Friday, September 20, 2019

inov-8 Terraultra G 260 Review: A Superb Rugged Upper Tops a More Minimal & Agile Ride

Article by Don Reichelt, Dom Layfield, and Sam Winebaum

inov-8 Terraultra G 260 ($150)
Introduction
Sam: The G260 is a low profile 19 mm total stack, zero drop, hard surface trail runner. It has,a Graphene infused outsole and a TPU EVA blend midsole. The rugged upper features a Kevlar reinforced heel counter with a roomy, high toe box with a ballistic nylon toe bumper. It is notably flexible for a trail shoe and has no rock plate. More flexible and lower stack than many current trail shoes in many ways it harkens back to the late 2000’s era of “natural and minimal” trail runners but with state of the art materials and construction. At the time I ran in many Inov-8 as they were for me the first truly the first purpose built for trail running brand: not a minimal slipper, or a re shod road runner or a slimmed down hiker. 

The video below outlines the features and has on the trail footage during my first test run on smoother single track trails in Park City’s Round Valley.

Pros:
Don/Sam/Don: Love a zero drop shoe with a wide toe box!
Don/Sam/Dom: Very well built shoe, should be good for a lot of miles
Don, Dom: Excellent grip on rocky, technical terrain
Sam: A great option for practicing agility and speed on the trail
Sam/ Dom: Love the neon look!

Cons:
Sam/Don: The shoe laces are difficult to tighten and quickly come loose
Don: Aesthetically… maybe the worst looking shoe I’ve run this year. Doesn’t look premium out of the box. 
Don/Dom: Too firm for my enjoyment 
Sam: Overly flexible, low stack and firm and lacking in rock protection for longer runs.
Dom: Lacking in rock protection

Tester Profiles
Don is an accomplished ultra runner whose most recent exploits include a 3d place at the notorious extreme temperatures, big climb 2018 Badwater 135 miler. He more recently finished 4th at the Jemez 50 mile and won the Lean Horse 100. Don trains over 100 miles per week on both road and trail in Colorado.
Dom 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.
Stats
Official Weight: 9.17 oz /260 g (US 9 men’s)
Samples: 256g / 9.03oz (US 8.5 men’s), 322g/11.3oz  (US12.5 men’s), 296 g/ 10.4 oz (US 10 men’s)
Stack Height: Heel 19mm / Forefoot 19mm, 0 drop
Footbed: 6mm, Midsole 9mm, Lugs 4mm
Available now including Running Warehouse here


First Impressions and Fit
Don:  Fit is spot on, and nearly perfect if you ask me. I waffle between a 12.5 and a 12 in running shoes, and the 12.5 in the Ultra 260 was the right call here. First impression was that you can immediately feel two things: 1) this shoe is well built and 2) this is a very firm trail shoe.  


Sam: A wonderfully secure fit in a shoe with a very high and roomy toe box. I was struck by how simple and considered the construction is. No fancy gimmicks to secure the foot, a simple midsole of state of the art foam, and an innovative graphene enhanced outsole. While super loud in neon green I liked the look. 


Dom:  I really like the striking neon-green appearance of the Terraultra.  Not only does it look both badass and purposeful (highly subjective), but it also can be identified at a glance from a considerable distance.  When you’re wearing these puppies, everyone knows what’s on your feet! In terms of fit, the sizing of my US M10 was perfect. The shoe is built on a last that suited my feet well, with a nice wide toebox. 


Dom:   Although other Inov-8 shoes that I’ve tested clocked in right around their advertised weight, the Terraultra G 260 weigh significantly more than the nominal 260 g: my sample pair of size US M10 weigh 296 g, a difference of 36 g or 1.3 oz.  While not in the Clydesdale class, these are not a lightweight shoe. [I did notice however, that while Inov-8 state the weight of the Terraultra G 260 as 260 g (9.17 oz), Running Warehouse lists the weight of the plain-jane Terraultra 260 as 9.0 oz, whereas the graphene-enhanced version tested here (Terraultra G 260) is said to be 9.8 oz.  If RW numbers are right, that graphene must be heavy stuff!)
Upper
Don: This upper is extremely well built. The overlays are well designed to provide ample support without causing any irritation or hot spots. The stout toe cap is extremely well integrated into the shoe, and performed flawlessly the few times I (unintentionally) tested it out. Inov-8 calls it “ballistic nylon” which seems appropriate for how many rocks it fended off for me. An additional hero on this upper is the design of the heel counter, with it’s kevlar reinforcements. I’m not totally sure why you need kevlar here… but I can tell you, it sounds super cool, and held my foot incredibly well.
If you can get over the color scheme on this shoe, with it’s bright green offset but slightly less bring green… then the upper is a huge home run for even the longest of days. And hey, maybe that colorway will allow your crew to spot you from miles away!
Sam: The distinguishing feature of the upper is the ballistic nylon toe bumper. Totally rigid, very high and broad I was initially skeptical thinking I would feel the back edge over the toes, especially as the shoe is so flexible. Never once, a superb approach to protection, toe box volume and structure. 
The midfoot is very well held. The TPU overlays and as called out by inov-8, do not interfere with the shoe’s flexibility. 
The already very stout heel counter is described as having Kevlar added for durability. Not sure where or how but certainly welcome. Really necessary I can't really say.
As Don notes in his Cons the soft cord like and slippery feeling laces are difficult to tighten and tend to loosen. You certainly can crank down on them without bite but then over some miles you will be retightening. Not sure why inov-8 didn’t go with a flatter thinner lace or one with more friction grip as the tongue is more than adequately padded if a bit short and with a tendency to rotate.  
Dom:  It would seem that the primary focus of Inov-8’s when designing the Terraultra G 260 was to create something bulletproof.  This shoe is built to survive an apocalypse. All of the materials are specced to withstand a ton of abuse. As Sam observes, the toe bumper is substantial but doesn’t noticeably restrict movement of the toebox.  The overlays are wide and strong. The heel counter is apparently made at least in part out of kevlar. The laces are very thick. Another aspect of the upper that makes me optimistic about the durability of the upper is the wraparound rand: 90% of the shoes that I wear out fall apart where the toe crease meets the sole, and I’ve found that a full rand tremendously extends the life of a shoe.


Dom:  The construction of the upper described above, particularly the panoply of inelastic materials, would lead me to expect a stiff and uncomfortable shoe; but the Terraultra G 260, while not exactly a soft, glove-like experience (like, say, the Altra Superior 4) is surprisingly flexible and comfortable.   


Dom:   Like the other reviewers, I found the laces to be idiosyncratic: it was difficult to get the tension right.  They initially had a slippery finish, but I found that improved after a few runs with exposure to dirt. The tongue had a disappointing tendency to migrate laterally, despite the fact that it is fully gusseted.  This wasn’t a serious problem, as the centrally-located lace loop stopped it from wandering off completely


Midsole
Don: I desperately wanted to love the feel of the midsole. But man, this is a very firm shoe, and I just wasn’t in love with it. The G260 says it has TPU in the midsole, but for the life of me I cannot feel it while on the move. I’ll asterisk this section, I don’t usually enjoy super firm shoes, so while this is a negative for me, I know a lot of trail runners who will really dig this firmer feel midsole for a lot of runs! 


Sam: You get what you get here. A state of the art, lively responsive TPU EVA Extero Flow midsole but...only 9mm cushion of foam and 19mm in total, including at the heel as this is a zero drop shoe, when footbed and lugs are added to the mix. That really is skinny and results in a firmer midsole with lots of ground feel and ground contouring capabilities. 
Contributing to the shoe’s agility and flexibility we have very deep flex grooves into the midsole up front. 
So much flexibility is provided by the deep grooves that the shoe can be flexed inwards from the sides!   Certainly unusual for a trail shoe and many road shoes as well, While the outsole provides excellent rock protection there is no rock plate here. Hit sharp small rocks in the gaps and you will feel it as I did on a few occasions..  


The energy return from the TPU EVA is very much dependent t but depends on terrain. Run very firm terrain such as pavement and it feels almost like an old school road race flat. Run firm ground as intended and there is definite firmer pop.  I found the forefoot cushion adequate (if as stated above rock protection dependent on where the rocks impact) but wished for more stack at the heel to extend the shoe’s comfort and range. 


Dom:  There are no right answers when it comes to cushioning.  How much you like is a matter of taste. That said, the Terraultra G 260 sits very much at the “lightly-cushioned” end of the spectrum.   I definitely wanted more midsole thickness. The ride is firm to the point of harshness. Definitely a “barefoot-like” experience with a highly conformable sole and limited squish. 


Dom:  Inov-8 have a different approach to cushioning than most manufacturers.  Rather than add midsole thickness, Inov-8 often uses thick footbeds to cushion the ride.  In the case of the Terraultra G 260, the footbed is 6 mm thick. This isn’t huge, but it is more substantial than most, which are commonly 4 mm.  Midsole thickness is commensurately thinner: 9 mm under the forefoot. (And thinner still, perhaps 4-5 mm under the forefoot grooves.)      


Outsole
Don: The Graphene outsole seems like it will stand up to just about anything, except maybe mud. The tread performed incredibly well for me on different terrain in the Rocky Mountains, and the more I ran in them the more I trusted the grip. I even did some speedy turns on some sketchy rocks and these babies held without compromise. The grooves are perfectly positioned to give the shoe ample flex where you want it, without sacrificing traction anywhere. This is my first ever Graphene shoe, and I’m impressed so far and I can’t wait to see how long they will last me. 
Sam:  The Graphene enhanced G outsole is said to be 50% stronger, 50%  more elastic, and 50% harder wearing than normal rubbers, My runs were on New Hampshire and Utah single track and the grip on firm terrain was excellent. When things got looser say sand over firm the large surface area lugs and lack of sharper profile didn’t grip as well as more multi surface lugs. 
The graphene outsole did seem to be soft and springy enough, I think the 50% more elastic part adds a touch to the overall cushion and response of the platform.


Dom:  So… that “graphene enhanced” outsole.   As an engineer, I’m not sure what to make of this.  Is this real science or sexy-sounding technobabble? (Like the hilarious gobbledygook promoting Salomon’s NSO socks, or Inov-8’s own “Exteroflow".  I can believe that the graphene may improve outsole toughness, which may open up some design opportunities: e.g reduced rubber thickness to save weight, smaller lugs that don’t rip off etc.   But no innovation is evident here. Inov-8 look to have erred heavily on the side of caution, merely employing a new material to improve longevity in a conventional outsole design.


Dom:  In testing, I can’t say that I noticed anything unusual about the outsole.  Grip was excellent, but not clearly superior to other shoes I’ve been using recently.  Good rubber and a highly conformable sole (so lots of contact area) are sufficient to explain the performance.  I tried sliding around on wet rock and mud, and didn’t experience anything remarkable. Perhaps the graphene enhancement will only be evident after hundreds of miles of testing.


Dom:  The Terraultra is already a shoe that is light on cushioning, and really needs more rock protection.  Even on fairly gentle trails, I found myself frequently noticing uncomfortable penetration from prominences and pebbles.  It’s tempting to blame that deep central groove that allows the shoe to fold around a longitudinal axis. I believe that the shoe would perform better if the outsole grooves were transverse.  This would trade a little bit of sole conformability and ground feel for improved protection. Moreover, given the thinness of the exposed midsole underneath the central forefoot groove, I’d be willing to bet that this is the part of the shoe that will fail first.


Ride
Don: I tested the G260 on different trail types to try to find it’s sweet spot. I started on a more groomed double track, then went to a windy single track, and then to a super rocky off camber trail with a little bit of everything in the way. Based on running just about everything with it, I can say that as the trail conditions get more rocky and technical, the more fun this shoe is to run in. I didn’t really love the ride and feel on the flatter, smoother trail. It was just too firm for that. But add a bunch of vert, some rocks and roots… then this shoe really starts to come into its element. The firm ride carries through all terrain, but seems to work on the harsh stuff. I’m not sure I’d ever want to run an ultra in it, but a technical 10K would be just about perfect. 
Sam: I would agree with Don’s assessment of the ride and where it shines brightest: short and fast runs.  This said if you are old and not particularly agile, as I am for, the technical taken fast I would choose something more protective in the forefoot. Given their flexibility I was surprised how stable they were, tribute to the incredible upper here and the firm midsole.  The Terraultra will shine if you are quick on your feet on the more technical or for me if the terrain is firm smooth hard pack. This said the superb upper hold and overall comfort went a long way to balance out the somewhat thin and overly flexible forefoot when things got dicey.


Dom:  It is amusing me right now that both Sam and Don think the Terraultra is best for short and fast technical efforts, as the association I have with this shoe is Damian Hall wearing them to race to 5th place at the 2018 UTMB - a race that is none of those things!   But I digress.


Dom:  I enjoyed the shape of the shoe, how stable and sure-footed it was; how it was nimble and had outstanding ground feel; how it performed well on all surfaces.  But I found the ride to be just too harsh for my taste. My feet felt beaten up after short (less than two hour) training runs. One could argue, of course, that I just need to strengthen my feet, to do more barefoot-style running etc.  While this may be true, most American runners will think the Terraultra G 260 is under cushioned. Similarly, as a trail shoe, it unarguably needs more protection from rock strikes. And if you land hitting the exposed midsole groove, you will feel every little pebble.


Dom:  I really wanted to love the Terraultra G 260, and I’m sure that there is a niche where it blows the competition out of the water.  I just can’t quite figure it out. It offers a near barefoot running experience with a little bit of foot protection, but it’s not particularly lightweight and 
at $150 it is on the pricey side.  (Although maybe it will last longer than most running shoes.)  
Conclusions and Recommendations
Sam: A wonderfully comfortable super durable upper joins a low stack, flexible platform with firm terrain Graphene enhanced outsole for in some ways a throwback shoe to the more minimal shoe days of trail running. Days I  personally don’t miss..most days.. Want a durable low slung, feel the terrain, grippy speedster the Terraultra G 260 is a great choice. When I want to go fast and short and the terrain is firm and relatively smooth the Terraultra is a blast to run. I just wish it had more heel stack and a more protective somewhat less flexible forefoot area. 
Sam’s Score: 9.1 / 10 
-0.4 for thin, firm cushion stack particularly at the heel. No miracle in zero drop, a few more millimeters out back would extend the shoe's range. 
-0.4  for lack of rock protection and overly flexible up front
-0.1 for sloppy lacing 


Don’s Score: 9.4/10
I’m deducting points for ride quality and limited terrain runability (-.5) and the terrible laces (-0.1). 


Dom: There’s so much to like about the Terraultra G 260 that it’s disappointing that if falls short.  I love the idea of a super durable shoe, and this does feel built to last. I enjoyed the secure and comfortable upper, and the vibrant color scheme.  I liked the wide toe box, and didn’t even notice the zero drop. The shoe grips very well and, being firm and low to the ground, it is wonderfully stable in technical terrain and unpredictable ground.  I prefer lightweight, neutral, flexible shoes, but for my taste and the trails I run on, the Terraultra G 260 felt undercushioned and underprotected. I wanted a little more cushioning in the forefoot to soften the harsh ride, and a lot more protection from rock penetration. 
Dom’s score: 8.5/10
-0.5 for insufficient midsole cushion causing unforgiving ride
-1.0 for lack of rock protection under forefoot


Comparisons
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Altra Superior 4.0  (RTR Review
Don: It’s tough for any shoe to go up against my personal shoe champ, but the G260 is a worthy opponent. They are both zero drop with similar stack heights and they both have wide toe boxes. For fit, I’m a solid 12 in Altra and the 12.5 worked perfectly for my from Inov-8. The ride of the G260 is much more firm, and it does NOT have a rock plate. The Superior has it’s nifty removable rock plate giving you options there. The Inov-8 came to play, but for my money the Superior is still the winner. 
Dom:  Both shoes are zero drop, and have similar stack heights (Superior 21 mm, Terraultra G 260 19 mm) and offer a barefoot-like running experience.  Superior 4 is softer, more flexible, and lighter. It is also squishier and more forgiving underfoot. With the Stoneguard inserted, it offers more rock protection too.  On the other hand, Terraultra is (presumably) much more durable, and with better grip from the outsole. I prefer the Superior.


Altra King MT 2  
Dom:  Not yet reviewed by RTR (although I reviewed version 1.5) but it struck me that this shoe has a lot in common with the Terraultra 260. Both shoes are low to the ground, with excellent traction, and limited cushioning.  Similar weight ballpark (King MT 1.5 319 g, King MT 2.0 281 g, Terraultra G 260 296 g), both have nominal 19 mm zero-drop stack height. Owing to its highly flexible sole, the Terraultra has more trail feel by a good margin.  But the King has much better rock protection, mostly due to its continuous (rather than segmented) outsole. The King outsole is more tailored for soft ground use, and its upper is designed to hold securely in shoe-sucking mud wallows.  Terraultra is a better match for hard surfaces.


Nike Terra Kiger 5 (RTR Review)
Don: The grip of the TK isn’t even in the same league as the G260. For technical trails, Inov-8 is a hands down winner here. They both fit me well at a 12.5, with the Inov-8 being slightly more roomy up front. The Kiger feels more peppy during runs, and performs better on smoother, more runnable terrain compared to the G260.  Overall, I think if you like the Terra Kiger on faster terrain, the G260 would be a great companion shoe for treacherous and rocky terrain that you want to go fast over. 
Sam: Overall the Terra Kiger is a more versatile option for me. Plenty of cushion, decently agile, and adequately protective upfront for longer runs than I would take the Terra on. Like the Terraultra it shines for me on firmer terrain.  The Terra upper is clearly superior given its combination of fantastic foot hold and roomy toe box and while the Ultraterra grip is great on firm terrain the Kiger while not ideal in that department has an edge when things get looser underfoot. True to size for both but clearly more toe box room in the Terraultra. 
Dom:  Despite my dislike of what Nike did with the rear end of the TK5, I prefer the Terra Kiger over the Terraultra.  The two shoes are about the same weight (Nike is 292 g, Inov-8 296 g), but Nike forefoot sole provides far more rock protection while still offering good ground feel.  The Inov-8 offers a more minimalist running experience, grips more consistently, is built to survive nuclear armageddon. Other notable differences are the shallow, stretchy toebox of TK5 vs more conventional, wide toebox of G260.


Salomon Sense Pro 3 (RTR Review)
Sam: Sharing somewhat similar firm low stack rides rides the Sense Pro is stiffer and more protective (a good thing) and somewhat firmer and harsh yet up front and at the heel (not so good). It’s upper achieves a very secure hold but unlike the Terra is quite constricting. For short fast racing on rocky terrain Sense Pro 3 would be a better choice for me but that is about it.. For fun fast shorter runs the Terraultra. 
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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5 comments:

Curt said...

Noooo! Dom, you were the chosen one! You were supposed to lead us to the next great, zero-drop, "natural" ride! And it was supposed to be this shoe!

But seriously, good work. I generally prefer a firmer ride and find that minimal cushioning allows for more efficient energy return for my stride. Do you think you could comment on how this shoe might compare to the old Trail Glove line? And do you have any interest in some other, "fringier" zero-drop shoes, like Luna Sandals, Glad Soles, or Carson Footwear? Thanks again!

Dom Layfield said...

LOL, Curt!

If you like a firmer ride (and zero-drop, barefoot-like), maybe the Terraultra is a good match for you. I didn't test the vanilla, non-graphene version, but if I were to buy one tomorrow, I would opt for that. If it wasn't clear from the review, I didn't think the graphene (or kevlar in the heel counter) added anything useful to the shoe, and it would seem that they add weight and a lot of money. You can find the non-graphene version for significantly less.

I'm afraid I've not tried any of the "fringier" options you mention.

My experience in the original Trail Glove is limited. I bought a pair, and was initially ecstatic at the sublime fit and feel of the shoe. But then I went for a run in them, and found myself wincing at every little bump and pebble in the trail. Despite secretly wanting to be a hardcore barefoot runner with superstrength feet, I've had to admit that I need more cushion and protection.

Coincidentally, I ran today in the new Altra King MT 2.0, and it reminded me heavily of the Trail Glove. The shoe conforms very nicely to the foot, is firm underfoot, and offers a barefoot-ish running experience. It was like a Trail Glove on steroids - a little bit of cushioning, and a lot more protection from sharp points. I liked it a lot.

My current favorite "natural" shoe is the Altra Superior 4, but if you like a firm ride, it may be too squishy for you.

Another option you might consider is the Topo Runventure 2. I reviewed this last year. https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2018/05/topo-athletic-runventure-2-review.html

Hope you find something that works for you! Please let RTR know if you do. And even if you don't, why not.

-- Dom

Curt said...

Thanks Dom! I do appreciate the insights. If you enjoyed the step-in feel of the Trail Glove 1, you may enjoy the Trail Glove 4 as well? Each edition has made slight changes to the platform (and the new TG5 is mostly reviled) but the TG4 retains the fluid feel of the first with slightly more protection. That said, I'm sure you have enough shoes to run in. I'd also love to see a bit of a narrative piece on running in a huarache, although I should state that these are so markedly different than any other shoe or type of footwear that a review would be difficult. Apples to oranges really. Still, they are a distinct and worthwhile experience that I could write at length about... I'm clearly still living in 2009 over here with my minimalist preferences.

And yep! I'll give the Runventure 2 a second look. I tried it on around this time last year, but felt that it was overly stiff and cumbersome for a zero-drop shoe. At least, it felt overly stiff next to my Superior 2.0's and Trail Glove's. I also had a poor experience with the Topo ST2 around that same time and was less than enthused about paying for another Topo.

Thanks again and good work all!

Cam said...

Have any of you run in the Altra Vanish XC? It looks like that might be a pretty close comparison (in ground feel) to this terra ultra model, but at a much more affordable price point, and with a lighter weight. The only concern I have with the Vanish XC is its grip. It looks great for door to trail running, but not sure how durable it would be, or how it would hold up in more technical terrain, where the terra ultra seems to shine more. Thanks for all of your work, and excellent reviews!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Cam,
I have not but we have reviewed here: https://www.roadtrailrun.com/2019/06/altra-vanish-xc-review-tough-mudder.html
It is a far more minimal shoe all around and will likely prove far less durable. A super fine option for cross country races and the track.
If you want a super light capable trail shoe the upcoming (review this week) Skechers Speed Elite TRL is a great option.
Sam, Editor