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13 oz. (370 g) for a US M9.5
22 mm in heel, 16 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)
Hiking and light running
Recycled ripstop upper, revamped outsole pattern, integrated rock plate
JOHN: Higher, baby (Ahhh); get higher, baby (Ahhh); get higher, baby, and don’t ever come down VJ. I’m fired up for this review because the VJ SpeedHiker is, well, I’m just going to say it — a bear on cocaine. It’s big, it’s tough, and it’s so aggressive it would make 80s action stars blush. I tested this beast on a combination of surfaces, including mud, gravel, and some sandy stuff, on short hikes in rural Culpeper, VA, during the week, then, as the grand finale, took it on a big trip to Old Rag. It did not disappoint.
If you’re unfamiliar with the brand VJ let me tell you it has a reputation for making some rugged shoes. The VJ SpeedHiker is based on the VJ Ultra 2’s foot shape and sole. I came across VJ while running more technical ultra-marathons and looking for a trail shoe hard enough for Manitou’s Revenge, a race held in the rugged Catskills. VJ is known for its grip, stability, and protection, so hearing about the SpeedHiker, I was all in from the start.
VJ boasts that it has the “best grip on the planet,” its words, not mine. The VJ SpeedHiker has a 6 mm drop with highly aggressive 4 mm lugs. Between the lugs and solid rock plate, you’re probably not going to fall in this shoe unless you’re doing something highly dangerous (and if you are, please tell me what it is because it sounds amazing, and I want to try it).
This shoe is fully waterproof and boasts VJ’s Performadry Membrane. I tried to look for as much water as I could when testing this shoe, even hiking in the rain, but my feet stayed dry. The lowered backside for better ankle mobility is great, giving your ankles the comfort they need to move. The Butyl-Rubber outsole is tough, too. VJ straight-up packed more muscle into this shoe than an Expendables movie.
I picked Old Rag to really test it. I’m good at getting myself into dumb situations repeatedly, and my feet still felt incredible after I finished my loop. A cool feature of the VJ SpeedHiker is the Durable Ripstop upper, made from 100% recycled materials. It’s tough but unbelievably comfy. The Strengthened Rubber Toe-Cap allows you to basically kick rocks out of the way like soccer balls without feeling anything.
When you put The VJ Speedhiker on your foot, it fits right on, like in T2 when Arnie uses the grenade launcher. It even makes a similar sound as your foot slides in easily. Once you lace up and take a few steps you feel a similar cushion to trail shoes. It’s not at all clunky like a traditional hiking boot but feels like a souped-up trail shoe. Just for perspective, weight-wise, it’s about 0.8 oz. heavier than an Altra Olympus. For $170, this is a solid value for a revved-up hiker that you can take on some serious adventures.
EMILY: Sometimes, you just need to start your run knowing that if you were ever to encounter a heavy-metal bear band on a Sunday afternoon in the woods, you’d have the upper hand — er, foot. Either that or Yogi and Boo Boo would take one look at the VJ SpeedHiker and toss a sweet axe your way to strike awesome riffage into the heart of the wilderness.
Inspired by the densely forested terrain of central Finland almost 40 years ago, VJ established itself as Teflon-tough and dependable with an eco-sensitive side. The winning combination has won accolades for pro runners worldwide and in lead to the launch of their North American branch in 2019, consequently increasing the cool factor one degree on this side of the Atlantic.
John covered most of the nitty, gritty, crunchy, and pretty from the dinosaur lugs that eat slippery rocks for breakfast, so I’m gonna skip the rockstar recap and get to the good stuff.
JOHN: I felt like my US M11.5 size was perfect. I had just enough room with no issues. The weight will feel heavy if you’re mainly using trail shoes these days, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you probably are; however, compared to other hiking boots, VJ has done a great job of making something that finds a happy middle-ground.
Even if you’ve sworn off hiking boots and want nothing to do with anything that resembles a boot, you have to respect what VJ has done. It’s unapologetically engineered a tyrant here that not even a rocket launcher with infinite ammo can put down.
The Speedhiker is ambitious. It’s battle ready for nightmare trails and has as much protection and comfort as possible to help you succeed. The VJ Ultra 2 is a tough shoe, to begin with, and VJ has built off of it to make it even tougher, which is why you may say its performance is like a bear doing cocaine. It’s crazy, and I absolutely love it.
EMILY: Fun fact — Finland has the most heavy metal bands per capita in the world. Perhaps this creative chaos and badassery informed the very DNA of the SpeedHiker, which was clearly born from a need. A need for momentum, durability, and above all else, a bear-glove grip capable of moving athletes and adventurers through the wildest of outdoor obstacles. I’ve always struggled with hiking boots, which have consistently underwhelmed me. Not that Merrell, Keen, and similar full-boot footwear brands don’t deliver ankle support and grip, but I’ve always ended up paying in blisters and bulk after more than a few hours.
The SpeedHiker functions like the most magical of rockstar mullets — business in the front with fortified toe protection, an uncompromising upper, and waterproofing — and party in the back where things are gettin’ crazy low. VJ opted to go with a conservative drop for noticeably enhanced ankle mobility, which I greatly appreciated whilst tearing down some shady, technical trails later in the afternoon. The lowered ankle cuff at the Achilles really sealed the “running shoe” feel, and I used the time I would have otherwise spent applying protective moleskin to play some air guitar.
I’m also a huge fan of the understated black, which lets performance take the spotlight. I immediately found myself humming “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones while lacing up.Shop VJ SpeedHiker
JOHN: It was very warm out when I tested the SpeedHiker, and it did make my feet sweat, which is a reasonable tradeoff for being waterproof and so comfy and protective. I should point out, though, it wasn’t as bad as a traditional hiking boot. I feel like this wouldn’t be bad at all for me in cooler temps. The VJ SpeedHiker is interesting as it really tries to go directly in the middle of the heated debate of hiking boots vs trail shoes.
The all-black is pretty awesome, you can’t go wrong with it, but I’m not going to lie; it definitely gave me boot camp vibes. I kind of wish there was some red splashed in there. It would make the shoe even more metal than it already is.
EMILY: While the SpeedHiker would feel right at home in Wednesday Addams’ gym locker, I can see her getting salty about the unanchored insole, which continued to try and escape stuck to the bottom of my socks every time I took it off. I’d also caution that the toe box width, while comfy-cozy for the average trotter, might be a wee bit narrow for a runner with an extra generous forefoot or more than ten toes. But, as the only member of my graduating class to slip and fall on stage while walking to accept my diploma, I will forever appreciate a shoe that uses recycled rubber to cut through slick surfaces like a samurai sword, no matter the insole.Shop VJ SpeedHiker
JOHN: I feel like VJ hasn’t even come close to its potential yet with the SpeedHiker. That’s saying a lot also because while it’s great, it has much room to improve by adding aspects of both hiking boots and trail shoes and making an even better hybrid.
For people who use traditional hiking boots, this is a refreshing spin. It’s not as clunky but still has all the toughness and stability. For people used to trail shoes who want something tougher for going on thru-hikes, etc, this has a trail shoe vibe but all the additional benefits of a hiking boot.
I love the hybrid concept of this shoe, and I feel like VJ is going to do even more to improve it as well. The nutjob in me wants to attempt using it on a technical 100-mile race.
Anyone considering The VJ Speedhiker should definitely check out the review on the Saucony Ultra Ridge GTX review while they’re here. The Ultra Ridge is slightly lighter, you could make the case a cooler-looking shoe, but slightly more expensive. I experienced the SpeedHiker when the temps were warmer, which lead to my feet feeling slightly overheated, but Sam also experienced this with the Ultra Ridge GTX. I have not tried the Ultra Ridge, but I’m not sure it goes harder than the SpeedHiker (or anything else for that matter). As I mentioned earlier, VJ kicks harder than Van Damme, leaving no doubt it has some serious power behind it.
I respected the hell out of VJ before testing the SpeedHiker, and I’m in absolute awe of the brand now. If you are planning a serious adventure that requires more firepower than trail shoes, but you need to be more nimble than the average hiking boot, then you should, by all means, give the Speedhiker a try.
EMILY: I agree with John. VJ checked all the boxes for this girl. Time to shed the leaden hiking boots of yesteryear and tap into your inner ninja. The only thing heavy about the VJ SpeedHiker is the metal band from whence it came. Rock on, SpeedHiker! You’ve made my playlist for the foreseeable future.
You can pick up the VJ SpeedHiker for $170 from VJ Shoes using the buttons below.
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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.More from John
Born and raised in Smaltimore (Baltimore), Emily relishes running for hours in the woods. It’s where she works out the kinks in her approach to being a mother, partner, writer, and a better human being.More from Emily