The Terraultra G 260 is the first of inov-8’s new G-Series shoes using graphene-enhanced rubber which is claimed to give a improbable combination of 50% more strength, elasticity and durability all at the same time. To underline that, there are no fewer than four little ‘G’ for graphene logos on each shoe and the concept seems to be working.
They’re proven to be so popular that inov-8 had run out of my test size. Fortunately I was bailed out by inov-8 stockists Ellis Brigham – who very kindly supplied my test shoe.
The first point I’d make is that the Terraultra is designed for long trail runs, very long trail runs over challenging terrain.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use it for shorter outings, but that’s not really its purpose in life and it has a number of features designed to work best when you’re churning out big miles.
Perhaps surprisingly, cushioning isn’t one of them. The mid-sole may look thick in pictures, but on harder surfaces like pavement or the sort of millstone slabs that abound on the Pennine Way, the ride is quite direct. They’ll work best for runners who are happy with minimal cushioning on hard surfaces or maybe enjoy energetic foot massages.
You might also expect minimal comfort from the sparsely-padded inner – there’s little added foam particularly around the ankle cuff – but the reality is quite different. As long as you’re wearing half-decent running socks, I found them a really impressive mix of comfort and security.
The fit is neat around the heel with a higher-than-usual volume forefoot to allow for swelling over the course of longer day runs and multi-day events.
Off Road Transformation
On paper that sounds like a recipe for sloppiness off-road, but oddly enough thanks to some inov-8 voodoo recipe, that’s not at all how it works. As soon as you hit the dirt, the Terraultra Gs are transformed.
What feels harsh on hard surfaces, suddenly translates into a nimble, flexible ride with great ground feel. Not quite in the same league as some closer-fitting shoes, but the classically minimal inov-8 sole construction with its barefoot-style zero drop sole – the heel and forefoot are the same 9mm from the ground – gives a stable, flexible feel underfoot.
What’s also gob-smackingly impressive is the outright Velcro-like grip you get from that G-logoed rubber particularly on rocky terrain, wet or dry. Slippery stony descents on my regular test route felt super secure with barely any slippage and a greasy asphalt descent that has most shoes skittering alarmingly barely even registered as anything other than reassuringly safe.
Number One For Rock-hopping
Step on a rock and the rock stays stepped on. No slide, slither or slip. These are the shoes I’d pick for stone-hopping stream crossings or unpredictable wet and greasy rocky steps in either direction.
The grip’s not half bad on softer stuff either. The deep tread is a bit like a caterpillar track and digs in anywhere there’s grass or anything short of proper slop.
Its one real weakness, I found, was that on off-camber mud, which it can certainly handle front on, the caterpillar tread blocks did occasionally slide sideways, perhaps due to the cross-biased pattern I think.
Mostly though, the shoes just gripped and the firmer the surface, the more tenaciously they held on.
Uppers and Downers
The reinforcement overlay on those shockingly green uppers is based on Kevlar, the stuff used to construct bullet-proof vests. Not only does this mean you can make daft cracks about shooting yourself in the foot, but it should also allow the upper to match the claimed durability of the sole.
It helps keep weight down too – note my size 43s weighed in at around 300g each rather than the 260 figure on the shoe. The mesh is plenty breathable, though the flipside is that it has minimal water resistance. That said, the lack of padding means the shoes dry fast when they do get soaked, though the footbed does have sponge-like tendencies.
Other stuff? The fat, green laces are easy to adjust and stayed adjusted. The colour is about as subtle as a stag party in a library and the inov-8 logos on the side of the shoe are mildly reflective.
Inov-8’s sole design features – Dynamic Fascia Band (DFB) and META-FLEX grooves are present and correct. The former claimed to help propel you forward, the latter to flex naturally in tune with your foot. All I can tell you is that the shoe runs very nicely.
All About Graphene
Finally, we thought we should do some digging into the magic ingredient in inov-8’s new outsoles. It’s a carbon-based substance that was isolated from graphite by scientists at Manchester University in 2004 and is touted as the ‘strongest material ever tested’ – 200x stronger than steel – and is a basic structural element of many carbon allotropes including diamonds, charcoal and carbon nanotubes. It’s apparently harder than diamonds too.
Technically it’s a semi-metal, and a monolayer of tightly bound carbon atoms, so it’s basically just a single atom thick – though it’s still clearly visible to the naked eye. Its discovery was considered important enough for the two scientists behind it to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
For runners though, its significance is that using it to enhance rubber promises to allow the use of a sticky rubber compound without the high wear rates normally associated with soft rubber. That’s what inov-8 says its collaboration with the Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester has developed.
What’s interesting here is that as well as being very tough, graphene is also very stretchy and can extend by 25% of its length, which presumably is why it doesn’t compromise the stickiness of the rubber compound. Interestingly, Continental has been producing bicycle tyres with a similar balance of grip and durability for several years with their Black Chilli compound rubber – the secret ingredient in that? Soot, so that would be carbon again then. Vittoria too specifically uses Graphene in bike tyres.
Other stuff it can be used for include super-strong, multi-layered body armour, water filtration, computer chips, smart body-monitoring tattoos, super fast-charging batteries, flexible smartphone displays, domestic lighting, rust-proof, but super thin paints and more.
I’ve been really impressed with inov-8’s Terraultra G 260. Not only by its Velcro-like grip on hard to medium-soft surfaces and uncanny tenacity on wet rock in particular, but also by its all-round comfort and unexpected mix of nimbleness and trail sensitivity despite its sparse padding and roomy forefoot.
That overall comfort and, in particular, the ability to cope with expanded, high-mileage foot volume makes it a good option for ultra-runners, but it’s also a good call for anyone tackling firm to medium-soft trails full stop who wants a grippy, durable shoe.
It is harsh on pavements and slabbed surfaces, which compromises it a little as a door-to-trail shoe and struggles a little with sideways, off-camber grip in full-on, non-grassy slop, but if that’s your gig, inov-8 is launching the new Mudclaw G 260 using the same Graphene-enhanced rubber compound but with an even more aggressive, near fell-shoe tread pattern. There’s also a gym-specific G if indoor winter training is more your thing.
Finally, in more general terms, it’ll be fascinating to see where Graphene rubber crops up next. Inov-8 has plans for its fast-hiking lightweight mids, which should appeal to anyone who wants a lightweight hiker without losing out on durability.
Watch this space.
Magic: Astonishing grip on rock and hard to medium ground, good ground feel, roomy forefoot, comfortable and nimble, fast drying and durable so far.
Tragic: Minimal cushioning makes them thuddy on pavement, slide on proper off-camber slop, minimal water resistance and quite pricey.
Grabbit? Dubbed the world’s toughest running shoe, the Terraultra G 260 is the first of inov-8’s new G-series of shoes using graphene-enhanced rubber that’s claimed to be 50% stronger, more durable and more elastic. They look cushioned, but they’re not. Minimalist internal padding makes them fast drying without detracting from comfort, a roomy forefoot allows for feet swollen by mega-distances, but they still feel nimble and planted with great trail feel. The aggressive sole grips hard on anything short of utter slop, particularly on wet rock. If you can live with the lack of underfoot protection and slightly thuddy feel on pavement, these are an excellent choice for long distance trail running and, if they turn out to be as durable as claimed, that should off-set the high-ish price-tag.
Lightweight upper with Kevlar overlay / EXTEROFIT tech adjusts to swelling of feet over long distances / EXTEROFLOW mid-sole / zero drop sole – 9mm at toe and heel – with graphene-enhanced rubber outsole / Dynamic Fascia Band (DFB) technology / Next-generation META-FLEX grooves in the outsole and midsole.
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