Monday, July 11, 2022

VJ Ultra 2 Multi Tester Review. 11 Comparisons

Article by Jacob Brady, Mike Postaski, and Jeff Valliere

VJ Ultra 2 ($170)


Introduction


Jacob: The original VJ Ultra was the most performant shoe I’ve ever tested for racing in technical terrain. The combination of 10/10 grip, stable and smooth ride, locked-in fit, relatively low weight, and moderate cushion was unrivaled. However, it was not without flaws, including one critical one: the forefoot outsole on all our testers pairs as well as many other runners was prone to delamination, requiring either significant repair or retirement. Additionally, though more minor, I felt the forefoot was slightly too soft and flexible, sometimes feeling mushy or collapsing inward and pushing my toes together, leading to blisters. 

VJ made only minor changes to the Ultra 2. However, the updates seem directed at resolving the above two issues. First the Ultra 2 has a different forefoot outsole configuration, including more rubber with less segmentation, thus eliminating the inner edge of the perimeter outsole which is where RTR testers first noted the delamination issue. 



Second, the toebox is wider and the midsole includes a rock plate. All these changes will reduce flexibility in the forefoot and should eliminate the issue I had with my toes being pressed together. The upper and style look identical—it’s a purely functional update.

Given that the updates may resolve every issue I had with version one, I was excited to test it to see if it would overtake its predecessor as my top pick for a technical racing shoe. 


Mike P:  The VJ Ultra was the first shoe that I reviewed for RTR.  It’s pretty amazing that just about a year has passed now, and it seems like they took a lot of our advice and incorporated it so quickly into V2.  Literally - every single issue we brought up seems to have been addressed in the new version.  How well did they do?  Is V2 a big improvement over V1?  I’m not a fan of clickbait, so the answer is - YES. Please read on to find out the details.




Pros:

World class traction; better than every shoe I’ve run except the VJ MAXx: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V

New outsole configuration + rock plate tames excessive lateral flex Mike P/Jeff V/Jacob

Excellent foothold: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V

Simple and durable upper: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V

Versatile ride: performs well at a wide range of paces: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V

Rock plate a big improvement over V1’s soft forefoot Mike P/Jeff V

Very protective in rocky terrain Mike P/Jeff V

Increased width at front of toebox Mike P/Jeff V


Cons:

Significant weight gain from version 1: Jacob

A bit short at true to size, some minor big toe pressure: Jacob

Lacking the midfoot transition of pure “running” oriented shoes Mike P


Stats

Weight: men's oz  / g (US9)  /  women's oz / g (US8)   

  Samples: men’s  12 11.5 oz  / 326  g, men’s 10.5 10.6 oz / 301 g, men’s 10 10.25 oz / 289 g 

Stack Height: men’s 33 mm heel / 27 mm forefoot 

Available Now ($170)



First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Jacob: At a high level, the VJ Ultra 2 is very similar to the first version: it is high quality in material choice and construction; the colorway and upper construction is identical. The upper is durable and is reinforced with Dupont Kevlar® fibers but without excess. It fits securely with great toebox space but is still snug enough to provide security. 


The sizing is true to size and nearly perfect for my medium width foot except a bit short, putting some pressure on my big toe nail. The length and overall fit feels the same as version 1. Overall excellent first impressions and I expect it to be another world class shoe.

The only unfortunate change with the Ultra 2 is an increase in weight of nearly an ounce (26 grams) in my US 12 (to 11.5 oz / 326 g). This is significant, taking the shoe from 40th to 55th of the 75 shoes in my tracked list of test pair weights. 


It is now closer in weight to the MAXx at just ~10 grams lighter, limiting the differentiation between the models and putting the lighter Spark (9.8 oz / 279 g) in a class of its own. The weight gain should result in increased durability, traction, and protection, so for some terrain, the performance will likely make it worthwhile, but for shorter races when I’d take light weight and a more connected feel over a bit more traction and protection but still want more comfort and cushion than the Spark, I’ll miss the lighter weight of the Ultra 1.


Mike P:  At first glance, V2 looks almost identical to V1.  I found that even on their website, they seemed to use some of the old V1 pics on the V2 page (not sure if this has been corrected or if they added new pics).  But looks aside, I knew there were some subtle and important changes to be on the lookout for.  There were also a few other details that I noticed as well.

The most important change has to do with addressing the issue of lugs becoming detached from the midsole in V1 that many of us saw.  

Rubber was added between the strips of outsole under the forefoot - making it one single more interconnected piece or rubber as shown above with v1’s outsole shown below..  

Left: V2                                       :                   Right: V1

This change should alleviate the issue where the lugs started peeling from the midsole, which seemed to originate on the inner edges in V1.


I received my test pair while traveling in Colorado, so I wasn’t able to A/B compare right away, but it seemed like there was slightly more space at the front of the toebox.  After coming home and closely comparing, it’s still very hard to tell by sight but it does seem like perhaps the material is slightly looser, and the front of the forefoot does seem a bit more spacious.  Perhaps the rock plate also keeps the forefoot flatter and prevents any concave effect.  This was one of the issues I did have with V1 - the toebox being a bit pointy up front and giving me some pinky side pressure over longer distances.  This issue does seem improved with V2.


[V1 on left, V2 on right.  I measured a roughly ⅛ inch (3+ mm) increase in width at the front of the toebox.  Hard to tell visually, but they do feel slightly wider.  You can also see the improvement in outsole configuration here.]


Size-wise they run the same as V1, which is to say, a bit small in comparison to other brands.  I wear a size 10.5 in VJ Ultra V1, V2, and Spark.  It’s the only brand where I wear a 10.5.  I typically wear either 9.5 or 10.0 for all other brands (see comps).  My size 10.5’s increased in weight from 10.0 to 10.6.  I think this is a fair weight gain, as the shoe is virtually identical, with added outsole rubber, plus a rock plate now in the mix.  I’m happy to trade the weight gain for those features.


[My trusted shoe for several high mountain runs in Colorado.  Note the softer strip of yellow material at the top of the tongue - a softer edge than V1]


Another minor change is to the tongue - there’s now a softer suede-type material on the underside of the tongue.  That material also extends around the edge of the tongue - you can see it as the softer yellow material in the photo above.  V1 didn’t have that material, and the top edge was sharper, causing some rubbing and irritation at the front of my ankle.


Jeff V:  Mike and Jacob sum up the Ultra 2 very well and the updates, so I’ll just focus on my impressions, performance and fit.  I found v1 to be one of my favorite shoes in 2021 and was a real surprise, with such incredible performance over technical terrain with good cushion, reasonable protection, off the charts traction, very precise/secure upper, responsive feel and relative low weight.  I might have declared it my favorite shoe for 2021, or at least co-favorite, if not for the durability issues we discovered with the outsole.  We brought this up to VJ and while I would like to think they listened to our feedback, it is likely a very common complaint that they have heard over and over. Side note, if you have the 1st version and your lugs are peeling off, I have found that a careful fix with Gorilla glue helps tremendously and will buy you a lot of time.


Fast forward to the Ultra 2, I was very happy to hear that VJ had made modifications that certainly appeared to have improved the outsole by making the rubber more continuous and less prone to shearing.  


I find version 2 to fit true to size, sticking with my normal size 10.  While the upper is very similar to the first version, it has a bit more space in the forefoot, including a bit more ceiling height.  

Those who need a bit more room will appreciate this added space and it still does a very good job at holding the foot in place, though I do find that the first version offers slightly better security and is a little more confidence inspiring when pushing hard through rocky, technical terrain.


Midsole

Jacob: The VJ Ultra 2 uses a single slab of relatively lightweight EVA with a flexible rock plate The shoe has mid-range softness and rebound characteristics. The sockliner remains a thin and soft foam, not adding much in terms of performance. The midsole works well but is not exciting on its own. It has an average cushion and flexibility. The rock plate adds rigidity to the forefoot but doesn’t restrict flexibility. It increases protection and reduces mushiness which is a great improvement from version 1. However, the plate does decrease apparent cushion and on hard terrain makes the forefoot a bit uncomfortable. The midsole works well overall in contributing to the versatility of the Ultra 2 and delivers consistent performance, but is not a standout component of the shoe on its own.


Mike P: I tend to agree with Jacob here - the midsole is not the standout feature of the shoe.  It feels like an average durometer EVA - not overly soft nor overly firm, but somewhere in the middle.  The addition of the rock plate does make the ride feel a bit snappier in my opinion.  The previous version had a general feel of being super flexible and softer underfoot.  With the rock plate, a little bit of flexibility is lost, but not much.  They did a good job with the rock plate, it feels flexible in a similar way to Saucony’s woven plates, which for my money, are the best rock plate implementations out there.


[Rock plate doing its job]


I was able to get in some solid mountain testing over in the San Juans.  I noticed a big improvement in rock protection from the plate.  In V1 you could catch a zinger here and there when going over the sharp stuff.  The V2 plate really blunts rock impacts.  I didn’t notice excessive instability either.  Of course there’s a rock plate in the mix now, so occasionally I felt a minor tip here or there, but never a major shock ankle roll.  I’d say the tradeoff of potential instability for rock protection is about right. 


[VJ Ultra 2 with updated EVA insoles drain and dry out quite well]


Another minor but notable improvement is that VJ switched from the previous rubbery open cell insole to a more standard closed-cell EVA insole.  The previous insole soaked up water like a sponge - even worse than regular Ortholite insoles.  You lose a bit of softness with the new insole, but it's much better if any water crossings are involved in your runs.  If you prefer the softer feel, you could always swap in an Ortholite insole as long as you expect dry conditions.

Jeff V:  Again, Jacob and Mike sum up the midsole well.  I find it to be appropriate for a variety of terrain.  For my use, I find them soft enough to feel well cushioned for fast downhills and hard surfaces, but firm enough to provide good control and stability when the going gets really rough under foot.  I appreciate the rock plate, which adds a bit of pop and a significant amount of added protection over the first version.  While there is a slight bit of added stiffness, I have not found them to be tippy at all.


Outsole


Jacob: There’s nothing more I would ask for from the Ultra 2 outsole when considering its design for moving fast and comfortably over technical terrain. It uses a butyl rubber material which provides top of the line traction—VJ’s outsole rubber provides the best wet grip on New England’s notorious slick granite and roots that I have experienced—it can be an incredible experience running or hiking and steep wet rock and feeling confident. The Ultra 2 outsole is nearly identical to the Ultra 1, with the key difference of having more coverage and connectedness in the forefoot outsole. This could prove critical in durability (preventing the side lug delamination issue, I need many miles to determine that) as well as adding stability.




Mike P:  I mentioned the major update to the forefoot outsole configuration in my first impressions, and Jacob also describes it above.  You can see the difference clearly in the photo above.  The new configuration has the added benefit of reining in some lateral flexibility in the forefoot.  V1 at times could feel excessively flexible laterally - almost like the edges of the shoe at the forefoot could be pushed upwards in certain uneven terrain. 


[Greatly improved outsole design of V2 - no inner edges to peel up]


As far as the rubber itself - VJ’s hashtag #TheBestGripOnThePlanet is definitely apt.  Their patented Butyl rubber is so tacky, you even notice a suction-cup type sound when waking around and during the first few runs.  The rubber itself of my V1’s was very durable, aside from the delamination issue which was really caused by the shape of the rubber strips.   As of now I’ve got 53 very hard and rough mountain miles in my pair of V2 and the outsole is still in great shape.  We will be sure to post long-term updates, given the previous version’s issues.



Jeff V:  Agreed with everything above.  The Ultra 2 outsole here is holding up exceptionally well after a very rough and rocky 70 miles of testing so far.  I am not seeing any durability concerns, as the updated rubber configuration seems to have solved all previous issues and the wear rate of the rubber is above average.  Grip is as advertised, best grip on the planet and is confidence inspiring, to the point where they defy logic.



Ride


Mike P: The ride of the VJ Ultra continues to lean more “mountain” running vs pure “trail” running.  What I mean by that is this - if you’re on a regular trail, in moderately technical terrain, or even occasionally technical terrain, you could likely do better with a shoe that’s a bit more responsive and is tuned more towards pure running rather than dealing with technical terrain.  But when the terrain gets really rough, and especially when traction matters - that’s where the VJ shines.


As mentioned above, the added rock plate serves a dual purpose.  The main purpose is rock protection of course, and I find that really works well, which in turn increases confidence and speed in rocky, technical terrain.  You’re not constantly worried about taking that big rock hit, and at the same time you’re not worried about the big ankle roll either.  The second purpose I found is that the rock plate does make the shoe faster.  There’s less energy lost in the softness of the forefoot/midfoot.  I was able to lean into some pretty fast descents without much trepidation.



The cushion level is adequate for the intended terrain.  But there’s a certain transition that’s not quite there, as in other more established trail running brands and models.  The Ultra 2 can have a bit of a flat feel in terms of the ride, that’s part of the reason I say they feel more mountain oriented than pure running oriented.  There’s just something missing around the midfoot of the shoe.  That’s not a intended to be a knock on the shoe, just a difference in comparison to shoes with more speed and moderate terrain-focused rides.

Jeff V:  Mike nails it above and I agree with just about everything he says, where the Ultra 2 shines most on technical mountain terrain, more so than they do on cruisy, less technical terrain, but I find that they perform exceptionally well there too and are quite quick, one of the faster and more confidence inspiring shoes in my arsenal for any terrain.


Jacob: I agree with Mike and Jeff about the ride. It is stable, performant, and consistent. Protection is excellent and it moves along well over any terrain. It feels the least smooth at slower paces on easier terrain but on all terrain runs well fast especially for the weight and bombproof design.


Conclusions and Recommendations


[Longs Peak - 14,259 ft]


Mike P:  The VJ Ultra 2 was on my feet for all of my big mountain runs throughout my Colorado trip.  Those included a 5+ hour loop around Ouray including portions of the Hardrock course as well as a sub-5 hour round trip up to Long’s Peak, which was borderline mountaineering over the final 1+ miles.  I was especially glad that I had the Ultra 2’s on Long’s Peak, as there were some highly technical scrambling and climbing sections (with snow and ice).  I was on the edge of my comfort zone and thought about turning back a few times.  With less capable shoes and lesser traction, I might have pulled the plug. 


Kudos to VJ for listening to consumer and reviewer feedback and turning around a new and much improved version so quickly.  The VJ Ultra 2 is a top mountain running, hiking, and scrambling shoe.  I highly recommend them and they’re on the top shelf of my quiver for adventures in technical terrain.

Mike P’s Score:  9.63 / 10

Ride: 10 - Much improved, versatile, protective, fast in technical terrain

Fit: 9.5 - Same as V1, improved slightly with more width up front

Value: 8 - $170 is kind of high for a shoe that works best in specific technical terrain.  But if that’s your primary terrain, the value will be higher

Style: 9.5 - Love the bright green on the trails

Traction: 10 - Best in class grip, great for rock scrambling

Rock Protection: 10 - Greatly improved with new rock plate

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊

This new score is about how pleasing/fun the experience is on the run, or in the case of race type shoes how effective it is to race.


Jeff V:  The VJ Ultra 2 is every bit as amazing as the first version, but even better now with the outsole durability concerns resolved and a rock plate in the mix for added protection.  I was not excited at first as I realized there was an  increase in weight, but given the advantages over the previous version, I find it to be acceptable.  I really would hardly have detected a difference holding them side by side and do not really notice a difference when running, so a very minor complaint.

Jeff V’s Score:  9.7/10

Ride: 9.75

Fit: 9.75

Value: 9 - a bit pricey, but now with improved durability, they will last a long time I believe

Style: 9.5

Traction: 10

Rock protection: 9.5


Jacob: The VJ Ultra 2 is an amazing shoe for moving fast over any distance in highly technical terrain. It has VJ’s butyl rubber grip as the standout component—on another level from most other trail running shoes and the best I’ve tested. The rest of the shoe is performance focused—protected, stable, and durable—while still feeling zippy enough when running fast on smoother terrain. For mountainous racing of 25 km and up I have not tested a better shoe. I will use the VJ Ultra 2 for all technical trail racing over around 15 km, as I did with the Ultra 1, as well as for long higher effort training runs in the mountains.


Compared to the Ultra 1, the Ultra 2 is better in all ways except for weight, where it is significantly heavier. The updates are worth the weight—2 is a better shoe—but there are scenarios where I miss the more flexible, lighter version 1, largely shorter races on smoother terrain. For the Ultra 3, to make a great shoe even better, I’d hope to see a significant weight drop and a slightly more flowing and energetic ride on smooth terrain without losing the protection and depth of cushion.


Overall, a well thought out update to a world-class shoe. 


Jacob’s Score: 9.3/10

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

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊


11 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


VJ Ultra 1 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.5):  The improvements are outlined throughout the review. They include: better and more durable outsole configuration, better protection now with a rockplate (also propulsive), slightly wider at the front of toe box, softer padding on the top edge of the tongue, and an EVA insole holds no water.  There’s a slight weight gain (0.6 oz in my size 10.5) but for me is well worth it for the improvements.  There’s also a slight loss in forefoot flexibility, but I also think that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the protection and bit of added snapiness to the ride. 


Jeff V: Mike sums it  up perfectly.


VJ Spark (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.5):  Spark is the lightweight, purely agile shoe in the VJ lineup.  I really like the Spark upper, and feel like it wraps the foot a bit better than the Ultra.  The Ultra upper is a bit stiffer, but is also more durable and protective.  The Spark doesn’t offer much underfoot in terms of cushion or protection, but you get the Butyl rubber traction of course.  Spark is for really dancing around in technical terrain  or for very steep climbs where traction is needed.  Ultra is more protective and built for longer distances.


Jeff V:  Mike again gets it perfect/y.


Jacob: I agree with everything Mike says and want to add that the Spark is much lighter, 279 g / 9.8 oz compared to 326 g / 11.5 oz for the Ultra 2 (weights for my US Men’s size 12 samples). For shorter all uphill races or 10 mile and less technical races without extended steep descents, I would pick the Spark since it is a truly locked in, rip every corner experience (at the expense of comfort). The additional cushion and protection of the Ultra is helpful for descents and longer distances and its wider toebox and stability greatly increase comfort.


Adidas Agravic Flow 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10):  The VJ Ultra 2 is likely the shoe that the Flow 2 aspires to be.  But it’s not quite there - heavier, stiffer, firmer ride, and more unstable.  The Flow 2 doesn’t feel comfortable in technical terrain the way it’s intended to be.  The Flow 2 may work better in more runnable, moderate terrain, as long as the fit works for you.  I still find the ankle collar too rigid and the Achilles collar unnecessarily high.   


Adidas Speed Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (10):  The Speed Ultra is a much more versatile and faster shoe in easy-moderate-semi technical terrain.  You can also run it in technical terrain depending on your ability level.  The VJ offers more protection from itsrockplate, and definitely wins in the traction department.  The Speed Ultra has much more shallower lugs suited to faster running in less technical  terrain.  I really like both shoes, and would choose between the two based on terrain.


Hoka Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10):  SG5 offers primarily a softer ride with equal protection - via midsole thickness rather than rock plate.  The VJ is better for faster running in technical terrain- they’re just as protective, but more agile than the bulkier SG5.  SG5 clearly suited to long ultra distances, and runs in any terrain where you want to go easy on your legs. 


Jeff V: Ditto.  I find the SG5 to be a bit more protective and substantial for longer runs, but still great on tech terrain.


Saucony Peregrine 12 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5):  These are very similar shoes, and now a very close comp given the big changes to the new Peregrine.  Both offer very good rock plate implementations - protective, not harsh feeling, and still flexible.  I give the edge in fit and security to the Peregrine - it’s really a nice and well fitting upper.  I give the edge in cushion to the VJ- there’s just a bit more foam underfoot.  You may prefer the Peregrine if you like more feel in technical terrain.  Grip and traction is comparable, although the VJ may have an edge in wet conditions.  Price is another factor to mention - Peregrine is $40 cheaper, a great deal for what you get.


Jeff V:  Agreed with Mike on all points.


Jacob: The Peregrine 12 is lighter than the Ultra 2, firmer, and less protected. Unlike Mike, I don’t think the traction of the Peregrine is comparable to the Ultra 2—it is great but not world class and notably more prone to foot slips on toe off for me on my Northeast US terrain with its wet rocks and roots. 


The Peregrine is between the Ultra 2 and VJ Spark in weight, protection, and cushion, but has a different feel and fit, with softer materials, a thick rubbery sockliner, and a very comfortable upper overall. Forefoot hold for me is better in  the Ultra 2 so, along with traction, this makes the Ultra 2 the more capable shoe in wet or rugged conditions. For moderately technical, less vertical, and shorter races, some runners may prefer the Peregrine. Value of the Peregrine is higher as it is significantly less expensive.


Saucony Xodus Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5):  Similar to the Speed Ultra, the Xodus Ultra is more versatile in terms of terrain than the VJ.  But the Xodus Ultra can handle a bit more technical terrain than the Speed Ultra, so therefore has more overlap with the VJ.  The XU is definitely smoother on easy/moderate terrain.  VJ’s rock plate is slightly stiffer and more protective, the XU’s is more flexible. VJ gets the edge in grip and traction, but the XU’s traction is suitable enough for longer distances.  The XU upper is more comfortable and still roomier yet  in the toebox.  Overall - XU for long distance, VJ for shorter ultras in more technical terrain.


Jeff V:  Agreed 100%


Jacob: The Xodus Ultra is softer both below and around the foot, has a bouncier, smoother, and more road-inspired ride, and is more versatile to pace and terrain. However, the Xodus Ultra is significantly less secure and performant in more extreme terrain. The shoes are very similar in weight. The Xodus Ultra runs well on smooth terrain (even roads) while also being able to handle rugged terrain. The Ultra 2 is stiff and overly sticky on pavement. Traction of the Xodus Ultra is good, but not on the level of the Ultra 2. I’ll take the Xodus Ultra for training runs in smooth to moderate terrain, easier running, and long less technical races; I’ll use the Ultra 2 for mountain running and more technical races. Both are great shoes.


Scarpa Golden Gate Kima RT (RTR Review)

Mike P (10 1/3):  GG Kima features a carbon plate, and due to that, feels stiffer around the midfoot area, whereas the VJ Ultra’s firmness is mainly felt under the forefoot.  The GG Kima feels efficient on the run, but it’s also nearly an ounce heavier, so for me it doesn’t feel as quick and agile as the VJ in technical terrain.  Both feel equally protective underfoot, the VJ has a bit more cushion, especially in the midfoot/rear.  In terms of upper, I prefer the midfoot/rear of the GG Kima, but the front/toebox of the VJ.  Similar shoes overall, I give the edge to the VJ.


Jeff V:  The Kima is excellent, but feels a lot heavier to me, less responsive, more tippy and more firm/protective for slower paces and on more technical terrain.


Scott Supertrac Ultra RC (RTR Review)

Mike P (10):  Roughly 1.5 ounces heavier, the Scott also targets technical terrain, but over longer distances.  Most noticeable for me is the fit and security of the Scott upper - it’s more refined and locked in than the VJ.  The Scott’s rocker is very efficient, and though much heavier, it has a much smoother ride than the VJ.  Both uppers focus on durability in rocky/alpine terrain.  Both shoes have great traction, I’d call them equal.  The Scott’s lugs are taller so are better in very loose terrain and they also contribute a bit to cushioning.  I like the VJ for shorter & aggressive mountain “adventures” (including scrambling), but I’d prefer the Scott for a long mountain ultra run.


Jeff V:  A great comparison, but I personally find the VJ outsole to be more grippy in wet conditions, as well as more durable.


Topo MTN Racer 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5):  The Topo feels thinner and less protective under the forefoot.  There’s no rock plate, so the VJ handles rocky terrain much better.  The Topo is slightly lighter, has a smoother ride and feels softer overall.  The upper is a bit more refined and overall more comfortable.  Traction is good with the Topo, but a notch below the VJ.  Overall, the Topo handles runnable terrain better, but the VJ handles technical terrain much better, primarily due to forefoot protection.


Topo Pursuit (RTR Review)

Mike P (10):  I found the Pursuit surprisingly competent and maneuverable in technical terrain.  That being said, with softer foam and no rock plate in the mix, you’d be best served taking that technical terrain less aggressively than you would in the VJ Ultra.  The Pursuit has more cushion for the long haul, as well as more comfort in the toebox and upper in general.  The VJ will be more protective in very rocky terrain, but less comfortable over longer durations and in moderate terrain. 


Tester Profiles

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 3.5 years and averages around 50 miles per week. Jacob races on road and trail at a variety of distances from 5k to 50k. He has a recent PR of 2:49 in the marathon. In addition to running, he does hiking, biking (mountain/gravel/road), 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.


Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras - anywhere from 50K up to his favorite - 100M. 5'10", 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker - he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 - 9:00/mi. Mike recently finished 3nd at the Scout Mountain (Idaho) 50 mile trail ultra. Mike shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, with plenty of forefoot space, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.


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

The VJ Ultra 2 is available
VJ  HERE 
Amazon HERE

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 in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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27 comments:

Jan said...

Hi Mike, what about the ankle collar?
Is it lower now? In VJ Ultra1 review you mentioned it was little to high for longer outings and you even had to cut the shoe to alleviate the rubbing. Here you wrote that: "Literally - every single issue we brought up seems to have been addressed in the new version." but nothing about the ankle collar. Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

I’m so happy that this revised version of the ultra is coming. I loved the first version except for the outsole ripping out of the midsole. On steep, wet rocky terrain, the outsole is the best I’ve ever tried. Even on the fast descents provides grip and confidence. I’ll gladly pay the premium price tag. In fact with everything being more expensive lately I’m pleased the price stayed the same

Mike P said...

Jan - Good catch, I had that in my mind but forgot to mention it. With V1 I definitely felt the ankle collar about 7-8 hours into a 108K race. My longest run in these was 5:20 up and around Ouray, and I didn't have any issue. The collar of the upper looks and feels the same - height-wise, and it doesn't feel rigid to the touch. Perhaps something about the increased space up front + the rock plate - affects how the rear feels. I do think with the firmer forefoot that I don't have to lace up the shoes as tight. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

General remark. About 90% of your final scores are between 9.5-10. It means 90% shoes you review are close to perfection. It also means, the scoring is becoming redundant. You get the idea. Maybe it's time to review your scoring system. Otherwise, the reviews are just a stream of kind observations about new releases (not to disturb manufacturers/sponsors)and it's all about living in a fantasy (shoes) world.

Mike P said...

Anonymous - Not sure if that is directed to anyone in particular or just the scoring in general. But yes, the scoring is an imperfect system. Keep in mind that as reviewers we are not necessarily scoring shoes against each other. The scoring can be somewhat relative if shoes are very similar or in the same "class", but there's a lot of factors that go into it.

We do have to factor in the preferences of a wide range of runners, with different needs, goals, speeds, budgets, and even body/foot sizes and shapes, etc. Another big factor is that we usually score relative to their intended usage - so for example, one shoe may not be as performant as another, but if costs only $100, it's actual scoring number cannot be taken in relation to shoes that are $50 or even $100+ more.

As for me personally, of the last 10 shoes I've reviewed - 3 have been above 9.5 - Endorphin Edge, Xodus Ultra, and VJ Ultra 2. All great shoes worthy of those scores. Of the rest, 4 were in the 7-8 range, and 3 in the low 9's.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a comparison between this and the La Sportiva Akasha II, which seems like close kin in function.

Anonymous said...

Someone’s jealous

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys. I'm running the 50K Baby Bear this September in Idaho, and I was wondering if this might make a good race shoe for that course. I assume Mike P. knows the terrain well. Or is there a better shoe you would recommend for race day? Thanks.

Mike P said...

Anonymous -

I haven't run any of the Bear races, but I just ran Scout Mountain 50M in Pocatello. It was in an adjacent mountain range just a bit north - same or very similar terrain I'd assume.

VJ Ultra 2 would be a great pick for that terrain and distance. The rock plate would be good for any rocky parts, and I'd say 50K is right in the sweet spot for how quick they are. Of course traction is great for that type of terrain.

I'd recommend a light gaiter - I use Altra's 4pt gaiter (just stick a piece of velcro on the heel of the shoe). It will definitely be very dry for that race - lots of dust/pebbles/sand getting kicked up.

Eyedea said...

Wow. I somehow missed this. So good to see them improve upon everything you mentioned, even if they did gain a little weight in the process.

Do you have any plans to review the VJ XTRM 2? I'd love to see how it stacks up against the Spark/Ultra V2

Mike P said...

Unknown-

For me and I believe Jeff V, the weight gain is a non-issue.

We should be receiving the XTRM 2 shortly for testing, so look out for that. I'll post first impressions after I receive them. Seems like they may slot in between the Spark and Ultra 2. I'm curious to see how the ride feels.

Anonymous said...

Anyone having blister issues with the V2? I had the V1 no issues got the 2's and I am having blisters.

Mike P said...

I haven't had any blister issues. Where are you having issues?

Unknown said...

Left pinky toe. Never had issues with version 1

Mike P said...

That's interesting. We all felt there was a bit more toebox space in V2. I even felt that before I was able to compare V1 & V2 side by side and also take those rough measurements.

Maybe something about the firmer, less contouring nature of the forefoot is not matching up with your foot or stride? Also the insole is different - perhaps your foot was sitting deeper and moving around less with V1's softer ortholite-ish insole? Maybe try an insole swap?

Unknown said...

I will try switching the insoles. I really love this shoe other than the blister issue. The rock plate made all the difference for me.

Thanks

V

Unknown said...

Thanks for the detailed review as always! Any thoughts on comparisons to the Inov-8 Terraultra/Trail Fly G 270? Seeing as that shoe had rave reviews two years ago and Inov-8 hasn't seen the need to update the model yet.

Also maybe the Norda 001? Seems like it'd be in a similar category.

Cheers

Mike P said...

Unknown - They're generally similar shoes with a few differences. G 270 feels bouncier to me (at least initially), partly due to the TPU insole. VJU2 has a bit more cushion, and also more protection especially up front with the rock plate. G 270 lends itself more towards agile-style running with more ground feel and overall a better connection with the ground. You have to be a bit more cautious to avoid rock hits with the G270's thinner stack and no rock plate. Overall, and this is my personal feeling, the VJU2 feels better suited to straight line or up/down running in technical/rocky terrain, and the G270 handles twisty and turny stuff better.

I think they both have equally good traction, but the VJ rubber probably grips wet rock better. Both are very durable but probably a slight edge to the Inov-8's graphene.

Another obvious difference is G270 is zero drop. Definitely helps with balance and ground feel, but your lower legs have to be up to the task.

rypatjo said...

Thanks for another great review!!

I live in Utah just south of Ogden and I like to run the trails of the Wasatch and surrounding mountains. Recently I made the trek up to my local peak, Thurston, at 9706 in my Speedland HSV. It was a 14 mile loop and I did about 5k of vert in 5 miles then flattened out for a bit then went back down. The Speedlands were awesome but my feet, ankles, lower legs were pretty beat when I was heading down and I didnt trust myself to run much on the technical and uneven parts. I love those shoes, but Im thinking I need something with more cushion to go with them and rack up some miles and Im debating the VJ Ultra 2 and The inov8 Trailfly G300.

Which one would you recommend out of those 2 (or do you have other recommendations) for racking up miles on rocky technical trails and just in general for a more cushioned shoe. Ill probably stick to straighter paths with these, but I do love to climb up a couple thousand feet and then bomb down and think Ill have a hard time not doing so in whichever pair I get. Which one would be the most stable/least tippy for my amateur legs and ankles and would compliment the Speedlands the best. I appreciate any input!

Mike P said...

rypatjo-

Strictly between those two shoes - I'd absolutely go with the VJ Ultra 2. The G300 is extremely heavy and bulky - I couldn't imagine dragging those up 5k in 5M. They're nice, stable, and cushioned though if you were hiking the route.

The VJ Ultra is a great pick for that route and distance. Just be aware there is a pretty sturdy front rockplate - great for protection but you do have to manage it a bit in uneven terrain. It can throw you if you hit something at the wrong angle. I like it and think it works great for my style and ability, but I could see how some might consider it tippy.

Other options I would think of (I'm thinking mainly about that steep descent) would be either the Peregrine 12 or the VJ XTRM 2 which I just reviewed. They lean more of a firm ride though, so maybe too much overlap with your Speedlands?

I'd also mention the Xodus Ultra - I would say its the next best pick for you for that route if you wanted more cushion. I do have to mention there have been reported issues with their outsole durability. Another one is Mafate Speed 4 - but it may be too much cushion for the descent and too unstable.

rypatjo said...

Wow Mike! Thanks for the feedback!

I’m planning on using these more for training days and racking up miles than for that specific route again and this is all great information. I tried the Xodus Ultra around the house before and they wanted to tip over and out on me during toe off so I never took them on the trials bc of that. Plus the upper wouldn’t lock down at all and I was afraid of of sliding around in them on anything remotely uneven.

I’m curious to try the mafate speed 4. Since they have them at REI with their awesome return/exchange policy I may have to give them a go.

As far as the inov8 and VJ I may have to get a couple pairs and try them around the house and see if I can get an idea of what they’d be like. I just want to give me feet and legs a break from the Speedlands and just cruise in some cushion but I’d like to have something I can use outside of long slow flat miles of possible.

I wear 10.5 in most road shoes, but I typically like a 10 in trail shoes so they lock down good and and I don’t have a bunch of toe space upfront. Should I try 10.5 in VJ or 10?

Thanks again Mike!

rypatjo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

rypatjo-

I haven't tried the VJ but I have both the Xodus Ultra and inov-8 G 300.

I agree the XU is tippy, although not the worst I've seen. The lockdown is far, far better if you switch the laces to non-stretchy ones. I did have issues with the outsole durability and high heel collar on my Achilles so I've stopped wearing them for now. Might perform some surgery on the heel.

The inov-8 is definitely heavier, but it doesn't feel heavy when running (nor does it feel feather-light like the G270). It's VERY stable, the complete opposite of the XU. Although the stack and offset are similar, I actually felt more planted/closer to zero drop with the inov-8. In addition, the XU are much bouncier and softer. The inov-8 is a much more dense foam. It's hard to describe but it's soft yet firm at the same time and has better ground feel than other shoes with this amount of stack. Grip is stellar except on wet rock. I sized up half a size and still found the toebox restrictive (I prefer the Timp 2 toebox). Maybe as a result, I had to cinch down the laces quite tight to avoid sliding on technical terrain. So far, the G300 is likely going to be my shoe for ultras until I find something better.

Mike P said...

I hear what you're saying about the Xodus Ultra - definitely one of the most accomoddating uppers out there. I like the added space as I have them tabbed for very long stuff (I already raced a 50M in them).

MS4 is great, really comes down to feel, and how much you plan to push them in unstable conditions. You get big time cushion which is great for the legs, and the traction is best in class as far as super stacked trail shoes.

Re sizing- I go 1/2 size up in all VJs (even beyond my normal ultra sizing), as do most others and even I've seen the same in their website comments. For reference - I wear 9.5 in Xodus Ultra and MS4 for most running. I'd go 10.0 if I was running 100M in both shoes. My VJ Ultras (and Spark, XTRM 2) are all 10.5s for most running - comparable to my 9.5 sizing in XU and MS4.

As for the Inov-8 - I'm 1/2 size up for most running so 10.0 (comparable to 9.5 in XU and MS4). But keep in mind - my G "300s" in US 10 were 362g on the scale. But I did think they cruised very well though and the Adaptflex really helps them work well in technical terrain. If you're not concerned about the weight, for training runs they're a good shoe.

Inov-8 also has an Ultra G 280 coming out (not sure when) so keep an eye out for that. Hopefully it could be a good compromise by providing a lot of what the G "300" offers, at a lower weight.

rypatjo said...

Thank you both for the comments!!

Im down the rabbit hole of shoes and cant decide. My neurosis is in full force from the search efforts. :)

Ill keep the VJ sizing info in mind. Thank you for being so detailed!

I thought about trying different laces with the Saucony XU but the tippy thing made me pass. I did love the dual density midsole though!

Im still curious about the G300s bc of that stable ride in a max cushion shoe. Im also a fan of inov8 b my first pair of trail shoes were the terraultra g270 and I loved them for their nimbleness and ground feel. I know the G300 are totally different beast though.

I just want a good comfy shoe to put lots of miles on and give my legs/feet/ankles a break, but they have to be able to handle the Utah trails I go on which at times aren't always buffed out. If the shoes can can do more than just go straight comfortably, thats a plus bc I always come across some uneven/off camber rocky stuff, and Im always tempted to climb and run down hills.

I think Ill try Mafate Speed 4 (unless Speedgoat 5 would be better?) VJ Ultra 2, and the inov8 G300 and hop around the house and see how I feel since I cant afford them all.

I appreciate the conversation and input!!

Mike P said...

rypatjo-

Sounds like the G300 may be a good pick for you. I did find them extremely stable for the stack height. As 'Unknown' mentions - the foam is very dense, yet not firm, so you get a lot of cushion, but still a decent amount of ground feel at such a big stack. If you're mainly just trying to save the legs during training, the weight factor become less of an issue. That dense foam is likely what makes them so heavy. They do use a rocker design for forward impulse - so that does help them roll along smoother than their weight would suggest. I'm really looking forward to trying the G280s.

Check the Mafate Speed 4 review comments - I was just answering some questions there about SG5 vs MS4.

Joe S. said...

On the subject of blisters, I had them REALLY badly in V1 of this shoe. I had sized up a half size, which did compromise foot hold slightly (foot slipping forward on downhills). I tried different insoles, but that didn't help. I don't think V1 had good breathability on hot days, and definitely didn't drain well on wet days. This was a big contributing factor to blisters, even on shorter runs. I don't think that's all down to the insole, sadly. I hope V2 has improved this, but the upper looks identical. It's a shame, as there's much to like about the shoe. The XTRM for example, has excellent breathability and drains really well.