The RW Takeaway: The VJ Ultra is likely one of the best shoes out there if your number one priority is traction. But, you’ll have to be willing to sacrifice bouncy energy return and cozy upper materials.
- EVA-based midsole offers smooth, consistent, and moderately flexible ride.
- Butyl rubber outsole with 4-mm lugs provides excellent traction, but is less versatile for portions of road running.
- Mesh upper uses a mix of Kevlar and nylon fibers for protection and increased durability.
Weight: 9.3 oz (M8.5/W10)
Drop: 6 mm
VJ has been around since the 1980s, but just arrived in the States in 2019. Before then, it mainly served the demand of Finnish trail runners and orienteers. With ample forests, marshland, and technical trails, Finland offers plenty of opportunities for VJ to build some of the grippiest shoes. While VJ models like the Maxx and the XTRM are specifically built for obstacle course racing and trail running, the Ultra is the first shoe from the brand that is specifically designed for mega-distance. It adds considerably more cushioning underfoot for spending hours to days on the trail.
Truly Hashtag-Worthy Outsole
The best part of VJ shoes is still the outsole, and the Ultra lives up to the brand’s hashtag #BestGripOnThePlanet. The butyl-rubber outsole is studded with 4-mm, chevron-shaped lugs, which give the Ultra a really tacky hold on wet, jagged surfaces. “The traction this shoe had in all conditions was insane,” said one tester. “I ran these shoes through everything from bone-dry trails to monsoon summer rainstorms and was blown away—definitely the most grip I’ve had on a trail shoe, hands down. On short road stretches, the feeling is like walking across a dirty dive bar floor on a hot summer day—sticky.”
Well-Cushioned Ride That Lacks Some Pep
Moving out of the mud and up to the midsole, the Ultra still keeps things pretty simple and straightforward. A single slab of EVA feels consistent throughout and well cushioned from its tall 33-mm stack height in the heel. Testers said the material has some bounce to it, but the energy return felt a bit lackluster in comparison to newer, bouncier foams. Nevertheless, there’s more than enough cushioning underfoot for protection sans rock plate, and the ride feels nimble, flexible, agile and quick enough for technical singletrack. The firm cushioning also lends a bit of stability (you don’t sink into the foam), which helps counter the smidge of tippiness that testers noticed from the tall heel.
Sturdy Spartan Upper
The upper uses a mesh made from a blend of Kevlar and nylon. Designed to resist snags from barbed wire during an OCR race, the rugged material shines just as well for protection from brambles and debris on the trail. The drawback is that the upper feels stiff right out of the box. Testers found that this improved over the 100-mile test period, but the Ultra’s cramped toe box never opened up any more for wide-footed runners.
More Tester Feedback
Chris P. | Tester since 2020
Arch: Medium | Pronation: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot
“Upon first handling the VJ Ultra, the shoe’s materials did not feel as premium as those of Salomon’s Ultra 3 or On’s Cloundventure Peak. But on the trail, these shoes did quite well—especially on the more demanding trails where energy return is less important. The VJ’s cushioning felt a bit dead and did not have great energy return in my experience. It didn’t feel slow, just not very lively underfoot. You can definitely feel the terrain you’re running on (I actually could’ve used a tiny bit more rock protection). When I landed, the midsole felt like it absorbed more energy than it returned, so the foam technology felt a bit outdated in that sense. The upper materials never caused me any trouble comfort-wise, but they were a bit stiff and abrasive for a shoe designed to be worn for 50-plus miles. The upper lacked that ‘forget-you’re-wearing-them’ feeling (but it also never gave me any pain or hotspots) and while the toe box is on the narrower side, it worked fine for my narrow foot. Due to its incredible traction, the VJ Ultra will definitely be my go-to rain/winter/sloppy conditions shoe.”