Recently, I walked the John Muir Trail. On my feet the entire time were these inov-8 RocFly G 390 women’s hiking boots. Here is a review of how they performed, in the first of what I hope will be a new gear review series: 200 mile reviews. There are a lot of gear reviews in the world of kit that hasn’t been used for that long. For obvious reasons. Often a product is going through several iterations and improvements, meaning that by the time one item has clocked up 200 miles, it’s no longer for sale. In this case, I got the 200 miles in over the course of 3 weeks.
What you Get
The short answer is: a pair of shoes. And I suppose the motivational message on the inside lid of all inov-8 cardboard boxes, reassuring you that you’re not entirely mental. I did once cut one out and hang it on my bedroom wall for a bit, a long time ago. Anyway, what you really want to know is that these boots have:
- high ankles
- GoreTex lining
- a great big cushioned sole (“graphene enhanced G-fly foam”)
- thin fabric upper
- decently long laces
And that’s probably the bulk of what you want to know. It comes in sizes UK3 – 8.5 in women’s and there is a men’s version available. For more details on the exact tech specs for these shoes you can visit the official inov-8 RocFly G 390 page.
Wearing the inov-8 RocFly G 390 boots
Now then, the 200 mile test – actually more like 250 miles when all was said and done. I wore these shoes from new along the John Muir Trail (the US one, not UK one) going northbound in a very high snow year. You might say it was a bit of a gamble taking a pair of shoes I’d never used before and heading straight out into the wilderness. And yeah, I guess in some ways it was, but I have worn inov-8 trainers before and trust they can produce good quality shoes for the fells, so it wasn’t a complete unknown. Although I did have a moment of doubt on day one about whether they’d be able to effectively support my feet with a heavy rucksack on. (Flash backs to painful arch ache when fastpacking the Shropshire Way last January. Turns out it was fine.)
They fit well – I decided to go up half a size into 6.5, assuming the fit would be the same as their trainers, so I could wear winter walking socks inside. The sole was comfortable, although I can’t claim to have noticed the super “bounce and cushioning” except while on tarmac. Maybe that’s me not being perceptive enough, but since a vast amount of my hiking was on slushy snow, that probably reduced a lot of the bounce.
Zero Miles in…
One of the key benefits of lightweight hiking boots, which is what the inov-8 RocFly are, really, is that they feel like trainers. That means that there’s no breaking in of feet or boots required. You can wear them straight out the door, which is what I did. My initial thoughts were good. The laces held my foot tight and I was glad of the extra ankle support considering my multi-day backpack. So far so good.
50 Miles in…
My first 50 miles were almost entirely snow covered. I was still working out the rhythm of the day, which meant both waking up early enough for frozen sun cups, but also sliding around down the slush after midday. My feet were in a constant state of damp (or frozen in the morning). Due to the thin materials, these do freeze more easily than a full walking boot overnight. It’s hard to say whether the wetness was from ingress through the boot or from it getting inside through melting snow at the ankle. It certainly kept its water very well, so I’m going to assume the latter.
By 50 miles, I was at the campsite below Mount Whitney. I had a small blood blister under the ball of my big toe, which I put down to rubbing caused by the wet socks combined with sliding snow. My feet are about a half size different, so more space between foot and boot plus wet sock sounds like a blister. (Of course, I simply popped it with a penknife and carried on.) The other thing I noticed at 50 miles was that the right boot had a little triangle forming where the join between the upper fabric and what was essentially the rand were coming apart. Right on the bend of my toes. Already?
100 Miles in…
Shoes are still looking remarkably new – must be all that washing their getting from the snow. There’s a small hole between the light blue rand and the dark blue upper on the inside edge of both shoes, right where my toe bends. You can clearly see the fold lines in the picture and the little holes are at the end of them. It’s fine, doesn’t seem to affect performance or how much water they repel. You can’t get a finger in it or anything. It just feels surprising that shoes sold for “endless adventure” have taken damage so quickly.
150 Miles in…
I’ve lost a lot of tread already, which is making me slide about a bit more and wear microspikes regardless. The original split on the right foot is now big enough for me to fit a finger in, although it doesn’t go all the way inside the shoe – so that’s something! All four fold points now have small gaps. Otherwise the shoes are holding up well and not giving me any rubbing or blisters.
Here’s a zoomed in picture of me crossing a log to try to show the flap forming on the original split and the other ones forming.
200 Miles in…
By this stage, the gap on the side of my right shoe was getting really quite big, but I didn’t care because I was heading towards the finish line. I’ve zoomed in on the picture below of my feet in San Francisco, just after finishing the trail. You can see the long split along the left hand side of the right shoe, plus a smaller one on the opposite side of the same shoe. There’s another one forming on the left edge (same bend spot) of the left shoe too that you can just about see.
What Went Well
I am pretty pleased with these boots. They definitely did the job for me on this trip, but I’m not sure how many more hundred miles they’ll last. Here are some of the highlights.
The inov-8 Rocfly G 390 boots are comfortable right out the box. They are very much like trainers in fit and feel, but obviously with the higher ankles to add some support. The entire upper construction is very flexible and the sole has some added bounce to help you go – although this is less noticeable on snow and with a heavy rucksack. The only time I had rubbing was when the shoes were wet. The worst of it being when I was wearing them without socks on hiking from the trail head out into town along the road. Entirely self inflicted.
It is worth considering whether the GoreTex lined versions are really worth it for you. If, as I was, you are going to be hiking mostly in wet environments (e.g. crossing multiple rivers or spending days in slushy snow) you might find it hard to get the water out once it is in. Similar boots without a waterproof lining would dry quicker, although they will also let the water in quicker. One to consider when buying.
Of course the clear benefit of these shoes over traditional hiking boots is they are extremely light. That means less effort to pick your feet up, which may sound like it’ll barely make a difference but does really add up over long distances. Although I am hardly an ultralight disciple, you may as well help yourself out where you can and cut a bit of weight to make things easier going. (Or swap the extra weight on your feet for another packet of jelly babies in your bag.) The inov-8 RocFly women’s boots were much lighter than any other pair of walking boots I’ve tried – much more comparable to a fell running shoe, making me feel much more agile underfoot.
Could Do Better
This is extensive, but please don’t think I’m slagging off this shoe. I just want to make sure that if you buy it, you buy it for the right reasons/situations. There’s nothing worse than disappointing gear and a huge part of that problem can be fixed by matching the right bit of kit for how you’re going to be using it.
Not that Waterproof?
Anecdotally, it felt a lot less waterproof than, a standard hiking boot. This is probably not a fair comparison, but something to think about when making a buying decision. Maybe hiking in slushy snow is the equivalent of walking through a stream with some sort of water pressure higher that rain or bog? But even on the first week or so when I wasn’t doing sketchy, deep river crossings I had wet feet. Even when I hadn’t got snow or water going in the top of the boot. Mine was an extreme example, but I couldn’t say for sure – or rather have no clear evidence after 250 miles – that these are particularly waterproof boots.
I’m a bit puzzled by how the soles have taken so much wear, when for most of the 200 miles they barely touched the ground. I was usually on snow, not known for its abrasive qualities, and even then wearing microspikes. This makes me wonder how much longer they will give me good traction for, before they’re basically flat. Similarly, they might not last much longer than a pair of trainers when it comes to heavy use on rock.
The rand was starting to come away from the top of the shoe within 50 miles worth of use, at the bend in the toes. I thought this might be a one-off fault, perhaps I’d got it caught on a twig or something. But when it started on the other shoe and both sides of the fold, this seems to be a bigger issue. By 200 miles, I could run a finger up and down the original split. It doesn’t go right through the shoe, so that’s something, but it picks up dirt and dust like nobody’s business.
I know it’s just marketing hyperbole, but “supercharging your feet for endless adventure” didn’t really hit the mark. Obviously (or at least, I think obviously, correct me if you know better) any lightweight trainer-style boot will break down before a standard walking boot. The materials used aren’t as thick or as sturdy. Although, to be fair, in this instance it wasn’t the materials breaking down but the glue that held them together. Still, surrounded by PCT hikers who were on average replacing their shoes every 800 miles or so, these boots were certainly tending short of the norm.