VJ Sport ULTRA Shoe – Shoe Review

Ok A new shoe by VJ Sport is an exciting thing. I will be clear from the very start, VJ Sport produce, in my opinion, currently the three best shoes for fell, skyrunning, mountain and longer-distance trail/ mountain races. I have said time and time again and I will repeat it here, the iRock 3, XTRM and MAXx are a trio of shoes that provide a perfect weapon choice for specific terrain and distance. Although the three shoes are very obviously from the same family, (they look very similar) – They all have ‘Fitlock,’ they all have amazingly durable Kevlar uppers and they all have the amazing Butyl rubber (albeit in different size lugs) outsole that VJ are renowned for, but they do not all fit the same, have the same cushioning or have the same drop. The iRock 3 is narrower, has more precision and aggressive lugs, the XTRM sits between the iRock 3 and the MAXx and the MAXx has been the more recent shoe, offering a wider fit and more cushioning for longer distance trail and mountain races. There is no getting away from the fact that longer-distance races, basically when time on feet is longer, the need for ‘more’ in a shoe can be preferable, but it does depend on the runner. Up until now, the MAXx was the only option from VJ Sport with extra cushioning.

Step in the ULTRA.

As the name suggests, the new ULTRA from VJ Sport is here to address the need and requirement for a trail/ mountain shoe that is ideal for any distance but will come in to its own when going beyond 50km and longer. With the recent announcement by inov-8 of the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, there is obviously a change happening in the mountain shoe world, VJ and inov-8 have never made shoes with so much cushioning before!

I am fortunate to have had the ULTRA for 5 weeks now and have tried them out on a multitude of terrain and conditions.

The ULTRA immediately looks like a VJ Sport shoe, it has all the usual characteristics, notably the upper and Fitlock. Turning the shoe over, the Butyl outsole is there. But on closer look and inspection, notable things stand out:

  • More cushioning.
  • Different Fitlock.
  • Wider toe box.
  • Different lacing configuration.
  • Different outsole.
  • Different width and shape to the outsole.
  • Heal box more padded.

But first, let’s look at the width of the shoe from the outsole.

The ULTRA outsole is wider from front to back and noticeably in the mid foot, clearly emphasising that this shoe is designed for less technical and more cruise like trails and rocky terrain. The lugs are comparable to the MAXx at 4mm but you see how the outsole is completely different. This wide last also compensates for the higher stack height from the cushioning. This makes the shoe feel considerably less like a ‘Max’ shoe and that is a real benefit.

The ULTRA cushioning was anticipated to be a step up from the MAXx (10mm/16mm) both at the front and rear and designed to provide a more plush and forgiving ride over longer distances. With 27mm at the front and 33mm at the rear of EVA, this isn’t just a step up from the MAXx, it’s another world! We are in ‘Hoka’ territory with this cushioning. Like the MAXx, the ULTRA has a 6mm drop which on a personal level, is a surprise, I expected 8mm. However, 6mm sits nicely and may well keep more runners happy.

The Fitlock, a key characteristic of VJ Shoes and one of the standout USP’s that make VJ so good, is here on the ULTRA but has a different look compared to the MAXx. The MAXx is a harder plastic whereas the ULTRA is lighter and a less aggressive. It’s softer and more flexible and therefore adapts to the foot better.

The heel box on iRock, XTRM and MAXx is quite minimal and really grips the heel, here with the ULTRA, the cushioning/ padding is a little more noticeable but not at the compromise of a firm hold. Your foot really sits inside and is snug and secure.

The upper is classic VJ Sport mixing Kevlar and Nylon (22/78%) to provide a durable and breathable upper. Toe protection is similar to the MAXx but the whole upper package feels like a step up with similar breathability but better durability.

The laminated overlays, while not the same, are comparable with the MAXx but very different to the XTRM and iRock which has stitched on and heavily reinforced layers to reflect the harsh terrain that they will be used in.

The lacing configuration is slightly different to the MAXx but still has the trusted firm and reassured hold that one expects from VJ Sport and Fitlock. There are the extra eyelets for lock-lacing or similar.

The weight of the shoe is a wow, my MAXx in an EU44/ UK9.5 weigh 313g, the ULTRA with considerably more cushioning weighs 286g – I am actually not sure how VJ Sport have made this shoe so much more lighter? Obviously the Fitlock is different and a saving can be made there, but still…? Compare this to the recent offering from inov-8 HERE and each shoe is 100g lighter… So, 200g a pair! Just imagine on an ultra adding 200g to every full cadence, it’s a huge difference and why the inov-8 felt so heavy.

The rear of the MAXx and ULTRA are quite similar, certainly in regard to the overlays, but the noticeable difference is more cushioning in the sole and additional padding for the heel.

The outsole is significantly different. I have already mentioned how from front to rear, the ULTRA has a much wider last, but it also has a different lug layout. On the MAXx it is Butyl rubber all over. The ULTRA is a mix allowing the softer yellow cushioning to penetrate and mix with the lugs designed to provide a more cushioned feel. It is very noticeably difference to the MAXx. There is no compromise on lugs or grip and the new layout with enhanced lug pattern has more grip.

While not a complete departure for VJ Sport, the ULTRA really is something different and only shows how the brand are listening to the customer to bring all they they love from the other shoes and produce something that is designed for longer outings without losing what makes a VJ Sport shoe great. The ULTRA with 27mm/ 33mm cushioning is a head turner, particularly when one considers the MAXx which was ‘the’ cushioned VJ Sport trail shoe was 10mm/ 16mm.

IN USE

I have had the shoes for five weeks and accumulated nearly 300km on them.

The feel of the ULTRA is very similar to the MAXx when slipping on with a noticeable extra room at the front. The lacing is reassured and with the Fitlock, just perfect. It really is my favourite lacing method of any shoe brand. The heel area is noticeably more padded and comes a little higher than the MAXx. The hold of instep and around the Navicular bone is unique and reassured. I found after 50-miles that my foot really started to bed inside the shoe and what was already comfortable, became more so. Particularly around the heal area. On longer runs, I also found the additional toe room welcome.

Sizing is inline with iRock, XTRM and MAXx. I use UK9.5/EU44 in all my VJ Sport shoes but I will hint at a word of caution, this ULTRA ‘may’ size a little smaller. So just be careful, I definitely feel a little less length in comparison to my MAXx but I still have used a UK9.5 with no issues. Read here about how a shoe should fit.

The wider last is really noticeable and provides a much more stable platform on any terrain. It has really grown on me… They are great on snow! Depending on ones individual run style, shoes with a narrower last, as seen on the iRock, XTRM and MAXx can cause some inward foot roll, even with the Fitlock. This is considerably less noticeable on the ULTRA. An important consideration with the extra height from the cushioning too.

Grip is as one expects from VJ Sport, it is superb on trails, wet or dry rocks and obviously, with a less aggressive lug, grip in mud is compromised when it is deep and sloppy.

My first run was intentionally a road run of 14km. I wanted to really feel what that 27mm/33mm cushioning felt like… NOT what I expected! I was really expecting some floaty, bouncy, marshmallow like propulsion with the shoe almost collapsing under my feet and then recoiling and throwing me forward. I got none of this, they felt firm. I said to myself, “new shoe, it will soften,” 14km later, no, still quite a firm feel and I was struggling to believe the 27/33 claim. To be fair, road use in the ULTRA should probably be limited as the Butyl outsole will wear. On my third road run, I started to feel a change and while not bouncy soft, I was feeling a difference both in overall comfort and energy return.

An initial trail run with a mixture of frozen ground, tree roots, rocks, a little snow and occasional ice felt similar to the feel on the road. I need to be clear, it’s not that there is anything wrong with the feel or the cushioning of the ULTRA, it’s just not what I expected from a shoe with 27/33mm of EVA. Surely, the whole purpose of so much cushioning is that it feels cushioned and allows one to run longer with more comfort? But, the more I have run in the shoe, the better the feel has come. Certainly, with over 100km in the shoes, they had bed in and that normal VJ feel has started to come. When in mud and softer terrain, the shoe had the usual VJ traits.

Despite a high stack height, the shoes do not feel like a Max shoe, on the contrary, I questioned ‘if’ there is so much cushioning? VJ have confirmed that there is. On technical terrain, the wider last compensates for the cushioning and while not as agile as a MAXx or XTRM, the ULTRA still has loads of confidence and reassurance on the rough stuff and technical terrain. Arguably, the ULTRA is the best Max cushioned shoe I have tried on trail which has considerably less roll and instability. The ULTRA really does feel like a beefed up MAXx which is superb and consistent with the VJ line-up. No point in changing what works, just adapt it. The control in the ULTRA comes from several factors: 1. The firmer cushioning stops the shoe compressing and collapsing and becoming unstable and therefore roll to the left and right is less. 2. The wider last helps provide a more stable platform on which to land. 3. The VJ Fitlock is awesome and really holds the foot. 4. Flex, particularly in the propulsive phase is till good despite additional cushioning.

with 230km use.

The upper had all the secure and familiar VJ Sport feel and the new Fitlock was holding my foot stable just as the previous incarnations. A notable feel difference comes from the wider toe box and the overall wider feel of the outsole. The heel box is really secure and a confidence booster when climbing. Despite the cushioning, the propulsive phase (flex behind the metatarsals) is still pretty good and reassuring providing some bounce and return when picking up the tempo.

The more I have run in the ULTRA, the better they have become. This not unusual for a VJ shoe, I had a similar feeling with the MAXx. Ultimately, if you like VJ shoes, need more cushioning and wider toe box, the ULTRA is going to make you very happy.

INITIAL SUMMARY

I am a huge VJ Sport fan and the ULTRA is a great addition to the line-up that carries on the tradition of great foot hold with Fitlock and the stand-out Butyl outsole grip. The added cushioning now answers the calling from consumers for a shoe that is ideal for really long ultras be that on trail or in the mountains. Having said that, the shoe works great on shorter runs too, it is just less nimble, particularly in comparison to an XTRM. The cushioning will not be for everyone, but that is fine, it provides an option! For someone who has avoided Max cushioned shoes since 2012 (read here) the ULTRA has made me re-look at my relationship with a heavily cushioned shoe and while I wouldn’t wear them all the time, the option to have them for longer outings is one that I have enjoyed. The cushioning is not as cushioned (soft) as other cushioned shoes, it has a firmer feel initially but does soften with more use. It’s not floaty/ bouncing cushioning, but firmer with a more controlled bounce and this is crucial for me on trail, there is considerably less roll and less of a ‘high’ feel. The wider last also considerably helps providing a secure platform on which to land, only enhanced by the excellent VJ grip. The wider toe box will also be appreciated by many. I feel that the ULTRA is a mountain shoe and therefore more designed for the tougher races that mixes challenging terrain with distance. UTMB a prime example.

Ultimately, the VJ Sport ULTRA is a really solid mountain ultra shoe that is well built, has great foot hold and has one of, if not the best outsoles out there. They are also light! Highly recommended.

To clarify, the shoes were provided to test, as are all the shoes that I review. But this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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See the NEW shoe by VJ Sport before anyone else…

A new shoe by VJ Sport is an exciting thing. I will be clear from the very start, VJ Sport produce, in my opinion, currently the three best shoes for fell, skyrunning, mountain and longer-distance trail/ mountain races. I have said time and time again and I will repeat it here, the iRock 3XTRM and MAXx are a trio of shoes that provide a perfect weapon choice for specific terrain and distance. Although the three shoes are very obviously from the same family, (they look very similar) – They all have ‘Fitlock,’ they all have amazingly durable Kevlar uppers and they all have the amazing Butyl rubber (albeit in different size lugs) outsole that VJ are renowned for, but they do not all fit the same or have the same drop. The iRock 3 is narrower, has more precision and aggressive lugs, the XTRM sits between the iRock 3 and the MAXx and the MAXx has been the more recent shoe offering a wider fit and more cushioning for longer distance trail and mountain races. 

Want to see the NEW offering and get an early review?

Available for Patreon subscribers only until the official announcement.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content.

Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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VJ Sport Xero 5 Winter Studded Shoe Review

If you read my shoe reviews on this website, you will already know how much I appreciate VJ Sport shoes, the trio of iRock3, XTRM and MAXx for me, set the bar when it comes to running shoes for mud, rock and mountain terrain. I have yet to find shoes by any other brand that matches them… Admittedly, Scott and inov-8 do come close with some recent offerings, in particular the Supertrac RC2 and the Terraultra G270.

In October 2020 I reviewed the Xante by VJ Sport, a winter studded shoe that excelled in snow and ice bringing all the many attributes seen in the MAXx and providing an awesome winter shoe. My only negative of the shoe was a 10mm drop BUT in all honesty, it never impacted on my running experience. I did mention however that a lighter, 8mm drop shoe was available, the XERO 5.

The Xante was a fit 4 with 10mm/20mm cushioning and 20 carbon steel studs, 5mm lugs and weighs in at 336g for my EU44/ UK9.5.

The Xero 5 is a fit 3 with 10mm/18mm cushioning and 20 carbon steel studs, 5mm lugs and weighs in at 294g for my EU44/ UK9.5. A significant weight saving between the two shoes considering the cushioning is only marginally different.

Further Reading:

Ice Running HERE

Winter Running HERE

Embrace Winter HERE

Winter Camping & Fastpacking HERE

The XERO 5 first off looks great in black and orange with a hint of red. Although listed as a fit 3, I personally have found little difference between the Xante and Xero and in all honesty, I would even say the Xero may be a little wider in the toe box? Feels more like a MAXx.

Light, agile and responsive, the Xero are a real pleasure to run in and not at the compromise of comfort.

Like the Xante, the upper is windproof and has a water-resistant upper but it is not insulated. While insulation is not absolutely necessary, it does make more sense, particularly for a winter shoe. Having said that, I compensate by using neoprene socks by inov-8 or Sealskinz. This ensures warm feet, even in the coldest and trickiest conditions.

VJ uses FITLOCK on the upper which provides the most secure and reassuring hold. The upper feels like a part of the foot and not something extra making sure there is no unwanted movement, especially important when running on any technical terrain. Integrated with the shoes lacing system, the FITLOCK tightens the shoe on the inside of the arch and provides incredible hold. It’s the best there is!

The 5mm Butyl outsole lugs grip both in the wet or dry and the addition of the 20 carbon steel studs provides the ultimate reassurance when running in snow and particularly ice. The secret of winter running is to trust the shoe, the outsole and the studs. The studs perform superbly gripping as and when required, the only time for caution is after rain and then a quick freeze. If the ice looks shiny and like water, take care, I have yet to find a winter stud that grips 100% in these conditions. In 99% of cases, the reassured application of your body weight pressing through the shoe and making contact with the ground is what provides the grip.

Sizing is true to size; I use an EU 44 for all VJ shoes and the Xero 5 sizes the same even when using a neoprene sock or thicker merino sock. The lacing system is so good, there is incredible flexibility to loosen or tighten and there is the option to lock lace if required.

Toe protection is excellent and the heel box, as on all VJ shoes is relatively minimal and unpadded but has superb and reassured hold.

IN USE

You need to trust studded shoes and once you do, you will just love running in winter conditions. Don’t be shy, make sure you plant your foot firmly and let the studs with the addition of applied body weight allow the shoe to grip.

The Xero 5 as with all VJ shoes just holds the foot wonderfully and there is an extra comfort in this incarnation that I have not found in the XTRM or MAXx.

The cushioning is balanced and the 8mm drop ideal. The 10/18 works well allowing feel for the ground without any compromise. Ice running can be tiring but I have found the Xero 5 a pleasure.

The upper does its job protecting from wind and water but insulation would be nice.

Summary

There is nothing not to like in the Xero 5, well, ok, maybe a lack of insulation… Other than a lack of insulation, this VJ offering is everything the Xante was and is but in a lighter and lower-drop package. Of course, winter shoes for many are a luxury, it all depends on how much snow or ice you get. But trust me, if you get regular ice, a specific bespoke shoe for winter running is so much better than any ‘add-on’ micro spikes. You get a true real run feel, and the Xero 5 give me everything that a XTRM would give me but with 20 carbon steel studs. I personally get to run for 3-5 months on snow/ ice so I can expect a pair of winter shoes to last one or two winters, for many though, winter shoes will last several years basically down to the fact that snow and ice does not really impact on the outsole. Just make sure you clean the shoes and dry correctly after use. And don’t worry if you see the studs go rusty, that is normal! 

I have been using five pairs of winter shoes with studs over the last 3-4 months and two are standouts, the Xero 5 being the winner and the Icebug Route a close second.

Light, agile and responsive, the the VJ Sport Xero 5 are a real pleasure to run in and not at the compromise of comfort. The 20 carbon steel studs provide grip in snow and ice conditions all with great cushioning and an 8mm drop. They are a winner!

These shoes were purchased to test, this is not a paid review.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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VJ Sport XANTE Winter Running Shoe

VJ Sport XANTE

Winter often creates apathy in many a runner. Especially when the white stuff starts to fall from the sky and when the temperatures drop, ice is not the friend of a runner. It actually forces many to turn indoors for cross training or treadmill running as the fear of cold and a potential fall is not something to be contemplated.

There is no such thing as cold. Just bad clothing. Winter is actually a great time to run, so, don’t be put off. Read an article HERE for inspiration.

Shoe choice however is a serious consideration for winter, and it may come as a surprise to find out that brands such as VJ Sport produce specific winter running shoes.

Combing the best elements of the XTRM and MAXx trail and mountain running shoes, VJ Sport have produced the XANTE, the ultimate winter off-road running shoe when snow and ice play a key factor on a run.

Xante has 20 metal studs and 5mm lugs.

Just like the MAXx which is designed for a more cushioned ride with a slightly roomier fit (fit scale 4) for long miles, the XANTE brings cushioning 10mm front and 20mm front (10mm/ 16mm on the MAXx,) 5mm lugs (4mm on the MAXx) and the addition of 20 carbon steel studs to guarantee grip in the trickiest conditions. While there is room in the toe box, it is not super-wide as this would compromise on what makes VJ great off-road shoes; precision! However, in comparison to say iRock or XTRM, there is a little more room for toe splay.

VJ Sport Xante with Nylon/ Polyamide upper.

The upper is Nylon/ Polyamide and although not 100% waterproof, it is designed to protect against the wind, wet and extreme conditions one will encounter during winter months. It is extremely durable and resilient, as with all trail shoes, cleaning after use will ensure that they last longer.

Fitlock offers the best foot hold of any shoe I have used.

As with the iRock, XTRM and MAXx, the XANTE uses FITLOCK which of all the run shoes I have used, provides the most secure and reassuring hold of one’s foot. It feels like a part of the foot and not something extra. This is especially important when running on any technical terrain. You do not want any question marks when it comes to foot hold and precision. Integrated with the shoes lacing system, the FITLOCK tightens the shoe on the inside of the arch and provides incredible hold. It’s the best there is!

5mm lugs and 20 studs.

VJ have the tag line, #bestgripontheplanet and anyone who has used a VJ shoe for mountain, ultra or trail running confirms, the Butyl outsole VJ produce really is the best out there. It grips pretty much anything, wet or dry and the addition of the 20 metal studs provides the ultimate reassurance for tricky winter conditions. The secret of winter running is to trust the shoe, the outsole and the studs.

Superior contact.

The XANTE requires you to run with confidence and it’s the reassured application of your body weight pressing through the shoe and making contact with the ground that provides the grip. The more confident you are, the better the shoe grips. Taking inspiration from the car industry, the carbon steel studs are not round, but star shaped thus guaranteeing better grip in trickier scenarios. Protection to sharp objects and rocks is superb.

At 300g for UK 8, the XANTE is a light shoe. My UK9.5 (EU44) is 330g.

The 10/20 mm cushioning is plush and welcomed. Winter running, particularly on hard packed snow or ice can be tiring, especially with a studded shoe. The XANTE manages to combine the best of both worlds and although a 10mm drop may seem high, especially these days, it does provide a more relaxed run without a compromise on grip or the ability to handle technical trail.

Sizing is true to size; I use an EU 44 for all VJ shoes and the XANTE sizes the same. I rarely size larger for shoes and the XANTE adequately takes a Merino sock which guarantees foot warmth even when wet.

A solid toe bumper.

The toe bumper is reinforced and offers great protection against obstacles and elements without adding bulk. The heel box on all VJ shoes is relatively minimal and unpadded, the XANTE is no difference. The hold is superb. I get no slipping or movement, even when going up the steepest of hills.

Summary:

If you have used VJ before, particularly iRock, XTRM or MAXx you will already be sold on the XANTE. In terms of comparison, the MAXx is the closest to feel but the grip and foothold is across the board superb. The cushioning is superb for longer winter runs, particularly on ice. The studs just grip – superb! The 10mm drop is relaxed and works well, out of choice, I would have preferred 8mm, but it is a minor quibble.

Should the XANTE offer too much, the XERO 5 is worth looking at. This has a slightly narrower fit (3) less cushioning, 10mm/18mm (8mm drop) and still has 20 studs and 5mm lugs.

If you have not used VJ before, do yourself a favour and try them out.

If you have not used winter shoes before, take the plunge. A specific winter shoe will suddenly open up running opportunities that did not exist before.

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE

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VJ Sport IROCK 3 Shoe Review

Robust, solid, great looking, aggressive outsole, Fitlock, good lacing, toe protection, red and black and the iRock 3 follows on from the iRock 2 with another winning shoe.

Quite simply, VJ Sport make the best outsole for trail and mountain running of any shoes I have used. They are what I compare all other shoes to, and still, several years on from testing the original iRock, no shoes have come close to giving the grip of a VJ.

The IRock was followed with the XTRM (review HERE) and then the MAXx (review HERE). Quite simply, when you line the iRock, XTRM and MAXx you have three shoes that cover all the needs from soft, sloppy and muddy trails to the harder, longer, more rocky trails of a longer trail and ultra-race. Be it fell running, skyrunning or ultra-trail, VJ have with the iRock, XTRM and the MAXx the perfect shoes for each terrain.

IROCK3

The IROCK 3 is a precision fit shoe with a narrow toe box. They are designed to hold and compress the foot so that there is no movement when running. Think of them as ballet shoes. You squeeze your feet in, benefit from the precision and hold when running and when done, you take your foot out and let it relax again. Of course, for some, they IROCK will just be too narrow. VJ list the fit as a 2. For comparison, the XTRM is a 2 maybe 3? and the MAXx a 4.

 14mm cushioning at the rear and 8mm at the front gives a 6mm drop.

The outsole (Superior Contact -kumipohja) is the hero of the shoe with 6mm lugs of super grippy butyl that works like a dream in wet or dry conditions.

Weighing 240g (UK8) the shoes are like Formula 1 cars for the trails and as such, they are not a shoe for everyday outings.

The upper is bullet proof with a mixture of DuPont Kevlar and Nylon and the other notable element of the VJ shoe, be that IROCK, XTRM or MAXx is the Fitlock which holds the foot like no other shoe. In addition there are overlays stitched on to add additional support.

Toe box is reinforced with a solid bumper. The heel area is minimally padded but fits like a glove and holds the foot secure.

Lacing is very secure, and the tongue is reinforced and made of a very durable and flexible material.

Solid build, aggressive outsole and great looks. This is a shoe for shorter outings, racing or training, when grip is paramount, especially in soft-ground and snow. It’s a favourite for orienteers, skyrunning and OCR.

IN USE

So, what is different from the IROCK 2?

Improved toe protection, lighter Fitlock system and improved laces. 

The IROCK3 is not a jack of all trades, this shoe has a specific purpose. 

I wrote about the IROCK 2 – “The easiest way to explain this is by looking at say, Formula 1. You wouldn’t go to Monaco Grand Prix and race in an MPV car, a saloon car or a bus, you’d have a very specific vehicle, low to the ground with incredible speed and awesome agility with incredible grip. The IROCK2 is the Formula 1 for fell and mountain running.” 

That stands true today and why VJ made the XTRM and MAXx to offer more comfort and less aggressive grip.

Road is not a friend of the IROCK, or should I say, the outsole. Too much road between trails will wear that soft rubber down quickly, so, it is best avoided as much as possible.

Needless to say, VJ’s hashtag of #bestgripontheplanet is not a lie. VJ really do offer the best grip and the IROCK is flawless in soft ground, on rocky trails and in the mountains. It makes no difference if wet or dry, they just grip like no other shoe. In mud, particularly soft mud, they dig in like football boots offering the best grip I have encountered.

Fit is precision. Once laced up and tightened. You feel the Fitlock hold the middle of the foot, add support to the arch and when switching direction on the trail, there are no question marks or doubts. The IROCK holds the foot rock solid.

At the front, the toe box is precision, but it is not super, super tight. I can happily run in the IROCK for multiple hours in comfort.

Feel for the ground is excellent and of course, the cushioning is relatively minimal keeping that all important contact with the surface so that one can respond to the terrain. Worth noting, this shoe is designed for soft ground, so, much of the cushioning can actually come from the ground that you are running on too.

In many respects, I am surprised the IROCK is 6mm drop. It works for me and I am happy, however, for a shoe designed to be fast and low, I am surprised it is not 4mm?

The fit is neutral and true to size. I am a EU44 and the IROCK is perfect in that size.

On the trail I feel the Fitlock and heel box working together holding the foot, be that in soft mud or running up rocks. The grip is superb.

Slabs of wet rock even covered in water do not make me question if the IROCK will be secure. I just run as normal and let the outsole do the work.

The combination of durability, fit, cushioning, precision and unmatched grip confirms what I said in 2017 about the IROCK 2, they are the best fell/ mountain and short distance skyrunning shoes out there!

Mud, rock, fell in wet or dry conditions, the IROCK 3 is the most complete mountain shoe I have used over shorter distances.

SUMMARY

VJ Sport have been making secret weapons for the orienteering world for many years, but now the secret is out. 

VJ are now seen at OCR races, Skyrunning, fell races and with the addition of the MAXx, we are even seeing them at ultra-trail.

If grip, foothold, precision and light weight are priorities for soft, muddy and wet ground, the IROCK 3 is for you!

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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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. Sizing is true to size, I am a UK 9.5 and these are perfect with a thumb nail width above my gig toe. Toe box is wider than the XTRM.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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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.