Tuesday, October 05, 2021

VJ Spark Multi Tester Review: Precision Fitting, Ultimate Traction Trail Speedster! 9 Comparisons.

Article by Mike Postaski, John Tribbia, Jeff Valiiere, and Renee Krusemark

VJ Spark ($150)


Mike P: The VJ Spark is a shoe that I was very excited to test. After never having heard of VJ Shoes , I was very impressed by the VJ Ultra (RTR Review), my first VJ.  So based on specs, I was curious to see what they could do with a lighter more speed oriented shoe . As I often do - I immediately thought of comps such as Terraultra G 270, Hoka Torrent, and Salomon Sense Pro. Those are my quiver of fast and/or technical trail shoes at the moment. How would the Spark stack up against these?


John/Jeff V/Mike P/Renee: traction, secure fit, lightweight, aesthetics

Jeff V/Renee:  breathability

Mike P: goldilocks toe box for me

Mike P/Renee: flexibility, agility


John/Jeff V: cushion, harsher ride

Mike P: somewhat lacking cushion/transition between rear and front of shoe


Official Weight: men's (US 8.5): 8.1oz / 230g

Samples: men’s 9.2 oz / 260g (US10.5) (both left and right exactly 260g!) 

9 oz / 255g (US10)

Stack Height: 27mm / 22mm including outsole

Available now at VJ Shoes. $150

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

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva , Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost every day.

Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

Renee is a former U. S. Marine journalist, which is when her enjoyment of running and writing started. She isn’t that awesome of a runner, but she tries really hard. Most of her weekly 50-60 miles take place on rural country roads in Nebraska, meaning mud, gravel, dirt, hills, and the occasional field. She has PR’s of 1:30:59 for the half marathon and 3:26:45 for the marathon.

First Impressions and Fit

Mike P Out of the box, the step-in feel is really good.  I’m talking really good. I previously tested the VJ Ultra, and I have a small checklist of items that I hope can be improved in the Ultra “V2”.  I’m not sure if it was intentional or not - but the VJ Spark addresses every single one of those regarding the fit and the upper (I’ll go over those in more detail in the Upper section).  

Aside from the upper, the forefoot feel is noticeable - it has a nice “substantial” feel (I’m not quite sure how to describe it).  Part of that could be the sensation from the 5mm lugs under the forefoot. 

I’ll be quite interested to see how protective the Spark is, being that there is no rock plate and the shoe is quite flexible.  Also noticeable is that the drop feels less than 5mm.  I’m not saying it feels like 0-drop, but you don’t get the distinct sense that your heel is elevated. Again, this could be due to the feeling of the quite substantial lugs up front. As far as sizing- I went with a size 10.5, same as my VJ Ultras, due to concern about a narrow toebox. This is the only brand I wear 10.5, I’m normally 50/50 between 9.5 and 10.0 depending on the brand.  Also, as Jeff V mentions below - I also changed the lacing to inside-out. I also shortened the laces a bit with some shrink tubing - something I do with a lot of my shoes.

John: visually, the VJ Spark is a head-turner! It is a sleek and vibrant looking shoe, with a bright choice of colorway. The fit and feel of the shoe are a bit unidimensional. For me, with a slightly narrow foot, I found the size 9.0 (my usual size)  to be very snug. I didn’t have any ability to make minor adjustments since there is little room to play in the forefoot or midfoot. In hindsight, I probably should order a half size larger, as Mike P found, to allow for those accommodating adjustment options. On foot, this shoe feels ready for action in the harshest of conditions - I’m envisioning sloppy and steep race days where shoe choice is an equalizer. 

Jeff V: I had very similar first impressions as John, as I was impressed with the hunter/traffic cone orange colorway, they are BRIGHT and just in time for Fall colors (and hunting season!).  I am also struck with the lightweight feel, sleek and streamlined build and aggressive tread. 

I also carefully examined the outsole to compare it to the VJ Ultra (where I had delamination issues) and it looks to be a lot more durable as the lugs are connected more extensively to the outsole base up front.  

Fit for me and even my narrow foot is quite snug and race ready, perhaps the most snug and precise shoe that I have ever worn.  

This is awesome for fast, technical runs straight up and down the mountain, steep side hilling and speeding through corners, but for sure not recommended for wider feet or longer runs where one might desire some added wiggle room.  For me, there is absolutely none.  

I did not like that the laces were reverse laced, where they were threaded through the lace holes from the outside in, which I find difficult, so I laced them the most common way, from the inside outward, which improved lacing ease dramatically.  

As far as length goes, I find them to be just a touch on the short side, with my toes just about at the tip of the shoe in my normal size 10, however for the intended purpose of this shoe (short, fast, technical), I have not found that to be an issue in the least.

Renee: The Spark is my first VJ shoe, so I had zero expectations. Initially, the shoe looked like a cleat and I was expecting a too narrow fit with a too harsh ride. I was pleasantly happy with the fit and ride. I wore a women’s size 8, my typical size. For runners between half sizes, I suggest the longer size. 


Mike P I find a very secure (Topo-like) midfoot hold - this is a big complement.  The upper wraps my foot like a glove while for me the toe box is Goldilocks-level.  It is definitely improved, having more space than my previous experience with the VJ Ultra as it is maybe just a touch wider, and definitely slightly rounded out in the front on the lateral side.  

Happy pinky toes. I agree with John and Jeff V that the upper (from the midfoot through the rear) hugs the foot with no excess space. But as previously mentioned, for me the toebox does have just the right amount of wiggle room - it does not have the same super snug feel as the rest of the shoe.  Compared to the VJ Ultra, I think I could possibly go with size 10.0 instead of my usual 10.5  if I wanted to use them for shorter and faster running, but I still prefer the extra space in the front of the toebox.  Definitely the best toebox of any trail shoe I have - and probably best upper overall.  

The ankle collar is lower than VJ Ultra, and not stiff. The heel collar is also neither stiff nor rigid, and I find the heel cup wraps my heel very securely with no slippage or movement at all.  The rear of the shoe is a hit!  Tongue - gusseted, normal length! Not short like VJ Ultra.  

John: Secure is an understatement. The upper hugs every part of your foot and it feels like a custom made slipper or sock. The upper is sturdy with a lockdown system that is simply unprecedented. 

It’s an upper that hugs all parts of your foot. The VJ Spark is very breathable with its nylon mesh upper that feels pretty soft on the skin. That said, I don’t think I would recommend wearing the shoe in temperatures below 20 *F, given how breathable it is. The lacing is a bit cumbersome with the long thick laces and narrow eyelets. It certainly ensures a secure lock down, but I found adjustments to be inefficient and wish there was a lace storage to accommodate the excess lace.

Jeff V:  I had a more similar experience to John than with Mike, but that could be due to sizing. I went with my usual US10.  This is probably the most snug, secure and precise fitting upper that I have ever worn, even for my narrow foot and a thin sock, I find absolutely no excess room in the forefoot.  On my first run or two, I felt the upper, especially in the forefoot to be a touch confining, however after several more runs, I noticed that the upper softened some to feel a bit more comfortable, but still not stretched or overly roomy in the least.

The heel collar is low and perhaps because of my anatomy, it lined up with my ankle in a way that the thin collar felt noticeable, perhaps a bit stiff and annoying, but after several runs, it either softened up, or I adapted (or a bit of both), so is no longer noticed in the least.  

The heel counter is pretty minimal and flexible, but is secure and stable.

The laces are nice and integrate well with the eyelets, providing a very snug once and done cinch for optimal security (took me a few tries to get tension just right, but then was intuitive after that).

The tongue is gusseted and reminiscent of Salomon’s Endofit, providing a more streamlined step in, holds the tongue in place and adds to security/stability.

The toe bumper is slim, but reasonably protective, integrating with a wrap around rand.  Upper protection overall is moderate, but I think due to the shoe riding a little low to the ground, can be a bit susceptible to rock hits when running through talus and rock gardens.

Breathability is excellent as John mentions.

Renee: I agree with everyone about the security and lockdown of the Spark: it’s good. The heel security feels like a suction, which is great for uneven and soft terrain. I like the low sitting ankle collar and thought it added to the nimble ride. Like other reviewers, I changed the lacing to loop from the inside out, which dramatically changed the fit and security. The laces are a bit long, but a double knot helps with the slack. I do not have a wide foot, but I don’t like tight or narrow shoes. This is a matter of foot shape, but for me, the Spark manages a comfortable and secure lockdown that is needed for fast runs on technical or uneven terrain. The toebox width is fine, but I did find it a bit shallow. The toe bumper lays across my toes and during intervals on hills, I had some friction. The upper is breathable for hot weather, although moisture will enter. I ran in wet grass and light rain twice with the Sparks, and the upper allows moisture to enter.


Mike P Full length EVA - feels dense, but in no way firm. Seems like keeping the overall weight of the shoe low with 27/22mm of denser foam is accomplished by having such a narrow platform.  The distance range of the shoe will probably be limited by the midsole.   The VJ Ultra had more stack (although softer foam), but rocks could still be felt through the forefoot at times, especially over longer periods.  Spark may be aided in having more rubber coverage between the lugs.  22mm forefoot - 5mm lugs - ~4 to 5 mm insole, leaves roughly 12 mm midsole. No rockplate + 12mm midsole up front, so that should be taken into account in regards to protection.  Not an all day shoe, but with the expanded rubber coverage, should be enough protection-wise for short to mid-distance ultras, depending on your running style, preferences, and of course terrain.

John: Like Mike P mentions, the midsole feels dense and yet not firm. The full length EVA is sufficient cushion for shorter and faster efforts, but not plush. I tested the shoe on pavement, dry buffed singletrack, crushed gravel trail, off camber grassy sections, and more rocky and technical ascent and descents . I hoped I could get on mud and wet terrain where I think this shoe would outperform any shoe we’ve tested here on RTR, but it has been bone dry in Colorado since May. Truth be told, I didn’t feel like the VJ Spark excelled in all of the conditions I tested, but it definitely shined on the uphills especially in off-trail situations. By nature of the sock-like fit and low stack height, I noticed the application of this midsole produced a harsh ride with my feet doing most of the shock and vibration absorption on fast downhills, hard rock, or pavement.   

Jeff V:  John and Mike sum up the midsole well.  I find it a bit thin for extended periods of time on rocky terrain and hard surfaces, with a somewhat dense, yet pliable feel that trends toward firm. I find them best suited for shorter distances, softer surfaces and faster PR race and segment type scenarios.  Response is good, but I would not say they are particularly snappy, but are fast given the light weight, traction and superior control.

Renee: The midsole stack is low, and I found the feel to be soft in the forefoot. I didn’t feel a dense ride as compared to other reviewers.  Unlike other cleat-like trail shoes (Inov-8 Mudclaw, for example), the midsole is not harsh or too firm. The flexibility is great and comfortable for a forefoot landing. My longest run was 12 miles on soft horse trail/grass. I had enough cushion, but I wouldn’t choose the Spark for longer distances unless the terrain was entirely dramatic ascents and descents. 


John: The VJ Spark outsole performs best off-trail, on soft and presumably sloppy surfaces, and when scrambling on dry rock, yet the lug height is also conducive to cruisy dry dirt single track, or techy and rocky terrain. I found the outsole sticks to most anything in warm temperatures and I will definitely test colder temps with winter not far  away. Like Mike P said, durability is a question mark, but thus far has been very good, showing basically no wear over the 20-30 miles of testing.  Foot protection is good - they have some ground feel, yet offer modest protection in technical terrain.

Jeff V:  This outsole is one of the best out there, with deep lugs in an effective shape and pattern and  with very sticky rubber.  I have run in the Spark in both wet and dry conditions, on rocky technical trails, short slab scrambles, talus, scree, loose off trail, wet roots and logs, smooth singletrack, hardpack trails and pavement.  The lugs are noticeable underfoot on pavement, but other than that, are not bothersome underfoot.  On one recent wet run, I was blown away by how well the Spark stuck to every surface I stepped on, which was actually a lot to wrap my head around, even stepping with confidence on any wet log or rock and not slipping in the least.

Mike P Butyl rubber traction 10/10. Will be scored as such, assuming the rubber stays attached to the shoe. VJ Ultra has problems with outsole detachment, but with Spark the lugs are all connected with rubber, so no exposed “corners” of rubber on the medial or lateral side, as in the Ultra. Chevron lugs, sort of looks like a Salomon outsole - Sense Pro 4 comes to mind.  5mm lugs are very substantial with great traction in dry sand or loose dirt.  

Interestingly, the rubber connects from the front of the shoe to the rear only on the medial side, maybe to provide a touch of stability?  There’s a V-shaped notch of exposed foam on the lateral side in the middle of the shoe. I found this felt awkward when walking around inside the house and simulating a midfoot landing on the lateral side of the forefoot. It felt almost like the shoe was collapsing.  I was a bit concerned about this and wondered why the outsole coverage did not extend across the lateral midfoot.

Renee: The outsole worked great for soft dirt and grass. I did not think the shoes were comfortable on harder surfaces. I transitioned off horse trails to a gravel road and found the ride a bit harsh because of the low midsole stack. I could feel larger rocks and clumped dirt more than I would like. On grass, mud, and soft dirt the outsole is awesome. The grip and traction work great, and I was able to do speed and hill intervals in wet conditions. And it was fun! 


Mike P On the run though that lateral outsole cut out I mentioned above felt fine - it seems like this design works to decouple the front and the rear of the shoe and adds in flexibility.  Kind of like the Adapt-flex design in the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 (RTR Review). I felt quite stable in my footfalls and didn’t worry about ankle rolling at all - the shoe seems to allow your ankle to flex and twist naturally with the terrain.  The only worry I have is that this may cause foot fatigue over longer distances.  It would definitely help if your feet were in good shape, the longer you plan to take these out.  More of a nimble ride, definitely a different style than a lot of recent shoes which rely on a more built up midfoot, on top of a wider platform which encourages more of a rolling gait. There’s less of a transition from the rear of the shoe to the front than say, the Hoka Torrent or Terraultra G 270.  

To me it seems like you need to have balanced landings and engage your entire foot to make this shoe work.  As opposed to some of those previously mentioned shoes which allow you to really mash the midfoot and propel you forward. I don’t think these would work as well for heel-strikers.  I personally like the ride very much - recently I’ve been leaning into more foot and lower leg strengthening as well as firmer shoes. So these landed with me just at the right moment for the review.  On the other side of the coin- previously when my mindset was oriented towards more stack and more cushion as the fix for everything - I don’t think the Spark would have hit the right notes for me.  Again - the perspective, pace, and needs of the reviewer is very important to keep in mind!

John: The VJ Spark is a minimal shoe that (like Mike P mentions) is not best suited for all types of runners, especially the heel striker. I found the shoe to ride differently depending on the incline grade. Uphill, the VJ Spark is magic - it is nimble and agile, especially when going in and out of obstacles. Downhill, I like how close my foot is to the shoe which gives a low center of gravity and fewer ankle rolls, but the narrow platform creates lateral wobbliness and the thinner cushion isn’t enough protection to prevent a harsh ride.

Jeff V:  The ride is a bit of a mixed bag, depending on how you are using the shoe.  Since it is on the more minimal end of the spectrum, the ride could be considered a touch harsh and unforgiving depending on how hard the surface is underfoot, how fast you are running and particularly on faster downhills and especially if a heel striker.  That said, I found it all to be a fair trade when running shorter distances at fast paces, particularly when loose, technical and predictable performance in the moment is paramount.

Renee: The ride is fun. For me, the shoes work best for shorter distances and speed runs. My longest run was 12 miles, and my forefoot started to feel sore. I do think some runners could use the Spark for 20+ miles, depending on terrain and preference. I enjoyed the ground feel, flexibility, security and weight during speed workouts (half mile hill intervals) and the shoes worked fine for an easy/steady 12 miles as well. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

John: The VJ Spark is a down-to-business lightweight shoe that is agile, relatively responsive, has a secure fit and foothold, and outstanding traction. No doubt, this shoe would excel in races where the terrain is sloppy and adverse, but I found the Spark to have a harsh ride, a unidimensional fit, and less than desirable protection.  

John’s Score: 8.6 

Ride: 8.5 (really fun and nimble shoe with somewhat harsh ride depending on conditions)

Fit: 8.5 (very secure fit with little additional forefoot room)

Value: 9 (I can’t imagine very long distances or high mileage out of this shoe)

Style: 10 (I love the colorway and sleek style) 

Traction: 9.5 (high performing)

Rock Protection: 8.5 (toe protection and EVA midsole provide decent protection)

Jeff V:  I’ll admit that on my first run, I was somewhat unimpressed by the VJ Spark, as I found the fit to be a bit confining, the ride to be kind of harsh and unforgiving and just overall not very pleasurable to run in.  Perhaps I had inflated expectations after reviewing the VJ Ultra a few months prior.  

That said, as I broke the shoe in and accepted that the Spark is NOT the VJ Ultra, and as I pushed the shoe a bit harder and faster over more complicated terrain, they grew on me.  

They grew on me to the point where I am in a bit of awe as to how well they perform when the going gets rough, playing a role in a recent PR where I knocked over 2 minutes off of one of my favorite round trip routes here in Boulder on Green Mountain.  This is a route that has a bit of everything, but is mostly technical, to very technical, with some complicated off trail sections that require a bit of choreography and very sure footedness due to their steep and loose nature (climber access/game trails) and jumbled extended large talus section of “trail”.  Much of this is no fall zone, not so much fall to your death, but in some spots, a fall would result in a very harsh tumble and likely broken bones or concussion.  

Even though I lost 24 seconds to my PR on the ascent, I was able to run the downhill nearly 3 minutes faster than I ever had, which I attribute to the Spark providing such amazing grip and confidence inspiring control.  I was feeling dialed in, but never once did I slip, slide or feel uncertain and was very pleased at how well the Spark performs in this environment.  Moving forward, I’ll probably not run in the Spark regularly, but if I decide to push hard again on steep, off trail, loose terrain, I will almost certainly reach for this shoe.

Jeff V’s Score:  9/10

Ride: 9 - debated this, as the score could be lower given harsh ride on hard surfaces, but taking into account what this shoe was designed for (softer ground), the ride is appropriate.

Fit: 9 - again, a double edged sword, as I would say fit will only accommodate the slimmest of feet for shorter distances

Value: 8.5 $150 is a lot given the narrow range of use for this shoe, but is a top performer within that narrow range.

Style: 8 - beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I think the shoe looks sporty and is attention getting, but is a bit loud.  I like the look mostly.

Traction: 10 - for me, as good or better than any shoe I have run in.

Rock Protection: 8.5 - good for such a slim and low profile shoe, but if running a lot of sharp rock, talus, etc… you definitely know it and it is not the ideal shoe for that application.

Mike P: I’m a really big fan of this shoe from VJ.  I think I especially liked it so much after having run and raced so much in the VJ Ultra over the summer.  The improvements were noticeable, although the shoe overall is directed towards a different type of running, which needs to be factored in. Any downsides I could find with the shoe such as midfoot transition, cushioning, responsiveness are mitigated by the fact that those are not features paramount to the intended nature of the shoe. As opposed to midfoot transition/rocker - you get great flexibility, and confidence in uneven terrain.  As opposed to cushioning, you get a lot of shoe, including nearly full coverage outsole, at only 9.2 oz.  As opposed to responsiveness, you get amazing ground feel and agility. If that description hits the spot for you - give the VJ Spark a try.  

Ultimately, for me the range of this shoe could be anywhere from very short races all the way up to 50K, or possibly slightly more.  The sweet spot for me would probably be anything from a half marathon up to 50K - where traction was important, but not necessarily super rocky where protection would be paramount. This coming weekend, I’ll be running Heavens Gate Marathon up in the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho - nearly 9k ft of vert in 26.5 miles.  The VJ Sparks will definitely be on my feet for that one. Look out for my race/gear report after the race.

Mike P’s Score: 9.78/10

Ride: 10 - I’m not going to ding them for lack of cushion. Giving a 10 due to the overall secure and agile feel, plus ultimate traction (within its intended terrain and distance)

Fit: 10 - Ultimate upper for me - super secure midfoot/heel, just-right forefoot and accommodating toebox

Value: 9 - A lot of features for the somewhat high price, but mileage may not be as high as others since they’ll likely be used to tackle harsher terrain. 

Style: 9.5 - As a die-hard New Jersey Devils fan, I’ll swallow hard and say the “Flyer” orange does look pretty sharp (Would have preferred more of a racer red though)

Traction: 10 - Best grip out there

Rock Protection: 9 - Right amount for short and fast running. The rubber coverage between the lugs should help a bit.

Renee: This shoe and the brand were not on my radar, but now that I have the Spark I recommend it for runners who like flexible, lightweight, ground-feel shoes. The shoes are a good balance of a racing flat that has the grip and profile of a cleat with the comfort of a trail shoe. I prefer the Spark for shorter distances (less than 12 miles) and speed workouts, although I think some runners can use the Spark for longer distances depending on the terrain. I would need more stack underfoot for longer runs for comfort and protection (even on gravel roads). The width of the toebox is good, although the height is marginally shallow and I had irritation across my toes from hitting the toe bumper. I will continue to use the Spark for shorter, faster efforts on soft dirt or grass, especially during slightly muddy conditions. 

Renee’s Score: 9/10  (-.50 shallow toebox height, -.50 pricing/ versatility)


VJ MAXx (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  The MAXx is an overall more substantial shoe, with better protection overall, but is heavier and because of the weight and stiffness, is not as quick or lively.  Traction is comparable.  The MAXx upper is similarly secure, but thicker and more protective, though less breathable.

VJ Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.5) As noted in the review - Spark fixes a few issues with the VJ Ultra. I think if you liked the VJ Ultra (aside from outsole issues), you will love the Spark for shorter and faster running. Spark has a better fitting, more secure upper, just as good traction with more rubber coverage, and a much narrower platform suited to more agile style running. Ultra has a much softer feel, is suited for longer distances, possibly is more stable as it has a wider base (depends on running style/terrain), is more protective but not bombproof, but the higher stack does blunt impacts a bit more.  

Jeff V:  Mike sums up this comparison well.  I can only wish that VJ will address the outsole durability concerns found in the Ultra and utilize an outsole like the Spark (though admit that I need more long term data on the Spark durability).

Hoka Torrent 2 (RTR Review)

John: The VJ Sparks are more sock-like, secure, and form fitting in the upper, while the Hokas provide more cushion. If I am going fast and short in more technical sloppy terrain, I’ll go with the VJ Sparks, but I will put the Torrents on for anything else.

Mike P (9.5): Agree with John, although I’ll take it one step further - my Torrents feel like shoeboxes on my feet compared to the fit of the Spark. T2 has more cushion, definitely in the midfoot and heel, but weirdly feels thinner in the forefoot. I find the Sparks much more fun to run in. The only place where I might prefer Torrents would be a steep hill interval workout due to the aforementioned forefoot feel.  Otherwise I can see my Sparks taking up all of my previous “Torrent” runs. The Torrents do have a much wider base with similar weight to Spark. This may be preferable for some, especially heel strikers. 

Jeff V:  Like John and Mike say, the Spark is much better in technical terrain where security and traction are more critical than cushion and comfort.  The Torrent, while still good in technical terrain, is not quite as adept when things really get rough and at speed and as Mike notes, the Torrent can feel a bit thin underfoot and I experience some surprise zingers in rocky terrain.

Renee: I echo everyone else. The Spark has a more secure, tighter upper fit, which works best for technical terrain. Neither shoe has a lot of stack height, but the Torrent 2 provides more underfoot and works better for me at a variety of distances. For shorter, faster efforts on soft terrain, the Spark is better. For everything else, the Torrent 2 wins. I wore a women’s 7.5 in the Torrent 2 and a men’s 6.5/women’s 8 in the Spark. 

Inov-8 Terraultra G270 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0): Very similar shoes, the major difference being the zero-drop of the Terraultra. Although as I mentioned, the 5mm drop of the Spark does not feel that high. Protection is similar. Traction is similar - probably a slight edge to the Spark with its deeper lugs. The Spark’s upper is better. TU upper is good, but you have to cinch down a little, Spark wraps the foot much better. Spark’s toebox is a touch wider, which for me makes a difference. TU midsole/ride is a bit bouncier and more responsive, but tends to fade with mileage.

Jeff V:  Mike touches on all my points.  While the TUG270 may have excellent traction, I felt I could not really utilize all that it can offer due to the not nearly as secure foothold.  In the TUG270, I felt like I had to really work the laces to get a secure foothold and was never really able to achieve it.  TUG270 had perhaps better cushion and substantial feel underfoot, but I would not say it is more protective.

Renee: The TUG270 remains my overall favorite trail shoe. The Spark has a much tighter, secure upper fit as compared to the wide TUG270. I found the protection and comfort underfoot much better in the TUG270. For longer distances across a variety of terrain, the TUG270 is a much better choice for me. I might choose the Spark for shorter speed workouts, especially in the mud. I wore a women’s size 8 in both. The toe box height and width is more generous in the TUG270.

Salomon S/Lab Pulsar (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): Both can be considered race shoes - the Pulsar. Pulsar is definitely much lighter (than any other trail shoe and the vast majority of road shoes as well) and is faster, but isdefinitely suited to moderate trails, or technical to the point where you can find safe landings for your footfalls. Spark is definitely better suited to more technical terrain, anything loose or steep. Spark feels much safer for agile-type running, Pulsar can feel a bit hazardous side-to-side. Pulsar is way better on the road. Top two uppers out there - both equally secure. Spark has a much more comfortable toe box.

Salomon Sense Pro 4 (RTR Review)

John: The Pro 4 is more comfortable, has a more accommodating fit, better cushion, is better on the downhills with a highly responsive, agile and performance oriented ride. 

Mike P (9.5) I can appreciate the features of the SP4 that John mentions, but I could not get the upper to fit right for me.  The toebox was fine, but I just found the forefoot too narrow - in order to get a secure fit, I would have to cinch down the quicklaces, which would in turn squeeze my forefoot and gave me hot spots. If I loosened the forefoot, it would be less secure and my heel would be slipping. I would say these are the most similar shoes as a comparison, the difference being the width - specifically of the forefoot. 

Jeff V:  Agreed with John entirely and will note that while the SP4 has a more accommodating fit, that accommodation, at least for me, is somewhat of an option depending on how you snug the laces.  I think the only aspect where the Spark surpasses the SP4 is the outsole.

Salomon S/Lab Sense 8  (RTR Review)

John: I’m comparing the Spark to the S/Lab 8 SG. Both of the shoes are best suited for sloppy, muddy, and hard to get traction conditions. The S/Lab is nearly 2 ounces lighter with a more aggressive tread layout. I find the fit of the VJ Spark to be much more secure and the upper is more protective. Both have fairly narrow platforms and neither have a plush ride. If I were running uphill only, I would choose the S/Lab for the weight savings, otherwise I’ll go with the VJ Spark.

Jeff V:  John took the words right out of my mouth.  I found the S/Lab SG8 (and any previous versions), to be great on the uphill, since they are responsive and so light, but have found the fit of the SG 7 and 8 to be a bit floppy and loose in the toe (not in an accommodating way, but more of an excess material sort of way) and the built in gaiter/lace garage area gives me blisters on the top of my foot/front ankle.  While neither the Spark or SG8 offer much in the way of cushioning for extended downhills, the Spark has better protection and I can get through technical terrain much quicker, whereas in the SG8, I find myself dancing quite a bit more.

Saucony Switchback 2 (RTR Review)

John: This is a tough comparison, because they’re very comparable in my opinion. The BOA system is such a great feature in the Switchback that provides a comfortably snug and accommodating fit. The VJ Spark is snug, but not accommodating and the laces get in the way. However, the outsole tread and overall performance on varied terrain of the VJ Spark makes it a better shoe by the slightest of margins.

Jeff V:  Agreed with John, but honestly would not have thought to compare these two.  I guess they are both somewhat low, light and minimal, but the Spark is much more suited to fast running in technical terrain with superior traction and foothold.  Since I reviewed the Switchback 2, I have not run in them once since, but use them more casually and as a travel/airport/look somewhat good with pants sort of shoe.

Renee: I found both shoes fun, but have not run much in the Switchback 2 since finishing the review. The Switchback is light, nimble, and fun. The outsole works great on a variety of surfaces. I found the midsole to be harsh for runs between 12-15 miles. The Spark is a better choice for speed work on ascents/descents. The Switchback 2 has a slight advantage in terms of usage for me (more comfortable past 10 miles with a more generous toebox height). For its usage, the Spark is the better performing shoe. 

Skechers Speed TRL (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5) (Version 1) - Skechers are a bit lighter, and faster in all-out speed. The Hyperburst heel along with the forefoot plate is very fast - any type of intervals on flat trails, dirt, or gravel, I like these. But I find the plate does make them tippy, especially if you land on something in the middle of the forefoot. That’s a ticket to a quick ankle roll. The plate for me can also feel a bit harsh when running longer. Traction there  is no comparison - Spark all the way. A bunch of the nubs on the TRL were shorn off pretty quickly. Upper, again no comparison - Spark fit is much better, especially toe box. TRL’s are tight in the toebox, as well as pointy in the very front. 

Jeff V:  Agreed with Mike mostly, but never really found myself prone to ankle rolling in them, but maybe that was because I was already slowing enough in technical terrain as to not get another heel zinger through the exposed midsole foam.  Otherwise, the Skechers is much faster and more responsive for all out running on less technical terrain.  Spark of course has superior foothold and traction.

Renee: I still run with my Speed TRL. I find it more diverse in terms of speed and terrain usages. The Spark has the better outsole for traction; the TRL works better on harder and buffed surfaces. The Speed TRL works better for distances more than 10 miles, but neither shoe is my choice for longer runs. The Spark is better for faster speeds on technical terrain; for everything else, I would choose the Speed TRL. 

Scott Supertrac RC 2 (RTR Review soon)

Jeff V:  Both shoes serve a similar purpose of going fast in technical terrain, as they both have amazing foothold/security, low to the ground agile feel and amazing traction.  The Spark is lighter and I think have an edge with confidence inspiring performance through steep and technical terrain, but the difference here is so slight.  The Supertrac RC 2 has better cushion, protection and substance underfoot however, so over rockier terrain and especially for longer duration, the Supertrac is a better choice.

Available now at VJ Shoes

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content

The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Jeff Valliere said...


Ante said...

A comparison with Hoka Zinal would be interesting, since it is in the same category as VJ Spark!?

Unknown said...

I have ran 30 miles with my VJ Spark so far and will side with Mike P. The amazing grip and perfect fit make this shoe a standout for me. I normally run a lot in the Salomon SP4 but feel that I have to tighten the speedlace a lot to have a good lockdown, then the top of my ankle is not comfy anymore. I listened to your advice and modified the llacing of the Spark last night and it was indeed even better. I own the Salomon Sense 7SG, SP4 and Pulsar… and will pick the Spark for my next 15km trail race due to grip and amazing lockdown for technical climbs and descents. It should also be said that the forefoot is very flexible (not just aggressive in rocker angle), which make for even better grip and comfort when climbing steep hills. My Sense 7 SG may have deeper lugs than the Spark, but they felt stiff, less grippy and less comfortable in my A/B test.

Unknown said...

I have ran 30 miles with my VJ Spark so far and will side with Mike P. The amazing grip and perfect fit make this shoe a standout for me. I normally run a lot in the Salomon SP4 but feel that I have to tighten the speedlace a lot to have a good lockdown, then the top of my ankle is not comfy anymore. I listened to your advice and modified the llacing of the Spark last night and it was indeed even better. I own the Salomon Sense 7SG, SP4 and Pulsar… and will pick the Spark for my next 15km trail race due to grip and amazing lockdown for technical climbs and descents. It should also be said that the forefoot is very flexible (not just aggressive in rocker angle), which make for even better grip and comfort when climbing steep hills. My Sense 7 SG may have deeper lugs than the Spark, but they felt stiff, less grippy and less comfortable in my A/B test. I also agree with reviewers that the toebox is shallow, so everyone should size up by 0.5. The extra space ahead of my toes does not botter me because the lockdown is so good everywhere else.