Inov-8 Roclite 290 – The all-terrain vehicle of running shoes

95 / 100 by Matthew Leonard • Level 3 expert

If you are after a versatile shoe to take with you on any off-road run, then the Inov-8 Roclite 290 is the shoe for you.

This shoe provides comfort and confidence in all terrains, from wet rock to steep grassy descents, and anything in-between.

It may not be the best-looking shoe in its class, but it holds the foot snugly and securely, with a rugged and durable construction that’ll take you anywhere.

 

 

Pros

  • Superior grip
  • Comfortable, secure fit
  • Lightweight
  • Good toe protection

 

Cons

  • Shoe slightly smaller than size

 

Introduction

The Inov-8 Roclite 290 is an extremely versatile off-road shoe suitable for a variety of terrains.

Inov-8 describe the shoe as “delivering a responsive ride and high levels of durability, it's perfect for moving fast over everything from mountain rock to muddy grass, hard-packed trails, and roads.”

 

 

I am lucky to be able to run in the mountains of Snowdonia and around the coast of Anglesey. This can throw up a variety of terrains in any single run, and I was looking forward to finding out whether this shoe could handle them all!

The Roclite 290 is designed to be lightweight and flexible with a sole which uses Inov-8’s Tri-C rubber compounds to provide grip, 6mm Multi-directional lugs to provide traction, and a Meta-Shank plate to protect the foot from sharp rocks.

 

 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve run just over 50 miles in these shoes, subjecting them to all terrains from thick mud to snow and ice, with wet rock and everything else in between. I feel that I’ve tested them out thoroughly enough to review them.

 

Appearance

Inov-8 offers the Roclite 290 in four colors including blue/white, red/orange and black/green. My shoe was the more conservative black/grey.

It’s a good-looking shoe, without any unnecessary bells and whistles.

It feels like it’s designed for performance, and so may not be the first choice for people who spend their weekends walking around outdoor activity shops in North Wales, but if you’re reading a running shoe review, then that’s unlikely to put you off!

The Roclite 290 looks and feels rugged. The materials are hard wearing and durable, and yet the upper has a feeling of comfort throughout, with cushioning built in around the foot. 

 

 

This cushioning extends not only around the heel cup where it would be expected, but it also feels like there is a thin layer around the sides and across the top of the front of the foot beneath the mesh outer, contributing to a superior feeling of comfort when running.

 

Weight

The Inov-8 Roclite 290 is listed at 290g (hence the name), which makes it comparable to a road-running shoe in terms of weight, and lighter than many shoes of this type, such as the Salomon Speedcross 4 which comes in at 310g.

As expected, my UK 13 (14.0 US) shoe weighed in heavier at 388g.

Most importantly, the Roclite 290 feels light when running. The spacing and shape of the lugs are also designed to prevent debris and mud from clinging to the shoe, which would otherwise increase weight as well as compromise grip.

 

Fit

To be honest, this was my greatest concern with the Roclite 290. I’d never worn Inov-8 shoes before and wasn’t sure how they’d come up.

With no half sizes available, I went for a UK 13 (US 14) which is what I’d wear in a normal, everyday shoe, and in a Brooks or ASICS shoe. For comparison purposes, in shoes from New Balance, Hokas, and Salomon I’d generally need to go for a ½ size larger (UK 13 ½).

I needn’t have worried. Whilst the shoes did look a little small when I took them out of the box, this is primarily because of the snug fit. In saying that, I mean that the shoe fits snugly around your foot.

There is still sufficient room in the toe box to allow a little movement, but overall, the foot feels as if it is held well, while the cushioning mentioned above provides a great feeling of comfort.

My advice then would be to try on the shoe before you buy just to make sure, but if you are not able to, and that if you are “in between” sizes, then I’d recommend going for the larger size.

Otherwise, you should opt for the size you’d usually choose in a pair of Brooks / ASICS or similar shoes.

My first run with these shoes was to the top of Snowdon and back in late December. In the wintry conditions, the last thing I needed to worry about was my shoes, and I can honestly say that I simply laced them up, and off I went with no need for adjustment.

Despite running a variety of terrains over the last few weeks, and even with the shoes wet through at times, they’ve felt secure and comfortable throughout every run, with no adverse rubbing in any part of the foot.

 

Construction

 

Upper

As with most modern shoes, the upper is primarily formed from a breathable mesh.

As I mentioned above, this seems to have a thin layer of cushioning beneath it, which improves the comfort and fit of the shoe without restricting the airflow around the foot.

 

 

The Roclite 290 uses an “Adapterweb met-cradle” to hold the foot securely place whilst allowing the foot to move sufficiently to adapt to an ever-changing terrain.

It also includes a “Y-Lock” system of welded overlays to hold the heel in place.

 

 

As would be expected from this type of shoe, the tongue is stitched to the shoe to prevent ingress of debris. What all this means in practice is that the shoe feels secure and comfortable and like a part of the foot itself.

I never once felt that the shoe was likely to come off, or that the foot was moving around inside the shoe. Even when the shoes were wet through after fording a stream, they still felt completely secure, and the foot did not slip at all within the shoe.

 

 

The toe cap at the front of the shoe is produced from strengthened rubber to protect the toes and comes a short way around either side of the shoe.

The toe portion of the foot does not protrude, therefore reducing the risk of an unexpected tumble from catching a toe on stones and rocks during a rapid descent. 

 

 

Sole

The “Powerflow” midsole in the Roclite 290 has apparently been designed by Inov-8 to deliver 10% better shock absorption, and 15% more energy return than standard midsoles.

To be honest, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of these statements, as the surfaces I’ve been running on vary so much in terms of their own shock absorption and energy return. Suffice to say, the shoe felt comfortable even on hard surfaces.

 

 

The shoe has a 4mm Heel to Toe drop though, again I tend to find the heel-toe drop less significant in fell running shoes than in road running.

And so we come to the important bit… the outsole. This is where Inov-8 have managed to design a true all-round sole. Their claim is that “…the Roclite outsole is the most versatile on the market.”

 

 

The outsole is constructed from a “Tri-C” rubber compound which utilises different types of rubber in different areas of the sole; a soft sticky rubber on the inside and across the centre of the sole to provide excellent grip on rocky terrain, a harder endurance-like rubber endurance on areas such as the heel to ensure durability, and hard sticky rubber on much of the forefoot for the optimum balance between wear and traction.

The sole incorporates 6mm multi-directional cleats, each with a wide surface area to provide fantastic grip on a variety of surfaces, but with sufficient spacing to prevent the accumulation of mud and debris.

 

 

A “Metashank” rock plate protects the underside of the foot from sharper rocks and stones underfoot.

 

 

Performance

If you’re short on time, then the brief summary is that this is a great shoe that performs well on pretty well all surfaces. For more detail, read on…

My first run in this shoe was a couple of days after Christmas. I looked out of the window at the covering of snow on Snowdon, and decided that instead of looking up at the mountain, I’d rather be on top looking down. 

 

 

I took the Inov-8 Roclite out of the box, and off I went (that’s why there’s no pictures of a fresh, new looking shoe – I was too impatient).

The first mile or two are on tarmac. It’s not what the shoe is designed for, but as many routes include some hard surfaces, it’s important that the shoe feels comfortable on roads, and this did.

The midsole absorbs the impact with the ground effectively, and most importantly it doesn’t feel as if you’re running in a studded boot as some shoes can.

After the initial steep tarmac section, there’s a long section of path which incorporates various types of rock, some fairly random and others formed into irregular steps, at differing gradients.

On this day, some rock was wet. The shoe was comfortable, and I was confident in its grip throughout the ascent.

 

On Snow

Past halfway, and I reached the snowline.

The “steps” of Allt Moses had a mixed covering of snow and ice with some light scree in sections. Despite my legs beginning to protest, the shoes were great; no slipping at all as I moved on towards the steep section after Clogwyn.

 

 

At this point, the snow was thicker, hard packed in some sections, and looser in others. Once again, the shoes proved to be able to cope with all terrains, offering grip throughout the ascent to the summit.

The wide spacing of the cleats provided grip but prevented snow from clinging to the shoe. As mentioned above, the shoe incorporates a thin extra layer of cushioning below the mesh, and this helps to keep the foot protected more from the elements (including the cold) than some other shoes have done previously.

A quick turnaround on the summit, and then time to head back down. In my experience, it is in descending that one can really test how an off-road shoe performs.

As a heavier runner, I’m acutely aware that a shoe has to do a lot of work to enable me to change speed and direction quickly and to hold my foot in place as I move.

I’ll admit that on this particular day, my descent was rather more cautious than usual, due primarily to the cold and the ice, but I have since returned to Snowdon and other mountains to test the shoe on a variety of terrains.

 

On Rock

One of the toughest tests is often wet rock, and surprisingly, the shoe performed incredibly well on this surface. The reason I was surprised is that this is very much an all-rounder of a shoe, and I’d expected the 6mm cleats to compromise the grip to a degree.

Because of the large surface area of the cleats, however, and the rubber used, the grip is fantastic. Usually a cautious descender, I became ever more confident wearing this shoe, and am sure that the more I run in this shoe, the faster my descents will become.

 

 

As with many mountains, the paths around Snowdonia are comprised of mixed, uneven terrain made up of large and small rocks, often with gravel and screen filling the gaps in between.

Again, this shoe handled this with confidence, even on faster descents. The fit of the shoe means that there is no discernible movement of the foot inside the shoe, and the grip means that the foot stays where its placed as the next foot moves forward. This really is a shoe that inspires confidence.

 

On Grass & Mud

Off the tracks, and onto the fells and mountainsides requires descents on a variety of grass surfaces.

Once again, the shoe handles well. During the winter months, wet grass and mud offer their own challenges, and there’s often the chance of ending up on your backside if the foot slips away from you as you plant it.

The Roclite 290 again performed incredibly well, with the wide cleats easily providing grip on a range of grassland, and again providing confidence during the decent. Again, the foot was held well, and there was no movement within the foot, even when the shoe and foot became wet through.

The only surface I found the shoe to be out of its comfort zone a little was on thick mud; the large surface area of the cleats that provide such great grip on rock isn’t quite so well suited to mile after mile of muddy fields.

 

 

Having said that, Inov-8 have plenty of shoes specially designed for that type of terrain (eg X-Talon, Mudclaw), and so if most of your running is to be on these surfaces, then these may be your better option.

Unless your running is likely to be exclusively on muddy fields and fells, however, then I’d suggest that the Roclite 290 is still a great choice. 

In summary then, the Roclite 290 is a fantastic all-terrain shoe that will give you confidence in running across a range of surfaces and is my new go-to shoe for any off-road running.

 

Comparison

The only meaningful comparison I can make is with the Salomon Speedcross 3 which had been my faithful off-road shoe for the last couple of years.

I can honestly say that the Roclite 290 is superior to my Salomon shoe in almost every respect. A quick glance at the image will illustrate why the grip of the Roclite is so much better on all surfaces.

 

 

Another significant point is the shape of the toe; the Roclite 290 has a more rounded toe section compared to the more pointed toe of the Speedcross 3. This makes it less likely that you’ll catch the toe on rocks and stones which can cause a stumble during an ascent, or more dangerously, during a fast descent.

The other factor to consider is how I’ve mentioned the way that the Roclite 290 fits snugly to the foot and holds it in place.

In the Speedcross 3, I found the foot moved around significantly, especially when the shoe became wet, and also during steep descents when the toes could crash painfully against the front of the shoe with every footfall.

 

 

Summary

If you want a trail shoe that you can just lace up and then head out onto any terrain, and not even have to think about until you take it off at the end of the run, then this is that shoe.

Once the Inov-8 Roclite 290 is on, it’ll take you comfortably and confidently along any terrain you want to throw at it so that you get the best out of your run, wherever it takes you.

Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard • Level 3 expert

Somewhat bigger and heavier than the average runner (6’2”/ 85kg), I’ve been involved in a variety of sports throughout my life before settling on running as I approach the half century. I’m lucky enough to live on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales as I love running on the coast or in the mountains of Snowdonia, generally averaging around 80-90km per week.

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Inov-8 Roclite 290