Fair warning: this review is probably going to be favorable.
You see, Inov-8 Trailroc 285 and I have previous history. I had the chance to run in – and be impressed by – Trailroc 285 months before I got my hands on this review pair.
Love the colorway
Continental Thunder Run – July 2017
The time was July 2017, the event Continental Thunder Run in the English Midlands, where I was a member of a 7-person team which had to run, relay style, as many laps as possible of a 10km route within the 24-hour period.
I had taken with me as my footwear of choice the Inov-8 Trailroc 255, which is as it happens the predecessor to the 285. The route was almost entirely off-road on the dirt trail and grass and the weather forecast was for heavy rain, which would mean much mud.
At the race venue, there was an Inov-8 rep who was offering an opportunity to trial the Trailroc 285 and I jumped at the chance. I was genuinely curious about this yet-to-be-released shoe and, besides, the longer I could keep my other pair clean and dry, the better.
The race began at noon and I was the last to go, meaning my first lap didn’t begin until about 5:00 pm. The drizzle of the past hour or so turned into full-on rain as I began my lap. As it would transpire, the rain would stay heavy until past noon the following day, and my 3 remaining laps in the night and early morning would be in steadily worsening conditions underfoot.
The mud was the worst I had ever come across and all around me were runners slipping, sliding and falling. Miraculously, I stayed on my feet. Not only stayed on my feet but managed to hammer out four decently paced 10km laps. The trial pair of 285 was with me all four laps and I owed much of my satisfactory performance to them.
Not only were they comfortable out of the box but provided sufficient grip and stability to cope with the horrendous conditions. So impressed was I that I offered to buy the trial pair - (I also felt slightly guilty that the once-new pair had come back caked in mud) - but was politely declined; they were not for sale.
Yes, there was a bit of mud
Time for More Rigorous Testing
Fast forward some nine months and here I am with a new pair of Trailroc 285 in my hands, sent courtesy of RunRepeat in partnership with Inov-8, this time to test more rigorously at more leisurely pace, and almost certainly in drier conditions.
I was surprised to learn that Inov-8 actually markets these as shoes for "hard, rocky terrain" since they had served me so impressively well in the mud and wet grass, but I suppose that makes sense since the shoes feature a full-length rock plate and the outsole actually isn't that aggressive, with lugs at 4mm.
Moderately lugged with a full-length rock plate
As Inov-8 trail shoes go, these are not the lightest or most minimal, at 285 grams per shoe (the clue is in the name) and 8mm drop. But that is not a bad thing if the intended use is for more rugged terrain and for longer distances.
The first hint that these are built for the more technical terrain come from the toe protection, where a fairly thick sheath of rubber toe cap makes them almost tank-like. The only other shoes where I've seen such robust toe cap is on La Sportiva Bushido, which I used to great success on the Transgrancanaria mountain ultra.
Toe protection that means business
The upper features three different materials each for forefoot (light mesh), midfoot (transparent mesh) and heel area (honeycomb), with the overlay bringing them all together.
The upper is breathable and I can also confirm that they drain well, based on experience at last year's Thunder Run!
Three distinct upper materials
Three is also the magic number in the outsole, with Tri-C rubber compounds providing different levels of traction (and its counterpoint, durability) for different areas.
The outsole also features other Inov-8 technologies including Dynamic Fascia Band, Meta Flex, and Terradapter, explanations for each which can be found on the official website.
The full-length rock plate is visible via cutouts in front and rear.
Sole laden with technology
Powerflow+ midsole with a moderate stack height round out the shoe.
Where will they take me?
The reference to Bushido wasn’t accidental: I had in my mind using Trailroc 285 for an upcoming mountain ultra, the 120km Lavaredo in the Italian Dolomites.
It could be that I was nudged into thinking this by a friend who used these successfully in last year's Lavaredo using a pre-release pair. Alas, as I was about to be reminded, we're all different.
I happened to have a trip to the mountains coming up, to Mallorca where a group of us were planning to tackle a fair chunk of the 140km GR221 route in the Serra de Tramuntana to the north of the island. GR221 is also known as Ruta de Pedra en Sec, or Dry-Stone Route. Perfect.
We covered 40 miles over 2 days on terrain ranging from the tarmac, cobblestone, loose scree, hard-pack dirt, boulder fields, and rocks we had to scramble over while hanging onto metal chains fixed onto the mountain-side.
Scrambling on the GR221
As a testing ground, it was ideal. While mostly dry, we also had some rain on the first day, so conditions were varied. While I had yet to visit Dolomites, previous experience running in the French Alps and Gran Canaria and now Mallorca suggested much of the same terrain.
Several findings emerged
- The robust toe cap does its job well
- The rock-plate is awesome, providing the right balance of protection and foot-feel
- Cushioning is adequate, even on tarmac
- The Tri-C grip is good, both dry and wet
- The shoe is happiest on hard-packed dry trail, less so on technical terrain
- Shoe is also happiest on moderate, runnable terrain
That final point is worth expanding on because for me it was a deal-breaker as far as potentially using them on Lavaredo is concerned. While the shoe is snug enough to prevent foot movement when traversing rocky terrain, I found mid-foot protection sorely lacking.
Every time a rock dug into the side of my foot, I longed for the mid-food shank of the Bushido, or even the Speedcross 4, leading me to conclude that my friend's success on Lavaredo notwithstanding, Trailroc 285 is not designed for technical terrain.
Instead, I found that the shoes are at their happiest when on hard-packed dirt, or moderately rocky trails, runnable surfaces on which one can move across relatively quickly.
Not so at ease on technical stuff
The shoes really do excel on these runnable surfaces so, adjusting my expectations, I used them to race the SDW50 instead.
The SDW50 is a 50-mile ultra over the South Downs Way, a 100-mile National Trail on the English south coast. Underfoot is a mix of tarmac, grass, mud, and exposed chalk, with a good dose of sharp flint thrown in. Varied, but certainly not as technical as the mountains. Recent heavy rains meant the trail would not as dry as normally in the Summer, but my Mallorca experience told me that the shoes will be good enough for the job.
As it turned out, a couple of days of respite from rain and gentle breeze before the race meant hardly any mud on actual race day. With each step on the hardpacked trail, I was quietly satisfied with the correct decision made on footwear.
The race unfolded throughout the day to its conclusion and other than at times wishing for a little more cushioning underfoot, particularly towards the end of the race, I experienced no issues with Trailroc 285 whatsoever.
Happiest when on moderate, runnable terrain: Photo: Stuart March
Every shoe has its purpose and this is particularly more so in the case of the trail shoe, where there are probably as many different types of terrain as there are Eskimo words for "snow."
Having first tested the Trailroc 285 in the technical mountain routes of Mallorca, I was initially disappointed at its lack of mountain credibility. But I also have to be understanding of fact that this was probably not what the shoe was designed for.
On the hard, dry and rocky terrain of South Downs Way, the shoe was faultless and will be my go-to-shoe for training runs and races on similar terrain. The only caveat being that I'd cap the distance at about 50 miles as the relative lack of cushioning (vs your Hoka and Altra) will become more of an issue beyond that distance.
Sure, the shoes can be versatile, as they proved in the wet and the mud and amidst the big boulders, but for optimum performance, follow the instructions on the tin and stick to hard, rocky terrain. And there they're certain to reward you big time with amazing upper, ground-feel, and grip.
Preconceptions and false expectations. Reflecting back on my experience thus far with Trailroc 285, a few key moments stand out. Firstly, virtually accidentally coming across a pair to try out in the quagmire of Thunder Run last year and – having had no preconception or expectations – using them to great success and coming away impressed by them. Secondly, reading about another tester's (also a friend) positive experience with them on Lavaredo last year and convincing myself that these too will be my shoe for this year's Lavaredo.
Then realizing during training runs on Mallorca mountains that, no, these won't work for me on technical terrain (and I suspect for most other runners). Then, having acknowledged my preconception and readjusted my false expectations, having lots of joy on them on the hard-packed runnable terrain of South Downs Way (to be fair, the kind of terrain the shoes are marketed as designed for).
The fact that I still managed to use them in wet muddy conditions as well as on rocky technical terrain is testament to their versatility. My reactions on the other hand – pleasant surprise in the mud and disappointment on the mountain – are entirely due to preconceptions and false expectations. Something to be wary of for any shoe reviewer or, indeed, buyer!
According to the Trailroc 285 is “equipped to deal with all hard-packed trails around the world, no matter how rocky.”
Do we agree with this assessment? See the verdict below.
I will state this right up front: I like this shoe.
The Trailroc 285 weighs 9.9 ounces and presents an 8mm drop (23mm/15mm). The shoe is semi-curved and slip-lasted.
The sole of the Trailroc 285 contains not one or two, but three distinct types of rubber: hard sticky rubber in the heel, soft sticky rubber through the center, and medium sticky rubber along the edges of the outsole.
The fit is quite nice – snug but not tight. The Trailroc 285 is fittingly wide up front “to allow for natural toe splay.” (Running Warehouse) I felt that the shoe could use more headroom over the toes, so I created some space by removing the supplied medium thickness insole and replacing it with an extremely thin Ortholite insole. The laces are just right in length. Once tied, they stay tied.
The Trailroc 285 comes standard with a full-length rock-plate. The shoe retails for $150, which is surprising. (Are full-length rock-plates that expensive?) I think the shoe’s mesh upper is attractive, but it has the look of a functional shoe that simply gets the job done. More Hyundai Elantra, if you will, than BMW M4.
Somewhat oddly, the two sides of the shoe do not match. There’s a visible Metcradle + saddle on the medial midfoot which is not found on the lateral side.
There is an impressive firm plastic brace that wraps around the heel-counter supplying, no doubt, some added stability to the ride. (For a neutral trail running shoe, the Trailroc 285 is plenty stable.) It reminds me somewhat of the rear foot guide rail system found on the Brooks Asteria, a stability racing flat.
One thing becomes very clear very quickly with the Trailroc 285. This is going to be one firm shoe. Very firm.
Try to bend it and you’ll find that there’s virtually no give to it, other than a slight bit of movement under the toe area. The full-length rock-plate – which is green in color - giveth and taketh away.
On the road
Yes, the Trailroc 285 can be worn to traverse concrete and asphalt roads on the way to a lightly populated trail. The shoe is, in fact, a good pace shoe on both concrete and asphalt surfaces.
And the model has a dynamic fascia band – “a rigid lever arm, releasing energy with each step and propelling the runner forward.” I will take Inov-8’s word for this, although I felt I could only feel the energy release on asphalt.
While technically the Trailroc 285 can be considered to be a hybrid trail shoe that also works on roads, this does not play to the shoe’s strengths. The shoe is clearly protective on urban and suburban surfaces, but I doubt that anyone would select the shoe to use as a trainer on such surfaces.
Why? Because the shoe is firm, very firm, and stiff. On such ultra-hard surfaces the Trailroc 285 is utilitarian but far from enjoyable to run in.
On the trail
Not surprisingly, the Trailroc 285 is at home on trails, the rougher and more uneven the better. This is where the shoe’s firmness finds a home.
As might be expected in a shoe with a rock-plate running from heel to toe, the shoe is highly protective on hard rock trails. Some proprioception – the ability to feel the road - will, of course, be lost but it’s not a bad trade-off.
The Trailroc’s stiff firmness also makes it a good trail racer; in fact, I was more impressed with this shoe as a trail racer than with several shoes that have been advertised as such. And despite having relatively small nubs, it offers exemplary grip which makes it fun to use on a variety of surfaces including dirt and gravel and mown grass trails
If Inov-8 could set up a test trail near a few hundred special running stores, I suspect they might sell a very large number of Trailroc 285s. But the trail would have to be of a specific type; namely, uneven hard-packed dirt trails.
The shoe simply offers excellent, world-class, yaw control (side-to-side stability) on such surfaces. One’s feet may temporarily wobble but will always return to normal quite quickly.
There’s no fear of falling in these shoes, which also makes it fun to seek out banked trails where the higher foot needs to do most of the work. The Trailroc 285 feels so stable on such trails that it’s almost as if the shoe has a built-in gyroscope!
In practice, what this means is that a trail runner wearing Trailroc 285s will seek out challenging – not just rocky, trails to bring out the best in the shoe.
Issues & Questions
Why does the Trailroc 285 have a full-length rock plate?
The shoe is extremely protective and has an ultra-firm heel. There’s enough protection back there without extending the rock-plate under the heel.
Why is the shoe so firm and stiff?
Yes, these aspects of the Trailroc 285 enhance its protectiveness for sore or tender feet, but it seems to be overkill. The shoe could use some increased flexibility, cushioning (not much, but some), and bounce back.
If there’s one thing that can most definitely be said about the Trailroc 285 it’s that no one will ever refer to its ride as “pillowy.”
Why does the shoe cost so much?
As noted earlier, this does not look like a $150 trail running shoe. While it has some fine properties, it would likely be more successful if sold at the $120 to $125 range.
Despite a few issues with the Inov-8 Trailroc 285, it’s a shoe that works extremely well on certain surfaces.
I see it as a killer shoe on hard, rocky and or uneven surfaces. And don’t forget the word fun. This shoe is fun to run in on the right, challenging surfaces. On fully flat, dull surfaces and hard city surfaces, the magic is simply not there.
In summary, the Trailroc 285 is an excellent tool for a specific job. It is not a “do all, be all” shoe. Neither is it a day to day trainer. With a few improvements, the shoe could serve a more general audience. But that might be like turning a Porsche 718 Cayman into a Toyota Camry.
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 is a great all-round trail running shoe, containing all the standard components that you might expect to find in a trail running shoe.
The feature that sets the Trailroc apart from its competitors is the very neutral footbed, giving the shoe a more natural ride.
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 has a very sturdy upper made of a coarse, perforated mesh.
This material kept out most of the trail debris that I encountered. As expected, it did not keep sand from entering the shoe.
The upper is pretty breathable.
The Trailroc has an insubstantial heel cup. The heel cup is simply a reinforced piece of the upper, with a plastic support frame.
The heel cup provides ample support. The heel collar is lightly padded with a synthetic moisture wicking material which keeps your feet dry as they sweat. I never developed any hotspots in the heel area.
Tongue and Laces
The Trailroc has thin flat laces. They do not stretch at all. This makes the fit of the shoe a little less adaptive.
The Trailroc has a well-padded tongue. The tongue disperses all of the pressure from the laces very well.
The Trailroc has a tapered fit. The shoe has a standard shaped platform, which forces the big toe to curve in slightly.
The stiff mesh is not very forgiving. If your foot is slightly too wide or your big toe is too long, the Trailroc will be uncomfortable.
I recommend trying this shoe on before buying it. The midfoot wrap is quite secure at the beginning of a run, however, my feet start to move around in the shoe a little bit as the run progresses.
My favorite part of any trail shoe is the toe bumper.
The Trailroc has a sturdy toe bumper made from a large piece of rubber. My feet can barely feel it when I kick down a door... or a stone on the trail.
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 has quite a firm midsole compound. When I first ran in the shoe, the foam was uncomfortably firm.
After about one hundred miles, the foam becomes considerably softer. After breaking in the shoe, the foam is still on the firmer side, however, it is comfortable to run on.
The midsole serves as a layer of protection from hazards on the trail, dampening the impact of trampling on any rocks.
The midsole is shaped such that it does not provide any arch support. Similarly, the insole is very neutral.
The Trailroc also has a substantial strobel board. These features make the shoe feel like a low profile, natural running shoe, despite being built up. I love this aspect of Inov-8 shoes.
I have all the protection that I could want from a trail running shoe, while still feeling natural.
The Trailroc has an 8-millimeter heel to toe offset. This makes the shoe suitable for all footstrike types.
The shoe does have enough cushioning to accommodate heel strikers, but it is definitely more comfortable if you forefoot strike.
Any good outsole must excel in the categories of traction and durability. The Trailroc has a thick carbon rubber outsole with four millimeter deep lugs. The Trailroc has one of the most durable outsoles on the market.
It shows little wear after 120 miles. The outsole will definitely outlast the other components of the shoe. The traction is not as good as I expected. The traction is decent, but it is nowhere near as good as sticky rubber compounds on other shoes.
The outsole can handle all terrain. The lugs allow the Trailroc to grip loose ground while at the same time there is enough surface area and protection for hard trails.
The thick outsole and firm midsole cause this shoe to be a little stiff.
The Trailroc has a rock plate wedged between the midsole and the outsole.
This rockplate is unnecessary because the thick outsole and the firm midsole already provide enough protection. The rock plate makes the shoe even more indestructible.
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 works best for all types of trail running. It can handle all types of foot strikes, however, I would not recommend this shoe to runners who need more supportive shoes.
The Trailroc can handle a wide range of paces but I don’t find it to be the fastest shoe for racing. This shoe can handle almost any distance run.
I would not recommend the Trailroc for road running; it is not very comfortable on roads.
|Shoe brand||My Size|
|Hoka One One||12.5|
Inov-8 Trailroc 285 Vs. La Sportiva Bushido
The Bushido is the Trialroc’s biggest competitor. I personally always choose the Bushido over the Trailroc, however, the Bushido does not trump the Trailroc in every category.
The Bushido has a more comfortable upper and fit, is more supportive, and has far better traction. The Trailroc is more durable, has a more natural feel, and is slightly lighter than the Bushido.
The Trailroc is one of the lightest trail running shoes that qualify as a tank for your feet. The Trailroc is different from most other ‘tanks’ as it has a much more natural ride. I take points off for the fit and for the traction.
Overall, this is a great trail running shoe that has something new to offer in the world of running shoes.
Good to know
- The Trailroc series from Inov-8 continues their line with the Trailroc 285, featuring a complete redesign that yields more protection, support, comfort, grip, and energy return. Weighing 285 grams – hence the name – it now also has a better capacity to handle hard-packed and rocky trails, no matter the distance.
- It still uses a lightweight upper with a seamless fit, preventing irritation even as rugged trails cause the foot and shoe to rub together. A robust toe cap supplies additional protection against rocks and other debris.
- The updated PowerFlow+ midsole now offers better shock absorption and energy return compared to traditional foams. It allows the runner to move effortlessly as the transition is made easier and quicker. A durable and sticky unit that consists of three types of rubber form the outsole of the Trailroc 285. The resulting material brings superior grip and smooth ride.
The Inov-8 Trailroc 285 has a standard running shoe length. It is a unisex shoe that is available in men’s sizes. Based on the brand’s fit scale, the shoe has a Grade 3 width, which is equivalent to the D – Medium profile of men’s running shoes. The shoe’s construction will comfortably accommodate low to medium foot volumes.
Dubbed the Tri-C, the outsole of the Trailroc 285 is the combination of three rubber compounds of varying density, as it targets excellent grip while keeping wear and tear at a minimum. It also dispels downward pressure during landing.
The first compound is hard, sticky rubber in the heel for increased endurance during landings. Next is a medium sticky rubber on the edges of the outsole for all-around traction and steadiness. Lastly, there is soft, sticky rubber in the center that lets the shoe maintain optimum performance even in wet conditions.
The outsole has a Meta-Flex groove in the forefoot to promote flexibility, especially during toe-off. This Meta-Flex groove design is also used in the Trail Talon 235 and almost all Inov-8 running shoes.
At the forefront of the midsole unit is the PowerFlow+ cushioning system. This technology boasts of overall better performance than standard midsole, as it delivers 10% better shock absorption at the heel and 15% better energy return at the forefoot.
The shoe has a unique rock plate called the Dynamic Fascia Band, which runs across the length of the shoe. It acts like a lever, releasing energy as it flexes with each step and propelling the runner forward.
Meanwhile, the shank of the Trailroc 285 is fifth-generation Meta-Plate®, presenting itself in a five-finger layout for both underfoot protection and flexible mobility.
For an indicator, the shoe has the Arrow Shoc-Zone, which shows the level of underfoot cushioning through arrow illustrations on the heel. Because the Trailroc 285 has an 8 mm drop, it is considered as medium cushioning, which translates to a two-arrow display in the Shoc-Zone.
The upper of the Trailroc 285 is a seamless mesh that creates a stripped-down look and feel, enabling a lightweight and breathable fit. The material is also durable as it aims to shield the foot from trail elements that might cause injuries.
Supporting the mesh is the Met-Cradle+, the framework system of the shoe that comes in the form of synthetic webbing. It wraps the forefoot and permits a secure fit, especially at the arch.
Another protective element is the External Toe Cap. It prevents pain that may result from accidentally kicking or tripping over rocks and debris during the run.