“Suitable for long trail races and training or as an introductory shoe to minimalist trail running. It is tough, reliable and combines underfoot protection with comfort. Designed for mixed terrain, deep cleated sole ensures grip in muddy conditions.” – Inov-8 product page for Roclite™ 295
Shortly after being introduced to running trails, I realized that my regular road shoes just weren’t going to cut the mustard on the rugged and rocky Arizona trails. It was then that I started looking for the ultimate pair of trail shoes and at the suggestion of the good folks at iRun I bought my first pair of Inov-8 Roclite 295. My first pair was purchased in 2012 and that model has since been discontinued. It was a sad day when I found out that Inov-8 changed the design, but I was excited to discover what improvements were coming to this already very solid, capable shoe.
Shortly after their release, I found myself back at iRun with a pair of newly designed Roclite 295s on my feet. I wasn’t impressed. Before I continue, I should mention that I had spent much of my time running in Altra shoes with a very wide and comfortable toe box. The Roclites, in comparison to the Altras are a very narrow shoe, and I could feel my pinkie toe rubbing against the upper on these new and improved shoes. I could just picture the blisters I would get from all that rubbing. Other than that, they felt light and capable, the true test would be out on the trail.
My first trail run with these shoes was on a (you guessed it) rocky and rugged Phoenix trail. No mercy here. Immediately upon hitting the trail the shoes felt lighter. Now, I know that this is not true, since Inov-8 names their shoes by their weight. The 2nd generation Roclites as well as this new pair both weigh in at 295 grams. Regardless, I didn’t feel like I was dragging at all in these shoes.
The upper felt strong and flexible and wrapped very naturally around my foot. I did have to adjust and fuss with the laces a little more than I would like in order to the feel just right for my foot, but that’s less likely to be the fault of the shoe and more the fault of the owner. The laces didn’t hold well on my first run, and I found myself retying them twice in just a short 4 miles — something I never had to do with the 2nd generation Roclites.
The traction on the Roclite 295s is nothing to smirk at. By far, the sticky lugs on this performance outsole have outdone any other shoe I have tried. These shoes perform exceptionally well on everything from loose scree, mud, snow, roots, and gravel. The only place I’ve found where I don’t care for the feel of these shoes is on the pavement or cement — the large lugs were definitely noticeable.
A couple of signature features on the Inov-8 shoes is the Meta-Flex and Fascia Band. Both of these features are designed to provide more natural foot movement and to lessen fatigue on the feet. I don’t know about the Fascia Band, but the Meta-Flex feature does provide for easier toe-off right out of the box. In fact, the Inov-8 shoes I have tried all require virtually no break-in period. However, the Meta-Flex feature has a dark side, which I will cover later.
All in all, I would call the test drive a great success.
Over 500 miles later…
To say that I don’t like these shoes would be about as far from accurate as a person could get. I think the mileage speaks for itself. I put these shoes through the wringer! From the time I purchased them earlier in 2013 until late September, I wore these as my primary shoes. They took me through all types of terrain in both wet and dry conditions, and I loved every minute. But let me run through the result of all of this abuse running.
Considering all that these shoes went through, I was pretty impressed with the durability of the outsole. The outsole shows more wear than the 2nd generation Roclites did with roughly the same number of miles, but it showed no signs of separation from the midsole and still had some miles left in them. I am a forefoot striker and the lugs on the front of the shoe are now worn almost down to nothing. The original 4-5mm lugs are now 1-2mm lugs and a couple of lugs near the toes are gone — my sacrifice to the trails.
While I tend to be a forefoot striker, I brake heavily with my heel and that shows in the midsole. While this is a neutral shoe, the midsole at the inside of my heel showed the most wear, compacting down and being ground off by some of the many rocks they brushed up against. There is still some life in them, but they will likely live the rest of their days as my lawn mowing shoes.
This is the one aspect of this shoe that could use some serious work. It wasn’t long after buying these shoes that I noticed wear on the upper near the inside of my heel. I don’t have this wear pattern on any other shoe I own, and I could not isolate the cause to foot-on-foot scuffing, or to the rough terrain, but the upper simply can’t hold up to the wear. The 2nd generation Roclites were well protected on this area of the upper, and it seems an odd design decision to remove any sort of protection in this area. The wear was severe enough on both shoes that I frequently noticed that small rocks were soon able to find their way into my shoes through the heel. The stitching in that area also began to fray and the upper near the insole began to come apart (refer to the pictures).
That brings me to the next issue: Meta-Flex. As I mentioned earlier, this feature does help provide a broken-in right out of the box feel, but there’s a price to pay for that luxury. On the outside of each shoe, at the flex point, the upper mesh wore through and allowed small rocks to enter the shoe.
The final issue with the upper is what I consider to be a design flaw — the Roclite 295 does not have a gusseted tongue. Even with Inov-8’s gaiters, I was constantly stopping and picking out small rocks. Even a partial gusset would be a welcome addition to these shoes.
Other than the three problems I had, which were primarily wear related, the uppers held up fairly well. They are very breathable and drain/dry relatively quickly while on the move. The support and comfort is an improvement on the 2nd generation Roclites, but the mesh needs work.
I have to say that when a company makes an incredible trail shoe such as the 2nd generation Roclite’s, it sets the bar so high, it’s almost sure to set itself up for disappointment in the following editions. While there is plenty to miss from the 2nd generation Roclites, there’s lots to love from the redesign. If you love knobby, grippy shoes that will stand up to just about any terrain, these shoes won’t disappoint. However, they aren’t as tough as the 2nd generation and I won’t be surprised to see Inov-8 add some durability back to the shoes in future iterations of this shoe.
Review Written By: Marc Thompson. Marc has finished several trail ultra runs including 2013 completions wearing these Inov-8 Roclite™ 295’s of Old Pueblo 50 Mile, Grand Canyon R2R2R, Speedgoat 50k and the recently announced Hardrock Hundred qualifier Mogollon Monster 100 Mile.