding the look displeasing?

Ultimately, the XTRM2 is a superb shoe with incredible fit and grip.

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La Sportiva AKASHA – Shoe Review

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to run in the La Sportiva Akasha? But, now that I have, I am somewhat perplexed that I have been missing an awesome shoe for months and probably years.

With 350km in the Akasha in just over 2-weeks, I can confirm that they are one of the most comfortable and reassured shoes I have used irrespective of the type of terrain or distance of run.

They are billed as a cushioned, protective and a long-distance shoe. When you first pick them up, you notice two things:

  1. They feel bomb proof.
  2. 2. They are a little heavy.

Of course, bomb proof and additional weight go hand in hand, but if the run comfort and feel is good, a little extra weight is no real issue. Weight is 310g for UK8.

From the off, the Akasha felt immediately comfortable with a great fit, roomy toe box, but not too roomy (3 on a 1-5 scale,) very breathable upper, padded tongue, excellent lacing and foot hold and a comfortable heel box.

The cushioning is notable with 31mm / 25mm stack height for a 6mm drop and lugs are 4.5mm

The cushioning platform is noticeable and especially so when running. It is injected moulded EVA in a single density. It has stabiliser anti torsional inserts and it features the trail rocker that helps slow the transition from heel strike to toe off by isolating and deforming the heel zone separately by providiing a separation

Out if the box I went on an 18km gnarly trail run with loads of rocks and vert. The following day was a 32km run on similar terrain. The shoes were just soooo comfortable and protective. I was cursing that it had taken me so long to use the Akasha and I was already thinking to myself, I need to get another pair…! The cushioning and protection remarkably do not lose ground feel, on the contrary, it’s really good! Of course, not comparable with a more minimalist shoe but hey, the Akasha is not trying to be that!

There is no rock plate, but with this level of cushioning it is no issue. Importantly, there is a real feel for the ground and a life in the shoe. The heal area is very cushioned and bouncy. The Ortholite Mountain Running insert adds to the comfort also. Rocks, irrespective of shape caused no foot discomfort and on no occasion did I feel anything push through the cushioning to make me wince with that all to painful twinge in the bottom of the foot.

Lacing up the shoes, there is an immediate foot hold and security in the instep. This I like. I don’t like sloppy shoes with poor foot hold, especially when running on technical trail. The tongue is gusseted and has a sock-like fit, again, another real bonus!

Overlays provide reinforcement of the very breathable and airy upper around the instep and at the front of the shoe. There is little to restrict the toes at the front and this has been superb when running on any type of terrain. The shoes bend beautifully and make the propulsive phase a pleasure.

Outsole is the aggressive FriXion XT which is unique to La Sportiva and is superb. The grip (4.5mm lugs) is well spaced out to help shed mud. With a built in ‘Trail Rocker’ these Akasha really role along. You will notice red areas on the sole which have a different look to the black areas. This allows for superb heel to toe transition should it be required – depending on your run style and gait.

No matter what I have thrown at the Akasha, they have responded superbly with superb ride, excellent comfort, and superb grip. They even accompanied me on a 16km road run and even then, the performance and feel were excellent.

They are a heavier shoe, but when running in them you just don’t notice it, especially when on challenging terrain.

Regarding size, you may want to consider going a half size larger. I am pretty much always a UK9.5/ EU44 in most shoes. The La Sportiva comes as a EU442/3 (which is a UK9.5+) and they have been great with no problems. However, just recently I ordered a second pair (because I have been so happy with the first) and I ordered an EU45 which has given me just a little more space and toe room. I have yet to run in the EU45.

Summary

Soft and breathable with a slipper like comfort, reinforced upper, superb cushioning, excellent grip and a 6mm drop – The La Sportiva Akasha has been revelation.

Irrespective of the terrain, the Akasha is a shoe that you can grab for any run, and they will perform superbly, be that for a short distance trail runs or a long and lengthy mountain run. It’s a shoe that would be ideal for say UTMB or similar. Feet feel fresh for mile-after-mile in the Akasha and when running back-to-back days, I got no sore points or aches.

It’s rare that a shoe can feel so good on any terrain and yes, they may tip the scales a little heavier than some of the competition but the ride and comfort more than justifies this.

The outsole, like the upper is bombproof and offers excellent grip on trail and rock and while not recommended, it ticks along on the road with no discomfort.

There are several shoes that I go to daily, the Hoka Torrent 2 being one that I can pick up and run on pretty much any terrain and for any length of time. The Akasha has now replaced the Torrent 2 as my daily ‘go-to’ and should I travel and only be able to take one pair of shoes, the Akasha would be the choice. The adidas Speed Ultra is still up there as one of my ‘shoes of 2021’ and for faster runs on more groomed trail, the Speed Ultra would win out. The Akasha will take some beating as a ‘grab and go’ shoe though and it’s rare to find one shoe that does so much so well and in a package that will last and last.

La Sportiva have long and respected heritage in the footwear world in particular with the mountains. This heritage is apparent in the Akasha where they have made attention to detail a priority along with comfort and durability. They have avoided compromise with a little extra weight.

Key Stats

Uppers:

Breathable Air Mesh + PU leather at the rear and Dynamic ProTechTion at the toe.

Lining:

Mesh non slip.

Midsole:

Injected EVA and Cushion Platform.

Footbed:

Ortholite Mountain Running.

Sole:

FriXion XT dual density with Trail Rocker system.

Cushioning:

31/25mm

Drop:

6mm

The Best and Worst Trail Shoes of 2021

adidas Speed Ultra

I get to review and test a great deal of shoes and 2021 has been no different. Some shoes really stand out and get used all the time and others fade to a dark and lonely place in my shoe cupboard.

So, what has been the highlights and low points of 2021?

First and foremost, I need to clarify that I haven’t tested ‘every’ shoe that is out there to be tested, so, this is very much an opinion post. Importantly, what I have done is tested shoes from zero drop to 10mm drop and shoes with minimal to maximal cushioning.

For perspective, I am happy to run in shoes with varying drop as I really believe that not only is it good for the body, but I also believe that certain drops and better for certain distances and terrain. A good example being, if I were to be running longer, I’d prefer a higher drop, say 8mm. But if running shorter and faster, I’d be more than happy to be in a lower drop, say 4mm. The same applies for cushioning, I am happy with les cushioning for shorter distances and a little more cushioning for longer distances.

Outsole varies considerably and therefore when considering ‘the best’ one must caveat that the shoe is the best for a typical type of terrain and conditions. However, some shoes can be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and manage to do a little bit of everything.

I am a neutral runner, so, the shoes listed fit in that category. Regarding shoe width, I am fortunate that I can squeeze my feet in most shoes and I accept and am happy to have my toes a little cramped for a very specific shoe that needs to excel on technical terrain. I appreciate that for some people, that is not an option or a choice, so keep that in mind.

Read an in-depth article about How to Find Your Running Shoe Size and Fit.

Finally, you may well agree and disagree with my shoe choices below. Perfectly normal, gladly there are many, many shoes out in the marketplace with different drops, cushioning, fit, outsoles and so on.

THE BEST TRAIL SHOES

adidas Speed Ultra

This shoe has been a revelation in 2021. It has managed to encompass so many key elements that make a shoe stand out. They are light, responsive, fun to run in, offer a great fit, have a wider toe box and are cushioned. Designed in conjunction with Tom Evans, Adidas and Tom wanted a shoe that could excel at Western States. So, the shoe had to be good for 100-miles but did not require an aggressive outsole. The Continental outsole is almost road like and for some, potentially too minimal. However, the grip is superb and for trail running; superb. On dry and wet rock, the grip has never faltered, in mud grip is compromised. The Speed Ultra has been my ‘go-to’ shoe of 2021 and has been on many varied terrains and always provided a superb ride. They have even been an excellent road shoe. There are few downsides to the Speed Ultra, but the lack of a rock plate does mean that occasionally you can feel the ground beneath you a little more than desirable. Read the full review HERE.

Hoka One One Torrent 2

I was the first person to bring Hoka in to the uk, way back in 2009. I used them constantly for many years but in 2012 I defected. It has taken almost 10-years for me to lace up a pair of Hoka’s again and it was actually the adidas Speed Ultra that tempted me to try the Torrent 2. I was told by many that the Torrent 2 was the least cushioned and potentially most ‘normal’ type trail shoe that Hoka made. They were right. Out of the box the Torrent 2 has excelled, and they have been in a constant rotation with my Speed Ultra. The outsole is more aggressive than the Speed Ultra and therefore open a few more options when it comes to varied terrain. However, I will say that on wet rock the grip is bad. I wished Hoka had used Vibram MegaGrip instead of their own outsole. But if you stick with dry trail or even muddy trail, the Torrent 2 performs exceptionally well. Despite the stack height (still low for a Hoka) they give great ground feel and stability. The toe box has good space and the foot hold is superb. Read the full review HERE. I will make a note here that the Zinal was also a consideration. It has many Torrent 2 features but for me a firmer and harder ride. I preferred the Torrent 2 but you may well think the Zinal preferable.

THE BEST MOUNTAIN/ AGGRESSIVE SHOES

VJ Sport ULTRA

When you need grip, no other brand offers an outsole like VJ Sport. The soft and grippy butyl is just superb. Over the years I have constantly raved about their shoes, be them the iRock, XTRM or the MAXx. However, the one downside (for many) was a fit that was too narrow and not enough cushioning. Enter the Ultra. VJ listened and came up with a light mountain shoe that instantly felt like a VJ but with that wider toe box and additional cushioning. Many would never consider running UTMB or similar in a VJ MAXx but the Ultra now gives that option. You get the best of both worlds, cushioning and the best grip on the planet. I will say that the cushioning is not as plush as I would have maybe liked, however, they do bed in a become a little softer with use. Read the review HERE.

adidas Speed Pro SG

The soft-ground terrain that inov-8 excelled and dominated in has now been impacted upon by many brands offering their own incarnations of grippy and aggressive outsoles to tackle sloppy terrain. The VJ Sport iRock is without doubt a consideration when looking for an SG shoe. Constantly, one of the biggest complaints from many runners is that most SG shoes have narrow toe boxes. Step in the adidas Speed Pro SG. This shoe has a wide toe box, lightweight upper, cushioning and 7mm lugs for the muddiest and gnarliest terrain. The fit and feel is excellent and the grip superb. It’s not a shoe you’d want to spend all day in but if moving fast over technical, muddy and challenging terrain is your thing, this shoe is a great addition. Read the review HERE.

THE BEST RUNNING BOOTS

La Sportiva Cyklon

The La Sportiva Mutant has been a long-time favourite for many a trail runner and the Cyklon is very much a development of this shoe. It manages to combine many elements of classic La Sportiva and then push new ground with the addition of BOA. Designed to excel in mountain terrain, they are more than a shoe but not as much as boot. They fit this wonderful middle ground of combining shoe like feel and comfort but boot-like security. It has an aggressive outsole and some stability (not too much) to ensure mountain days pass without problem. The sock-liner fit, and the new BOA dynamic cage has provided me with arguably the greatest foot hold of any shoe I have ever tried. It is superb. All these plus points do come with a couple of downsides: A little extra weight and they retain warmth/ heat. The latter a good point in winter but less so in summer. Read the review HERE.

adidas Terrex Tech Pro

This is a late addition to my 2021 shoe line-up and what an addition! For many, this would just be too much and too specific, but for me with Norwegian winters, it’s a boot to put a smile on my face. It’s almost two shoes as there is an inner Agravic shoe inside the Tech Pro outer all fastened together by a zip and BOA fastening system. Comfort is superb, warmth is excellent, and the outsole has wonderful grip. There is a downside (for me) though… I really wish adidas had added winter studs to this boot so that they could handle ice. Had they done this, it would be the perfect winter boot. However, I do understand why they haven’t, usage becomes very restrictive with studs. As it stands, you have a boot that you can use all year and if required, add a micro crampon to tackle ice. Read the review HERE.

THE BEST WINTER SHOE

Asics Gel Fujisetsu 3 G-TX

I have tested a great deal of winter studded shoes in the last couple of years and VJ and Icebug have provided me with many great runs with excellent grip. However, there was always a compromise to be made until I got hold of the Asics Gel Fujisetsu 3 G-TX. This shoe has been a revelation… A Gore-Tex upper, wider toe box, cushioning and 14 studs in aggressive outsole to handle snow and more importantly ice with aplomb. They have been superb over short distance runs and recently a 6-hour outing in -10. Read the review HERE.

MY WORST SHOE OF 2021

inov-8 Trailfly G300 Max

Normally I would find it hard to pick a shoe to go here as today, shoe technology and development means that most brands make good shoes. It’s fair to say that me adding the Trailfly as the worst shoe will cause controversy as for some it has been hailed a revelation…! Not so for me. It’s a Frankenstein shoe that is a pure horror. They are heavy (mine over 380g!), lifeless, clumsy, and well, just plain awful. There are some positives which I tried to give credit to in my initial review, but the more I have used them, the more I dislike them. This shoe had the potential to be a more cushioned G270 with a higher drop. They are not even close! Even the Graphene outsole doesn’t feel as good? But one of my coaching clients uses them and loves them. I said in my review they would be a Marmite shoe and I don’t like Marmite. In fairness, if you are a bigger and heavier runner, the Trailfly may well offer a level of protection not found before. Read the review HERE.

CONCLUSION

The best and the worst? Fully accept that they are ‘my’ best and worst and you may well agree and completely disagree with my thoughts. Ultimately though, it may well introduce you to a potential new favourite shoe that you hadn’t considered before.

I have seen some brands stand still in the most recent 12-18 months, arguably over 2+ years when you consider how long it takes to develop a shoe. But adidas (never a leader in the trail world) has grabbed trail and mountain running by the horns and pushed forward with some great development and shoes with their Terrex brand.

Scarpa Spin 2

Another stand out has been Scarpa, a well-established mountain brand who with the influence of Marco De Gasperi has started to make some excellent trail/ mountain shoes, the Spin 2 almost making this list. I need to test the Ribelle!

Hoka One One have diversified from the max cushioning and while the Zinal didn’t make my list, it very nearly did and for those who do prefer more ‘cush’ between them and the ground, the Speedgoat (now 4) always gets rave reviews.

But what about Altra, Brooks, Salomon, Nike, Topo and more…

Well, the Nike Pegasus has been a favourite of mine in past years and it’s still a great shoe with a plethora of great features, especially comfort for long trail days. However, my choice was always the Wildhorse. But Nike always had to tweak and change it, we are now on version 7 I think?

Altra unfortunately just don’t do it for me. I know, I know… Some of you will be holding your head in your hands. But the zero drop and super-wide toe box is a no for me. However, I have many friends telling me I need to try the Olympus 4 or the Lone Peak 5.

Salomon have not been on my radar in 2021, I very much feel that as brand they stood still. They released a Speedcross 5 but it’s a Marmite shoe (for me) and the grip although aggressive has always been horrendous on wet rock. The previous incarnations also had arch support which I didn’t like. The Sense Ride 4 with 8mm drop is maybe worth a look?

All shoes were provided for free as test samples. The exception being Asics which were purchased. In addition, many shoes in 2021 were provided for testing that do not appear here.

adidas Terrex Speed Ultra

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Icebug Route Winter Studded Shoe Review

Icebug are specialists at studded shoes, be that for orienteering, trail running or winter running. The ICEBUG ROUTE is considered an entry level shoe with a combination of features designed to appeal to experienced or novice runners. I have been using the Icebug Route in rotation with several winter shoes: VJ Sport Xante, inov-8 Arctic Talon, inov-8 OROC and notably, the Icebug Pytho 5.

Read articles on winter:

Winter Running HERE

Embrace Winter HERE

Fastpacking and Camping in Winter HERE

Clothing Layers HERE

The Icebug Pytho 5 is solid shoe, I wrote, “works exceptionally well as an ‘all-rounder’ and is sold as such, recommended for trail running, forest running, orienteering and winter ice running.” The Pytho uses BUGrip and so does the Route.

BUGrip is the secret weapon of Icebug winter shoes and it this technology that provides grip in the most demanding and slippery conditions. The outsole is made from a special rubber compound, there would be typically 15-19 studs inserted. The Pytho 5 has 17 and the Route a maximum 19. The studs work independently from each other and are not completely fixed. When weight is applied, the studs push in toward the surface of the sole. How far they are pushed in depends on the pressure exerted by the user and the resistance from the ground. Quite simply, the secret of running in studded shoes is ‘trusting’ the outsole to do its job. The more confident you are, the harder you place your foot and the more you believe in the outsole, the better the grip will be.

The Icebug Route has been somewhat of a revelation. And I say this as many of the selling points are not what I would typically look for in a shoe, notably, 12mm drop. I am a neutral runner and typically run in anything from 0 to 8mm drop.

Designed for winter road conditions, I have been using the Route on trails with rocks, tree routes covered in snow and ice, frozen lakes, iced pavements and iced single-track, so in summary, pretty much everything… I have not used them on mountain terrain.

The Route is light, for example, in comparison to the Pytho 5 they are 30g lighter and they feel it. There is a life in the Route that I did not expect and comparison to the Pytho 5, the feel is considerably more preferable.

Listed as a cushioned shoe with a comfortable feel, I can confirm the ride is very plush with great flex, bounce and still with a feel for the ground. The propulsive phase is very good with great flex around the metatarsals. The midsole is Bloom Foam, EVA with ESS stabilizer. I have not been able to find any measurements for front and rear cushioning, but based on other test shoes and experience, I would estimate 8mm front and 20mm rear – this is a guess though!

The upper is not insulated and this is a notable point, the shoes in sub-zero winter runs of snow and ice are noticeably colder than some of the competition. Top tip – I use neoprene socks as standard with temperatures below zero and this makes a huge difference, especially with the Route. Breathable is not a good selling point for a winter shoe. Made from 100% recycled polyester textile, the upper is very durable to winter conditions. Toe box protection is minimal. There are no reinforced panels on the upper and the shoe does not suffer from it.

The toe box is wide and spacious, ideal for a winter shoe allowing the toes to splay and move. You don’t want your toes squeezed in a shoe in cold weather, some space allows for blood flow.

The lacing is simple with 5 eyelets on either side and an optional lock-lacing eyelet at the top. Importantly, the laces really pull and hold the foot providing reassurance on any terrain.

The heel box is comfortable, holds firm, caused no abrasion and importantly, when going uphill, causes no slipping. It’s well-padded and very comfortable.

The insole is Ortholite Hybrid designed to create a cooler, drier environment inside the footwear.

The outsole is the star of the shoe and the 19 dynamic steel studs perform superbly adjusting to the terrain and conditions providing supreme confidence. Notably, when running on road sections lacking snow or ice, the Route is still comfortable and unlike other studded shoes, I don’t feel the studs coming through to the insole. It goes without saying, that running on roads or pavements without ice or snow should be kept to a minimum. It is easy to lose studs and the BUGrip outsole is designed to work effectively with 2 or 3 studs missing. It is possible to replace studs, you just need to contact Icebug for spares. Notably with studded shoes, they work remarkable well on trail providing exceptional grip on tree roots, rocks and other obstacle; they are not just for snow and ice.

Finally, the Route has a good look with a blue fade and yellow patterned overlay including the Icebug logo.

IN USE

True to size, the Route is immediately comfortable when you slide your foot in. There is little to distract in this shoe, quite simply, lace up and off you go.

The width in the toe box is notable but not so wide that you lose feel or precision when running on more technical terrain.

Comfort is immediately noticeable from the cushioning and not at the expense of feel for the ground or flex in the propulsive phase.

Considering the shoe has a 12mm drop, I have to say, the Route did not feel out of place and at all times, on every run, has felt comfortable. This has made me very curious and I still do not have an answer? Maybe the soft snow, ice and the mixture of conditions masks the higher drop? Ultimately, the only consideration is comfort, and the Route is extremely comfortable.

The studs have been superb at providing the required grip as and when required, noticeably, in comparison to some other studded shoes, I like the way the studs adapt to the terrain and pressure from the runner to provide the grip required only when needed. Don’t get me wrong, the studs don’t disappear when there is no snow or ice, they are just not as noticeable.

The upper is surprisingly not ideal for a winter studded shoe. It’s durable, however, it lacks warmth and insulation. So, make sure you use appropriate socks for conditions. I recommend Merino socks as a base layer with a warmer sock over the top. I personally use neoprene socks as I know they work and keep my feet warm. Other options would be Merino socks with a Gore-Tex sock. Top tip – Ideally take appropriate socks when trying for size. It’s not unusual with winter shoes taking a half-size larger to compensate.

CONCLUSION

Before I used the Icebug Route I had wrongly anticipated I would not like the shoe. After all, who uses 12mm drop shoes these days? I was completely wrong. Light, cushioned, great comfort, amazing outsole and room in the toe box all combined together to make the Route one of the best winter shoes I have used. Alongside the VJ Sport Xante, they are now one of my preferred shoes. I even prefer them to arguably, in Icebug terms, the better shoe Pytho 5 which in comparison feels a little over engineered and heavy. I must clarify here, the Pytho 5 is a really great shoe. One thing the Route has taught me, is not to let shoe specs and details get in the way of how a shoe feels and runs. The Icebug Route is a really excellent winter shoe that excels on hard iced trails. The downside of the shoe is the lack of warmth in the upper which can be compensated for with good socks.

To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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ICEBUG Pytho 5 Winter Running Shoe Review

With the arrival of winter conditions, snow and ice impact on running significantly. For many, running indoors appears to be the only option, however, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many brands now produce shoes specifically for winter running and specifically for running on ice. ICEBUG have been making specific winter shoes for many years and they are often, the ‘go-to’ shoe when it comes to challenging run conditions.

Read an article on Winter HERE

Read an article Running on Ice HERE

It’s important to clarify that Icebug provide multiple options when it comes to outsoles/ shoes and in many scenarios, the shoes can quite easily double up as orienteering shoes.

  • NewRun BUGrip – Runners on all levels, primarily seeking comfort and traction and longing for smooth runs on icy roads.
  • Oribi BUGrip – Many types of runners, seeking a super-light shoe with steel studs.
  • Rover – Almost everything and anyone. Great for running and speed hiking in harsh weather.
  • Spirit OLX – Orienteers, trail runners, and everyone else who wants to take their trail running to the next level.

And finally:

Pytho BUGrip – Trail runners seeking traction and comfort.

The PYTHO 5

The Pytho 5 is arguably the Icebug shoe that would appeal as an entry level for a trail or mountain runner.

It’s a shoe that works exceptionally well as an ‘all-rounder’ and is sold as such, recommended for trail running, forest running, orienteering and winter ice running.

The outsole has 17 dynamic carbide tip steel studs (BUGrip®) which evenly distributed to provide the most secure and reliable grip on a multitude of surfaces. I can’t clarify enough how this outsole has made a revelation of my local forest runs which include rocks, tree roots and a variety of terrain (with or without snow/ice) and the grip has been exceptional. On rock, it has almost made me desire to use a studded shoe for all runs; no doubt why studded shoes are popular in the orienteering world.

With a 5mm drop, a medium last, a wide toe box and medium cushioning the Pytho 5 is designed for longer distance running. The midsole is foam EVA made with 20% BLOOM®.

While not the lightest shoes available (320g for UK8/ 334g for UK10) the Pytho 5 is a solid shoe built to last for tough terrain and at the same time provide comfort.

The upper, while not Gore-Tex is designed to withstand the elements resisting water and does not absorb water. It is warmer than a conventional upper and of course less breathable. However, it is not insulated. Using Merino socks and running in -10 temperatures in snow/ ice, my feet have remained warm. This is a real plus and a requirement for a winter running shoe! The upper is also extremely resilient using 100% recycled PET polyester called bluesign® with mudguard. The lining of the shoe also uses a similar dyed recycled polyester textile. 

The toe box is substantial and designed to really withstand impact on any terrain.

The heel box is padded, holds secure and is comfortable. The tongue is medium padded, and the lacing has 6 eyelets on either side with the option to lock-lace if required. Hold of the foot and importantly the instep is solid and secure providing security on technical terrain.

The toe box is classed as wide and of course, how wide will depend on you and your personal needs. The intention of the wider toe box is to provide more comfort on longer runs. Also, in winter, some additional room can be important to allow for blood flow.

IN USE

The Pytho 5 is a comfortable shoe that is true to size. One important consideration in any winter shoe is getting the correct size. Many a runner will wear additional or thicker socks in the coldest months, so, keep that in consideration. I usually run in UK9.5/ EU44 and in the Pytho 5 I chose a UK10/ EU45 – I wish I hadn’t. They are actually a little too large and my normal UK9.5/ EU44 would have been perfect, even with thicker socks. I strongly recommend using Merino socks as they retain warmth even when wet. Some runners like to use neoprene socks and others a wool sock with a Gore-Tex or similar product over the top. It comes down to personal choices and understanding what works for you.

The cushioning is noticeable and importantly, if you have not run-in studs before, the feel is always a little unusually initially. It takes one good run to get a ‘feel’ for any studded shoe, especially if you have some road before getting to trail/ snow or ice. Studded shoes are noisy on road.

Once on ice and snow, the shoes come into their own offering a reassured grip that gives confidence. You NEED to trust the shoes and the grip. Again, if you have not run in studded shoes before, you may well approach ice with hesitation… Top tip is do not do this! Any studded shoe requires you to be confident, brave, trust the shoe and plant your foot hard to the ground. Force and pressure are what pushes the outsole into the ice, and this is what gives the grip. Try to run lightly and grip is compromised. The 17 studs are placed to offer grip from the heel to the toe and to accommodate run styles when going up or down. The spread is perfect. You may well find that you alter your run style slightly looking to plant your foot more evenly, the more studs on the ground, the greater the grip!

The upper is very tough and resilient and little inflexible. I certainly found it took a good 6 runs before the upper softened.

Foot hold is really good and assured which for me is essential in any off-road shoe. The toe box is wide but not excessively so and certainly does allow more toe splay but not at the compromise of precision. If I was running very technical terrain, I would prefer a more precision fit, but for general trail running they are perfect.

Importantly, remember the Pytho 5 is not ‘just’ a winter shoe. It excels on muddy, rocky and tree root terrain. You may well be surprised with how much grip this type of shoe gives. So much so that you will consider using a shoe of this style throughout the year as and when the terrain dictates. Orienteers for example use studded shoes all year.

On ice, particularly a frozen lake, the Pytho 5 glides along and they put a smile on your face. Equally, running on icy paths or roads is assured making pedestrians look at you and question how you are doing that…

CONCLUSION

The downside of any studded shoe is that they are more tiring on the body. The Pytho 5 tries to address this with more cushioning and a wider toe box, however, if you go out on hard ice terrain for many hours you will certainly feel it. That is just the way ice running is and not a criticism of the shoe.

Icebug know how to make winter shoes and the Pytho 5 is a great all-rounder that tackles winter exceptionally well. As a plus, they handle trail and notably rocks and tree routes superbly; just as an orienteering shoe should.

Ice running takes a little practice, and the top tip is trusting the shoe and the outsole. Don’t be shy and delicate, run hard and press the studs in the ground, once you do, you will have great grip that will allow you to speed along in a multitude of conditions.

Key Specifications:

  • Weight: 320 grams
  • Drop: 5 mm
  • Last: Medium
  • Studs: Studded
  • Usage: Running, Trail running, Winter running
  • Insole: Ortholite Hybrid, lined with bluesign® 100% recycled and solution dyed PET polyester
  • Lining: Bluesign®, solution dyed
  • Midsole: Lightweight EVA with 20% BLOOM® Foam. TPU stabilizer
  • Terrain: Ice, Snow, Trail
  • Torsion: Stability Flex
  • Outersole: Rubber with BUGrip® 17 carbide tip studs
  • Cushioning: Medium
  • Upper Part: Bluesign® 100% recycled GRS certified PET polyester. Protective TPU mudguard

To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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inov-8 MUDCLAW G260 Review

The name says it all, MUDCLAW, if you are looking for a shoe to handle soft, deep and slippery mud, then look no further. The inov-8 MUDCLAW G260 is for you…

BUT, before we go into what makes the MUDCLAW great, let’s have some perspective. This shoe needs perspective.

I often like to compare choosing a run shoe to cars. Going on a long drive with many hours and miles, you will no doubt want something a little more plush, relaxed and comfortable – a family car. Going off-road with mixed terrain, then maybe a 4×4. If going for spin on a summer’s day, feeling the wind in your air and the need for some speed and feel; maybe a sports car? And if you are going to go as fast as possible, want to stick to the ground and comprise comfort for speed and grip, then a Formula 1 is for you.

The inov-8 MUDCLAW G260 is a Formula 1 of run shoes.

If you are looking for a jack of all trades – the Mudclaw is not for you!

If you are looking for comfort for hours and hours – the Mudclaw is not for you!

If you are looking for insane grip in sloppy mud with an almost barefoot feel for the ground – the Mudclaw is for you!

The Mudclaw is a stripped back Formula 1 shoe for trails, fells and OCR racing. Running in the shoe reminds me of the early inov-8 posters showing a shoe tread on a foot.

inov-8 advert that really echoes the feel of the Mudclaw

The 8mm Graphene lugs are akin to football boots and hark back to what elevated inov-8 to a world-stage many years ago. Grip, grip and more grip. There is currently no other shoe on the market that has soft-ground grip that compares with the Mudclaw G260. One shoe comes close, the iRock3 by VJ Sport, but even the 6mm Butyl of the VJ does not claw and grip like the G260.

The Graphene outsole (renowned sticky rubber infused with Graphene) is now reaching many of the shoes in the inov-8 line-up and the recent success of the Terraultra G270 (here) has really turned heads. The G260 takes that Graphene and adds it to crazy lugs. So, is the grip between the G270 and the G260 comparable? Yes and no. The G270 grips incredibly on dry and wet trail, on rocks (wet or dry) but is compromised in mud as the lugs are only 4mm. With the G260, the grip in mud is incredible but with less overall contact points, the grip on wet rock is not as secure as the G270.

Quite simply, the G260 is for mud and lots of it!

When running off-road, particularly in mud, feel for the ground is important and inov-8 know this, they have therefore reduced the cushioning in the G260 to a mere 4.5mm at the front and 8.5mm at the rear. It’s almost like running barefoot. The principal is, the mud and soft-ground provides the cushioning and any additional cushioning would only compromise feel and responsiveness.

The 4mm drop, 6mm footbed and minimal Meta-Plate is ideal and in-keeping for the Mudclaw’s intentions; low to the ground and increased feel for the ground.

The upper has been reworked and like the Terraultra G270, it has a super-strong materials give high levels of durability and breathability which is proving to be a real plus with considerably less wear and tear over previous inov-8 uppers. The upper is also extremely breathable and this has an added bonus for water drainage.

As the name suggests, the weight is 260g in a UK8, so, they are super-lightweight.

Like many inov-8 shoes, the rear of the shoe has gaiter attachment points on either side to help keep out or reduce debris entering the shoes.

The fit is ‘1’ on the inov-8 scale and that quite simply means precision – no surprise for a Formula 1 shoe.

IN USE

I keep referring to a Formula 1 car and this is really important when explaining how the shoe feels. To drive a F1, you would have it toed out of the pit lane and then you would drive on the circuit. The Mudclaw is no different, you really want to put this shoe on at the trail head and run immediately off-road and in mud.

It’s hard for me to go directly to trail unless I drive there, so, even for a ‘normal’ run I will have a minimum of 1-mile of road or path. You can really feel that the shoe has little to no cushioning. It’s bearable for short distances but you really do need to keep to a minimum.

When in mud, the shoe is wonderfully at home. It grips when other shoes would not, you have a feel for the ground without compromise and the foot-hold is excellent from the lacing configuration. 

The upper is robust for the conditions and gladly drains water quickly. The overlays add structure and help hold the foot in place.

The Mudclaw is a narrow shoe and particularly narrower at the heal. Back to the Formula 1 scenario; this is a race shoe and as such some comfort is compromised. Think of a Ballerina, they would not walk around in ballet shoes, but when they perform they need a very specific shoe. The Mudclaw is the same.

Sizing leaves me with a question mark. I have been testing inov-8 for years and I am always a UK9.5. The Mudclaw feels a little too long for me in ‘my’ size but having said that, I have used them… Despite the narrow fit, I used a very thin Merino liner sock with a thicker Merino sock over the top to make some compensation. It has worked for me but I would recommend trying normal size and maybe a half-size smaller to be sure.

Back to the upper. The flex point (Meta-Flex with inov-8) in the propulsive phase is always a problem area in many shoes and in the Mudclaw the upper flexes differently, no doubt due to the material used.

At times it can feel as though there is a little too much fabric and this may cause a weakness at the bend point? With over 100km in the shoes, there is no wear showing. I will do a long-term update after 400km.

Heel box is minimal and it holds as one would expect but there is little cushioning comfort. Toe bumper is great and offers excellent protection.

The outsole is the hero of the shoe and the 8mm lugs are quite simply the best I have tried or used in mud. Give or take, there are 40 +/- lugs designed to claw into the ground and provide purchase on what normally would not be possible. This applies for soft-grass too. Despite the same Graphene as the G260, I found the hold on wet rock not quite as assured as the Terraultra G260. I put this down to less contact points. But then again, I need to clarify, this shoe is for mud!

IN SUMMARY

The Mudclaw is a shoe to be considered in addition to other shoes that you already own. It’s not a shoe that you can use for day-to-day running, it’s not even a shoe that you can use for trail runs. This shoe is for mud and mud alone. Yes, it can take a little hard-trail, yes it can take some rocks, wet or dry, and yes, you can run a little road to get to muddy trail but all times, you need to keep this to a minimum. It’s narrow, has a precision fit, offers a great feel for the ground and return gives you speed and grip.

If you want a shoe that does the above but has more comfort and has more flexibility then you need to look at X-Talon 260 which has a wider fit (4,) considerably more cushioning (6/16mm,) 8mm drop and still 8mm lugs.

It’s a shoe for mud…

Specs:

  • Fit 1
  • Drop 4mm
  • Footbed 6mm
  • Lug 8mm
  • 4.5mm front / 8.5mm rear
  • Graphene Grip
  • Meta-Plate Shank
  • RRP £140

To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content.

Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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inov-8 TERRAULTRA G270 Review

I first got a hold of the original TERRAULTRA 2-years ago, the G260. It was a groundbreaking shoe for inov-8 not only introducing a zero-drop shoe to the brands line-up but also paving the way for Graphene technology.

A great deal has happened in the past 2-years with Graphene appearing in more and more inov-8 shoes but interestingly no other zero drop shoes have been added to the line-up.

The TERRAULTRA G260 was warmly welcomed, particularly by any trail runner using Altra who now had a zero-drop alternative now available with a brand who really know how to make off-road shoes from a long history in the fells of the UK.

Now, the G260 has been updated and we welcome the TERRAULTRA G270.

On first glance, it could look like the same shoe. That green colour is somewhat distinctive! However, one does not need to look longer to see some immediate significant changes.

The upper, the lacing, the outsole and the cushioning all sort of look the same but they are not.

In the words on inov-8:

  • Graphene outsole has 4mm deep cleats all now armed with dispersion channels and rubber dimples to give better grip on wet and dry trails. Cleats are repositioned in key areas and flex grooves fine-tuned for agile sticky traction that lasts longer.
  • Cushioning is a new POWERFLOW MAX that has been increased by 3mm for a plush ride, improved cushioning and double the durability. A BOOMERANG insole apparently will increase energy return by 20 and 40% respectively over the previous model.
  • The upper has ADAPTERFIT which adjusts to the foot and the use of stronger materials will add to durability and protection.

The Shoe

With a fit scale of 5, this is as wide as you can go in an inov-8 shoe, So, toe splay and room at the front end comes no better.

Cushioning is 12mm front and rear providing a zero drop. Using POWERFLOW MAX.

The footbed is 6mm and the lug depth of the outsole is 4mm made of Graphene grip.

It G270 has the necessary points to attach a trail gaiter.

At 270g (UK8) the new TERRAULTRA is 10g heavier than the previous version.

Sizing is true to size BUT take into consideration the wider toe box, maybe (?) a half-size smaller would be better. I always use EU44/ UK9.5 and these were ideal for me.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The G270 is light and it’s clear to see some of the immediate improvements over the previous version. The lacing is flatter, the tongue is different, the upper is different, the toe box protection is increased, and the shoes have the flagship Graphene outsole that looks very different.

Zero drop is NOT for everyone, so, what makes the G270 great for some also make the G270 potentially unusable for others. This is not a negative comment, it’s just a heads-up to say, that if you have not used zero drop before, don’t be tempted to get the G270 and start racking miles up… You will almost certainly get sore Achilles, calf and potentially get injured. Like barefoot running, zero drop running needs to be learnt and the body needs to adapt. Typically, 6-months would be a good transition period. However, some zero-drop running (initially short periods) is great for improving run form, so, the G270 could be a nice new weapon in your shoe line-up?

If zero drop is your thing, then you will already have a big smile on your face.

Following on from the G260, the G270 has a wide toe box that echoes what brands like Altra have been doing for years. Toe splay is king and the G270 has loads of room for that. I had issues with the G260 in that I always felt I had too much room, the room at the front was made worse by the upper and lacing system not holding my foot how I wanted to compensate for the additional width, space and foot movement.

Slipping the G270 on I was initially worried, the space in the toe box was as much if not a little more than the previous version. However, as soon as I adjusted and tightened the laces, I immediately noticed significant changes. The tongue was a much better fit. The lacing was great improved, and I could really adjust the tension from top to bottom. The ADAPTERFIT pulled in holding my foot. Walking around immediately felt 100% better than the G260. My foot was being held reassuringly.

The upper is far more breathable that the G260.

The cushioning and bounce were notable and the outsole at this stage left me with many questions.

IN USE

The G260 was a little lifeless and felt flat. The G270 immediately felt different with a couple of miles on the road before hitting the trails. So, this was already a great improvement.

With META-FLEX at the front, the propulsive phase felt really good no doubt added to with the insole that inov-8 say increases energy return by 40%. I definitely felt some bounce, but 40% more?

The cushioning was noticeable, particularly over the G260 as was the zero drop. I use zero drop shoes occasionally, but always prefer 4/5mm for faster and more technical running and if going long, 8mm works perfect for me. So, considering the G270 is designed for long-distance running, zero drop would be a challenge for me.

The wide toe box still feels mega wide (too wide for me) BUT the lacing and ADAPTERFIT allowed me to compensate for the room at the front by tightening appropriately. However, I did fine once or twice I over-tightened the laces only having to stop and loosen them a little.

The transition from road to gravel trail was seamless and comfortable. The TERRAULTRA is an out and out ultra-shoe designed for trails that are more groomed, say Western States in the USA or UTMB in Europe. So hard packed single-track felt really good in the G270, equally rocky and stoney ground felt good.

Running up hill surprised me. The META-FLEX allowed for great flexibility and propulsion, but it was the outsole that really gripped. A massive improvement over the G260.

I have to say, I have not always been a fan with the addition of Graphene. At times, I felt it compromised the sticky outsoles and made them less grippy, albeit providing longer life. But on many occasions, for me particularly, grip is king and if it is compromised, I am not happy.

Here, in the G270 there was noticeable difference, and this was coming from just 4mm lugs.

The test of course would really come when I threw in some mud and wet rock.

Gladly, mud (loads of it) rocks, tree routes, climbs, descents, wooden planks, forests and yes, a little fire trail all make up my daily and local runs. So, throwing the G270 in the thick of things was easy to do. And yes, I was being unfair as I actively searched out and aimed for steep rocks with water on them and I aimed for every puddle and sloppy mud I could.

I was impressed.

At times, I would think to myself, almost wanting the G270 outsole to fail;

‘This will get them… wait for the slip!’

But the slip never came, especially on dry and wet rock. On a 3-hour run, as the minutes clicked by, I started to relax more and more and eventually stopped worrying and asking;

‘Will the G270 grip here?’

They did, at all times provide me with the grip I required.

Surprisingly, in really sloppy mud, I did not slip or move as I had expected. Partially due to the fact that I did apply the brakes a little and respect the conditions.

Technical trail is where the G270 shows some flaws. The wider toe box lacks precision, allows one’s toes to move and therefore I felt that there was just ‘too much’ shoe to navigate between rocks, roots, stones and a plethora of other obstacles. But of course, I am being unfair! The G270 is designed for less technical trails, long hours and all-day comfort – that they do really well!

The shoes are responsive and do work well when running fast. However, the wide toe box, zero drop and cushioning do make them feel a little like a saloon car… Plenty of room, comfy seats, and can get the miles done. But I craved a more performance car at times with more precision, tighter handling and a little more fire and daring, especially when coming of road, fire trails or single-track.

The cushioning was plush and considering it is only 12mm, it felt like more. Especially noticeable extra comfort over the 9mm G260 which also was a little hard and lifeless. One thing to note, I found on tree routes and some stones, I could feel them in the bottom of my foot, so protection from obstacles is minimal. The toe box though has a good bumper and that worked really well.

The heel box was noticeably secure on the flat and going uphill, I had little to no slippage.

SUMMARY

Damian Hall just ran 260-miles on the Pennine Way in the G270 and set a new FKT, so, that gives some indication of the intended use of this shoe. Having said that, the Pennine Way is not all single-track and wonderful cruising trail, so, the shoe can handle the rough stuff too.

I was impressed by how versatile the 4mm Graphene outsole worked. There has been some significant improvement over the G260 and in the Graphene outsole in general.

The upper, lacing and tongue now really hold the foot and that for me is essential, especially with such a wide toe box. The toe box is one of the key selling points of this shoe. It allows toe splay, plenty of room and flexibility for a foot to swell wider with accumulated miles.

The cushioning increased from 9mm (G260) to 12mm for the G270 is noticeable. More importantly, the G270 now has life, the G260 felt a little dead.

CONCLUSION

The G270 is a marked improvement over the G260, so, if you liked the previous model you are going to love the latest incarnation.

Zero drop and a wide toe box will be exactly what some people are looking for and they will have a big smile on their face. For me, and this of course is very personal, I can’t run in zero for hours and hours and I feel that the toe box is a little roomier than it needs to be.

So, imagine a Trail Talon 290 made like a TERRAULTRA G270 – slightly narrower toe box (4 fit) 8mm drop; 11mm and 19mm cushioning and this Graphene outsole – that would be a winning shoe IMO. (inov-8 take note)

The G270 is a winning shoe and all packaged perfectly for ultra-distance runner who needs grip, cushioning and comfort for the long-haul out on the trails. It would even make a great road shoe if required.

For multi-day adventures, such as Marathon des Sables, just like the Trail Talon, the G270 would be really excellent.

Get the TERRAULTRA G270 at inov-8 HERE

If technical trail and mud is your thing, this is not the best shoe for that, however, it can handle it remarkably well, so, if you only wanted one trail shoe (with zero drop) to do all, the G270 would be ideal. By contrast, if you wanted a one-stop trail shoe with 8mm drop, I recommend the Trail Talon 290.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

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inov-8 TRAILROC 280 Shoe Review

Fans of inov-8 shoes may well be a little surprised by the new incarnation of the Trailroc 280.

It’s a bold shoe and dare I say, on first look, one may even mistake it for a Hoka One One shoe. The blue and yellow and color fade has that classic Hoka look and the cushioning really stands out.

I had to make sure that I definitely had an inov-8 shoe in my hand.

Die-hard inov-8 fans may well immediately dislike the new Trailroc – it’s a departure for the brand. But one should not be too hasty. 

For those who like minimal, low drop, and aggressive outsoles, inov-8 still have a plethora of shoes to choose from. So, the new Trailroc 280 should be embraced as something new to try.

First Impressions

I like the look, bold color fade work well. The cushioning is the stand out and is built up and reinforced section around the rear. Heel box is well padded and has firm hold of the foot. The tongue is attached to the inside of the show with elastic on either side, I am a fan! The tongue is really padded, very plush. The upper is very breathable and there are reinforced overlays on the outside (left and right) to provide some structure to the upper and hold the foot.

Lacing is pretty standard and there are additional eyelets should you wish to lock-lace or similar. Toe box has reinforcement for protection, but I expected this to be more substantial for a shoe designed for rocky terrain. The toe box is on the narrow side so if you are a fan of the Trail Talon (here), for example, you may not like the Trailroc? Sizing is touch and go. I always use a UK9.5 in inov-8 and the Trailroc is definitely a little smaller than my other inov’s. It is marginal and I have had no problem using them… worth noting that they may feel smaller as the toe box is a little narrower, however, I always go for a thumb nail of space, and in these I am at ¾!

Outsole is the new Graphene and the grip is classic trail grip – not too aggressive. Graphene is slowly making its way to most inov shoes now and apparently it increases longevity by some 50% without a comprise on the grip characteristics.

The Shoe

Sliding the shoes on for the first time, several factors stood out.

  • I could feel the cushioning immediately.
  • The padded tongue is really plush.
  • The toe box felt on the narrow side.

Lacing the shoes up, the hold on my foot felt ‘so so!’ I have to say, and this comment comes now after weeks and weeks of using the Trailroc, I feel the upper lacks some rigidity to hold the foot. I have been using inov for years and something in the upper here is lacking for me. It’s particularly noticeable when the terrain is not flat, for example, when running off camber or when on rocks – my foot is moving inside the shoe! This is not because of lacing. I tried many lace configurations and I just couldn’t get the firm hold I like to make me feel reassured. It left me perplexed.

The toe box is on the narrower side. I need to clarify here that I love the Trail Talon and Parkclaw (here) but easily transition to ‘precision’ fit shoes, for example a Mudclaw (here). When running on muddy and technical terrain, I like my feet to be held firm and have confidence in the shoe. When running trail and longer miles I am happy for my toes to splay, providing the lacing holds my foot. The Trailroc left me feeling 50/50. There is nothing particularly unpleasant, but equally there was nothing sparkling going on.

I guess the main feature of the shoe is the added cushioning and that really is noticeable. It has a real bounce to it and comfort levels are high. So, those who are looking for a more cushioned trail shoe, this version of the Trailroc 280 will appeal. It’s a shoe that transitions from road to trail easily and that is a real plus for many.

The outsole does its job and works well. These are not shoes for muddy terrain. They are classic trail / rock shoes and the outsole works well on the latter both in the wet and the dry.

In Use

The cushioning of the Trailroc 280 is the selling factor along with the Graphene outsole. It is all packaged together in a great looking shoe. On road, the cushioning is apparent providing a plush feel and a definite bounce, so, for those who are looking for more comfort on longer runs will be happy. On trail, the cushioning is apparent, however, I did have less feel for the ground and ‘height’ from the ground was more noticeable in comparison to other inov-8 shoes.

When the trail became more challenging, as mentioned above, this is when I had issues. I just never felt my foot was held secure… It almost feels as the shoes are too big, but they are not! I really over tightened my laces and that did add to a more secure feel, but the level of tightness was not sustainable for longer runs – it just added to much pressure.

The outsole works on trail and rock well providing adequate grip when needed when conditions are wet or dry. It’s not an aggressive outsole, so, in mud you will slip and slide around.

There is a Meta-Flex in the outsole and so the propulsive phase feels dynamic but less dynamic than some other inov-8 shoes.

Drop is 2 arrows, so, 8mm. Makes sense for a shoe like this, I really feel this shoe is designed for an ultra-trail runner going longer distances. Cushioning is 20mm rear and 12mm at the front.

inov-8 very often make shoes for a very specific purpose and with this Trailroc 280 I feel that it is a shoe trying to do many things and as such does no one thing brilliantly, but if you are looking for an ‘all-purpose’ shoe that transitions from to road to trail, this may be for you!

Conclusion

The Trailroc 280 is not a bad shoe. Equally it is not a great shoe. This is the first time in a while I have not glowed about an inov-8 shoe. I have tried and tried to like this shoe and don’t get me wrong, if I had no other shoe to wear, I’d be happy in the 280. However, I have lots of options on footwear and the 280 has nothing that stands out that makes me want to grab it and go run. It’s cushioned, has 8mm drop, has a great outsole but has some failings for me.

Foothold and toe box are the two factors that leave a question mark. The toe box I can live with, it causes me no problems, it is just not ideal. The foothold though really is an issue and I hate the feel of my foot not being secure.

inov-8 website HERE 

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inov-8 PARKCLAW 275 GTX REVIEW

I have to be honest, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to using inov-8’s new shoe offering, the PARKCLAW 275 (I tested the GTX – Gore Tex). Why? Well, inov-8 have always impressed by producing shoes that are specific to a runner’s need – typically, getting a grip in muddy trail. Over recent years though, many new inov-8 shoes have appeared that have merged that ‘specificity’ and in all honesty, I have always been impressed by what has been on offer.

The PARKCLAW though just didn’t entice me.

I have to say, I was a little silly. It turns out that the PARKCALAW 275 is a great shoe and in all honesty, it’s a shoe that will appeal to so many.

Many runners want a shoe that does more than just one thing. The PARKCLAW is going to be that shoe. Good on the road, good on dry trails, good on rocks, cushioned, wide toe box, 8mm drop and great feel.

Inov-8 have produced a real surprise!

THE SHOE

Maybe the ‘PARK’ in the name signifies the ever-growing parkrun community that every weekend assemble all over the world and bang out a 5k amongst friends. Let’s face facts, it’s a huge community and if you can get a slice of that pie, it’s a great thing for any brand. But many of those runners may want to mix things up with a little road-to-trail or easy trail runs. This is where the PARKCLAW can step in!

I need to clarify here that the PARKCLAW is a shoe that works for any runner. I have been using it on my road loops of 5, 8 and 12km and they have been great. Equally, they have been excellent on my local canal tow path and forest trails.

The shoe has an ‘in-between’ outsole that provides grip for trail but not too much grip for road. The lugs at 4mm are semi-aggressive but importantly are close together so road running feels good. META-FLEX at the front allows the shoes to bend near the metatarsals and at the rear is a Dynamic Fascia Band. Three different lug colours are present which show how the different compounds ensure grip on different surfaces.

Drop is 8mm which is now pretty much standard, gone are the days of 12mm drop and higher. 8mm drop is a perfect starting point for most runners and particularly nice if running longer.

Fit is neutral and true to size. I always use a UK9.5 and these are perfect.

Toe box is wide – 5 on inov-8’s fit scale (here) so all you Hobbits should have a huge smile.

Cushioning is 12mm at the front and 20mm at the rear which provides a plush feel and not at the compromise of losing a feel for the ground. The Cushioned ride comes from Powerflow+ which does a great job at protecting but not at the loss of energy return. Combined with META-FLEX the Powerflow+ makes the propulsive phase a pleasure.

The upper is classic inov-8, breathable and lightweight. It has support on either side of the lacing section which pulls in to hold the foot firm once laces are adjusted accordingly. Importantly there are double eyelets at the top, so you can lock-lace should you wish. The heel area is plush as always with inov-8 and there is additional support to hold the foot firm and help with gait. The tongue is padded and gusseted. Toe box is reinforced and protected.

IN USE

This is a very comfy shoe. Slipper like in feel and it was easy to pull them on and run with no bedding in. I was amazed at how comfortable they are. The Cushioning is unlike any other inov-8 shoe I have used. Maybe similar to a TRAIL TALON.

The key thing for many will be the wide toe box. Hobbits you will love them! I am fortunate that I can use precision shoes and then enjoy and benefit of a wide toe box when I want to be more relaxed and allow my foot to splay. The PARKCLAW is really comfy.

Gusseted tongue is padded and a real winner. Keep saying it, all shoes should have a gusseted tongue just makes sense!

The lacing is standard and it’s possible to adjust and get a great fit and feel. I used the additional eyelet at the top to ‘lock-lace’ but found I didn’t need it, the shoe fitted so well.

Running on the road is a real pleasure with excellent comfort, great feel and great energy return. At no point did I feel I was in a trail shoe. Transition to hard trail was seamless. The PARCLAW is a great all-rounder and one-stop shop for those who need something that can do a little of everything.

The 4mm lugs handled grass, rock and trail both in wet and dry but when the trails became muddy, grip was compromised. The lugs are too close together and not long enough to get the required purchase. This is not a criticism, it’s just a fact! Quite simply, if you are needing a shoe with greater off-road grip, you need another model of inov-8. The PARKCLAW is not intended for this job!

SUMMARY

The PARKCLAW  275 is a real surprise. It’s a shoe that you can use day in and day out when you are mixing terrain. A great example would be say living in London and going for a long run when you mix road with sections of trail in Regents Park, Hyde Park and so on. The shoe though equally sits as a road shoe or dry trail shoe. I had no issue using the PARKCLAW 275 for either purpose.

The toe box is wide, and this may well be a real deciding factor for many. I know so many runners who need or prefer a wide fit – look no further.

The PARKCLAW would actually make a great shoe for a race like Marathon des Sables when an out-and-out trail shoe is not required but when cushioning and wide toe box is welcome. It is definitely a contender.

The PARKCLAW 275 will never be great on muddy technical terrain. The outsole is not aggressive enough and the wide ‘5’ fit would make the shoe feel sloppy and lacking precision.

Ultimately, I think inov-8 created this shoe as an ‘introduction’ shoe. A way of enticing roadies to trail. In doing so, they have created a stand-alone shoe which I have been using daily, and yes, it’s equally great as a walking shoe.

A jack of all trades is never brilliant at any one thing but the PARKCLAW 275 does a great job at making the mix and transition.

Finally, I tested the GTX version, so, should you wish, you can also keep your feet warm and dry by letting no water in. Of course, GTX doesn’t let water out too, so, if the water comes in over the top of the shoe, your feet will stay wet. Always with considering! However, over the winter months I could feel the benefit of the Gore Tex on cold days.

PARKCLAW 275 on inov-8 HERE

 

IROCK2 by VJ Sport – Shoe Review

Imagine a scene:

A man enters an elevator, he pulls the cage metal door across and as it clicks into place, his right hand reaches for the buttons to his left. ‘Lower Basement’ is pressed.

As the lift moves, music starts in the background; a lone guitar.

dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun deDON Do do do
Badap ba daa ba da daa ba daa da deda daa Badap ba daa ba da daa ba daa da deda daa

The lift stops, the gate is pulled open and the man walks into a grey room illuminated by dappled spotlights. Ahead, a man in a white jacket, is crooked over a table with his back turned.

“Argh, 007 you are here, finally! Now listen up. This is the new IROCK2 by VJ Sport. It has Fitlock that ensures a sure and precise fit around the arch and instep of the foot for secure constant changes of direction. The outsole is made of Butyl rubber with an aggressive pattern, it will grip anything in the wet and dry!”

“And the upper Q?” Our man asks.

“007, let me do the talking… The upper is made of Kevlar, it’s stronger than steel, lightweight and extremely durable. Toe box and the heel box is plush, secure and protects from the toughest terrain. Cushioning is provided by KvamO and Duotech. These shoes are designed for fast, light and agile mountain running on any terrain – any questions?”

“When can I use them Q?”

“Have you not been listening Bond? You can use them on the gnarliest, muddiest, wettest, driest, most technical terrain imaginable and they will give you the advantage over the competition… Now go run!”

If James Bond was a mountain runner, he’d be using the IROCK2 by VJ Sport

*****

This review comes in two versions:

Version 1.

The IROCK2 by VJ Sport is the best mountain running shoe for any terrain with superior grip in the wet and dry on the rockiest, gnarliest, muddiest terrain imaginable in a moderately cushioned, 6mm drop, lightweight neutral shoe. It’s the best shoe ever – go buy it!

Version 2.

Read on.

VJ was found in 1981 and has been the secret weapon of Orienteers for many, many years. Ask anyone in the know, affiliated with a brand or not, out of choice, if they could, they would use IROCK when the need for grip on wet and dry surfaces is essential.

I was first introduced to the brand several years ago whilst working on the Tromso SkyRace. I saw the ‘locals’ using them and when out on the trails, mountains that had a mix of rocks, snow and ice, I continually noticed they had more grip than myself. This was confirmed when Jon Albon won Tromso race using IROCK ahead of the ‘almost’ unbeatable Luis Alberto Hernando.

I took note!

The shoe range can be viewed HERE and over the year’s VJ Sport have added and tweaked the line of shoes to 12 models, varying from a very specific Orienteering shoe with metal spikes (midstud) to a kid’s shoe!

Key Features of the IROCK2:

FITLOCK ensures that the fit is snug and holds the foot in place, essential when running on technical and challenging trails when a change of direction happens in a fraction of second. You don’t want a sloppy shoe. FITLOCK supports the arch of the foot and protects from the terrain.
SUPERIOR CONTACT OUTSOLE is made from sticky butyl rubber with an aggressive grip. It has superior grip in wet and dry conditions and lugs are aggressive to gain traction in mud. They are also spaced out to help release mud from the sole so that you don’t get clogged up and lose traction.
Schoeller® – Keprotec® KEVLAR upper is bullet proof and stronger than steel. It is pretty much tear resistant with comfort. The chances of the uppers failing is almost non-existent. The upper also has reinforced sections, the toe box and heel cup protect the foot from the most demanding terrain and to keep the foot secure.
KvamO offers cushioning, torsion support and a shaped insole.
DUOTECH is used on the inner side of the shoe, contrasting against the KvamO. The Duotech is higher density foam which makes for a more durable shoe.

6mm drop
Narrow width
Neutral

IROCK2 was Jon Albon’s shoe of choice for the 2017 season – He is a multiple OCR World Champion and two-time Skyrunner World Series Champion for the Extreme classification.

OUT OF THE BOX

Red and black, always works for shoe colours and I feel and I am instantly attracted to the IROCK2. However, they don’t look like run shoes… almost a cross between a football boot and a shoe for MTB. They look heavy!

I lift one up. They are not heavy… It almost comes as a surprise. Immediate first impression is how robust the shoe looks. The heel box is reinforced, the Fitlock looks aggressive and secure, the Kevlar material looks like it is interwoven with strands of steel and the toe box reinforced with a bumper. Turning the shoe over, soft black butyl rubber covers the outsole and a mass of aggressive studs immediately confirm that the IROCK2 means business as far as grip is concerned.

Lacing is very secure and the tongue is reinforced and made of a very durable flexible but hard material. I am surprised to find that the IROCK2 does not have a gusseted tongue or sock liner fit. I feel disappointed! It’s no secret if you read my shoe reviews that this is by far my favourite method of shoe fit. The toe box looks really narrow – I expected narrow as this is a precision shoe, however, they look narrower than expected.

All-in-all, I am impressed. Great looks, solid build, aggressive outsole but I have concerns on the toe box and lack of sock liner/ gusseted tongue.

IN USE

It’s important to remember here that the IROCK2 is not a jack of all trades, it’s not a trail shoe, it’s not hybrid shoe, it’s not a shoe for the road – it is an out-and-out specific fell/ mountain running shoe and as such, you should and must keep this in mind if considering if the shoe is for you!

The easiest way to explain this is by looking at say, Formula 1. You wouldn’t go to Monaco Grand Prix and race in a MPV car, a saloon car or a bus, you’d have a very specific vehicle, low to the ground with incredible speed and awesome agility with incredible grip. The IROCK2 is the Formula 1 for fell and mountain running.

I loosen the laces and slide my foot in. I am immediately surprised that the toe box is deceptively more spacious than anticipated. Almost Tardis like. Don’t get me wrong here, they are not spacious that would allow ones toes to splay. The fit is secure but not overly narrow, however, if you have Hobbit like feet, the IROCK2 is not going to be for you! It is normal in fell/ mountain running shoes that a ‘precision’ fit is required as this provides security and precision when running, exactly what you need when on demanding and challenging terrain.

As I pull the laces tight, I am immediately surprised how well the tongue fits to my foot and the lack of a sock liner or gusseted tongue soon becomes no issue. The Fitlock steps in and I have to say that this is one of THE secret weapons of the shoe. You immediately feel the support and security this system brings as I tighten and adjust the laces.

The reinforced heel box adds to this security and once laced up and adjusted I soon realize that the IROCK2 has incredible fit and security – and I haven’t even run in them yet!

As I walk around my apartment, the wooden floor provides a solid surface, I feel the grip of the Butyl outsole take hold and with each lift of my foot, the shoes make a sound a little like when separating two strips of Velcro. These shoes seriously grip.

Orienteering, fell and outright mountain shoes rarely have a great deal of cushioning as the need to be low and feel the ground is essential. The IROCK2 has cushioning and it is noticeable without compromising feel, importantly there is also a rock plate for protection. Therefore, this shoe certainly provides an option for longer races, be that in distance or time. How long or how far depends on the runner, but I would certainly consider this shoe for 6-8 hour mountain jaunts. You also must remember that if running on soft and muddy ground, much of the cushioning actually comes from the ground beneath ones feet. Rocky and hard trails are a different story.

ON THE TRAILS

I always start my test runs with a section of road and the IROCK2 keeps me honest wanting to land fore to mid foot. I can hear and feel the grip on the road and I am surprised at the level of comfort and cushioning for such an aggressive shoe. I set my mind at ease knowing that the IROCK2 can handle road sections should they crop up in a race or training. Note though, the outsole won’t thank you for this and one can expect it to wear quicker if you throw too much tarmac at them.

6mm drop works well and although 8mm is normally preferable (for me) it is appropriate that a shoe of this nature has a lower drop keeping you connected to the ground. The fit is neutral but Fitlock really does provide support (in a good way) to ones arch. Fit is true to size.

Back on the tail, a 3-mile section of single track flies by as the shoes happily eat up the miles switching between hard and dry sections and soft, wet, muddy sections don’t compromise the grip.

Off track and the IROCK2 start to feel seriously at home. I am now on open fell that is rutted. I am constantly changing direction and this is when I feel the Fitlock and heel box working together. For me, it’s the best feel and most secure of any mountain running shoe I have used. No question!

The outsole is gripping everything.

On a vertical wall of grass and mud, I am on my toes and the shoes just dig in and keep me going forward with no wasted energy through slipping.

I hit an extremely muddy section. It’s like a brown river. Constant rain has made it into a brown lake and as I run through it, the height passes my ankle. Once again, I feel the shoes pushing through the soft upper layers to find traction below. Grip is found and I am able to move on with more security than any other shoe used. The closest comparison coming with an inov-8 Mudclaw.

It’s on rocks, wet or dry, that the IROCK2 becomes outstanding. I have had mountain shoes in the past that have handled the mud only to find that rock, and in particular, wet rock grip is compromised. The IROCK2 stand out as the best in its class with unmatched grip and control.

The run continues on and as the terrain constantly changes I am finding that the IROCK2’s are handling everything but it is the overall package of the shoe that is impressing me and no one stand out feature.

It is the combination of durability, fit, cushioning, precision and unmatched grip that is making me realize that the IROCK2 is the best fell/ mountain shoe I have used.

LONG TERM

Mud, rock, fell in wet or dry conditions, the IROCK2 is the best I have used. I have now put just under 200-miles on them on a whole multitude of scenarios and without doubt, this shoe stands out. It’s the overall package as mentioned above that make them so special and in comparison to other brands, the Kevlar uppers show no sign of use.

It’s easy to get carried away when writing about a shoe like this but so often I have had a mountain shoe that does one thing really well only to find that it is compromised in another use. Not so with the IROCK2.

It is the most complete mountain shoe I have used for its specific use.

SUMMARY

VJ Sport was created in 1981 and although I first became aware of these shoes in 2014, I have to say that I really have a feel of ‘FOMO!’ – Fear Of Missing Out.

Orienteers and obstacle racers will be reading this review and saying – ‘Yep, yep and yep!’

They will be asking the question, ‘What took you so long?’

They are correct, what did take me so long?

VJ Sport have been making secret weapons for the orienteering world for so many years but now the secret is out!

I have already heard many a Skyrunner talking about the original IROCK and now the IROCK2 moves things up a notch and quite simply:

This is the best fell/ mountain running shoe I have ever used.

CONCLUSION

It’s a glowing review, no doubt.

There are so many PROS to the shoe that I feel I must try and reign myself in and find some CONS, so, here goes:

I have been trying to get a pair of IROCK’s for sometime, it took me 18-months to finally get a pair. They are not easy to come across! However, see at the bottom of this review as we have an offer.
The IROCK2 is a fine tuned piece of kit designed to excel with a very specific use. This is not an everyday shoe (unless you are always on fells/ mountains) that you use on road and smooth trail.
In reference to point 2, you will need other run shoes for those ‘normal’ runs when the IROCK’s are not required.
The IROCK2 has cushioning but it is NOT a ‘cushioned’ shoe and it shouldn’t be. Some cushioning is good but anymore and this shoe would lose the feel and control that makes it so great.
The fit is precision, again, as it should be for a shoe with such specific use. Worth keeping in mind for the Hobbits out there!

FINALLY

Skyrunning? Fell running? Mountain running? Running in the wet, mud, on dry rocks and wet rocks?

Need a 6mm drop, neutral and moderately cushioned shoe?

Look no further than the IROCK2 by VJ Sport.

OFFER

*Please note, I have no affiliation or working relationship with the following, this is purely an offer to help those who may be interested in the IROCK2 to purchase a pair.