After more than 100 textured miles, including a fun and fast trail half marathon, in this review I’m focusing on how the VJ Spark ($150) ignites a fire on the feet and in the body.
This trail running shoe is aptly named. In the instant of lacing up and stepping out on the trail, there is an immediate snap of connection and confidence. Without exaggerative parlance, the VJ Spark is a remarkably lightweight reliable solid speed shoe, with a corresponding blazing orange aesthetic.
As a usual Topo and Altra runner — on both the trail and road — I find the VJ Spark exhilarating with a purposeful niche as a short distance, fast, and mildly technical terrain trail shoe. I prefer the spaciousness of the aforementioned brands’ shoe models, but as a former competitive soccer player and cyclist, I can easily slip into a blade-like performance shoe as long as the toebox is forgiving, and it is.
VJ shoes may not be new to you especially if you have an affinity for all things gear, are an ultra-adventure athlete, or are involved in obstacle course racing. I previously reviewed both the VJ Ultra and VJ Ultra 2 — you can look back at both our VJ Ultra review and VJ Ultra 2 review — and experienced their flair, grip, and material performance, but still felt some key alterations were needed for overall prime endurance running performance. Then, voila, the VJ Spark filled those gaps.
The VJ Spark consistently shows up for training and race day. My recent Lithia Loop Half Marathon held in Ashland, Oregon, was practically 6.5 miles up and then 6.5 miles down a long sinuous singletrack. There were about two miles of pavement in this race, which isn’t ideal for the Spark, but during race mode I overlooked it for the fast downhill performance. The short distance is ideal for the VJ Spark.
It has a 5-millimeter drop with a corresponding low claimed stack height of 27 millimeters at the heel and 22 millimeters at the forefoot, and a relatively light actual weight of 8.4 ounces (239 grams) for a U.S. men’s size 9.
These elements augment my trail sense and confidence especially when the goal is to move swiftly while navigating slick and moderately technical grounds.Shop the VJ Spark
VJ Spark Upper
The VJ Spark upper is designed off a narrow, blade-like shoe last. This construction promotes midfoot to forefoot running for swift turnover and limited ground reaction forces. Albeit and described more extensively below, the base of the shoe is outfitted to grip. Even though the shoe’s footprint is narrow — where it meets the ground — there is ample friction for bounding, traversing slab slopes, and mountain bike-esque descents.
I recommend you wear a half size up from your normal sizing for an optimal VJ Spark experience. This also allows the toebox to feel comfortable and flexible without any restrictions or unwanted rigidity. I write this as a staunch supporter of wide toebox shoes for functional feet and natural toe splay.
The Spark snugly warps the foot from the midfoot to the heel. The medial arch is integrated with what VJ refers to as their FitLock design for midsole stability. The FitLock thermoplastic extends up from the midsole to the laces, which profoundly keeps the foot secure through the gait cycle. The snug fit and low heel collar design also assist in a no-slip fit.
Nothing is overly cushioned on the Spark. However, the open nylon mesh covering most of the shoe, with exception of the toebox, is soft and extremely breathable — this lets trail debris in, but also lets water and heat out.
The tongue is partially gusseted with minor downward slippage, but is soft and can be harnessed by the thick yet too long laces and lacing system. I am a huge proponent of the plastic eyelets and laces that stayed tied. However, there is no slipping these shoes on and off regularly because of the sturdy heel collar.
The toe bumper poly-plastic is thick, but narrow. Given that this blazer is close to the ground and suitable for rocky and rooted areas, a little more protection may be warranted, although at the expense of weight. The Spark is dubiously protected on both the lateral and medial heel. The bolstered poly-plastic adds to the extra heel support when there are stretches of agility running and technical bounding.
VJ Spark Midsole
The VJ Spark is outfitted with a full-length dense EVA midsole. The midsole allows for decent ground feel and flexibility coupled with enough cushion for the terrain.
The construction of the midsole in combination with the low stack height makes the Spark an ideal performer for shorter distances and on moderately technical substrate. There is no rock plate integrated into the forefoot, therefore longer duration runs on rubble routes may cause foot and lower extremity fatigue.
After my hard half marathon race, I felt a tinge of soreness in both calves. It was completely worth it for the security and surety. The midsole construction is definitely on the minimalist side, but something I really appreciate in a trail shoe these days.
VJ Spark Outsole
The VJ Spark shines across the board for its niche, but the signature performance of the VJ brand starts where the rubber meets the trail, and it certainly lives up to the brand’s motto: “The best grip on the planet!” The outsole is comprised of 100% butyl rubber and this is probably one of the most remarkable attributes about the Spark.
The outsole grabs the ground with surety and confidence — making it ideal for slick and varied trail conditions and not for road running.
The outsole design has 5-millimeter diamond shaped lugs for extra grab, with arrow shaped midsole foam exposed down the center of the forefoot, and with a unique mountain shaped exposed foam section on the lateral side. I reckon VJ designed the outsole to have these midsole sections to reduce weight, increase the flexibility of the ride, allow for uneven landings, and to separate the forefoot from the heel.
A note on the latter, this shoe is more for midfoot and forefoot runners, but running downhill and while bounding the whole base was necessary in my experience. I was able to charge hard up and down granitic soil singletrack and confidently down steep and technical downhills. I am looking forward to more winter miles in the Spark.
VJ Spark Overall Impressions
When I slip on the VJ Spark, I feel a surge of excitement from the ground up. It is a shoe that has been designed specifically to navigate tough trails with heightened agility and swiftness. The secure fit, responsiveness, and lightweight feel gives an athlete permission to really step into that rugged zone and to do it with confidence — the outsole is a game changer.
It is important to note that the VJ Spark is a nimble short-distance trail shoe. I would push it to a trail marathon or maybe a 50-kilometer race depending on conditions, but I have found that 10 to 20 miles of textured terrain is optimal to get the most out of what the Spark has to offer and what my body is ready to withstand from a more minimalist perspective.
Overall, the midsole is dense and gives back what it can without too much firmness or rigidity.
I have been impressed with the VJ brand and what they offer all-terrain athletes. I am looking forward to not only running more in the Spark, but testing the VJ XTRM 2 also.Shop the VJ Spark
Call for Comments
- Have you tried the VJ Spark? What were your thoughts?
- If you wear VJ shoes, how does the Spark compare to other models for you?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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