There's no shortage of super-materials with sci-fi names and seemingly impossible capabilities to be found in the world of outdoor gear. There's Dyneema, an ultralight, ultra-strong fiber commonly used in climbing gear and backpacks; there's aerogel, an ultralight, compression-resistant material now found in insulating jackets, gloves and sleeping bags. (NASA uses it too.) Now, you can count graphene among this group — and you can consider Inov-8's new graphene running shoe foam a first.
So what is graphene? Simply put, it's a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal sheet that's 200 times stronger than steel by weight. Scientists have speculated about it for decades, but it wasn't until 2004 that researchers at the University of Manchester in England were able to isolate the stuff.
We're still at the beginning of a graphene gold rush of sorts, as scientists and materials developers explore how we might harness its incredible traits. While science continues to explore its incredible possibilities, Inov-8 has worked closely with the University of Manchester's National Graphene Institute to get it into running shoes.
Inov-8's most recent progress in that mission is G-Fly, a graphene-enhanced midsole foam. Previously, the company baked the material into outsole rubble, where the lightweight durability benefits are clear, but the reason for putting it in the midsole might be less so. The shoe's developers were in the same boat; that said, they knew that graphene tends to enhance the characteristics of the materials around it, making it a potential boon for returning energy in the sole.
Inov-8's lab development tests seem to support the idea. The new foam provides 25 percent better energy return than the industry standard for EVA foam — and maintains some of that edge even after hundreds of miles of use.
Inov-8 is debuting G-Fly in the Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max, a high-cushion trail running shoe for long-distance efforts. The shoe also incorporates Graphene Grip, the company's graphene-enhanced outsole, and another new tech called Adapter-Flex, which provides a high level of flexibility despite the tall stack height of the sole.
The Trailfly Ultra G 300 Max is available for preorder now and will ship in April.