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Trail Running Shoes • March 12, 2024

VJ MAXx 2 Review: Embrace the Race

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What You Need To Know


9.9 oz. (282 g) for a US M9.5

Stack Height / Drop

31 mm in heel, 25 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)

Best For

Tackling any kind of trail race or dabbling in OCRs

Key Features

SuperFoamance midsole, Superior Contact outsole, Fitlock system, full-length rockplate

On The Run
Superior Contact rubber is superior Much-improved upper comfort Unusual heel slippage despite the forefoot lockdown
Price / Availability

Available now for $180

Introduction to the VJ MAXx 2

TAYLOR: Can we all agree, unashamedly, that our tribe is an eclectic bunch of weirdos? I mean, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even within this bunch, we separate further into runners who race marathons, ultra trail runners, runners who play Pokemon Go — the list can go on and on.

Somewhere in the niche-de-niche of running groups is OCR (obstacle course racing). If you’ve been in or around that crowd, you just may have heard of VJ Shoes. They’ve earned a reputation as a super tough brand that many trust for the absurd conditions that come with OCR races.

Originally, they were (and still are) a trail running brand that set out to define its own destiny with a no-compromise approach to fit and grip. Their most recent drops have brought them back to a purer trail running experience where modern foams and lighter uppers matter to a much greater degree.

With that in mind, the VJ MAXx 2 is a complete overhaul from the original. Besides a couple of the marquee components, like the Superior Contact butyl rubber outsole, Fitlock system, and a rock plate, this thing is completely different. Out with the kevlar reinforced upper and in with a new breathable one-piece top. The similarly bulletproof EVA midsole has also been swapped for a new-age SuperFoamance midsole.

That’s about as major of an update as a shoe can get. Initially, it concerned me that VJ was just trying to hop on the supercritical train because of the “that’s what you should do” mentality, but after getting my miles in, I’m convinced that there’s more to the story.

MICHAEL: Trail running brands are like (bear with me on this one) soda brands. In my mind, there are three main categories — you have classic options like Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Sprite — the usual suspects. Then there’s the bougie bunch, craft sodas, if you will, pop with cane sugar, and all that jazz. These are analogous to maybe Speedland and Norda. Then there are the outsiders just trying to break into either the mainstream camp or the bespoke camp, like Mr. Pibb or Cheerwine, or maybe even the straight-up knockoffs like Dr. Thunder or RC Cola. Oftentimes, these misfits are the shoe companies looking to fill some niche within a niche of trail running. Anyways, where was I going with this? Ah, yes, VJ shoes.

Basically, I never could figure out whether VJ fit into the niche misfits camp or the niche high-end camp. Hailing from Finland, they’re definitely a smaller operation, and their presence in the OCR world leads one to believe that they haven’t found their place among the running giants like Hoka, Brooks, or Salomon and have instead settled among the Uber-niche misfits. However, like Speedland (a bespoke brand that could make an honest claim for the best-fitting running shoe on the market), VJ makes a potentially crazier claim to have the grippiest outsole compound in the industry, rather unashamedly, I might add.

All that is to say, the newest update to VJ’s high-performance running shoe, the MAXx 2, promises to even further shake up how we think about VJ as a serious choice for more than just having a great outsole or tearing up an OCR. On paper, the supercritical midsole, solid rock plate, and lightweight upper, all in addition to VJ’s fantastic outsole, are bound for success. Right out of the box I knew this shoe was going to be a great update, and after getting in some miles, I have some thoughts to share on just how great that update is.

JOHN: This may sound silly, but I really enjoyed comics as a kid (editor’s note: This is not silly). I was into The Punisher, Deadpool, and Spawn, but my favorite was The Maxx. Dark but extremely creative, it continuously blew my mind. When initially lacing up the OG VJ MAXx, I definitely thought, what’s my connection to this shoe? Do we know each other from another dimension?

I was an immediate fan of the previous version. I’ve spoken to Taylor a lot about the OG MAXx, and the biggest issue I found when breaking in the shoe was the heel. The material surrounding the back of my ankle felt abrasive for the first several miles. I’ve run a lot of brutal races wearing the original MAXx, and I was really curious to see how The MAXx 2 would compare. To test it, I took it to the mountains for the Elizabeth Furnace 50k (or you could call it the Outback).

I have gone through two pairs of the original MAXx. I enjoyed them so much that I’ve been eagerly awaiting this update.

What we like about the VJ MAXx 2

TAYLOR: It took me a few runs to zero in on exactly what shoes I could compare the VJ Maxx 2 to, and then it hit me hard. The miles thereafter confirmed my surprised feelings, and the best way to describe it is like running in a Hoka Tecton X without the X. Other shoes like the Altra Mont Blanc, Brooks Catamount 3, and Merrell Long Sky 2 all crossed my mind, too.

I’m starting with comparisons that I usually finish with in order to show that the VJ MAXx 2 is launching into very good company with its overall performance. How and why basically come down to the two major changes outlined above.

The PerFoamance midsole is a blast! It’s a very fine slab of supercritical EVA. It feels light underfoot, is well-cushioned, and has a noticeable pop at toe-off.

The stack height is moderate at best (31/25 mm for a 6 mm drop), so I felt very confident in just about any scenario in the MAXx 2. The midsole really does offer some of everything to a high degree, and I felt a good balance of protection and ground feel thanks to both the midsole density and rock plate. The SuperFoamance compound allowed for decent cushion and energy return. Going far, fast, and anything in between is certainly possible.

This foam really does remind me (and many have pointed out its eerily similar aesthetics) of the Hoka Tecton X. I wouldn’t call it plush necessarily, but it has a medium/soft cushion to it without totally sacrificing on density or durability. I also get strong notes of the Altra Mont Blanc’s Ego Max midsole, which is still one of my favorites for the trails.

Up top, the softer, more relaxed upper is much appreciated compared to its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it soft because it’s a pretty robust woven material, but it folds and molds to the foot a whole lot better, which lends itself to more comfort and better control on the trails. The foot-shaped last does bring some reprieve in the toe box but isn’t as noticeable as a true anatomically shaped toe box found on Topo Athletic, Altra, or Speedland shoes.

Overall, the MAXx 2 has a really nice lockdown. The Fitlock system has always worked well for my midfoot, and the thinner tongue, fairly narrow lacing chain, and internal/external reinforcements make it easy to find a highly functional fit that supports the anterior arch. I did need to work at the heel a bit, but fairly quickly found that throwing the laces through the top lacing hole was enough to satisfy.

Durability is still a strong point with this one-piece upper. Again, the upper consists of a middling woven material, and a 360-degree adhered overlay at the juncture of the upper and midsole helps to ensure durability is top-notch.

As a brand, I feel VJ tends to be a little dramatic in its claims, but I get it. It’s just marketing. One claim that they can actually rest their hat on, though, is the hashtag #bestgripontheplanet. The Superior Contact butyl rubber compound really is the best. It just straight-up grips like a gecko on a fly trap. Even with subtle 4 mm lugs, I found it to grip and rip in a smorgasbord of conditions.

I do appreciate that a low weight (9.4 oz. for a US M10.5) and extreme grip still come with almost a full outsole of coverage, too.

MICHAEL: On the first step in, the awesome underfoot feel of this shoe immediately stuck out (or sunk in?) to me. The SuperFOAMance midsole is forgiving yet responsive and is reminiscent in both overall fit and cushion to the react midsole in the Nike Wildhorse 8, aka the Horsey Ocho, without the weight (cue whinnies of wild mustangs, the crack of a dry whip, and a rattlesnake rattle in the distance). Landings in the MAXx2 are undeniably soft and come with a subtle bounce from the supercritical slab. Like Taylor, I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as plush, but harsh isn’t even in this midsole’s vocabulary.

Working in conjunction with that plush midsole, a stout rock plate provides some protection — crucial protection, I might add. With a midsole this soft, the plate is a must-have to stabilize the heel and keep the shoe feeling structured and predictable through the midfoot.

Maybe it goes without saying, but this shoe has got traction for days, maybe weeks even. I’ll admit, at first, I was a bit unimpressed, not because I didn’t think the outsole wasn’t great, but just that it kinda just felt like a solid outsole and nothing special. But after a few runs in wet conditions, I began to realize I was subconsciously taking really confident steps on wet, cambered rock — which is not exactly the kind of terrain you just gingerly stride across — yet I was tackling it in the MAXx 2 without a second thought.

While there were some aspects of the upper I had issues with, lockdown through the midfoot and forefoot was not one I struggled with. Here again, I’ll call on some similarities to the last of the Wildhorse 8. The fit is fairly narrow throughout, even on my narrowish foot. It’s a stark contrast from the Topo and Altra shoes I’ve been reviewing recently, yet the shoe offered no hot spots or scrunched toes.

Lastly, the light weight of the MAXx 2 makes it versatile for all sorts of racing, with a distance range easily spanning from 5k to 50k and beyond, which brings me to my conclusion for this section. Between the plush yet responsive cushioning, protection from the rock plate, and fantastic grip in all conditions, the MAXx 2 is a very, very versatile shoe that can pretty much tackle it all.

JOHN: As much as I’m a fan of the previous VJ MAXx, I have to say that this is a significant improvement. I used the shoe right out of the box and had no problems with the upper all the way through my 50k. Even the heel felt great — VJ has definitely improved it after it gave me so many problems in the last version of the shoe.

I normally wear a US M11.5 but was sent a US M11, which, luckily for me, worked perfectly. As Taylor mentioned, you may want to go a half size down. My feet were wet for almost the entire 50k (due to lots of rain and multiple water crossings), but the shoe remained extremely comfortable. Further, despite hopping from rock to rock, constantly climbing, and going downhill, I never had foot issues. Despite the many jagged, unforgiving rocks that lurk in Massanutten, the MAXx 2 kept my feet extremely protected.

My absolute favorite part of this shoe is the grip. I didn’t slip at all. Between the SuperFoamance midsole, lockdown upper, and extremely protective rock plate, I felt confident and in control.

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What we don’t like about the VJ MAXx 2

TAYLOR: I need to get this off my chest. It has no effect on performance, but the new midsole name is cheesier than fondu at a Wisconsin potluck.

On with it.

In a world of monsters, MAXx is a misleading name. The reason I bring this up is not a dig on performance per se, but for most runners, it’s likely not what you’d expect in both the overall feel and stack. Simple as that.

The only true issue I had with the VJ MAXx 2 came from the upper. Again, it’s misleading. I don’t think it’s lightweight, nor do I think it’s heavy. There’s no doubt it’s on the burly side and bunched up in weird ways while running, though. The vamp area was the worst for me. VJ tends to reinforce the toe box end of their lacing chain, so it comes with a little extra material and stitching that rubbed the top of my toes just slightly. It caused just a little bit of irritation on the first few runs but mostly went away after a while. This same thing happened to me with the original VJ Ultra (in a much more extreme way).

Overall, the upper simply needs some work and feels like it’s still in the development phase when compared to many other brands that have a $160-plus price tag.

One last note: you’ll probably want to go down a half size. My normal sizing worked fine, but it was certainly on the edge of what I’m comfortable with.

MICHAEL: First things first, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a max shoe, and it’s definitely not a max with two X’s shoe — let’s not get carried away, folks. On that same token, I can’t decide whether the midsole name is trying to poke fun at an industry with a thousand names for myriad technologies that are essentially combinations of the same seven words or if it’s just an actually bad name.

On a much more tangible, consequential note, the rest of my critiques of the shoe have to do with the heel. Even with the forefoot and midfoot locked in place, I found that my heel was slipping and sliding around in multiple directions. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before in a shoe — solid lockdown through the upper and midfoot is rarely accompanied by a heel cup that’s baggier than a pair of 90s NBA shorts.

The reason for this feeling is four-fold — there’s the generally slippery suede material, the semi-rigid construction, and the noticeable lack of an Achilles cushion that most shoes have to keep your heel in place. When this is all coupled with the super soft and slightly under-stable midsole foam in the heel (it could stand to be widened out just a bit), descents for me just felt a little bit loose. To be fair, though, I wasn’t dealing as much with vertical lift as I was with horizontal slip. Vertical lift would be a deal-breaker for me, but this was just feeling really loose in general. So if you’re interested in the shoe, don’t let this dis(suede) you altogether — just something to be aware of when trying the shoe on.

Lastly, another aesthetic gripe: while the “fitlock” system around the arch does provide a good midfoot lockdown, I think the oversized rubber panel on the side of the shoe is unnecessary overkill. Normal overlays would work fine and maybe even provide the shoe with a more adaptable fit through the midfoot than a piece of stout rubber. Not to mention, it doesn’t exactly do the shoe look any favors stylistically.

JOHN: I don’t like that the shoe went up $25, but it’s understandable considering the number of changes present. There are also no straps for gaiters. And this shoe should have a purple colorway — huge missed opportunity (I joke, but it would have been really cool to be the color of my hero)!

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Final thoughts on the VJ MAXx 2

TAYLOR: First, I feel the need to applaud VJ for finding a way to reinvigorate its lineup of trail runners. With offerings like the MAXx 2, there’s a good chance of diversifying their clientele once again. It’s a very solid update that should get the attention of many runners. I probably would have just marketed it as a brand-new shoe, though, because it’s in a very different category than its predecessor.

The VJ MAXx 2 has a lot to offer in a lightweight durable package. We’re talking about moderate cushion, decently reactive midsole, incredible grip, and a trusty fit. The MAXx 2 can take you a lot of places and through a lot of paces, which is why the $180 price tag is high but not outrageous.

MICHAEL: With an update like the MAXx 2, I have a feeling we could be seeing more VJ on start lines this year. The grip is, of course, all business, and with a high-performance midsole package, this shoe has just about everything you need to tackle a gnarly, technical East Coast ultra with confidence. The Maxx 2 certainly breaks free from VJ’s OCR niche, and it’s one I would certainly recommend if you’re looking to give the Finnish brand a try for the first time.

JOHN: I never left the Outback. It was always in my head. The MAXx 2 is a great sequel to a beloved shoe of mine that makes me feel happy as I battle through all kinds of psychological trauma out there on the trail.

A shoe I think I could compare the MAXx 2 to is the Inov-8 Mudtalon Speed. If you have issues with the fit of that one, definitely check out the MAXx2. The grip is comparable, but the shoe just fits great, and I’m a real fan of the improved upper. I also highly recommend reading Taylor’s review of the original version of the MAXx to see how far it’s come.

I really like what VJ is doing and am very excited for the future. The original MAXx was my go-to for those hard, gnarly, muddy, rocky, rainy, you want to just toss your clothes in the trash afterward adventures, and I feel like they have done nothing but completely improve on it. I can’t wait to use it on races throughout the year.

You can pick up the VJ MAXx 2 for $180 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.

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Michael Loutzenheiser
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An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.

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John Calabrese
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An obsessed runner, John has run in most ultra races in the Mid-Atlantic area. Since he’s an ultra runner, it’s no surprise he’s also a lover of food. He’s also a dedicated father, caregiver, and veteran.

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