Article by Mike Postaski
VJ Shoes XTRM 2 ($170)
Mike P: VJ was an unknown brand to me before the VJ Ultra was released last summer. Since then I’ve also tested the VJ Spark as well as the updated VJ Ultra 2. The standout feature of all VJ shoes has been traction – their Butyl rubber compound is insanely grippy, to the point of being actually a bit tacky when they are new. Another standout feature for me has been the fit – super secure with their midfoot Fitlock strap and typically well locked down throughout.
The VJ XTRM 2 is billed as a lightweight all terrain shoe, ready to tackle sky running type terrain as well as OCR races. I was quite interested to test these as they seemed to slot in somewhere between the VJ Ultra and the VJ Spark. I’m a big fan of both of those shoes, and I could think of elements from each that I’d love to see in a mashup.
Very secure and stable in technical terrain, off trail
Fit is excellent – totally locked in with no movement
Extremely flexible even with full rock plate – feels great and very agile
Well balanced, with support through midfoot (in comparison to Spark)
Heel feels loose initially, but sharkskin type material keeps heel connected
Not as protective underfoot as expected in rocky terrain
Something like a “ridge” is felt underfoot across front of heel area
Sample Weight: men’s US 10.5 10.2 oz / 288 g
Stack Height: men’s mm 24 heel / 20 mm forefoot, 4mm drop
$170. VJ XTRM 2 is available from VJ Shoes HERE and at our partner Amazon HERE
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Mike P: I have to say that upon first step-in, I was initially concerned that the XTRM 2 may be too narrow for my tastes. I immediately thought of the Salomon Sense Pro 4 which has a similar looking profile – a shoe that I could never figure out how to avoid pinching my forefoot, and which I ultimately gave up on. The XTRM 2 has the same slim profile as the Spark, but it stays a bit narrower in the toebox, whereas the Spark rounds out a bit and becomes wider. VJ’s website says the XTRM 2 features a wider toebox, but it didn’t seem so initially.
[I was initially concerned about this area of creasing, but it is not felt on the run. Also notice the very stout full wraparound toe bumper]
On the run, my concerns were quickly eased as the fit just felt supremely secure and immediately so. The upper wraps the foot impeccably, with just slight tension in the lower laces providing enough for a secure hold.
[The gray section is the shark skin type material]
Out of the box I immediately noticed the shark skin type material used in the heel area. It’s basically a uni-directional textured material which faces down – so it “grabs” the material of your sock and helps hold the heel in. I last saw this in the Altra King MT , and I’vealso heard of it being used in some cycling shoes. I don’t really see any downside to it – if it helps contain even the slightest of heel slip, why not?
On my first run, I actually felt like the heel area was a bit loose. VJ’s website calls it “Soft Heel technology”, which I guess means a less rigid heel/achilles collar, with the shark skin type material in the mix to make up for the softer collar.
[Soft Heel technology – heel hold is not sacrificed. Those paint splattered triangular sections are rigid, but the rest of the area above and around them are not.
I have to say that it does work – despite the initial loose feeling, my heel does not move at all. That’s a clear win, since any issues with a rigid or stiff ankle/achilles collar are eliminated without sacrificing heel hold.
Regarding sizing – as with other VJ’s I’ve tested, I find them to run a bit small. I wear a size 10.5 in all VJ shoes. I typically wear either a 9.5 or 10.0 in all other shoes. Also of note is the Schoeller Keprotec upper material which has aramid Kevlar type fibers in itl. This upper material is highly durable and well suited for mountainous and off trail terrain. I previously tested Scott’s Supertrac Ultra RC with a similar Schoeller upper which was also excellent.
[The tongue is well padded, a nice height, with a softer edge material for comfort (black part)]
[Fitlock provides noticeable security, with the slimmer fit of the XTRM 2. Those little nubs on the inside of the outsole are for gripping ropes in OCR racing]
Mike P: Stack height is listed at 20/24mm, with lug height listed separately as 6mm – so I’m assuming a total of 26/30mm. VJ’s website is a bit confusing as some of the other models specifically denote “total with lugs”. For example the Spark page specifically lists 27/22mm as the total. It definitely feels like a bit more underfoot with the XTRM 2 in comparison to the Spark, so 26/30mm seems correct.
The midsole foam is a standard non-dynamic EVA blend. The foam itself doesn’t feel overly firm, but with full coverage rubber below, it generally has a firm feel underfoot. I find this suitable for the “extreme” terrain that the shoe is marketed towards. The 6mm lugs do help to disperse impact, so you end up with a decent amount of total stack without getting too high, soft, and unstable.
There’s a full length rock plate in the mix, but as you can see from the picture below – the shoe remains very flexible.
You can also easily twist the shoe laterally in hand. The rock plate definitely is on the thinner side to enable that much flexibility. I find this helps with the agility of the ride, but some foot protection is sacrificed. Normally when you read “full length rock plate” you think of something you can easily bomb through rocky terrain with, but that’s not necessarily the case here. With the flexible rock plate, full length rubber, and 6mm lugs, the XTRM 2 does not feel thin by an means, but they’re not completely bomb-proof either.
Perhaps VJ still has a little ways to go with quality of construction. While the shoe is well constructed overall, there’s some minor details that you wouldn’t necessarily see with larger more established brands. The tongue gusset is extremely loose and the material is not cut particularly well. It doesn’t cause any issue, but leads me to believe that the gusset is not really functional. Also the front toe cap of the rubber outsole is sewn to the upper at front of the toebox. This is great in terms of durability, but as you can see, the rest of the string is just loose inside the shoe and has even been taped down under the insole.
Mike P: I don’t think much needs to be said about VJ’s 100% Butyl rubber compound. It’s absolutely top of class in terms of grip, and with deep 6mm lugs, the XTRM 2 is top of class in terms of traction as well.
If you saw the video I posted on IG (@this.spiritedrunner) – you can audibly hear the tackiness of the rubber sticking to the ground when they are new. In my experience with previous VJ shoes, the rubber has been highly durable over very mountainous and rough terrain, with no excessive wear.
[A bit of dust helps show the angular nature of the lugs]
With the XTRM 2 you get full coverage rubber underfoot as opposed to the VJ Ultra and Spark. There’s a noticeable difference between the XTRM and the Spark – the two shoes which are most comparable out of the three. The Spark feels a bit disconnected between the forefoot and the heel – with the lack of outsole connection making them feel a bit flat under the arch. The XTRM 2 has a totally different feel – it feels way more supportive under the midfoot and even a bit snappy when the terrain allows you to open up. I find it overall a much more runnable shoe than the Spark with the full coverage outsole likely being the main difference.
[6mm lugs. VJ Ultra comes in a 4mm, and Spark at 5mm]
Mike P: Probably the most influential factor in the ride of the shoe is the very secure fit and lockdown. When a shoe is intended for “extreme” terrain, the fit really needs to be dialed in. You want as little movement as possible inside the shoe so you feel as connected as possible to the varying, uneven, and often shifting terren beneath your feet.
The XTRM 2 upper, as described above, accomplishes that goal. There’s some question as to whether they are a bit too narrow, but in very technical terrain, I’d rather be more secure than a little bit loose. The ride in general feels firm and fast. I can easily shift my weight in any direction at any moment without worrying about losing stability. The ability to really lean into a tight turn, and stomp my feet down into a banked curve is a good indicator of a technically capable shoe. The XTRM 2 also excels at changing directions, moving from side to side, and leaping over and across obstacles when needed. 6mm lugs with plenty of bite also help to enhance the ride in steep/loose terrain.
One potential issue I did notice was a bit of firmness under the heel. Initially, I assumed that since the shoe had a firmer ride – that steep descent heel landings were just a bit harsh. The rear of the shoe was possibly a bit stiff, which is not unusual with shoes that ride on the firmer side.
Eventually I came to realize that there seems to be a bit of what feels like a ridge that crosses laterally under the front of the heel area. It seems to be something about the construction of the shoe within the midsole. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it was noticeable especially on harder surfaces and descents. I’d say that it’s not a major issue, but something I’ll keep an eye on. The XTRM 2 will definitely be a part of my regular rotation, so hopefully it will break in more and smooth itself out.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Mike P: The XTRM 2 is my favorite shoe from VJ. I find the fit amazing for my foot – in fact one of the best and most secure uppers of any trail shoe I’ve run in. The streamlined profile of the shoe, solid protection, and top of class grip and traction gives me 100% confidence in technical terrain.
It is without a doubt my top pick for off trail running, and general mountain exploration. I even find the ride snappy and fun in moderate terrain, especially with steep ups and downs, but I’ll likely reserve them for more adventurous runs rather than daily usage. It’s a shame about that little issue in the heel area, otherwise the shoe would be a hands down 10/10 for me.
Mike P’s Score: 9.75 / 10
Ride: 10 – Absolute beast in technical terrain, off trail
Fit: 9.5 – Almost perfect upper, small deduction for that heel ridge issue
Value: 9.5 – If you want what this shoe offers – it’s worth the price
Style: 10 – Love the look with the paint splatter elements mixed in
Traction: 10 – Butyl rubber, 6mm lugs
Rock Protection: 9.5 – You trade a bit for flexibility and agility – it’s a fair trade
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
VJ Ultra 2 (RTR Review)
Mike P (10.5): The Ultra 2 is appropriately beefed up for longer distances -with more cushion, a seemingly thicker and less flexible rock plate, and a roomier upper. While the Ultra upper is roomier, I prefer the upper of the XTRM 2. The material is less rigid, especially the ankle and achilles collar and it wraps the foot more securely overall. XTRM 2 is definitely narrower at the forefoot, but for me, not intrusively so. Grip and traction levels are about the same at the paces and terrain the shoes are intended for. Ultra is more protective even though the XTRM 2 has a full coverage outsole. The thicker midsole + rock plate really shields the foot. I like both shoes, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the XTRM 2.
VJ Spark (RTR Review)
Mike P (10.5): The Spark is a full ounce lighter, and feels a bit more agile due to that big weight difference. But the Spark feels less runnable to me, as there’s a disconnect between the front and rear of the shoe. It probably would have been better if they beefed up the midfoot area or connected the outsole more under the arch. I love the fit of the Spark – it’s every bit as secure as the XTRM 2 with a slightly wider toebox. I really like the Spark, and even ran a very steep trail marathon in them, but I find the XTRM 2 much more runnable. XTRM 2 is also more capable in technical terrain due to better protection, slightly deeper lugs, and full coverage rubber. My Sparks are now relegated to easy/moderate terrain as I much prefer the XTRM 2.
Salomon Sense Pro 3/4 (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): The Sense Pro is likely the closest comp of all the shoes listed here. They similarly target moving faster over more technical terrain. They have a similar narrow profile, locked in fit, thin flexible rock plate, and firm ride. Unfortunately for me, something about the V4 upper squeezed my forefoot too much and didn’t work at all for me. I actually preferred V3 which seemed to rely more on midfoot overlays. Overall the Sense Pro V3 is the most similar shoe to the XTRM 2. The Salomons are a bit more refined in terms of cushion, ride, and materials, but the XTRM 2 feels more rugged and suitable for truly off trail duties.
Saucony Peregrine 12 (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): The new Peregrine is another very close comp. The Peregrine rock plate is more substantial than that of the XTRM 2. It definitely blunts more impact, but it’s also less flexible. The upper fit similarly – nice and secure with perhaps just a touch more space up front in the Peregrine. Peregrine traction is good, but a cut below the VJ – those 6mm lugs bite a bit more. The rides are also somewhat similar – I’d say the Peregrine is more stable, while the VJ is more flexible and agile. It’s something of a toss-up – I like the VJ but the Peregrine is also quite a bit cheaper.
Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): The Speed Ultra is a much more versatile and faster shoe in easy-moderate-semi technical terrain. You can also run it in technical terrain depending on your ability level. The VJ definitely wins in the traction department. The Speed Ultra has much shallower lugs suited to faster running in less technical terrain. I really like both shoes, and would choose between the two based on terrain.
Hoka Torrent 2 (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): The Torrent is more cushioned underfoot, and rides on a wider platform. Upper fit is ok, but nowhere near as good as the XTRM 2. The Hoka upper is just a touch more relaxed in comparison to the tight wrapping VJ. The Torrent is highly versatile across distances and terrain, depending on your running style and preferences. XTRM 2 would be a better pick for faster runs in very technical terrain, and definitely off trail.
Inov-8 Terraultra/TraiFly G 270 (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): The Inov-8 feels softer and bouncier underfoot. It’s also extremely flexible, more so than the XTRM 2, but it’s also less protective and can feel a bit thin underfoot as the miles wear on. Inov-8s upper is well done and secure, but the VJ’s is better. The Inov-8 upper needs a bit more lace tension to lock in and also the ankle collar is a bit higher and more rigid. As it is zero drop, your legs need to be accustomed to that. I like the G 270s in very tight and twisty trails, but prefer the XTRM 2 if it gets more technical, rocky, and steep. Inov-8’s graphene traction is good, but XTRM 2’s is better.
Scarpa Golden Gate Kima RT (RTR Review)
Mike P (10 1/3): Including this shoe here since it is also billed as sky running oriented. The Scarpa is much bulkier, 1.3 ounces heavier, and uses a carbon plate for propulsion/protection. The Scarpa is not nearly as agile, and can even be tippy at times. Protection is much better than the VJ though – the Scarpa’s thick outsole and carbon plate protect well. Both have firm rides, but the Scarpa uses a rigid plate impulse where the VJ uses flex and agility. The Kima may be more efficient over longer distances, but for shorter blasts the VJ rules.
Scott Supertrac Ultra RC (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): Another bulkier mountain shoe – this one 2 ounces heavier than the XTRM 2. I’m including it here as it is also mountain oriented, with a similar protective Schoeller upper and also very deep 7mm lugs. The Scott has a very nice firm, but toe rocker oriented ride and feels similarly agile as the VJ – but over appropriately slower paces over longer distances. Both are great picks when you need deep lugs for traction in mountainous terrain – the Scott for going long, and the VJ for shorter/faster outings.
The VJ XTRM 2 is available from VJ Shoes HERE and at our partner Amazon HERE
Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras – anywhere from 50K up to his favorite – 100M. 5’10”, 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker – he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 – 9:00/mi. In 2022 Mike recently won the Standhope 100 mile trail ultra and was 3d at the Scout Mountain 50 mile trail ultra. Mike shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, with plenty of forefoot space, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.
Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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