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Editors’ Choice: Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 Trail-Running Shoe (Fall 2014)

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10.6 oz / 8mm drop / $130

*Fall 2014 Trail Runner Editors’ Choice*

The Dirt: One of the most exciting shoes we’ve seen from Inov-8, the Race Ultra 290 strikes the perfect balance between cushion, protection and terrain sensitivity with a lightweight yet bombproof package. A flexible shank and sticky-rubber lugs roll right over rocks, roots and mud without feeling as bulky or cleat-like as similar models.

The gusseted tongue keeps debris out, and is complemented by built-in side slots that integrate with Inov-8 Race Ultra Gaiters (sold separately)—an innovative concept we hope others will mimic. However, the design still needs some work; several testers complained that the gaiters were difficult to get on and off.

Best For: Technical trails in any weather; medium- to ultra-distance runs.

Fit: True to size; a tad narrow through the midfoot, but roomy in the toebox.

 

Tester Raves

  • “This shoe offers an exciting combination of the light weight and quickness of a minimalist shoe and the sturdiness and protective features usually seen in a beefier shoe. Up until now, I’ve tended to alternate between a minimalist shoe and a heavily cushioned and/or reinforced shoe for recovery. This shoe is both rolled into one.”
    —Stephanie Ehret
  • “I am SO IMPRESSED by this shoe. It feels like the love child of the Pearl Izumi N2 and the Saucony Peregrine, which just happen to be my two favorite trail shoe. I feel like I get the comfort of the stability in the Peregrine and the nimble, fast ride of the N2, with the added bonus of the stickiest tread I’ve ever come across. It’s bliss!”
    —Liz Stuart
  • “The shoes are so comfortable. I switched into them at the end of a long (100-mile) run when I expect any shoe to hurt my feet, and the Race Ultra 290s were fantastic. My feet did not hurt in them at all. Not even the bottoms of my feet hurt in them. In all the miles I have worn these shoes: no hot spots, no pinch points. Midfoot ‘holding’ on steep descents (so toes don’t slam into the front of the toebox) is excellent in these shoes.”
    —Kari Fraser

 

Testers on Fit

  • “The fit on my foot is excellent. I have a wide forefoot, average heel and very high instep. Typically I have to wear my shoes ‘loose’ to avoid aggravating the tendons along the top of my very high instep. This generally results in lateral sloppiness, regardless of a shoe’s stability. Not so with these Inov-8s! Somehow the uppers have enough spring and play that I can lace them somewhat snugly without aggravating my instep. I am thrilled with the fit.”
    —Kari Fraser
  • “The shape is perfect for my foot—snug in the heel, fairly roomy in the toebox and with a ‘waist’ that keeps the foot in place.”
    —Stephanie Ehret
  • “The 290s fit true to size. They don’t flare out like a lot of cushioned shoes but still feel stable underfoot. The narrower profile makes the more adept at technical trails with rocks and roots to navigate. The toebox allows plenty of room without being sloppy. The rest of the shoe is a pretty neutral fit that forms to one’s foot after some runs and adjusting the laces.”
    —Dan Carter

 

Testers on Tread

  • “The tread was unbelievably grippy. Even on steep downhills and tight turns, I never felt insecure on sandy and loose terrain. The protection underfoot is impressive for how light the shoe is. It absorbs rocks like nobody’s business—which also adds to the security I felt when running downhill. It did a great job on uphills on loose terrain as well; I never felt myself sliding backwards.”
    —Liz Stuart
  • “I did encounter some mud and slick spots. The excellent tread kept me on track and my feet dry. The shoe transitioned well from the pavement at the beginning of my run to the grass, dirt and then mud. The particular trail I run on is also quite rocky and full of tree roots; I was able to maneuver with no issues.”
    —Les Atkins
  • “The tread is sticky on a wide range of rock surfaces, including granite slabs on heavily used trails that are notoriously slick even when dry. I feel extremely confident about my traction when I am wearing these shoes, resulting in sure-footed running even on very steep descents.”
    —Kari Fraser
  • “I loved the sense of trust and security that I got from these shoes when I flew down the technical east side of Mt. Sanitas, knowing each footfall would grip and release the rock providing a speedy descent with just the right amount of control. [But] I didn’t think the shoe performed particularly well on loose dirt sections of trail or on the slippery rocks of Bear Peak during a moderate rain. Part of the problem might be that, as a petite runner, I don’t get the maximum benefit of the grippy tread that a heavier runner might through increased compression.”
    —Stephanie Ehret
  • “Inov-8 is great! It’s so grippy on all terrain: loose gravel trails, snow and wet terrain and rock hopping. This is my favorite quality of Inov-8s.”
    —Dan Carter

 

Testers on Downsides

  • “I love the idea of the gaiters, and I LOVE the side slots where the tabs of the gaiters clip in. But … I wish they had carried this idea to the front of the shoe, and made side tabs on either side of the tongue of each shoe instead of relying on the decidedly unintegrated “hook it to the shoe laces” attachment method. Hooking gaiters to shoe laces is tedious at best, and excruciatingly uncomfortable at worst, when the gaiters are so snug that they pull on the shoe laces, maker them too tight across the instep. I could not wear them comfortably.”
    —Kari Fraser
  • “The gaiters were difficult to attach. However, the integrated idea is a good one. Perhaps the design just needs to be refined. Also, the laces are very smooth and easy to adjust, but as a result, they don’t stay tied very well.”
    —Dan Carter