VJ Ultra 2 ($170)
Jacob: The original VJ Ultra was the most performant shoe I’ve ever tested for racing in technical terrain. The combination of 10/10 grip, stable and smooth ride, locked-in fit, relatively low weight, and moderate cushion was unrivaled. However, it was not without flaws, including one critical one: the forefoot outsole on all our testers pairs as well as many other runners was prone to delamination, requiring either significant repair or retirement. Additionally, though more minor, I felt the forefoot was slightly too soft and flexible, sometimes feeling mushy or collapsing inward and pushing my toes together, leading to blisters.
VJ made only minor changes to the Ultra 2. However, the updates seem directed at resolving the above two issues. First the Ultra 2 has a different forefoot outsole configuration, including more rubber with less segmentation, thus eliminating the inner edge of the perimeter outsole which is where RTR testers first noted the delamination issue.
Second, the toebox is wider and the midsole includes a rock plate. All these changes will reduce flexibility in the forefoot and should eliminate the issue I had with my toes being pressed together. The upper and style look identical—it’s a purely functional update.
Given that the updates may resolve every issue I had with version one, I was excited to test it to see if it would overtake its predecessor as my top pick for a technical racing shoe.
Mike P: The VJ Ultra was the first shoe that I reviewed for RTR. It’s pretty amazing that just about a year has passed now, and it seems like they took a lot of our advice and incorporated it so quickly into V2. Literally – every single issue we brought up seems to have been addressed in the new version. How well did they do? Is V2 a big improvement over V1? I’m not a fan of clickbait, so the answer is – YES. Please read on to find out the details.
World class traction; better than every shoe I’ve run except the VJ MAXx: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V
New outsole configuration + rock plate tames excessive lateral flex Mike P/Jeff V/Jacob
Excellent foothold: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V
Simple and durable upper: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V
Versatile ride: performs well at a wide range of paces: Jacob/Mike P/Jeff V
Rock plate a big improvement over V1’s soft forefoot Mike P/Jeff V
Very protective in rocky terrain Mike P/Jeff V
Increased width at front of toebox Mike P/Jeff V
Significant weight gain from version 1: Jacob
A bit short at true to size, some minor big toe pressure: Jacob
Lacking the midfoot transition of pure “running” oriented shoes Mike P
Weight: men’s oz / g (US9) / women’s oz / g (US8)
Samples: men’s 12 11.5 oz / 326 g, men’s 10.5 10.6 oz / 301 g, men’s 10 10.25 oz / 289 g
Stack Height: men’s 33 mm heel / 27 mm forefoot
Available Now ($170)
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Jacob: At a high level, the VJ Ultra 2 is very similar to the first version: it is high quality in material choice and construction; the colorway and upper construction is identical. The upper is durable and is reinforced with Dupont Kevlar® fibers but without excess. It fits securely with great toebox space but is still snug enough to provide security.
The sizing is true to size and nearly perfect for my medium width foot except a bit short, putting some pressure on my big toe nail. The length and overall fit feels the same as version 1. Overall excellent first impressions and I expect it to be another world class shoe.
The only unfortunate change with the Ultra 2 is an increase in weight of nearly an ounce (26 grams) in my US 12 (to 11.5 oz / 326 g). This is significant, taking the shoe from 40th to 55th of the 75 shoes in my tracked list of test pair weights.
It is now closer in weight to the MAXx at just ~10 grams lighter, limiting the differentiation between the models and putting the lighter Spark (9.8 oz / 279 g) in a class of its own. The weight gain should result in increased durability, traction, and protection, so for some terrain, the performance will likely make it worthwhile, but for shorter races when I’d take light weight and a more connected feel over a bit more traction and protection but still want more comfort and cushion than the Spark, I’ll miss the lighter weight of the Ultra 1.
Mike P: At first glance, V2 looks almost identical to V1. I found that even on their website, they seemed to use some of the old V1 pics on the V2 page (not sure if this has been corrected or if they added new pics). But looks aside, I knew there were some subtle and important changes to be on the lookout for. There were also a few other details that I noticed as well.
The most important change has to do with addressing the issue of lugs becoming detached from the midsole in V1 that many of us saw.
Rubber was added between the strips of outsole under the forefoot – making it one single more interconnected piece or rubber as shown above with v1’s outsole shown below..
Left: V2 : Right: V1
This change should alleviate the issue where the lugs started peeling from the midsole, which seemed to originate on the inner edges in V1.
I received my test pair while traveling in Colorado, so I wasn’t able to A/B compare right away, but it seemed like there was slightly more space at the front of the toebox. After coming home and closely comparing, it’s still very hard to tell by sight but it does seem like perhaps the material is slightly looser, and the front of the forefoot does seem a bit more spacious. Perhaps the rock plate also keeps the forefoot flatter and prevents any concave effect. This was one of the issues I did have with V1 – the toebox being a bit pointy up front and giving me some pinky side pressure over longer distances. This issue does seem improved with V2.
[V1 on left, V2 on right. I measured a roughly ⅛ inch (3+ mm) increase in width at the front of the toebox. Hard to tell visually, but they do feel slightly wider. You can also see the improvement in outsole configuration here.]
Size-wise they run the same as V1, which is to say, a bit small in comparison to other brands. I wear a size 10.5 in VJ Ultra V1, V2, and Spark. It’s the only brand where I wear a 10.5. I typically wear either 9.5 or 10.0 for all other brands (see comps). My size 10.5’s increased in weight from 10.0 to 10.6. I think this is a fair weight gain, as the shoe is virtually identical, with added outsole rubber, plus a rock plate now in the mix. I’m happy to trade the weight gain for those features.
[My trusted shoe for several high mountain runs in Colorado. Note the softer strip of yellow material at the top of the tongue – a softer edge than V1]
Another minor change is to the tongue – there’s now a softer suede-type material on the underside of the tongue. That material also extends around the edge of the tongue – you can see it as the softer yellow material in the photo above. V1 didn’t have that material, and the top edge was sharper, causing some rubbing and irritation at the front of my ankle.
Jeff V: Mike and Jacob sum up the Ultra 2 very well and the updates, so I’ll just focus on my impressions, performance and fit. I found v1 to be one of my favorite shoes in 2021 and was a real surprise, with such incredible performance over technical terrain with good cushion, reasonable protection, off the charts traction, very precise/secure upper, responsive feel and relative low weight. I might have declared it my favorite shoe for 2021, or at least co-favorite, if not for the durability issues we discovered with the outsole. We brought this up to VJ and while I would like to think they listened to our feedback, it is likely a very common complaint that they have heard over and over. Side note, if you have the 1st version and your lugs are peeling off, I have found that a careful fix with Gorilla glue helps tremendously and will buy you a lot of time.
Fast forward to the Ultra 2, I was very happy to hear that VJ had made modifications that certainly appeared to have improved the outsole by making the rubber more continuous and less prone to shearing.
I find version 2 to fit true to size, sticking with my normal size 10. While the upper is very similar to the first version, it has a bit more space in the forefoot, including a bit more ceiling height.
Those who need a bit more room will appreciate this added space and it still does a very good job at holding the foot in place, though I do find that the first version offers slightly better security and is a little more confidence inspiring when pushing hard through rocky, technical terrain.
Jacob: The VJ Ultra 2 uses a single slab of relatively lightweight EVA with a flexible rock plate The shoe has mid-range softness and rebound characteristics. The sockliner remains a thin and soft foam, not adding much in terms of performance. The midsole works well but is not exciting on its own. It has an average cushion and flexibility. The rock plate adds rigidity to the forefoot but doesn’t restrict flexibility. It increases protection and reduces mushiness which is a great improvement from version 1. However, the plate does decrease apparent cushion and on hard terrain makes the forefoot a bit uncomfortable. The midsole works well overall in contributing to the versatility of the Ultra 2 and delivers consistent performance, but is not a standout component of the shoe on its own.
Mike P: I tend to agree with Jacob here – the midsole is not the standout feature of the shoe. It feels like an average durometer EVA – not overly soft nor overly firm, but somewhere in the middle. The addition of the rock plate does make the ride feel a bit snappier in my opinion. The previous version had a general feel of being super flexible and softer underfoot. With the rock plate, a little bit of flexibility is lost, but not much. They did a good job with the rock plate, it feels flexible in a similar way to Saucony’s woven plates, which for my money, are the best rock plate implementations out there.
[Rock plate doing its job]
I was able to get in some solid mountain testing over in the San Juans. I noticed a big improvement in rock protection from the plate. In V1 you could catch a zinger here and there when going over the sharp stuff. The V2 plate really blunts rock impacts. I didn’t notice excessive instability either. Of course there’s a rock plate in the mix now, so occasionally I felt a minor tip here or there, but never a major shock ankle roll. I’d say the tradeoff of potential instability for rock protection is about right.
[VJ Ultra 2 with updated EVA insoles drain and dry out quite well]
Another minor but notable improvement is that VJ switched from the previous rubbery open cell insole to a more standard closed-cell EVA insole. The previous insole soaked up water like a sponge – even worse than regular Ortholite insoles. You lose a bit of softness with the new insole, but it’s much better if any water crossings are involved in your runs. If you prefer the softer feel, you could always swap in an Ortholite insole as long as you expect dry conditions.
Jeff V: Again, Jacob and Mike sum up the midsole well. I find it to be appropriate for a variety of terrain. For my use, I find them soft enough to feel well cushioned for fast downhills and hard surfaces, but firm enough to provide good control and stability when the going gets really rough under foot. I appreciate the rock plate, which adds a bit of pop and a significant amount of added protection over the first version. While there is a slight bit of added stiffness, I have not found them to be tippy at all.
Jacob: There’s nothing more I would ask for from the Ultra 2 outsole when considering its design for moving fast and comfortably over technical terrain. It uses a butyl rubber material which provides top of the line traction—VJ’s outsole rubber provides the best wet grip on New England’s notorious slick granite and roots that I have experienced—it can be an incredible experience running or hiking and steep wet rock and feeling confident. The Ultra 2 outsole is nearly identical to the Ultra 1, with the key difference of having more coverage and connectedness in the forefoot outsole. This could prove critical in durability (preventing the side lug delamination issue, I need many miles to determine that) as well as adding stability.
Mike P: I mentioned the major update to the forefoot outsole configuration in my first impressions, and Jacob also describes it above. You can see the difference clearly in the photo above. The new configuration has the added benefit of reining in some lateral flexibility in the forefoot. V1 at times could feel excessively flexible laterally – almost like the edges of the shoe at the forefoot could be pushed upwards in certain uneven terrain.
[Greatly improved outsole design of V2 – no inner edges to peel up]
As far as the rubber itself – VJ’s hashtag #TheBestGripOnThePlanet is definitely apt. Their patented Butyl rubber is so tacky, you even notice a suction-cup type sound when waking around and during the first few runs. The rubber itself of my V1’s was very durable, aside from the delamination issue which was really caused by the shape of the rubber strips. As of now I’ve got 53 very hard and rough mountain miles in my pair of V2 and the outsole is still in great shape. We will be sure to post long-term updates, given the previous version’s issues.
Jeff V: Agreed with everything above. The Ultra 2 outsole here is holding up exceptionally well after a very rough and rocky 70 miles of testing so far. I am not seeing any durability concerns, as the updated rubber configuration seems to have solved all previous issues and the wear rate of the rubber is above average. Grip is as advertised, best grip on the planet and is confidence inspiring, to the point where they defy logic.
Mike P: The ride of the VJ Ultra continues to lean more “mountain” running vs pure “trail” running. What I mean by that is this – if you’re on a regular trail, in moderately technical terrain, or even occasionally technical terrain, you could likely do better with a shoe that’s a bit more responsive and is tuned more towards pure running rather than dealing with technical terrain. But when the terrain gets really rough, and especially when traction matters – that’s where the VJ shines.
As mentioned above, the added rock plate serves a dual purpose. The main purpose is rock protection of course, and I find that really works well, which in turn increases confidence and speed in rocky, technical terrain. You’re not constantly worried about taking that big rock hit, and at the same time you’re not worried about the big ankle roll either. The second purpose I found is that the rock plate does make the shoe faster. There’s less energy lost in the softness of the forefoot/midfoot. I was able to lean into some pretty fast descents without much trepidation.
The cushion level is adequate for the intended terrain. But there’s a certain transition that’s not quite there, as in other more established trail running brands and models. The Ultra 2 can have a bit of a flat feel in terms of the ride, that’s part of the reason I say they feel more mountain oriented than pure running oriented. There’s just something missing around the midfoot of the shoe. That’s not a intended to be a knock on the shoe, just a difference in comparison to shoes with more speed and moderate terrain-focused rides.
Jeff V: Mike nails it above and I agree with just about everything he says, where the Ultra 2 shines most on technical mountain terrain, more so than they do on cruisy, less technical terrain, but I find that they perform exceptionally well there too and are quite quick, one of the faster and more confidence inspiring shoes in my arsenal for any terrain.
Jacob: I agree with Mike and Jeff about the ride. It is stable, performant, and consistent. Protection is excellent and it moves along well over any terrain. It feels the least smooth at slower paces on easier terrain but on all terrain runs well fast especially for the weight and bombproof design.
Conclusions and Recommendations
[Longs Peak – 14,259 ft]
Mike P: The VJ Ultra 2 was on my feet for all of my big mountain runs throughout my Colorado trip. Those included a 5+ hour loop around Ouray including portions of the Hardrock course as well as a sub-5 hour round trip up to Long’s Peak, which was borderline mountaineering over the final 1+ miles. I was especially glad that I had the Ultra 2’s on Long’s Peak, as there were some highly technical scrambling and climbing sections (with snow and ice). I was on the edge of my comfort zone and thought about turning back a few times. With less capable shoes and lesser traction, I might have pulled the plug.
Kudos to VJ for listening to consumer and reviewer feedback and turning around a new and much improved version so quickly. The VJ Ultra 2 is a top mountain running, hiking, and scrambling shoe. I highly recommend them and they’re on the top shelf of my quiver for adventures in technical terrain.
Mike P’s Score: 9.63 / 10
Ride: 10 – Much improved, versatile, protective, fast in technical terrain
Fit: 9.5 – Same as V1, improved slightly with more width up front
Value: 8 – $170 is kind of high for a shoe that works best in specific technical terrain. But if that’s your primary terrain, the value will be higher
Style: 9.5 – Love the bright green on the trails
Traction: 10 – Best in class grip, great for rock scrambling
Rock Protection: 10 – Greatly improved with new rock plate
This new score is about how pleasing/fun the experience is on the run, or in the case of race type shoes how effective it is to race.
Jeff V: The VJ Ultra 2 is every bit as amazing as the first version, but even better now with the outsole durability concerns resolved and a rock plate in the mix for added protection. I was not excited at first as I realized there was an increase in weight, but given the advantages over the previous version, I find it to be acceptable. I really would hardly have detected a difference holding them side by side and do not really notice a difference when running, so a very minor complaint.
Jeff V’s Score: 9.7/10
Value: 9 – a bit pricey, but now with improved durability, they will last a long time I believe
Rock protection: 9.5
Jacob: The VJ Ultra 2 is an amazing shoe for moving fast over any distance in highly technical terrain. It has VJ’s butyl rubber grip as the standout component—on another level from most other trail running shoes and the best I’ve tested. The rest of the shoe is performance focused—protected, stable, and durable—while still feeling zippy enough when running fast on smoother terrain. For mountainous racing of 25 km and up I have not tested a better shoe. I will use the VJ Ultra 2 for all technical trail racing over around 15 km, as I did with the Ultra 1, as well as for long higher effort training runs in the mountains.
Compared to the Ultra 1, the Ultra 2 is better in all ways except for weight, where it is significantly heavier. The updates are worth the weight—2 is a better shoe—but there are scenarios where I miss the more flexible, lighter version 1, largely shorter races on smoother terrain. For the Ultra 3, to make a great shoe even better, I’d hope to see a significant weight drop and a slightly more flowing and energetic ride on smooth terrain without losing the protection and depth of cushion.
Overall, a well thought out update to a world-class shoe.
Jacob’s Score: 9.3/10
Ride: 8.5 (30%), Fit: 9.5 (30%), Value: 9.5 (10%), Style: 9 (5%), Traction: 10 (15%), Rock Protection: 10 (10%)
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
VJ Ultra 1 (RTR Review)
Mike P (10.5): The improvements are outlined throughout the review. They include: better and more durable outsole configuration, better protection now with a rockplate (also propulsive), slightly wider at the front of toe box, softer padding on the top edge of the tongue, and an EVA insole holds no water. There’s a slight weight gain (0.6 oz in my size 10.5) but for me is well worth it for the improvements. There’s also a slight loss in forefoot flexibility, but I also think that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the protection and bit of added snapiness to the ride.
Jeff V: Mike sums it up perfectly.
VJ Spark (RTR Review)
Mike P (10.5): Spark is the lightweight, purely agile shoe in the VJ lineup. I really like the Spark upper, and feel like it wraps the foot a bit better than the Ultra. The Ultra upper is a bit stiffer, but is also more durable and protective. The Spark doesn’t offer much underfoot in terms of cushion or protection, but you get the Butyl rubber traction of course. Spark is for really dancing around in technical terrain or for very steep climbs where traction is needed. Ultra is more protective and built for longer distances.
Jeff V: Mike again gets it perfect/y.
Jacob: I agree with everything Mike says and want to add that the Spark is much lighter, 279 g / 9.8 oz compared to 326 g / 11.5 oz for the Ultra 2 (weights for my US Men’s size 12 samples). For shorter all uphill races or 10 mile and less technical races without extended steep descents, I would pick the Spark since it is a truly locked in, rip every corner experience (at the expense of comfort). The additional cushion and protection of the Ultra is helpful for descents and longer distances and its wider toebox and stability greatly increase comfort.
Adidas Agravic Flow 2 (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): The VJ Ultra 2 is likely the shoe that the Flow 2 aspires to be. But it’s not quite there – heavier, stiffer, firmer ride, and more unstable. The Flow 2 doesn’t feel comfortable in technical terrain the way it’s intended to be. The Flow 2 may work better in more runnable, moderate terrain, as long as the fit works for you. I still find the ankle collar too rigid and the Achilles collar unnecessarily high.
Adidas 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 offers more protection from itsrockplate, and definitely wins in the traction department. The Speed Ultra has much more 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 Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): SG5 offers primarily a softer ride with equal protection – via midsole thickness rather than rock plate. The VJ is better for faster running in technical terrain- they’re just as protective, but more agile than the bulkier SG5. SG5 clearly suited to long ultra distances, and runs in any terrain where you want to go easy on your legs.
Jeff V: Ditto. I find the SG5 to be a bit more protective and substantial for longer runs, but still great on tech terrain.
Saucony Peregrine 12 (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): These are very similar shoes, and now a very close comp given the big changes to the new Peregrine. Both offer very good rock plate implementations – protective, not harsh feeling, and still flexible. I give the edge in fit and security to the Peregrine – it’s really a nice and well fitting upper. I give the edge in cushion to the VJ- there’s just a bit more foam underfoot. You may prefer the Peregrine if you like more feel in technical terrain. Grip and traction is comparable, although the VJ may have an edge in wet conditions. Price is another factor to mention – Peregrine is $40 cheaper, a great deal for what you get.
Jeff V: Agreed with Mike on all points.
Jacob: The Peregrine 12 is lighter than the Ultra 2, firmer, and less protected. Unlike Mike, I don’t think the traction of the Peregrine is comparable to the Ultra 2—it is great but not world class and notably more prone to foot slips on toe off for me on my Northeast US terrain with its wet rocks and roots.
The Peregrine is between the Ultra 2 and VJ Spark in weight, protection, and cushion, but has a different feel and fit, with softer materials, a thick rubbery sockliner, and a very comfortable upper overall. Forefoot hold for me is better in the Ultra 2 so, along with traction, this makes the Ultra 2 the more capable shoe in wet or rugged conditions. For moderately technical, less vertical, and shorter races, some runners may prefer the Peregrine. Value of the Peregrine is higher as it is significantly less expensive.
Saucony Xodus Ultra (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): Similar to the Speed Ultra, the Xodus Ultra is more versatile in terms of terrain than the VJ. But the Xodus Ultra can handle a bit more technical terrain than the Speed Ultra, so therefore has more overlap with the VJ. The XU is definitely smoother on easy/moderate terrain. VJ’s rock plate is slightly stiffer and more protective, the XU’s is more flexible. VJ gets the edge in grip and traction, but the XU’s traction is suitable enough for longer distances. The XU upper is more comfortable and still roomier yet in the toebox. Overall – XU for long distance, VJ for shorter ultras in more technical terrain.
Jeff V: Agreed 100%
Jacob: The Xodus Ultra is softer both below and around the foot, has a bouncier, smoother, and more road-inspired ride, and is more versatile to pace and terrain. However, the Xodus Ultra is significantly less secure and performant in more extreme terrain. The shoes are very similar in weight. The Xodus Ultra runs well on smooth terrain (even roads) while also being able to handle rugged terrain. The Ultra 2 is stiff and overly sticky on pavement. Traction of the Xodus Ultra is good, but not on the level of the Ultra 2. I’ll take the Xodus Ultra for training runs in smooth to moderate terrain, easier running, and long less technical races; I’ll use the Ultra 2 for mountain running and more technical races. Both are great shoes.
Scarpa Golden Gate Kima RT (RTR Review)
Mike P (10 1/3): GG Kima features a carbon plate, and due to that, feels stiffer around the midfoot area, whereas the VJ Ultra’s firmness is mainly felt under the forefoot. The GG Kima feels efficient on the run, but it’s also nearly an ounce heavier, so for me it doesn’t feel as quick and agile as the VJ in technical terrain. Both feel equally protective underfoot, the VJ has a bit more cushion, especially in the midfoot/rear. In terms of upper, I prefer the midfoot/rear of the GG Kima, but the front/toebox of the VJ. Similar shoes overall, I give the edge to the VJ.
Jeff V: The Kima is excellent, but feels a lot heavier to me, less responsive, more tippy and more firm/protective for slower paces and on more technical terrain.
Scott Supertrac Ultra RC (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): Roughly 1.5 ounces heavier, the Scott also targets technical terrain, but over longer distances. Most noticeable for me is the fit and security of the Scott upper – it’s more refined and locked in than the VJ. The Scott’s rocker is very efficient, and though much heavier, it has a much smoother ride than the VJ. Both uppers focus on durability in rocky/alpine terrain. Both shoes have great traction, I’d call them equal. The Scott’s lugs are taller so are better in very loose terrain and they also contribute a bit to cushioning. I like the VJ for shorter & aggressive mountain “adventures” (including scrambling), but I’d prefer the Scott for a long mountain ultra run.
Jeff V: A great comparison, but I personally find the VJ outsole to be more grippy in wet conditions, as well as more durable.
Topo MTN Racer 2 (RTR Review)
Mike P (9.5): The Topo feels thinner and less protective under the forefoot. There’s no rock plate, so the VJ handles rocky terrain much better. The Topo is slightly lighter, has a smoother ride and feels softer overall. The upper is a bit more refined and overall more comfortable. Traction is good with the Topo, but a notch below the VJ. Overall, the Topo handles runnable terrain better, but the VJ handles technical terrain much better, primarily due to forefoot protection.
Topo Pursuit (RTR Review)
Mike P (10): I found the Pursuit surprisingly competent and maneuverable in technical terrain. That being said, with softer foam and no rock plate in the mix, you’d be best served taking that technical terrain less aggressively than you would in the VJ Ultra. The Pursuit has more cushion for the long haul, as well as more comfort in the toebox and upper in general. The VJ will be more protective in very rocky terrain, but less comfortable over longer durations and in moderate terrain.