VJ Shoes Ultra 2 as reviewed by trail runner Sarah Barber. Product was provided by American Trail Running Association corporate member VJ Shoes at no cost for the test.
A quick scroll of the results from the recent 2023 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (held in Austria) informs us that apart from a handful of podium finishes by American runners, the sport is heavily dominated by East Africans and Europeans. In other words, scrambling up and down mountains on foot is an international activity that knows no borders. In fact, many of the best-known trail shoe brands in the U.S. can trace their origin stories to the other side of the globe. Native to Finland, VJ Shoes is no exception, and with the birth of their North American headquarters in the Pac Northwest, we can expect the U.S. fan base to grow exponentially.
VJ Shoes don’t pretend to be the running Jack-of-all-trades. Instead, they’ve wisely honed their focus on the extreme end of off-roading with only five different models of highly specialized sneakers whose purposes range from trail and obstacle course racing to navigating snow and ice without crampons. Rather than waste resources with gendered sizing and variable color schemes, VJ sticks to a simple, standardized approach wherein each shoe model owns its identity both in form and in function.
Their new-and-improved Ultra 2 bursts out of the box in a shade of green that almost screams Handmade by leprechauns! But the tiny old men of folklore who live in remote places singing brogues and making shoes could not have churned out these high-tech kicks. Intended for long-range trail racing, the Ultra 2 feels as durable as it looks. The impenetrable upper is reminiscent of Kevlar and boasts a reinforced rubber toe guard. Breathable? Perhaps not, but very likely bullet-proof. A full-length rock plate along the sole completes this tank of trail shoe and promises a strong defense.
The offense, however, proves equally strong, thanks to 4 mm lugs on the outsole to help runners get a grip even when the going gets tough. Midsole stiffness oozes confidence no matter how sloppy the surface, and a stack height lower than many long-distance shoes keeps ground contact quite intimate. But the Ultra 2 is no flirt—it’s all business on all terrain.
Also all business is the advice on VJ’s website for prospective owners to order a half-size larger than their usual. This is not a suggestion. This is a mandate. You’re welcome.
The first time I laced up in the early morning hours and made my way towards my Nespresso morning elixir, I heard a noise: schlurp, schlurp. I froze. What was that? I continued across the kitchen floor, and there it was again: schlurp, schlurp, schlurp. It was the unmistakable noise of walking on a concrete floor coated with spilled-and-then-dried Gatorade. Except that my floor was clean. The noise was actually coming from the ridiculously grippy tread of the Ultra 2 shoes. While not sticky to the touch, these sneakers would make greased ball bearings seem like a stable surface. Unreal.
The Ultra 2 tackled a rocky, sandy trail dotted with puddles in a steady drizzle like it was child’s play. And come to think of it, it was child’s play—my inner child’s fun-meter was pegged. Several days later, a more challenging mountain route was equally enjoyable, as the grippy Ultra 2 and I danced along the craggy surface like a well-choreographed pas de deux. But these burley kicks are far from ballet slippers. Unlike the virtually biodegradable dancing shoes, the Ultra 2 seems durable enough to last a lifetime and beyond. In the event that I choose never to take them off, they’ll probably outlive my decomposing body!
Weight: 295 grams
Stack height: 33 mm
Heel-toe drop: 6 mm
Editor’s Note: Be sure to enjoy more reviews on shoes to hydration from Sarah Barber.