Winter 2022 and 2023 has witnessed a surge in specific shoes to handle challenging terrain. I recently reviewed the La Sportiva Cyklon Cross GTX and now the SCARPA RIBELLE RUN KALIBRA G.
Both these shoes are very specific for demanding winter, mixed terrain and extreme condition runners, especially when it is muddy, cold, wet, snowing or a combination of all four.
Both shoes offer greater protection and enhanced reliability in harsh environments.
Built around the very popular and well received Ribelle Run shoe, the Kalibra G has a full gaiter and BOA® Fit System closure.
There are many similarities to the La Sportiva and it’s hard to write this review without constantly referencing the Cyklon Cross GTX as a comparison. Ultimately, if you are after a specific shoe like this, these are the two you will look at!
On first looks, they both offer great outsoles for harsh conditions, all weather protection and the BOA closure.
However, there are differences:
The gaiter comes higher on the Scarpa and the zip wraps-around in contrast to offering a more straight closure on the La Sportiva. There is also a velcro cuff at the top to add enhanced tightness/ closure.
The toe box is wider offering more toe splay.
There is extra cushioning offering a more plush and bouncy ride.
The BOA system offers a wrap-around the foot with increased foot hold and security.
The drop is lower at 4mm with 20.5mm at the front and 24.5mm at the rear.
The upper includes Polartec® Windbloc® for additional warmth.
Subtle differences but they are significant and certainly offer a choice.
Blue and black, the Scarpa is a great looking shoe and when on the foot they immediately scream that they are a shoe that means business. Scarpa say that the shoe is ideal in summer or winter, however, like the La Sportiva, as much as I would like to use a shoe like this all-year around, they will just be too hot for summer! My feet have actually sweated in -4 degree walks in snow while using the Scarpa.
It’s a technical shoe for soft-ground, snow and mountain adventures. Like the La Sportiva, I had hoped for spikes, but alas no! Unlike the La Sportiva, there is no real option to ‘add’ spikes, so, in ice, you’ll need to use a micro crampon.
Fit is superb. They are true to size and maybe a touch on the larger side, but that is okay for a winter shoe as you will use thicker socks. I strongly recommend a higher sock that comes well above the ankle and is ideally made from merino wool. The Scarpa comes up high!
Lacing in both the La Sportiva and Scarpa is superb and here, the ability to adjust tightness is done from the outside, so, there is no need to open the gaiter once running. Micro adjustment is ‘on-the-go,’ via the L2 BOA – perfect for a winter shoe and yes, you can keep gloves on. The lacing, even though similar, is different. Scarpa use a Wrap360 Lace System which really does hold the foot without pressure points.
The upper of the Ribelle Run is light and breathable with mesh, TPU and a microfiber structure. It’s wrapped in a Polartec® Windbloc® polyurethane membrane that offers protection and warmth. Closure is via a waterproof zip and velcro cuff and of course the shoe is tightened via the BOA once the gaiter is zipped and closed. It all works perfectlty. In contrast to the La Sportiva, there is additional fabric that offers some space and expansion, whereas the La Sportiva is snug, secure and sleek.
The outsole is Scrapa’s own PRESA® TRN-04 which has been specifically designed for challenging terrain. The lugs are 5mm in contrast to 7mm on the La Sportiva and quite simply, the La Sportiva wins on grip. Scarpa say that the SUPERGUM W runner will grip ice and snow – no! They work in snow great, but not ice. Studs work on ice and that applies for the La Sportiva too.
Great looks and great fit. The Scarpa is a pleasure to wear on the trail irrespective of conditions and with or without a micro-crampon. Warmth is excellent and resistance to water is superb. I had dry feet on every run. A ´WINTHERM` layer provides excellent breathability and insulates the feet from the cold. It also is designed to reflect heat in summer… They are NOT for summer! They are a very warm shoe!
It’s difficult to say how far I could run in this shoe, it’s comfortable and adequately cushioned with a constant feel for the ground. There is more room than the La Sportiva and certainly feel like an ‘all-day’ shoe. If running in mud, soft-ground and snow, you could keep going and going as the ground adds to the cushioning. On harsh, hard and rocky terrain, I still had plenty of comfort. Within the midsole is a Dynamic Stabiliser Torsion frame made of TPU. This enhances rear foot stability by wrapping under the arch, it also brings torsion control.
The grip is excellent on a multitude of terrain but in contrast to the La Sportiva, not as secure or convincing. The shoe takes a micro-crampon perfectly. I used the Camp Ice Master in really challenging conditions and the lighter/ faster Nortec Trail when conditions required. Run feel is great BUT it is never as good as a specific studded shoe. However, if fresh snow, you don’t notice any difference.
It’s a solid shoe with loads of protection. They are bulletproof and surprisingly light considering how well made they are! 384g for an EU44.5.
The inner shoe is supportive and secure (it’s excellent), and a thick gusseted tongue protects. Heel area is also great. They are supremely comfortable.
Toe protection is superb.
The Scarpa is a superb shoe that does the business in harsh, winter and tough conditions. They are so good, they make a great mountain shoe at any time of year. Even if they will be too warm in spring and summer. There are so many positives that it’s hard to find any negatives, however, in comparison to the La Sportiva, the outsole is not as aggressive. By contrast though, the Scarpa has more toe space, arguably a better foot-hold (but both are excellent) and more cushioning. It’s all down to personal preferences and in reality, you would need to try the La Sportiva against the Scarpa and make a decision. Both put a smile on my face and I am happy I can switch between the two! I have no problem using either shoe and during winter I have alternated between the two. If I had to make a choice, I’d struggle. The La Sportiva is great on faster runs, the Scarpa a great all-day shoe. You decide what you need!
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 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.
Want to see the NEW offering and get an early review?
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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.
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.
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!
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.
4.5mm front / 8.5mm rear
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.
Since its release, the inov-8 Terraultra G270 has received acclaim all over the world. Many magazines, reviewers and bloggers hailing it the shoe of 2020. In late July I wrote my review HERE.
Now, with over 600km+ in the shoes it’s time to make a long-term review and assessment.
I am not going into the analysis of the shoe as in a typical post, you have a review linked above that goes through the pros and cons and all the technical jargon. This is a usage review.
First off, the Graphene outsole and 4mm lugs is a 100% winner. The durability has been superb, the grip incredible and the traction has been without equal. Even in mud, the outsole has performed but of course it is compromised. The lugs are just not aggressive enough to grip in very soft or deep mud, but a thin layer of mud and the G270 really does perform. Wet rock grip has been superb and arguably the most impressive aspect. Many have raved and provided a 5/5 review. I can’t give 5/5 because it is compromised in mud, therefore it gets a 4/5 BUT and this is a BIG but, in all honesty, you should not be using the G270 in mud, there are other shoes for that. So, if reviewing for intended purpose, it would get a 5/5. This may sound a little weird, but the G270 has become my ‘go-to’ road shoe, especially with the arrival of Autumn and Winter, the grip on wet roads, pavement and hard-pack trail has been superb. Although not a ‘hybrid’ shoe (road to trail) it performs like one and I would recommend for that use.
The cushioning has really surprised me. It’s plush without being squidgy. It’s super comfortable without losing that all important feel for the ground. It takes 20km hard trail runs in its stride and still allows legs to feel fresh after. The G270 is designed for longer races and as such, it comes highly recommended. An improvement on the G260. There was a mention of a ‘Boomerang Insole’ in the technical jargon that provides extra energy return, I have no idea if this is resulting in the positive feel of the shoe, but something is definitely working better over the previous G260 incarnation.
Zero drop – you are either going to be for or against. I am fortunate, I test shoes all the time and I am regularly mixing up drops from 0 to 10 and all the steps between. With zero I am usually careful not running too long or too often. The G270 changed that, I have been running regularly 3-4 runs per week since November with total distances of 50-80km (per week) just in the G270 and they have been superb. The days between I have been using 4, 8 and even 10mm drop on the odd occasion. Drop is very personal, so, I just warn against potential problems if zero is not normal for you.
The toe box is wide, and I have really enjoyed the extra space and comfort on long road or hard trail runs. With Injini socks, my toes can really splay for comfort. The G270 would be a great fastpacking shoe or multi-day shoe. I can see it being really popular in races like Marathon des Sables. The wide toe box though is too wide for me on technical trail… I don’t have the control or the precision I need, so, it’s not a shoe for me when running on technical terrain.
A major improvement is the upper. After 600km+ I have no signs of wear. The important ‘bend’ area behind the metatarsals that can often split in the corners is still good and showing no weakness. I mentioned the hold of the foot in my initial review and that has been one of the key pluses of the G270, particularly over the G260. The lacing, ‘Adapterfit’ and hold of the instep is reassuring, particularly important for me with a wider toe box.
All things considered, the G270 is one of the shoe highlights of 2020 without a doubt. It’s not perfect, but then again, show me a shoe that is. If you want zero drop, grip, traction, cushioning and a wider toe box, I think you’d find it hard to find a shoe that compares with the G270.
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It shouldn’t be complicated, but it is. Go on any run forum and I will bet you that daily, someone will ask a question about run shoes.
I want a shoe that will allow me to run muddy trails and road?
Can anyone recommend a shoe for fell running?
I have Hobbit feet and I need cushioning and grip – what shoe?
I could go on and on. The thing is, while it may be okay to ask a couple of question like:
How does a specific shoe perform in mud?
How is the wear and tear of ‘x’ shoe?
Asking for a specific shoe recommendation can be a recipe for a disaster, the reason being, we are all individual and shoes are very personal based on a multitude of factors. Nobody on social media knows you, your needs, how you run and what type of running you do.
So, please do not ask for a shoe recommendation on social media unless you are specific. A good example being:
“I am male, aged 44. I have been running for 23-years and I have extensive history in cycling, triathlon, road running and now I am moving to trail running… I am 5ft 9. A little overweight. In regard to shoes? I am looking for a trail shoe that will provide great grip on muddy trails. I need support for my arch and cushioning but not something as cushioned as say a Hoka. In regard to foot width, I am in the middle, neither needing precision or wide fit. On a scale of 1-5 I would be a 3!’
With the above we have information from the runner and therefore suggestions and recommendations can be specific and targeted. Even then, the runner should go to a run store, albeit now he has a shortlist of options and then try on the shoes to find the one that best suits him, his feet and his needs.
IF THE SHOE FITS
Firstly, and importantly, not all shoes are equal and not all feet are the same.
Quite simply, the better a shoe fits, the more specific to the type of running one will do in that shoe, the more likely you will feel better. The foot will be happier and the miles you run will be more comfortable.
Our bodies are supported by our feet; they are the first point of contact with the ground and therefore, they are incredibly important. Getting a correct fitting shoe that is specific for purpose is crucial.
When I say specific for purpose, let me provide some simple clarification now and then explain in-depth later. Shoes come in categories; I see the main list broken down as 6 main groups:
Road to Trail
Ultra-Running (with sub heading of Ultra Road and Ultra Trail)
Now, one could break down the categories even more with very, very specific needs such as, “I need a mountain running shoe with an aggressive outsole with great grip in wet and dry conditions and superb traction in mud.”
But before we get into the discussion on the shoe for the job, getting a correct fitting shoe is vital.
HOW DO WE FIND A CORRECT FITTING SHOE?
Please don’t fall in with the generic advice that a run shoe should be one size bigger than say your every day casual shoe! For a start, this assumes you have the correct size casual shoe and trust me, from experience, very few people do. The recommendation for sizing up also comes from the assumption that a foot swells when running. From experience, feet rarely go longer but can go wider with repeated impact and stress; think of races like Marathon des Sables when a runner is in a hot/sandy environment. So, one may need a wider shoe but not a longer shoe. This comes down to getting the specific shoe for the job.
I wear the same size run shoe as my casual shoes (typically) but to clarify, I go for the ‘same fitting’ shoe.
Shoe sizing between brands is variable and inconsistent, an EU 44 in say Salomon is not necessarily the same as an EU 44 in inov-8. So, first and foremost, always try shoes on!
Length and foot width does change so it can be a good idea to have your feet measured if you are new to running with little experience. Some specialists suggest getting feet measured yearly, but for me, this still only gives a guideline to shoe size as comfort, feel and specificity come in to play.
“As a rule of thumb,” I have consistently found that a thumb nail of space above one’s big toe is usually ideal for sizing. This is classic for an ‘Egyptian’ foot shape (D). I say usually because I have seen some feet where the second toe is longer than the big toe, known as ‘Greek’ foot shape (C), so, this would require an individual approach. There is also ‘Square’ foot shape and the thumb nail width above the big toe usually applies here, but, a wider toe box may be required.
Remember, both feet are usually not the same size, so, take this in consideration. Go for fit and feel with the bigger foot!
NOTE: Specifics come in to play such as foot width and specificity of the shoe. As an example, If you are running technical trail, you will need a more ‘precision’ fit. If running long/road ultras, you may well prefer a wider fit that will allow toe splay. More on this later.
Wear socks that you typically run in and if you normally wear two pairs of socks, then wear two pairs when testing and trying. Two pairs of socks may require you to go a half or full size larger depending on the sock thickness. Note:nYou may wear the same shoes for Summer and Winter, but in Summer you use light and thin socks but for Winter you use thick Merino socks. This may well mean you need a different size shoe for Summer in comparison to Winter.
Insoles can give a good indication of the shoe size and its width. As a guide, the insole should match the shape and size of your foot.
With the insole back in the shoe, place your foot inside and firstly check for the space at the front. If you have the required space, lace up and tighten. On the top of the foot you have the ‘Navicular Bone’ and the shoes should be tight here but not so tight to restrict blood flow.
Stand up and move around. Key checkpoints are: 1. Thumbnail width between longest toe and edge of shoe. 2. Check pressure on your little toe. 3. Check pressure and feel on your big toe.
Ideally, you want to be able to run in them and most good run shops have a treadmill to try out shoes. Key checkpoints: 1. No slippage in the heel area. 2. No pressure on toes. 3. Instep feels secure and pain free. 4. You have support or a lack of support as needed.
If you see material bulging because of tightness you may need a bigger shoe, or you have the wrong width. If you see an excess of fabric, you may have a shoe that is too large or too wide.
Check the fabric of the shoe and the seams. Will they be breathable for your needs? Will they protect you for your needs? Does the toe bumper have enough protection?
Remember shoes flex when you run. In the propulsive phase, the shoe will bend behind the metatarsals and this can be a troublesome area if the shoes are the wrong size. Often a sign of a shoe that fits incorrectly is this area will crease and often tear causing failure in the shoe upper. If running uphill, think mountain, fell and trail running, this area of a shoe gets a great deal of stress.
A good running store with professional staff will help you with shoe choices and they should discuss the pros and cons of the specific brands and models available. However, gut feeling and how you feel goes a long way. Always be careful of ‘sale’ shoes! Don’t be influenced in buying the wrong shoe just because it is a good price.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Marathon des Sables has some foot horror stories and the general story is because of the heat, the sand and how brutal the race is. The truth is, the issues (usually) arise through runner’s choosing the wrong shoe and the wrong size.
Old advice has said size up, go bigger as your feet will swell.
However, a shoe that is too big allows the foot to move inside the shoe. A moving foot causes friction. Friction causes blisters. The rest is self-explanatory. In addition, with each sliding of the foot, the toes may impact with the front of the shoe and result in bruising. Think of running downhill with shoes that are too big, your toes will be crammed at the front with room behind the heel.
Having said this, feet can swell through impact and heat. So, using Marathon des Sables as an example, one consideration may be going for a shoe with a wider toe box but still that thumbnail of space at the front. What often happens is a runner has a favourite shoe and decides they need more room, so, they just buy a larger shoe (than needed) because it increases the width/ space. Actually, what they should do is change the shoe. It goes back to specificity.
Shoe that are too tight and/or too small will result in black toenails but more importantly can damage ligaments and possibly result in damage to the metatarsals. Stress fractures are a real risk. Also, you will have foot fatigue and pain. The foot is full of nerves and bones. As an example, the soles are extremely sensitive to touch due to a high concentration of nerve endings, with as many as 200,000 per sole. *The foot receives its nerve supply from the superficial peroneal (fibular) nerve, deep fibular nerve, tibial nerve (and its branches), sural nerve, and saphenous nerve. These nerves come from peripheral nerves that arise from the L4 to S3 nerve roots and contribute to the somatic motor function, general sensory information, and the cutaneous sensation of the foot. In regard to bones, each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, all of which work together to provide support, balance and mobility.
If you require stability shoes, the wrong size shoe may well put the support in the wrong place and instead of providing help, it will create onward issues and problems. Plantar Fasciitis is a risk.
Quite simply GET THE CORRECT FITTING SHOE!
IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Okay, so we have given a guide to how you find the correct size of shoe. But now we need to be specific and address and look at some fundamental questions before going to any run store:
Supinate – Your weight tends to be more on the outside of your foot.
Pronate – Your weight tends to be more on the inside of your foot.
Neutral – Your weight is distributed evenly.
You need to know which of the above you are, as all brands and manufacturers produce shoes to answer these three specific needs. If you do not know the answer to this question, look at the soles of shoes you have worn for some time – you will see how they have worn. In a proper stride, your foot should roll forward and pronation should be neutral. Shoes that are geared towards supination or pronation are designed to bring you back to neutral.
Many runners who need specific support often see a Podiatrist and have Orthotics made that are transferable to any shoe. In this scenario, you should purchase neutral shoes.
**If you supinate, it can cause excess strain on your ankles. It may lead to shin splints, calluses, or bunions on the outer side of your foot, and pain in your heels and balls of your feet. Excess over pronation, means that as you walk, your foot rolls toward the inside and your arch tends to flatten out. Your shoe will show uneven wear on the inside part of the sole.
From barefoot running to bouncy marshmallow shoes, there is a plethora of cushioning options available to choose from and what is best may just come down to personal taste…
However, I beg to differ. I feel cushioning or a lack of cushioning should be applied based on what type of running one is doing and what conditions.
Fell running – Fell running often takes place in soft, boggy and wet ground. A feel for the ground is essential so that you can respond with ever-changing terrain. A shoe with too much cushioning will remove that feel, place you higher off the ground and may well increase the risk of injury. A sprained ankle being one of the most obvious.
Road running – Road is hard, it can jar the body, muscles and tendons and therefore a shoe with a little more cushioning may be preferable. For some, they require sofa like comfort. Others prefer some cushioning but not at the expense for the feel for the ground.
When purchasing shoes, look at the cushioning typically shown as, for example – Midsole Stack 8mm/ 14mm. This is 8mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. The higher the numbers, the greater the cushioning.
Some shoes include a rock plate which offers protection from sharp objects, useful when trail running.
Shoe drop is essentially the difference between the height/ thickness of the midsole under the heel compared to the same measure under the ball of the foot. Years ago, drop was not a consideration. On a personal note, thinking back say 8-years, I never considered shoe drop. Now, it’s all important.
Importantly, do not be confused by cushioning here. You may well look at say a Hoka One One and think it has a high drop. On the contrary, they typically have a low drop of 4mm. ***Drop refers only to the difference in thickness between the front and back of the shoe and is not a narrative on the magnitude of the thickness.
From experience, I do not consider that any runner has an ideal drop. I see drop as something that can played around with based on the needs and requirements of the shoe and the conditions it will be used. But I must clarify that I have been testing shoes for 8+ years and switching drop on a daily basis has been no problem, on the contrary, I actually consider it to be beneficial.
As a way to explain, I use 0 drop shoes all the way through to typically 8mm. I do have one pair of shoes at 10mm, but they are an exception.
Zero drop or barefoot advocates will argue and argue that zero is the only way to go and if you are adapted and have no injury issues, that is awesome. However, most people have not experienced zero drop and suddenly to do all runs in zero will almost certainly result in some injury. Zero takes adaptation.
Pure Sports Medicine are clear, “What we do know is that human tissues can be sensitive to sudden changes in the way they are loaded, and that it is biologically coherent (and in keeping with the laws of physics) that differing shoe drops may load certain tissues differently. As such, if you are currently uninjured there is no justification for changing the drop of your shoe, but should you want to then be mindful of allowing the body time to adapt to such changes (although many runners may be able to interchange between shoes of different drops we would usually advise being over cautious if this is not something you have done before).
So, if you typically run in 8mm drop shoes without injury, it makes sense you purchase shoes with 8mm drop. Equally, if 4mm is your thing, purchase 4mm.
Specificity of drop.
I personally (and others like me) see drop in conjunction with cushioning, or, a lack of cushioning as a tool to get the most from my body and my runs. For example, if running a muddy fell run, I will use a lower drop, say 3 or 4mm with less cushioning. By contrast, if I was doing a long trail run, I would prefer 8mm drop and more cushioning.
A certain drop may be beneficial in reducing sensitivity and complementing your overall management strategy – so consider this. ****Changing the drop of your shoes (or using multiple shoes which have varying drops in a rotation system) is not to be discouraged or feared, but be sure your body’s tissues can tolerate this, and are given the necessary time to adapt and attain the capacity if needed.
The outsole of a shoe is key as this is the point of contact with the ground on which you are running. Again, specificity is key. There is no one outsole that will do all jobs well and therefore the need for multiple shoes with specific tasks is an essential armory to a runner’s shoe cupboard.
Road shoes – Typically need little grip, just a good rubber.
Trail shoes – Typically require a good outsole that is durable and has grip, say 4mm studs.
Fell shoes – Typically will be aggressive and on first looks may look like football boots with 6 or 8mm studs.
Mountain shoes – Typically will be a mixture of trail and fell shoes and the outsole will be sticky to provide good grip in wet and dry conditions.
In an ideal world, if you ran all of the above scenarios, you’d have a pair of shoes for each scenario. However, shoes are expensive and many runner’s need to make some compromises. Brands realised this and for example, some offer road to trail shoes that provide a best of both worlds’ scenario. The inov-8 Parkclaw is a great example. “the perfect shoe for runners wanting to run on paths and trails, or those looking to make a transition from road running to trail running.” – inov-8
If you need grip for mud, you need to be specific, there is no compromise.
Like drop, shoe width can create many an argument. Simply put, if you have a slimmer/ slender foot, you can probably wear any width shoe providing you have the correct size and they hold you securely.
But if you are a Hobbit, shoe choice may well be compromised as you will need to look for a wider fitting shoe.
Shoe width is also a consideration based on other factors: 1. What terrain are your running on? 2. How long will you be running?
On a personal note, if I am running on technical and challenging terrain, I want a shoe that fits and holds my foot. I am not worried about toe splay – precision is a priority. By contrast, if I was running on groomed trail for multiple hours, a shoe with more width may will be preferable to allow my toes to splay and relax.
Like drop and cushioning, I mix the width of my shoes based on my needs.
Some companies, inov-8 for example provide a width guide to steer runner’s to shoes that will specifically answer their personal needs. This a great system that takes some guess work away. The system is simply rated 1-5; 1 being a tight/ precision fit, 5 being wide and spacious.
Brands such as Altra only offer one foot shape and believe that a wide toe box is essential, in conjunction with 0 drop. It is a toe shape foot box that allows toes to relax and splay. The big toe has space and in principal, this foot box helps reduce overpronation and increases stability. On a personal note, Altra has a place for long road, ultra or trail runs, but when the terrain gets challenging, they feel way to sloppy for me – but this is a personal thought. Altra fans or wide toe box fans will disagree.
WEIGHT AND FABRICS
Shoe weight can be an important consideration. Certainly, when racing, a runner may well prefer a lighter shoe so that they feel faster. However, if running an ultra, added cushioning and a little more weight will be worthwhile for comfort.
Shoe fabrics, seamless uppers, sock-like fits, Gore-Tex and other considerations may influence a shoe choice. Make a decision based on specificity.
A lighter shoe will typically not last as long – this may be an important consideration too.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY
Is choosing a run shoe really THIS complicated?
I suppose, yes! But once you understand the basics purchasing new shoes should not be too complicated. Below is a summary and process to follow:
Measure your foot.
Use a conversion chart to get your shoe size.
Understand gait and what you need. If using orthotics, you need neural shoes.
Ask yourself what terrain the shoes will be used on – This refers to what outsole.
Ask yourself how long typically you will run in these shoes – This refers to cushioning.
Do you need the shoes to be more precision fit or wider?
Look at brands/ options and based on the above make a shortlist.
Try the shoes on using the size provided from points 1 and 2 but then size up or down based on the thumb nail space rule.
Check the heel for slipping.
Check the instep and confirm a good foot hold.
If possible, try the shoes running.
Reduce the choices down to 3, then 2 shoes and then make an informed and educated decision.
Do not be influenced by the colour or the price.
Lacing can make a huge difference to how a shoe holds the foot. Lock lacing for example is very popular for off-road and challenging terrain as the shoe holds the foot more securely.
Compromise is a killer when it comes to run shoes. The more specific you can be, the better the shoe will be. But, if you have correct fitting shoes with appropriate cushioning, correct width and a good outsole, you will be able to head out the door and enjoy the process.
And yes, there are exceptions to the rule and somebody will use shoes that are too big and get away with it. Just as someone will run in sandals and get away with it. These are exceptions to the rule and not the norm.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Last year I finally got my hands on a pair of VJ Sport IRock 2 (HERE). I was blown away by pretty much everything about the shoes. The upper, the way they held one’s foot, the durability of the materials used, and the outsole was just incredible – the most amazing grip. The only reservation that I had, was how long I could run in these shoes… They are pretty minimal and although cushioned, the cushioning for me would probably only take me to 3-4 hours of running.
OCR World Champion and Skyrunner World Series Champion, Jonathan Albon, agreed. In some of the longer races, Trofeo Kima for example where the terrain is hard, rocky, muddy, has snow, maybe the odd glacier thrown in and when the male winning time is over 6-hours, although the IRock 2 was perfect on grip, the cushioning made a really long run like this tiring for the feet.
With Jon’s feedback, VJ Sport went back to the drawing board, took all the best elements of the IRock 2 and created a new shoe:
The king is dead, long live the king!
Let me just say in simple terms everything that was brilliant in the IRock 2 has been transferred to the new VJ XTRM and what VJ Sport have done, in my opinion, they have created the most perfect mountain running shoe for when the trails are demanding, rocky and throwing all sorts of variables at the runner.
So, what is new in the VJ XTRM.
Two new cushioning units have been added to the front and rear.
A full-length RockPlate.
A medium last.
A little extra room in the toe box.
As I mentioned, much of the IRock 2 crosses over. For example, the outsole is the amazing Butyl Rubber which for me offers the best grip I have encountered on any mountain shoe. The outsole studs are 6mm which offers a good compromise between grip on muddy/ wet trails and excellent grip on smooth and easy single-track.
At 250g for a standard UK8, the shoe is light and 4mm drop sits in a comfortable middle ground for the zero drop fanatics and those who like a more comfortable and relaxed 8mm drop.
Kevlar and Polyester make the upper and the IRock 2 has been the most durable shoe I have ever used, so, I don’t anticipate the VJ XTRM to be any different. There is also Fiberclass stability control.
Slipping one’s foot into the VJ XTRM one immediately feels the snug and precision fit. However, the slightly wider toe box is noticeable. Don’t get me wrong here, this is not a wide and spacious toe box, so, if that is what you personally need, this may well be not the shoe for you. Please remember though that this is a specific mountain/ skyrunning shoe that will be used on technical mountainous terrain, so, a shoe for this type of running should be precision.
Pulling the laces tight, the FITLOCK takes hold and provides the most secure and comfortable hold of my foot. It is the best I have tried, no question. The laces are excellent, they pull tight and stay tight.
The upper is a mix of materials and is extremely durable. Although it is too early to comment on longevity of the VJ XTRM upper, the materials and comparisons with the IRock 2 are very close. My IRock 2 have been through everything and are still going strong. The heel box has minimal padding but holds the foot secure and is extremely comfortable. The toe box is well protected and ideal for mountain terrain.
The colours of the upper are a little bright. They wouldn’t be my choice, I certainly loved the red & black combo of the IRock 2, but colours are just colours and after a good muddy run, the colours soon become muted.
Like the IRock 2, the VJ XTRM looks heavy, pick them up and you realise they are not, they are super-light!
The bottom of the shoe is what helps VJ Sport stand out amongst the competition and why they have such a following. The Butyl Rubber they use is the best outsole I have ever tested and on rock terrain, dry or wet, they are the most reassuring footwear ever! The 6mm studs are the same as on the IRock 2 and this is significant, the IRock 2 provided the best grip ever, so, to see this transferred over to the XTRM is superb.
The IRock 2 last-year was the best mountain shoe I have ever used. This has now been replaced by the VJ XTRM and for me, moving forward, I would always purchase the VJ XTRM and not the IRock 2. For me, VJ Sport may well have killed the IRock 2 because the VJ XTRM is so good.
To all intents and purposes, the IRock 2 and VJ XTRM are very similar shoes. One difference is 6mm drop for the IRock 2 and 4mm drop for the VJ XTRM, this may be a decision maker for some? However, the new additions to the VJ XTRM just make it a much more versatile shoe without compromising what made the IRock 2 great, no, superb!
The added cushioning doesn’t compromise feel for the ground, control, stability for faster shorter mountain running but what it does allow is more cushioning and comfort for longer runs.
The RockPlate is a no brainier, it is added protection and added comfort for little to no additional weight.
The new Fitlock holds the foot as well, if not better than the Fitlock on the IRock 2.
The toe box has been widened to allow for a little more room and toe splay when running longer but not at the compromise of precision and feel.
The upper is as the IRock 2 with Kevlar and outstanding durability.
The outsole is the same, 6mm studs in the amazing Butyl Rubber.
The additions make the VJ XTRM the perfect all-round mountain shoe be that for short or long outings. Whereas, the IRock 2 was a shoe that I personally would not want to be out in for much longer than 4-hours.
This is the best mountain running shoe I have ever used. For skyrunning, it is THE perfect shoe and for me, all other shoes that I test for that intended use will be compared to the VJ XTRM. Jonathan Albon’s influence can be felt in this shoe and I am sure his feedback with VJ Sport has been paramount in retaining all that was brilliant in the IRock 2 and then tweaking it to add what Jonathan and many other runners wanted; more cushioning, a RockPlate and a slightly wider toe box.
I personally am unable to find any negatives.
Obviously, the Butyl Rubber outsole works so well because it is soft and grippy, so, if you start running on roads and pavements, be aware, the outsole won’t last.
But the VJ XTRM is a formula 1 shoe and not a Ford Escort or similar. Maybe the VJ XTRM should make an appearance for those special runs or races?
However, if you are like me, I think the shoes are so awesome that if I am going to run anything technical, wet or dry, I want these shoes on my feet.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
*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.
The inov-8 Mudclaw 300 has long been a favorite shoe of mine when I need a shoe with grip and secure feel. It’s a ‘go-to’ shoe for a couple of hours on muddy trails. (Review Here). However, the precision fit (which I love) and less cushioning has often left me wanting a shoe with a little more cushioning, a more relaxed drop and maybe a little more room in the toes for my feet to splay. Step in (pun intended) the X-CLAW 275.
In the past 12-months, inov-8 as a brand has looked at its shoe range and started to streamline the shoes on offer. For some, that may well be a bad thing, for me, it’s a positive! I seem to remember a couple of years back that the brand had over 90 shoes on offer.
The company that pioneered the arrow system to define drop, has stuck with its heritage and now 1 arrow (4mm drop) and 2 arrow (8mm drop) are the norm. The purists may well complain but 4mm and 8mm drop are for sure the most popular.
For me, I switch between the two drops constantly, happily running shorter and faster sessions in the lower 4mm drop but when I go longer, I prefer the relaxed and more forgiving drop of 8mm. The X-CLAW 275 has been a long time coming, but now it has arrived, I have a big smile on my face:
In brief, the shoe is a winner.
The X-CLAW 275 has the usual distinctive inov-8 styling and colours, I keep saying it but the brand always (nearly always) make good looking shoes with great colours. The lacing is standard and secure, the heel box is plush, holds firm and is comfortable. The tongue is secured into the upper on the left and right sides (thank goodness) and holds the foot firm, secure and in comfort. The toe box has standard fit and therefore there is more room for toes to splay and move around a little. The toe box also has great protection with some good rubber on the front of the shoe to protect against rock impact. The shoe is cushioned for longer runs and has protection from underfoot obstacles but without loosing a feel for the ground. Lastly, the grip is as one would expect, claw like.
The X-CLAW has been put through its paces on a multitude of terrain and in all scenarios it has been a winner. Several recent outings in the Mourne Mountains in Ireland really did provide an all-in-one mixed terrain circuit allowing for: road, stone steps, loose rock, gravel, scree, bog, water crossings, fell, fire trail and all with a mix of wet and dry weather. The X-CLAW just performed never causing me to question of grip would be compromised at any time. I had wondered if the standard fit would leave me feeling less secure and precise on technical trail – no so! I was able to compensate by pulling my laces a little tighter and the addition of the gusseted tongue held my foot secure and firm giving me 100% confidence. On a 3.5hr run, we finished off with a 5km stretch of stony fire trail that zig-zagged 600m downhill. It was the type of terrain in the past where I would have been wishing for a shoe with a little more comfort and protection… not so with the X-CLAW.
The cushioning was superb allowing me to run with protection while still feeling the ground beneath. The outsole handled the mixed terrain so well and I am always amazed how shoes with so much grip can feel so good on the road. Obviously, the Dual-C compound used will have less life if too much road is run on, but that is not the point, the combination of elements that are packaged in the X-CLAW 275 make it a real winner. Finally, despite running through wet ground, mud and small water crossings my foot actually only got wet in the final couple of miles of my run when I placed my foot in a puddle that was ankle deep, prior to that the water repellant upper had done a great job keeping my feet dry.
As the UK heads into winter, the trails will become muddier, the rocks wetter and I am convinced that the X-CLAW 275 is going to be one of my ‘go-to’ shoes – It delivers outstanding grip, comfort and protection while still remaining lightweight, flexible with great energy return from the Powerflow midsole technology that really does keep you on your toes with better shock protection. The toe bumper and full rand are also great additions that make the shoe really feel as though it’s up for some hard and challenging terrain.
The shoe fit as ‘true,’ I regularly use a size 9.5 and my X-TALON is a 9.5. However, if you are used to a tighter toe box (precision) you may well feel that the standard fit of this shoe makes it feel a little larger? My advice would be to lace up the shoe correctly and tighten the laces so your foot feels secure. Remember, the toe box is designed to allow for some movement and splay.
In summary, the X-CLAW is an excellent shoe for those who need a little more comfort, a relaxed drop and a roomier toe box. The shoes perform exceptionally well on all terrain (even road) and if you are out for longer days on the hills, mountains or fells, the 8mm drop and cushioning will make your legs and feet happier.
Finally, for all you precision fit, less-cushioning and lower drop fans (4mm) don’t worry… the X-TALON is available in a 225 version. Review to follow.
What inov-8 say:
For all extreme terrain running, including off-trail conditions encountered on mountains and fells.
Phenomenal grip: New X-CLAW outsole features DUAL-C compound (a mix of medium and hard sticky rubbers) for improved durability and stability. Refined claw cleat stud configuration ensures quick release of mud and debris.
Increased comfort on long runs: Unique POWERFLOW midsole technology delivers 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles. Wider to box allows toes to splay.
Enjoy more protection: Super-durable, yet lightweight, upper material, full rand, toe bumper and internal gusset offer protection on descents and from debris. Water repelled by durable water resistant coating.
Does it all: Equally adaptable to training or faster running. Cutaways on the outsole increase flexibility and reduce weight. Dynamic Fascia Band delivers kick of energy with every stride.