Inov-8 are forerunners and innovators (of course) of the trail running world, producing some highly respected footwear, but they're now making moves into the burgeoning 'fast and light' hiking market. The newest member of their hiking footwear family is the Roclite 345 GTX, on the surface not revolutionary but, wait, did you say graphene?!
Absolutely, and Inov-8 are first out of the gate with this technology (in hiking boots at least), teaming up with experts at the University of Manchester to incorporate the wonder material into their 'G Grip' Outsole.
Why is this a good thing? Well, primarily thanks to the tough and durable nature of graphene which lends itself well to footwear that's designed to take a pounding mile after mile. These miles will eventually chew through your soles which can be mega frustrating - especially when the rest of the boot still has plenty of life left in it, and graphene is scientifically proven to be 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing than conventional outsole materials.
The other benefit comes in weight savings, and Inov-8 are clearly keen ambassadors of the fast and light ethos. A single Roclite 345 comes in at an almost trainer like 345g with other boots in the Roclite range being similarly lightweight. You can definitely feel the lack of weight out on the trails where you would be hard pushed to tell the difference between these and your average pair of trainers. Lighter footwear generally feels more comfortable to wear and reduces fatigue over long distances, but there's more to comfort than just weight.
And this is where Inov-8 have perhaps overdone the paring down of the Roclite 345, with a sole that lacks cushioning and gives too much to the ground beneath it, eventually leading to soreness over long distances on particularly rutted terrain. Despite looking very athletic the Roclite 345 is pretty neutral to walk in and lacks the bouncy feel of a boot with loads of energy return making the sole feel a little dead, likely due to that fairly thin - in walking boot terms at least - section of midsole. This isn't a deal breaker though, as I found myself hiking at a fair old lick and even felt the urge to break into a run once or twice which is unusual for a hiker carrying a backpack!
On a more positive note the upper is beautifully made with mesh and welded TPU overlays and a predictably effective foot cradle system, making it snug fitting and lending it a seamless and blister free feel inside. The fit is suited to normal-low volume feet and the lacing system is very effective at cinching the material up without nasty bunching.
The 'G' in G-Grip presumably stands for 'graphene' but 'generous' might be more apt and the Roclite boots clamber over wet, greasy Cotswold stones with ease, holding fast and keeping me upright where most other boots fail miserably. The well-spaced 6mm lugs also offer good performance in mud, wet grass and on gravel.
Overall the Roclite 345's proved to be a good introduction to the world of graphene and Inov-8's hiking footwear, both of which show a lot of promise for the future - a future which Inov-8 CEO Ian Bailey firmly believes will be graphene filled “....graphene is the future, and we’re not stopping at just rubber outsoles. This is a four-year innovation project which will see us incorporate graphene into 50% of our range and give us the potential to halve the weight of shoes without compromising on performance or durability.”
Watch this space.