VJ Sport IROCK 3 Shoe Review

Robust, solid, great looking, aggressive outsole, Fitlock, good lacing, toe protection, red and black and the iRock 3 follows on from the iRock 2 with another winning shoe.

Quite simply, VJ Sport make the best outsole for trail and mountain running of any shoes I have used. They are what I compare all other shoes to, and still, several years on from testing the original iRock, no shoes have come close to giving the grip of a VJ.

The IRock was followed with the XTRM (review HERE) and then the MAXx (review HERE). Quite simply, when you line the iRock, XTRM and MAXx you have three shoes that cover all the needs from soft, sloppy and muddy trails to the harder, longer, more rocky trails of a longer trail and ultra-race. Be it fell running, skyrunning or ultra-trail, VJ have with the iRock, XTRM and the MAXx the perfect shoes for each terrain.

IROCK3

The IROCK 3 is a precision fit shoe with a narrow toe box. They are designed to hold and compress the foot so that there is no movement when running. Think of them as ballet shoes. You squeeze your feet in, benefit from the precision and hold when running and when done, you take your foot out and let it relax again. Of course, for some, they IROCK will just be too narrow. VJ list the fit as a 2. For comparison, the XTRM is a 2 maybe 3? and the MAXx a 4.

 14mm cushioning at the rear and 8mm at the front gives a 6mm drop.

The outsole (Superior Contact -kumipohja) is the hero of the shoe with 6mm lugs of super grippy butyl that works like a dream in wet or dry conditions.

Weighing 240g (UK8) the shoes are like Formula 1 cars for the trails and as such, they are not a shoe for everyday outings.

The upper is bullet proof with a mixture of DuPont Kevlar and Nylon and the other notable element of the VJ shoe, be that IROCK, XTRM or MAXx is the Fitlock which holds the foot like no other shoe. In addition there are overlays stitched on to add additional support.

Toe box is reinforced with a solid bumper. The heel area is minimally padded but fits like a glove and holds the foot secure.

Lacing is very secure, and the tongue is reinforced and made of a very durable and flexible material.

Solid build, aggressive outsole and great looks. This is a shoe for shorter outings, racing or training, when grip is paramount, especially in soft-ground and snow. It’s a favourite for orienteers, skyrunning and OCR.

IN USE

So, what is different from the IROCK 2?

Improved toe protection, lighter Fitlock system and improved laces. 

The IROCK3 is not a jack of all trades, this shoe has a specific purpose. 

I wrote about the IROCK 2 – “The easiest way to explain this is by looking at say, Formula 1. You wouldn’t go to Monaco Grand Prix and race in an 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.” 

That stands true today and why VJ made the XTRM and MAXx to offer more comfort and less aggressive grip.

Road is not a friend of the IROCK, or should I say, the outsole. Too much road between trails will wear that soft rubber down quickly, so, it is best avoided as much as possible.

Needless to say, VJ’s hashtag of #bestgripontheplanet is not a lie. VJ really do offer the best grip and the IROCK is flawless in soft ground, on rocky trails and in the mountains. It makes no difference if wet or dry, they just grip like no other shoe. In mud, particularly soft mud, they dig in like football boots offering the best grip I have encountered.

Fit is precision. Once laced up and tightened. You feel the Fitlock hold the middle of the foot, add support to the arch and when switching direction on the trail, there are no question marks or doubts. The IROCK holds the foot rock solid.

At the front, the toe box is precision, but it is not super, super tight. I can happily run in the IROCK for multiple hours in comfort.

Feel for the ground is excellent and of course, the cushioning is relatively minimal keeping that all important contact with the surface so that one can respond to the terrain. Worth noting, this shoe is designed for soft ground, so, much of the cushioning can actually come from the ground that you are running on too.

In many respects, I am surprised the IROCK is 6mm drop. It works for me and I am happy, however, for a shoe designed to be fast and low, I am surprised it is not 4mm?

The fit is neutral and true to size. I am a EU44 and the IROCK is perfect in that size.

On the trail I feel the Fitlock and heel box working together holding the foot, be that in soft mud or running up rocks. The grip is superb.

Slabs of wet rock even covered in water do not make me question if the IROCK will be secure. I just run as normal and let the outsole do the work.

The combination of durability, fit, cushioning, precision and unmatched grip confirms what I said in 2017 about the IROCK 2, they are the best fell/ mountain and short distance skyrunning shoes out there!

Mud, rock, fell in wet or dry conditions, the IROCK 3 is the most complete mountain shoe I have used over shorter distances.

SUMMARY

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

VJ are now seen at OCR races, Skyrunning, fell races and with the addition of the MAXx, we are even seeing them at ultra-trail.

If grip, foothold, precision and light weight are priorities for soft, muddy and wet ground, the IROCK 3 is for you!

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inov-8 TERRAULTRA G 260 #Graphene – First Impressions

It’s a new phase in the history of inov-8, for over 10-years the UK based brand have pioneered shoe development for running. Now, in 2018, they launch products with Graphene – a new material that is lighter and more long-lasting than previous 

Three models are currently available:

F-Lite 290 G

Mudclaw 260

And the Terraultra G260 which I am currently testing.

The Technology

Graphene – is an enhanced rubber that offers grip and longevity. Previously, a soft rubber has provided grip but you always compromised on the outsole life. Graphene looks to change that! It is 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing.

Kevlar – The upper is made of a breathable mesh with Kevlar overlays. Kevlar has been used in bulletproof vests.

The Shoe

Out of the box, it’s noticeable how light this shoe is, the ‘260’ refers to the weight of the shoe (as with all inov-8 shoes) in a standard UK8 size.

I wear a UK9.5 and the G260 is true to size. Shoes by inov-8 are now scaled 1-5 for width, 1 being narrow, 5 being wide. The G260 is a ‘4’ but I would say it may almost drift to a ‘5.’ Importantly, if you need a wide toe box or need a wide toe box, these shoes will appeal.

Notably, the G260 is zero drop. This is a bold move by inov-8 and I will be interested to know if they plan to expand the G260 shoe with 4mm and/ or 8mm drop? Certainly, there has been much demand and request for a zero drop shoe, and although a zero drop version of the G260 makes sense, I am surprised not to see a 4 and 8mm drop versions. This is particularly relevant due to the intended use of the shoe. This is an out-and-out trail shoe designed for long run days. I personally prefer a 8mm drop shoe when running longer… but hey, that is me!

With 9mm of cushioning, the G260 is a comfortable shoe with adequate cushioning for long trail days for runners with good run form.

The upper and the outsole is where we really see the technology. The upper is very impressive and very resilient – it is very strong with breathable mesh and Kevlar overlays. The outsole is the star of the show and is hard wearing and offers excellent grip. This is the Graphene technology! As this is a trail shoe, the outsole has grip (4mm lug) but it is not aggressive, it’s a shoe that is designed for all surfaces in wet or dry but not for mud. If you are running in mud you need a different shoe, for example the Graphene Mudclaw 260.

First Impression

Green. That was my first impression. Yes, theses shoes are GREEN. Ain’t no hiding in these shoes and although they would not be my chosen colour, I can see why inov-8 have chosen this colour for the three new Graphene models – they stand out and are easily noticeable.

I mentioned above that they are light. They are, super light.

Slipping them on I immediately noticed how wide the toe box is, considering these are zero drop shoes, I can certainly see Altra shoe users moving over or at least being curious as to how the G260’s run. For me, the ‘4’ width fitting could even drift to a ‘5’ based inov-8’s width fitting scale – I found them very roomy.

The lacing eyelets are fabric stitched through into the upper and the all important additional eyelets are added to the top should one with to ‘lock lace’ or using a simulated lacing technique. I really disliked the laces. I don’t know what it is about them but they always wanted to loosen off, for me anyway. That is just annoying. It’s a minor problem which easily rectified.

The tongue is sewn into the shoe and gusseted. This is great for keeping out debris and providing a secure and welcome foot hold. I found with the wider toe box that I wanted to pull my laces a little tighter than normal to give me a secure and confident feel.

The upper is made of a green breathable mesh and the structure/ rigidity of the upper is created by Kevlar overlays. Notably, Kevlar is the toe protection and then it spreads out like fingers on the side of the shoe to the laces. Pulse the laces tight and the Kevlar pulls in and provides the hold for the foot. Inov-8 have added gaiter eyelets on the rear of the upper should you like to add the optional extra. A solid green band extends around the rear of the shoe, again adding some structure and stability.

The heel box is plush and like all inov-8 shoes I have tested, is very comfortable, run free and provides a firm and secure hold.

I always try to wear any new shoes for a day at home before going for a run. It helps me decide if there will be any issue points and it also helps bed the shoes in. The G260 was our of the box comfortable – really comfortable! I have to say, I am not a zero drop runner, 3/4mm is usually as low as I go. I actually questioned if the G260 was zero drop, they didn’t feel like it. But when I put an 8mm drop shoe on, I really noticed the difference.

My first run was a standard 12km loop which I use for all shoe tests, the reason being is that it has a little of everything. It starts and ends with 1-mile of road at the beginning and end. It has 4km of canal toe path and then what follows is a mix of trail, rocks, stones, forest path, single-track, climbing and descending.

On the road, the G260 felt really great. So much so, I wouldn’t hesitate doing a road run in them. I was conscious over the early mile to run with good form. My mind was telling me I was in zero drop and therefore my technique needed to be good. However, as in my apartment, the run experience was telling me I was in a low-drop shoe, but not zero.

The canal path section was ticked along and after a very dry and sunny patch of weather, the trails were very hard and the G260 flew along them. On the single-track sections and climbing, the shoes performed solidly. Grip at all times was secure and confident. 

Running a long descent is when I really noticed the wide toe box. I had less control than in a precision shoe, but my toes splayed well. They were too wide for me!

As with many inov shoes, they have Meta-Flex, this allows the shoe the bend at the front and those therefore helps with the propulsive phase and toe-off. I found the G260 very flexible.

By the end of the first run, I had run 12km in 65 minutes and had had no issues. On the contrary, I was really impressed with the G260.

After 140km

I have used the G260 on alternate days since receiving them, the primary reason for this being is that zero drop is not my chosen drop, so, I wanted to make sure I reduced the risk of picking up an injury. However, every time I have gone for a run, I have wanted to use the G260 – yes, I like them that much.

They give a very different feel to my current favourite shoes and ironically they are all 8mm drop.

The longest I have run in the G260 is 2-hours and that for me currently feels far enough. I definitely think about my run technique more when using these; no bad thing! But that is mentally tiring. For those who always run zero drop, I think you are going to find the G260 a revelation.

The outsole and upper are showing no signs of any wear at all but I guess with only 140km covered, it is too early to give judgement on long term life. I will come back to that in a month.

It’s a shoe that feels very much of an all-rounder, one that can handle road and trail. In dry conditions I am really impressed, grip is excellent. I haven’t been able to test in the wet as we have had no rain, so, I will have to come back to you on that one.

The cushioning at 9mm is adequate providing enough comfort but not so much that a feel for the ground is compromised. However, on rocky ground, particularly with small stones, I could feel them! There is no rock-plate so you feel a great deal. I also found the cushioning a little lifeless… Some sparkle is missing? It’s fair to say, that with zero drop, the G260 is aimed at efficient runners, so the cushioning should be ideal.

Upper and fit are excellent, I have had no hot spots and the gusseted tongue is a winner. Heel box is perfect holding the foot secure at all times, be that running downhill, climbing, walking or running. I really disliked the laces so I replaced them. On occasion I have ‘lace locked’ the shoes to provide a more secure and firm hold of the foot.

For me, although I enjoy a wide toe box, I would say these feel a little too wide. I am noticeably pulling the laces in tighter to provide a more secure feel. So, if you like wide or need wide, the G260 should be a great shoe for you.

Summary

Early impressions are really good of the G260 and I am absolutely convinced it is going to appeal to many. I personally would use the shoes daily if it were not for the zero drop, but that is me! I am certainly going to be interested to see if 4mm and or 8mm drop versions become available?

The more aggressive Mudclaw 260 Graphene version has 4mm drop and the classic 8mm studs, so, if mud is your thing, you have an option to the G260.

However, if you want one shoe that can do everything well (not sloppy mud) in a zero drop, the G260 is a shoe for you to consider.

Personally, several issues are worth considering: 

  1. The toe box is wide and maybe too wide for some. 
  2. I found the cushioning a little lifeless? 
  3. At 9mm cushioning this is a shoe for efficient runners.
  4. Zero drop is not for everyone.
  5. So far, the Graphene and Kevlar are doing the job that inov-8 say – good grip and less wear and tear.

I will feedback more after long-term testing.

You can view the Graphene range and find out more information on the inov-8 website https://www.inov-8.com/us/terraultra-g-260-mens-womens?___store=us