Inov-8 are a big deal in Obstacle Course Racing and 2015 has seen them release the X-Talon 200 which is their first shoe aimed specifically at this market. I’m no OCR runner so before getting into the review I should first explain a bit of background into my motivation for wanting to give them a try.
I test more Inov-8 and Salomon shoes than other brands because they are light, low, nimble and grippy which makes them a great match for UK conditions and you probably see more of them on our muddy footpaths and mountainsides than just about anything else.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews of Inov-8 shoes you may have noticed a common theme that I tend to love their stability, flexibility and outsole designs but find them lagging behind Salomon a little in the fit department. For quite a while now, I’ve found myself wishing that someone would release a shoe that could blend together the best qualities of both of brands.
When I first saw pictures of the X-Talon 200 last year I was intrigued by the upper which is quite a departure from Inov-8’s other models featuring new welded overlays, two types of mesh and a plastic toe bumper. Whilst they are undoubtedly a unique Inov-8 design, there are hints of influences from the Salomon S-Lab line and this made me curious to find out how they would work out from a purely running perspective.
It would seem that I’m not the only person who recognised the potential of the 200’s as a trail or fell running shoe as they have generated quite a bit of interest on social media and forums. I also happened to notice that Inov-8 Ultra Runner, Joe Grant was recently photographed wearing them during The Coastal Challenge race in Costa Rica.
I’m rather fond of the ‘in your face’ colour scheme of the X-Talon 200. It’s bright, bold and classic Inov-8 whilst the quality of build and finish are both very good. The outsole and midsole design are carried straight over from the 190 and 212 with no rock plate / shank. The semi-rigid toe bumper is a new feature for Inov-8 and offers decent levels of coverage and protection.
For me, the most interesting features of the design are the welded overlays and use of two types of mesh in the upper. The heel cup and midfoot are made from what looks like the same heavy duty material that Inov-8 are now using for the new Mudclaw 265 that I reviewed a few weeks back. This is clearly intended to work in conjunction with the overlays to add security around the midfoot. In contrast, the toe box material is much more flexible and similar in appearance to the one they use for the Trailroc upper.
Whilst I am favor of this move, it leaves the seam between the two materials almost directly over the main flex point of the shoe and the whole area is exposed to potential abrasions from rocks and debris because it is not covered by the overlays or toe bumper. Inov-8 have done a lot to improve the durability of uppers and mine are showing no early signs of breaking down so it’s only fair to give the 200’s the benefit of the doubt but I’d be a bit wary of launching them down scree slopes on a regular basis for example.
In the past when I’ve tried shoes that are built around Inov-8’s standard / anatomical fit, I’ve enjoyed the shape of the toe box but found that the midfoot fit doesn’t allow me to secure them quite as well as I would like for running on steep or technical ground. The performance fit on the other hand provides plenty of security thanks to the snug toe box and it’s great for running fast but the slightly pointy shape tends to push my big toe across laterally and I find this can get a bit uncomfortable over longer distances.
The X-Talon 200 provides a great compromise between the two in my opinion because the new upper leaves the midfoot nice and snug whilst the forefoot is fantastically accommodating. For comparison purposes, I’d say that the fit feels like a roomier Salomon Sense. It’s not as locked down as the X-Talon 190 when things get really steep but I find it much more comfortable and I think this is a worthwhile trade-off in most circumstances unless I was going to be using them exclusively for short / fast / steep fell races (which I’m not).
A few comparison shots
I really like the new lacing system and found it very easy to get the tension right as the laces glide through the loops with minimal friction. I had to pull the lace loops pretty close together to get the fit completely dialled in though, leaving little scope for further adjustment. This worked fine for me, especially with slightly thicker socks than I would usually wear and I have D-width feet of ‘average’ volume but the throat could do with being about 5-10mm to allow a bit more adjustment. As things stand, I think that average-wide footed runners will be OK with this but those with narrow feet could be better off sticking with the Performance Fit variants of the shoe.
The X-Talon 200’s run ‘true to size’ and they are consistent with Inov-8’s other shoes in this regard.
As with the rest of the X-Talon range, the 200’s luggy outsole provides awesome grip over a wide range of surfaces including mud, snow and sand, whilst the sticky compound offers surprisingly good traction on wet rocks and other slick or hard surfaces despite the prominent lugs.
The midsole is thin leading to a low, flexible and incredibly stable and agile platform but there is no rock plate and cushioning from sharp objects is quite limited. For me, this is fine over relatively short stretches of pointy lumps and bumps but I need a bit more protection for longer runs which feature extended sections of this type of terrain. If you are familiar with the X-Talon 190 or 212, you can obviously expect very similar characteristics.
The mesh in the forefoot is more permeable than the heavy-duty material used in the rest of the shoe and I found that water gets in pretty quickly despite the DWR treatment. I think most people accept the fact that they are going to get wet feet at this time of year so I don’t have a problem with this and the water seems to come out as easily as it goes in.
It’s a cliché but the 200’s really ‘disappear’ on my feet whenever I wear them and they have immediately become my go-to shoe for winter running over short-medium distances. I feel a little foolish saying this because it was less than a month ago that I made a similar statement about the new Mudclaw 265 but they really are that good.
Obviously this is only one guys opinion but if you’re already a fan of Invo-8’s shoes or you feel you can relate to some of my views on shoes I’ve tested from other brands I think you are probably going to love the X-Talon 200.
It’s rare that I write an overwhelmingly positive review, or at least I hope it is as I don’t often feel that way….. but I had really high hopes for the X-Talon 200 and they have been met or exceeded in all departments. Inov-8 have taken an exciting direction with the fit and design of the upper and I’d love to see them adopt the some of the same ideas and technology in the rest of their range. I think It would be perfect for the Trailroc platform for example and perhaps a snugger, more focused variant could be utilised across the ‘performance’ range using some of the same concepts. Overall, Inov-8 have absolutely nailed it with the X-Talon 200 and it has to be an early contender for my shoe of the year.
This product was provided as a test sample by the manufacturer, please refer to my gear review and advertising policy for more information.
In among the various other shoes I’ve been testing of late, the X-Talon 200 have retained their place as a firm favorite within my current rotation but with about 200 miles on the clock, I’m afraid I have some ominous news to report. Unfortunately the mesh around the toe box has started to tear around the high stress / abrasion point between the toe bumper and flex point as shown below. Whilst this is a common location for any shoe to break down I do feel that it’s a bit early for them to be showing this kind of wear, especially seeing as I haven’t been that hard on them and I can’t think of any specific occasions where I’ve snagged them badly on rocks or undergrowth. The abrasions aren’t that bad and I’m pretty sure that careful application of some Black Witch will stall the degradation but it’s clear that this area could do with some more protection. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has had similar issues? Please let me know in the comments section.
In the meantime, I’ve noticed more and more people seem to be using the X-Talon 200 at fell races so I guess I’m not the only one who likes them!
The X-Talon 200’s are available from Amazon (link below)
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Got any thoughts to share about the X-Talon 200? Have a question? I’m especially interested to hear your experiences on the durability? Please leave your thoughts below!