If you’ve read any of my other reviews of Trail and Fell running shoes, you may have noticed that I regularly make reference to the original Mudclaw 265 as my benchmark for performance on steep mud and soft ground (which we get an awful lot of at this time of year!). I’ve tried a lot of different shoes over the last couple of years but my trusty Mudclaws are the pair that I go back to most consistently and they never fail to impress.
Like a lot of runners, I find myself getting a wee bit panicky when I learn that a manufacturer is updating one of my favorite shoes as it’s surprising how often a few well-intentioned tweaks to a design can really screw things up. With this in mind, I was a little apprehensive upon learning that Inov-8 were refreshing the fantastic 265’s but equally excited to give them a try!
Those who are familiar with the previous iteration of the 265 will notice that apart from the colour, the new version of the shoe appears very similar to the old one. It shares the same outsole, midsole, TPU overlays on the upper and a very similar toe rand. However, there is one key difference – the material used for the construction of the upper. The ripstop material that Inov-8 used for the previous version of the 265’s has been replaced by a heavy duty nylon mesh which is included in an effort to improve durability and water drainage whilst reducing drying time.
As with Inov-8’s other performance last shoes, the new Mudclaw 265 is rather snug and tapers in a bit around the big toe. It’s a performance orientated fit (duh) which is intentionally less spacious than shoes built upon the companies ‘standard’ last but it does a very good job of holding the foot securely over steep ground.
I always felt that the original red 265 seemed a tiny bit more roomy around the toe box than some of their other shoes that are built upon the same platform as the red ripstop upper is quite soft and flexible and I felt like this provided some forgiveness to the fit. The mesh material that Inov-8 have used for the 2015 version of the shoe is noticeably less pliable which for me, means that the fit feels super secure and perhaps even more ‘racy’ but at the sacrifice of some ‘give’. The sizing of the new mudclaw feels exactly the same as the old version and is ‘true to size’.
Moving on to the look of the shoe, the new blue colourway is quite understated compared to many of Inov-8’s other models and whether you like this or not is obviously a personal thing. Call me a fancy pants but I quite like bright coloured shoes and feel a little underwhelmed by the colour and lack of detailing but others may welcome this more subtle approach to styling.
As you would expect, grip over deep mud is virtually unparalleled whilst steep, wet grass or soft snow are both handled with ease. Traction over wet damp and roots is much better than you might expect for a shoe that is as nobbley as the Mudclaw, thanks to the soft, sticky compound and flat-ended lugs which create a decent contact area. This surprising versatility was also one of my favourite things about the previous version of the 265 because it inspires so much more confidence than many other heavily lugged shoes over slick, hard surfaces (Salomon take note). The Mudclaws are obviously primarily intended for soft conditions and the outsole will wear down quickly if they are regularly used on rocks and roads but this adaptability makes the 265’s an incredibly useful tool when conditions are varied.
The Mudclaws have no rockplate and the midsole is thin, leaving them low to the ground, super-stable and highly flexible. The deep lugs provide a bit of extra cushioning over firm, smooth ground but the lack of protection means that jagged objects can be felt underfoot whilst descending quickly. The 265’s are right on the lower-limit of the amount of insulation I feel I need to safely run over sharp rocks but any more protection would lead to a reduction in performance over the kind of soft conditions where the shoes are designed to excel so I wouldn’t have it any different.
Lots of manufacturers have started adding DWR water repellency to their shoes over recent years to varying degrees of success and the coating on the new version of the 265’s is the best I have tried. You really have to get them completely saturated to get wet feet (unless you submerge them above the ankle) and when they do soak through, the drainage seems better than the old version of the shoe.
The red ripstop upper of the previous Mudlaws felt like it allowed the shoe to mould to my foot and I would happily run in them all day if my legs would allow it. The thick mesh upper of the new 265’s seems to have the effect of moulding my foot to the shoe, making the pointy shape of the last more noticeable. The upside of this is that it the shoes feel even more dialed-in leading to incredible security and confidence when running downhill. The flip-side is that I’ve found myself feeling quite glad to take them off and let my feet return to their normal shape after some longer runs, even following a fairly lengthy break-in period. To test this out, I tried a short run with the old shoe on one foot and the new shoe on the other. They felt exactly the same when standing still but there is definitely a subtle difference between the feel of the two whilst on the move.
The 265’s are clearly marketed as a racing shoe so the fit makes sense when viewed within this context. As with Inov-8’s other performance last shoes, I’d personally like to see how it worked out it if the toe box was a little less tapered on the medial side with a snugger midfoot to maintain security of the fit.
I’ve put about 50 miles on the Mudclaws and whilst this isn’t long enough to asses their long term durability, I would be very surprised indeed if the upper were to fail prematurely as the mesh material feels incredibly sturdy. I will monitor this and update this post if I have any issues
The changes to the Mudclaw 265 have improved an already excellent product and they retain their place as my favourite shoe for winter miles on mountains and mud. I’d say that the new upper is marginally less comfortable than the old version for long runs but it does what it’s supposed to do in that it’s tough, it has even better water resistance and drains well. I look forward to getting a lot of use out of them over the coming months
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