Tuesday, June 15, 2021

VJ Shoes Ultra Multi Tester Review: Superlative Traction and Agility, Ultra Worthy Cushion and Protection, but with a Flaw.

Article by Micheal Postaski, Jeff Valliere, and Jacob Brady

Editor’s Note: We welcome Michael Postaski to the RTR Test Team. A 2:40 marathoner, Michael moved to Boise, Idaho in 2019 and caught the ultra trail bug. He has completed three 100 milers, all with more the 25K feet of vertical. 


VJ Ultra ($160)

Introduction

Mike P: I’m still on the hunt for that ultimate long mountain ultra shoe.  For reference, my default right now is Speedgoats.  While they offer super protection, I find them to be a bit “much”, as well as uninspiring to train in, and pulling them out only on race days is far from ideal. Seeing the specs for the VJ Ultras, my initial thought and hope was that they could be a beefed up version of one of my top shoes, the Terraultra G 270. Initial impressions are very promising.


Jeff V:  Founded in 1981 in Finland by a shoemaker who was also an orienteering enthusiast, he decided to make a shoe that would hold up to the rigors and give appropriate traction in rough, often wet, off trail terrain. 


Designed and most often used for orienteering, sky running, trail running and obstacle course racing, VJ is not well known here in the US, but after reviewing the Ultra, this needs to change.

This is my 2nd shoe from VJ, having previously reviewed the Maxx back in 2019.  I was impressed with the super grippy outsole of the Maxx and had little to dislike about the shoe overall, as it is light, has a secure upper and is quite adept in technical terrain which I frequent and favor.  However, it is a bit firm and while protection is good underfoot, it is a bit harsh to run in day to day, at least on hard surfaces.  The Ultra builds upon the attributes of the Maxx, retaining the secure and protective upper with Fitlock system, same or even better outsole traction, lightweight and now heaps of compliant, soft cushioning, making for a much more friendly and forgiving ride.


Jacob: The Ultra is VJ’s newest model and the first targeted specifically for distance running and ultra racing. Like Jeff, I tested the MAXx and was a fan overall. It had unbelievably good traction, a secure fit, and I even enjoyed it on race day for a rainy race on highly technical trail. The weakness of the MAXx is that the ride is a bit clunky and the shoe is heavy for the level of cushion, which is a limitation for racing. On paper the Ultra takes everything good about the MAXx and refactors what wasn’t so good, dropping a significant amount of weight, adding cushion and flexibility, while keeping the incredible butyl rubber outsole material. 


Pros:

Jeff V:  Traction, weight, security, protection, response, stability, cushion, agility

Sam/Jeff/Jacob: A near perfect balance of light weight, cushion, traction, agility, and upper security

Sam/Jeff: Plentiful cushion that also balances comfort with stability, protection and agility with a touch of bounce

Sam/Jeff: Light weight for stack and substance

Sam/Jeff: Uncanny climbing ability from a combination of flex and outsole grip

Sam/Jeff/Jacob: Incredibly tacky rubber

Sam/Jeff/Jacob: Simple effective and secure upper hold, highlighted by medial exterior strap

Sam/Jeff: versatile: mountain to cruising.

Mike P: TRACTION #bestgripontheplanet?

Mike P: Amazing ratio of weight to cushion/protection to responsiveness

Mike P: Dialed in upper, padded & comfortable tongue

Cons:  

Jeff V:  Struggling with this one, maybe price given the lack of brand recognition.

Sam: Somewhat high, narrow and tippy heel at slower paces.

Sam: Big rear lugs occasionally grab unexpectedly

Sam: The very  front is a bit cramped. Front toe bumper could be either less extensive or softer.

Mike P: Agree with Sam - front may be tight at true-to-size. Perfect after sizing up by ½

Mike P: Durability- At 160 miles including 114 miles of racing outer lug is detaching from midsole.

Jacob: Spongey midsole has a bit too much lateral flex in the forefoot



Tester Profiles

Mike Postaski Born and raised in New Jersey, recently moved to Boise, ID in 2019, mainly to have better and easier access to outdoor adventure.  I have no formal running training, have never run on a team at any level, and can count the times I've run on a track on one hand.  I actually grew up inline speed skating - both indoor short track as well as roads.  Picking up running in my early 30s, starting on roads, progressing to marathons (PR 2:40, Boise 2019), eventually I discovered trails. I love going fast and running all distances, but I especially love long mountain ultras.  My three 100 milers so far have all been in the 25k vert range. I also enjoy the challenge of looped/timed trail races, and even the backyard ultra format. I am definitely a gear junkie - I have gone through more running vests than I can remember, and my trail running shoe collection currently sits at 38 pairs (all tracked via spreadsheet)!  My wife does not appreciate this


Jeff V.  runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's and actually recently took down a popular Boulder Strava Flatirons route in the VJ Ultra.


Jacob is a runner and general endurance sports enthusiast. He runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He has been running every day for over three years and averages around 50 miles per week. Jacob races on road and trail at a variety of distances. In the past few race seasons he has done several marathons and shorter (≤ 50km) ultras and mountain races. He has a PR of 2:51 in the marathon and a recent half TT PR of 1:18. In addition to running, he does hiking, biking (mountain/gravel/road), surfing, and nordic skiing. He is 26 years old, 6 ft / 182 cm tall and 155 lbs / 70 kg. You can check out Jacob’s recent activities on Strava here.



Stats

Estimated weight: men's 9.5 oz /  265g (US9) 

Official:    9.35oz. / 265g (US9)

Samples: men’s  9.2 oz  / 261g (US8.5),  9.6 oz  / 272g US10,  10.0 oz / 284g (US 10.5)

Stack Height:  27mm /33mm, 6mm drop

Available now (unisex sizing). $160



First Impressions and Fit

Mike P:  I initially ordered my standard size (US 10.0) - they seemed a bit snug - mainly around the front, even going with my thinnest sock - Drymax Hyperthins.  Length seemed ok in front of my big toe, but they just felt slightly cramped.  I was so anxious to try them out, I almost kept them, but thought better of it and sent them back in exchange for a 10.5.  It was a good decision sizing up - the toebox was much more comfortable - but the upper is so dialed in that I really felt no difference either in the midfoot or with heel lockdown between the 10 and 10.5. This is the only shoe I have in size 10.5.  You may be able to go true-to-size if your foot is narrower to normal width in the front. If your foot is normal to wider, keep in mind you may need to size up - depends on preference as well as intended usage.  Now having the correct size - step-in feel is promising right away.  The shoe feels flexible and underfoot almost a bit plush - I get the feeling that after a few runs the foam will likely mold a bit to my foot.  Walking around the house, there is a noticeable “tacky” sound - like the rubber is actually sticking to the ground - interesting.  

Jeff V:  Out of the box, I was impressed by the light feel of the shoe and flexibility bending the shoe with my hands.  

The aesthetic is very sharp in the vivid green colorway, with a look that indicates competency in the mountains.  Sliding my foot in, the upper materials feel a bit thick and stiff, but very secure and protective without feeling over built.  Fit, for me is true to size, but will agree with Mike that there is not any extra wiggle room.  For my needs, I am really pleased with my normal size 10, as foothold is glovelike and very very secure, which I prefer for fast running on steep and technical terrain.  If I were planning to use the Ultra for longer distances, I could see going up a half size and will defer to Mike’s suggestion based on his experience.


Jacob: I was excited to test the VJ Ultra as the MAXx became my benchmark for top-notch traction after testing in 2019 and has not yet been dethroned. The MAXx felt like a prototype of what could be from VJ in the trail running realm, as the uninspiring ride and moderately high weight brought down an otherwise secure and competent shoe. The Ultra has more stack, a sleeker upper, and importantly less outsole coverage which increases flexibility and drops weight—it sounds perfect.

Out of the box, the light green colorway with characteristic VJ diamond-pattern stitching and overall simple construction looks performant and robust without excess. The Ultra is nicely flexible but does not easily hit a breakpoint when flexing in hand. I find this tends to lead to a smooth, consistent ride. 


On foot, my initial impressions are that sizing is perfect and the fit is overall comfortable around and below the foot without any remarkable aspects. It is secure without any slop. There is enough space and softness in the forefoot for me to feel comfortable despite it not being overly wide. I think it is interesting that Mike sized up, because though I felt the fit was exactly right, it is certainly on the snugger side and when I raced the Ultra (more on this later), I did feel uncomfortable rubbing on the outside of my smallest toes by the end. I would be concerned that sizing up would lower the excellent foothold, but Mike’s experience indicates this might not be an issue.


Upper

The upper is nylon reinforced with Kevlar fibers


Mike P:  As mentioned earlier, the Nylon/ Kevlar upper really feels locked in.  There seems to be no extraneous upper material, and at least for me, the upper molds perfectly around my foot.  

This is my first VJ shoe, and I really like the Fitlock lacing - I’m not sure how exactly it works, but where the band is on the inside of your foot, the lace holes are spaced farther apart than the lateral side where they are a bit closer. I like to keep my lower laces a bit looser and snug up the midfoot and it really seems to work well with this shoe.  

The heel collar I would say is stable - not overly firm.  There’s no extra padding around the collar to lock in the heel which I think is a good sign - the fit and flexibility of the shoe does the trick so no need for extra fluff. 

Update: I trimmed down the outer left ankle collar to alleviate rubbing/pressure that became apparent 8-10 hours into a 108K race.

The tongue may be slightly short, but it is shaped really well to the top of the foot and I had no issues with it shifting.  

Also it is well padded from top to bottom (kudos VJ!) so you can really tension your laces as much as you need.  This should be a standard feature on all trail shoes.  Laces are a bit on the thin side, but they seem very light and hold well, not an issue. 

Jeff V:  Mike really encapsulates perfectly the upper of the Ultra.  As I mentioned above, the upper initially feels a bit stiff, but was never a problem and broke in well over the course of several runs to come to feel more compliant and perhaps even a bit molded and custom.  In my normal size 10, the heel, midfoot and forefoot all feel very locked and secure, enough so that I cannot reach a limit of this shoes capabilities in technical terrain, confidence reigns supreme.  

Jeff V:  As previously mentioned, those with wider, higher volume feet, or simply a preference for more wiggle room would be advised to go up a half size.  If you have thin, narrow, low volume feet and prefer a super locked fit for technical terrain, stay true to size.


Jacob: The Ultra upper is both sleek and substantial. There is all the protection and security that I need and nothing more, which keeps weight down and the design simple. The upper is primarily the Nylon/Kevlar material with several overlays for additional structure. The most notable is the Fitlock system which consists of inflexible reinforcement on the medial side that the laces thread through. Many shoes employ a similar concept of having laces run through a stiff material at midfoot that is connected directly to the sole to increase security (a recent example is fabric strap in the Saucony Endorphin Pro 2) and I find it works well, leading to a locked-in fit without a lot of pressure overall.


The upper is racer-leaning for a trail shoe without much heel padding, a semi-rigid heel counter, and a low tongue. The tongue is uniquely foamy and inflexible but works very well at preventing lace bite and making it easy to find the ideal level of tightness. 


The fit is snug but with my medium-width foot I have enough space to be comfortable without compromising security on technical trail. I find that the fit strikes a good balance of foothold and comfort.  My primary use of the VJ Ultra is moving quickly over challenging terrain so I don’t want an overly wide toebox—if I was racing smooth terrain, I wouldn’t pick the VJ Ultra. I did feel some uncomfortable rubbing on the outside of my smallest toes towards the end of a 14 mile race I ran in the Ultra, so it definitely isn’t a roomy toebox. I would like to try a half size up to compare, but without that experience feel confident in going true to size, especially for shorter races.


Midsole

Mike P:  At 27/33mm, you’re definitely into high stack territory, but it doesn’t exactly feel that way.  With a single slab of EVA, the underfoot feel is consistent throughout the foot - no support posts, stiffness, harder or softer areas.  This seems to give the shoe a balanced feel, I don’t feel like I need to find a particular “sweet spot” to make the shoe work.  Running on some semi-technical sections and some steeper downs, I didn’t notice any harshness underfoot.  In comparison for example to the Terraultra G270s - the G270s have a bit of a springier foam, but you definitely feel the vibrations from hard surfaces and rocks getting through to your foot. With the VJs, you feel the contours of the ground but harshness is muted.  I am curious to see durability-wise if the midsole will hold up and at what point it will start to pack in. 


Jeff V:  To echo what Mike says, the midsole here does an exceptional job providing a balanced feel, soft and plush without feeling squishy or unpredictable.  Flexibility is excellent, without feeling overly so or tiring, with just enough flex to contour over rocks, roots and undulations in the trails and to provide good ground feel, without ever having to carefully pick each foot plant.  

Jeff V:  Even with an objectively high stack, I have never felt any instability, nor have I had any trepidation in technical terrain.  I believe that there is plenty enough midsole and the right amount of cushioning to live up to the Ultra name, though it is also ideal for faster, shorter technical efforts.  Response is very good and somewhat aided by the light weight, supreme fit, traction and agility.


Jacob: The midsole is a single slab of EVA that has a smooth and consistent feel. It is a bit spongy and soft enough to sink in slightly. It doesn’t have much bounce or rebound and has a muted feel overall. I agree with Mike and Jeff that the level of cushion and flexibility is very well done—balanced with neither too little or too much. It provides ample protection but also some ground feel and natural flex. It does not have the level of protection as more maximal (e.g. Hoka Speedgoat, Brooks Cascadia) shoes but I prefer the VJ Ultra mid-range midsole feel for sub-ultra races and general training. The midsole is performant overall and works well in the VJ Ultra, however I feel like it’s lacking quick rebound and snap.


Outsole

100% Butyl rubber

Mike P:  For me this is the star of the shoe.  Again, this being my first time running in VJs, I was almost startled within the first few minutes of my 1st run with the grip.  I’m not talking about crazy terrain either - just hard packed, dry dirt singletrack.  Whereas with most shoes you have that tiny loss of traction at the final toe-off, these just seem to stick to the ground and I feel like I can get a full push with each stride. For me - definitely living up to the hashtag they printed on the side of the box.  The outsole is obviously not full coverage - but this does not compromise grip at all.  The ability to have this much grip with relatively less outsole definitely allows some major weight savings.  The shoe is definitely one of the, if not the lightest out there in it’s stack class.  On the down side, you may feel some sharp rocks if you hit the wrong spot between the rubber patches.  I didn’t have this issue at all, and anyway I would make that trade for the weight savings any day. 

Jeff V:  Mike nails it.  The outsole grip here is hands down the best I have run in and I tend to prioritize traction in shoes over many other factors given the steep, technical, mountainous trail running and off trail running that I prefer. 

Jeff V:  I was able to put the VJ Ultra through the ringer over every surface and variety of conditions one could imagine and I never once had a single slip or hesitant moment, no matter how wet, mucky, sloppy conditions may be, how steep and loose, off camber junk, polished rock, wet slab, dry slab and minor scrambling.  

In fact, I loaned the VJ Ultra to my good friend Bill Wright (founder and head Minion of the Satan’s Minion’s scrambling group), who took the shoes out for some more serious scrambling/climbing in the Flatirons above Boulder.  

Bill and the Minions usually climb in shoes resoled with sticky rubber or La Sportivas (often the TX2 climbing/approach shoe) and Bill was impressed enough to immediately order a pair for himself.  My only caveat regarding the outsole would be it’s performance on more graded, smooth, hard surfaces and especially on pavement, at least for any significant duration.  

Jeff V:  The lugs are sooo sticky and aggressive, they are somewhat loud, distracting and annoying to literally have a suction cup-like sound and feel as you run.

Jeff V:  Durability thus far is proving to be average to above average, with just very minimal signs of wear on the forefoot tread where I toe off.  Protection underfoot is very good and despite all of the fast running through rocky terrain, I have only felt one or two, very muted zingers through the exposed foam section, but again, very minor.


Jacob: The outsole is what takes the VJ Ultra from solid to excellent. It provides truly remarkable traction on all terrain. I have not run a shoe with better traction than what VJ’s butyl rubber provides. With full rubber coverage, the sibling shoe MAXx has better rock and root traction as with the Ultra I noticed several times where a root would slide across the exposed midsole at midfoot. However, the Ultra traction is still excellent. Overall, the lug shape and configuration of the Ultra is better than the MAXx for all around trail running, including dirt, gravel, and mud, using the tried and true directional chevron lugs.


The excellent traction inspires confidence to approach steep rock even when wet. 


I did two critical activities in the VJ Ultra that put the performance to the test and it succeeded, securing its place as one of the best shoes I’ve ever run for technical terrain. The first activity was a hike (with a few fast run sections for shoe testing) up Mount Mansfield in Vermont, USA during a rainstorm. I hiked with my dog who is a great athlete but I have to carry him up and down steep scrambling sections. Even on the granite with streams pouring down it, I could hold all my weight on one foot while lifting my dog up a boulder—it was remarkable and critical given the conditions. 


The second activity was racing the VJ Ultra for the Chocorua Mountain Race in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, USA. This 14 mile, 5k ft vertical race includes several steam crossings as well as slab and boulder scrambling, steep descending, and wet rocks and roots. It is the most technical terrain I have ever run and the VJ Ultra was fantastic allowing me to focus on my effort and fueling rather than worrying about traction or security. I finished eighth and noticed the winner was wearing the VJ Ultra as well. I wore the Hoka Speedgoat for this race previously and think the VJ Ultra is overall the better choice being lighter, faster on climbs, and has better traction.


A minor negative of the excellent traction is that it feels quite strange running on asphalt—not smooth at all and nearly a suction cup effect, as Jeff noted.


Durability Update

Mike: I have 160 total miles in them, including 114 miles of racing over 3 different races - the terrain was a mix of fire roads, trails, with some rocky sections.  During the last 38M race I started to experience some significant damage to the outsoles

 

- one of the lugs is almost completely peeling off with the foam attached
- several of the other outer lugs are beginning to peel back
- there is one deep gouge through the midsole under the ball of my foot - almost entirely through the midsole. 

To me it seems like the issue is in this spot - the inside corner edges - of the outer strips of rubber in the forefoot.  They are squared off, and with the flexing of the shoe, those areas look like they are susceptible to peeling off from the midsole. 

Jeff: I had to go look closely.  Indeed, at 56.4 miles on my shoes mostly highly technical rocky terrain, I am seeing the same thing, with 3 or 4 lugs completely peeling off and many others well on their way. 


Jacob: I only have 31 miles on mine (including two races—I am saving them for races) and do not have any issues yet.

Ride

Mike P:  Best way to describe the ride would be well balanced.  WIth the midsole cushioning feeling even throughout, there’s nothing to get in the way.  Even with a 6mm drop, the heel does not feel overweighted.  I would say it actually feels more like a 4mm drop.  The ride feels neither springy/bouncy nor firm - somewhere in the middle.  It’s a good match with the flexibility of the outsole.  The feeling of being able to be both agile and protected at the same time is really fun.  I found myself running similarly to how I would in Terraultra G270s- which is complementary since that shoe is much lower to the ground and less protective.


Jeff V:  Well balanced is right.  Everything about the performance of this shoe is well balanced.  The Ultra offers a very lively, spirited and agile ride which is most noticeable and appreciated, at least for me, when pushing hard, uphill, downhill and especially when conditions get tough, the VJ Ultra is nimble and predictable, offering surprisingly well cushioned protection that is just at home for a short sprint lap on the mountain, or much longer distances.


Jacob: The VJ Ultra ride is in the middle/average in many ways. It is moderately cushioned, medium-soft, flexible, and stable. None of the ride characteristics are dramatic but it feels smooth and consistent. I agree with Mike and Jeff about the ride being well balanced. It is also a bit plain, certainly not exciting—it would not be fun as a road shoe.., but works well for ripping technical terrain. It doesn’t have much pop or snap but moves along quickly and nimbly while also feeling protected. 


The biggest weakness for me of the VJ Ultra overall is that the ride feels a bit spongy underfoot and overly flexible laterally so the sides of the midsole feel like they bend up around my forefoot in some situations. The foam also feels like it could pack out easily, but only time will tell on that. I think the ride is the area of the VJ Ultra that could use the most improvement, maybe a touch more bounce or snap, perhaps from a slightly firmer midsole or a different foam material. I am intrigued to try the TPU bead boomerang sockliner from my Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 in the VJ Ultra to give it a bit more of an energetic feel.


Update


River of No Return 108K VJ Ultra Report (6/19/2021)

This past weekend I took the VJ Ultras out for the River of No Return 108K in Challis, Idaho. Conditions were hot and dry, but it was breezy throughout so not too bad if you were heat trained. The course was mostly rocky two track ATV trails with some singletrack mixed in. Not the most technical terrain overall, but there were also several climbs above 9000 feet.  Overall vert was 14.8K, with all of it in the first 55M. 


I ran 55 miles in the VJs, then switched to Challenger ATR 6s for the final 13 miles, which was a gradual descent, with the final 4+ miles being on the road. Here are my thoughts and observations-

- My feet and legs felt good throughout, with a couple of exceptions that I will get to. I felt protected enough over 12 hours, and I feel like the flexibility and grip really helped preserve my legs. I didn't have any of the usual ankle knee and hip pains that I usually get. I'm going to continue to explore more flexible, "lesser" shoes than the Hokas I usually default to.

- I got some minor irritation where the top of the somewhat short tongue meets the front of my ankle.  This was minor though, I actually didn't notice it while running, only after the race.  Nevertheless it probably would have been better if VJ rounded out or padded the top edge of the tongue a bit- it is a bit stiff. 

- The toebox also became an issue as the hours wore on. I didn't get any blisters, but it definitely felt snug in the latter stages, with my toes being pressed together. I prefer a bit more space up front, but this may be personal preference and also may depend on foot shape. If you have a narrower foot, it could be just perfect for you over any distance. I'd like to see VJ round out the toebox a bit more on the pinky side in future versions. The big toe side feels fine. 

- The main issue that I did have with the shoes was some ankle rubbing at the left outer heel collar. To me it seems like the heel collar may be just a bit too high, I never noticed it in previous test runs, but over 12+ hours it definitely became noticeable and even painful by mile 55.  I'll probably try to trim it down with some scissors and see if that helps. Just to note- this issue may be specific to me, as the issue was non-existent on my right foot.

Aside from those issues, they performed very well and personally they would be my pick for anything up to 50M.  If I can fix the ankle collar issue with a little trim, then I would have no problem taking them up to 100K.  For me, that would be the limit for the shoe, due to the toebox being just a bit tight.  For something in the range of 100M, foot swelling does come into play, so I wouldn't be comfortable taking them that far/long. For me- still an amazing shoe that will cover pretty much any length of training run in any terrain, as well as racing 50M - 100K. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Mike P:  Here we have a shoe where the sum of its very fine parts work in concert to create a dynamite long distance trail shoe.  This being my first review, it feels kind of like cheating to be reviewing a shoe this good.  But it is a shoe that is at the very top of my very large trail shoe collection right now.  As of now, it will be my pick for 50M+ ultras going forward.  Overall, I would say the outsole rubber makes everything go - it allows the shoe to feel and actually be much lighter than its stack height would suggest.  It also allows great flexibility throughout the shoe which allows the shoe to be more agile than its stack height would suggest. Throw in a streamlined, lockdown upper and everything works together to create a shoe worthy of its name.

Mike P - 9.63/10

Update (based on durability issues) - 9.33/10

Ride: 10 Fit: 9.5 Value: 6.0 Style: 9.5 Traction: 10 Rock Protection: 9.0


Mike: Update (based on durability issues) - In my opinion, we have a really great shoe, with one fatal flaw.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to recommend this shoe at this price point given the issues with the outsole.  I should also mention that VJ customer service was great - as soon as I contacted them regarding the issue, they sent me a replacement pair - they said the defect was covered under warranty.  I am reserving my 2nd pair for at least the first 50ish miles of the upcoming IMTUF 100M.


Jeff V:  This shoe caught me a bit off guard, I will admit.  The Maxx is a good shoe, but did not really have enough cushion for me, but the Ultra, wow!  With plenty enough stack height and cushion to provide comfort over long distances, yet without feeling tall and tippy, allowing it to excel on technical terrain, with supreme upper foothold and lockdown, to the absolute best traction I have ever experienced, the Ultra is an absolute hit and one of my favorite shoes to date.  


I can’t think of any other shoe that comes close to providing so much cushion, protection, security and tracton, that is this light and performs this well.  I really hope that this brand picks up steam here in the US and gains more recognition, because the performance here rivals and exceeds all of the big name brands with super famous athletes.  


So how would I recommend this shoe?  If you like to run long distances and have the best traction in a lightweight package, this is for you.  If you like to push your limits on technical terrain and not be limited by the shoe (and have great cushion while you are at it), this is for you.  If you want a daily trainer for any distance, at any speed, over any terrain, this is for you.  If you scramble moderate low class 5 terrain, this shoe could easily be for you (but of course this is a personal judgement call based on your own reasoning and ability).  I would not recommend this shoe for door to trail or any appreciable stretches of pavement, as they feel a little inefficient there because of the tread/stickiness. 

Jeff V’s Score:  9.6/10

Ride: 9.5 Fit: 9.75 Value: 9.5 Style: 9.5 Traction: 9.5 Rock Protection: 9.5


Jacob: The VJ Ultra is overall a fantastic technical trail running and racing shoe for a variety of distances. It is my top pick for racing rough terrain at all sub-ultra distances. It has solid foothold, ample protection and stability, performant flexibility, is lightweight given the cushion and outsole, and has world class traction. 


I would prefer a wider toebox and a bit more upper softness for longer than 50k events and for smoother trail where a precise forefoot fit is not needed. 


For shorter races the fit is ideal—extremely locked in and agile. The VJ Ultra is versatile and runs well on most trails, being smooth and moderately cushioned, but is built for the toughest terrain, offering a balanced ride with truly 10/10 traction that performs and protects while not being overbuilt.


Jacob’s Score: 9.3/10

Ride: 8.5 (30%), Fit: 9.5 (30%), Value: 10 (10%), Style: 9 (5%), Traction: 10 (15%), Rock Protection: 9.5 (10%)



11 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


VJ MAXx  (RTR Review)

Jacob: The MAXx was the first VJ shoe I tried and I was blown away by the traction and overall performance. However, the MAXx was heavy given the level of cushion, a bit stiff, and had the fit of a racer (not as comfortable for longer runs or just cruising) but with the higher weight and less inspiring ride of a trainer. The Ultra resolves all my “issues” with the Ultra being lighter, more comfortable, more cushioned, faster-feeling, and more flexible. The MAXx leads in wet traction on rocks and roots with its full-coverage outsole but the Ultra is overall a more versatile and better all-purpose trail running and racing shoe.


Hoka EVO Speedgoat (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  EVO SG is very slightly lighter, and also more protective underfoot, probably better to mash out long smooth descents.  But the main difference for me is upper security - I find EVO SGs to be tough on my feet on more shifty/technical terrain. VJ security is much better. VJ is also much more agile and fun.


Jeff V:  The EVO Speedgoat, as Mike describes, is more cushioned and better for less technical longer runs, but for anything technical, the VJ is supreme with better security and traction.


Jacob: The Speedgoat (either EVO or standard, depending on the level of technicality) was my pick for ultra and mountain racing (note 50k is the longest event I have run) before testing the VJ Ultra. Now the Ultra will replace the SG for more technical terrain races, at least for the shorter end of ultras I run. Given my experience with outside toe pressure from racing the Ultra for a mountainous 14 miles, I would not choose it for ultra distance events if there are many long, steep descents. I think the SG, especially the lighter and more flexible EVO, is easier to cruise on smoother terrain or descents than the Ultra due to the rocker and more protection. For climbing or twisty but less steep terrain the Ultra feels faster and less bulky. They are both great shoes that I will wear and race depending on conditions and terrain.


Hoka Speedgoat 4  (RTR Review)

Mike P: I also find to be very secure in fit, surprisingly there may actually be just a touch more room in the SG4 forefoot. SG4 also has comparable traction, but with full Vibram coverage. SG4 is also more protective, i.e. you won't feel much getting through to your feet. 


The main difference is that the SG4 is a lot stiffer whereas the VJU is much more flexible. I would give the edge to VJU is more technical terrain - but you could also go with SG4, depends on your style and also how fast you're going. If you are going at a speed where you would be able to safely place your feet in technical terrain, SG4 would be great, especially if you need the foot protection. Similar to the EVO SG's SG4 would also be better than VJU for bombing down extended non-technical downhills. 


Couple of scenarios come to mind - with the VJU's you'll have great cushioning, traction, and performance, but you need to be sure your feet are strong enough to handle the flexibility of the shoe. If you have foot pain issues especially in longer races on rocky terrain, SG4 would be good, but make sure your ankles, knees, and hips are strong as I find that an inflexible shoe in technical terrain can cause those types of issues. 


Hoka Torrent (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5):  Torrent for me is not an ultra shoe, better for shorter distances and training at any speed.  Torrent traction is ok overall, but VJ is still much grippier. Torrent also feels thinner in the forefoot, which as a forefoot/midfoot striker, takes it out of the equation for me for super long distances.


Jeff V:  Again, exactly what Mike says.  Torrent can feel thin underfoot sometimes in rocky terrain, traction is good, but not as good as VJ and the VJ upper is superior for security.


Inov-8 Terra Ultra G270 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  VJ Ultra is the big brother to this shoe.  Higher drop, more cushion, more protection, even better traction.  I would probably choose the G 270’s for faster trail marathon/50Ks, but beyond that, VJ Ultra all day.  G270 feels nice and wide in the front, and you can get a good lock down fit.  VJ feels very slightly narrower in the forefoot, with foot hold being similar. Side note - the Boomerang insole in the G 270 is really great. I can see myself swapping that into the VJ Ultra for very long races.  The VJ insole is an open-cell Ortholite-ish material.  I feel like those tend to hold water, so something to keep in mind. 


Jeff V:  Despite all the fanfare and unanimous praise by my colleagues, the TUG270 just never did it for me.  I found it to be a bit thin underfoot in rocky terrain, the upper secure, but not secure enough for fast technical running and I just cannot adapt to zero drop.  The VJ fixes all of that.


Jacob: I’m with Mike on this one. They are somewhat similar shoes and two of my favorites, with sleek, secure uppers, no-nonsense, versatile midsoles, and great traction and performance. For all-purpose trail running at the typical distances I run (less than 20 miles), I prefer the G 270 with it’s more comfortable fit (wider toebox and also more secure), lower weight, and more connected ride that is also quicker to rebound (more snap), and for its better performance on road and smooth trail. I like it more for walking and hiking as well. The VJ Ultra is my pick for racing with longer descents, wet conditions, or highly technical terrain (where the G 270 can feel a bit loose in the forefoot). Both are great shoes. 


Inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G 300  (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  The TrailFly is the much bigger brother to the VJ Ultra - despite the name my size 10s tip the scales at 362g.  They are bombproof underfoot and also surprisingly stable for such a high shoe. But the weight is very noticeable and relegates them to training runs. Also, the 6mm drop of the TFs feels much higher than the 6mm drop of the VJs.


Saucony Peregrine (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  Similar locked-in fit, probably a bit more snug.  More protective underfoot, but much firmer feel. Also heavier. I like them as a mud/slush/sloppy terrain training shoe. 

Jeff V:  Mike said it perfect.  The Peregrine is great, more protective perhaps, but not as quick, light or nimble.

Jacob: I agree with Mike and Jeff. The VJ Ultra is a much more performant racer being lighter and easier to move quickly in. The Peregrine is nearing the “tank” style category with excellent protection but is stiffer and not as soft or cushioned.


Salomon Sense Pro 4 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5):  I’ve seen people running long ultras in these, but there’s just not enough underfoot for me.  It’s a shoe for a different purpose.  I break these out for training runs where I may need the traction/agility on steep/rocky climbs.  SP4 is also very secure, but also narrower, especially in the toebox.

Jeff V:  Again, I agree with what Mike says.  The VJ has better cushion and protection overall, better traction.


Salomon Sense Ride 3 or 4 (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  Not really a like comparison, but the SR4 is a larger, heavier shoe that is less responsive, more firm cushion and not as good traction as the VJ.  SR4 more for casual running.


ASICS Trabuco Max (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  One of the newer-style rockered shoes.  More protective underfoot, but you sacrifice flexibility as the ATM is very stiff. ATM is not a shoe for technical terrain, but could be better on fire roads with sharp gravel where the protection would be helpful.  Any type of halfway technical trail - go VJ.  ATM also has excellent traction and seem to be extremely durable.

Jeff V:  Agreed again with Mike


Nike Terra Kiger 7 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  A shoe I had high hopes for, which I do like a lot, but feels like anything the TK7 does, the VJ does better, at a lighter weight.  TK7 upper may feel more plush, but I would prefer the VJ security for racing. TK7 traction is still not great, VJ blows it away- even on dry terrain. TK7 outsole durability is also not good- they are showing more wear at less mileage than my VJs.  I will probably rotate the TK7 in as a training shoe compliment to the VJ.  


Jeff V:  I like the TK7, but is an entirely different shoe, more shoe all around, less precise fit and not nearly the same traction.  TK7 best for longer efforts and more maximal feel, where the VJ is lighter, faster and more nimble.  TK7 has a much more roomy fit.


NIke Pegasus Trail (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0):  I have the Pegasus Trail 1. The drop is just too high for me, you need to be extremely careful in any type of technical terrain or turns.  For me, not a useful shoe.


The VJ Ultra is available from 

VJ Shoes USA HERE VJ Sport EU HERE


Mike's tested samples was a personal purchase. Jeff's and Jacob's were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review beyond potential commissions from the shopping links in the article. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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29 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

The Stoat said...

How does this stack up alongside the topo mtn racer 2 and salomon ultra 3 for longer distances?

Anonymous said...

Boston is dead.

Mike P said...

The Stoat-
I haven't run in the Topo yet, although it is on my wish list.


I also haven't run in the Ultra 3's but I did have the Ultra 2's. The fit of the upper may be comparable in terms of security - I did feel like the SLU2's were a bit loose in the heel. Also they felt slightly narrower across the front of the foot, but similar space in the toebox. Those differences are all minor though and would vary by foot shape. I found that the SLU2's felt thinner in terms of forefoot cushioning, especially after putting some miles in them; overall cushioning is firmer in the SLU2. Traction for SLU2 was good, but VJU still better. As Jeff V. noted, SLU's would probably be smoother on road sections.

Jesse said...

Interested in hearing how the shoe compares to Mtn Racer 2, was disappointed that comparison wasn’t offered, especially since some shoes that were compared against were, to a degree, poorly reviewed.

rms said...

I had initially complained of instability and foot sliding around inside the shoe. After replacing the stock insole with a thin, firm insole (and wearing a thicker sock), and being careful to use heel lock lacing, I'm much more upbeat about the Ultra. The thick stock insole does this shoe some dis-service in the initial impression, by hiding a poor lockdown and reducing proprioception. Now I'm setting good times on my single-track eroded-granite trails, and find the shoe much more predictable in rocky terrain. The 6mm drop & good heel cushion are just right for my running style.

rms said...

BTW using thinner insoles & heellock lacing should remove the need to size up with the Ultra.

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Ante said...

Speedgoat 4 looks very close, please comment on difference!

Skidad said...

Good info, thanks!

Skidad said...

Yes, we absolutely need a comparison to the Speedgoat 4 please.
Any rumblings of a Speedgoat 5? Seems about time?

Mike P said...

Speedgoat 4 - I also find to be very secure in fit, surprisingly there may actually be just a touch more room in the SG4 forefoot. SG4 also has comparable traction, but with full Vibram coverage. SG4 is also more protective, i.e. you won't feel much getting through to your feet. The main difference is that the SG4 is a lot stiffer whereas the VJU is much more flexible. I would give the edge to VJU is more technical terrain - but you could also go with SG4, depends on your style and also how fast you're going. If you are going at a speed where you would be able to safely place your feet in technical terrain, SG4 would be great, especially if you need the foot protection. Similar to the EVO SG's SG4 would also be better than VJU for bombing down extended non-technical downhills. Couple of scenarios come to mind - with the VJU's you'll have great cushioning, traction, and performance, but you need to be sure your feet are strong enough to handle the flexibility of the shoe. If you have foot pain issues especially in longer races on rocky terrain, SG4 would be good, but make sure your ankles, knees, and hips are strong as I find that an inflexible shoe in technical terrain can cause those types of issues.

Ante said...

Thanks Mike, great insight! What about sizing and fit Speedgoat 4 vs Vj Ultra?

Mike P said...

I'm a 10.0 in SG4 and 10.5 in VJU. As Jeff V mentioned, you may be able to go true to size with VJU depending on your personal preference.

Jeff Valliere said...

Comparing to Topo MTN Racer 2, it is a bit heavier and not quite as lively or agile as the Ultra, but has a wider toe box, more firm cushioning (though not at all harsh firm) and is more supportive. The MTN Racer 2 would be a better pick I think for longer outings and daily trainer (support and toe box), where the Ultra more ideal for fastest efforts in tech terrain.

Unknown said...

This question mostly directed to Jeff, but if used a replacement for an approach shoe are these shoes able to stand on edges still, and place a good amount of pressure on just a toe edge? Would love to have a shoe that is more comfortable to not only scramble rocks and climb in, and also run/hike with.

Jeff Valliere said...

I don't really do any serious scrambling, but what little I have done, I would say they edge moderately well, but no real climbing zone, as is the case with the Salomon XA Alpine for example. Traction is so good though, it could potentially be enough to mitigate not having a climbing zone.

Irwin said...

How about Merrell MTL Long Sky? Seem they share the same billing as a long dist sky runner with similar weight, cushion, and traction characteristics? Thanks!

Mike P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike P said...

Sorry, haven't run in any Merrells

aaron said...

Jeff,

That picture of Bill in the Flatirons is the best sales pitch I have seen for this brand yet(Though Phebus makes a strong case).

Cheers.

Jacques S said...

Great review of the shoe. I have gone through two pairs of the shoes now. The first saw an eyelet break, and was quickly replaced by VJ customer service. I continued to use the shoe to see how it would hold the distance. I saw the same outsole damage and lugs getting ripped off the shoe. On my second pair I immediately glued the lugs to try to delay this from happening. In the middle of a 100 mile race, I guess because of the glue, the entire left half of the outsole and midsole was ripped off (happy to provide pictures of the damage). My other main issue with the shoe is the collar rubbing against my ankle after 10-15 hours on the trails, a bit more padding would help.
I had around 100 to 150 miles in each pair. I consider this shoe to be a fantastic shoe for up to 50 miles on moderately technical trails. I would not take this shoe on mountain trails again, it just reduced the lifetime of the shoe too much.

rms said...

Jacques S: I hadn't even considered this possibility, so just checked my pair: Sure enough, multiple lugs on both shoes of my VJ Ultra are unbedded and beginning to peel off, mostly the ones on the lateral edges. I have 82miles on this pair. In comparison, my G270 pair with 100miles shows no such peeling.

Besides this, my main complaint is the arch area in the midfoot is cut out overly much, and this combined with the squishy midsole leads to a feeling of lack of midfoot stability and support that inflames the stabilizing muscles above the knee, leading eventually to pain, especially on downhills as I settle on mid&heel landings more. I've been keeping my use of them to under two hours because of this.

Mike P said...

Jaques S: Similar experience with mine. I was also thinking about gluing my 1st pair, but I won't be racing in those again. I'm saving my 2nd pair for racing, but shorter stuff- and would definitely avoid anything with faster rocky descents.

I also had the same issue with the ankle collar - I got bad pressure after 10+ hours w/ the outside collar rubbing on the bottom of my left ankle. I have no issue with the right shoe so I can't ding them too much for that. But I do think the outside collar is a bit higher than it needs to me. I actually trimmed mine down with scissors and that helped. Not ideal though.

Jan said...

Hi Mike, can you post picture how did you trimmed them down with scissors? I would need to do the same, but I am little afraid of destroying the shoe in the process. :) Thanks.

Jan said...

Hi Mike, can you post some pictures how did you trimmed them down with scissors. I need to the same on mine, so any advice is appreciated.

Mike P said...

Hi Jan- I'll get some pictures added shortly. It's not pretty, but it does the trick. I do find the ankle collar a bit stiff anyway- so I've been using gaiters with them. I added a small strip of velcro to the heel of the shoe and I use Altra's 4 pt gaiter which fits me well (I cut off the 2 loops on the sides).

Just to reiterate - I only had to cut the collar of the left shoe, and I never even noticed the issue until I was 8-10 hours into a race.

Jan said...

Hi Mike, thanks ahead for posting the pictures.

It happened to me on Pirin Ultra, it took 42 hours to finish and I think somewhere after one day, it became an issue. Especially when I needed to tie them tightly for technical downhill. First only the right shoe, but the other joined few hours later.
When I was running in them some training runs this has never occured, otherwise I would not took them on something that long.
But otherwise I like the shoes, they survived the race very well almost unscathed. The grip is amazing, I think they saved my skin on some exposed frozen wet rock parts. And they were pretty pricey, so I am not ready to give up on them yet.
Just need to fix the issue with ankle collar, then I think I will pad the tongue with some foam, because it is too thin with tighthly tied laces.
Thanks for the help.

Mike P said...

The pictures have been added to the Upper section above.

I also still like the shoe very much. If they can fix the outsole to make sure it stays attached, and make some small tweaks to the upper, they should have a pretty awesome "V2".

I didn't have any issues with the tongue padding, I just found it slightly short.

Btw, stay tuned for the upcoming VJ Spark review!