inov-8 TRAILROC 280 Shoe Review

Fans of inov-8 shoes may well be a little surprised by the new incarnation of the Trailroc 280.

It’s a bold shoe and dare I say, on first look, one may even mistake it for a Hoka One One shoe. The blue and yellow and color fade has that classic Hoka look and the cushioning really stands out.

I had to make sure that I definitely had an inov-8 shoe in my hand.

Die-hard inov-8 fans may well immediately dislike the new Trailroc – it’s a departure for the brand. But one should not be too hasty. 

For those who like minimal, low drop, and aggressive outsoles, inov-8 still have a plethora of shoes to choose from. So, the new Trailroc 280 should be embraced as something new to try.

First Impressions

I like the look, bold color fade work well. The cushioning is the stand out and is built up and reinforced section around the rear. Heel box is well padded and has firm hold of the foot. The tongue is attached to the inside of the show with elastic on either side, I am a fan! The tongue is really padded, very plush. The upper is very breathable and there are reinforced overlays on the outside (left and right) to provide some structure to the upper and hold the foot.

Lacing is pretty standard and there are additional eyelets should you wish to lock-lace or similar. Toe box has reinforcement for protection, but I expected this to be more substantial for a shoe designed for rocky terrain. The toe box is on the narrow side so if you are a fan of the Trail Talon (here), for example, you may not like the Trailroc? Sizing is touch and go. I always use a UK9.5 in inov-8 and the Trailroc is definitely a little smaller than my other inov’s. It is marginal and I have had no problem using them… worth noting that they may feel smaller as the toe box is a little narrower, however, I always go for a thumb nail of space, and in these I am at ¾!

Outsole is the new Graphene and the grip is classic trail grip – not too aggressive. Graphene is slowly making its way to most inov shoes now and apparently it increases longevity by some 50% without a comprise on the grip characteristics.

The Shoe

Sliding the shoes on for the first time, several factors stood out.

  • I could feel the cushioning immediately.
  • The padded tongue is really plush.
  • The toe box felt on the narrow side.

Lacing the shoes up, the hold on my foot felt ‘so so!’ I have to say, and this comment comes now after weeks and weeks of using the Trailroc, I feel the upper lacks some rigidity to hold the foot. I have been using inov for years and something in the upper here is lacking for me. It’s particularly noticeable when the terrain is not flat, for example, when running off camber or when on rocks – my foot is moving inside the shoe! This is not because of lacing. I tried many lace configurations and I just couldn’t get the firm hold I like to make me feel reassured. It left me perplexed.

The toe box is on the narrower side. I need to clarify here that I love the Trail Talon and Parkclaw (here) but easily transition to ‘precision’ fit shoes, for example a Mudclaw (here). When running on muddy and technical terrain, I like my feet to be held firm and have confidence in the shoe. When running trail and longer miles I am happy for my toes to splay, providing the lacing holds my foot. The Trailroc left me feeling 50/50. There is nothing particularly unpleasant, but equally there was nothing sparkling going on.

I guess the main feature of the shoe is the added cushioning and that really is noticeable. It has a real bounce to it and comfort levels are high. So, those who are looking for a more cushioned trail shoe, this version of the Trailroc 280 will appeal. It’s a shoe that transitions from road to trail easily and that is a real plus for many.

The outsole does its job and works well. These are not shoes for muddy terrain. They are classic trail / rock shoes and the outsole works well on the latter both in the wet and the dry.

In Use

The cushioning of the Trailroc 280 is the selling factor along with the Graphene outsole. It is all packaged together in a great looking shoe. On road, the cushioning is apparent providing a plush feel and a definite bounce, so, for those who are looking for more comfort on longer runs will be happy. On trail, the cushioning is apparent, however, I did have less feel for the ground and ‘height’ from the ground was more noticeable in comparison to other inov-8 shoes.

When the trail became more challenging, as mentioned above, this is when I had issues. I just never felt my foot was held secure… It almost feels as the shoes are too big, but they are not! I really over tightened my laces and that did add to a more secure feel, but the level of tightness was not sustainable for longer runs – it just added to much pressure.

The outsole works on trail and rock well providing adequate grip when needed when conditions are wet or dry. It’s not an aggressive outsole, so, in mud you will slip and slide around.

There is a Meta-Flex in the outsole and so the propulsive phase feels dynamic but less dynamic than some other inov-8 shoes.

Drop is 2 arrows, so, 8mm. Makes sense for a shoe like this, I really feel this shoe is designed for an ultra-trail runner going longer distances. Cushioning is 20mm rear and 12mm at the front.

inov-8 very often make shoes for a very specific purpose and with this Trailroc 280 I feel that it is a shoe trying to do many things and as such does no one thing brilliantly, but if you are looking for an ‘all-purpose’ shoe that transitions from to road to trail, this may be for you!

Conclusion

The Trailroc 280 is not a bad shoe. Equally it is not a great shoe. This is the first time in a while I have not glowed about an inov-8 shoe. I have tried and tried to like this shoe and don’t get me wrong, if I had no other shoe to wear, I’d be happy in the 280. However, I have lots of options on footwear and the 280 has nothing that stands out that makes me want to grab it and go run. It’s cushioned, has 8mm drop, has a great outsole but has some failings for me.

Foothold and toe box are the two factors that leave a question mark. The toe box I can live with, it causes me no problems, it is just not ideal. The foothold though really is an issue and I hate the feel of my foot not being secure.

inov-8 website HERE 

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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