One of my goals in developing this blog is to provide independent reviews of as many off-road running shoes as possible that are designed to work in the kind of challenging conditions we get in the UK. The Inov-8 X-Talon range has been an obvious omission from the list as they are a modern-day classic that has proven to be hugely popular on the fell / mountain running scene so I’m excited to finally get the chance to test them.
The X-Talon is available in two models, both of which are denoted by numbers which signify the weight (in a UK size 8). The bright orange X-Talon 190 that I’m reviewing today is the featherweight racing model of the shoe which features a 3mm heel to toe drop and a simple upper with minimal overlays. The black / blue / orange 212 model has a 6mm drop, a full rand around the toes and a slightly more substantial upper. Both models of the shoe are incredibly light and flexible, featuring the same aggressive sole unit. They are pretty minimal in terms of protection with no rock plate and the EVA midsole is quite thin but this results in a fantastic levels of proprioception and a highly stable platform that is best suited for soft-mixed conditions. The 190’s are offered with Inov-8’s snug fitting ‘precision’ last only, whereas the 212’s are also offered in a ‘standard’ last model which provides a slightly more generous fit.
The X-Talon 190 stripped-back and aggressive racing shoe with a relatively simple design that is uncompromising in it’s execution. The bright orange colour is striking and not exactly subtle but it stands out and I really like it. They feel ridiculously light for such a luggy shoe and have excellent flexibility whilst retaining decent amount of spring-back.
This model of the ‘Talon is built around Inov-8’s precision last which means that they are designed to fit snugly to provide control over steep, uneven terrain. If you’ve had previous experience of Inov-8 shoes that are based on this platform, it’s worth noting that the fit doesn’t feel exactly the same across all of the models in my opinion. For example, the mudclaw 265 feels a bit roomier around the toe box than the X-talon 190, whereas the Baregrip 200 seems snugger to me. I’ll talk more about how the fit worked for me whilst running later in the review but In any case, I found that they are true to size in terms of the length but very snug so they probably won’t work that well for those with wide or high volume feet.
At 246g for my size 9.5’s, you will not find a lighter shoe that offers comparable traction for wet, muddy conditions. The flip-side of this is that protection levels and potentially durability are reduced meaning that both the shoes and your feet are at increased risk of coming to harm from sharp, pointy objects. I found that the level of underfoot protection is perfect for me over relatively short distances without too many rocks. Longer runs or sustained jagged terrain left my feet feeling a bit battered but this came as no surprise as the shoes are primarily conceived for shorter, fast outings so it would be unfair to mark them down for this.
Grip levels are excellent on soft ground and almost as good as Mudclaws (which are my benchmark) in really deep clay. The ‘Talons ability to shed mud may even be slightly better than Mudclaws based upon my experience so far, due to the wider spaced lugs. They are also noticeably lighter when they do clog up because they have such a low dry-weight in the first place. This can help to reduce that strength-sapping feeling of having half a field worth of clag hanging off of your shoes and this is a big bonus. The 190’s also perform well over other surfaces, showing impressive versatility over wet rock and roots where other luggy shoes often get into difficulty. The La Sportiva Anakonda remains my high-water mark for sticky, versatile rubber but the X-Talon’ outsole is much more adaptable than the contagrip materials that Salomon use in my opinion.
The DWR water repellency doesn’t seem to work quite as well as some other shoes I have tried but the key thing is that they pump water out again very easily and remain light when soaked.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you will know that I tend to ramble on about fit quite a lot but it’s pretty important so this review will be no exception. As I’ve stated elsewhere, my feet are D-width and seem to be average in volume but fit is a subjective thing blah blah blah…….. Anyway getting to the point, the snug and somewhat pointy shape of the X-Talon does a decent job of ensuring that the shoe is secure on steep ground and the featherweight upper keeps everything locked-down as it should. Crucially, they are also super-stable and inspire confidence when running fast and skipping over technical ground. I wouldn’t say that the fit is especially comfortable and given the unforgiving cushioning levels, this makes running in the X-Talon 190 a bit of an uncompromising experience and I did get minor blister problems near the ball of my foot on a couple of occasions after longer runs.
In spite of this, it’s important to remember that the X-Talon 190 is a very focused product and the designers have clearly made a deliberate decision to sacrifice a bit of comfort for the sake of performance. This works very well when the shoes are used for the short-medium distance, race-pace running that they are intended for and I loved wearing them under these conditions. However for me, Salomon changed the game with their S-Lab range by proving that it’s completely possible to have a fit that is totally dialed-in and performance orientated whilst pampering your feet with exceptional comfort and protection at the same time and I feel that this has set a new benchmark for companies like Inov-8 to aspire to. On the other hand, there also are many other aspects to the Inov-8 product range which I feel are superior to their Salomon counterparts so it’s horses for courses really.
Again, as I’ve stated elsewhere I run in a lot of different shoes and this makes it difficult to provide a comprehensive box-to-bin durability review. However, I do make sure I get a least 30 miles on a pair before doing a write-up, I try to give them a proper hammering over a wide range of conditions and I also provide updates to report any problems I have down the line.
In this instance, I have about 45 miles on the X-Talon’s and whilst they are showing a little bit of outsole wear, the upper is looking as good as new with no frays or tears. Inov-8 took quite a bit of criticism for their upper’s tearing a little while back (I had problems with this myself ) but they responded by updating their mesh materials. I’m please to say that the changes seem to have worked as I’ve noticed big improvements in the durability of shoes I’ve tried recently compared to older models (new Baregrip 200, new Trailroc and now the X-talon) – Good work guys! It should be noted that I don’t recall snagging the X-Talons on any nasty sharp rocks during the test period and the minimal design of the upper is likely to be a bit vulnerable to this but that’s the price you pay for the lightweight design.
Overall, I’ve had a really positive experience with the X-Talon 190. Mudclaw 265’s remain the Inov-8 shoe I enjoy running in the most during the winter because I find the fit and midsole/outsole combination more comfortable but I’d still reach for the ‘Talons on race-day because of the noticeable weight-difference and added flexibility. The Salomon Fellcross 3 has a divine fit and brilliantly designed upper but I had issues with stability and the limited versatility of the outsole which restricts when and where I would use them.
So, are the X-Talon 190’s the best shoes out there for short distance, fast, off-trail running over steep ground and soft-varied conditions? Yes I think they probably are. I’d just like to see a little more refinement in the design of the upper in future models to enhance the fit and protection.
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