VJ Sport Ultra Review
VJ is a Finish brand founded in 1981 by a shoemaker that was an orienteering enthusiast. He wanted to make shoes that where tough enough to cope with the rigours of orienteering and offer great grip on the rough ground that orienteers race over. For those unfamiliar with orienteering, the object of the time trial is to visit each of the checkpoints in order and as fast as possible. This means that orienteers don’t follow the paths and regularly bash through the undergrowth in their quest to find the fastest route from one checkpoint to another. The rules dictate that you have to wear full body cover so that you don’t tear yourself to shreds. The abrasion to the footwear means that only the toughest of uppers survive. So you won’t be surprised to hear that VJ has a reputation for good grip and durability in the orienteering nations.
VJ have taken the attributes from their orienteering shoes and applied them to trail shoes, which resulted in the VJ Ultra adopting an upper of a Kevlar-woven nylon. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never get a puncture through the upper, but it does mean that the upper is far less likely to continue shredding if you are unlucky enough to get a hole. Most trail shoes have a more open, breathable mesh. The trade off, of course, is increased breathability than a closed nylon mesh. So the VJ Ultra’s do ‘run a little hot’. I only really noticed this on the longest runs on the hottest days (in the UK 25+ degrees). The same upper material is used on the upper of the VJ Maxx, which is a lightweight trail shoe that we have been selling for over 3 years now and there have been no comments from customers about getting too hot. Perhaps only really an issue for racing in hot countries or if you have particularly hot feet.
There is a trend currently, towards shoes having a very soft feel, to more maximal cushioning. VJ shoes are one antidote to this for those who don’t like to feel like you are ‘running on pillows’ and want more feel for the ground.
The VJ Ultra builds on the successful attributes of the VJ Maxx. As well as a similar durable upper the VJ Ultra used the same EVA compound for the midsole. The cushioning isn’t hard and has a nice bounce to it but it has a denser initial feel than what is becoming the norm in the running shoe market. Scott and La Sportiva trail shoes have a very similar, firmer feel to them too. You get more foot function in a firmer feeling shoe as your foot ‘knows’ it has hit the floor, so it gets the message to spread out. This natural spreading out from your foot cushions, stabilises and springs you into your next stride. In very softly cushioned shoes you are very reliant on the cushioning in the shoes rather than your own body. Runners often think that softer cushioned shoes also absorb more shock, but this isn’t necessarily true. In my experience I find that the shoes I can ‘forget are on my feet’ are the firmer, more responsive shoes. I feel like I sink into soft midsoles. This won’t be the same for everyone and it’s a good idea to have a selection of shoes with different midsole densities to alternate with. This allows you to stimulate and strengthen your feet with more responsive shoes and let your feet have some recovery in the softer shoes.
Although the midsole of the VJ Ultra is made of the same material as the VJ Maxx there is a lot more of it. The stack height in the heel is 22mm and 16mm in the forefoot (with insole and outsole this is a stack of 33mm/27mm) making the VJ Ultra a 6mm drop. For comparison the VJ Maxx is 16/10mm. The width of the outsole is also greater in the VJ Ultra. This is to give the VJ Ultra a more stable ride. This helps keep you moving forward as you get tired towards the end of a long day.
The outsole is of the VJ Ultra has 4mm chevron-shaped lugs. The rubber is the same Butyl rubber that VJ use on all their shoes. This is a very sticky rubber that is also durable. This doesn’t mean that the outsole will last as long road shoes would on hard surfaces. It means that it is very durable in comparison to other soft sticky rubbers, which tend to wear down quickly. You trade grip for durability, overall. In my experience it is even durable enough to use for road to trail. The outsole is a bit ‘noisy’ on tarmac.
The VJ Ultra is a slightly broader fit than other VJ shoes. This is to allow room for your feet to expand during a long run. I wouldn’t say that this makes the VJ Ultra a broad fitting shoe like a Topo, Altra or a 2E width. It is more a roomy shoe for those that have medium width feet. Slightly broader than the fit of the VJ Maxx. The upper has the same ‘Fitlock’ as other VJ shoes this pulls the upper of the shoe around the midfoot. This reduces the chance of your foot turning inside the shoe on rough ground or slipping forward in the shoes on long steep descents.
In my experience the sizing of the VJ Ultra is small compared to other VJ shoes. I would suggest trying half a size larger than normal. As with all running shoes, the advised fit is to have a thumb width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoes. This is when you are standing up in the shoes, with them laced up. Width wise there should be no bulging at the sides and your toes should be free to wiggle.
The tongue and heel cup are lightly padded so they don’t absorb too much water. The heel cup is the traditional plastic heel cup.
Over time I have found that the shoes have become more flexible and the feel to the cushioning is slightly softer. I found the VJ Ultra an easy shoe to run in and a little more of a relaxed pace ‘plod along’ shoe than the VJ Maxx. I still picked up the pace with no issues. The broader base makes them slightly less nimble on single tracks than the VJ Maxx and not quite a grippy on steep cambers as the midsole doesn’t bend to the trail as easily. However, this makes the VJ Ultra a far more versatile shoe than many other Ultra shoes on the market.
They would be great as an everyday trail shoe as they are not so heavily cushioned that you would only want to use them for the long plods but are not super minimal and responsive either. A good combination. Again, they’re cushioned but all VJs are not squidgy, cloud-like shoes, so you’ve got a great feel for the ground. I’m a big fan.
Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle
Topo Ultraventure 2: These have a similar feel to the cushioning. The drop is similar at 5mm. The main difference is that Topo shoes have a broad rounded toe box that gives your feet more room to function. Here is our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/topo-athletic-ultraventure-2-review/
La Sportiva Jackal: A bit more solid underfoot but, a similar shoe. Here is our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/?s=jackal
Scott Kinabalu Ultra: Scott shoes have eRide which is a rocker in the midsole that helps maintain a quick cadence and more upright posture. This stops you leaning forward at the waist as you get tired. The cushioning has a similar firmish feel to the VJ Ultra: https://www.northernrunner.com/search/scott-kinabalu-ultra
Inov-8 Terraultra G 270: These have a broad rounded toe box and are zero drop. The feel to the cushioning is similarly firm and the shoes have a similar level of grip: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/inov-8-terraultra-g-270-graphene-review-cushioned-ultramarathon-running-shoes/
Altra Lone Peak : These are broader with a broad rounded toe box like the Topo Ultraventure or the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270. The cushioning is on the firm side. For most runners this won’t be enough for use on the road but, is good enough for trail. Here is our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/altra-lone-peak-5-review/