inov 8 trailfly ultra g 280 cover
Shoe ReviewsTrail

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280 Review: What is Love, Really?

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 9.8 oz. (280 g.) for a US M8.5 / US W10
  • Nitrogen-infused foam is still a new feeling for the trail scene
  • Graphene Grip belongs among the who’s who of outsoles
  • Inov-8 is all-in on a roomy new last
  • Available now for $185

TAYLOR: As a kid, I would scour the IGN collection of trailers for upcoming video games. Sometimes they’d release a year ahead of time and, if I was lucky, include gameplay. I can’t even begin to count how many times I watched single videos repeatedly to look at every detail. It’s kind of funny how that pseudo-obsession has now morphed into being a gear junkie — but that’s beside the point.

In a much less obsessive but still concerned sense, I’ve been waiting for a shoe from a particular UK brand that melded their bests for the ultra-distance world. In 2020, the team overwhelmingly voted for the TerraUltra G 270 (now renamed the Trailfly G 270) as the BIG Trail Shoe of the Year. Its combination of light, bouncy foam, secure fit, and Graphene Grip outsole captivated us. The only issue is that the slimmer fit, rather minimal stack, and zero drop would massively limit its sales to the broader trail running community.

After that came a highly anticipated shoe, the Trailfly Ultra G 300. It had the right ideas and bold moves, but not many could get behind this tank of a shoe. It was a missed opportunity not to employ more of the same tech found in the Terraultra G 270.

It’s now 2022, and we have on our feet a shoe that resembles what I had hoped for so long ago. Here is an Inov-8 shoe with a high stack (33mm to 25mm, 8mm drop) of bouncy foam, Graphene Grip, a much broader fit, and some heel-toe drop to boot. This just might be Inov-8’s first proper long ultramarathon distance shoe. The new Trailfly Ultra G 280 is a big step outside of the norm for Inov-8, but I think it is both appropriate and welcomed.

SAM: Gearheads use the word “love” pretty liberally when talking through their stable of clothes, shoes, and other items for outdoor pursuits. I’ve loved more pairs of shoes than I can count, several tents, two or more hats, at least four pairs of shorts, and one perfect cotton t-shirt with a too-obviously-meta image of a backpack printed on the back.

All this love flying around generally needs qualification — it has to be explained. My love of vaguely self-referential organic cotton t-shirts is not nor should not be shared by everyone. Other people look at my backpack shirt and feel nothing. That’s why we write and read reviews like this — perspective and input.

Love is often bestowed upon items, flaws and all. Something about the whole package of the things we love makes us accept the bad with the good. I mean, is it even love if we don’t care as deeply for what we don’t like as for what we do?

Aside from the stray philosophical meanderings on love, we’re here to talk about shoes and why we love them — or don’t. This shoe, the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280, is my first brush with a brand for which so many people have expressed love. After my miles in the shoe, I think I get it.

inov 8 trailfly ultra g 280 outsole

The Good

TAYLOR: I’m going to flip this thing upside down from the get-go. Grip has been a marque component to any Inov-8 shoe. Recently, it’s taken another leap forward with its usage of graphene in the outsole. The element is highly durable and extremely grippy. It’s in the running to be the best of the best in outsole rubbers. I was sure-footed on any surface, from grassy plains to moist mountains. This stuff rocks!

Nitrogen is a buzzword of a midsole ingredient right now, and for good reason. The Trailfly Ultra G 280 gets a healthy dose of the nitro-infused EVA called Flyspeed. It feels light in hand and similar on foot. It falls into a medium density but feels relatively cushioned. There’s life in this thing. The high stack, geometry, and feel remind me most of the original Trailfly G 300 and Brooks Caldera 6. I also get hints of the Brooks Catamount and Inov-8 Terra Ultra G 270. It’s a much lighter (11.5 ounces for a US M10.5) feeling than the original Trailfly G 300 and the Caldera 6. Apparently, Flyspeed foam returns around 20% more energy than the typical midsole. To that, this foam is modestly lively and a welcomed addition to the trail realm.

A canyon of foam is cut out of the midsole across the arch, creating an 8mm groove called the Adapter Flex, which allows the chassis to adapt to various terrain. It seems a wise approach, given the number of high-stack options that struggle to roll with the punches of uneven ground. The Adapter Flex makes it feel like the forefoot and heel are moving independently, lending a much more nimble feel to the hefty stack.

The biggest surprise in the Trailfly is the overall fit. Inov-8 goes way out of its box to provide ample room and comfort. It’s like a genre-bending hit from your favorite band. The brand known for its firm, form-fitting uppers now has a very roomy knit option in its repertoire. Like the midsole, it feels light and comfortable and adds a satisfying balance to the package.

It’s structured enough to hold its shape while a moderately padded gusseted tongue and heel collar round out the comfort. The whole vibe is a comfy one, even compared to other brands, and it has a purpose. When the hours on the trail stack up, so does the blood in your feet. The extra room is meant to accommodate swelling during those long efforts.

SAM: Since Taylor decided to flip things around, I’m going to follow suit. I, too, love this outsole and would rather not wait to talk it up. Inov-8’s Graphene Grip outsole is incredible. Not only does the stuff sink in its claws and stick to basically any terrain you can find, but it’s insanely durable. On top of running trails, I wore the Trailfly Ultra G 280 daily for about a week and a half as my own little extra durability test. My job has me walking a lot — through city streets, parking lots, and concrete warehouses — and my Trailfly still has almost all the texture bumps on its lugs. The rubber still looks new. I love this stuff.

The nitrogen-infused midsole is springy and soft, and the high stack — especially in the heel — is capable of sucking up pounding everywhere on the trail, vicious downhills included. I particularly like the extra agility of the Adapter Flex arch. It seems to keep more outsole surface area in contact with the ground for longer throughout your stride, allowing for more consistent traction and a truly nimble underfoot feel despite the stack (as Taylor mentioned above). This, paired with the Graphene Grip outsole, blooms into remarkable downhill confidence even on the most technical of trails.

The knit upper is very comfortable. It’s forgiving and roomy and breathes better than almost any other upper I’ve worn. I don’t often go sockless, but this shoe breathes so well that I tried it out, and you almost forget you have full-coverage shoes on. With all this, this shoe has a fantastic fit in the heel — secure and comfortable with no hint of hotspots.

Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 –  Men Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 – Women

detail of the knit upper

The Bad

TAYLOR: Roomier upper doesn’t always equate to a better fit. In this case, there are some benefits but also some drawbacks. This Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280 upper is way roomy. I found it hard to get a proper lockdown initially. Even with some strategic lacing, my foot still slid around in the cabin when at speed or on technical terrain. Nearly every sidestep brought with it some slippage. It’s simply a case of having too much volume. So, if you have a high-volume foot, this might fit flawlessly. If you’re average or slim-footed, this may cause some issues.

Underfoot, there are a couple of notes, more so than negatives. One is that when people purchase a max cushioned shoe, they want a max cushioned shoe. Ample protection and comfort are what most are looking for. There haven’t been many max-cushioned nitro-infused options yet because you simply need more foam to provide full clearance. Take a look at the chonk-tank Brooks Caldera 6 — prime example.

With only a 25mm stack in the forefoot plus the steeper-than-typically-seen-in-a-trail-shoe drop, I felt a discrepancy of protection from the heel to the forefoot. I didn’t feel a thing in the back and had a moderate amount of ground feel in front. This may not be an issue if you live and run in softer terrain. I loved how the shoe felt in the prairies of Kansas. For me, the lower stack forefoot was quite noticeable in the Rockies.

Part of the discrepancy could be directly correlated to the large cutout in the midsole. The Adapter Flex’s purpose is to provide some flex within the midsole for a unique experience of control that’s atypical of max-cushioned shoes. Inov-8 nailed that part. However, I felt the flex groove in my arch. Most max-cushioned shoes have a rocker to promote a smooth transition through toe-off. I don’t think the flex groove completely interrupted that process, but it was a noticeable sensation through the stride that made the forefoot and rear seem like two different shoes.

SAM: For a shoe with such exceptional components, some things about the overall construction of the Trailfly Ultra G 280 are ever so slightly off. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not too familiar with Inov-8’s previous lasts, but this is not what I’d call a wide shoe. It has lots of room in the upper, sure, but my pinkie toes still push out the sides of the knit, and the balls of my moderately wide feet span the whole forefoot of the shoe. The extra upper room, then, seems to give mainly vertical space, which lends itself to comfort but needs to be cinched in when trying to find forefoot security. I had to crank on these laces to get a good, secure fit.

The good news was I found it, but the bad news is that it left a camel-like hump of fabric over my toe box and pinched the tongue in weird ways. None of this was explicitly bad — it felt like things needed to be cleaned up and sucked in — like the shoe could be squeezed into a good pair of Spanx.

This shoe also lends best to heel striking. I midfoot strike, and while the 25mm stack in the forefoot was mostly adequate, it felt neither soft nor protective on impact. While the semi-decoupled heel from the Adapter Flex added the aforementioned nimbleness when midfoot striking, it gave an eerie feeling that you had a big chunk of cushiony heel getting in the way of your stride and reminding you that the pounding you were feeling in your forefoot could be better. It’s weird to have your forefoot jealous of the springy squish under your heel.

Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 –  Men Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 – Women

inov 8 trailfly ultra g 280 upper and outsole

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280 Conclusion

TAYLOR: I’m giving Inov-8 a do-over card. This is the Traifly that I think everyone had hoped for from its inception. A more appropriately innovative midsole (I’m still hoping something comes from the graphene-infused midsole) with the Graphene Grip and a more forgiving fit make the Inov-8 Traifly Ultra G 280 a feasible option for anything from daily miles to very long adventures.

Though it is marketed for hard-packed trails, I think it would be a better option for soft ground where the midsole will be more protective and the outsole can truly shine. Again, there are more protective options out there. On the other hand, if the light midsole is what you’re looking for, there are not many highly cushioned options available at this modest weight.

SAM: Love is a funny, meandering thing. When you apply such a word or feeling, or emotion, or whatever you want to call it to something as benign as a shoe, it dilutes the meaning of the word but also oddly helps to relay just how intrinsic good gear is to the outdoor experiences that forge who we are each day becoming.

I think the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280 is one of those shoes that I love despite some minor issues that hold it back from true “perfect shoe” status. I keep reaching for it for runs or daily wear because it’s comfortable, grippy, tough, and light. Sure, the upper needs to be taken in, and the forefoot needs at least 4mm more of that nitrogen-infused squish, but the components that make up this shoe are good enough that you love the thing, maybe even because it can still get better.

You can pick up the Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280 by using the shop link below.

Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 –  Men Shop Trailfly Ultra G 280 – Women

on foot showing outsole and upper

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