Friday, February 23, 2024

VJ Shoes MAXx2 Multi Tester Review: Pure Fun. Versatile. Very Light 10 Comparisons

Article by Mike Postaski, Sam Winebaum, John Tribbia, Renee Krusemark and Jeff Valliere

VJ Shoes MAXx2 ($180)


Introduction


Sam: Known for shoes at the extreme end of trail, orienteering and OCR, VJ from Finland launches the MAXx2 a supercritical foam (EVA/TPU) mid stack height (31mm heel / 25 forefoot) trail runner with their trademark super grippy butyl rubber outsole and medial FitLock strap. Super light at 8.47 oz  / 240g (US9),  it for sure appears to add up to a top notch thoroughly modern contender.


Mike P: Let’s get this out of the way - this IS the most consequential trail shoe released by VJ to date. What I mean by that - VJ models I’ve run in so far have been good, but there’s always been “something” missing or lacking that prevented them from feeling like a “true” trail shoe. The VJ brand has a background in OCR/Adventure racing, and it just felt like some of their shoes were skewed too much in that direction.


Enter the VJ MAXx2 as well as the concurrently releasing VJ Lightspeed… We’ll get to the Lightspeed in a separate review, but the MAXx2 feels and runs like a legitimate trail shoe. Not an OCR-inspired, cross-over, rugged mountain-designed, just-short-of-runnable kind of shoe.. Not only is it legitimate, but it is a real threat to be a top pick in the market. It’s that good of a shoe. I have not seen our other testers’ reviews yet, but based on our initial back-and-forth “chatter”, I expect this review to be nothing short of “glowing”. I urge you - read on!


Pros:

Very light weight for cushion: Sam/Mike P/John/Renee/Jeff V

Versatile and fun ride, Energetic (supercritical foam) with a flexible propulsive rock plate: Sam/Mike P/John/Jeff V

Outstanding outsole and grip without being overly harsh on hard surfaces: Sam/Mike P/John/Renee/Jeff V

Secure midfoot hold on narrow platform due to Fitlock strap, excellent tongue/laces and underlays: Sam/Mike P/Jeff V

Fits broader than appearances at true to size: Sam/Mike P/Renee/Jeff V

Excellent fitting, soft and comfortable ankle/heel collar Mike P/jeff V


Cons:

Upper could be more breathable, TBD in warmer temps Mike P

Slightly spacious in the heel (nitpick) Mike P

Sizing is off - runs big compared to other brands and other VJ models Mike P/Jeff V

Not quite road worthy for road-to-trail John


Most ComparableShoes

Merrell Long Sky 2 Matryx (Sam, Mike P)

Brooks Catamount (Sam, Mike P, John)

Saucony Peregrine (John)

Salomon Genesis (Sam, Mike P)


Please find the testers full run bios at the end of the article after Comparisons.


Stats

Approx. weight: men's 8.47 oz  / 240g (US9)  /  women's oz / g (US8)

  Samples: men’s  8.22 oz / 233g US8.5 ,  8.6 oz / 244g US 9.0

Stack Height: men’s 31 mm heel / 25 mm forefoot ( 6 mm drop) 

Platform Width: 80 mm heel / 60 mm midfoot / 100 mm forefoot

$180. Available from our partner Running Warehouse US HERE


First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Mike P: Let’s get the sizing talk out of the way first. My true-to-size is US 9.5, but I’ve been wearing US 10.5 in all VJ shoes that I’ve previously run and tested. This is due to a combination of them running small, having somewhat rigid uppers, and also being tapered up front at the toes. We were advised by VJ that we should SIZE DOWN for the MAXx2 - I frankly didn’t really listen too much, figuring a 10.0 would work fine given past experience.


The MAXx2 does in fact run big - the 10.0 was so huge on me that I had to exchange a full size down to 9.0. So I in fact have all other previous VJ models in US 10.5 and the MAXx2 in 9.0!  I hope others will also comment on their sizing as well. Pay particular attention to those reviewers whose sizing you tend to align with.


The MAXx 2 clearly brings a new generation of upper material to the VJ lineup. It’s an engineered mesh - somewhat on the thicker side, but not as rigid or rough as a lot of VJ models of the past. Very pliable, it wraps the foot exceptionally well and eliminates any sore spots, especially in the toebox. The material does seem thick - I do think breathability could be improved in the future by perhaps opening up the mesh a bit.



Another huge update in my eyes is the collar area - specifically around the ankle and also the heel. This has been a problematic area for me in other VJ models. I’ve found them to be on the rigid side, sometimes to the point of being painful. Specifically, I had to trim down the VJ Ultra 1 collar to prevent it from digging into my ankle. VJ Ultra 2 was slightly better, but still something that needed to be tolerated.


The MAXx2’s compliant upper extends back to these collars, making them totally comfortable, and happily - a non-issue. Inner suede-type padding keeps the heel comfortable and seated.  The heel cup is a bit spacious for my heel, but perhaps a perfect snug fit for others. That’s a small nitpick though, and overall the entire ankle/heel area is a major improvement for me.

The fit of the upper feels dialed in all around - with the Fitlock strap providing noticeable support at the instep. VJ shoes are not typically contoured under the arch area. It seems like the Fitlock is there to provide that medial support. Overall, this is definitely the best upper VJ has ever produced.  


John: As someone who hasn't had much experience with VJ shoes before, the MAXx2 is a pretty impressive encounter. The engineered mesh upper is a clear step up from what I've heard about past models. It's comfy, hugs my foot nicely, and doesn't seem to create any pressure points. Breathability seems alright, but I'll definitely need to test it out in warmer weather to be sure. Like Mike P, I appreciate the heel and collar fit. Plus, the Fitlock strap adds some serious support, making the whole upper feel like a major upside for VJ. The midsole is another interesting feature. It ditches the traditional EVA for something called SuperFoamance, which feels lighter, more responsive, and overall more comfortable. Overall, the MAXx2 feels like a well-rounded trail shoe and a highlight is the comfort. The upper is secure and foot hugging, and the SuperFoamance midsole promises a more dynamic ride. I'm excited to take these shoes on different terrains and see how they hold up in the long run.


Sam: I was sent what VJ calls a W9.5 EU40.5 with all sizes below that having a W designation. An EU 40.5 or W9.5 corresponds to a men’s US8. My usual size in all shoes is US8.5 although I did go US9 in the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar and in Sportiva shoes.  The MAX fits me perfectly at what is a half size down from my normal. 

The fit is precise without being in any way constricting, confining or over snug anywhere

Seen from above, the toe box looks narrow but I think due to the thick but relatively pliable mesh upfront, no pressure points from overlays and a touch of stretch with use it fits beautifully with plenty of well held room up front for my narrow to medium feet.

The lower part of the upper is fully protected by an overlay for durability and a touch of stability with the quite pliable but thickish toe bumper of the same material wrapping up just far enough but not to far as to interfere with over the toes room.rhead room.  

Hold at midfoot is totally assured by a combination of a nearly full internal underlay and the trademark FitLock medial strap. 

The lacing and tongue system joins the support impeccably to deliver a fuss free once and done hold. The tongue has a “top” gusset in the sense that it has a small stretch piece tied in to the top at the bottom of the lace eyelets. The tongue itself is very lightly padded. The broad non-stretch laces bring everything (FitLock strap and overlays and tongue together without requiring over cinching to provide support.


Renee: Everyone covers the details, so I’ll add my thoughts about sizing, which I think can make the difference in making this an okay shoe or a great shoe. As stated, VJ recommended a half size down. I’m already between half sizes. I normally wear a women’s size 8, occasionally a 7.5. I received an 8 in the MAXx2. Initially it seemed long, then once running it felt good. The issue is the forefoot creases on my toes rather than at my flexing point. The toebox felt a bit shallow for that reason. I’m guessing a half size down would solve that problem. Otherwise, the heel and midfoot lock are great. I ran in super muddy conditions, perfect for the tight fit and lug depth of the shoe.  


Jeff V:  My colleagues have covered the mechanics and details of the upper so well, so like Renee, I will focus on fit and performance.  I am typically a size 10 in all shoes of any brand, though depending on the shoe I can often make a 9.5 work just fine.  Sometimes with winter shoes and/or La Sportiva, I will go 10.5, but going outside of size 10 is exceedingly rare.  As mentioned, we were advised to size down in the MAXX2 and going down a half size to 9.5 is perfect here.  I have reviewed the first MAXX, first Ultra and Ultra 2, Ace, Ice Hero, XTRM2 and Spark and have found that sticking to my normal size 10 is ideal for all of the aforementioned models, but again, going down a half size in the MAXX2 for me was the right call.


This is for sure the best upper in the VJ line, striking an amazing balance between fit, comfort, relatively thin/light materials, protection and security.  


I find the heel and midfoot to be very secure, with just enough room in the toe box for all day comfort, some wiggle room for splay/swelling, while simultaneously providing exceptionally confidence inspiring foothold no matter how technical the terrain or how fast you run.  


The lacing is super secure, one and done, which I really like.  It bugs me with some shoes when you start at the bottom snugging the laces and the tension relieves after letting go of the laces and moving up to the next, but that is not the case here, as when you snug the laces, they stay put.  


The FitLock system really adds to the security, stability and protection of the shoe, providing race like performance without that confining feel.


Midsole & Platform

Sam:  The midsole is the star of the MAXx2. Yes we have VJ’s customary and superb butyl outsole rubber and the FitLock upper joining the party  the “SuperFoamance” midsole with its nitrogen infused blend of EVA and TPU is the key and defining feature of the shoe. . The feel is very similar to Puma’s Nitro foam, not as firm as Brooks Flash as in the Catamount and more energetic quicker rebounding than Salomon’s Energy Foam found in all their current trail shoes.


The foam delivers a super energetic high rebound  feel well stabilized and given some propulsion by the full length and flexible rock plate.

VJ says: 

"Why we chose the SuperFoamance over PeBA was the fact that the SuperFoamance material is far more durable in terrain. It does not rip as easily and the bonding to the outsole is much better. Tested in lab the rebound of PeBA and our foam is within 1% range, so we could say that the rebound is equal.. The advances are obvious - lighter, more responsive, more comfortable and more propulsive than traditional  EVA midsole."


And also, significantly, this foam leads to a super lightweight shoe at 8.47 oz  / 240g (US9) on a considerably more than minimal 31/25 full stack height with a 4mm lug outsole. To give just one example, with more in Comparisons, the comparable Saucony Peregrine weighs about 1.2 oz / 34 g more on a slightly lower platform while the Brooks Catamount about 0.5 oz more on a slightly lower but wider platform 


The light weight is clearly felt on the run while the cushioning is more than adequate for even some road running in them where the forefoot is notable for its energetic rebound and mild propulsion effect from the rockplate yet with flexibility.  


Full length rock plate for protection, torsional rigidity and propulsion “I don’t have schematic on the MAXx2 rock plate, I assume it is a standard VJ Rock plate in that it is a thin piece of plastic. “ (feels quite thin, sort of like Salomon  - definitely not as rigid as the one in the Ultra -Mike P)


Mike P: The full stack is measured at 31/25mm, with the midsole being specified at 19/13mm. I’m not too sure how that math works out, but the SuperFoamance midsole is a real treat - and the star of the shoe. It’s a supercritical EVA/TPU blend - which reminds of some of the more bouncy and lightweight blends like New Balance Fuel Cell and some of Brooks’ DNA Flash varieties.


Light, well-cushioned, and responsive - these qualities are all felt on the run . The MAXx2 midsole is exceptionally flexible, enabling it to swallow up a wide variety of terrain underfoot. The SuperFoamance (yes, kind of a goofy name), feels so flexible, yet doesn’t get too mushy under stress - likely due to the embedded full length rock plate.


We haven’t received exact specs on the MAXx2 plate, but in my testing, I find it far more flexible than the plate within the Ultra 2. It has the feel of Salomon’s Pro-feel film/plate - where it’s almost not noticeable on the run. But with the softness and bounciness of the foam itself, it definitely must be providing necessary support. 


John: After putting some miles on the VJ MAXx2, I can say that Sam's description of the midsole being "energetic and high rebound" holds true. The shoe delivers a noticeable spring with each step, propelling you forward and adding a touch of pep to your stride. This responsiveness is particularly evident during faster paces and uphill sections, where the midsole seems to return energy efficiently. Even so, the shoe is surprisingly stable . The combination of the foam and the flexible rock plate prevents excessive rolling or instability on uneven terrain. This is crucial for maintaining control and confidence while navigating technical trails. The flexible rock plate strikes a nice balance between protecting your feet from sharp rocks and roots while still allowing for some degree of ground feel. You can sense the terrain beneath your feet without sacrificing protection, which I find incredibly important for maintaining agility and responsiveness on the trail.

Renee: The shoe has a somewhat “cleat” look to it, but it runs much more comfortably than it looks. The supercritical EVA/TPU midsole compound is great for comfort and speed, and it’s a fairly light shoe considering cushion and outsole. The rock plate is not harsh, and on mud, I thought it helped with an even and fast takeoff. Running in mud over cattle hoof ruts is not smooth, but the shoe handles it well. 


Jeff V:  Sam, as always, nails the mechanics and details of the midsole and I agree that it is the star of the show (along with the upper and outsole in a close tie for second).  VJ really nailed it here, as the SuperFoamance midsole is impressive in how light, responsive, well cushioned, stable and supportive it is.  The MAXX2 has a lot going for it in every regard, but I can't emphasize enough how key the midsole is here and a critical component to its overall performance.  The MAXX2 are exceptionally fast running uphill, cruising the flats or ripping a steep and technical downhill and there is enough cushion underfoot for longer downhills and protection from rocks and roots.  

Outsole

Mike P: Typically with a VJ shoe, this is a section I would harp on. making sure you’re aware that VJ’s Butyl rubber is the top trail rubber on the market. But at this point it’s pretty much a given, and there’s so many other good things going on with this shoe - let’s just say you can take it for granted that you’re going to get top-of-class grip and traction with this shoe. You don’t need to spend time poring over the Outsole section.

Sam: My test runs have been on packed snow and on hard clear surfaces. The grip on snow is excellent due to the lug pattern. I can really feel it bite after initial contact. I do think Megagrip and Continental rubbers have a touch more initial stick on snow. I would highlight that on hard surfaces such as pavement, even with the 4mm lugs here, the rubber deforms enough as it on the soft side and shoe has it has nice flex is not slappy or harsh as say MegaGrip can be on such surfaces pointing to the all terrain versatility when the superb midsole is also in the mix.



Mike P: Lug depth is 4mm - again, VJ’s Butyl rubber delivers the goods. I’ll just say that given the overall multi-directional flexibility of the shoe- the outsole grips even better than other VJ models. You get more contouring over the ground with the enhanced flexibility of the midsole and the shoe in general.

John: My experience with the VJ MAXx2's outsole is similar to Mike P and Sam's observations. I was able to run on snow, mud, technical trail, and road. On snow, the lug pattern delivers exceptional grip. The MAXx2 feels incredibly secure and confidence-inspiring and also handles mud effectively, with the lug spacing preventing excessive caking and maintaining decent traction. On technical trails with loose rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces, the combination of the lug pattern and flexible rock plate provides good grip and stability, allowing for confident navigation without sacrificing agility. Even on the road, the outsole performs surprisingly well. Overall, despite the 4mm lugs, the rubber compound offers enough traction without feeling harsh or uncomfortable, highlighting the shoe's versatility and living up to its reputation for excellent grip and performance on various terrains. 


Renee: I ran mostly in thick mud during testing. I agree with the thoughts about the shoe being more forgiving on packed surfaces than it looks. For a mix of terrain, that’s appreciated. That said, it won’t be super comfortable off technical or ungroomed terrain for long distances. The platform is a bit narrow to be a slow cruiser. 

I had mud completely caked to the outsole and was able to continue running without stopping to remove the mud. 


Jeff V:  VJ advertises the “Best Grip On the Planet” and that of course holds true here.  Traction is exceptional on snowy surfaces, loose off trail, slabby rocks, wet, dry, you name it.  The lug pattern is aggressive and effective with a super sticky rubber compound.  Durability has proven excellent on all previous models (except for the original Ultra due to a design flaw that was since corrected in the Ultra 2) and I expect the same here.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam: I am recovering from knee surgery in November with 2 titanium screws now on board so my running has been cautious and slower than usual on packed well groomed snow, road and  even an indoor track so will leave the more technical trails view to Mike and John. I always do at least some runs in trail shoes on pavement to closely compare and evaluate without trail variabilities. Here the MAX, while in no way a road shoe, was outstanding for its energetic cushion, stability despite narrow platform and flexible quick toe off with far less of the harsh impact of the 4mm outsole than I can recall with other shoes in its class. 


The blend of energetic cushion and outsole response blends together very nicely and the light light weight has then turning over super quick. 


On hard surfaces, the heel does feel a bit firm while the forefoot is surprisingly well cushioned and notably snappy and energetic leading me to my “fastest” times since surgery even compared to road trainers. On snow, they grip and climb very well while on uneven downhills they provide plenty of support.


What might improve it? A bit more stack height of cushion to extend its range. That said, given the foam VJ might have to widen the platform some to maintain technical terrain stability adding to weight. At $180 it is at the upper end of pricing for non carbon plated trail shoes but its performance clearly puts it in the same class as Salomon’s S/Lab shoes.


My conclusion, albeit considering limited terrain variety so far, is that the MAX given its light weight for cushion and 4mm lug outsole, energetic, fast yet stable ride is a top choice if you are looking for a versatile thoroughly modern trail runner. It can handle any kind of terrain as fast or as slow as you wish, for pretty much any distance, rarely the case with increasingly specialized trail shoes. It is one shoe I keep wanting to reach for. VJ, for sure a brand that masters the highly technical terrain as well as any brand, now has an option with far broader appeal and with many smiles in the mix.

Sam’s Score: 9.6 /10

Ride: 9.7 - Versatile and fun. Would trade some weight for more stack height

Fit: 9.8 - Flawless, 

Value: 9.2 - A bit high

Style: 9.0 - Sharp looking but a bit bright

Traction: 9.7 - Great grip yet comfortable and not harsh on firm surfaces

Rock Protection: 9.3 More than adequate for such a light shoe

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊


Mike P: In thinking about how to best describe the MAXx2 - the most appropriate way to describe it would be this - it’s just a joy to run in. My first two runs straight out of the box were 10+ miles, then 12+ miles. No break-in necessary, they were fully flexible and ready to rock straight away. My feet felt comfortable, and happy throughout, the comfort of the upper really standing out in my mind compared to other, “rougher” on the foot VJ models. This is truly a modern design from VJ, and comparable to any of the top trail shoes on the market right now.

VJ is also releasing another model concurrently - the Lightspeed. They gave us guidance that the Lightspeed model leaned more into concept/”pro” territory, meant to push the limits of their new designs. I do find that the case in comparison to the MAXx2. The MAXx2 has a wider, more stable base, clearly more versatile for pretty much all trails and all trail runners. The Lightspeed also has a different, more propulsive plate. We will have a separate review for the Lightspeed.


 

The MAXx2 is a shoe that you could easily run every day - easy runs, moderate runs, short fast runs, long runs, and ultra runs for many. It’s not a max cushion shoe, but somewhere in the midrange, so how far you take it may depend on how much foam you prefer underfoot. For lighter runners, such as myself, this is clearly a mid-distance ultra option, potentially longer. 


As far as terrain, protection is good, and the shoe is agile enough for the shoe to be workable in technical terrain. I’d say the sweet spot would be anywhere up to moderate/low technical terrain. Beyond that, the bounciness of the foam may work against you over extended periods. In thinking about the most comparable shoes (Salomon Genesis, Brooks Catamount 3, Merrell Long Sky 2 Matryx) - those 3 are the are the best I can do, but the MAXx2 is more like a mashup of those 3 shoes rather than being similar to any single one of those.


It has the cushion and comfort underfoot of the Genesis, but not quite as much. It has a similar quick ride to the Catamount, but a little bit more flexy underfoot, and not quite as much straight ahead speed. It has a similar light, flexible, and agile feel as the Long Sky 2 Matryx, but a touch softer underfoot and also a bit more comfort in the upper. These 4 are all great, top of the line trail shoes - territory that VJ now squarely occupies with the VJ MAXx 2. 

Mike P’s Score:  9.70 / 10

Ride: 10 - Simply a joy to run in 

Fit: 9.5 - Minor extra space in the heel for me, odd sizing compared to other VJs

Value: 9 - A bit high, but as versatile a shoe as you will find

Style: 10 - Great looking shoe

Traction: 10 - VJ’s trademark

Rock Protection: 9.5 - Good and adequate, fits the profile/ride of the shoe

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊


John: The shoe delivers a comfortable and responsive ride thanks to the well-cushioned SuperFoamance midsole. The energetic feel propels you forward, while the flexible rock plate provides stability and protection without sacrificing ground feel. Holding up to VJ’s reputation, the outsole offers excellent grip on diverse surfaces, from snow and mud to technical trails and even occasional concrete stretches. I’m a big fan of this shoe, particularly in terms of comfort and upper. The engineered mesh upper has zero pressure points and provides a secure, enveloping comfortable fit. From my perspective, the MAXx2 is a compelling option for trail runners seeking a comfortable, responsive, and versatile shoe. It caters well to runners who prioritize comfort, protection, and appreciate some pep in their step especially on the uphills. While the snug fit might not suit everyone, the improved upper should accommodate a wider range of foot shapes.

John’s Score:  9.35 / 10

Ride: 9 - Solid performer with great energy return 

Fit: 9.5 - Super snug and conforming

Value: 9 - Very versatile shoe, but not a full road-to-trail

Style: 9 - I think every shoe should have Lime Green accents

Traction: 10 - Outstanding

Rock Protection: 9.5 - Just enough to protect with ground feel

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊


Renee: The MAXx2 is a fun shoe, useful for ungroomed and sloppy conditions without having a “cleat-like” ride. Despite the somewhat narrow look, the fit is more generous and it’s meant to have a secure fit. For me, the sizing was an issue. I’m between half sizes in many brands and models, and the forefoot of the MAXx2 creases in an odd spot over my toes. A half size smaller might be best for runners between half sizes. If you like the VJ shoes for obstacle racing or fell running but want more comfort underfoot for running (without compromising speed), the MAXx2 is a good option. 

Renee’s Score: 9.0/10 (-.30 sizing, -.50 toebox is shallow, -.20 limited terrain)

😊😊😊 (overall, more smiles on sloppy conditions)


Jeff V:  VJ has quickly become one of my favorite brands and the MAXX2 is hands down their best model yet.  With a comfortable and somewhat accommodating upper that provides race ready security and stability, a light, fun, well cushioned stable predictable midsole and unparalleled grippy outsole, the MAXX2 checks all my boxes for running fast on steep, technical mountain terrain.  


They are so much fun and such a joy to run in, be it a casual outing, or cranking up the pace for PR of race efforts on any terrain, steep gradients, off camber, they are fast, energetic, performance oriented, stable, protective, well cushioned and comfortable.  They are one of the rare shoes that you put on, run anywhere, any surface at any speed and don’t really think of them on your feet, as they just seem to integrate as part of your body.  The majority of my testing has been in primarily winter conditions, but I am eager for the trails to melt out and get them up into the high country, where I know they will excel.  If I were forced to get rid of all of my shoes and just keep one pair, I could make a strong case for picking the MAXX2. 

Jeff V’s Score:  9.9 / 10

Ride: 10 - For its intended purpose, the MAXX2 is tops 

Fit: 10 - Despite the need to size down a half size, once you do that, fit is perfect for me, just accommodating enough for all day comfort, yet with supreme foothold and stability.

Value: 10 - While $180 is pricy, it is not out of line given the performance, versatility and fun they provide.

Style: 9 - They look pretty good, especially once mudded up a bit.

Traction: 10 - Best Grip on the Planet!

Rock Protection: 9.5 - enough for technical terrain, yet provides just the right balance of trail feel.

Smiles 😊😊😊😊😊


10 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


MAXx2 Stats

31 mm heel / 25 mm forefoot ( 6 mm drop) 

Approx. 8.47 oz  / 240g (US9)

Platform Width: 80 mm heel / 60 mm midfoot / 100 mm forefoot


Brooks Catamount 3 (RTR Review)

men's 9 oz  / 255g (US9) 

30mm heel / 24mm forefoot ( 6mm drop spec)  

Platform Width: 90mm heel / 73mm midfoot / 120mm forefoot

Mike P (10.0): Catamount’s foam is firmer underfoot, but also gives a quicker ride - part of that due to the nature of its SkyVault plate. The Brooks plate seems to give more forward propulsion around the ball of the foot, whereas the VJ plate seems more flexible for protection, adding a small amount of propulsion, but less noticeable. The Catamount has a wider, more stable base and the upper is slightly wider at the forefoot. The VJ’s upper is more compliant, wraps just as well, but perhaps a touch less strapped down than the Cat 3 - very close though. Clear win in traction/grip for the VJ. MAXx2’s dynamic softness feels really good and most runners would probably prefer that for day-to-day trail running.

Sam: I agree with Mike on all points. Same idea, a bit more shoe and protection for the Brooks but a firmer less dynamic fun ride.

Renee: Everything Mike P. wrote. For sizing, a women’s 8 in the Catamount 3 is perfect, while the MAXx2 felt a bit long causing discomfort over my toes. The Catamount is a more diverse shoe in terms of terrain. 

Jeff V: Agreed with Mike.  Catamount for faster straight line running on less technical terrain over longer distances, while the MAXX2 is more of a tech terrain master.


VJ Ultra 2 (RTR Review)

men’s 9.5 oz  / 269g US9

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

Mike P (10.5): Again note the extreme sizing difference here for me. Ultra 2 is listed at a slightly higher stack - its foam feels softer initially, but it’s more of a standard EVA so it packs down over time. It’s nowhere near as dynamic in feel as the MAXx 2. Ultra 2 also has an embedded rock plate confirmed by VJ as the same material in both but  due to the nature of the foam - it feels much stiffer than the MAXx 2. It’s more protective in very rough stuff, but the MAXx2 is more comfortable in anything less. Ultra 2’s upper is a bit rougher on the foot, the collars are a bit stiff and the toebox tapers a bit. MAXx 2 upper is much more foot shaped and comfortable. I’d pick the MAXx2 for all but the most extreme terrain.

Jeff V:  Agreed with Mike.  The Ultra 2 was one of my faves, but the MAXX2 blows it away on every front.


VJ XTRM 2 (RTR Review)

Sample Weight: men’s US 10.5 10.2 oz  / 288 g

Stack Height: men’s mm 24 heel / 20 mm forefoot, 4mm drop

Mike P (10.5): XTRM 2 for me is really a dedicated off-trail, “XTRM” terrain option. It’s the narrowest VJ I’ve run in, stiff and protective underfoot , with awesome traction. It allows you to dance around in XTRM terrain while feeling totally safe and secure. That comes at a cost though - the shoe doesn’t feel as runnable in moderate terrain, is much heavier and also the upper is quite narrow and dialed - too much for some. The MAXx2 would be unstable in the extreme terrain that the XTRM 2 excels in, but is way better everywhere else.

Jeff V:  Again agreed with Mike.  I see the XTRM2 better suited for softer terrain, shorter distances and perhaps better loose terrain grip.  Definitely not as versatile as the MAXX2 and more niche.


NNormal Kjerag (RTR Review)

men's 7.59 oz / 215g US8.5 given fit equivalent US9  

Stack Height: men’s 23.5 mm heel / 17.5 mm forefoot (6mm drop spec) 

Mike P (9.5): Kjerag also uses a supercritical foam (not sure what blend though), but it does feel and is by stack height way thinner underfoot and less bouncy and dynamic. It’s really a minimalist trail shoe compared to most trail shoes. The uppers feel similar in terms of thickness and density, and the use of suede-type materials on the inside. There’s more forefoot space in the Kjerag, but otherwise through the midfoot and heel they’re about the same. The VJ wins in traction/grip, and overall the MAXx2 is probably a much better option for 99% of trail runners.

Sam: Almost a full ounce lighter the Kjerag has a similar foam but quite a bit less of it so has a firmer ride and a slightly more agile one. While I appreciate the broad Kjerag toe box the MAX’s upper is overall a bit more locked down and secure. 

Jeff V:  While I really like the Kjerag, I find it to be a little delicate in tech terrain and surprisingly lacks traction, where the MAXX2 feels more protective and suited for longer distances (we all can’t be Killian) and blows the Kjerag away in technical terrain with better traction, security and protection underfoot (again, we all can’t be Killian).


Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): I say this for every PTP 2 comp - it’s just a really stiff shoe. That’s the main and obvious differentiating factor here too. PTP 2 is very stiff, downright tippy in uneven terrain, while the MAXx2 - much more flexy and dynamic. PTP 2 does have a nice, well-rounded toebox though, one of Salomon’s best. But MAXx2 is a way better shoe.

Jeff V: The PTP is fast on the uphill if smooth, but is downright harsh, narrow and tippy.  The MAXX2 kills the PTP in all regards.


Salomon Genesis (RTR Review)

Weight: men's  9.63 oz / 273g (US9) 

Stack Height: men’s 30 mm heel / 22 mm forefoot ( drop spec)       

Platform Width:85 mm heel / 70 mm midfoot / 115 mm forefoot

Mike P (9.5): I recently tested the Genesis - it feels like there’s a lot more cushion underfoot in the Salomon due in part to its broader platform. The foam feels somewhat similar, there just seems to be more of it in the Genesis - noticeable under the heel. The VJ SuperFoamance does feel more responsive. The Genesis has a wider platform, making it feel nice and soft, yet stable underfoot, very versatile in mileage and duration. It’s likely more comfortable than the MAXx 2 over longer durations. The VJ feels more agile, and frankly, more fun to run in for most regular runs. VJ’s outsole with its more spaced out lugs offers better traction. Both are great shoes and I have them both in rotation.

Sam: As Mike says. The Salomon is comparatively mushy as it is softer, about 1.2 oz / 34g heavier and  less responsive with its broader platform making it more stable, more deeply cushioned and less agile and fun. 

Jeff V:  The Genesis is amazing and great for just about everything, and feels more cushioned and protective for longer distances on slightly less tech terrain, but if wanting to go super fast in a shorter to mid distance technical race or PR effort, the MAXX2 is the top choice.


Merrell Long Sky 2  (RTR Review)

Approx. Weight: men's 8.6 oz  / 244g (US9)   

Full Stack Height: men’s 30 mm heel (measured / 26 mm forefoot ( 4mm drop spec) 

Platform Width:85 mm heel / 65 mm midfoot / 105 mm forefoot 

A touch (0.11 oz heavier), almost the same stack height, somewhat  wider platform, about the same outsole depth, maybe a touch more. Why so close in weight? the Matryx upper is lighter.


Mike P (9.5): One of my 3 closest comps - it’s similar to the VJ in that it’s a lightweight, very flexible, no-nonsense, kind of a throwback trail shoe. It’s very modern though - and its Matryx upper gets the edge over the VJ in terms of secure foothold and also breathability. VJ wins out in the midsole department  though - it just feels softer and more dynamic in comparison. 


The Merrell holds it own for fun factor though due to its light weight which is very close to the VJ’s  The one negative factor with the LS 2 is the heel area - a bit stiff against the back of the heel and also the collar is loose, letting debris in. That issue gives the overall edge to the MAXx 2.


LaSportiva Prodigo (RTR Review)

John: Prodigio is a great choice for long-distance runners who want a comfortable and cushioned shoe. MAXx2 is a good option for runners who want a responsive and agile shoe with great ground feel that is ideal for technical terrain.


Topo MTN Racer (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): Just as flexible and soft feeling underfoot - but the Topo Zipfoam can’t compete with the SuperFoamance of the VJ. The VJ just feels so much more dynamic underfoot. The MTN Racer 3 soaks up miles, feels very comfortable, especially if you want that wide toebox, but is not as much “fun” as the MAXx2. The VJ also seems to have better rock protection. MTN Racer 3 has no plate (I’m happy for that), so sometimes you can feel some terrain underfoot given its flexibility. The MAXx2’s plate is flexible almost to the point of not feeling it, which is great. The VJ is a better overall shoe , but I still like and recommend the MTN Racer 3 for comfortable training miles.

Renee: Again, Mike P. knows his shoes. The MTN Racer 3 has more stack and comfort for longer distances and a more accommodating upper. The MAX is more secure and faster, and has a “fun” factor. The MTN Racer 3 is a more diverse shoe for me on varied terrain. 


Saucony Peregrine (RTR Review)

9.62 oz  /  271g US9

Stack Height: men’s 28mm heel / 24 mm forefoot 4 mm drop

Slightly lower heel more than an ounce heavier, non supercritical foam midsole

Mike P (9.5): The latest Peregrine fell into kind of a no-man’s land for me. Not quite high enough to be a high-stack option, yet high enough and not stable enough to be a faster option. Its best usage for me was moderate distance, easy training miles, of which there are many options out there. That being said, for that scenario, the MAXx2 is a much better and way more fun option. It also has way more range in other areas such as faster running and longer, and technical running. I can’t think of a scenario where I’d choose the Peregrine over the MAXx 2. 

Renee: The Peregrines are one of my favorite shoes (versions 12 and 13). The shoe feels lighter and more runnable. The MAXx2 has a more secure upper and a more useful outsole for super muddy conditions. I can see the MAXx2 being more useful for technical terrain for skilled runners, but for me, the Peregrine can be used for basically anything. 

John: The MAXx2 is a comfortable and versatile trail shoe, emphasizing balanced cushioning, responsiveness, and grip on diverse terrains. The Peregrine X, on the other hand, caters to performance-oriented runners seeking a lightweight feel, higher energy return, and excellent traction on technical trails. The center of gravity and ground feel of the MAXx2 gives me more confidence in technical terrain compared to the Peregrine and I would use the Saucony more for runnable trails. 


Saucony Xodus Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): The XU 2 is very close to the Peregrine 13 - I think Saucony overlapped the shoes too much. It’s a little higher and a little wider, and that’s about it. I do think it’s a better pick over the Peregrine due to those factors. Compared to the MAXx 2, there’s more cushion underfoot, and if the fit feels comfortable for you, it could be a better option for longer, moderate trail runs. The VJ is again more dynamic underfoot though, and more versatile in shorter/faster running. It also has long range rivaling the XU 2 depending on your preference for volume of cushion underfoot.

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Tester Profiles


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 100+ mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 - 9:00/mi. From 2022-23 Mike has won the Standhope 100M, IMTUF 100M, and Scout Mountain 100M trail ultras. He also set a CR of 123.74M at the Pulse Endurance Runs 24H and completed the Boise Trails Challenge on foot in 3 days 13 hours, besting the previous record by 7 hours. Mike's shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, and shoes with narrower profiles. He prefers extra forefoot space, especially for long ultras, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.


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 loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better. He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to ski (all forms) bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 12 year old daughters to the outdoors. Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years. He is 5’9” and 145 lbs.


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.


Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 66 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he gets very very lucky. Sam trains 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah be it on the run, hiking or on nordic skis. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.


Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below! Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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19 comments:

Anonymous said...

These look amazing! Great review and information.

Going to have to play the figure out the size puzzle. Currently have a pair of the Maxx and size 45 / US11.5 that fit perfect, but no idea what to order in these. I'll e-mail VJ, but would love to get these for a semi technical trail race I have next weekend which is shorter distance so I'll risk a new shoe.

Jeff Valliere said...

Anon, I think going down a half size is a safe bet for most and worked perfectly for me (I was reliant on VJ for this advisement and they were absolutely correct). You are going to love them!

Anonymous said...

Great review. Thanks! I’m concerned about toebox and midfoot room in these. I have high arches and wider forefeet. I currently run in Topo Mtn Racer 2 and Nike Terra Kiger 9. I had to stretch the right shoe of both a bit to accommodate a big toe issue. But left shoes fit well. For comparison, Saucony Peregrine 13 and Hoka Speedgoat are too narrow. How does fit of Maxx2 compare. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hoka Torrent comp? RTR is the best!

Karl said...

I am starting to think about shoe selection to fastpack the "Tour du Mont Blanc" in 2025 with my son. I am a lightweight runner with narrow feet and don't like bulky shoes. So far I was leaning towards the Salomon SLAB Ultra 3 or the Catamount 3 or the Merrell Long Sky 2 Matryx. But having read this review I am super excited by this shoe. I already own the original VJ Ultra, Spark, XTRM2 and Ice Hero. It's nice to see VJ up their game in terms of upper construction and midsole.

Anonymous said...

Thanks RTR for another great review review!
Fit comp to INOV8 G270?
Foam comp to Razor TRL Hyperburst?

Anonymous said...

Anon, the G 270 and the Razor TRL are two of my favorites. The lugs of the MAXx2 are far better for technical or sloppy terrain, but that does lessen the comfort on anything unless. The midsole of the MAXx2 is similar (light and responsive). I still prefer the other two over the MAXx2 because I run more woodland single track than mountain terrain. For sizing, I suggest a half size down for the MAXx2 as compared to the other two shoes.

Mike P said...

For sizing, to clarify - I could likely be wearing a 10.0 in most VJs if it were not for the narrow toeboxes at the very front. That would still be sized up for me from my regular TTS 9.5. These definitely need to size down 1/2 from TTS - so 9.0 in the MAXx for me.

I don't think toebox or midfoot room is an issue in these - I get no inner big toe rubbing or pinky side squeezing at all. The upper is quite compliant - no rigid areas in the toebox. Of course you have that Fitlock strap which you feel on the inside. Not sure if that would be an issue squeezing your midfoot.

Karl- I'm not sure about this one for fastpacking- but I'm no expert. The midsole is the softest of the shoes you mentioned, awesome feel when running, but even carrying some weight you might want to be more stable. Cat 3 sounds the best to me since it's light but also has the widest base of those options and most stable.


Mike P said...

The MAXx2 foam feels lighter and more dynamic than the G270. I had the G270 in a US 10 and still felt some rubbing on the inside of my big toe. MAXx2 at 9.0 is no problem - the material is softer, and wraps much better. The upper overall of the MAXx2 feels more comfortable to me and more secure. But in terms of ride -I do think the G270 may handle twisty woodland trails better - it's lower to the ground and not as much "bounce" or "response" from the midsole underfoot. But on the other hand the MAXx2 would be so much fun to run in that terrain too.

Andreas said...

Question to Mike, I looking for my next swimrun shoe. Good drainage and low wet weight is important as well not letting to much sand in via the collar.
Of course grip on wet rocks is key as well.
Can you comment on the drainage and wet weight comparing
VJ MAXx2 to;
Salomon S/Lab Genesis
Brooks Catamount 3
Merrell Long Sky 2 Matryx

Thanks for your great reviews and expertise!

Mike P said...

Andreas - I'm a big fan of the Rich Roll Podcast, so I do have some idea about swimrun, although I would never, ever try it myself = )

In no particular order-
LS2 Matryx is out right away - the collar is not sealed at all, one of the flaws of that shoe
VJ MAXx2 would be a great pick in terms of flexibility and grip, but I'd have reservations about the upper. It's the thickest of those 4, and they use a suede-type material that will hold more water than the others.
Cat 3 would be good, but it's a wider base shoe, a little bit less flexible, maybe not the best for dancing on wet rocks over and over.
S/LAB Genesis - probably the best pick. It's still very light, also flexible so better to grip and contour around rocks. Ankle collar is well sealed. Matryx upper so no holding water.

One shoe you might want to wait for is the Catamount Agil - I just got it for testing. Probably the best knit collar of any trail shoe - super secure fit, light and "Agil" definitely. The only thing is that it's a little less flexy, but it's also lighter and narrower so I think it could work well on rocks. Over an ounce lighter than the S/LAB and lower to the ground too. Proabably would be better and more secure on foot when swimming. It's coming out tomorrow.

Mike P said...

BTW- Just posted my First Impressions video - https://youtu.be/leju283KAt0

Andreas said...

Thanks Mike for that insight, very much appreciated!
Once in the water, the secureness is not a problem. The things is when transition in and up from the water, sandy water find its way in, leaving a layer of sand inside the shoe. Its not good for long runs and very hard on the shoe.

VJ is a popular brand here in Sweden since our neighbor in Finland produce them and they have a strong heritage in orientering.

I will check out specs and your thoughts on the Catamount Agil.

Mike P said...

If you have access to check out or try on the VJ MAXx2 it would be a great option. It's definitely more flexible underfoot than the Agil, so better for contouring and grabbing around rocks.

Like I said, my only reservation would be the upper potentially holding water. You can evaluate that better if you can find them somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I've got a fairly easy UK mountain 50 miler which is on hard packed paths and trails. How would these stack up against the Hoka Mafate Speed for these conditions?

Mike P said...

Interesting comp as both are on the softer side underfoot. The MS4 has deeper multi-step, textured lugs that can feel sluggish unless you really need that level of traction. The MAXx2 outsole should be faster on hard pack. I would definitely lean MAXx2 unless you need max cushion above all else. The MS4 has more volume of foam underfoot. But for me, I think the MAXx2 would be ok cushion-wise for 50M. The VJ is definitely the faster shoe.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Andreas said...

Mike, One more question, do you know what insoles they use in the VJ Maxx 2 and Salomon s/lab Genesis?

Mike P said...

Both use a standard thin foam. The S/LAB Genesis may be slightly thinner, but it's glued down and I've never taken it out (even with 387M so far).