Grip. Durability. Performance. Unsurprisingly, the upgraded VJ Ultra 2 ($170) has maintained these defining characteristics of the original and popular VJ Ultra and has taken this technical trail runner to the next level with its second version. This new iteration, although its aesthetics have remained remarkably unchanged, now adds an extra layer of protection to its unique and unforgettable design.
I previously reviewed the VJ Ultra in early 2022 — read our VJ Ultra review — with little knowledge of the company VJ and its long Finnish history. But after an interesting first couple of runs acclimating to its stiffness and rigid feel, I quickly acquired a taste for this brand and style of running. Similarly, over the course of this 2022 running season, the visibility of VJ on the ground and in the media has grown substantially.
There is a reason for that — quality — in addition to an increased interest in technical trail running and mountain racing. The premier grip and design are hard to compete against when the VJ design team takes into consideration that the underfoot terrain is far removed from smooth and buttery.
The VJ Ultra 2 comes to market with a couple of key improvements that were remarked upon not only in my review, but also by many other runners and racers. The overall sentiment was that the original VJ Ultra was unrivaled in grip, performed exceptionally on technical terrain with stability, and had solid cushion with decent ground feel and flex.
However, it lacked adequate outsole coverage at the forefoot and had a slightly constricted toebox, causing toe rubbing. Users also complained of cheaply designed shoelaces, and not enough protection underfoot for the technical terrain for which these shoes are primarily designed.
VJ evidently listened to the reviews. The VJ Ultra was an amazing technical trail running shoe, but to make it even better, some critical areas needed to be addressed. And they were. Now we have the VJ Ultra 2 dressed in the same bright green clothes with extra fortification for an overall stronger and longer experience. The VJ Ultra 2 now has a formidable layer of underfoot protection in the form of a rock plate and redesigned outsole butyl rubber under the toe box.
The new version has maintained the 6-millimeter drop, a stack height of 33 millimeters at the heel and 27 millimeters at the forefoot, and 4-millimeter lugs. It has an actual weight of 272 grams, or 9.6 ounces, for a men’s size 9. This isn’t enough to slow the turnover and the fast feel these shoes embody.
The sizing also seems more truer to size, but that could also be from the slightly wider toebox, which resulted in no medial or lateral toe rubbing with this testing phase of approximately 100 miles plus.
VJ Ultra 2 Upper
Reading any review of the original VJ Ultra’s upper, it is standard to report as I did that at first feel, “the upper is stiff and rigid with a degree of plasticity.” However, the VJ Ultra 2 took less time to break in. Personally, I prefer a shoe with absolutely no break-in period, and the VJ Ultra 2 is about there with the changes it made. The design changes helped the upper feel more supportive, cushioned, and protective at the outset.
Nearly verbatim from our review of the original VJ Ultra, and is still true for the VJ Ultra 2, “the upper is constructed out of a breathable yet durable blend of DuPont Kevlar fibers and nylon. The toebox is fortified with a heavily constructed overlay to protect the area from snags, rocks, and barbed wires that may present themselves during an obstacle course race.”
The midfoot region is fortified with instep FitLock technology for a smoother and more comfortable ride over rough terrain. The medial FitLock is wonderful security to have while hustling over technical ground. It is an over-pronator protector. The heel cup design stays true with its simple, soft interior cushion and its exterior doubly constructed overlay, again for added foot protection. The overlay also functions as a protective and stable heel counter, adding a comforting level of stability upon landing.
The VJ shoe design team considered the whole shoe with this version, which meant thinking and investing in the tongue and laces. I was able to tie once and slip the VJ Ultra 2s on and off without resetting my desired upper fit. This aspect of a running shoe is very important to this particular reviewer/runner.
Of course, the heel is stiff — and on purpose, considering the rugged conditions for which it is made. Thus, there was an expected fight to that daily slip-on. Although the tongue is still not gusseted, it is tremendously soft on the dorsal foot, while the top edge was felted so as to not cut into the upper ankle or lower leg, especially for runners who may prefer to wear very low running socks.
VJ Ultra 2 Midsole
Protection — the fourth notable variable added to the list of VJ Ultra 2 integrals. As mentioned in the introduction, the new upgrades include a rock plate for full underfoot protection and less energy leakage. The VJ Ultra 2 is made for technical, slippery, inclement, and rugged environments. The addition of the rock plate adds to its durability and stamina for the runner.
The midsole is a full-length custom EVA blend. In some form or another, an EVA blend is found in many trail running shoes. It is supportive and, at a base level, comfortable. It is responsive and has a modicum of cushion that balances stability and a snug feel that the upper provides.
It is interesting to note that this trail shoe is classified as cushioned. It is rigid. It is stiff. It does have cushion, but it also has tremendous ground feel simultaneously. It isn’t a cushioned ride that hides the terrain or the effects that certain strides or footfalls may radiate up the kinetic chain. It helps keep the gait in order with swift and smart turnover — one reason why I feel fast when I wear these shoes. Previously, at the 100-mile mark, I began to notice compression lines in the bright yellow foam, but this round there was less pronounced deadening and breakdown. The endurance factor went up several notches.
VJ Ultra 2 Outsole
When the foot hits the ground while running in the VJ Ultra 2, it sticks, and it means it. The original VJ Ultra has an outrageous outsole designed with 100% butyl rubber, coupled with angled and aggressive 4-millimeter lugs. It means business. The grip on the VJ Ultra 2 is second to none — it is the most sure-footed I have ever felt in any condition that the Southern Oregon Cascade Range can brew.
Thanks to late-fall rains, upper-elevation snow, and early-morning icy conditions, I was able to test and flex the new, added rubber at the forefoot. This major improvement resulted in a more integrated outsole, with reduced lateral flexion in the toebox region — a likely reason for previous rubbing and chafing in the first version. The new rubber cohesiveness also increased the durability of “the best grip on the planet,” as there have been no issues of losing lugs or delamination in this version.
VJ Ultra 2 Overall Impressions
I am solidly impressed with the VJ Ultra 2. I feel like the design team really read the reviews and took into consideration what the runners, racers, and outdoor adventurers were saying about the original VJ Ultra. They bounced back quickly with two major improvements that enhanced the overall protection and durability of the shoe.
The VJ Ultra 2 is ideal for rugged conditions. It still performs well on typical dirt, gravel, and smooth trails — but where it really shines is the former. I feel like I can run much farther in this version — pushing it up to approximately 30 miles/50 kilometers in distance. This is still not the long distance they may be pushing for, however. The shoe design keeps me honest and on task while out on the trails. It sparks confidence and fast running when possible. The VJ Ultra 2 excels in grip and now has added protection, due to materials and smart design.
Overall, the durability and performance factors are both increased since the first version, rounding it out to be a solid and reliable trail running shoe. I am looking forward to many more miles in the green flash this winter.Shop the VJ Ultra 2
Call for Comments
- Have you run in the VJ Ultra 2?
- How do you think it compares to the previous version?