Article by Sam Winebaum and Marcel Krebs
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G280 ( $185 | €190 | £165)
Sam: The Trailfly Ultra G280 is a completely new model from Inov-8 from the UK and is the first truly ultra run focused model from the brand. It features a 35mm heel / 27mm forefoot stack height, 8mm drop platform with a new FlySpeed nitrogen infused supercritical midsole foam and the Adapter Flex groove first seen on the G300 Max.
The upper is a knit (not to worry this knit works very well for trails as our testing found out) and it has a generous and secure toe box.
Of the party is Inov-8’s Graphene Grip outsole and metatarsals following geometry. At about 10.25 oz / 290g in a US9, the weight is in the hunt for substantial trail shoes of its class.
I have been a long time fan of Inov-8, the first brand to really start as exclusively trail running focused. Since their origins in the 2003, they have largely focused on firm, snug and precise fitting and agile but in the last few years they have “modernized” their shoes considerably with more and softer cushion and more accommodating uppers and here we for sure see a continuation of that trend.
First in the new line was the excellent G270 (RTR Review), RTR’s trail shoe of the year 2020, a zero drop, agile and at last decently cushioned shoe with the brand’s innovative graphene infused outsole and a super effective TPU beads “boomerang” insole RTR contributors often swap into other shoes.
In 2021 they went big with the Ultra G300 Max (RTR Review) a massively cushioned shoe with not only graphene in the outsole but in the midsole as well a while ntroducing an innovative terrain following Adapter Flex hinge. On the heavy side and almost more hiker than runner they were excellent for slower pace running and hiking on more technical terrain for me.
With the G280, we now have a thoroughly modern contender to compete with highly cushioned “ultra” focused shoes such as the various Hoka Speedgoat 5 and Mafate Speed, Brooks Caldera 6 , Saucony Xodus Ultra , Scarpa Spin Infinity, Salomon’s S/Lab Genesis, and Topo’s upcoming Ultraventure 3 and others.
I have taken them for multiple runs and hikes in Park City over the last 3 weeks and have been delighted. Marcel has run them extensively in Germany. Here is our take.
Marcel: As I have been focused on obstacle course races for quite a few years before I shifted focus towards trail running in the course of the last two years, I ran in lots of inov-8 shoes during this time as that sport has been a long time focus for the brand. Fortunately, and almost simultaneously, Inov-8 also released more and more shoes which are not only suitable for muddy conditions, but also for more runnable and dry terrain.
The introduction of the TerraUltra G-270 (nowadays part of the TrailFly product family) was a real game changer for inov-8. It not only provide sticky and durable grip using a graphene-enhanced rubber, but also offered a very pleasurable and propulsive ride, which not only made it my trail shoe of year 2020, but also it is by far the oldest shoe with the most of mileage which is still in my shoe rotation, which is a big, big compliment by itself as I am fortunate to test and review many shoes.
But even though the G-270 is an awesome shoe and up to this day, it also left some room for improvement respectively for another TrailFly model especially geared toward longer distances with more cushion and some millimeters of drop (G-270 falls into the zero drop category).
So I was very keen to test the new TrailFly Ultra G-280 after having read the datasheet mentioning a new nitrogen-infused FLYSPEED midsole foam combined with a 6mm drop and a very grippy looking outsole.
All around and versatile trail shoe: enough for long long; agile and light enough for faster shorter runs Sam, Marcel
Forgiving energetic quite soft supercritical midsole that “holds together” and stays stable Sam, Marcel
Good ground feel despite the relatively thick midsole. Marcel
A natural flowing ride more about conforming to terrain than plowing or rebounding through it ( Adapter Flex, FlySpeed foam, and foot bones following outsole). Sam, Marcel
Feels pretty light (in fact lighter than it is on scale) during the run & very well balanced. Marcel
Excellent foothold while maintaining a very comfortable fit & accommodating toe box. Marcel
Reliable grip even on wet surfaces and in muddy conditions. Marcel
Comfortable, secure, breathable, & foot swel accommodating the upper is on the heavy side: Sam, Marcel
Wish weight was below 10 oz / 280g : Sam, Marcel
Pricing at $185 is on the steep side : Sam, Marcel
While broad and accommodating while also secure, the front of the toe box and especially the toe bumper is quite low over the front of the toes: Sam
Front platform could use a more propulsive feel: more rubber coverage, a thin plate? Sam
Upper is designed for dry conditions. A mesh upper would make the G280 lighter, less water soaking and probably more robust as I am afraid that the knit might not hold up too well if it is hit by stones or small branches: Marcel
Approx. Weight: men’s 10.25 oz / 291bg (US9)
Samples: men’s 10 oz / 283g US8.5; 11 oz / 313g US10
Stack Height: men’s 33mm heel / 25mm forefoot, 8mm drop
Available October 13, 2022.
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Sam: The upper is a surprise. A knit for a trail shoe on the surface does not inspire confidence in hold security or breathability. Yet here, the dense knit with 3D raised support knit in areas at midfoot and towards the rear is more than up to the task with not only great hold back to front but as I found is more than adequately breathable.
The dense mesh is not particularly pliable but seems to have a small amount of give and stretch, as one might expect with a knit but…in no way is this a sloppy stretch knit as in say with an adidas Ultraboost, that is for sure!
The heel area is excellent with not only excellent hold but good comfort despite not being very densely padded.
The heel counter is semi pliable and supported by the raised rear of the midsole.
The midfoot upper has no overlays or underlays in the traditional sense of laminated layers.
The midfoot support is provided by raised knit bands with more thickness and density than the main upper.
The eyestay or laces holder is particularly beefy and a key component of the support. Not only is there the dense U shaped knit framing the area but the eyestay itself is quite stiff plastic.
At first I was worried all this relatively stiff lace area would prevent a good mid foot hold. Not so! Together, dense upper knit, diagonal knit bands and tight knit below the eyestay and stout flat non stretch laces provide excellent and comfortable lockdown even without a gusset tongue as there is none. Just the tongue stitched to the top of the upper. By removing tight mesh or knit and a full to the midsole stretch gusset and concentrating the support over the top of the foot letting the knit give below a bit of swelling room is provided lower down while security is maintained.
The toe box is quite broad, Inov-8’s broadest, and also quite low due to the low profile of the semi flexible toe bumper. There is plenty of splay room and comfort as the knit will give where it needs to, for example at my bunion, but not so much that front control is lost.
I do think the toe bumper could be higher to raise the front a bit more for long runs.
The fit is true to size for my trail runs of up to about 13 miles (my longest in them) but for ultras, due to the low very front I might size up half a size.
I found the upper more than adequately breathable in moderately warm temperatures, another surprise for a knit upper.
Marcel: Sam already described the “hard facts” of the upper very precisely and in detail, so that I’ll focus on my personal impressions here. The fit of the G280 is spot on. The foothold is excellent and there is no heel slipping at all combined with a good overall comfort – and especially so for a trail shoe.
Even my broader size forefoot feels well accommodated because of the roomy toe box (inov-8 uses a fit scale from 1-5 where the G280 scores a 5 which is their widest fit).Th heel cup and tongue are comfortably padded without being overbuilt by any means.
As far as the toe bumper and the height of the toebox are concerned, I can also report only positives. Often I wish for higher toe boxes, especially when testing road shoes. But not so with the G-280. The toebox feels very accommodating to me all around, including for the height. At the same time, the foot is perfectly held in place, even during steep and fast downhills. During my several test runs (two of which were 30k long) I unintentionally also tested the toe bumper several times and it protected the toes pretty well.
As far as the fabric of the upper is concerned, Sam already gave you all the technical details. The knit upper for sure feels comfortable and does a great job keeping the foot in place. It also performs very well on easy trails and dry conditions. On the other hand, it soaks water pretty easily on rainy days and it also might not be very robust when it has to deal with small branches and stones even though I did not experience any significant wear down yet after the first almost 100k.
Sam: With a 33mm heel and 25mm forefoot, 8mm drop we have plenty of friendly cushioning here.
The Flyspeed midsole foam is a nitrogen infused EVA. By using gas instead of chemicals to foam the material, Inov-8 reduces the amount of energy and chemicals used to manufacture compared to conventional methods. We have seen nitrogen infused foams before most notably at Brooks in the trail Catamount with DNA Flash and Caldera 6 DNA Loft v3, firmer than here for the Cat and softer for the Caldera 6.
Skechers uses CO2 in processing its Hyberburst. The feel here is closer to Hyperburst than either of the Brooks foams, sitting right in the middle between those two in softness with the springier feel of Hyperburst.
It is not as bouncy soft (or as sloppy) as Salomon Energy Surge which to be effective and stable I find needs a firmer foam above the outsole or rock plate (foam or film) in the mix (S/Lab Pulsars, Pulsar Trail and Pro.
Chez Saucony, regular PWRRUN comes in several flavors. In the Peregrine 12 the foam is considerably firmer than here. In the Xodus Ultra a combination of PWRRUN EVA/TPU blend and PWRRUN PB PEBA core we end up close to the same place in feel although I do find the FlySpeed foam overall slightly softer and bouncier.
Bottom line, it’s a unique feel here that is quite soft and energetic yet without the squishy out sloppiness of softer type foams. One can almost feel or maybe one does feel! the supercritical formed internal bubble walls holding everything together by controlling sharp lateral and shear forces while still delivering the softness and energy return.
There is no rock plate and while there is not the rigid platform like protection (and often propulsion effect) of rock plated shoes there is plenty of underfoot protection.
Marcel: My expectations regarding the midsole performance were pretty high after having seen in the stats that the new FLYSPEED labeled midsole uses a nitrogen infused compound. During the last couple of years, many brands worked with this technology which first came to my mind by Puma and Sam already mentioned and compared some more compounds in the section above.
While the midsole of the G-270 was a big step forward for inov-8, the new FLYSPEED midsole is a real game changer for them. It feels very bouncy while at the same time pretty stable. For example, it is firmer as the already mentioned OLEFIN compound from Salomon, while at the same time offering a springy ride. It also offers plenty of cushioning without sacrificing ground feel.
Sam already summoned it up so accurately that I would like to quote him again at this point: ”Bottom line it’s a unique feel here: quite soft and energetic yet without the squishy out sloppiness of such foam feels.” I cannot agree more especially as I testet the G280 also during pouring rain over 30k and lots of steep technical downhills and I always had excellent stability and therefore could fully trust in the G280 performance no matter how technical the terrain was.
As far as the rebound is concerned, the FLYSPEED midsole does an awesome job. Therefore, I can understand that inov-8 did not want to go overboard and therefore uses a classic sockliner. It adds more cushioning for sure, but no additional bounce. For a G-280 version 2 i would nonetheless love to see a comeback of the Boomerang insole which inov-8 introduced with the G270 two years ago. I used my old one with the G-280 and it works like a charm without making sacrifices regarding stability.
Marcel: The outsole features multi-directional 4mm deep lugs for improved traction. Inov-8 uses once again a graphene-enhanced rubber which they claim to be not only very sticky but also exceptionally durable. This combination is remarkable, as sticky compounds often also are softer and therefore more prone to abrasion.
Regarding the G-280, I am happy to report that this claim has been proven during my test runs. The grip was very good on several surfaces from wet rocks over mud to wet concrete. This was one of the main findings regarding the outsole: Even though the G280 is geared towards dry conditions and hard surfaces, the outsole also performs pretty well in wet conditions too.
Furthermore, the large groove ahead of the heel (inov-8 calls it Adapter Flex) and the rubber pattern allows the foot’s metatarsal bones to move more independently, aiding adaptability and flexible grip when running over uneven terrain. During the run, this leads to a very good ground feel and a stable base even on rough terrain. The spacing between the lugs also prevents mud and other dirt from negatively affecting the outsole grip.
Outsole grip has been one of inov-8’s main strengths, and it remains so with the Ultra G-280; thanks to the graphene-enhancement, it is also very durable and shows almost no wear down after nearly 100k.
For a shoe targeted to be run on dry surfaces, one might even consider shaving down the outsole a little bit to save some weight. Nonetheless, for being an excellent all rounder as the Ultra G-280 is, the outsole is totally suitable as it is and I do not want to miss a millimeter of lug depth during fall and winter.
Sam: All of my testing was in Utah on dry trails with loose sand and gravel in places as well as some road. Grip has been outstanding everywhere and if the Graphene Grip outsole compound is the same as in the G270 and G300 I expect very good as well on the slippery rocks and roots I tested those shoes on in New Hampshire.
I would also highlight, as Marcel does above, that the compound is quite soft so it does not create a disconnect in cushion feel between midsole and outsole.
On the plus side, along with the midsole side walls flex pattenrs this allows the shoe to conform over terrain and flex in multiple directions (although never in an unstable fashion) more than most shoes.
This is enabled by the Adapter Flex, midsole side wall patterns and the front outsole pattern following a longitudinal pattern aligned with the metatarsals.
This outsole design and rubber also makes the shoe exceptionally quiet for a trail shoe on road. On the minus side, the softer rubber and pattern leads to a ride that is a bit lacking in pop and response but one suited to long days.
Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations
Sam: The ride puzzled me for a while. There is unique (in my experience) blend of softness with rebound while at the time a plenty stable platform. There is a easy flow off the heel due to the Adapter Flex to a quite mellow flexing ground conforming forefoot and toe off, tribute here to the metatarsal following, more longitudinal outsole pattern than usual.
Just plain comfortable and fun while at the same time never sloppy, over soft, unstable or for that matter jarring and rigid. Sort of the perfect middle ground for any trails daily training and longer race and adventure uses. I took them on multiple hikes and runs up to 13 miles in Utah with equally fine results and fresh legs the next day.
Whereas the ride of early and traditional Inov-8 were firm, super agile and snug with the zero drop G270 a logical evolution of the brand’s DNA. The more massive G 300 went in the opposite direction with its near hiker weight and giant proportions.
Here Inov-8 hits the bullseye target of all around any trails versatility with a blend of energetic ride, great traction, and not quite as much precisel fit and underfoot rigor and precision, but still plenty, to extend the shoe’s range and versatility while also delivering smiles and happy legs.
Inov-8 first “middle of the trails” shoe is a success. Thoroughly modern with an up to date supercritical foam and a unique knit upper, it fits well, runs lively, and of course has great grip, on the dry trails I saw for weeks on end in Utah.
It is the kind of shoe that you can’t go wrong reaching for. The ultimate tech trails shoe as the G270 is for me and many others? Not quite but doubt you’d go the distance you can in G280. Also a long distance hiker as the G300 was maybe. A trail daily trainer and ultra contender that can handle both well and with few compromises for either for sure.
What would I look to improve? I would like to see a touch more front response to balance off the ground conforming feel and mellow riding front of the shoe with maybe a bit more rubber coverage to accomplish this. While the knit upper is superb in its fit, comfort (except low very front) it likely adds to weight so a lighter, less and water absorbing mesh might be considered as might a somewhat lower outsole lug profile (firm surface ride and weight).
At $185 we are up there in pricing and even for a supercritical foam shoe and all the rest. In absolute terms value suffers a bit.. But then i think of the great riding midsole foam, solid outsole, great versatilty and fine fit and I can’t penalize Inov-8 too much. No question, added up, at long last Inov-8 hits the center of the trail market with one of the most pleasing to run (and hike) as well as versatile shoes of 2022 by leveraging their long more extreme run experience just right for a wider audience.
Score: 9.49 / 10 (Ride 9.75, Fit 9.3, Value 9.2, Style 9.3, Traction 9.7, Rock Protection 9.3)
Marcel: There are not many shoes on the market which meet their marketing claims so precisely as the inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G-280 dies. Out of the box, it excels at its intended use case without any break in period – I did not even had to re-lace during my first runs.
The Ultra G-280 combines a very accommodating fit with a secure foothold and a Fantastic midsole, which offers a nice rebound combined with lots of stability and even ground feel. Even after my two 30k test runs, the legs did not feel beat up at all.
Thanks to the aggressive outsole the G-280 is also ready to perform well in wet and muddy conditions.
As far as the upper is concerned, I am not totally convinced that this is the perfect choice for a trail shoe. Without a doubt, it is comfortable on foot and also provides a very good foothold. Nonetheless, it adds to the weight of the shoe significantly and also easily soaks up water.
While being a fantastic shoe overall, inov-8 might consider ditching the knit upper in favor of a lighter and probably also more robust mesh upper. In addition, I see room for two versions of the G280 – one for hard ground and one for soft ground.
Even though the current outsole is targeted towards dry surfaces, it is almost overbuilt for this use case. It might be slimmed down for the hard surfaces which will save a considerable amount of weight.
For the soft ground version, the current lug depth will be perfect and weight will come down with a mesh upper anyways. For the SG version, inov-8 might also consider a water resistant (not waterproof, please!) upper similar to the runshield version of the Saucony Speed.
As far as durability is concerned, I am pretty sure the G-280 will be pretty long lasting as the outsole does not show any wear down after almost 100k and the homogenous upper also does not indicate any critical parts where wear might occur.
To sum it up, with the G-280 inov-8 released a very welcomed addition to their TrailFly lineup. If you live in dry conditions, you have very durable and excellent options for a wide range of trails. If you are looking for an option for shorter and more technical trails and you are accustomed to zero drop, the G-270 is still an excellent alternative within the inov-8 lineup.
Score: 9.48 / 10 (Ride 9.5, Fit 10, Value 9, Style 8, Traction 9.5, Rock Protection 9)
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Inov-8 Trailfly (Terra Ultra) G270 (RTR Review)
Marcel: I mentioned this comparison in the review several times. In short: a more performance-oriented upper and zero drop in the G-270 vs. knit upper, 6mm drop and a very comfortable, bouncy and forgiving midsole, which offer significantly more rebound than the also quite energetic midsole of the G-270. For technical trails up to half marathon distance and if you are accustomed to zero drop, have a look at the G-270, my trail shoe of the year 2020; everyone else should pick the Ultra -G280 which is more versatile. As always with inov-8, be aware of their sizing in Europe as they convert differently than most other brands! Both US-M10.
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 Max (RTR Review)
Sam: At a big 36/30 midsole stack height so not really much more than our 35/27 here the G 300 is considerably heavier by 1.67 oz / 47g with a denser graphene infused midsole and all of that is felt. It is more protective at the forefoot. I would call it a superior hiker but for running go G 280.
Hoka Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)
Sam: Stiffer (although improved in flex over prior), less agile but somewhat more protective this classic has a challenger here with the more accommodating yet equally as secure upper of the G280 and a livelier quicker feeling ride. Folks have struggled with Speedgoat 5 front fit even in wide but here most won’t.
Brooks Caldera 6 (RTR Review)
Sam: Also with a similar riding nitrogen infused midsole foam and ride, the Caldera 6 has a broader platform, more ponderous ride, and for me a slightly higher more accommodating toe box. At 35/29 stack height it has the same heel stack and 2mm more upfront. Somewhat more stable and about 0.8 oz / 23 g heavier it is not as agile as the Inov-8. For long slow runs in rough terrain it has more underfoot but for everything else the Inov-8 is quicker feeling and more fun.
Saucony Xodus Ultra (RTR Review)
Sam: About 0.3 oz lighter the Xodus Ultra sits on a 32.5mm heel / 26.5 mm forefoot, 6mm drop platform so essentially about 2-3 mm lower heel and about the same forefoot.The Saucony has a dual foam midsole with PWRUN EVA/TPU as a frame for a lively PEBA core. It also includes a woven rock plate which the G 280 doesn’t but might include for a touch more protection and especially front propulsion.The Xodus Ultra is less “consistent” with an almost overly secure and rigid heel hold, a shakier if still fine midfoot hold and a soft and easier fitting forefoot than the G280 if one not quite as secure. Close call between these two. I might lean Xodus over G 280 for more moderate terrain and G280 due to its upper and somewhat better grip for more technical.
Scarpa Spin Infinity (RTR Review)
Sam: Not as accommodating an upper, and one that upfront is a bit over done with overlays in the bunions are the Scarpa is equally if not more secure but not as comfortable. The Scarpa has a somewhat deeper and denser (less lively cushion with a slightly higher) 35mm heel (measured), 31mm forefoot (spec. 4mm drop) lower drop platform and similar traction. It plays in the same ultra game as the G280. I would still choose it over the Inov-8 for highly technical mountainous terrain but for everything else I lean towards the G280 which moves along liviler and with more ground feel. I was a half size up in Spin Infinity and happy about that and true to size and just right in the G280
Salomon’s S/Lab Genesis (RTR Review)
Sam: Softer and bouncier with a less secure upper, the Salomon is for sure lively but not as controlled and pulled together in terms of stability top to bottom. Its upper and softer midsole is not as stable and directed as the G 280. The Inov-8 is a more versatile shoe for me with the Salomon I think will only have a significant advantage in wet sloppy, conditions due to its less dense, less water absorbing upper and flexibility.
I was a half size up in the Salomon and while a comfortable, airer upper I regretted it as the platform favors a wide midfoot and higher volume foot more than the Inov-8. The G280 denser knit makes no compromises on hold regardless of foot shape and volume and I think I could go a half size up in them as easily as true to size for a bit more toe box height clearance.
Topo Ultraventure 3 (RTR Review)
Sam: The soon releasing UV3 clearly has a yet broader higher volume toe box with more volume and softer mesh. I could potentially even size down a half size. something I would not consider with the G 280 . Yes, more comfortable but not as secure up front when the trails get tech. Underfoot, the UV3 has a 35/30 so lower drop but also higher front stack platform, actually not really noticed as additional protection or cushion. Somehow I find the Topo heel despite being the same height not as cushioned or lively maybe the lower 5mm drop? , the FlySpeed foam being more rebounding than the improved for sure ZipFoam in the Topo. In terms of traction, clearly the Inov-8 as the Topo has shallower broader lugs and as advertised has a more moderate trails focus than the G280. Door to trails slight advantage to the Topo as well as for broader toe box, otherwise for more any trail versatility and liviler ride the G280.
The Trailfly Ultra G 280 is available now at Inov-8 HERE
Watch Sam’s Initial Video Review of the Trailfly Ultra G 280
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he is lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.
Marcel, almost 40 years old, works as a Legal Technology Consultant and is an avid Obstacle Course Racer (OCR). In addition to his fascination with shoe releases for road and trail, Marcel is also passionate about technical innovations and gadgets.
After years of too much work and too much fast food, Marcel started to work off his excess pounds in 2014 by doing short runs at the Alster lake in Hamburg, Germany before he discovered the world of obstacle course racing. Initially just for fun in competitions like Tough Mudder and Xletix, his ambition was quickly awakened and Marcel increasingly focused on challenging race series like Spartan Races all over Europe. In addition, Marcel has successfully finished the “toughest obstacle course in Europe” five times in a row with Getting Tough The Race.
His next evolution in running has been towards Ultras and he recently completed the 2022 UTMB Nice 50K.
Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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