by Austin Bonds
All images: Top Roclite 290 Bottom Roclite 305
inov-8 (founded in Britain), like ON (founded in Switzerland), is a lesser-known brand to me in a crowded marketplace of players. But last August, I ruggedly tested the ON Cloudventure and found it delightfully capable of navigating the trails. Japanese company Descente owns inov-8 and develops all-terrain footwear and apparel.
Like other businesses, inov-8 shoes use numbers in the name for purposes of distinction. But their numbers denote weight. The Roclite 290 is 290 grams (10.15 ounces). The Roclite 305? You guessed it. 305 grams (10.675 ounces). I would presume that the ounces measurement listed on the inov-8 website is for a men’s size nine since a larger shoe size would correspond to a higher number of grams, i.e. my Roclite 290 size 12 weighed 11.5 ounces while the Roclite 305 came in at 12.6 ounces.
The 290 and 305 are somewhat similar models, so this joint review will single out the remarkable differences, along with any critiques that I feel are warranted from a comfort standpoint.
Step in comfort for both models is excellent, though noticeably firm. While the 290 apparently weighs less, weight felt about the same (detecting a 1.1-ounce difference between the two is difficult). Sizing ran true, and the midfoot felt secure. Toe box space is adequate – not narrow but not too roomy either. The 290 and 305 use a POWERFLOW midsole, which, according to inov-8, “delivers 10% better shock absorption and 15% better energy return than standard midsoles.” I’m not sure what can be inferred from the phrase “standard midsole” other than it being a reference to shoes that are comprised entirely of EVA foam.
During my testing for these two models, I put both through a trail race. The Roclite 290 carried me through a fairly tame course along packed dirt, some rocky terrain along power lines, and woods replete with glorious pine straw. The 305, however, went two miles up and two miles down the treacherous Sawnee Mountain. Rocks are followed up with more rocks. This is an entirely unforgiving course, and bloody legs at the finish line is a common sight.
Both models, which incorporate 6-millimeter multi-directional lugs, provided me with superb traction compliments of a Tri-C outsole and an uncanny ability to drop debris quickly upon contact. The ride is firm, but responsive at toe off. Finally, the META-SHANK all but eliminated any possibility of post-race soreness from rocks along the course. The 305 includes a gusseted tongue, which is a nice touch for keeping earth out of the shoe.
I favor the 290 over the 305 for two reasons. First, the drop. The 290 has a 4-millimeter offset while the 305 is 8. Second, the weight. When it comes to trail shoes, I tend to look for models that are lighter, even if it’s a small amount. Not including a gusseted tongue to the 290 is a puzzling omission though.
I don’t speak of price much in reviews, but there’s only a marginal price gap between these two models. The Roclte 290 is $120, and the 305 is $130. I’ve read that the 305 provides more cushioning underfoot, but I didn’t notice this between the two in my runs. Therefore, I believe the 290 should be priced slightly lower if it’s the “lightest and most flexible shoe within the Roclite series” (according to the Running Warehouse description). $10 less would be good, and $20 lower is even better. The inov-8 X-Talon 200 is $100, so performance models at this price point do exist.
Overall, I like the Roclite 290 and Roclite 305, but I’ve found more appealing models lately in the Hoka Speed Instinct 2 and the Altra King MT. The Instinct 2 is a softer ride, so I might be drawn to this characteristic more when I select trail shoes. The King MT uses Ego, Altra’s new midsole compound that’s similar to Boost by Adidas. The trail shoe market appears to be getting more crowded as additional players join the market and established brands make updates (e.g. the Brooks Cascadia) or introduce new models (e.g. the Altra Timp or Brooks Caldera or Mazama).
Unlike the heavily cushioned Hoka trail models or Altra Olympus, the Roclite 290 and Roclite 305 offer a relatively firm but snappy ride along the dirt. But that’s what makes them distinct, able to stand out from the crowd. How will other companies respond to these models and others that the company makes or revises in the upcoming months and years? In other words, who’s going to innovate? Runners are watching.