Mccauley Kraker Tried Out Nike’s Ground-Breaking Shoes

Today I’d like to discuss Nike’s¹ interesting new (ish) line of racers, which include the Zoom Fly, Alphafly, and Vaporfly, among others. Running fan or not, you’re likely familiar with the basics of the controversial shoes: big heels and cushioning, air bags, and advanced carbon fiber plates, all wrapped in a gaudy, lightweight package. Similar to clap-skates in the 90’s and Speedo’s LZR swimsuit in 2012, the shoes have coincided with an influx of records both on the road and track, leading to the dubbing of the shoes as the ‘Cheaterflys,’ a monikor we imagine Nike’s marketing department are positively beaming over. Now, the readers of this website being the pure, capitalistically un-sullied adventure sports fans that they are, for us to discuss any Nike-related product –and to do so in a potentially glowing manner– is akin, perhaps, to something like Outside Magazine dedicating a section to reviewing the wonderfully rich taste of Nestle’s new line of rainforest-sourced chocolates. And yet, this being the future of running, and running (or at least walking) being the backbone of most adventure sports, the shoes and their technology cannot be ignored indefinitely.

History being cyclical, the running community has for 50 years flip-flopped between a love of minimalism and over-protection in shoe choice. These days –and like everything else in popular culture, it seems– the topic has become one of political fervency.

Nike, interestingly enough, has occupied both sides of the shoe spectrum: first with the wildly successful Nike Free line, which focused on mimicking, to various degrees, barefoot running, and in doing so strengthening the ligaments and tendons of the foot, and then, after witnessing Hoka’s skyrocketing sales figures, with their current line of towering, bulky racers.

We’ll leave the debate of which version of running is best –as well as the legality of said methods– to the message boards and professional governing bodies. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanical doping conversation, after all. But honestly, as spicy a topic as elites potentially gaining unfair advantages is, it is unlikely to have any effect on spectators such as you or I.

Nike’s new line of shoes includes track, soccer, road racing, and basketball, all of which use some form of a carbon plate. Photo courtesy of Nike

Let’s instead have a discussion as to what the technology means, not for professional athletes, but for the rest of us average human beings: the aging, oft-injured population who trains not for world records or the potential of meaty contracts with sporting behemoths, but rather, simply for the love of the activity itself. Our main goal is to stay healthy in order to continue to enjoy this thing we love. So with that lens as our guide, how does Nike fit into this idea, and where does it differentiate itself (and excel) from those such as Hoka that came before it?

A quick background

Hoka’s max-cushion-yet-lightweight shoe design arose a decade ago as a result of a couple of former Soloman employees attempting to develop a shoe that would excel during downhill running, but the design soon spread to the roads. Older runners in particular were drawn to the shoes, which reduced fatigue and cushioned tired knees and ligaments. Yet the design –in particular the high heel or ‘stack’ height, drew the ire of competitive runners, who avoided it in favor of lower profile racers. It also didn’t help that the shoes were (and still are) anything but good-looking.

While living in Colorado Springs I sometimes crossed paths with some of the world’s top distance runners, as they used the track behind our apartment for their weekly interval sessions. One day I was talking with a former Olympian, and me being a massive fan of shoe technology, I asked him what he thought of the future of running shoes. Was Hoka onto something? He sneered at the idea and told me the shoes were to be avoided, as they were bound to injure anyone wearing them.

I’d love to hear his thoughts on Nike today, who of course decided to follow Hoka’s general idea, while improving upon the shoe in every way: lighter, stiffer, more aggressive, a carbon fiber plate to improve footstrike, and space-age ‘zoom x’ foam technology. The result was a shoe that stood nearly 40 mm off the ground, yet weighed in at just 7 ounces, while still delivering 10% more energy return than what was known as the world’s best running shoes at the time, the Adidas Boost series. The wide platform reportedly decreased muscular fatigue. Athletes could do more hard workouts, recover faster, and potentially even race faster, given they were ‘responders’ to the shoes. Marathon times plummeted, and eventually the 2 hr marathon – the last of what many had dubbed the ‘great 4’ of human achievement (sub 4 mile, Everest, Land on the moon) fell. I drove to Vienna in 2018 to watch Kipchoge break the 2 hour barrier, and the crowd around me (and subsequently, the newspapers reporting upon the accomplishment) seemed less focused on the achievement and more upon the hot pink, unreleased shoes Kipchoge and his racers were sporting–  these would later be released as the ‘Alphaflys’.

FILE PHOTO: Athletics – Dubai Marathon – Dubai, United Arab Emirates – January 24, 2020 General view of athletes wearing the Nike Vaporfly shoe during the race REUTERS/Christopher Pike

Testing

I had my eyes on Nike’s new line for quite some time, but it was proving impossible to get my hands on any of the top tier shoes, at least without shelling out 250+ dollars. I was, however, able to find a pair of Zoom Flys at a local discount sporting goods store this spring, and after purchasing the only pair they had I rushed home to try them out. Zoom Flys are not terribly dissimilar from their more expensive counterparts. However, their carbon plate is supposedly a bit dumbed down, and the remarkably efficient Zoom X foam (otherwise referred to as pebax) present in the 4% has been replaced with React foam. According to Nike, React offers a substantial performance improvement over the the old Lunar foam (13% better energy return, to be exact) but after three pairs of Nike Reacts I should note I still find the Lunar to be superior performance-wise, although admittedly less durable. Still, I reckoned the Fly’s carbon plate alone was enough of a step up from my beat-up trainers that I could hopefully gain a bit of a feel for how the technology in the new Nikes works.

 

The Flys I purchased had the flyknit upper– this is a stretchy, skin-like material that offers little support, and given the already massive 33mm heel and 10mm drop, I had both the confidence and shakiness of a baby deer as I took my first steps. Right away the plate made itself known to me, thrusting me forward onto my toes in a pronounced manner. When not on my toes, however, I felt as if I would fall right off the back or side of the narrow, tapered heel, and my perpetually weak ankles voiced their concerns to me. And then I stepped out the door and began to jog, and guess what? The shoe still felt terrible. It felt slow; the cushion slushy at best; the support nonexistent. I doubted I could take a turn at any speed above a trot without rolling an ankle. Perhaps I’d been had. Maybe all the performance talk was simply marketing fluff. I thought about calling it quits, but what good would this do for an article? So after a 10 minute warm-up, I picked up the pace (expectations now tempered) and the most extraordinary thing happened, and the best way to describe the shoe’s transformation is to tell a story.

I’ve always loved sports cars, and as a kid I devoured magazines- Car & Driver, Sport Compact Car, Dupont Registry, and any other magazine the local Barnes and Noble might have in hand. I had two posters on my wall: the Ferrari 360 Modena (which I’ll admit has not aged well) and the delightfully absurd Lamborghini Countach. However, my Countach dreams took a hit when I read a reflection upon on it in Car and Driver. The car, the reviewer ventured, was best left as a poster on the wall. In real life the entry, via scissor door, is awkward for a normal-sized human, the air conditioning barely works, and the windows don’t roll down, meaning the cabin gets boiling in no time at all. Moreso, the foot-well is so cramped it doesn’t allow room for a shoe larger than 10.5. The list went on and on. Years later I drove one, and while all of this was in fact true, the journalist had left something important out. Above 30 miles per hour the car took on a life of its own. The steering tightened, the car began to feel agile, and everything came together in a wonderful harmony: the sounds of the road, the feel of the suspension, the shriek of the engine. Simply put, what the reviewer had failed to note was the fact that this car was not meant to be driven slowly.

So I ran at what I believed to be roughly 7:30 pace, and the shoe began to feel really good on my feet. Then my watch beeped at 800 meters and I was surprised to see I was running nearly 45 seconds quicker per mile than I had aimed for. And it just felt so effortless! The shoes were doing the work, it seemed, and I was just along for the ride. Without consciously focusing on it, my stride seemed to change to adapt to the shoe. I now had more of a back-kick and less knee lift than before, while my arm-swing also shifted, with a less-pronounced back-swing or ‘drive’.  My arms stayed high and tucked into my chest in their motion- perhaps I needed less energy to propel myself forward than in the past, I surmised. There are already a few studies on efficiency changes with the shoes–and here I should iron out the first of the misconceptions of the shoes- Nike’s ‘4%’ dubbing does not refer to a time improvement, but rather to efficiency gain, and there is massive difference between the two– but none had covered the changes in arm carriage that would occur. I’d imagine this leads to far less oxygen expansion, especially for someone such as myself whose form normally consists of a nauseating amount of arm flailing and shoulder rolling.

Now we move on to the issue of energy return. I’ve dealt with problems on my left side for many years now: broken feet and toes, stress fractures, hamstring issues, even a hernia, and as a result I’ve begun to favor that side when running. I’ve gone so far as effecting a pronounced limp, dipping my left hip upon impact to lessen the forces on that side in a way not too dissimilar from the triathlete Lionel Sanders. I know I do this, but I couldn’t help it, at least until these shoes came into play. The massive cushioning and energy return meant that (and here I should make note of a second misconception: that energy return is not energy creation, but rather a bit less energy ‘lost’) for the first time in years, I was able to actually push my left foot into the ground with force and then drive off of it, rather than babying it for fear of bone pain. Immediately I was aware of a strength and efficiency I couldn’t remember feeling, at least not in the last 10 years. However, there was a downside to it: long neglected muscle groups immediately began to make themselves known to me, and the entire front or shin area of my left leg cramped.

I wasn’t going to let a seizing muscle stop this fantastic experience, so I kept running, and in doing so dropped the pace further. The shoes felt better and better the quicker I ran, and Strava had my next mile at 6:20. For nearly an additional hour, in a state of blissful, pain-free exuberance, I continued doing one mile loops, floating across the ground with an ease and practiced efficiency that was entirely foreign to me. Eventually I decided to call it a day before something went wrong. I was absolutely euphoric that night. Imagine running pain-free for the first time in 6 years, and being rewarded with a 10-mile PR to boot, but with the legs feeling as fresh as if I’d taken an off day!

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit I am at times prone to hyperbole, but I am also a cynic at heart. Prior to trying the shoes out, a part of me did suspect all the studies and hype were part of a fantastical, exaggerated effort by Nike (remember, this is the company that made people believe that Nike Shocks, possibly the hardest and least forgiving running shoes ever made, were squishy and even ‘bouncy.’)  But what I experienced –and remember, this was with a cheap, watered-down version of the shoes– was nothing short of extraordinary.

It has been noted there are responders and non-responders to these shoes, and there is zero doubt I am a responder. To what % I improve from the shoe I am unsure, but here is what I will say: my heart rate in the Zoom Flys is the same while running 7:30 miles as it is at 8:05/mile pace in my usual daily trainers, the Lunartrainers, and that is truly extraordinary- although it may speak more to the extent my atrocious running economy limits me than anything else.

I reckon the people who will benefit the most from this technology are those in a similar position to me: iffy form, a history of injuries, and heavy. Studies have echoed this, showing a more pronounced benefit for ‘average joe’ runners as opposed to elites.  However, to that point, I will caution that the Zoom fly is so stiff that at any pace slower than perhaps 7:30 per mile the plate will cease to perform its duty and the ride will become sloppy and unresponsive, so perhaps for slower runners the shoe would be best suited for tempo and speed days.

Nike claims its shoes are reducing injuries, and while there is evidence that stride changes from new stack heights may bring with them their own slew problems down the road –particularly Achilles issues, see Galen Rupp or Gwen Jorgenson and their Achilles surgeries– I’d reckon they aren’t too far off with this claim. My takeaway: ban them or don’t on the professional circuit, that’s none of my business. But please leave the technology for the rest of us; the aging, beaten-down hobby-joggers who just want to get out for a glorious, pain-free run from time to time.


¹Yes, we’re aware other brands are creating competitors with similar technology. As of now I have yet to see any come close to Nike in terms of performance, but more importantly, none are available in my market as of this writing. But if you’re avoiding Nike, by all means at least try out a competitor such as Hoka or Saucony

VJ Shoes Xero 5 Review

 

VJ Shoes exploded on to the OCR scene in early 2019 with their incredibly popular XTRM shoes. With a signature design and color scheme, super grippy butyl rubber (#thebestgripontheplanet isn’t just a hashtag) and athletes with names like Albon, Webster, and Woods wearing them, it’s easy to understand why they because so popular.

VJ Shoes haven’t slowed down yet, though. Next up they brought the MAXx to the masses, with a wider toe box, and cushioned heel. Then it was the iRock 3, with a precision fit on a lighter design.

As we closed in on the winter months, VJ shoes has just released their 4th US design – The Xero 5. The Xero is an all-weather studded shoe with aggressive treads, and 20 carbon-carbide studs for traction in all conditions. The Xero 5 also has enough cushion to make any terrain feel like you’re running on tiny little clouds.

Xero 5 Features

Poron Cushioning  – The first thing I noticed when strapping the Xero’s on was the cushion and padding around my foot. The XTRM and MAXx shoes are definitely more “rigid” and less forgiving than the new Xero 5’s. I felt like my feet were wrapped in thick comfy socks.

20 Carbide Studs – Being know for amazing grip and traction is sort of VJ Shoes’ modus operandi. The Xero 5’s are no different. I took them out in the dead of New England winter on frozen dirt, ice, and snowy trails. I quickly realized that I could trust in the grip, and confidently gazelle my way through the woods focused on speed instead of footing.

FitLock – In the previous two models of VJ Shoes that I’ve worn, a 12.5 fit either perfect, or a bit snug. The Xero’s had some extra space in the toe box and mid-foot. I could probably have sized down without much issue. The Xero’s had a wider width in all 3 parts of the shoe, which is great for winter running. You’ll be able to wear some extra layers without any issue or crowding of your toes.

Xero 5 Usage

As I walked through the parking lot, sounding like a golfer wearing spikes heading to the 19th hole, I was eager to get some miles on these shoes considering the terrain. I went out and put a handful of miles on my Xero’s which included some ice covered fire roads, harder than cement frozen muddy sections, and some fresh snow pack through the woods. The water-repellent membrane in the upper will help keep out any errant water, snow or slush you plow through.

If you’ve never run in a shoe with studs before, they can take some getting used to. I could feel the studs on the bottom of my feet as I landed on the frozen trail. The focus on that quickly shifted to how easily I could run over questionable terrain with confidence, thanks to those same 20 studs on the shoes.

Studded shoes may have a place out on the frozen trails of New England, or the snowy mountains of Colorado but the one place they may not have a place? Your favorite OCR course, as most races will rule out running in studded shoes for its competitors. For training though, no longer do you have to take a day off because the ground is a little too treacherous, unless you would rather just stay inside and enjoy some grilled cheese and tomato soup.

These shoes are a perfect addition to your closet to ensure that you can conquer any terrain and any weather that you come across while getting miles in. But when it comes to race day, keep them in the trunk and opt for VJ’s core models – the XTRM, MAXx, or iRock.

VJ Xero 5 Review
VJ Xero 5 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Incredible cushion and fitting. The most comfortable VJ Shoe model I have worn, by far.
  • 20 carbon-carbide star studs make your grip almost invincible even on the sketchiest terrain.
  • Waterproof membranes protect your feet against moisture while out in the snow and mud

Cons

  • The first obvious con – is an inability to wear these on course. Studded shoes are banned from most races.
  • Landing on studs while running can be uncomfortable to some, or at least take some getting used it.
  • With a 19mm stack in the heel and 11mm in the toe, and 8mm drop is larger than other shoes offered from VJ.

Similar Products

Reebok All Terrain Super 2.0Reebok All Terrain SuperSalomon Speedcross 3Inov-8 X-Talon 212
Weight234 g229 g310g280 g
Heel Drop5mm5mm9mm6mm
Grip3/16"3/16"3/16"1/4"
Metal StudsNoNoNoNo
Price$100.00$75.00$80.00$120.00
ORM ReviewYesYesYesYes
BuyAmazonAmazonAmazonAmazon

VJ Xero 5 Conclusion

I’m slowly acquiring a small arsenal of shoes in my closet. Much like machines at the gym, each has a function. The Xero 5’s have a spot in my training regimen – these winter months when I am trying to avoid running outside due to weather or temperatures, the Xero’s give me a little bit more courage to get out on the trails. Just because they may not be allowed on every course, doesn’t mean they won’t have a spot in your lineup as well.

While I wouldn’t normally go out and hunt down a pair of studded shoes, now that I have them, I’ve noticed my runs in inclement weather have gotten better just due to the fact that I’m not worried about footing as much as I would with my more worn down trail shoes.

If you need a shoe that won’t relent on the most atrocious of conditions, offers a cushioned landing, and can survive the elements, the Xero 5 is for you and your feet.



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McCauley

Runner / Writer at Blue Highways
McCauley is a former Spartan Pro Team member, Spartan Stadium and Combine champion, and Men's Fitness 'Ultimate Athlete'.
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Other VJ Shoe Comparison Video

VJ Shoes Xero 5 Review

 

VJ_Sport_Xero_5_1

It’s winter, the trails are covered in snow and the sidewalks hide patches of ice everywhere, what are you going to do?  If you are like most people you’ll stay inside and grind out your miles on a torturous mill of boredom.  But fear not, you can now make safety your number one priority and still put in your miles outside by getting “the best grip on the planet” (even on ice) with the Xero 5 by VJ shoes.

Features

VJ_Sport_Xero_5_2

Studded – The Xero 5 has 20 carbon-carbide, star tip spikes, to dig into ice and keep you from falling on your ass while running on slick surfaces. In addition to the studs the lugs are deep enough to keep you from getting stuck in slush and mud.  The lugs are spaced in such a way that they release any mud quickly.

Poron Mid-sole – The stack height of 19/11mm gives you a close to the ground feel while the Poron cushioning maintains a medium-soft ride.  The mid-sole also has a great amount of flexibility so you can feel nimble on your feet.

Usage

You aren’t going to be able to wear these at most OCRs, except the Abominable Snow Race or other local winter races, but they are great for getting out when conditions are slick so you can keep your training on point.  I’ve ran in fresh snow, packed snow, Ice after thaws and refreezing, as well as slick sidewalks and the grip on the Xero 5 has been great through it all.
VJ_Sport_Xero_5_3
The only condition I’ve found where the Xero 5 didn’t provide me with enough grip was just after an episode of freezing rain when the temps were in the teens so the ice was hard and smooth as glass covered with a fine layer of snow.  Other low temp times where the ice had some texture, the grip was more than adequate. Sometimes you can feel a couple studs slip but other studs grab quickly.
VJ_Sport_Xero_5_4
In the interest of you the reader I decided to risk breaking my face and test the grip by running up and down a sledding hill that had been smoothed down by the joyous sliding of countless children. It was a scary fast descent down the perilous hill but I managed to keep from busting my ass.  The climb up had a few little slips but my feet never skidded completely out from under me.

The Xero 5 is able to run on concrete, as long as you don’t mind listening to your entire gait cycle.  The studs do not make sidewalk running slicker, as you might think, they grab onto the texture of the sidewalk extremely well.  You will wear out the studs a lot faster but they will keep you upright on an early morning run before your neighbors shovel their walks.

Durability

After 50 miles on ice and snow with about 3 miles on pavement the only wear on the shoe is a small crease along the toe-guard.  The metal studs are just as grippy and the rubber seems almost new still.

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Very Flexible
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent grip on Ice and slush

Cons

  • Not Waterproof
  • Laces are too short for a traditional heel-lock
  • 8mm drop (my preference is +/- 2mm of 4mm)

The biggest failure of this shoe is its lack of waterproofing.  It does have a water-resistant membrane which helps keep the shoe from becoming completely water logged.  Still, while running through ankle deep snow and hitting slush patches the shoe does absorb some water and a cold wet foot in freezing to near freezing temps is not fun.  I’m not a fan of shoes with over 6mm of drop but the low stack height of this shoe makes the 8mm drop not too noticeable.

The best part of this shoe is obviously the grip, which does everything that you can reasonably expect it to do.  Where this shoe really excels is in the flexibility, and low stack height.  It has great ground feel while also having enough cushion and responsiveness.
VJ_Sport_Xero_5_5

Conclusion

The Xero 5 is a great shoe to add to your winter running gear.  I prefer it to my other studded shoe the Icebug Pytho 3, which has my preferred 4mm drop.  The Xero 5 is much more flexible, lighter and has a lower stack height.  It is also just plain more comfortable, and it feels faster too. The Xero 5 fits true to size and will give you excellent grip through almost all winter conditions. They are kind of a pricey shoe but should last you through multiple winters and as of the time of publishing you can get $30.00 off with code ORMXero when you buy from VJ Shoes USA, which makes them a normal priced shoe.  The Xero 5 even at regular price has a lower price point than most other spiked/studded winter shoes.  Honestly, I’d pay just about anything to keep myself outside and off that damn treadmill.

VJ Sport XTRM Shoe Review

VJ Xtrm
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The VJsport “Xtrm” is the second model from the Finland based shoe company to find its way into the USA landing on many OCR courses in the coming months. After many saw OCR World Champion, Jon Albon, climbing wall, ropes, mountains and podiums in the VJsport Irock2’s, Jon and VJsport went back to the drawing board together in an attempt to create the perfect OCR shoe covering all necessary aspects including speed, grip and comfort. Did they accomplish this with the XTRM or fall short in designing the best shoe in the sport? I couldn’t wait to lace up this pair of XTRM’s, compliments of the Official USA VJsport distributors and see if I felt as good about them as they do.

VJ XTRM Features

Fitlock – I touched base on this feature in my Irock2 review and my stance hasn’t changed from then to now. This feature should be on all shoes, OCR and all other uses. The design of this lacing system allows the shoe to provide a secure midfoot feel without being too snug or loose. Very glad to see they carried this over to the XTRM.

Full Length Rockplate in Midsole – This feature wasn’t utilized in the Irock2 limiting the distance you could comfortably wear them for. Utilizing this in the XTRM allows minimal discomfort on varying terrains regardless of underfoot debris and surfaces.

Strengthened Rubber Toe-Cap – This may not be the first feature you look for in an OCR shoe but often overlooked. We’ve seen in models known for breaking down too quickly (All-Terrains) that durability in this area can be cause for concern in the sport with the excess pressure put on the toe-cap during downhill sprints, and quick stop movements. The look and feel of this feature instills confidence of durability over time.


Cushioning Units In Front and Heel – This feature is another upgrade on the Irock2 model that provides added comfort over longer periods of time which is practically a necessity no shame with more multi-lap and endurance options available in the sport than ever before.

VJ XTRM Usage

After a few short runs I could’ve easily concluded my review and provided all the necessary info you’d be looking for. But I wanted to be 100% sure I did everything possible to make sure this shoe was gonna live up the hype it would certainly get with the Albon name recognition. I’m sure Matthew Bardolph Davis would’ve liked to have this completed review weeks ago but I couldn’t resist testing them in the crazy Pennsylvania weather that was forecasted.


I was able to put in roughly 50 accumulated miles during rain storms, snow storms, ice storms, the aftermath of all listed conditions and then 60 degree perfection.


Uphill, downhill, mud, ice, streams, rocks and even wooden bridges were utilized to beat these shoes down and see where they stood after.

VJ XTRM Durability

Being a targeted area when creating this shoe, VJsport implemented varying failsafes to ensure durability and longevity. Between the added toe box space, strengthened toe-cap, Kevlar and polyester blend and added cushioning, they effectively made a shoe that won’t breakdown over time in typical harsh OCR conditions (Trust me, I tried).
VJSport-Xtrm-1
The medium last provides more room than the IROCK2 and combination of Kevlar and Polyester ensures increased durability im usual ocr shoe trouble spots.

Update: We now have a video comparing the 3 latest VJ models.

 

VJ XTRM Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fitlock lacing provides confident feel/fit
  • At 250g(8.8oz to Irock 8.4oz) light yet cushioned.
  • Aggressive 6mm lugs
  • Extremely durable

Cons

  • lacking drainage qualities
  • Slick on varying wet wooden surfaces
  • Can’t find a third

VJ Xtrm Conclusion

They totally freakin nailed it with this shoe. The never-ending shoe debate has a new heavy hitter to be listed with Salomon, Merrell, Inov8, Altra, Reebok, Icebug, and Salming. The VJ XTRM may make that convo civil as more people get their feet in these shoes and come to the conclusion I have. They’re durable, grip well, comfortable, wick mud easily and if you can live with a slight drainage deficiency you’ll have your shoe for long or short races that will easily last a full race season and beyond.

If you want to take a peek at the new New Spartan Shoes, click here.

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McCauley

Runner / Writer at Blue Highways
McCauley is a former Spartan Pro Team member, Spartan Stadium and Combine champion, and Men's Fitness 'Ultimate Athlete'.
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Top 5 Shoes For Obstacle Racing – 2018

We often get questions like:

What are the best shoes for a Spartan Race?  What shoes are best for a Tough Mudder? What shoes are best for Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash (or insert almost any race name here)?

You want to take a peek at the new New Spartan Shoes, click here. (review pending)

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At some point this is a question 99% of Obstacle Racers have asked. What we have done at ORM is round up the best shoes we have used, and other OCR Pro’s have used, to give you a simple list of the top 5 Obstacle Racing Shoes from our experience. Here they are, not in order of one to five but, just the top 5.

 

Hoka One One Evo Jawz – Hoka’s first foray into creating a mud shoe is an instant success. The Jawz has a flyweight nylon upper, a surprisingly cushioned midsole, and a heavily lugged Vibram Megagrip outsole. To keep the weight down and keep the shoe flexible, Hoka made cutouts in the outsole which, unfortunately, drastically cuts down the durability of the shoe.The forefoot is a little bit wider than a standard trail shoe but once you get used to it you’ll love them. You’ll also get kudos from Steve Hammond, which makes it worth every penny.
The Evo line is Hoka’s Research and Development team in France working in conjunction with their athletes to quietly pump out some of the highest performing shoes out there.
See our in-depth review here.
(Drop:  3mm  Lugs: 6mm  Weight:  7.2 0z)

Salming OT Comp-They are fresh to the OCR world and have come on strong. Savage Race has made them the official shoe for their race series. They made this shoe just for mud runs and wicked terrain.  The Michelin soles and their extreme lugs hold their own to any shoe out there to the metal while maintaining traction through the mud.
See our in-depth review here.
(Drop:  4mm  Lugs: 7mm  Weight:  9.0 0z)

Merrell All Out Crush 2–  Merrell really hasn’t pushed it very hard and created a better looking version with BOA. This shoe has decent lugs and it runs pretty well. Honestly it doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally but does everything reasonably well. If I was to get one shoe for training and racing everything between a sprint and a 24 hour race this would be it.
*The BOA version unfortunately has experienced issues with the BOA clogging up and loosening or no longer working altogether.
(Drop:  6mm  Lugs: 6mm  Weight: 8.5 0z)

Inov-8 X-Talon 200 –  This shoe was developed for obstacle course racing after inov-8 botched the update to the classic 190. This super heavily lugged shoe excels in shorter races with lots of mud and grass. It probably isn’t enough shoe for most people in races over an hour.
(Drop:  3mm  Lugs: 8mm  Weight:  7.1 0z)

Altra King MT– If you need a really (really) wide forefoot this is the shoe for you. With a velcro strap across the top of the foot this shoe looks a little funky but goes downhill better than the rest of Altra’s lineup. This shoe has a full length Vibram Megagrip outsole which makes it feel pretty firm and a little rigid.
See our in-depth review here.
(Drop:  0mm  Lugs: 6mm  Weight:  9.7 0z)

Honorable Mention

Inov-8 X-Claw 275 – The 275 is the longer distance version of the 200. More cushion, a little more durable, and a little wider toe box. This shoe would be better for someone looking for more of a traditional trail shoe with some OCR grip.
(Drop:  8mm  Lugs: 8mm  Weight:  9.7 0z)

Salomon S-Lab XA Amphib– Salomon designed this shoe for swim-run races in Scandinavia and accidentally created a phenomenal OCR shoe. A non-removable insole coupled with open mesh drainage ports this shoe drains better than any other shoe on the market. The midsole is on the firmer side and geared for slightly longer races. The outsole is Salomon’s Premium Wet Traction Contra-grip which is not quite as grippy on wet obstacles as Vibram Megagrip. The fit is a little bit on the snugger side in the forefoot and the shoe sports Kevlar Quick-lace to guarantee your laces won’t come untied. This shoe would hold up great for racing and training.
(Drop:  4mm  Lugs: 6mm  Weight:  7.8 0z)

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HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz Review

Hoka Evo Jawz
4.3 / 5 Overall
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Features
Durability
Grip
Water Draining
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I first saw these blue beauties on an Instagram picture Ryan Kent. I thought I must get my hands on them. They are gorgeous, have giant lugs, and are made by a name that I trust in, Hoka.  

I have been hearing about ultra runners swear by Hokas for years and had a great experience with the last pair I reviewed in the Hoka Challenger ATR.  I was ready to try my next pair, this time with some that are made for grip, the Hoka Evo Jawz

HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz Features

Vibram outsole with multidirectional lugs.  – 6mm, multi directional mega grip outsole. These things are clearly made for some serious trail running and mudding.

Thin upper – This is a “stripped down” Hoka, rather than feeling like the massive bubble of protection like most of the “moon boot” line, these are super light at 7.2 oz (204 grams). It also drains water very fast while being breathable as well.

HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz Usage

I first tested them at the Red Bull 400 in Upper Michigan. As soon as my feet hit the long grass at the base of this event, I felt these shoes dig in. I ran around to get my legs warm and a smile was immediately brought to my face. Brand new shoes can feel like driving a brand new car (or even a rental car on the newer side) that you really enjoy. You can’t put your finger on it, but it just feels great. On this day, feeling my feet tear up the grass felt amazing.

While a 400 meter race straight up some grass and ski slope aren’t the ideal test, the trails and an OCR certainly are. Upon returning to my home town, I went out on the Sweetwater Trails, which are some of my favorite local technical running trails, and the shoes performed super well. Next up was the Jailbreak OCR. It has water crossings, various types of muds including some slippery hills, and all of the other accoutrements one needs to test out shoes at an obstacle race. The Evo Jawz performed well in every aspect.

HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz Durability

These shoes are brand new to the market, having been rolled out for the Spring 2018 line. So far, I have had no issues, nor have I read of any from other early reviews, or other OCR friends who have been running in them. There is a strange issue that I have encountered and that is bleeding of the blue color after any time in them. One downside is that the blue from the upper material did discolor the socks I was wearing and even all the way through to my feet.

Pros

  • Light weight
  • Killer lugs
  • Drain well

Cons

  • Smurf Feet
  • Very Little cushioning if you looking for that “Hoka feel”
  • non speed laces (which I prefer whenever possible)

HOKA ONE ONE Evo Jawz Conclusion

I love these shoes, easily my 2018 favorite. I give them a slight nod over the 2018 Merrell All Out Crush 2.0 and they definitely overtake the Reebok All Terrain, my previous favorite. I am a huge fan of aggressive lugs when done right, and they certainly did these right. I found these shoes to run true to size, unlike brands like Salomon and Icebug where I have to buy a size up, these worked great for me at an 11, which is my preferred trail shoe size.

People often cut out the toe boxes for Hoka as they run too narrow for them. I get that “hot spot” on the outer part of the right food regardless of shoe brand for any runs in the 20 plus mile range. I will update this article if these shoes become “must cut” above and beyond my normal hot spot.

The Hoka Evo Jawz is certainly a must buy for the 2018 obstacle racer.




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McCauley

Runner / Writer at Blue Highways
McCauley is a former Spartan Pro Team member, Spartan Stadium and Combine champion, and Men's Fitness 'Ultimate Athlete'.
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