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. 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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Adidas Terrex Skychaser Shoe Review

It has been a long time since I did a run in Adidas shoes. When I did a great deal of road running, Adidas was one of my go-to brands but when I headed to the trails and mountains, I defected to other brands such inov-8, Salomon, TNF and so on.

I’d heard lots about the ‘Boost’ technology and was keen to try it. I was a little sceptical about this (what looks like polystyrene balls) Boost technology would withstand the battering that trail brings, but hey, Luis Alberto Hernando has done well with them huh?

The TERREX SKYCHASER is not the lightest shoe on the market, not by a long way at well over 300g for my UK9.5. However, I was pleased that the shoes were ‘true-to-size,’ I the past I had always found Adidas sized small.

The fit is definitely narrow, but not very narrow, in the toe box area and there is plenty of protection with a really great toe bumper for protection – invaluable on rocky terrain. The lacing is  via a narrow cord that is pulled tight from the top and then an adjustable stopper retains the tension – it’s very similar to what one sees on Salomon shoes. The excess cord can be stored under a small elastic loop towards the bottom of the lacing section.

The upper has the classic Adidas ‘three-stripes’ on the sides and these also act as the lace-loops from which one pulls the lacing tight. This holds the foot in place and keeps it secure.

The tongue is attached to the upper (my preferred method) as this not only reduces what debris can enter the shoe but also it allows the foot to be held more secure and it also increases comfort. Iv’e said it before and I will say it again, this is the way it should be for all run shoes in my opinion.

The shoes cushioning comes from ‘Boost’ technology and it’s reassuringly cushioned without being spongy. You can see that the insole has a chunk of orange and blue added, this is Adidas’s ‘Pro Moderator’ technology that adds medial and lateral support with additional stability in the midsole. I run in ‘neutral’ shoes and I was worried that these additions would spoil my experience of the shoes – it didn’t! For sure, it provided me with a different feel on the trail and mountains but what I did like was the reassurance it provided when the going got tough – the shoes felt rock solid.

The upper is breathable but most definitely resilient. The Terrex Skyxchaser could  definitely be a lighter shoe with a different upper, however, Adidas have obviously decided that this shoe is for tough outings – they don’t want the upper falling apart and in testing, I have to say it’s extremely durable and resistant to abrasion. You’ll also notice the upper has a darker orange colour, this is welding which also adds the increased support of the shoe.

As a cyclist and triathlete, I always chose Continental tyres but this is the first shoe I have used with the legendary German rubber as an outsole – I was impressed! Yes, the outsole didn’t disappoint and the compound provided great grip on dry and wet trail and rocks, it was excellent. The grip profile would make the Terrex Skychaser a great ‘all-rounder’ allowing cushioning and comfort on some road, hard-packed trails and should conditions become wet, the Continual runner really does its job. The profile can handle mud but should conditions become very sloppy, the outsole profile and lug depth is not aggressive enough to provide the grip that say an inov-8 Mudclaw would provide – that comes as no surprise and is not a criticism.

IN USE

Heading out on the road for my first run, I was struck by how the shoe felt on unforgiving tarmac. The Terrex Skychaser gave me a plush ride with the Continental outsole doing a great job on the hard stuff.

I had purposely chosen routes that involved a multitude of terrain to test the Terrex Skychaser and with Skyrunning courses to hand, this is where I have used these shoes for the last few months – from steep grass banks, hard and dry single-track, scree slopes, boulders, fire-trail, some snow and ice and river sections with slick rock.

In a nutshell the Terrex Skychaser handled all this extremely well with the highlights of the shoe coming with excellent cushioning without a loss of feel from the ground beneath my feet, excellent and reassured grip from the Continental outsole and a snug plush feel from the sock-like fit.

A 6mm drop worked well, for me, my sweet spot is 8mm as I find this to be preferable when I am on my feet for longer. With 4mm and 8mm now being many peoples choices, 6mm sits well as a compromise.

Like I said, I prefer neutral shoes and although this shoe has plenty of ‘extras’ to control my foot, I never found that I was being over controlled, something that I could in a La Sportiva shoe – read HERE.

Cushioning is good without losing feel, 23.5 at the rear and 17.5 at the front makes them ideally suited for a runner who needs some additional protection or who prefers a plush ride.

The overall fit of the shoe is narrow and when the trails are technical and you need reassurance that is a positive. However, if you need a wider toe-box, this is probably not the shoe for you.

It wasn’t an all-singing and all-dancing story. I found the heel box just wouldn’t hold my heel in. When climbing, my heel constantly was coming out of the shoe – a real irritant and a recipe for disaster in regard to performance and the increased risk of blisters. In a conventionally laced shoe, I would have re-laced my shoes and I would have almost certainly used a ‘lace-lock’ method (here) at the top of the lacing to secure my foot. You can’t do this with the Adidas as it does not have two eye-holes at the top and… This brings me to my second issue – the ‘speed-lacing!’ I know many love it and when it works it works, however, with the Terrex Skychaser I just couldn’t adjust the lacing so my foot felt comfortable with the correct tension and adjustment in the places that I needed it. I would that I had to tighten the lacing so much to retain my heel in the shoe that after 15-20 minutes my foot was aching on the in-step due the tension and pressure on the foot. I also found that lower down where my foot bends, I had effectively reduced the width of the shoe and therefore I was getting some pain and discomfort around my toes and metatarsals. I took the shoes off, loosened the laces and then put he shoes back on trying to leave the lower loop lose and wide, the middle lace-loops tight but not too tight and then the top two loops tight and secure – I sort of got to to work but it all felt compromised.

CONCLUSION

Loads of positives on this shoe but ultimately for me, it’s not a shoe I would use. I say this with regret as I loved the grip, the durability, the overall comfort but the heel box and the lacing made using the shoe a compromise. Because of the heel box, consider trying a half size smaller – it may do the trick? However, you may well find the shoe is then too narrow in the toe box.

Adidas Terrex Skychaser Shoes

Montrail FluidFlex FKT Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_Montrail-06511

Montrail call themselves, ‘The original trail running brand!’ And to USA based runners they may very well be. But to Europeans, they are just a name and in all honesty, I very much doubt that they have seen a Montrail run shoe, let alone used one. Of course, in the last 18-24 months that has all started to change and that is directly attributable to the UTMB.

Yes, when The North Face jumped ship sponsoring the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland the American brand jumped it. Of course nothing is straight forward and UTMB sponsorship comes in the name of Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail. All three brands are under the same umbrella and are interconnected.

Topher Gaylord is president of Columbia’s Mountain Hardwear brand and ironically he was the man who originally set up the TNF sponsorship deal – what goes around, comes around.

As one commentator said, “Montrail was once the biggest brand in the American trail running scene, but many other brands have created more buzz in the past few years. This should certainly help create more traction for Montrail, which was acquired by Columbia in 2006.”

So as you see, a picture starts to form and although the above information doesn’t tell you if the Montrail FluidFlex FKT shoe is any good, what it does do is provide some perspective.

Dakota Jones, Ellie Greenwood and Max King have worn Montrail shoes in the past and I often looked on wondering how these shoes performed? Unfortunately, being based in Europe, the possibility to get hold of shoes was either extremely difficult or zero. With UTMB sponsorship, Montrail (Columbia and Mountain Hardwear too) are looking for increased exposure on a world platform.

Last year I tested and reviewed a limited edition UTMB Montrail shoe HERE and now I have the FluidFlex FKT and Trans Alps FKT (review to follow) shoes to review.

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FluidFlex FKT

Out of the box, the shoes feel light especially when on first impressions they look heavy. Styling is somewhat retro and I have to say, this has always been the case with Montrail shoes. Current styling has definitely improved over older models but in today’s plethora of shoes, Montrail still look a little dated. Of course, looks don’t play a significant role in the performance of a shoe but it does play a huge roll if you are standing in a store, looking at racks of shoes and you are trying to narrow down which ones’ appeal.

My version of the FluidFlex FKT is grey with yellow and arguably, it’s one of the more attractive shoes in the range. I do believe Rocket Red and Super Blue versions are available too. Ladies shoes are Bounty Blue and Chameleon Green.

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What’s noticeable immediately is that the shoe is ‘no fuss’ shoe. The toe box is clear of additional layers and moldings and has an adequate bumper for toe protection. The heel box has little to no reinforcing – just a patch on the very rear.

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On the sides of the FluidFlex FKT, 6 -strips of pliable reinforcement have been applied that lead to the lace holes. These strips provide some structure and support to the upper when the shoes are laced up. The is a blast of fresh air, the FluidFlex FKT feels reassuringly thought out but not over engineered.

Opening the shoe up, I am happy to see that the tongue is padded but more importantly it is gusseted and stitched into the sides of the shoe. This for me is a real winner – it stops the tongue moving around excessively when running, provides a more secure hold of the foot and it also reduces what debris can enter the shoe.

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The insole of the shoe is a surprise and most certainly has been thought about. It is cupped at the heel to provide a little more hold and support and the ‘arch’ area is pronounced, again providing some additional support.

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I am a neutral runner and found no issue with this ‘slight’ support, however, depending on your run style and preferences, you may wish an insole with more simplicity?

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Cushioning is good with 15mm at the rear and 11mm at the front – drop is 4mm. The shoes name, FKT (Fastest Known Time) starts to make sense here as this shoe is designed to be fast, light, cushioned for a runner who bio-mechanically sound. I switch from 4mm, 6mm and 8mm drop shoes all the time and when running long, I will always prefer a shoe with 8mm drop as I firmly believe that the longer we run, the more our form fails and falters and that is when an 8mm drop shoe can be more forgiving. However, the FluidFlex FKT did ‘feel’ more forgiving and I do believe that this was directly attributable to the cushioning. They are simple shoes – No midsole gizmos, no gels, airbags or plastic parts. Just pure, responsive foam from heel to toe.

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The outsole reminds me a great deal of Hoka One Ones’ original Bondi B shoe – a shoe that I used a great deal.  Grip is at the front and rear but not in the middle. Grip is also split into two colours, grey and orange. the grey sections being more durable and hard wearing, the orange sections softer and provides additional grip.

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The ‘Flex’ of the sole is incredible. You can clearly see 5 ridges across the outsole and this is where the FluidFlex name comes from. These ridges bend and flex with ease give the shoe an incredible feel, bounce and propulsion when running – it’s a real winner. Like many US ‘trail’ shoes, it’s clear to see that the FluidFlex FKT is for dry, dusty, rocky and hard trails. Don’t take them to mud – it will not be a great experience! I don’t own road shoes anymore and what I have found is that the FluidFlex FKT has become my ‘go to’ shoe if I want to pop out for 20, 30 or 40min road loop. Yes, they handle the road really well.

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Slipping the shoe on, the shoe immediately has a slipper like feel, directly attributable to the gusseted tongue and secure feel. The toe box is roomy and allows for a free and natural splay of ones’ toes and the heel box is snug and secure. The padded tongue allows laces to be pulled tight without causing any discomfort on the instep of the foot. I often find that when using a wider toe box, I like to compensate by lacing my shoe tighter – it’s a personal thing.

In use, the shoe was out-of-the-box comfortable and the combination of a cushioned sole, the ‘flex’ ridges and the gusseted tongue, it felt like I was on my 10th run not a first run. As time passed this improved but only marginally as they were so comfortable from the off.

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The shoe is cushioned and therefore if you really like a ‘feel’ for the ground, this is compromised with the FluidFlex FKT. But that is not a criticism, it’s just a warning shot to let you understand how this shoe runs. It is without doubt a shoe for dry, hard pack trail, rocks and road. Avoid mud, the grip just isn’t up to it. With a 4mm drop and the placing of the grip on the outsole, you need to bio-mechanically good. It’s a shoe that most definitely is designed for mid to forefoot striking. Having said that, the shoe is very comfortable to walk in. Should you heel strike, the grey section of outsole on the rear of the shoe would offer some protection and grip but let’s be clear, if you are heel striking, you shouldn’t be in 4mm drop shoes!

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As mentioned, the middle of the outsole has no grip or protection and it’s in this area that you may well see some early wear and tear. This could come from abrasion when running over irregular and rocky terrain or from small stones sticking into the soft cushioning. Road use will obviously wear any shoe down quicker but if running on the forefoot, the grip of the outsole should last well. Remember though, this is a trail shoe that works well on road, not an out-and-out road shoe. On wet rocks and road, providing you land on the ‘grip’ section of the outsole the shoe is reassuring, the compromise comes in the middle of the outsole where no grip exists. On odd occasions, particularly on large and/ or irregular rocks I found the shoe to slip a little. The shoe is true to size but remember it has a wider toe box so I always recommend trying a pair 1/2 size up and down to make sure you have the ‘feel’ that you like.

In conclusion, the FluidFlex FKT has thrown me a curve ball. I wasn’t expecting to like this shoe ‘that’ much and I have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised at how good this shoe is and how pleasurable it is to wear. It’s a shoe that has specific use and if you keep away from mud and sloppy stuff, you will enjoy running in it. It’s a 4mm drop shoe so it will appeal to those runners who like to get closer to the ground but not at the compromise of cushioning. The fit is slipper like and the ‘flex’ in the outsole is superb for ‘toe off’ propulsion. Feel with the ground is compromised with the cushioning but this is a personal thing. The shoe works well on the road (surprisingly well) its low weight is ideal for faster/ shorter runs but if you have good form (and can hold it) there is no reason why you couldn’t run 50k, 80k, 100k or 100-miles in these shoes.

Montrail website HERE

Recommended!

What Montrail say:

A lightweight, yet supportive trail running shoe with enhanced flexibility for a smooth and nimble ride

Gryptonite heel and forefoot rubber traction zones incorporate 3-point lug shapes for multi

Directional traction

FluidFoam midsole with increased flexibility through deep flex grooves

Patented FluidGuide technology for enhanced midfoot stability on uneven surfaces and a smooth ride on the trail

Seamless upper construction with a thermoplastic midfoot cage welded against a breathable body mesh for protection and support

WEIGHT: 9.2 oz./264 g

RIDE HEIGHTS: 15mm heel/11mm forefoot

DROP: 4mm

The North Face #TNF Ultra Endurance Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3919A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the TNF Ultra TRII, I said then that TNF are really getting their act together with run shoes. The recent products from the brand have continued to impress and the addition of the ULTRA ENDURANCE adds another quality shoe that offers runners another option to tackle the trails. The current TNF line up is as follows:

ULTRA TRII read my review HERE

ULTRA CARDIAC read my review HERE

ULTRA MT read my review HERE

and the ULTRA ENDURANCE

In a review toward the end of 2015, when I compared many leading shoes against each other (not all shoes I must stress) the Ultra Cardiac very nearly took top honours, it was just pipped by the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac. (Read the review HERE).

If I did that review now, I strongly feel that the battle between the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac and the TNF Ultra Endurance may well be even closer but the Supertrac would still get the nod from me due to the outsole which is extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces, overall comfort and flexibility.

To provide some clarification, we need to look at the current TNF line up and see how (in simple terms) the shoes are to be used so that you can decide which shoe is for you:

ULTRA TRII – Is a dry trail, light and fast shoe for a runner who like a more minimalist feel. Cushioning is 8mm/ 16mm and It has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA CARDIAC – Is a cushioned trail/ mountain shoe that feels plush, fits snugly and works well and on dry trail, wet rock and very moderate mud. Cushioning is 12mm/ 20mm and it has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA MT – Has an aggressive outsole and is designed for off-road use in mud, mountains and demanding terrain. Cushioning is 9mm/ 17mm and it has an 8mm drop.

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Enter the ULTRA ENDURANCE – 9mm/17mm with 8mm drop.

This new shoe from the TNF brand sits somewhere between the CARDIAC and MT and as you would expect, has an 8mm drop. I like this! But then again I would… I am a real fan of 8mm drop shoes and as I have said many times before, this drop sits in the perfect middle ground that can work for most people. TNF have obviously thought about this and hence the continuity between the ‘ULTRA’ range. It’s also fair to say that as the name suggests, the ‘ULTRA’ shoes are designed for running longer and therefore 8mm will be more forgiving.

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Slipping the shoe on, it does feel different to the CARDIAC but more similar to the MT. This primarily due to the gusseted tongue which is secured within the shoe – this holds the foot firmer and in addition reduces the chance of debris getting in the shoe. It’s a winning combination that I love.

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The front (toe box) is wider than both the CARDIAC and MT and therefore allows the toes to splay a little more. Protection at the front is excellent with a very reinforced toe box bumper that will definitely protect against all those unplanned collisions with rocks, stones or other debris.

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Heel box is plush, padded and holds the foot secure and has FlashDry technology.

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Key features of many TNF shoes is ‘Snake Plate’ and the ‘Cradle,’ these two elements are present here in the Ultra Endurance and add to the overall benefits of the shoe.

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Snake Plate adds protection to the forefoot of the shoe and protects against rocks/ impact and so on, TNF vary the plates from one shoe to the next depending on what they consider to be necessary. In other shoes this would be called a rock plate.

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The cradle is designed to hold the rear of the foot more secure and stable.

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The upper is breathable and most importantly seamless, therefore reducing the chance of rubbing, hot spots or the chance of blisters. The upper is welded TPU with suede overlays.

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The outsole is Vibram Megagrip which is making an appearance on countless shoes in the trail world. I need to clarify here that Vibram don’t only make one Megagrip outsole (see here). They do many variations, so, please check! A classic example is the outsole on say the TNF ULTRA CARDIAC and TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE – they use Megagrip but they each have three different variations of the product. The Ultra Cardiac having a more subtle version, the Ultra Endurance a more aggressive outsole for mixed terrain and to draw comparisons, the Scott Kinabalu Supertrace (has a special Scott outsole) that is basically just aggressive, extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces.

For example:

Ultra Cardiac outsole:

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Ultra Endurance outsole:

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Scott Kinabalu Supertrac outsole:

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Cushioning in the Ultra Endurance is single-density compression folded EVA which does a great job of allowing you to feel the ground but provide enough cushioning for a long day out.

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IN USE

The upper is seamless and snug and the gusseted tongue is a real pleasure which holds the foot firm. The toe box feels noticeably more roomy in comparison to say the Cardiac or MT.  The shoe feels relatively light but not super light. You really feel as though you are wearing a shoe that will take a battering. This in many respects is reflected in the shoes name, Ultra Endurance.

8mm drop for me is perfect, it provides a drop that allows me to run longer and when I can’t keep my form, the extra height allows for some compensation. As I mentioned above, this is obviously something that TNF have really thought about and the whole ‘Ultra’ range of shoes has an 8mm drop. This is also great as it means I can seamlessly move from one who to the other shoe without having a shock. A clear example of this is that I have been doing road runs in the Ultra TRII and I have been out in the really muddy stuff in the MT.

The shoe works well in mud but it’s not an out-and-out shoe for muddy trails, better get the MT if that is what you need. The Ultra Endurance is a great trail/ mountain shoe that works well and transitions from a multitude of surfaces. As I mentioned above, I believe it would give the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac a run for it’s money as a potential best ‘all rounder!’

To emphasise a point, if you were looking to but just one shoe that could handle many terrains and provide you with happy and many days out on the trail, then the Ultra Endurance would be a good place to start. It’s not a great road shoe, but it will gladly provide a cushioned and responsive ride for road sections between trail. It’s not an excellent performer in very muddy conditions but it does provide some grip that will allow you to progress. Where the shoe excels is when all these elements combine, say on a long training run, long hike or a race when you may well be mixing from road to trail, to rocks, to mud, to scree and so on, here the Ultra Endurance works so well.

It’s a shoe that excels of dry trail, rocky trail (wet or dry) and some road. It has actually become a real favourite when travelling when space is limited and I need a ‘one shoe does all’ scenario. Feel for the ground is good and has improved the more I have run. The first few runs felt a little hard and flat but the shoe bedded in nicely. The Vibram® Megragrip sole is as mentioned, almost becoming a standard feature on trail shoes. the version applied to the Ultra Endurance compliments the shoe perfectly.

Grip in mud is compromised, it always is in a shoe that is designed for trail. That is not a criticism as the shoe is definitely designed to be an all rounder. If you need out-and-out grip and a shoe that will just be used for soft-ground, mud, fells or other messy terrain, you’d be better looking at the TNF Ultra MT or a fell shoe from say inov-8 – the Mudclaw 300 for example is a great off-road shoe.

The heel box holds the foot secure with no slipping. It’s snug and reassuring.

The relatively seamless upper and sewn in tongue really holds the foot secure and has given me no hot spots. It’s a real bonus and it’s great to see that TNF are incorporating this more. For anyone who has used a Salomon S-Lab shoe with ‘endofit,’ a gusseted tongue really is just so much more comfortable. Although the TNF version is different to the Salomon version, similarities can be drawn.

The shoe has a neutral fit as does all the TNF ‘Ultra’ range and so therefore you could add an insert or orthotic if required. Drop is 8mm. Sizing is true to size, I take a UK9.5 in most shoes and my Ultra Endurance is UK9.5. However, due to the wider toe box the shoe does feel different to the Cardiac or MT so you may want to just make sure by trying in-store.

This is not the lightest shoe on the market but I don’t think that is really an issue. It’s not trying to be the lightest. What it does, is offer cushioning, protection and longevity in an attractive package that will last for many days, weeks and months. The colour-way of blue and yellow also looks pretty swish.

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Conclusion

This shoe is a great all-rounder and may well be a perfect ‘one shoe’ purchase for anyone who is looking for something that can do many things well. It excels on dry trails and loose surfaces such as scree, stones, sand etc. Grip from the Vibram sole is good on wet rocks and the shoes transition from trail to road well and the cushioning allows for plenty of happy miles.

The Ultra Endurance can handle mud as part of a mixed terrain trail run but if you wanted an out-and-out shoe for muddy trail, this is not it. It’s a really solid shoe with some serious toe protection, a plus for anyone heading out into mountainous terrain.

I have been working with and running myself in harsh, rocky, desert like terrain in Lanzarote, La Palma and so on and I think the Ultra Endurance would potentially make a great shoe for someone participating in a multi-day race like the Marathon des Sables. The combination of features sits well, the slightly wider toe box, protection, grip and cushioning all combine to make it a great shoe for such an adventure. I will feedback on this after the 2016 Marathon des Sables where I will test the shoe daily.

To draw a comparison, I think those runners who have enjoyed the inov-8 Race Ultra 290 will find the TNF Ultra Endurance very appealing. The plus side being the TNF who has more grip.

The TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE alternative colour-way

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The inov-8 RACE ULTRA 290

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The downsides are minimal for me. It’s a slightly heavier shoe and I have touched on the reasons why above. Longevity in TNF shoes has been an issue in the past so I will hold judgement on this and feedback. Currently after 100+ miles of mixed terrain, the shoes are holding up well with no issues.

The North Face say: With its Vibram® Megagrip outsole, Snake Plate™ forefoot protection and Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ stability, the Ultra Endurance will keep you tearing up the trail without tearing up your feet. CRADLE™ technology provides extra heel stability on uneven terrain, a gusseted tongue keeps loose trail debris out, while the rigid-yet-flexible ESS Snake Plate™ delivers on lightweight, heavy duty forefoot protection.

▪Welded TPU and suede mid-foot support overlays

▪Molded-TPU toe cap for protection

▪Gusseted tongue for protection from trail debris

▪Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ heel-stability technology

▪Single-density, compression-molded EVA midsole

▪Vibram® Megagrip outsole for durable sticky traction in all conditions

▪ESS Snake Plate™ forefoot protection

▪Cushioning 9mm front/ 17mm rear

▪8 mm offset

▪Weight per shoe 260g+/- for a UK8

▪Approximate Weight Pair: 510 g

TNF Technologies explained:

Snake Plate™

The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.

Vibram® Outsole Technologies

The North Face® collaborated with Vibram, long respected for quality and durability, to create various outsoles (Vibram® Humbolt Outsole, Vibram® Mikeno Outsole, Vibram® Walsh Outsole, and Vibram® Rubber Outsole Compound) with superior traction, stability and protection.

Ultra Protect™

A shank plate for torsional rigidity and consistent underfoot feel.

Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra SG (Soft Ground) – Review

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C’mon, GET A GRIP!

Oooooh grip! I love grip…. before you read anymore, I strongly suggest that you read my very recent review of the new Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 Ultra HERE

I loved the Sense 4 Ultra but I did say that due to the precision fit, 4mm drop and relatively tight toe box, it would not be a shoe for everyone! I suppose the same should apply here… it does BUT I do think that other factors come into play for the ‘SG’ version.

First and foremost, when running off road and when running in muddy, sloppy or technical terrain you most definitely need a shoe that is going to hold your foot, allow little or preferably no movement and of course be precise. That is the Sense 4 Ultra SG. So you see, although normally I wouldn’t say squeezing your foot into a shoe is a good idea, with a SG version it is acceptable based on two key principles:

  1. The shoe is not ‘too’ tight and in anyway causes discomfort, pain or unnecessary stress.
  2. You are not running for hours and hours.

If you fall into the above two options and you are thinking that the SG maybe or maybe not for you; it may well be worth a risk for the supreme fit, comfort and grip.

As with the Sense 4 Ultra (non SG) the new shoe has had thorough reworking taking into consideration much of the feedback not only from everyday runners like you and I but also the elite Salomon runners such as Kilian Jornet.

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SG stands for Soft Ground and as such, this shoe is all about grip when it’s needed. So, for many, the Sense 4 Ultra and Sense 4 Ultra SG go hand-in-hand and I think it’s fair to say that many will have (or at least wish for) both pairs of shoes.

©iancorless.com_Sense4SG-9072 The new shoe has been left alone in certain areas and tweaked and improved in other areas. Lets be clear, although it’s called SG it does make a perfect trail shoe for all conditions in my opinion. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to run a pure hard trail in them but if I was mixing up dry trail, rocks, gravel, water, mud and a whole multitude of other surfaces, this is and would be my shoe of choice.

The Salomon S-Lab range very much follows the ethos of FAST and LIGHT but as the ‘Ultra’ name suggests, the shoe has a little more added to increase longevity and comfort. As with the Sense 4 Ultra, cushioning is 9mm and 13mm with a 4mm drop. I keep saying it but 4mm drop is not for everyone so don’t be tempted to use this shoe just because Kilian and the rest of the team use it… be sensible with shoe drop! The Fellraiser or Speedcross may be better options for you?
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The SG upper, like the Sense 4 Ultra has been revised. The fit has been tweaked with additional support added to the mid foot. Additional room has been added to the toe box but it’s marginal in my opinion. Sensifit has also been tweaked and the mapping on the upper is now different and holds the foot more secure.

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Sense 4 ULTRA on the left and the Sense 4 ULTRA SG on the right

Materials on the upper vary between the Sense 4 Ultra and the SG, the SG is more durable and arguably less breathable. The Sense 4 Ultra had additional toe box protection and the SG has even more added wich makes complete sense considering the shoe will be used in tougher terrain. If you read my Sense 4 Ultra review you will know how much I love Sensfit, Endofit and all the usual Salomon buzzwords. In a nutshell, for me, no shoe on the market fits as well as a Salomon Sense and I am inclusive in that statement; the Sense Pro, Sense Mantra 3 and so on all have that wonderful precise and secure hold. It’s the best! (If the shoe fits you)

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The SG is obviously a shoe for the rough and tough and the tongue has been changed to provide added protection and security. The fit between the upper and the tongue has been re-designed to reduce any possibility of debris entering. The lacing system and lace pocket again make the Salomon Sense stand head and shoulders above other shoes. It’s reliable, logical, provides great overall tension and of course, what you don’t need is stored away. The obvious downside is that adjusting tension is very difficult. So you’d have to make a call if that works for you! Many have said to me, ‘what if the lace breaks?’ In all honesty, I have never had a lace break and I don’t know anyone else who has.

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As with the Sense 4 Ultra, the SG has a complete overhaul of the outsole. The Contragrip lug pattern has been changed and the lugs are deeper to provide additional grip when the ground is soft and muddy but not so much grip that you cannot run on dry, hard or rocky trail. The compound has been revised and I noticed a difference on wet rock. The shoes have better bite. I said in my Sense 3 Ultra SG review (HERE) that although the shoe is called SG I wouldn’t necessarily say it would be my out-and-out soft ground shoe. The same applies here! I think the Sense 4 Ultra SG is an improvement on the previous model but if I just wanted a shoe for mud, I would potentially look at another option. Don’t get me wrong; this is not a negative comment. For example, Salomon make the S-Lab Fellcross and that would be ideal… the Sense 4 Ultra SG is designed for multiple surfaces, including soft ground and in those uses, they excel!

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In Use

What can I say, the SG runs as well if not better than the Sense 4 Ultra. They do feel a little different and this is primarily down to the lugs on the bottom of the shoe. With the extra lug height, it does make the SG feel a little more cushioned, it may be placebo but I don’t think so.

Fit between the Sense 4 Ultra and SG is almost the same. No, it is the same. The only difference comes in the material used on the uppers. The ‘Ultra’ has a more breathable and lighter upper in comparison to the SG which is a great call by Salomon. One could almost say that the shoes are Summer (Sense 4 Ultra) and Winter (SG). Of course it’s not that simple, particularly if you run in the UK! We don’t have summers, so, they are both winter shoes ;-).

The toe box of the SG feels the same as the Sense 4 Ultra in use but does have more protection..

Running in the shoe is a dream. Foothold and protection is awesome. The shoe has plenty of flex and suppleness (especially after 3-4 runs) and the Endofit, Sensifit and Quicklace make the precision feel of the shoe shine. I really struggle to find any negatives. Grip in the heal area is brilliant and once on and laced up, you have no foot movement. Just whaT I want from a shoe that would tackle technical terrain.

The grip is definitely improved over the Sense 3. On my local trails I noticed improved grip on softer ground and transitioning between surfaces is seamless. Ironically, the SG does feel nice on the road but I don’t recommend too much, particularly if you want the sole to last! On wet rocks, pavement and tarmac the outsole noticeably provided a more secure and reassuring contact with the ground. Is it the best out there? No, probably not. But this outsole is designed for ultra and mixed terrain, soft ground just being one aspect. I’d have no problems with the SG being my ‘go to’ trail shoe for any race or training run.

On that note, is it really an ultra shoe, by that I mean could I run for hours and hours in it? No I couldn’t. I love the 4mm drop but for me, I think I’d need something a little more relaxed for real long stuff, a 6mm or 8mm drop version would be sweet. Lets be clear though, that is me being greedy. The Sense 4 is an S-Lab shoe and as such, it’s all about speed and efficiency. On the right feet, these shoes will fly!

PROS:

  • Light
  • Responsive
  • Grip
  • Fit
  • Black and red (my fave colours)

CONS:

  • Too tight for some
  • Expensive
  • I struggle for cons!

It’s always difficult reviewing a Salomon S-Lab shoe as to be honest; I find it very hard to find negatives. The negatives are more often than not based around the shoe not being suitable for some people because of width, drop and so on.

The same applies here! The Sense 3 Ultra and Sense 3 Ultra SG were both brilliant shoes and the Sense 4 incarnations of both shoes are better! It’s hard to believe but they are.

Weighing in at 260g for a UK 8.5 (true to size fit), the Sense 4 Ultra SG is without doubt one of the best ‘grip’ trail shoes I have used. I do wish that Salomon would make this ‘exact’ shoe with a 6mm or maybe even a 8mm drop.

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As with the Sense 4 Ultra: the Sense 4 Ultra SG has OS Tendon, Profeet Film, dual density EVA, racing last, Quicklace, Sensifit, Endofit and a series of other notable technologies making this shoe the best 4mm drop shoe on the market… should the precise fit work for you!

Recent changes in the Salomon Sense range now make the Sense 4 Ultra (dry fast trail), Sense 4 Ultra SG (mixed trail) and the Sense Mantra 3 (road and trail) my shoes of choice. I keep going on about the Sense Mantra 3 (Here) but I think this is a great everyday shoe.

My final question is, will we see a new Sense Pro?

 

Specs for the Sense 4 Ultra SG

  • Sensifit
  • Quicklace
  • Racing Last
  • EndoFit
  • Lace Pocket
  • Quick Dry Mesh
  • OS Tendon
  • Profeet Film
  • Dynamic Traction
  • Contragrip Aggressive Outsole
  • Midsole Dual Density EVA
  • Cushioning Front – 9mm
  • Cushioning Rear – 13mm
  • Drop 4mm
  • Weight 260g / UK8.5

Check out the Salomon S-Lab range HERE

Salomon Logo

 

 

The North Face Hyper-Track Guide

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The North Face have always had a mixed response in the ultra and trail world with it’s running shoes. Some people love them, others are indifferent. The original Single Track model had many features of merit and had a strong following (I was a fan). However, runners like Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Seb Chaigneau wanted a lighter shoe. The Single Track Hayasa was born (Review here).

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The new Hyper-Track Guide in many respects combines aspects of both shoes in what is arguably, The North Faces’s best shoe yet. Read on.

The Hyper-Track Guide are lightweight and like other manufactures the shoe appeals to the market of door-to-trail.  In addition, these shoes may very well fit a gap in the market in terms of ‘drop’. The Hyper-Track Guide with an 8mm drop nicely fills a space in the market between other models such as the Salomon Sense Ultra (4mm) and Sense Mantra (6mm) but other manufacturers such as Scott, are still producing shoes with a conventional drop. I have to say, Scott currently have the T2 Kinabalu for trail and some road running and it is setting the bar by how I judge other shoes it performs so well.

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As the above image shows, a lower drop promotes a forefoot run style.

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The ‘Cradle Guide*‘ helps cushion the impact and canters the heel. The forefoot facilitates the natural supination phase and provides cushion through the force peak.

*The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.

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Many conventional trail and road shoes have a drop of 11mm or 12mm and the current trend for improved ‘forefoot’ running is pushing manufacturers to address the need in the market for lower drop shoes. However, a lower drop isn’t for anybody and if you are a definite ‘heel strker’ you will want to ease your way into using any shoe with a lower drop. The Hyper-Track Guide may very well make that transition easier if that is what you require. At 8mm it offers a ‘middle ground’.

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The sole of the shoe certainly offers more grip in comparison to previous models. Is it enough? Well, if you are heading out in the mud; no!. When a shoe has a selling point as ‘road and trail’ use a compromise is going to be made. The Hyper-Track Guide will work perfectly on hard pack trail or rocks and of course, should you wish to run on the road, it can handle that too. But as soon as you get to mud, the sole has nothing to grip with and you slide.  The sole has strategically positioned rubber pods in the outsole to give excellent grip on slick terrain and resistance to abrasion. Certainly on wet road or rocks it does the job well.

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The upper is extremely breathable like other models in the The North Face range, on a cold or wet day the shoe can feel a little chilly. But that also means that should you be running in the heat, these shoes will be exceptionally cool. They are also great if you run through any water, they drain very quickly. Lightweight is a key feature and this has been maximised by having a ‘sandwich mesh’ upper. The shoes have no sewing or seams. That has to be a good thing as this reduces any potential rubbing. The upper also has TPU welded support overlays to hold the foot in place when in the shoe. This does provide added security to the foot and for such a minimal approach you can feel it work.

The sole has the key Cradle Guide feature as mentioned above. This helps or should I say ‘guides’ the foot through the three phases of the foot strike; impact, mid foot and toe off. Cushioning, stability and protection for ‘any’ foot on any terrain is what The North Face say but ultimately this shoe suits a neutral runner that is already a mid to forefoot striker OR it suits a neutral runner who wishes to progress from heel striking to mid foot striking. In use the shoe feels a little ‘stiff’ in comparison to other shoes and I put that down to the ‘Cradle’ working but also firm cushioning. IF you need that guidance the Cradle Guide may well be a good thing. If you are mechanically efficient, this may well be a little irritating at first. However, the longer you run and the more you feel the benefit of the cradle. So, ultra runners may find that as fatigue hits, the Cradle Guide may very well be a nice addition to help maintain good form. Cushioning is 16mm at the rear and 8mm at the front.

In Use

Copyright Ian Corless

Copyright Ian Corless

The shoe sizes a little large in my opinion. All my previous TNF shoes have been UK9.5 and the Hyper-Track Guide definitely has more room. The toe box has adequate room. But on a first run I did feel my foot move, particularly in the heel area. Laces are superb. They have an elastic stretchy feel and really do hold the foot in place and don’t come loose. The upper with no seams is spot on and breathability is excellent. Weight is 287g for a UK9.5 and this compares well to other comparable shoes.

On the road the shoes felt a little uninspiring. They lacked zip. However, if I started to lift the pace the feel and response certainly became far more pleasurable and responsive. But ultimately they felt hard and at slower speeds I felt as though I ‘slapped’ the ground. What it did encourage was light contact with the ground, so, I thought about my technique all the time while using them. On hard trail the feel was better providing the trail was hard, rocky or sandy. If I went to into mud then the sole offered next to no grip. But, the shoe is not designed for that type of trail. I am merely pointing out that this shoe has restrictions and if you are looking for one shoe to do all then this may well not be it.

So, my impressions are very much around this shoe being used for racing or faster sessions. Of course the term ‘racing’ is relative if we are looking at ultra running, so, if you plan to use this shoe for longer events, you may want to make sure that it will provide the comfort you need over extended periods. The Cradle Guide will certainly help with this.

Jez Bragg used this shoe extensively over the Te Araroa trail, so it does show that you can really run some long distances in them.

Quick rating:

The upper is form-fitting and flexible which made for a snug and comfortable fit in the fore and mid foot areas. The heel felt a little loose but it is possible to adjust the feel by adjusting the lace configuration. Laces are superb.

The Hyper Track is a stiff shoe. The stiffness of the sole almost makes this shoe uninspiring at times, particularly on pavement at lower speeds. Running fast in this shoe is when I felt most comfortable. The 8mm drop gets you on your mid to forefoot and you really think about technique.

The upper is light, breathable and holds the foot well. It has no seams and therefore reduces the possibility of rubbing.

In my opinion it sizes a little large so I would recommend trying the shoe on.

Weight is light at 287g for a UK9.5

Best use – Faster running on hard pack trail

Links:

The North Face HERE