Montrail FluidFlex FKT Shoe Review

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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

TRAIL TALON 250 and TRAIL TALON 275 by inov-8 – SHOE REVIEW

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The Race Ultra when first released by inov-8 turned heads. It was certainly a departure for the brand who had built a history and reputation for out-and-out fell running shoes. For the brand to release a shoe that appealed specifically to the ‘ultra’ market was an interesting move.

I have to say, the first incarnation of the shoe was pleasing to look at and although it gained rave reviews, I didn’t like it. It felt sloppy, lacked feel and in all honesty, it was a shoe I didn’t want to use.

The second incarnation was a huge improvement and it has become a regular shoe for me when running long on flat, relatively un-technical and non-muddy trail. It was a shoe that proved hugely popular at races such as Marathon des Sables for example and the combination of two options, 4mm and 8mm drop; the Race Ultra suddenly became a really popular shoe.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when inov-8 told me that the Race Ultra 270 (4mm drop) and 290 (8mm drop) are no longer in the range as of AW16. Really?

I have had many emails from runners in the community expressing a concern about this. Yes, the Race Ultra really has become ‘that’ popular and as such, many are asking, but what shoe an I know going to wear?

Take a breath, take out your credit card and go and order yourself a pair of TRAIL TALON 275 (8mm drop) or TRAIL TALON 250 (4mm drop).

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Yes, folks, stop worrying, the new TRAIL TALON is all that the Race Ultra was and so much more.

I could actually stop the review there as I have very little negatives to say about the shoes. Yes, both really are that good. But I know you have a need for more information so here goes.

In brief, the TRAIL TALON offering in either 275 or 250 versions directly relates to the 270 or 290 versions of the RACE ULTRA. So first off, think about if you need or prefer 4mm or 8mm drop shoes (or both). The plus side from the off, is the two new TRAIL TALONS are offering weight savings over the previous models: 15g +/- for the 8mm drop and 20g +/- for the 4mm drop. For reference, inov-8 always refers to the weight of the shoe in the name, so, a TRAIL TALON 250 will weight 250g+/- in a standard UK8.

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Both the TRAIL TALON 275 and 250 shoes use the same standard fit last as the RACE ULTRA but they both offer improved grip with deeper cleats and better cleat configuration. It’s a marginal improvement and don’t start to think that the new shoe will now handle more mud – they won’t. The TRAIL TALON is very much a dry trail/ mountain shoe that can handle a little sloppy stuff if required.

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Tthe TRAIL TALON has a wide ‘standard fit’ toe boxbut I don’t think it is as wide as the RACE ULTRA?. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of room and it allows the toes to move and splay just as in the previous model. When running long your toes have room to move and should you be prone to swelling, they have room to expand. This ‘standard fit’ is something that inov-8 have worked on and by contrast, some shoes in the inov-8 range can be purchased in ‘precision’ fit which offers a tighter and narrower toe box. For me, this can be where some compromise comes in with the TRAIL TALON, when running on long, flat and consistent terrain the shoes excel but if the terrain becomes technical and inconsistent, I find my foot moves a little within the shoe due to the wider fit. This is not a criticism of the shoe, what I am saying is (as I always say) is that it is rare that one shoe can do all things well. For technical running I prefer a precision fit.

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A notable difference is the new POWERFLOW midsole for a more cushioned ride. Both the 250 and 275 feel more cushioned. In particular, the 275 feels super cushioned, almost a little ‘too’ cushioned at times and I think this is where the most notable difference will come for RACE ULTRA fans. You will either prefer the additional cushioning or not. On my first runs in the 275 I noticed the cushioning over the RACE ULTRA. To confirm my thoughts, I went back out for a run in the RACE ULTRA and yes, the new shoe has more cushioning and it feels that way too. This only adds to the thoughts of inov-8 that the TRAIL TALON is a long distance shoe. Of course it’s all relative, the 4mm drop 250 has less cushioning than the 8mm drop 275. For many of you this will not be an issue as you will either run in 4mm or 8mm drop shoes. This is not the case for me, I often and regularly switch between 4mm and 8mm drop shoes. If I am running for 30mins, 60mins or even 2-3 hours I can happily run in 4mm drop and still retain good form. However, if I am going out for a long session or a day in the mountains, I will always go 8mm drop. The higher drop allows more leeway and flexibility and I must add that the TRAIL TALON is a superb shoe to walk in. This is really important for those who are running long or doing multi-day races. Often, shoes are tested just running with no consideration of how the shoe transitions to a change of gait when walking. For me, the TRAIL TALON 275 is one of the best run shoes I have used when walking, the transition is seamless and comfortable no doubt attributable to the ADAPTERFIT met-cradle for better mid-foot comfort.

I am always wary of buzz words like ‘Powerflow’ and ‘Adapterfit’ as in real terms they can mean nothing. Breaking the words down, the TRAIL TALON has more cushioning and better mid-foot comfort.

When running, the feel of the shoe and the comfort level is high. In the 275 I had less ‘feel’ for the ground due to the additional cushioning but this proved a real bonus for longer sessions and when the ground became more irregular. The 250 version with lower drop and less cushioning in comparison to the 8mm drop version felt really sweet on all runs.

Both shoes, 4mm or 8mm drop definitely provided more feel, better cushioning and more ‘return’ when running than the RACE ULTRA.

Like the 290 and 270 RACE ULTRA’s the TRAIL TALON will also incorporate the unique on-the-shoe gaiter attachment so that should you require a Gaiter you can purchase the item separately and attach/ de-attach with ease.

RACEULTRAGAITER

Two huge improvements for me come with the lacing system on the 275 and a gusseted tongue on both the 250 and 275. I have been saying this for ages, but a gusseted tongue just makes sense. I don’t know why it isn’t standard on all run shoes. It helps hold the foot in place, it stops the tongue moving and sliding to the left or right as you run and maybe most importantly it adds an additional protection to stop debris entering the shoe.

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The lacing on the TRAIL TALON is added ‘on to’ the shoe by what effectively is a folded plastic layer. This works so well as it allows the shoes to be laced tightly or loosely as required but it also allows the font to swell within the shoe. In the past, I have had issues with inov-8 lacing and I have had to use a ‘lock lacing’ technique to feel secure in the shoe. Not know, this lacing method works.

Toe protection on the shoe is good but not ridiculous. Keeping in mind the intended use of the shoe, it’s fit for purpose. The heel box is snug, cushioned, holds the foot well and caused no rubbing on long sessions, even when walking.

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Grip is compromised on any muddy trails but then again, the TRAIL TALON is not intended for this type of terrain. The 4mm deep studs work great on all dry trail, rocks and yes road. When wet, the grip is also good. Ultimately, the TRAIL TALON would be a great ‘all-rounder’ for most runs. If you are heading to the fells, a muddy trail run, or mountains with mixed/wet trail then choose a different shoe.

Finally, RACE ULTRA fans are going to be really happy with the TRAIL TALON. I have found it difficult to really find any negatives. The only negative (and it’s not really a negative) is that some of you may find the new incarnation a little ‘too’ cushioned. Sizing is true to size and relates directly to the Race Ultra.

As per usual, inov-8 have created two ‘visually’ appealing shoes with great colours and styling.

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Drop is personal and for me, 8mm drop is the sweet spot in run shoes and is my ‘go to’ drop for any run. If you prefer a lower drop, then you will be happy with the 250 and 4mm version. If you can afford two pairs of shoes, I really recommend the 250 for shorter and/ or faster runs.

This TRAIL TALON is a winner and is now one of three shoes that I choose on a daily basis, the other two shoes for comparison are The North Face Ultra Endurance and the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac.

Specs from inov-8

DFB

The patented Dynamic Fascia Band™ (DFB) mimics the ‘Windlass Effect’ delivering a kick of energy with each step, helping the athlete to move faster and more efficiently

STANDARD FIT 

Our standard fit offers a close-fitting heel that locks the shoe in position, while a wider toe box allows the toes to splay when running naturally or lifting weights. Standard fit suits those with wider feet and athletes using the product for long sessions.

ARROW 

Arrows refer to drop, 1 arrow = 4mm, 2 arrow – 8mm