VJ Sport ULTRA Shoe – Shoe Review

Ok A new shoe by VJ Sport is an exciting thing. I will be clear from the very start, VJ Sport produce, in my opinion, currently the three best shoes for fell, skyrunning, mountain and longer-distance trail/ mountain races. I have said time and time again and I will repeat it here, the iRock 3, XTRM and MAXx are a trio of shoes that provide a perfect weapon choice for specific terrain and distance. Although the three shoes are very obviously from the same family, (they look very similar) – They all have ‘Fitlock,’ they all have amazingly durable Kevlar uppers and they all have the amazing Butyl rubber (albeit in different size lugs) outsole that VJ are renowned for, but they do not all fit the same, have the same cushioning or have the same drop. The iRock 3 is narrower, has more precision and aggressive lugs, the XTRM sits between the iRock 3 and the MAXx and the MAXx has been the more recent shoe, offering a wider fit and more cushioning for longer distance trail and mountain races. There is no getting away from the fact that longer-distance races, basically when time on feet is longer, the need for ‘more’ in a shoe can be preferable, but it does depend on the runner. Up until now, the MAXx was the only option from VJ Sport with extra cushioning.

Step in the ULTRA.

As the name suggests, the new ULTRA from VJ Sport is here to address the need and requirement for a trail/ mountain shoe that is ideal for any distance but will come in to its own when going beyond 50km and longer. With the recent announcement by inov-8 of the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, there is obviously a change happening in the mountain shoe world, VJ and inov-8 have never made shoes with so much cushioning before!

I am fortunate to have had the ULTRA for 5 weeks now and have tried them out on a multitude of terrain and conditions.

The ULTRA immediately looks like a VJ Sport shoe, it has all the usual characteristics, notably the upper and Fitlock. Turning the shoe over, the Butyl outsole is there. But on closer look and inspection, notable things stand out:

  • More cushioning.
  • Different Fitlock.
  • Wider toe box.
  • Different lacing configuration.
  • Different outsole.
  • Different width and shape to the outsole.
  • Heal box more padded.

But first, let’s look at the width of the shoe from the outsole.

The ULTRA outsole is wider from front to back and noticeably in the mid foot, clearly emphasising that this shoe is designed for less technical and more cruise like trails and rocky terrain. The lugs are comparable to the MAXx at 4mm but you see how the outsole is completely different. This wide last also compensates for the higher stack height from the cushioning. This makes the shoe feel considerably less like a ‘Max’ shoe and that is a real benefit.

The ULTRA cushioning was anticipated to be a step up from the MAXx (10mm/16mm) both at the front and rear and designed to provide a more plush and forgiving ride over longer distances. With 27mm at the front and 33mm at the rear of EVA, this isn’t just a step up from the MAXx, it’s another world! We are in ‘Hoka’ territory with this cushioning. Like the MAXx, the ULTRA has a 6mm drop which on a personal level, is a surprise, I expected 8mm. However, 6mm sits nicely and may well keep more runners happy.

The Fitlock, a key characteristic of VJ Shoes and one of the standout USP’s that make VJ so good, is here on the ULTRA but has a different look compared to the MAXx. The MAXx is a harder plastic whereas the ULTRA is lighter and a less aggressive. It’s softer and more flexible and therefore adapts to the foot better.

The heel box on iRock, XTRM and MAXx is quite minimal and really grips the heel, here with the ULTRA, the cushioning/ padding is a little more noticeable but not at the compromise of a firm hold. Your foot really sits inside and is snug and secure.

The upper is classic VJ Sport mixing Kevlar and Nylon (22/78%) to provide a durable and breathable upper. Toe protection is similar to the MAXx but the whole upper package feels like a step up with similar breathability but better durability.

The laminated overlays, while not the same, are comparable with the MAXx but very different to the XTRM and iRock which has stitched on and heavily reinforced layers to reflect the harsh terrain that they will be used in.

The lacing configuration is slightly different to the MAXx but still has the trusted firm and reassured hold that one expects from VJ Sport and Fitlock. There are the extra eyelets for lock-lacing or similar.

The weight of the shoe is a wow, my MAXx in an EU44/ UK9.5 weigh 313g, the ULTRA with considerably more cushioning weighs 286g – I am actually not sure how VJ Sport have made this shoe so much more lighter? Obviously the Fitlock is different and a saving can be made there, but still…? Compare this to the recent offering from inov-8 HERE and each shoe is 100g lighter… So, 200g a pair! Just imagine on an ultra adding 200g to every full cadence, it’s a huge difference and why the inov-8 felt so heavy.

The rear of the MAXx and ULTRA are quite similar, certainly in regard to the overlays, but the noticeable difference is more cushioning in the sole and additional padding for the heel.

The outsole is significantly different. I have already mentioned how from front to rear, the ULTRA has a much wider last, but it also has a different lug layout. On the MAXx it is Butyl rubber all over. The ULTRA is a mix allowing the softer yellow cushioning to penetrate and mix with the lugs designed to provide a more cushioned feel. It is very noticeably difference to the MAXx. There is no compromise on lugs or grip and the new layout with enhanced lug pattern has more grip.

While not a complete departure for VJ Sport, the ULTRA really is something different and only shows how the brand are listening to the customer to bring all they they love from the other shoes and produce something that is designed for longer outings without losing what makes a VJ Sport shoe great. The ULTRA with 27mm/ 33mm cushioning is a head turner, particularly when one considers the MAXx which was ‘the’ cushioned VJ Sport trail shoe was 10mm/ 16mm.

IN USE

I have had the shoes for five weeks and accumulated nearly 300km on them.

The feel of the ULTRA is very similar to the MAXx when slipping on with a noticeable extra room at the front. The lacing is reassured and with the Fitlock, just perfect. It really is my favourite lacing method of any shoe brand. The heel area is noticeably more padded and comes a little higher than the MAXx. The hold of instep and around the Navicular bone is unique and reassured. I found after 50-miles that my foot really started to bed inside the shoe and what was already comfortable, became more so. Particularly around the heal area. On longer runs, I also found the additional toe room welcome.

Sizing is inline with iRock, XTRM and MAXx. I use UK9.5/EU44 in all my VJ Sport shoes but I will hint at a word of caution, this ULTRA ‘may’ size a little smaller. So just be careful, I definitely feel a little less length in comparison to my MAXx but I still have used a UK9.5 with no issues. Read here about how a shoe should fit.

The wider last is really noticeable and provides a much more stable platform on any terrain. It has really grown on me… They are great on snow! Depending on ones individual run style, shoes with a narrower last, as seen on the iRock, XTRM and MAXx can cause some inward foot roll, even with the Fitlock. This is considerably less noticeable on the ULTRA. An important consideration with the extra height from the cushioning too.

Grip is as one expects from VJ Sport, it is superb on trails, wet or dry rocks and obviously, with a less aggressive lug, grip in mud is compromised when it is deep and sloppy.

My first run was intentionally a road run of 14km. I wanted to really feel what that 27mm/33mm cushioning felt like… NOT what I expected! I was really expecting some floaty, bouncy, marshmallow like propulsion with the shoe almost collapsing under my feet and then recoiling and throwing me forward. I got none of this, they felt firm. I said to myself, “new shoe, it will soften,” 14km later, no, still quite a firm feel and I was struggling to believe the 27/33 claim. To be fair, road use in the ULTRA should probably be limited as the Butyl outsole will wear. On my third road run, I started to feel a change and while not bouncy soft, I was feeling a difference both in overall comfort and energy return.

An initial trail run with a mixture of frozen ground, tree roots, rocks, a little snow and occasional ice felt similar to the feel on the road. I need to be clear, it’s not that there is anything wrong with the feel or the cushioning of the ULTRA, it’s just not what I expected from a shoe with 27/33mm of EVA. Surely, the whole purpose of so much cushioning is that it feels cushioned and allows one to run longer with more comfort? But, the more I have run in the shoe, the better the feel has come. Certainly, with over 100km in the shoes, they had bed in and that normal VJ feel has started to come. When in mud and softer terrain, the shoe had the usual VJ traits.

Despite a high stack height, the shoes do not feel like a Max shoe, on the contrary, I questioned ‘if’ there is so much cushioning? VJ have confirmed that there is. On technical terrain, the wider last compensates for the cushioning and while not as agile as a MAXx or XTRM, the ULTRA still has loads of confidence and reassurance on the rough stuff and technical terrain. Arguably, the ULTRA is the best Max cushioned shoe I have tried on trail which has considerably less roll and instability. The ULTRA really does feel like a beefed up MAXx which is superb and consistent with the VJ line-up. No point in changing what works, just adapt it. The control in the ULTRA comes from several factors: 1. The firmer cushioning stops the shoe compressing and collapsing and becoming unstable and therefore roll to the left and right is less. 2. The wider last helps provide a more stable platform on which to land. 3. The VJ Fitlock is awesome and really holds the foot. 4. Flex, particularly in the propulsive phase is till good despite additional cushioning.

with 230km use.

The upper had all the secure and familiar VJ Sport feel and the new Fitlock was holding my foot stable just as the previous incarnations. A notable feel difference comes from the wider toe box and the overall wider feel of the outsole. The heel box is really secure and a confidence booster when climbing. Despite the cushioning, the propulsive phase (flex behind the metatarsals) is still pretty good and reassuring providing some bounce and return when picking up the tempo.

The more I have run in the ULTRA, the better they have become. This not unusual for a VJ shoe, I had a similar feeling with the MAXx. Ultimately, if you like VJ shoes, need more cushioning and wider toe box, the ULTRA is going to make you very happy.

INITIAL SUMMARY

I am a huge VJ Sport fan and the ULTRA is a great addition to the line-up that carries on the tradition of great foot hold with Fitlock and the stand-out Butyl outsole grip. The added cushioning now answers the calling from consumers for a shoe that is ideal for really long ultras be that on trail or in the mountains. Having said that, the shoe works great on shorter runs too, it is just less nimble, particularly in comparison to an XTRM. The cushioning will not be for everyone, but that is fine, it provides an option! For someone who has avoided Max cushioned shoes since 2012 (read here) the ULTRA has made me re-look at my relationship with a heavily cushioned shoe and while I wouldn’t wear them all the time, the option to have them for longer outings is one that I have enjoyed. The cushioning is not as cushioned (soft) as other cushioned shoes, it has a firmer feel initially but does soften with more use. It’s not floaty/ bouncing cushioning, but firmer with a more controlled bounce and this is crucial for me on trail, there is considerably less roll and less of a ‘high’ feel. The wider last also considerably helps providing a secure platform on which to land, only enhanced by the excellent VJ grip. The wider toe box will also be appreciated by many. I feel that the ULTRA is a mountain shoe and therefore more designed for the tougher races that mixes challenging terrain with distance. UTMB a prime example.

Ultimately, the VJ Sport ULTRA is a really solid mountain ultra shoe that is well built, has great foot hold and has one of, if not the best outsoles out there. They are also light! Highly recommended.

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

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Embrace Winter for New Adventures

The passing of September and the arrival of October can signify dread and a sense of despair in many as daylight disappears and the weather changes. However, one of the secrets of ‘surviving’ this new season is to embrace it. Don’t look at the negatives, on the contrary, the perceived negatives are actually positives. Seasons exist for a reason.

Lethargy, low mood and the perceived feel to hibernate are all characteristics we feel during the winter months and first off, don’t fight it, accept that winter brings an opportunity to recharge, relax, read a book, catch up on some movies, light a fire, get a blanket and yes curl up on the sofa and relax. There is no harm or guilt in this.

SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder) is something we all can feel and yes, some feel it considerably more than others, particularly if Serotonin is reduced and this is often treated with drugs. But light, or the lack of it, is a great contributor. Top tip – Look at changing the bulbs on your lights to ‘daylight’ balanced and when required, adjust brightness throughout the day to help simulate the natural passing of light. It’s a great and easy way to help simulate the variable light intensity changes in one normal day.

Mindset is a key factor to a successful winter and once you get the mind tuned, you will soon appreciate and embrace the possibilities that the winter season can bring, especially as a runner or someone who enjoys outdoor life and activity.

As in all things, we are individuals and as such, we all treat circumstances and changes in different ways. I personally see winter as an opportunity to do things I could not do in spring and summer. I see the challenges that winter will bring as a test, both physical and mental and I look upon it as an opportunity to learn and adjust. Resources and circumstances do go a long way in making my ability to adapt successful, so, to start off, look at these aspects and put yourself in a good place before the cold, wet and dark hits.

In a discussion with a friend over a glass of wine, I was surprised to hear our discussion begin to deteriorate…

“I just hate this time of year. The daylight is leaving us earlier and earlier each day, the light is already arriving so late in the morning and I can feel the damp starting to creep into my body. It will be only a matter of weeks before I am in perpetual cold and dark, I cannot wait for spring!”

It is easy to see from the above quote that before winter has begun, my friend is defeated. I smiled and laughed with him and turned the conversation around.

“Yes, the darkness is coming as is the cold, the wet, the snow and the ice,” I replied. “But what a remarkable opportunity this brings. Just think about it. Cozy nights at home with candles and a movie. Adventures in the snow. Running with a head torch. Learning a new skill. Reading and yes, I could go on and on. Winter for me is just a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait for it to begin.”

I already felt like a winner as mentally I was prepared and excited for the opportunity, whereas my friend, was already starting the hibernation process.

EMBRACE THE WINTER

I strongly believe that embracing winter and making the most of the season starts with mindset. With a good mindset as outlined above, you will already be in a great place to start.

Marino Giacometti, founder of skyrunning also made the summit on race day – ‘for fun!’

As runner’s and outdoor enthusiasts, we are all at different abilities and yes, we all have different reasons why we do what we do. A great example being an elite runner may well look at winter as an opportunity to address weaknesses and maybe spend more time in a gym working on strength and core.

Monte Rosa Skymarathon

A running enthusiast may well just want to tick over, keep fit and maintain a healthy weight during winter months. And then there is the outdoor enthusiast who may well accept that running is something that will go on a back burner for the coming months and accept that walking, indoor cycling, skiing, gym work and so on is the way forward. Whatever group you fall in, take a couple of hours with a pen and paper and self asses how the last year has been and what you want to achieve the following year, this will help provide some specific goals over the winter to keep focused. This planning and assessment can be as simple as complicated as you wish.

As an example, mine is to embrace the season and the weather and to seize every opportunity. I will hone my head torch running. I will practice my ice and snow running. I will experience my first snow shoeing and I look forward to multi-day snow adventures that will carry me from one point to another in a self-sufficient way. But I also want to write more. I want to read a couple of books that I have never found the time for and I also want to embrace the downtime to rest and recover. My connection with nature and breaking from the digital world is integral to a healthy existence and that cannot stop just because the season has changed.

CLOTHING

We have all heard it before, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” It’s true I am afraid. Clothing is one of the key essentials that makes any winter adventure not only bearable and enjoyable. As outdoor people, we have never been as lucky. Technology in apparel has now progressed to a level that we can be warm and dry in super-light products. The downside of course is cost and yes, gearing up for winter can be expensive.

Layering is key with apparel, starting with warm layers against the skin, insulating layers on top and then waterproof and windproof layers as the final touch that will protect from the elements. Merino is great as a base layer and I have a long sleeve top and legs as a starting point. Now of course, I may or may not use them as this depends on the outdoor exercise I am doing. As an example, I would wear the top if running but not the legs. A mid-layer is more often than not either Primaloft, down or synthetic. Each has its place but if you could only choose one, Primaloft (or similar) would be the most versatile due to its ability to retain warmth when wet and still be lightweight. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof with taped seams and again, it is essential to have jacket and trousers.

The above looks at the core, but if you are like me, the extremities are my most vulnerable in winter and after getting frost nip both in my toes and fingers on the summit of Monte Rosa several years ago, I know need to ensure that I have multiple options for keeping my feet and hands warm. I use Merino base layer socks and gloves which are very thin. For my feet, I then add thicker Merino socks over and inn certain scenarios I have even used Gore-Tex or Neoprene over socks. For my hands, mitts always provide the most warmth and I will use them as first choice. If I need finger dexterity, I often purchase gloves several sizes too big that will allow for multiple layers to retain warmth.

A hat, buff and glasses add the finishing touches. A good hat is one of the easiest ways to retain heat inside the body. A Buff is perfect for around the neck, pulled over one’s nose and mouth to keep out cold air or you can use as a hat. Glasses are an essential to keep out the elements from my eyes and particularly essential if doing any outdoor activity in snow.

Finally, footwear is an absolutely key element to make any outdoor activity successful. There is no one-stop solution here and as a runner, your everyday trail shoes may be ideal for a bulk of your runs, however, specific conditions require specific shoes.

Mud/ Wet – You need an aggressive outsole that will grip and gain traction not only of sloppy wet mud but also on tree routes, rocks, gravel and a multitude of other surfaces. Top recommendations are VJ Sport and inov-8 who have been producing shoes to handle the elements for years. Personal favorites are the XTRM (here) and X-Talon(here.)

Snow/ Ice – In soft snow, the shoes that you use for mud/wet will usually work fine providing adequate grip. However, ice brings new challenges and many runner’s avoid ice at all costs. However, products exist that allow for running in such conditions. Firstly, you can micro-crampons (Snowline or Nortec as examples) that simply adapt any running shoe for ice.

I personally prefer a specific shoe, such as the VJ Sport Xante (here) which as all the attributes of my favorite trail shoes and the added grip from 20 studs. Or the Arctic Talon (here) by inov-8.

Xante

Arctic Talon

As a final note on footwear, I use boots and more substantial crampons when venturing in to more alpine and challenging terrain. Read about a trip to the Atlas Mountains here. There is no one answer here but if moving fast and light, the new inov-8 Rocltite Pro G 400 (here) is a great cross over and then I use two specific mountain boots, La Sportiva G5 (here) or the Trango Extreme (here.)

There is no one solution here and having the options to adjust clothing based on weather conditions is key.

Top Tips:

  • Carry a pack that will allow you to carry options of clothing. For example, it may well be dry when you leave but rain could come at any time, make sure you have waterproof layers with you.
  • Take off and add clothing as you exercise. When it’s cold, we often start with many layers as the first 15 min can feel uncomfortable. However, our core soon warms up. Take the layers off early to avoid sweating. Sweating is not your friend in cold climates. Be prepared to add and take off as required. One of the many reasons many people do not, is because it can disrupt the flow of exercise, however, a little time stopping pays dividends in the long term.
  • Avoid getting base or mid layers wet.
  • Carry an extra base layer.
  • Protect extremities – hands, feet, nose, ears and lips.
  • Protect skin with sun block as and when required and post-exercise use a moisturizer – winter is hard on exposed skin.
  • Start easy and build into any outdoor activity allowing for a gradual warm up.
  • Have appropriate footwear.
  • Don’t forget to drink.
  • Take snacks/ food and even a flask or consider the option to obtain hot drinks.

SAFETY

Even at the most basic level, winter brings extra challenges and risk. A simple road run has increased danger due to increased challenges not only for you as a runner, but for those who are sharing the outdoors with you – drivers! Reduced visibility, challenging conditions under foot and on the road can make that simple road run feel like an assault course, so, accept that sometimes staying indoors and or going to the gym is a better option. But we don’t want to be forced to stay indoors and why should we? If you have the correct apparel and footwear, all is good, yes? Well, nearly… Running on the road and I would most definitely consider adding the following:

  • Wear bright clothes or wear a reflective vest such as the Ultra Performance (here) which is minimal and light.
  • Add a flashing light to your arm and ankle. Example here.
  • Use a head torch.
  • Take a phone.

Moving from road to trail and the risk from traffic is reduced greatly especially if one can start immediately on trail with no road running involved. Therefore, the need to wear reflective clothing can be reduced. But the risk of falling is greatly reduced and depending on where you are, that risk can be potentially life threatening. So, adjust safety measures based on:

  • When you are running.
  • Where you are running.
  • The duration of the run.
  • If running alone.

Running for 1-hour on a local trail is very different than a multi-hour adventure. I personally have a standard kit list and I take the basic on every run. It’s an overkill for the 1-hour runs and for the longer sessions, I add to it as required and dictated to by location and conditions.

  • Spare Merino base layer.
  • Spare gloves.
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Lightweight waterproof pants.
  • Space blanket.
  • Head torch.
  • Mobile phone.
  • First aid.
  • 500ml water.
  • Snack

The above, is my absolute basic kit that will go in a lightweight pack.

I then add equipment based on:

  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing it?
  • When I am doing it?
  • What are the options exist to cut short my adventure?
  • How remote will I be?
  • What are the risks involved?
  • What weather can I expect?
  • What is the worst-case scenario?

The above is a great start point. Even a local run has great risk if one is alone. Imagine running in the forest with snow on the ground, the temperature is just below zero and you are at least 30-minutes from anyone else. If you hit the deck, sprain an ankle, break a bone or whatever, you are suddenly stationary in subzero temperature. This is high risk.

Adapting to the environment, conditions and challenges is not something to be feared. It is actually fun! I go back to the mindset approach at the beginning, I see this as an opportunity, an experience to learn and a great potential to be taken out of my comfort zone.

What equipment/ advice can make a run/ adventure safer and address the list of questions above?

  • If possible, share any trip with another person. It’s more social and you have a backup.
  • Check weather conditions.
  • Tell a friend/ family member where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Have a phone and if necessary, an additional charger. It’s worth considering purchasing a phone that is not a smartphone – battery life is usually amazing.
  • Carry a tracker such as Garmin InReach or Spot.
  • Think layers and have base layer, warm layers, waterproof layers, hat, gloves and buff. On a personal note, I take spare gloves, socks and a base layer should I get wet and need the comfort and warmth of dry layers.
  • Know where you are going and have a map and compass. A GPX file is also a great option for watch/ smartphone.

Specific equipment:

  • Carry micro-crampons if you think snow/ ice is high risk.
  • Carry a bivvy bag which can be a life saver if stuck in a remote location with an inability to move.
  • Goggles are better than glasses if you are in a blizzard or strong winds.
  • Carry an ice axe if venturing anywhere with winter conditions.
  • Hand spikes for ice (more details below).
  • Snowshoes (more details below).

In many scenarios, common sense comes in to play and quite simply, a little extra weight and safety is far better than the alternative. Accept in winter that you will move slower and in a different way.

WHAT OPTIONS EXIST IN WINTER

This question can be asked in two ways, firstly, one’s head can be lowered, shoulders dropped, hands below the waste, a look of desperation on the face and, “What options exist in winter…?” The person asking this question has already decided that the answer is none!

For me, the way to ask this question is standing upright, huge smile on my face and the question, “What options exist in winter?” Already has me ready and primed to list a plethora of activities to keep even the most hardened sport enthusiast occupied for quite some time.

  • Night running.
  • Snow running.
  • Ice running.
  • Road running.
  • Climbing
  • Ice climbing.
  • Hiking
  • Fastpacking
  • Snow shoeing.
  • Learn something new.
  • Spend time with family and friends.

And the list goes on! Location, finances and available time all have a bearing on what is and what is not possible. One thing is for sure, possibilities are endless.

Night Running.

Quite simply, you need your run apparel and appropriate equipment as listed above. Importantly you need a head torch. Not all head torches are the same and an investment in the right kit early on saves money later. If you are running in the city with a great deal of ambient light and just the odd foray on trail, you may well get away with a budget torch and something around 200 lumens would work. However, if you are heading into the pitch black, running in forest, venturing into the mountains and pushing the darkness envelope, you are going to need a specific tool for the job. As an example, Norwegian lighting company Moonlight (here) provide head torches from 700 to 7000 lumens. Be specific on your needs and requirements and importantly consider autonomy, beam direction and spread, options for spare batteries and the option to keep the battery in apparel while still using the head torch, especially important in very cold environment when warmth will make the battery last longer.

Snow Running.

Layer up so that you have the flexibility to reduce heat and get warm as required. In many scenarios, particularly soft snow, a good aggressive trail shoe will work. However, consider the risk of ice so carry micro spikes. If in the mountains, knowledge and experience of snow conditions would be advisable. Be prepared with additional equipment such as poles and ice axe. Needless to say, gloves are really important.

Ice Running.

Use micro spikes for specific shoes as mentioned previously to ensure that you have grip and traction. In some places, Norway and Canada a good example, summer lakes freeze over and they become an incredible playground. Caution, safety and experience is required and if you have never run this way before, take advice from those that have. Importantly run with hand spikes (pictured below) available at all times should a disaster happen – these help you get out of a situation.

  • Measure the ice.
  • What is a safe thickness? 4 inches or more is ideal.
  • Check the ice colour – clear blue or green is good.
  • Fresh ice is best.
  • Know rescue techniques.

Climbing.

Mountains in winter offer an incredible playground and if you are new or inexperienced, the first option would be to sign up for a weekend trip with experienced professionals. The equipment requirements, techniques and safety measures vary considerably.

Ice Climbing.

No need to venture outside. In 2019 as an example, I started on a series of indoor ice climbing lessons which has now set me up for experiencing ice climbing outdoors. There is obviously a need for specific equipment: helmet, glasses, harness, ice axes, boots and crampons. However, most places, indoor or outdoor, offer the option to hire equipment as part of the lessons.

Snow Shoeing.

Fimbulvetr Hikr-X

A great winter exercise that provides an alternative to skiing or snowboarding that is an extension of running. Snowshoes basically allow you to float and not sink in the snow. But there is a difference to snow hiking and snow running, both in the shoe used and the type of snow. Run snowshoes are smaller, allow for a more natural gait and require the snow to be har packed. Whereas in soft snow, you need a much larger snowshoe to stop you sinking in the ground. Either option provides a great challenge and workout. Of course, races exist that require snow running both with and without snowshoes, so, if you are signed up or plan to race like this in the future, seize the opportunity. Abelone Lyng (here), winner of the Ice Ultra does winter snow shoeing trips in Norway.

Fast Packing.

Peak Design Field Pouch attached to a Montane Pack when Fastpacking in Nepal.

Snow, ice and cold weather doesn’t mean that multi-day adventures need to stop, on the contrary. Find a route, plan accordingly, have the correct equipment and off you go. These adventures can involve winter camping (you need a 4-season tent, appropriate matt and sleeping bag) or you can run/ hike form hut-to-hut or hotel-to-hotel. You are only limited by your imagination. Accept that you will move slower. Nepal is a magical playground for winter adventures.

Hiking.

Wrap up and include the family. Sport and our pursuit of it can often be selfish, not purposely, but we can get engrossed in challenge and adventure and often exclude the ones we love. Share the journey.

Training Camp.

Consider a training camp, maybe this could be something in warm weather to break up the winter months. I have been organizing a warm weather camp every January in Lanzarote for over 10-years, info here.

Other options:

  • Sign up for a challenge.
  • Make it social.
  • Add variety.
  • Train in the home.
  • Rest.
  • Learn something new.
  • Enroll in a class.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, don’t letter winter get you in a spiral of mood swings, depression and locked indoors. It’s all about the mind and understanding that the variety winter brings is actually far more exciting and challenging than good weather and dry predictable trails.

Seize the conditions. Plan accordingly. Have the correct equipment. Test yourself with something new and trust me, by the time Spring comes around you may well be a little disappointed.

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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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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VJ Sport MAXx Shoe Review

I get asked a great deal what is the best shoe for trail, ultra and mountain running? Of course, there is never a definitive answer as so many variables come into play – gait, drop, persons weight, running style and so on and so on.

It comes a so secret that VJ Sport make two of the best shoes for running in the mountains, the IRock 2 (here) and the recent XTRM (here).

I thought with the XTRM that VJ had excelled themselves taking all the stunning features of the IRock2 and then adding them to the XTRM and providing a shoe that was better for running longer in the mountains.

The above two shoes were designed in collaboration with OCR and skyrunning World Champion, Jon Albon. The XTRM was specifically designed to meet Jon’s needs when running longer both time and distance.

Well, VJ and Jon have now collaborated again and come up with the MAXx.

Going back to that original question, ‘what is the best shoe for trail, ultra and mountain running?’

My answer will be now, go look at the VJ Sport MAXx first.

I have been in these shoes for a month on all sorts of terrain and they are now the only shoe I am using. VJ have nailed it once again. I don’t know how they do it…

If you like IRock2 and XTRM then the MAXx is just going to be immediately added to your shoe selection and quite simply you will then have a shoe for the following:

  • Fell and short mountain races – IRock2
  • Medium distance mountain and skyrunning – XTRM
  • Long distance mountain ultra, trail and skyrunning – MAXx

To put the above in context, Jon recently raced the 73km Transvulcania on the island of La Palma, he used the MAXx.

Everything that is perfect in the IRock2 and XTRM is replicated here in the MAXx – the only difference coming with the notable bounce and cushioning – I love these shoes!

Specs:

  • Medium last
  • Rubberized and protective toe cap
  • Rockplate for the length of the shoe
  • Kevlar breathable upper
  • 6mm drop
  • 4mm Butyl rubber outsole
  • Cushioning front 10mm and rear 16mm

Quite simply, VJ Sport make the best outsole for trail, mountain and skyrunning, no other outsole comes close to the sticky compound that VJ create. Many sponsored runners agree, and they use different brands!

The XTRM has 6mm outsole and here on the MAXx we have 4mm – this makes a logical sense to reflect the trail and ultra-objectives of the shoe. So, if you need a shoe for really muddy ground, you will be better off with the XTRM. However, if running long on trail, mountain, snow, ice, rock (wet or dry) then the MAXx is the shoe for you.

Feel when sliding the shoe on is just like the XTRM, the toe box is medium and works perfect for me. Sizing is true to size, I am a UK 9.5 and these are perfect with a thumb nail width above my gig toe. Toe box is wider than the XTRM.The upper is arguably the most durable there is without losing flexibility or breathability. Kevlar is going to outlast the outsole and several years of using VJ shoes, I have never had an upper fail or tear.

FITLOCK is just amazing as I have mentioned previously with the IRock2 and the XTRM. Here the FITLOCK is the same, it pulls in on the middle of the foot creating the most comfortable and secure feel of all shoes I have tried.

Toe box is really substantial and protective and ideal for any mountain race when collision with rocks is a high risk. The heel box is as on all previous VJ shoes, snug and secure.

The cushioning is the marked difference in the shoe, and it is noticeable immediately. I intentionally landed with my heel on some runs and the cushioning compressed beautifully and gave a lovely bounce and push in the transition phase. On road and hard trail, the shoes move along wonderfully and feel a great deal like my Nike Wildhorse (another favourite shoe). The cushioning does not lose feel for the ground though. I still have that contact and sensory perception that is really important for me when running off-road, especially if on technical terrain. Of course, there is less feel than the IRock2 and XTRM. There is more cushioning! On stoney ground, the rock plate is spot on providing that all important protection, especially important when running longer. We can all tolerate a little discomfort for an hour or two, but if running for 4, 5, 6, 7 hours or longer we need more protection and for many, more cushioning.

The great thing about the MAXx is its ability to be an everyday trail/ mountain shoe and this is a huge selling point. The MAXx will work perfectly for racing and everyday trail running, that for me is just perfect.

SUMMARY

I said I couldn’t find any faults with the XTRM and the same applies here with the MAXx. In all honesty, I think (for me) the MAXx is now my ‘go-to’ trail/ mountain shoe. The combination of elements makes it perfect. If I was a racing snake, I would line up the IRock2, XTRM and MAXx and decide on a weapon that best suits the race. But I am not, I am runner who loves to play in the mountains and the MAXx is just perfect for 1-hour runs or full-day outings. I think it’s worth noting that races such as the Dragons Back, Cape Wrath Ultra or say, Ultra Tour Monte Rosa when runners must spend long and multiple days in the mountains, the MAXx is perfect for this. This shoe is a complete winner and it is going to take a truly amazing shoe to come along and make me choose it for my mountain/ trail runs in the future. Yes, this VJ Sport MAXx is that good!

VJ Sport HERE

MAXx HERE

VJ was founded in 1981 to produce light weight and fast shoes for orienteers for all circumstances.

During the years we have built up our shoes in every category through feedback and continuous trial runs. Nowadays there are more sports we want to serve but our mission is still the same: we want to offer light weight shoes, which at the same time protect your feet and have #thebestgripontheplanet.

So whether your sport is orienteering, trail running, skyrunning, swimrun or obstacle course racing we are here for you.

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