IROCK2 by VJ Sport – Shoe Review

Imagine a scene:

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:

Version 1.

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!

Version 2.

Read on.

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.

6mm drop
Narrow width
Neutral

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.

IN USE

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.

LONG TERM

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.

SUMMARY

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.

CONCLUSION

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!

FINALLY

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.

OFFER

*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.

 

 

ON Cloudventure Shoe Review

ON, the Swiss company have been making these shoes for some time now and they have turned heads with their distinctive looks. Yes, those little bubbles on the sole really do look different!

When they first arrived in stores and on the shelves, I must admit I did dismiss them thinking it was a gimmick… this is coming from someone who was using and racing in Hoka One One in 2007/2008!

ON first appeared just a few years ago and the first editions were launched in 2010 – they are the baby of the shoe world but throughout 2015 and 2016 I witnessed a growing following for these distinctive shoes. A trail shoe didn’t exist but in road racing and triathlons, they were popular.

Many things have been claimed of the CloudTec technology which gives the ON it unique look, basically, cushioning when landing and a propulsive take-off.

German magazine Die Zeit in 2012 actually went on the describe the technology as ‘Doping through the sole!’ You can take this one of two ways, this also relates to the recent Nike ‘sub-2’ shoe (the Vaporfly Elite) – I do wonder when a run shoe becomes ‘more’ than a normal run shoe.

I have always wondered what the ON experience is like but for many years now, my running on the road has primarily been to get to a trail. I rarely, if ever, go for a road run so experiencing ON seemed unlikely. 

ON have now produced the CLOUDVENTURE – a trail specific shoe available in four versions:

  • Cloudventure (Summer version) HERE
  • Cloudventure Peak HERE (includes Speedboard provides forward-motion and protection on uneven terrain.)
  • Cloudventure Midtop HERE (slightly heavier version with more upper and protection)
  • Cloudventure Waterproof HERE

All the shoes are NEUTRAL with a 6mm Drop.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS 

ON say the Cloudventure is a lightweight trail shoe – they are not! You notice the weight as soon as you lift them out of the box, it’s noticeable. I use a UK9.5 and the shoes weigh in at 340g. For perspective, here are other shoes I am using at the moment:

  • Inov-8 Trail Talon 250 247g HERE
  • Nike Wildhorse 290g 
  • TNF Ultra Cardiac 292g HERE
  • Inov-8 Roclite 290 307g 
  • ON Cloudventure 340g
  • Scott Kinabalu Supertrac 408g HERE

Sizing is true to size for those who may wish to purchase online.

The heel box is plush and really does hold the heel in place providing a trusty fit.

The toe box is somewhere in the ‘middle’ – not too wide and not too narrow. It is a little vague I know but I found they offered a great compromise in allowing my toes to splay but not at the expense of control or precision on technical trail.

The upper is breathable with plenty of ventilation and it is durable which I am sure adds to the weight of the shoe, they may be a little heavier but they will last! The toe box is reinforced and offers excellent protection. The rear of the shoe has considerable reinforcement from a dark durable section that extends from the toes and increases to the heel.

Cushioning is plush, really plush and you bounce along with a very unique feeling – the shoes made me want to run faster than my fitness would allow. Of course, the most distinctive element of the shoe is the clouds on the bottom – 11 of them. The cloud elements absorb horizontal shock allowing for running faster downhill and longer without fatigue. These do add to the bounce and propulsion of the shoe when running on the flat.

Grip varies over the outsole with four different levels, each designed to address a different situation when running, primarily:

  • Uphill
  • Downhill
  • Traversing
  • Micro-grip on rocks 

A ‘Speedboard’ is within the shoe which doubles up to help the propulsive phase (take-off) when running and it also acts like a rock-plate offering protection from underfoot objects. 

IN USE 

Fit is excellent from the sock-liner and gusseted tongue, I have said it before and I will say it again, this is the best system for a shoe in my opinion. It is so comfortable and on trail it makes even more sense as it reduces the possibility of debris entering the shoe.  

The laces are thin but one is able to really pull and adjust the fit of the shoe based on ones needs, once tied, they stay tied. The lace eyelets continue up the shoe with the all-important additional eyelets should you wish to lace-lock for a more secured fit.

I was really impressed with secure heel cup that was comfortable, caused no rubbing and made me confident that the shoe would do what I required without my heel slipping out. The toe box protection is also excellent with great reinforcement.

In all my test runs I always start and finish with road, sometimes 1-2 miles and maybe more on occasion. The first thing I noticed with the ON Cloudventure is how good they are on hard-stuff – not surprising I guess with the shoes history. I bounced along and I was extremely comfortable. So comfortable I may add that in testing I ran an 8-mile road loop to confirm my thoughts. Ironically, considering this is a trail shoe, I would have no issue running a road half-marathon or marathon in these they are THAT comfortable, however, the outsole wouldn’t thank you!

On hard trail and dry rocks the experience was like on the road. My fitness couldn’t keep up with the shoes and the feeling they gave of wanting to run fast. The clouds bounced me along and as I sped up they encouraged me to push on more. On my first run, a 12km loop, I actually had to stop at one point as I had got carried away with the feeling the shoes gave. I thought back to that Die Zeit article in 2012 that went on the describe the technology as ‘Doping through the sole!’ There is some truth in it! The feeling I had from the ON was just like in 2007/2008 when I started using Hoka One One. The combination of clouds and speed board fire you along the trail with one of the best run experiences I have had – that is some compliment. The 6mm drop also providing that sweet spot between the popular 4mm and 8mm drops. In all honesty, I much prefer 8mm to 4mm, especially on longer runs and I didn’t notice any detriment of running with 6mm. One thing I did notice is the cushioning and feel from the heel area. I purposely heel-striked on one run and I have to say, if you have a run style that leads with the heel, you will love the ON.

The four grip levels on the outsole work well. I was worried to be honest, the 11 clouds obviously provide elevated sections with gaps. This works fine on flat trail and when on irregular terrain such as rocks/gravel, the grip works well. In the middle of the outsole there is just one cloud and on the opposite side a grey area with several different lugs – useful when on rocks! The toe area has specific grip for when running uphill. 

BAD NEWS

All of the above make the ON Cloudventure one of the most comfortable and fun trail shoes I have tried. It’s a fast shoe!

However, in mud and on wet rocks they are close to useless.

In all honesty, this is not a surprise. The outsole is not aggressive and the compound used is quite hard – there is little or no ‘soft-rubber’ that would grip a wet rock. On wet grass and on a thin layer of mud the Cloudventure was workable but anything else, no! I had no confidence on my local muddy trails and when going over wet boulders and rocks I was taking the speed off and being very cautious. 

The outsole also has some real questions over durability and longevity too. I am just over 100-miles in them and they are already showing some considerable wear.

The one thing that has separated ON from the competition is the clouds on the bottom of the sole. They are unique and YES, they work on the road and dry trails. In mud though the holes filled with mud. This caused three issues:  

  1. The shoes got heavier as I ran as the mud was not dispelled.
  2. The feel of the shoe changed.
  3. They made some ridiculous and quite frankly annoying squelching sounds

In the wet and the mud, the ON Cloudventure is best left in the box.

IN CONCLUSION

The ON Cloudventure is one of the best dry trail shoes I have used. The combination of comfort, drop and dry grip is excellent and they would be a shoe that I would happily consider for training or racing. I would even run on the road in them with no issue they are that comfortable.

Unfortunately though wet rock and mud are not the ON Cloudventure’s friend. If you know this, it’s no great issue and depending on where you live, considering this may not be an issue. For example, I run in the USA on occasion where trails are pretty groomed and I rarely encounter the mud and mayhem that UK trails offer, if that is the case, the Cloudventure will be great.

Finally, this is a shoe review in two halves:

Running dry trails, the On Cloudventure is awesome and I recommend you give them a spin.

Running in the wet/ mud, the On Cloudventure doesn’t cut it.

The ON Cloudventure is not an ‘all-round’ trail shoe and that is a shame because I personally think ON would like it to be. Knowing this is valuable information though as the dry-trail experience is something quite special. To draw comparisons, you wouldn’t use a inov-8 Mudclaw on road and dry -trail, it has a specific use. The ON Cloudventure is no different.

ON website HERE

SCOTT Supertrac RC First Impressions

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Who doesn’t love a ‘sexy’ run shoe? I suppose it does pose the question, ‘Can a run shoe be sexy?’ For me, the answer is yes! Just as it was when I used to ride racing bikes – my bikes were always sexy, it was compulsory!

So, the new incarnation from SCOTT hit all the boxes, rung all the bells and well and truly gave my eyes a woo hoo when I first clapped eyes on them in May 2016.

I have to be clear here, I was involved and worked with the SCOTT elite athletes in La Palma photographing the new apparel and shoes to be launched later this year and early in 2017.

The SUPERTRAC RC shoe is arguably the racing flagship for the brand that has been known for years for making darn fine excellent bikes. Well, ever since 2012, SCOTT have also been making darn fine run shoes, it’s just taken a while to get the message out. The Kinabalu Supertrac is still one of my favourite shoes. So good was the shoe, it beat many others in my test HERE.

The new SUPERTRAC RC has in all honesty little connection to the beefy 8mm drop trail shoe as listed above, however, it does carry over some of the traits.

Noticeable points are:

  • Seamless upper and overlays
  • Form fitting performance tongue
  • Reinforced toe cap
  • Radilal ‘360’ traction
  • EVA cushioning

The RC looks completely different to the Kinabalu Supertrac and the back/yellow ‘RC’ colour combination reflects the ‘RC’ range from the road bike and mountain bike range. I like that, I like that connection. It very clearly states, ‘This is the best of what we offer!’

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For the Supertrac RC the stats are as follows:

  • 5mm drop
  • Forefoot cushioning height : 17.5mm
  • Heel cushioning height : 22.5mm
  • Cushioning : AeroFoam + (same as Supertrac inline)
  • Weight : 270g in US9 men with insole in (some brands weight them without insoles)
  • Outsole : Outdoor Industry award winning 360° geometry made in wet rubber compound.

The Supertrac RC is not the lightest shoe but it does have plenty of cushioning and protection with 17.5/22.5mm of AeroFoam.

At 5mm drop, the shoe is certainly designed for an efficient mid to forefoot striker in contrast to the 8mm drop Kinabalu Supertrac that most definitely is a more ‘forgiving’ shoe.

Ultimately though, the RC is all about the ‘new’ grip that has been tweaked and tweaked through 2016 with feedback both in training and racing from athletes such as Andy Symonds, Jo Meek, Marco De Gasperi, Ruth Croft and the SCOTT team manager, Martin Gaffuri. The 360° geometry made in wet rubber compound is a real, real winner! The outsole is made for racing and training on trails where rock (wet or dry) is in abundance. The outsole though has less depth to the lug than say the Kinabalu Supertrac and so therefore grip is not as secure in mud.

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Initially I was disappointed that the tongue was not gusseted. A gusseted tongue is becoming normal now on many shoes and for me just makes sense. The RC does though have a form fitting tongue and it does hold the foot nice and firm.

Seamless upper is a winner, in theory it should mean that you have no possibility for blisters or abrasion from any seams. I did have a slight issue with rubbing on one of my toes where the shoe bends in the propulsive face, however, I do think that it is due to the test shoe being slightly too big. I will know more with testing.

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Cushioning for me was a surprise and I have to say I was surprised by the relatively hard feel of the shoe. I had expected a more plush ride but that may well come with more runs. It’s still early days in the test and the is just an initial first impression.

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Heal box is snug and really does hold the foot secure. The toe box is really well protected and therefore ideal for rocky, technical and mountain runs. The lacing is very secure and does compensate for the lack of the gusseted tongue, however, I am really surprised SCOTT didn’t include a ‘lace locker‘ to store excess lace as they do on many of their other shoes. It’s just a little elastic that weighs nothing but is ideal for keeping loose lace ends out of the way… maybe it will be added to the shoes for when they go on sale in 2017?

This is a first impression review and without doubt, I think we are going to see the Supertrac RC appear on many trails and mountains in 2017. Lets face it, you’ll have no problem noticing them…! The combination of grip, good looks, cushioning and seamless upper is going to make the RC a winner. I will come back with a full and detailed review after another month of trail and mountain abuse.

Scott Supertrac RC HERE

inov-8 TERRACLAW 220 and TERRACLAW 250 First Impressions

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inov-8 love bringing out new shoes. Not all of them are perfect. I think we can forgive them for that. It’s good to experiment and you can have shoes in a test scenario as much as you like but it’s only when people start paying for them do you really get the true feedback.

I am lucky, I have been fortunate to test many of inov-8’s new shoes. So receiving the latest invention (a shoe that I actually had a first look at in October 2014 at Limone Extreme) the TERRACLAW I was really interested to see what the brand had done with this shoe and what it offered.

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I have the TERRACLAW 220 and the TERRACLAW 250. This is a first impressions article, so don’t expect any great detail on what they are like to run in, that will come later.

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The TERRACLAW 220 is a UK7 so this shoe will be tested by my partner, Niandi. The TERRACLAW 250 is a UK9.5. For simplicity, the blue shoe is the 220 and the black shoe is the 250. They are ‘Standard Fit’ which offers a wide toe box. This allows the toes to splay when running naturally. It also is perfect if you have a wider foot or maybe when running long and you expect your feet to expand. I am usually a UK9.5 in inov-8 but I would be interested to try a size 9. I can definitely run in the UK9.5 but the shoe allows just  a little too much movement in the toes. So, if you are going to purchase online think about this.

They are light!

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inov-8 always name the shoe based on the weight, so a 220 weighs 220g and a 250 weighs 250g. In our scenario, the 220 in a UK7 weighed 219g/ 7oz and the 250 in a UK9.5 weighed 258g/ 9.1oz. Spot on!

The two shoes on face value look the same until you take a closer look. I will come on to that in a moment. A key factor is the drop, the 220 is 4mm and the 250 is 8mm. So before we go any further, the shoes will have a very different feel when running. In addition, cushioning in the 250 is noticeably different to the 220. It all comes down to personal preferences but one could arguably say that the 220 is an out-and-out faster trail shoe for shorter races and the 250 will be better suited to longer races.

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The outsole on both shoes is the same, so there is no compromise between the 220 and the 250. As you can see from the images, the sole is aggressive but not ‘too’ aggressive. Both these shoes sit somewhere between a RACEULTRA in the 270 (4mm drop) and 290 (8mm drop) versions and  a X-TALON and/ or MUDCLAW.

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I think it’s therefore safe to assume that the TERRACLAW 220 and 250 are designed at trail runners who require a shoe with comfort, cushioning and more importantly, grip. The RACEULTRA provides this already but with no grip and the X-TALON and MUDCLAW are out-and-out fell shoes or soft ground shoes. So, if the TERRACLAW performs I am pretty sure it’s going to be a popular shoe in the inov-8 line up.

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The grip on the outsole is really spaced out which will allow grip (similar to a football boot) but in theory will stop the sole clogging up with debris. Several buzzwords appear on the outsole:

  • META-FLEX
  • DYNAMIC FASCIA BAND
  • DUAL C
  • TERRADAPTER

Oh yes, just like many other shoe manufacturers, inov-8 have come up with a whole new wording system to describe some key features.

Meta-Flex allows the foot to bend across the metatarsals, an important feature in any shoe but especially useful for off road running, Many shoes that provide grip can be too inflexible. The Meta-Flex on the 220 and 250 does really add to the feel of the shoe based on just a couple of runs.

Dynamic Fascia Band is in the midsole and is designed to help maintain stride efficiency. The jury is out on this at the moment. It certainly doesn’t seem to harm or damage the feel of the shoe, but equally I am not sure at this stage I feel the benefit?

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Dual C represents the two compounds in the sole. Black and Yellow on the 220 and Black and Blue on the 250. The black area is made of a more durable material and increases protection, the coloured area is softer and stickier for increased grip. If you get a hold of the shoe and press the different compounds you can really feel the difference. I do wonder though if the coloured section is wide enough, only time will tell?

On speaking with inov-8, they say that Dual C compounds negate the need for a rock plate. I am not convinced, soon as you got on hard terrain you feel the ground beneath you. That’s a great thing, I love to feel the ground. But the odd sharp stone or pebble does make it’s presence felt.

The upper is where the two shoes differ quite considerably. Most notably, the lacing!

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The 250’s lace conventionally and the 220’s lace using inov-8’s new RAY-WRAP system which is designed to align with the first metatarsal. In principal this is designed to make a more secure, close and comfortable fit. I have witnessed this before in a pair of Brooks shoes and I enjoyed the comfort and reassurance it offered. However, this does feel quite unusual at first. Niandi has expressed similar concerns with the 220. But lets be clear, it’s too early to tell and and make a judgement on this. The tongue in both shoes is padded well and offers great comfort. The laces are thin but pull tight providing a secure foot hold and if tied in a double not they do not slip.

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The heel area on both shoes is roomy, plush and holds the foot firm. No issues here from just a couple of runs.

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The upper on both the 220 and the 250 is light and breathable and both shoes utilise inov-8’s new X-LOCK welded overlay Yes folks, can you see that big yellow X on the 220 and the big blue X on the 250? That is X-Lock!

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X-Lock is designed to hold the foot firm within the shoe. It differs greatly between the 250 and the 220. Just look above. The pattern is completely different. We will feedback on this more with more use. You will also notice in the above image how the 250 (left) has considerably more toe protection than the 220. The 220 has a yellow reinforced soft band, to be honest it offers no protection against rocks. Whereas the 250 has a tougher fabric and just a fraction more protection against rock impact.

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Let’s be clear, this is a first impressions look at the TERRACLAW and our verdict is impressed! As I have stated on many occasions recently, 8mm drop is for sure a sweet spot in the trail running shoe market and nov-8’s addition of a trail shoe with cushioning and grip is welcome.

For faster and more minimalist runners, they too will have a smile on their faces knowing that they have also been looked after with a 4mm drop.

Time to hit the trails and we will feed back on how these shoes perform, what the comfort is like and importantly do all these new features -‘X’ this, ‘RAY WRAP’ that and ‘DYNAMIC FACIA’ this really work?

The 220 in Images:

The 250 in Images:

220 v 250

The TERRACLAW shoes will be available in September 2015. Check out inov-8 HERE

The North Face ULTRA MT Shoe – First Impressions

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I have been waiting for this shoe….

I wrote recently that If the ULTRA MT is an improvement on the Ultra Guide then this is a shoe I am going to be very keen to try. As you will know from my Ultra Guide review, I thought the shoe was a real winner offering a great combination of comfort, grip and an 8mm drop. Read HERE

The ULTRA MT has a new Vibram® Megagrip outsole with unrivalled traction to keep you close to the ground. It also has enhanced upper support as well as a breathable Ultra Airmesh. The innovation continues underfoot, where precise stability and protection ensures a better performance with every step.

So what do I think?

Well, fresh from the box, the ‘Power Orange’ colour hits you and you will immediately make a decision if this is a positive colour or negative colour. Me? I don’t mind. Once you have been for a couple of runs, any brightness subsides and the shoes start to look like real trail shoes. I guess the most starling observation, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice this, but the ULTRA MT sure does look like a Salomon Speedcross.

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Salomon Speedcross

I am not going to go into the pros and cons of this similarity but I am pretty sure all you good folks out in ultra land would notice this, so it would be silly for me not to acknowledge this.

First Impressions

The ULTRA MT is bullet proof.

The upper is thick and durable.

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The toe box is well protected.

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The heel box is plush and the tongue is padded.

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The tongue is secured within the shoe to stop movement and provide a secure foothold.

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This shoe will take a battering and survive many a run in harsh conditions.

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The sole of the ULTRA MT is aggressive and is Vibram® Megagrip. It’s actually very similar to the previous Ultra Guide shoe but has a much harder feel and it feels hard when running on non-soft ground.

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As mentioned, I am a real fan of the TNF Ultra Guide and considering that TNF no longer make that shoe, I was anticipating the ULTRA MT to not only be a replacement but an improvement!

Putting the ULTRA MT on for the first time was an eye opener. It felt much more solid, less flexible and less cushioned than the Ultra Guide. Although 8mm drop, the shoe feels lower to the ground, this may well be because of less cushioning (I don’t have fore and rear foot cushioning measurements at the moment). The ULTRA MT also feels less flexible. The Vibram sole is most certainly harder (more durable?) than the previous Ultra Guide sole and in my opinion has less feel. I do wonder why they make the sole in different colours? From experience I have nearly always found a coloured sole under performs when compared to the same sole in black. Of course I am speculating here! Contact with the ground felt a little harsh initially.

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The shoe sizes on the large side. I usually take a UK9.5 and I have a UK9 in the ULTRA MT. The toe box is wide and roomy (maybe why the shoe feels larger) and for those of you that have been looking for a wide roomy trail shoe with an 8mm drop, you are going to be very pleased with the ULTRA MT.

The tongue is padded and I am pleased to say that it is fitted within the shoe to provide a secure foothold and to stop the tongue moving around. A mesh panel is added to reduce debris entering the shoe. The laces are thin (too thin for me) and gnarly but they do pull the shoe tight and stay fastened. For a non waterproof shoe, the upper really does restrict what enters the inside. I have been in some really muddy and wet ground and my socks remained dry.

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The heel box is snug holds the foot well and providing you have the laces tied appropriately you don’t get any movement or slipping.

In Use

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It may come as no surprise that the ULTRA MT is designed for muddy trail. If used in this scenario I am pretty sure you are going to be happy with the results. The Vibram sole provides grip on a multitude of surfaces but does feel a little hard when the terrain becomes harder.

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The shoe really is built to endure tough conditions. The upper, the toe box and the sole all look as though they will take a repeated beating and just keep asking for more… but I do question if this comes at a compromise for feel and feedback? The upper also has body mapping layer system on the upper to enhance support on the medial side, protecting the toe area.

It’s early days in the test and I will update in 3-4 weeks how the shoe has progressed with repeated use.

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The ULTRA MT will be available to purchase from March 2015. Weight is 295g for a UK8 and the estimated RRP is £120.

Check out The North Face HERE