By: Brian Metzler
Inov-8 has proven once again that it’s much more than a smallish brand with a lot of trail running cred, but also one of the shoe industry’s relentlessly innovating brands.
Last week, the UK-based company launched a new ultra-distance trail shoe called the TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max with the world’s first graphene-enhanced midsole compound called G-fly foam. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s Inov-8’s first real max cushion shoe. Most of its road, trail, CrossFit and obstacle course racing shoes have had a fairly minimal, low-to-the-ground sensation. It’s a huge deal for Inov-8, which also recently announced that founder Wayne Edy is back in the fold, too.
Graphene has been reported as the world’s strongest material, but as a nanotechnology it is also one of the thinnest. When Inov-8 included the two-dimensional honeycomb lattice carbon allotrope (say that 10 times fast!) into a foam compound with help of scientists at the University of Manchester, it resulted in 25 percent more energy return and vastly enhanced durability compared to other foams. The shoe also features Adapter-Flex technology — essentially a 10mm decoupling flex groove under the arch — that allows the outsole of the shoe to adapt and react to uneven terrain.
Why are these such significant innovations? Ultra-distance trail runners want long-haul comfort, cushion, durability, traction and energy propulsion and it comes at a time when other brands have recently launched shoes with carbon-fiber plates similar to the marathon “super shoes” released in recent years, most notably The North Face Flight VECTIV at $200 and Craft CTM Ultra Carbon at $250. The benefits of the Inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max ($190) is that it doesn’t have the same firm sensation as the shoes with carbon plates, but instead a soft, flexible and resilient sensation that tends to be very appreciated deep into a 50- or 100-mile trail running race.
The TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max is the latest in a series of innovations from Inov-8, much more than “bits and bobs” but uniquely significant impacts. Three years ago, Inov-8 launched the first trail shoes with graphene-enhanced rubber outsoles and “Graphene Grip” has since been lauded with universal praise. Inov-8’s Terra Ultra G-270 was an award-winner from many shoe-review sites and services.
From what we know about the TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max — and talking to wear-testers who have run extensive miles in them — it’s a huge success, even though the shoe is admittedly a little on the heavier side (11.9 oz. men’s size 9 with 30mm/24mm stack heights) for a max-cushion trail runner. (Read the Believe in the Run and RoadTrailRun reviews.)
“The new TrailFly Ultra G 300 Max is certainly a different take on the maximal shoe craze and a different take for the company itself,” says Taylor Bodin, a wear-test reviewer for Believe in the Run. “Its new carbon-enhanced G-fly foam leads the way with an incredibly durable, responsive, smooth, and protective ride on trails and smoother surfaces. Unique flex grooves allow for it to be highly adaptable to rough terrain without tipping the canoe. It’s really impressive for such a high-stack shoe.”
The running shoe business can be fickle, but it seems to be ready to boom again even if that means more online sales than brick-and-mortar purchases. That trend can actually be a benefit to a small brand like Inov-8 because it has never had the distribution reach of its competitors, especially in the U.S.
When small brands have success — especially with innovation — it pushes and energizes bigger brands and the industry in general. Just look at what brands like Hoka, Newton, Vibram, On, Teva and VJ Sport have accomplished over the past 15 years or so. As for the wonder material of Graphene, Inov-8 owns the patent rights for footwear (which was developed in conjunction with the University of Manchester) so it’s not likely any other brand will have anything remotely close to G-fly foam for a while.