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The only thing I love more than running on the trail is talking about the shoes I wear to run in on trail. I really do have the best job(s).
In the big picture of the running shoe industry, inov-8 is one of the newer kids on the block. Founded in 2003, inov-8 has always targeted mountain, trail, and off road running…which is why many of my road running may not have heard of them before (though they do have a road running line). I first recall seeing inov-8 take over the obstacle course racing world back in 2012/2013, long before Reebok had come out with their OCR specific shoes. For a while inov-8’s low drop, light weight training shoes were a huge hit in Crossfit boxes everywhere as well. Despite being deeply immersed in all of those communities at one point or another, and being a huge shoe nerd that has been reviewing shoes since 2009…I’ve never before tried a pair of inov-8’s.
So of course when the email offer to review the new TRAILROC 285 showed up in my inbox, I jumped all over it, despite the fact that my current mileage isn’t up to par for a normal review. I had to see what the inov-8 buzz was all about.
The original TRAILROC series were a very popular shoe in the inov-8 lineup, but were discontinued a few years back. Much to the TRAILROC fans delight, inov-8 decided to bring them back, and better than before. The new TRAILROC shoes, both the 270 & 285, retain the same DNA as their predecessors, but have been completely redesigned from the outsole up. Though in retrospect the 270 is more my style, I was sent a pair of the TRAILROC 285’s to review. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.
Neutral shoe, ideal for hard, rocky surfaces.
Midsole stack: Heel- 21.5mm/Forefoot-13.5mm
Weight: 10 oz
- New studs cut through loose debris and deliver superior grip on hard trail underneath.
- Next generation rock plate ensures the best in underfoot protection against sharp stones and rocks.
- External toecap shields toes from accidental trips and kicks.
- Increased heel stability and mid-foot lockdown for the ultimate in support.
- New Powerflow+ midsole boasts 10% better rear-foot shock dispersion and 25% better forefoot propulsion than standard midsoles.
Anyone can google the specs of this shoe and nerd out on the technology directly from the inov-8 website. So let’s get right into the human connection portion of this review: how does it feel on an actual foot during a run.
The fit and feel of this shoe is wildly deceiving. While I’ll run in any stack height, from a barely there vibram five finger to a “is the a sneaker or a moonboot” Hoka, I do prefer a 4-5 mm drop/ramp. I’ll occasionally run in zero drop (Altra or aforementioned VFF’s) but I really do not like much more than a 5 mm differential under my heel. Whenever I’m given a 6, 8, or higher drop shoe, I expect to notice it, I expect my foot strike to change slightly (more of a heel strike) and I expect a clunkier feel.
I experienced none of this in the TRAILROC 285. In fact, even looking at this shoe, you’d never guess it had an 8 mm differential. More important than looks, however, is the feel. This shoe feels most closely to my Altra Superior 2.0’s, with a very minimally invasive sole underfoot (nothing feels “aggressive”). Again, I would never in a million years guess that this shoe has an 8 mm differential. Ground contact feel was incredible, despite all of the claims by inov-8 that this is a more cushioned, supportive shoe, and the fact that the TRAILROC 285 features a rock plate. I felt very nimble, very natural, while running in this shoe.
I joke with customers all of the time (I work in a running shoe store) that I have “claustrophobic toes”. While I don’t have an overly wide foot (if anything, it’s quite the opposite) I’ve come to appreciate the space I need to allow my toes to splay naturally. While I’m not a full time Altra wearer, I will thank them (or blame them) for introducing me to a world where my toes don’t need to touch each other. The TRAILROC 285 had plenty of space to keep my toes happy. Further, the external heel cup keeps the heel narrow enough that the shoe as a whole is not sliding off of my foot, something that is common in a wider forefoot shoe.
The upper of the shoe is relatively lightweight and unobtrusive. The Metcradle printed overlay provides just the right amount of hug and support around my midfoot without any potentially irritating hard plastic that is found in other trail shoes. Despite being lightweight, the breathable upper still feels durable enough to withstand burly trail conditions. The laces are thinner than normally seen on a trail shoe. I actually like this, as it allows for a tighter tie resulting in a more secure fit, and less opportunity for the laces to come undone.
Lastly, I wish I could attest to the rubber studded outsole’s grip and traction. Alas, this is Myrtle Beach. We have sand. The shoe works well in the sand, for what it’s worth.
Again, I haven’t put in a ton of miles in this shoe due to my current post-surgery-recovery-mode, but in about 10 miles spread over approximately 4 runs, I’ve found zero to complain about in this shoe. I actually really like it, and am contemplating who gets bumped out of the regular trail shoe rotation now to make room for this guy (Challenger ATR 3? Peregrine 8? Superior 2.0? ). This shoe will likely be used for distances between about 1-3 hours on foot, as there is not a ton going on underfoot, but also just enough cushion to withstand more than an hour.
In the store, I always tell customers that they aren’t allowed to pick a shoe based on color or appearance until the very end, when we’ve found more than one shoe that is a perfect fit. When they can’t decide between those two, THEN the aesthetics come in to play. So at this point in the review, I’ll tell you that I’m not a huge fan of the all black shoe. I always feel like a 90’s aerobics instructor in all black. There is the one petty criticism I’ll deliver regarding this shoe.
In short, I’d highly recommend this shoe to the trail runner who doesn’t love the traditional feel of a burly, built up, heavy trail shoe, yet still needs some cushion and support, and can’t do the zero drop, or even minimal drop of some of the lighter shoes. The TRAILROC 285 is the perfect combination of lightweight, responsive trail shoe, with the rugged outsole and upper required to withstand trail conditions.
So, inov-8, you’ve won my attention. Let’s go on some adventures together, shall we?