inov-8 Race Ultra 290 – Guest Review

We’ve received a very thorough and interesting review of the inov-8 Race Ultra 290 shoe, and we thought we’d share it with you. Simon Blackburn, the tester who has over 30 years of running experience, took these out on a 44 mile trail race in the Lake District, and has since run over 100 miles of varying terrain in the Race Ultra 290. Have a read of Simon’s review below:

First Impressions

“I received two pairs of 290’s in the post as I heard they ran a tad small. I actually found them true to size (a big bonus if using mail order).

The clue is in the model name of all inov-8 shoes. So the RU290 tip the scales at 290 grams per shoe (for UK size 8). Whilst not as heavy or as bulky as some trail shoes the RU290 is certainly robust with multiple protection panels to toe and heel.

The biggest plus is, however, the fit. Whereas previously inov-8s have never been an option for me – due to their slim width and climbing shoe profile – the RU290 comes in a ‘Standard’ fit with ample space for toes to splay. Bonus!

This allied to the RU290’s heel to toe drop of 8mm brings the shoe into the sweet spot of 4-8mm for many runners unable (or unwilling) to forego the pains of submitting themselves to more minimalist footwear.”

The Upper

“Other than the pleasing fit and the colour the main thing that struck me about the RU290 is the lack of stitching in the forefoot area. Although not novel this is still a curse of some shoe designs that can lead to abrasion at certain flex points.

The midfoot of the shoe relies on a 4-bar TPU overlay system to the medial and lateral side. This creates good support and shows no sign of wear either in its length or at the lacing eyelets. Personally I’m a fan of having the extra eyelet at the throat of the shoe allowing for a snugger heel fit but overall this proved no real penalty. The tongue is of medium thickness with no perforation and a useful fabric anchoring system to prevent any ingress of debris.

For extra protection inov-8 offer their Race Ultra Gaiter. The RU290 has a neat on-the-shoe attachment system which means the gaiter can be easily clipped on and off. The gaiters don’t come with the shoe but can be purchased separately. This truly makes them a shoe for all seasons (or your average summer’s day in most mountain areas of the UK!)

Inside the shoe there’s no visible stitching and the heel and collar padding provide sufficient comfort without bulk. The insole itself is made by X-Static with a promise to eliminate odors whilst regulating temperature. I can’t say I noticed any great benefit over other insole units whose primary function would be one of support. But no abrasions or blisters is always a plus.

After 100+ miles of running there is zero wear and tear on the upper of the shoes. I’m sure if I could be bothered to wash them it would be hard to tell them from new. This is mainly because the upper is quite thick and there is a stitched panel around the total base of the upper where affixed to the midsole. There’s nothing gonna cause a tear in these puppies. The only indication of wear in any part of the upper is some decals lifting from the insole and a small amount of bobbling on the heel fabric.”

After the gruelling testing
After the gruelling testing

The Midsole

“Many brands tout a proprietary midsole material when it’s nothing more than EVA – a staple in running shoes for over 30 years. inov-8 is a brand based on the concept of a reduced running shoe and its arrow system has been used as a means to encourage natural running form and a minimal heel to toe drop. As a consequence, its shoes invariably offer a low volume of midsole foam.

To this end it would appear that cushioning is something that inov-8 is not overly keen to build into its shoes. And perhaps here is where we have a problem when launching an ultra shoe into a sector where two of the world’s fastest growing brands are gobbling up marketing share with a doctrine based on maximalist cushioning.

inov-8 have, however, incorporated a ‘multi-finger polymer Meta-Shank™ designed to align with each individual metatarsal for increased benefit from the Windlass Effect whilst retaining underfoot impact protection and flexibility.’ This aside what I can report is that the cushioning can best be described as mid to firm. This is perfectly trail-friendly but perhaps comes up short for extended sections of road running.”

Mucky, but not damaged
Trail friendly, firm cushioning

The Outsole

“All salute the outsole of this shoe. There’s no way inov-8 were going to slip up here (eh?) and their in-house design – Tri-C Endurance – is a mix of soft sticky, hard sticky and endurance rubbers with cleats specifically placed to deliver best grip. And boy it is tough. With zero sign of wear after 100 miles these outsoles should considerably outlast the midsole cushioning.

The tread pattern held up well on all surfaces although, it being summer, I’ve yet to blast them through any severe mud to see what (if anything) sticks.

What is slightly odd about the sole of the shoe is its flat profile and the lack of flex grooves in the forefoot. There is reference to a Meta-Flex groove on the sole of the RU290 but this seems to be placed about 2-3cms ahead of the shoe’s natural flex point.”

No sign of wear after 100 miles
No sign of wear after 100 miles

What I like

“This is a well constructed shoe with a massive off-road pedigree. There’s no shortage of grip and protection whilst on the trail and even without gaiters no small stones or earth entered the shoe whilst running on loose terrain.

Minimal exposed seems meant no abrasions; the Standard fit enhanced multi-hour comfort and the midfoot TPU overlays allowed for a secure fit once the lacing was fully dialed in.”

What I dislike

“These shoes got me through my first 44-mile trail ultra with a smile on my face and not a single blister on my feet so this is a bit like trying to find fault with your first sports car.

If anything I think this shoe is over-engineered. As a consequence many would argue it’s too sturdy, too rugged and yes – at over 10.2 ounces per shoe – too heavy to carry the word ‘race’ in its moniker.

Although perhaps tuned to trail running the cushioning is not as lively as I would like and this starts to really show if you escape its natural environment. When running on pavement or road the dense EVA midsole appears to deaden impact rather than create any bounce factor.”


“inov-8 is super capable of producing a great lightweight running shoe capable of conquering any mountain.

With the new Standard fitting and an uncompromising attitude that has seen them podium in every mountain running sport to date this is a fine early entrant for inov-8. I’m confident the Race Ultra 290 will prove to be father to a family of shoes that will grace many an ultra podium in years to come.”

Simon Blackburn is an endurance athlete, entrepreneur, wordsmith and occasional race commentator. With PBs of 2.40 for the marathon and 9.40 for the Ironman he still has a bunch of long distance challenges to conquer if only he would train harder. You can email Simon words of encouragement at

The Race Ultra 290 is available from now!

inov-8 have also launched a brand new range of top quality running clothing and accessories – see the 2014/15 range here.

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