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Trail • June 11, 2021

VJ Shoes Ultra Performance Review


What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 9.3 oz. (265 g) for a US M8.5 / US W10
  • Fitlock system provides great lockdown over the midfoot
  • Ridiculous traction over all terrain
  • This just might be the best grip on the planet

TAYLOR: VJ Shoes is the company that you’ve either a) never heard of or b) have seen their ads while thumbing through the end of a trail running magazine. The newest addition to their fleet is the Ultra. It contains the aggressive package that you can expect from the rest of their offerings with a few key features that improve on the blueprint. 

KYLE: My initial impression of the VJ Shoes Ultra was definitely positive. This is a snappy, durable, and grippy mid to lightweight trail shoe built for a muddy, mountainous good time. VJ is a younger brand which definitely skews towards the OCR and mud racing scene, and the Ultra is their most cushioned model (more on this later), designed with the trail and ultra runner in mind. Do they stack up to the “Ultra” designation?

The Good

TAYLOR: Can confirm: the 100% butyl rubber outsole is the best grip on the planet. After sending the Ultra through a Colorado spring, I can confidently say this is the best grip I’ve tried hands down. The 4 mm chevron lugs are enough to bite into some soft dirt and subtle enough for moving quickly on any other terrain. 

There’s a whole lot more to this shoe than grip, though. For example, it’s lightweight (for a trail shoe), weighing 10 oz for a men’s size 10.5. An aggressive shoe that performs like this is never under 11 oz.    

The upper uses a soft mesh to give the shoe good breathability and a light on-foot feel. The durability comes from the Kevlar on the upper. I put it to the test by hacking at it with my pocket knife. I stayed intact through everything. Heat adhered bumpers run 360 degrees around the shoe for even more protection. Based on my highly scientific durability tests of stabbing and running, I’d guess that the midsole will rip from the shoe before this upper gives way.

The Fitlock system (a stitched-on “seat belt” that runs up the medial side of the midfoot and wraps into the laces) along with a form-fitting racer-style tongue held my foot down exactly how I wanted. Zero foot movement to report under the structured design. 

Underfoot we have a light blended EVA midsole. It’s softer than any other VJ midsole, although it’s still fairly dense. The 33 mm/27 mm stack provides a protected running experience with notes of ground feel mixed in. While on trails, a tapered toe allowed for a nimble, slightly snappy, and smooth transition between steps, especially over more technical terrain.

KYLE: The mesh upper on the VJ Ultra is a mix of Kevlar and nylon. I found the mesh to be moderately breathable but still ran just a little warm. My feet really felt it on runs over about 80 degrees, but the tradeoff here is durability and lockdown, where the Ultra really excelled. Speaking of lockdown, the Ultra did an excellent job of holding my feet in place on all kinds of terrain, from fast paces on buffed-out flats to technical climbs and descents. The Fitlock system made me feel one with the midsole as my narrow foot was secured to the shoe better than most trail runners.

The full-length EVA  midsole has a nice balanced feel and a pretty smooth ride. The ride on this shoe reminds me of the Salomon Sense line that I wore early on as an ultrarunner (well, after the barefoot/sandals/Born To Run years, but we don’t need to talk about that). The foam is definitely on the firmer and more responsive side, contributing to the performance vibe of the shoe. 

Grippppppppp. This is the #1 feature of the VJ Ultra, IMO. For a brand with a background in OCR, it isn’t a surprise that the outsole is a standout. The multi-directional chevron lugs run 4 mm deep and are spaced nice and wide to shed mud.

Shop VJ Ultra

The Bad

TAYLOR: While the VJ Ultra performs well on the most technical terrain, it seems to struggle with the simple stuff. The firm midsole just didn’t roll over smooth paths, pavement or gravel roads like it should. Granted if you’re buying a VJ, you’re probably not logging too many miles on the roads. 

While the upper is as durable as a bomb shelter, it’s stiff and abrasive. Such a tough material requires bigger stitching and heftier materials to reinforce it. For example, the eyelets are reinforced with heat molded overlays and a small amount of stitching in the forefoot. That stitching gave me some rubbing on the top of my toes and broke skin on my first run. 

Even though the toe box is wide, there’s no give to the upper at all. So fair warning when it comes to fit: what you see is what you get.

KYLE: The fit on the Ultra is definitely on the narrow side, so that sweet sweet lockdown appears to come at a price. Despite the “Ultra” designation, almost every feature of this shoe seems to be geared toward the front of the pack and/or faster paces. The fit is no exception and definitely seems to be built on a narrower, performance style last. 

The VJ Ultra rewards the more bio-mechanically efficient among us. I strike mid-foot to forefoot so this shoe runs really smooth to me. Due to the moderate stack height and more responsive foam, I personally would cap this shoe at the 50K distance. I think it would be perfect for technical or muddy mountain runs 3 hours or under. Could an elite ultra racer shred a 100 miler in this? No doubt about it. But I’m not an elite and I want juuust a little more material and a little more squish for my ultra pursuits.

Also, $170 is a lot to ask for a shoe that doesn’t have the word “carbon” in the description.

Shop VJ Ultra

VJ Shoes Ultra Conclusion

TAYLOR: Prime Hulk Hogan needs to advertise for the VJ Shoes Ultra. With equal amounts of intensity and strength, the Ultra is ready to rumble, brother! It boasts the best grip on the market, extreme durability, and a light package. This could be a go-to-shoe for some of the gnarliest terrain you can find. 

KYLE: In the eternal words of Hansel from Zoolander, the VJ Shoes Ultra likes to “grip it and rip it.” Those with gazelle-like feet, form, and speed will rejoice. Those fashion conscious or on a budget may pass, but the world-class grip is something that should have everyone on notice.

You can pick up the VJ Shoes Ultra for $170 by using the shop link below.

Shop VJ Ultra

Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Dom says:

    You say the shoes are durable. I’m mainly interested in the mid/outsole durability. How many miles/what terrain did you run in these? And how is the rock protection since there is no plate in the midsole.

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