We have seen trends in trail running shoes swing from minimalist to maximalist over the last six years, and in my opinion, every style has its place. But, in the last two years it seems that many trail shoes are getting very overbuilt, often exceeding the seemingly significant 10-ounce threshold, resulting in heavy trail shoes which feel like a throwback to 15 years ago. Part of this is that trail shoe companies are reacting to constant complaints of durability issues such as, “I shredded the lugs off my (insert burly trail shoes here) in 50 miles and I want a refund.” My response is, “What on earth are you running on? Maybe you should work on your biomechanics?” I digress…
However, without a doubt the most common question I’ve received over the past two seasons is, “What shoe would you recommend to replace the Pearl Izumi Trail N1/N2?” This now-defunct and beloved trail running shoe series, designed with input from such notable ultra legends as Scott Jaime and Nick Clark, was discontinued in 2015 so that Pearl Izumi could cater to the legions of cyclists and triathletes who spend five to 10 times more on gear per year than the usual, somewhat frugal, trail runner. So, on a regular basis, I’ve recommended such trail mainstays as the Nike Wildhorse, the Hoka Challenger ATR, and the Saucony Peregrine. But, none of these trail shoes have truly embodied the simplicity and smooth ride of the Pearl Izumi Trail N2. However, one shoe is getting pretty close.
Enter Inov-8’s updated TRAILROC series, specifically the Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 ($150) in this review. In full disclosure, I haven’t enjoyed running in an Inov-8 shoe since the old TRAILROC 245 and 255 from 2012, but this update is an entirely different animal. I also completely understand that the regular terrain I run on (dry and rocky) is not what most of Inov-8’s bog- and fell-worthy line was designed for.
Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 Upper
At its core, the Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 is a simple running shoe. Seamless mesh is featured throughout the shoe, and this dual-density mesh can take a beating and then some. The fit is also classic Inov-8 with a low but snug heel collar, which gradually opens up to a wide toebox without ever feeling sloppy. This is one of the few shoes on the market that offers me the kind of toebox space, with ample room for swelling, plus midfoot lock that doesn’t slide around on steep downhills. My first inclination after trying the shoe on was that the toebox might be a bit shallow, but I never experienced an issue during runs and I deliberately wore thin to midweight socks to facilitate having some room around the toes. Sizing can be tricky in this shoe, and I would recommend sizing up a half size unless you like a snug fit. While my U.S. size 10s feel great on a casual trail run, I know that I’ll need a bit more space up front to accommodate swelling during an ultra.
Part of the space/sizing issues could be partly blamed on a very durable rubberized toe cap. I’ve caught a toe a number of times in this shoe and I’m always surprised that my toes don’t absorb any of the impact. Inov-8 uses their Met-Cradle+ synthetic overlays at the midfoot, which supply a great deal of midfoot lock down without any added weight. Welded overlays also grace the rand of the shoe to provide some puncture resistance, and rubberized heel-cup supports provide some structure to an otherwise very flexible heel fit. Again, just a fantastic-feeling shoe that you lace up and completely forget about during the run.
Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 Midsole
The midsole of this shoe is what really surprised me as I was expecting a very firm feel with little energy return. In fact, my first impression of the shoe while trying it on was exactly that, but after several shorter runs in the TRAILROC 285, I found my feet to be liking them more and more. While the feel underfoot is responsive (firm) and protective (rock plate), it never feels heavy or cumbersome and the midsole is flexible enough to easily adapt to changing terrain. Inov-8’s Powerflow+ EVA foam is much better than anything they’ve ever produced, and I’m not feeling the resiliency of the foam die out in any way. Additionally, the Dynamic FasciaBand provides some propulsionary support and the Meta-Shank insert is a lightweight rock plate from the midfoot forward to just behind the metatarsals.
I have been very impressed with how protective this shoe is despite having a relatively low stack height of 23mm in the heel. The TRAILROC 285 really does allow one to bomb down technical terrain without fear of a stone bruise or rolling an ankle to its low and agile ground feel.
Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 Outsole
This is always an area where I expect Inov-8 to shine, and the TRAILROC 285 grips every surface very well. Inov-8s Tri-C Sticky compound wears very slowly and features different-durometer rubbers in different areas of the outsole to take on various conditions. Particularly, the softer rubber in the middle lugs works great on wet surfaces while the harder, outside rubber really grabs loose surfaces on uphills and downhills. I haven’t ever felt this confident in a shoe on downhills due to the combination of just enough cushioning with great traction.
Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 Overall Impressions
In my opinion, which I recognize is entirely subjective, this is one of the best trail shoes to come out in the last three years. It is understated, absolutely functional, and disappears on my foot during longer runs. While I’ve yet to understand why Inov-8 charges $150 for this shoe, I do feel that its worth it due to the durability and versatility. This is also one of those trail shoes that fits into that Goldilocks area of being relatively lightweight (9.9 ounces for a men’s U.S. size 9) and featuring an endurance-friendly heel drop of 8mm.
What the Inov-8 TRAILROC 285 is lacking is an overbuilt outsole, a midsole height over 30mm, and far too many overlays. Whether or not you’re looking for a replacement for your beloved Pearl Izumi Trail N1/N2 or if you’re in the market for a jack-of-all-trades simple trail shoe, I highly recommend the TRAILROC 285 to take on any surface and distance in the upcoming year. I have enjoyed this shoe more than anything I’ve worn in recent memory, and the combination of a great fit (forefoot width) along with a sticky and responsive ride made this the shoe I reached for every morning this past fall, regardless of the conditions. Consider sizing a half size up if you’re looking at taking this shoe toward the ultra distances. Otherwise, strap it on and shred.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the Inov-8 TRAILROC 285? What are your overall thoughts on the shoe?
- What do you think of the fit of the shoe? Would you size up a half size like Tom recommends for longer distances?
- Inov-8 outsole talk, have you run in the Tri-C Sticky outsole compound that’s on this and some other Inov-8 models? What is your home terrain and how does the compound perform on it?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]