The Inov-8 Roclite G 290 has been a favorite of ours for several years due to its excellent traction and very comfortable fit. It is one of a handful of shoes to which Inov-8 expanded its new G-grip graphene-enhanced rubber outsole. G-grip, also used in our favorite zero-drop shoe, is a revolutionary new technology released in the middle of 2018 that adds the strongest textile substance known to man — graphene — to the outsole rubber to increase its strength and longevity significantly. The 6mm deep lugs on this trail shoe do a great job gripping almost any surface, especially soft ones like grass and mud, and will also stand up to the test of time. This shoe can do it all. Off-trail running, such as fell running, are where the large lugs will shine. But no matter what sort of terrain you frequent, this is a worthy shoe that won't hold you back.Editor's Note: This product review was updated on March 6, 2022, with added tips on how competing products stack up and which shoes we recommend you buy.
Inov-8 Roclite G 290 Review
Cons: Not as sticky as previous versions, not super protective underfoot or in the upper
Our Analysis and Test Results
This shoe is currently being offered in colorways different from those shown in the photo below. However, the shoe itself has not changed, and the information contained in this review is current and up-to-date.
We have long been fans of this shoe and have recognized it for its excellent traction many times. While still called the Roclite G 290, a couple of critical updates make this shoe better than previous versions, even though we haven't continued to give it an award. The G-grip graphene outsole improves durability while at the same time causing a slight decrease in stickiness. In our opinion, the trade-off is worth it, considering we have ripped many of the 6mm cleat-shaped lugs off of previous test versions while on a day out running over rocks. The upper uses thinner mesh that is a bit more breathable but not incredibly durable. The Adapterweb foot cradling system is slightly changed. A narrow-gauge nylon cord is used as laces and holds the foot securely in place, joining the laces to the footbed and sandwiched very closely inconspicuously within the upper.
While conducting product research for this review, we came across an excessive amount of customer complaints that these shoes were way too small and narrow and that the sizing is completely off. In our experience, this is not true, as we feel these shoes fit perfectly to size and are not overly narrow. We tested men's size 11 US, the same size we've tested for many of our shoes, and found them to fit perfectly to size. However, there may be a possible discrepancy with UK or EU sizing compared to what is listed, but this is not the case in the US. We recommend ordering your normal running shoe size.
The Roclite is not a super protective shoe and is more weighted towards sensitivity than foot protection. There is around 11mm of midsole cushioning in the heel, and combined with the 6mm insole and the 6mm lugs, the stack height in the heel is still a low 24mm, making it one of the least cushioned shoes that we tested.
Inov-8 says there is a "metashank" in the midsole, but we have a hard time noticing what it does, as this shoe allows for a lot of trail feel. However, it is still way burlier underfoot than some other thin and squishy minimalist options, so if you like a thin, low-to-the-ground shoe but want some protection, we think this is a solid choice. The upper, made mainly of mesh with very thin overlays, is not very protective.
If traction is what you are looking for, this shoe is one of the best that you can buy. While the Salomon Speedcross 5 now has stickier rubber than you will find on the bottom of this shoe, this one's rubber is considerably more durable, thanks to the new G-grip formula.
While we found the Roclite G 290 to be a little slippery on wet rock (but what shoe isn't?), the well-spaced, 6mm deep lugs grip well on all soft and slippery terrain such as mud, snow, and grass. If you feel the need for additional protection on the upper part of the shoe, we recommend wearing gaiters on the sloppiest of trails.
You can also run consistently on harder surfaces in these shoes without fearing that you will wear the lugs down too quickly.
This shoe feels more sensitive than protective underfoot. It is suitable for prospective buyers who like to feel what they are stepping on and aren't looking for a dissociative approach to trail running. There is a minimal amount of foam underfoot, although the 6mm deep lugs, which cover much of the bottom of the shoe, do a solid job of dampening impacts a bit. It is not nearly as sensitive as the Altra Superior 5 but affords a fair bit more trail feel than the firm Nike Terra Kiger.
This shoe is very stable and provides an excellent landing and take-off platform. With a low stack height, combined with a minimal 4mm heel-toe drop, your foot runs closer to the ground in this shoe than just about any other.
To us, the Roclite feels a lot like the low-running Nike shoes. Due to its thinness underfoot, it flexes and molds easily to rocks and roots, providing an excellent trail feel. The upper uses what Inov-8 calls the Adapterweb foot cradling system, which effectively uses a very thin nylon cord sandwiched inside the upper to hold the foot in place.
There is no question that this is a very comfortable shoe. We found that it felt great right out of the box and needed no break-in time of any sort. It is well made, and it is especially evident on the inside of the upper, where there are virtually no seams.
The airy mesh used throughout allows it to breathe well and drain effectively after becoming waterlogged. We have nothing to complain about in terms of its comfort, and once again point out that we find it to be of average width and perfectly true to size lengthwise, in stark contrast to the many online reviews that complain of it being far too small. Unless you like to wear extra-thick running socks, order true to size in the US.
Our pair of men's size 11 US weighed in at 21.6 ounces, which is actually around a half-ounce lighter than previous versions of this shoe have weighed. We suspect the difference is found in the new lighter-weight upper mesh. It can handle an impressive amount of terrain at such a light weight.
Should You Buy the Inov-8 Roclite G 290?
The Inov-8 Roclite G 290 is a sensitive, low-to-the-ground shoe with excellent traction that thrives off-trail. It is light with a thin mesh upper. If traction is one of your primary desires, along with a fair price point, this shoe should be at the top of your footwear wish list.
What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?
This shoe retails for roughly average when it comes to an everyday trail trainer, but we think it's a huge step up from that. Since it performs well and the traction will last for a long time, we think this shoe presents a pretty great value. A shoe like the La Sportiva Bushido II performs similarly, but offers improved underfoot protection for mountainous terrain. If you are simply after a fantastic shoe and don't have a specific feature set you are looking for, the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 is one of our top recommendations.
— Andy Wellman
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More