Though I’ve only had my Inov8 X-talon 190’s for about 3 weeks, I’ve already put around 40 trail miles on them. During that time they’ve been through the mud, water, rocks, hard-packed dirt and grass and just keep asking for more. These shoes are extremely light, offer excellent ground feel, and provide unparalleled traction in a shoe this style. I was lucky to find them on sale on Amazon.com, and a shoe that would normally cost $120 was mine for $80 plus shipping. That being said I don’t think I’d buy another pair. Don’t get me wrong I love these shoes and look forward to many more miles of fun with them, but as good as they are, they just don’t offer any improvement over shoes I already own. Given their normal price tag and what you get for that amount it’s hard to justify them.
I admit to a certain amount of peer pressure when I made the choice to purchase these shoes. In the sport in which I participate they are held aloft like some mythical gift from the gods and it’s hard to find someone who does not sing their praises. They are great shoes, but I have come to realize that like an exotic sports car their focus is very narrow and if you take them beyond that; problems soon arise. I cannot blame the shoe though Inov8 advertises them as racing flats and that’s exactly what they are, a no-hold barred spiked racing flat. Here is where we also come to our first hiccup. As a racing shoe they sacrifice comfort and cushion for speed and traction.
Though I am an experienced minimalist runner I soon find myself wishing for something else beyond distances of 4-5 miles. At distances beyond that these shoes just beat my feet up. Below that though I feel like a ballistic missile shooting down my normal trails. I also run in a pair of New Balance Minimus MT20’s and though they have less padding; seem to absorb more shock from hard rock and dirt then the X-talons. My feet and calves don’t feel as wasted after long runs in them. Both are very technical shoes and if you allow your form to collapse from exhaustion you will soon pay the price in shin splints and foot pain. I guess this is the price of efficient strides. If I were an ultra runner I think I would soon be trading up for something a little more cushioned and comfortable over long distances. As it is though the Inov8’s should do well in the distances I normally run; 3-6 miles daily.
Going back to the singular purpose of these shoes I mentioned above, I have to say that for anything besides trail running the X-talons are pretty much worthless. Even on carpet the lugged sole is uncomfortable and you feel each and every spike as a pressure point beneath your skin. The springiness that is so advantageous on trails becomes annoying and just plain weird feeling on hard floors and asphalt. I have not tried to run in these shoes on the road, though I had thought about it just once to see what happened I don’t think I will risk it now. In hindsight I wish I had bought the F-lite 190’s instead. They are virtually identical in construction and heel to toe drop except that they come with a somewhat smooth flat sole that can be used indoors as a workout shoe or outdoors on trails thanks to its sticky rubber compound.
What’s good about the shoe though is that same narrow-minded focus that makes them unbearable indoors also makes them fantastic trail shoes. In short they do exactly what they were designed to. These shoes eat up the trail and the grip even on loose scree and rock is phenomenal. I cannot describe in words how light and airy these shoes feel on your feet, and combined with the patented meta-ridges in the forefoot springing you forward with every push-off you literally feel like you’re wearing winged sandals. I think the design is sexy and simple. There certainly isn’t a lot to it; unlike many trail shoes you see today that look like some kind of retro day-glow neon ad from 1992. I wish Inov8 would offer these in black like they do the F-lite’s. For a shoe whose purpose is to conquer the mud I feel that red is a poor color choice. It is also the reason I will never wear these shoes in an Obstacle Race. One dip in the black ooze of a typical mud pit and these shoes will never come totally clean again.
As I stated before I wish I had bought the F-lite instead. Since purchasing these, my New Balances have been relegated to default workout shoe. Their near zero drop soles and minimalist build make them excellent weight training shoes. I rarely use them to run trails in now as the lengthy cleaning afterwards is just troublesome and annoying. This is one of the hazards of using trails exclusively for running; even on the best of days I still come home with feet covered in debris, mud, and leaf litter. I see another shoe purchase on the horizon so my trusty MT20’s can return to their natural environment.
Would I buy these shoes again, no I would not. Would I recommend these shoes to others? Yes I would, with this caveat. If you are an experienced minimalist runner with an efficient stride and want some really wicked shoes to compete in and train for obstacle races; try a pair on. If you run more than 5-8 miles a day on trails I just cannot in good conscience recommend them. Inov8 makes may other trail shoes most of which can be had with a more cushioned sole. Also I would suggest buying one of the many different versions of the F-lite. These have been designed for multi-tasking and do well for everything from trail running to CrossFit, so I hear. Whatever shoe you choose as always remember to slowly ease into minimalist shoes.