“The trails aren’t sloppy enough to run today.”
These are not normally words I find myself saying. But this was the exact scenario I found myself in after Inov-8 asked me to test their mud-hawking X-Talon 225. After baptizing them in the muck at the Ragnar Trail Buckeye Countryrelay, the skies parted over Ohio, and nary a drop fell for the next several months. A dry autumn is great news if you like fast, hard-packed trails and beautiful views of vibrant foliage. Not so much if you’re trying to test a shoe that was built specifically for the kinds of conditions that keep most people inside sipping hot cider.
All of the Grip
While the design details of any Inov-8 shoe are sophisticated, their overall concept is very simple: Give your feet everything they need, and nothing they don’t. So when Inov-8 sat down to build a mud shoe, they designed it for grip, grip, and more grip. Then they added a little toe box protection, and devised a way to attach all that grip to the bottom of your foot.
The engineers will tell you there was a lot more to it than that; that they experimented with lots of different stud patterns and shapes, that the outsole uses two different rubber compounds to provide grip on a variety of surfaces, that they put a lot of thought into creating a pattern that not only digs into the mud, but also sheds it so you aren’t carrying around 5lbs of goop on each foot.
But all your feet know is that when you lace up the X-Talons, they don’t slip any more. On anything.
The miracle of these shoes is that they manage to provide all that grip in a package that is neither heavy, nor stiff. The 225 in the name is their claimed weight (per shoe, in grams), though my size 13s weighed in at about 275g apiece. The chassis feels remarkably similar to the Trail Talon 250sI tested; light, pliable, natural. The upper feels like a sock with laces, easily molding to your foot with no tight spots. And, crucially, they look dead sexy. Like any great sports car, they give the appearance of going 200mph, even when sitting still.
Baptism by Mud
The X-Talon 225 features Inov-8’s “precision” fit, which is narrower than their standard fit from heel to toe. The idea is to lock the foot to the shoe, eliminating lateral and longitudinal slip when traversing high-angle terrain. Say, like the terrain at the Ragnar relay.
As the lead-off runner, I had the good fortune of storming through my opening leg on the Green loop while it was still light, and before the rain started. Accordingly, I ran in the less aggressive Trail Talon 250s. But by the time my number came up again, it had been pissing down for several hours, and it was past midnight. If ever there was a time to lace up a shoe that looks like a soccer cleat mated with an Italian motorcycle, this was it.
My second turn on the trails came on the Red loop, which was the longest (6.6 miles), and tied for the most aggressive with the Yellow loop. In the dark, in the mist and rain, and on trails that had been churned up by the feet of hundreds of other runners, I was concerned that I’d be limping out at the end, covered in mud, as I had seen so many other runners emerge from the woods.
I shouldn’t have worried. My first steps into the opening climb were tentative, but the feedback I got was like I had 6-inch spikes on my feet. Soon I was charging the climbs and cruising on the (very few) flats, darkness and rain notwithstanding. The descents required a little more discretion, but I was amazed at how seldom I felt a slip, and how little the slide was when traction did give way. It was like the shoes were grabbing fistfuls of the earth with every step. I actually started to feel a little bit bad for the trail itself, because my shoes were giving it such a beating.
What can I say? It was really late. You think strange things in the woods in the middle of the night.
The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking through the trees by the time my third leg came up, on the Yellow loop. The miserable darkness had given way to a gorgeous morning, but the trails were more than a little hungover from the all-night party.
It had almost been easier in the dark, when I couldn’t see quite how bad the conditions were. In the daylight, overcoming my distrust of the trail took longer, but the X-Talons held up their end of the bargain again. The Yellow loop featured more rock gardens and rooty climbs than Red, but the Inov-8s didn’t seem to mind. Even on wet, mud-slicked roots, there was adequate traction to push off and change direction, as needed. The huge lugs even serve to protect your feet a bit from the sharper rocks. While my aggression had been blunted by the hours, miles, and sleep deprivation of the weekend, I still was able to find that zen-like state that every trail runner seeks.
From Muck to Slush
As I mentioned, the weeks and months after the Ragnar were unusually dry, so it wasn’t until the winter freeze-thaw-rain cycle came around that I was able to put some more miles through the X-Talons (sorry, Inov-8!). But the confidence and speed I found in a soggy October were equally available in a slushy January on my local trails. I also found that, while these shoes aren’t meant to keep your feet dry, they vent well enough that I didn’t get blisters even after my feet got soaked.
The only minor issue I have run into is that the precision fit may be a bit too precise. I have long, flat, narrow feet, only measuring a bit over 4in at the widest part of my forefoot. But on runs over about 4 miles, my big toe starts to feel a bit cramped in its close quarters. This is far from a deal-breaker for me, but could pose a big issue for those with a wider forefoot. It may help to go up a half-size from normal, but half sizes aren’t available for sasquatches like me.
At $110, the X-Talons are priced in line with other shoes of their caliber. It may seem a little steep to buy a shoe that is so focused that it may only see use a dozen times a year, but I find that that concern is balanced by the shoe’s durability. Despite the miles of absolute abuse and subsequent machine washing, my pair works and looks as good as it did right out of the box. Maybe better, with all the mud stains they have now.
There Went Your Last Excuse
All told, I have been deeply impressed with the X-Talon 225s. The level of traction they offer inspires a confidence in all conditions that is as welcome as it is unexpected. While they are not meant to be your every-day trail shoe, they are hard to beat if you find yourself out on a sloppy, loose trail and at the mercy of mother nature. They are an arrow that should be in the quiver of any serious trail runner whose foot is narrow enough to fit them comfortably. Perhaps best of all, they get rid of one more excuse to skip your weekend trail run: the conditions can’t be called too sloppy any more.
There’s more to getting out there than communing with nature: