When Jasmin Paris crossed the finish line of the Spine Race in January in a record 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds – more than 12 hours faster than the previous record holder, Eoin Keith (95:17) – she became the first woman to win the race outright. She did it in a pair of inov-8s.
I’m not remotely suggesting that her choice of shoes did anything more than complement a remarkable performance, but it was the first time I’d noticed the brand in a competitive environment and it piqued my attention. I’d been vaguely aware of inov-8 for perhaps a year or two, the name slowly appearing in more places connected to hillwalking. While their pedigree is firmly established in running the muddy British fells, there barely seems to be a terrain where inov-8 haven’t excelled.
While my fell walking has often been on the brisk side, nobody would ever call it fell running; sometimes it’s barely even walking. I nurtured my passion for the hills amongst other hillwalkers – some older than me, some my age, a few younger than me. Because of that, I’ve learned from traditions of the past 20 years. When you go to the hills, you wear big boots. My first two pairs of hillwalking boots were fabric, my third pair were leather. While each pair lasted me for years, I loved the fabric ones thanks to their lower weight. When the time came to replace my last pair of boots, I picked myself up the most indulgent and expensive pair of lightweight boots I would ever likely own: the Scarpa R-Evolution GTX. They’ve tried to kill me on every walk. They’re rubbish.
Herein lies the quandary… when you’re setting off on the Pennine Way, or a trail of any great length, the sage advice is to wear boots that are fully broken in that you’re familiar with. My Scarpas had 150 miles on them – perfectly broken in – and I knew how they worked. On rock, you’re fine. On mud, you’re fine. With water, you’re fine. But mud and water equals death. Rock and mud equals death. Rock and water equals slippery death. I’ve nearly castrated myself on step stiles because the bit of wood was still glistening with the remains of a gentle morning dew and the Scarpas forgot how to be boots.
This was the situation: my Scarpas were broken in, but would almost certainly kill me at least once. I’d never walked in truly lightweight boots (the Scarpa R-Evolution were the lightest I’d owned until recently), but I knew I preferred to walk in approach shoes to leather boots. I’d never worn inov-8s and the reviews of their only previous walking boot, the Roclite 325 GTX, gave me reason for slight concern, especially when it came to durability. I was told by someone whose opinion I trust and who had worn half a dozen pairs of inov-8s over the years that “they might make it up the Pennine Way, but they won’t make it any further.”
And then I noticed that inov-8 had released the Roclite 345 GTX, an actual real life walking boot with graphene-enhanced soles to improve durability. They were so new to the market that I couldn’t find a single review and literally nobody seemed to have bought a pair, but they were the boots I wanted. The only mention of them I could find was from a blogger – inov-8 had given him a pair before he set out on the Camino de Santiago, but he hadn’t returned with a review yet.
So, here’s my review. If you’re fed up of reading already, this is the headline: these are the best boots I’ve ever owned.
If you want know more, keep reading.
Disclaimer: I bought these boots myself for £129. I also bought the Scarpas myself for closer to £200 (not bitter at all). The vast majority of brands couldn’t care less what I think and my social media following wouldn’t even impress my niece.
Let’s get this out of the way first because it’s going to be the main reason you’re looking at these boots – they’re light. Positively featherweight. The inov-8 product listing has these recorded as being 345g per boot, which is presumably for a UK size 9 as mine come in at a slightly more rotund 411g per boot. I wear a size 11.5. Compared to the Scarpa R-Evolution GTX, which are marketed as a lightweight walking boot, there’s no competition – the Scarpas are 600g per boot for a UK size 9, almost twice as much. For context, my Nike Pegasus road running trainers weigh 294g per shoe. I find it amazing that a boot made specifically to withstand the British countryside is barely heavier than a run-of-the-mill road running shoe.
Why might you want lightweight footwear for hillwalking? An old adage is that 450g on your feet equals over 2kg on your back, so you’ll likely enjoy your hike a lot more and feel less fatigued in lighter footwear. Heavy boots can trace their heritage back to mountaineering where you need to kick steps into hard snow and keep your feet warm. I don’t know about you, but my trips to the Peak District rarely see me blazing new icy trails. The other reason you might want to consider lightweight boots: Chris Townsend says so.
Fit, Size and Comfort
Size was one of my main concerns before buying the inov-8s. There are whole forums dedicated to the fit of their shoes and if, like me, you’ve had a lifetime of buying more typical walking boots, you’re going to find sizing as confusing as I did. This is my definitive advice: if you’re a runner and you own a pair of Nike, Asics or Brooks, get the inov-8s in the same size as your running shoe. If you’re not a runner, order the inov-8s half a size up from your normal dress shoe size. I didn’t find these boots to be especially narrow or wide, but even if your feet are slightly wider than normal I’d imagine the flexibility of the mesh upper will go a long way to removing any discomfort.
With my size selected, I was ready to lace them up for the first time. Straight out of the box, the Roclite 345 GTX felt wonderful. When it comes to footwear for walking, you can’t go far wrong if something feels snug everywhere, but tight nowhere. The inov-8s don’t really feel like that, though. It takes a moment to remember that you’re wearing walking boots and not the most comfortable pair of running shoes you’ve ever bought. If you’re used to ‘proper’ walking boots with metal eyelets to allow fancy-pants lacing techniques, you might find yourself a little concerned by inov-8s minimal eyelets. They look like Nike’s Flywire eyelets and, happily, they perform just as well. This is the first place where inov-8 have imbued these boots with a little magic – each of those eyelets has an uncompromising grip on the lace to the extent that you can achieve different tensions in different zones without having to do special knots halfway up the boot.
It will come as no surprise that the inov-8s don’t feel as solid as a normal walking boot. The toe box is malleable and there’s mesh on the top. These boots feel more like trainers, but don’t be fooled: inov-8 have made these things with wizardry because I stubbed my toe lots on the Pennine Way and it never once hurt. A lot of this is down to the sizing, of course. Because they fit more like a running shoe and you choose your size accordingly, you’ll have a little more room in the toe box than you might in more rigid walking boots and the odd toe bump rarely causes any discomfort.
This is the big one for me. After the soles of the Scarpas, which have Vibram written on them but I fully suspect someone just misspelt Vaseline, traction was what I wanted the most. The traction on the Roclite 345s is so good that it inspires confidence. On rocks, they’re incredible – scrambling has never felt so assured despite having a weight on my back. When walking across slippery rocks in streams, which I did with trepidation thanks to recent experience (honestly, I’m not bitter about having spent £200 on the Scarpas), I never once felt like I might slip.
It’s when it comes to mud that you can really tell where inov-8’s pedigree lies. The lugs on these boots shrug off mud, no matter how dry or wet or sticky or deep, like you wouldn’t believe. For the last 10 years, I’ve always looked for a stream at the end of every hike before I got back to the car to ‘clean my boots’. The inov-8s didn’t need that; every time I turned up to a pub at the end of a 20 mile stretch on the Pennine Way and politely asked the bar staff if they’d like me to take my boots off, they all said the same thing: “You’ll be fine, they look clean.”
I’d trust the traction on these boots anywhere and the cleats shed off debris so well that you can leave your BootBuddy at home from now on.
Unlike many boots designed for fell running, the Roclite 345 GTX have a Gore-Tex liner. The waterproofing in the Roclite 345s was a new experience for me. Doing the Pennine Way in the first week of April put them through an extreme test and they coped unbelievably well. With the exception of one misjudged bog where I sank way deeper than my ankle, the boots never once let in water. After crossing streams, sopping wet moorland, and walking through snow patches, rain and hail, they didn’t let me down once.
You do, however, get a feeling of rising anxiety every time you cross a stream in them. It’s not because the waterproofing can’t be trusted, it’s due to the lightweight construction. In a traditional boot, there’s a lot more material between you and the freezing water, so the Gore-Tex does its job and you continue on your hike none-the-wiser. Because there’s only mesh and a Gore-Tex liner between your foot and the water in the inov-8s, you get a rush of coolness a lot quicker than I’ve been used to. As you exit the stream, there’s always a little doubt that the cold equals leaking, but it never was. Walk a dozen paces or so and you’ll see the water being pumped out of the mesh by your foot movement – your feet warm up quickly and within minutes you forget that you’d ever crossed a stream.
Waterproofing aside, I did notice that the Roclite 345s didn’t allow sweat to escape as efficiently as I’d expected. I don’t think this will be a problem in dry and warm conditions (these are truly three season boots and not for winter use), but in the relentless cold and damp of the Pennine Way, it was noticeable. Not a problem, but noticeable.
Gore-Tex is supposed to stop water getting into your boot while maintaining breathability so that sweat can escape – after your head, you lose more sweat through your feet than any other part of your body. If, however, you’re walking through conditions that don’t allow your boots to dry out as you move, the outer of the boots becomes saturated and that Gore-Tex layer becomes impervious in both directions. The result is that your socks can get a little damp from sweat. That said, my feet never felt tired, damp or uncomfortably warm in the inov-8s and I’m not sure I can claim all of those things in any other pair of boots I’ve owned.
In conditions that would allow the mesh of the Roclite 345s to dry quickly, I’d expect to see none of this tell-tale dampness, but I don’t think my boots were dry for more than a few minutes after leaving Edale. It really was the harshest of tests for the boots and they performed admirably.
It would be fair to say that inov-8’s reputation as a company for making lightweight high performance footwear has come at the expense of their reputation for durability. I’m happy to say that I don’t see any evidence for poor durability here, but I’ll share some pictures so that you can decide yourselves.
Most of the online criticism for durability has been levelled at the way the soles of inov-8 shoes seem to degrade quickly – using softer rubber for grip comes at the expense of durability. The graphene-enhanced G-GRIP outsole of the Roclite 345 GTX appears to have been developed to solve that problem. inov-8 call it ‘the world’s toughest and most durable grip’ and I can’t find a single reason to argue with that.
Inside the boot, there are no signs of wear from use other than the insole having been dyed by some peat after some poorly-judged bog-hopping. In the heel cup, the stitching looks robust, there are no loose threads and there’s not a single sign of the material wearing through.
I also did that thing where you kick a twig, it gets caught under something else or buried in the mud and then you essentially try to spear your own foot with it. I did that way more times that I imagined I might (there’s a lot of heather and twiggy stuff on the Pennine Way) and every time, the pointy end of the stick went straight for the mesh. Of course it did, that’s how Sod’s Law works. You’d never know, the mesh looks unscathed.
According to Strava, I’ve walked almost 300 miles (482km) in these boots. I’d made my peace with the idea that they’d make it to Kirk Yetholm and not much further, but I’m hopeful that I could get another 200-300 miles out of this pair before they need replacing. For me, that brings them on par with most other pairs of walking boots I’ve owned. They won’t last as long as my Scarpa R-Evolution GTX boots, but that’s because those are in the garage where they belong.
Toe and Ankle Protection
This is the one place where I feel the quest for a lightweight boot has been pushed a little too far. If I could change anything about the Roclite 345s, it would be the toe rand. There’s a lot of give in the toe cap and I feel like increasing the protection offered by the toe rand would add mere grams to the weight of the boot whilst adding some protection in the one area that noticeably lacks it.
I have no such issues with the other end of the boot; the ankle support is excellent and they fit like a glove – there’s exactly the right amount of freedom and absolutely no slip. One benefit of lightweight boots is that you don’t get tired quite so quickly, so you’re more likely to pick your feet up when you walk and less likely to twist an ankle due to mistakes caused by fatigue. I’m not convinced boots with high ankles provide any more support than boots with less ankle support anyway.
If I could encourage inov-8 to make a second improvement to these boots, it would be to include a loop on the back so that you can take them off without getting wet and muddy hands. It’s a small detail that would add negligible weight to the boot and enhance the overall experience.
There’s so much to like about these boots. Unless you’re lucky and live close to one of the few places that carry stock, the chances are you’re going to be crossing your fingers and ordering them online like I did. I’d encourage you to give these boots a go, I can’t imagine how anyone could try them and not fall in love. They’ve been so markedly better than any other boots I’ve bought that I’d go as far as to say that my time on the trail was improved just by wearing them.
Someone once told me that the best part of the day is putting your walking boots on for a hike and the second best part of the day is taking them off again. With the inov-8s, the best part of the day was putting them on and the second best thing was not needing another pair of shoes to change into. These boots are as at home on the hills as they are walking to the pub. If you don’t want to take your boots off after a 20 mile walk because your feet still feel comfortable, it’s safe to say you’ve found some pretty great boots.
What I liked
- The comfort and fit are exceptional, it’s like hiking in your favourite pair of running shoes.
- Traction is insanely good.
- The flexibility and weight of the boot gives you confidence when hiking, especially when scrambling, and you don’t tire half as quickly as you might with more rigid and heavier boots.
What could be improved
- The toe rand doesn’t offer enough protection and should cover more of the toe box.
- The boots are in need of a heel loop to aid removing them without covering your hand in mud and muck.
- Breathability suffers in extreme conditions.