inov-8 – The New #ROCLITE Trail Shoes 290, 305 and 325 First Impressions

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I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about the ROCLITE by inov-8. Every time I do a shoe review, I always get at least one email from someone asking, ‘Any news on Roclite’s from inov-8?’

Well for all those that have asked, you are now blessed with three new ROCLITE models:

The 290 with 4mm drop

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The 305 with 8mm drop

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The 325 with 8mm drop.

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It’s a ROCLITE party!

The ROCLITE has been around for 10-years and was, is a firm favourite for the hardcore inov-8 fans, so, the inclusion of three new models for 2017 is certainly going to make many people happy. The ROCLITE was first launched in 2006 and has had many variations and adaptations over the years.

In recent years, inov-8 have certainly started to look at their shoes in a different way and I can certainly see RACE ULTRA, TRAIL TALON and X-CLAW influences coming into the new line-up of ROCLITE.

For most people reading a review like this, they will be drawn to the 290 or 305 as they are conventional run shoes. The 325 is a boot and therefore will appeal to a very different client, or should I say, a very different use.

The 290 is 4mm drop and the 305 8mm drop. I had expected to be able to say that the characteristics of both shoes are the same, the only difference coming in drop/ cushioning. However, that is not the case!

The ROCLITE 305 and 325 initial review

Lets start with the 305 8mm drop shoe first as this for me is a great all around shoe and will appeal to many users. The characteristics of the 305 actually transfer directly to the 325 boot and the comments below are relevant for both.

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The 305 is a slightly heavier shoe with a little more cushioning than the 290 (if you didn’t know, the number in inov-8 shoe names refers to weight in like-for-like sizes, usually a UK8.5). It has an integrated gusseted tongue that is actually sewn into the shoe and therefore almost makes the shoe feel slipper like. The same applies for the 325 boot. This is a real winner in terms of holding the foot secure, firm and importantly it’s going to keep debris out!

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On the rear of the shoe on the outside is a huge ‘X’ in plastic that is sewn onto the upper – this adds support and theory will provide a more secure foot placement and reduce the ability to roll an ankle.

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The lacing is firm and secure and pulls in on web loops called ADAPTERWEB. In conjunction with the sewn in tongue if really does provide a secure and firm fit and hold of the foot.

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The words ‘POWERFLOW’ on the rear refer to the cushioning and shock absorption.

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The ROCLITE has a META-SHANK and rock plate which is a great addition for keeping the rugged, sharp and gnarly stuff from penetrating through the sole and providing discomfort or bruising while running.

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The front of the shoe has a toe cap that has been rubberised that will protect with any collisions of debris on the trail.

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The outsole is made from three different sticky rubber densities and has a 6mm lug that is designed to excel on trail that is rocky and technical in either the wet or dry. The outsole will handle some mud but other inov-8 shoes would do a better job of handling the wet, sloppy and slippery stuff. However, as is often the case these days, we are looking for a one stop shop when it comes to a running shoe and the ROCLITE may well set in the place nicely?

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In the first 1/3 of the outsole is META-FLEX – this allows the shoe to bend in just the right place allowing for an excellent propulsive phase when running. Sounds like jargon but it does work!

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Slipping the shoe on feels really smooth and although this is not a seamless upper, it feels like it. It’s one of the most comfy shoes I have used in a long time. However, the shoe does maybe feel a little small? I use UK9.5 in all my shoes, without exception and I always use UK9.5 in inov-8. All three of the ROCLITES (less so with the 290) but certainly the 305 and 325 make ne think I may require a 1/2 size larger. This may well be from the sewn in tongue and plush fit? I need to head out on the trails a little more to provide a definitive answer on this. Please remember this is a first impression article.

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The toe box has room but certainly feels more of a ‘precision’ fit than say the TRAIL TALON or X-CLAW. Again, as mentioned above I may need a 1/2 size larger and that would certainly impact on how the toe box feels. However, the ROCLITE range certainly feels as though hey re designed to provide a detailed, responsive and controlled ride on the trail with a mire secure and precious hold so that fast moving on more technical trail has precision.

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The heel box is plush, secure and holds the foot firm. In the 325 boot I have noticed a little additional pressure/ tension on my right achilles with the way the back of the boot drops down and is cut away. I will feed back on this more with additional testing. Again, I also refer back to the point that the 305 and 325 may well be a 1/2 size too small and this would impact greatly on this fell/ comfort.

Initial Summary

I think the 305 is going to please so many runners who have been looking for a shoe that can handle a multitude of terrain in a plush, secure and comfortable shoe. This shoe is slipper like! Initial thoughts is that the ROCLITE is sizing a 1/2 size too small, so, if purchasing online keep this in mind. The toe box is not as wide as the Trail Talon or X-Claw so if you need or prefer a shoe that allows the toes to splay, you may want to try the ROCLITE on to see if they will work for you. The 325 boot is certainly a great addition for me and will suit those people who want to spend big days on the trail say fast packing or hiking but don’t want the weight or lack of feel from a heavy walking boot. The 325 feels just like the 305 shoe and even has an 8mm drop, the only difference comes with support around the ankle. I will feedback on this article after full testing for the 305 and 325.

The ROCLITE 290 initial review

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The 290 has 4mm drop and less cushioning than the 305 and therefore will suit a more efficient runner who runs with a mid to forefoot strike. It would also work hand-in-hand with the 305 as a shoe for faster or shorter session. I for example will quite happily run in the 290 for up to 90-minutes and if I know I will run longer I will use the 305. This is all down to personal taste and how much or how little you want to feel the ground.

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I had expected the 290 to have all the same characteristics as the 305 but no, it has a conventional tongue – why? I don’t get this… I am completely biased with gusseted and sewn in tongues as it just makes sense. I have tested countless shoes and one thing is guaranteed, a gusseted tongue offers better feel, more comfort, a secure hold of the foot and in addition debris is kept out. So why would inov-8 add such a great feature to the 305 and the 325 boot and not to the 290? Having said all this, the 290 is comfortable and the padded tongue causes no issues but they are not as plush as the 305!

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The upper, the lacing and the toe box carries over all the characteristics from the 8mm drop 305 and 325. The only difference coming with the ‘X-LOCK’ support at the rear of the shoe. In the 305 and 325 it’s a definite ‘X’ for the 290 it’s erm… well, it’s erm… a line! Apparently it’s ‘Y-LOCK. Because the 290 is 4mm drop and with less cushioning, the runner who uses this shoe will be more efficient and therefore the need for the ‘X’ is not required but the ‘Y’ still adds some support.

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The outsole is the same as the 305 and 325 just different colours and is made of three different compounds all with a 6mm lug and yes the META-FLEX is present to allow an excellent propulsive phase and a META-SHANK rock plate is present.

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In Summary

The 290 has many of the characteristics of the 305 and 325 and quite simply is a shoe that is lighter, more flexible and less cushioned for faster/ shorter runs for an efficient runner. The outsole is the same, the upper is almost the same but incorporates the ‘Y’ Lock instead of the ‘X’ lock and all these elements make sense to me. If you look at the inov-8 shoe range, these characteristics are reflected across the board. However, I am at a loss as to why the 290 does not have the gusseted tongue sewn in? Don’t get me wrong, the 290 is still comfortable but give me the 305 any day… I am a little biased too as 8mm drop will always be my ‘go-to!’

FINAL CONCLUSION

The three ROCLITES are going to appeal to many, many people as a great all round shoe for trail running and I can see many owners having two pairs. For the runners it may well be a pair of 290’s for fast training and short racing and the 305 for long days out either racing or training. By contrast (I fit into this scenario) the 305 and 325 make a great double. The 305 for long runs or races and the 325 for days out walking, hiking and/ or fast-packing. All the shoes are neutral and be careful on sizing, you may well need a 1/2 size larger?

A full in-depth review will follow after each shoe has been tested for over at least 100-miles.

inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ Base Layer/ Mid Layer Top

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My recent trip to Nepal for the 2016 Everest Trail Race provided an opportunity for me to try out some new kit items. I do plan to write a full article on the kit I used and provide an overview for those who plan to either run a similar multi-day race or maybe go trekking.

One thing that is key for any multi-day journey, trekking or racing is weight and functionality. You really do have to be brutal with your choices. Luxuries, in general, are a no, no as they just add weight.

Nepal in November provides some real contrasts which can really test kit choices. Days are sunny, warm (at times hot) and shorts and a t-shirt work great. However, as soon as the sun disappears, the temperatures drop dramatically. Depending on what altitude you are at and how exposed you are, those temperatures will continue to drop and exposed locations will drop well below -10.

I am all for layering my clothing and to provide some perspective, here is my kit list for the duration of the Everest Trail Race.

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You will see from the above, I was keeping things light and functional. 3.2kg of apparel for 7-days and that included my sleeping bag. In addition to the above apparel and sleeping bag I had an Aarn pack, Aarn front photo pockets, 2 x Canon 5D cameras and 3 lenses: 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200. The camera equipment weighs a great deal. More on that in my next post when I summarise all the above kit.

One piece of kit was a stand out though. The inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ top.

Merino wool for me is essential as a base layer when working in cold climates. I make sure I have long leggings, socks, gloves and top all made from Merino.

The advantages?

  • Warmth
  • Less odour
  • Quick drying
  • Warmth when wet

So, when I first looked at the inov-8 product I was really impressed as it offered some key features that I had not seen on other Merino products:

  1. Hood
  2. Zip
  3. Thumb loops
  4. Hand mitts

The downside being that as a base layer top, it was a little heavier than the competition. However, the competition didn’t have the ‘extras’ that made the inov-8 attractive. To cut a long story short, I decided to go with the additional weight and put the product through its paces in Nepal.

If I wanted to be truly lightweight and despite the odourless qualities of Merino, potentially a little smelly, I could have gone with just one base layer. I didn’t! I took two tops. I had a simple reasoning and logic for this. I would wear one during the day and the other at night.

Unlike other products that are available, the inov-8 is not a form fitting product. Thank goodness! I hate feeling squeezed into my clothing. The AT/C MERINO LSZ is loose and not baggy and provides a snug and reassuringly comfortable warmth. The real selling points of this product are:

Hood – The hood adds great warmth, fits snuggly and if you zip up the 1/2 zip to the top you are left with a really warm base layer that works exceptionally well in the early morning before the sun rises. At the end of the day after the sun disappears and at night when inside a sleeping bag and you want additional warmth and the options to stop drafts going down your neck.

Hand Mitts – The cuff of the sleeve has a thumb hole as seen on many base layer products and what this provides is almost a half glove with no fingers. However, inov-8 have added an extra layer of fabric and by folding this back and over the fingers, it provides a simple hand mitt. Again this worked exceptionally well for early morning or late evening chills or when sleeping to keep extremities warm.

At the end of the day, the inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ is a base layer, there isn’t a great deal to write. However, this product impressed so much I was keen to give the product a nod. The addition of Superfine 18.5 micron Australian Merino wool delivers fantastic next-to-skin feel and fit, the hood and 1/2 zip is a great feature and the hand mitts is the type of simple innovation that I love.

This product is a winner.

As we are entering into the cold, dark, inclement months, an inov-8 AT/C MERINO LSZ would make a great addition to any kit list.

Product information at inov-8 HERE