Inov-8 Roclite 290 Review
Cons: Not as sticky as previous versions, not super protective underfoot or in the upper
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We have long been fans of this shoe, and have awarded it a Top Pick for Traction many times. While still simply called the Roclite G 290, there are a couple of critical updates that make this shoe better, despite the fact that we haven't continued to give it an award. The G-grip graphene outsole is an improvement in durability, while at the same time causing a slight decrease in stickiness. The trade-off is worth it in our opinion, considering we have ripped many of the 6mm cleat shaped lugs off of previous test versions while on a day out running over rocks. The upper uses thinner mesh that is a bit more breathable, but also not incredibly durable. The Adapterweb foot cradling system is slightly changed, with narrow gauge nylon cord being used as laces and also to hold the foot securely in place, joining the laces to the footbed, and sandwiched very inconspicuously within the upper.
While conducting product research for this review, we came across an inordinate amount of customer complaints that these shoes were way too small and narrow, and that the sizing is completely off. In our experience, this is simply not true, as we feel these shoes fit perfectly to size, and are not overly narrow. We tested men's size 11 US, the same size we test for all shoes, and found them to fit perfectly to size. It is possible, however, that there is a discrepancy with the UK or EU sizing compared to what is listed, but this is not the case in the US. We recommend ordering your normal running shoe size.
This is not a super protective shoe and is more weighted towards sensitivity as compared to foot protection. There is around 11mm of midsole cushioning in the heel, and combined with the 6mm insole and the 6mm lugs, that means the stack height in the heel is still a low 23mm, making it one of the least cushioned shoes that we tested. Inov-8 says there is a "metashank" in the midsole, but we have a hard time noticing what it does, as this shoe allows for a lot of trail feel. However, it is still way burlier underfoot than some other thin and squishy minimalist options, so if you like a thin, low to the ground shoe, but want some protection, we think this is a solid choice. The upper, made largely of mesh with very thin overlays, is not very protective.
If traction is what you are looking for, this shoe is one of the best that you can buy. While the Salomon Speedcross 5 now has stickier rubber than you will find on the bottom of this shoe, this one's rubber is considerably more durable, thanks to the new G-grip formula.
While we found them to be a little slippery on wet rock (and truly what shoe isn't?), the well spaced, 6mm deep lugs grip well on all soft and slippery terrain such as mud, snow, and grass. You can also run consistently on harder surfaces in these shoes without fearing that you will wear the lugs down too quickly.
This is a very stable shoe, providing an excellent landing and take-off platform. With a low stack height, combined with a minimal 4mm heel-toe drop, your foot runs closer to the ground in this shoe than just about any other. To us, it feels a lot like the low running Nike shoes. Due to its thinness underfoot, it flexes and molds easily to rocks and roots, providing excellent trail feel. The upper uses what Inov-8 calls the Adapterweb foot cradling system, which does an effective job of using very thin nylon cord sandwiched inside the upper to hold the foot in place.
There is no question that this is a very comfortable shoe. We found that it felt great right out of the box, and needed no break-in time of any sort. It is well made, especially evident on the inside of the upper, where there are virtually no seams. The airy mesh used throughout means that it breathes well, and also drains effectively after becoming waterlogged. We have nothing to complain about in terms of its comfort, and once again point out that we find it to be of average width and perfectly true to size lengthwise, in stark contrast to the many online reviews that complain of it being far too small. Order true to size in the US.
Our pair of men's size 11 US weighed in at 21.6 ounces, which is actually around a half ounce lighter than previous versions of this shoe have weighed. We suspect the difference is to be found in the new lighter weight upper mesh. It can handle an impressive amount of terrain at such a light weight.
This shoe feels more sensitive than protective underfoot, and so prospective buyers should like to feel a little bit of what they are stepping on, and shouldn't be looking for a totally dissociative approach to trail running. There is a minimal amount of foam underfoot, although the 6mm deep lugs, which cover much of the bottom of the shoe, do a solid job of dampening impacts a bit. It is not nearly as sensitive as the Altra Superior, but affords a fair bit more trail feel than the firm Nike Terra Kiger.
This shoe retails for roughly average when it comes to an everyday trainer. Since it performs well and the traction will last for a long time, we think this shoe presents a pretty solid value.
The Inov-8 Roclite 290 is a sensitive, low-to-the-ground shoe with great traction that thrives off-trail. It is light with a thin mesh upper. If traction is one of your main desires, this shoe should be at the top of your wish list.
— Andy Wellman