What is the company VJ, and what is the VJ Ultra ($170) trail running shoe, you may be wondering?
I asked myself those same questions before taking on this shoe testing assignment. My interest was piqued when I read that two of the specifications of the VJ Ultra were a wide toebox and low drop. I talk about those points in this review, but with that interest momentum, I researched the company and mission behind the VJ Ultra.
If you are an ultra-adventure athlete or into obstacle course racing (OCR), then the company VJ is probably not new to you. The brand is emblematic of skyrunning and slick conditions that require exceptional grip and grit. However, if you are, and haven’t heard or seen these spectacular flashes on your competitors’ feet, it is time to give them a fly.
Grip. Durability. Performance. Those three things are what VJ strives to achieve in its design.
The company VJ originally hails from Finland over 40 years ago with rough and slick conditions and the extreme athlete in mind. The company entered the U.S. market in 2019 to cater to OCR athletes and Pacific Northwest runners, and now have a grip on the ultrarunning scene. They are here to stay.
Interestingly, it took a couple of runs for me to turn the switch back with these shoes. The uppers were stiff and rigid, and the outsole stuck to the floor and pavement in a pronounced manner. The VJ Ultra is definitely a trail shoe with unforgiving conditions in mind, and the tarmac isn’t an ideal surface to tread.
Compared to the other VJ shoes, the Ultra is purported to be the widest and most cushioned. As a functional foot proponent and minimalist advocate, I would say the VJ Ultra is a wide shoe, but still doesn’t qualify as having a wide toebox. I experienced significant rubbing on my laterals with slight irritation at the medial base of my big toe. This didn’t stop my urge to run in these shoes more, however.
They are light at an advertised weight of 9.3 ounces (264 grams) for a men’s size 8.5/women’s size 10, durable, and the cushion is just enough to work through the lack of rebound. I feel the ground, which I prefer on short trail runs, and I am also glad I incorporate light plyometrics and jump roping to make these shoes work fabulously.
The VJ Ultra has a 6-millimeter drop with 33 millimeters of stack height at the heel and 27 millimeters at the forefoot. Despite wanting a wider toebox, a slightly lower drop, and a less maximalist feel, this shoe grabs the ground, has a fast feel, and promotes unbelievable turnover.Shop the VJ Ultra
VJ Ultra Upper
At first feel, the VJ Ultra’s upper is stiff and rigid with a slight degree of plasticity. The shoe improved immensely with each run as my feet and body navigated the flex points.
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, thorns, and the barbed wires that may surface during an OCR. The toes are duly protected.
The midfoot is also fortified with an instep FitLock technology for a smoother and more comfortable ride over rough terrain.
The heel cup is simply designed with a soft material adding a slightly cushioned feel, although I wouldn’t say the VJ Ultra is a highly cushioned shoe in any aspect. Rather, it has adequate comfort for a responsive and fun run. The VJ Ultra has a lightly constructed wraparound heel counter, promoting a relatively stable ride.
The designers of the VJ Ultra looked at big picture functionality and spent little time on incorporating higher quality laces and tongue design. If not tied with intent, the laces easily come untied. The tongue isn’t gusseted, but stiff and soft such that it doesn’t shift while running.
VJ Ultra Midsole
There is a simplicity to the VJ Ultra midsole despite the material engineering that went into the upper design and outsole construction. The midsole is a full-length custom EVA blend. It is responsive and has a modicum of cushion that balances stability and a snug feel.
Even though the forefoot upper is slightly confining, the midsole slightly flexes laterally resulting in slight translation at foot strike. Over the 100-mile mark, I began to notice compression lines in the bright yellow foam, but I still think the shoe gets better with each outing.
VJ Ultra Outsole
One of the most remarkable attributes of the VJ Ultra is its profound ability to grab the ground, any surface with surety and confidence.
The outsole has 4-millimeter, aggressive, chevron-angled lugs composed of butyl rubber, which the company claims to be legendary. I stand behind that statement. The outsole on the VJ Ultra is second to none when it comes to grip.
Despite a lack of energy return from the bottom up, each running step across slick and dry trail terrain is secured with a secure grab and stable ground release. I was able to charge confidently down steep and technical downhills, and my turnover on slick granitic soils was solid.
I feel fast in these shoes, and I was able to go at a nice clip up and down. When I have trail hill repeats on my schedule, I lace up the VJ Ultra because of the amazing climbing ability they facilitate.
VJ Ultra Overall Impressions
The VJ Ultra has an outstanding future ahead of it. I am eager for it to break through further and wider into the U.S. and international markets with flair and tremendous fanfare. It definitely took me by surprise, but after a few rides, I was sold on this shoe’s ability to perform exceptionally.
I do have several personal reasons why I won’t be running long and far in the VJ Ultras, however. I limit my trail runs to about 10 to 15 miles in the VJ Ultra. I need a wider toebox, just not a wider shoe. A slightly lower drop would also enhance my overall running experience. I would also go a half size up the next time, advice from VJ as well.
But if you have a narrow foot and run in weather or slick conditions, this shoe is a must-have. Likewise, when I want to run in the rain and snow, or I want to move fast, I grab my flashy lime green VJ Ultra shoes with excitement.
Call for Comments
- Do you run in the VJ Ultra? If so, what plusses and minuses can you share about the shoe?
- How about other shoe models made by VJ? Please comment to share your experiences with this brand.
[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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