Shoe Classification: Natural Trainer
Weight: 6.7 oz.
Review Date: September 20th, 2010
I love these shoes.
End of review.
Not really, but the X-Talon 190s are among the best minimalist shoes I have ever used. I have been searching for a trail shoe for years. Prior to Inov-8′s entry into the true minimalist shoe market, the options for trail runners was limited. My prior favorites were Vibram’s KSOs, though the traction was horrible in any condition except flat, dry trails. Terra Plana’s EVOs were a close second, but were still lacking in the tread department.
The X-Talon 190 solves this problem with a cleated sole. This is definitely the most prominent feature of the shoe. Upon initial inspection, the shoe reminded me of a light-duty football cleat. The somewhat soft “spikes” were a radical departure from the smooth-bottomed trail shoes I have been using for years.
I first heard of the X-Talons from Mark Crews at Apex Outdoor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a trail runner, he was intimately familiar with trail shoe design. I was griping about the lack of options available to barefoot and minimalist shoe runners when they ventured through gnarly terrain. He suggested the X-Talon 190s.
As an ultrarunner, I was familiar with Inov-8′s reputation. The brand is extremely popular in the community. I knew they were developing a line of near-zero heel-to-toe drop shoes, but assumed they would be heavy clunkers unsuitable for barefoot runners.
After the conversation with Mark, I contacted Inov-8. They graciously agreed to send me a pair of the X-Talon 190s. I was skeptical, but Mark was confident they would adequately meet my needs.
When they arrived, I gave them a thorough inspection. The first noticeable characteristic- the color. They were bright red. I’m a fan of unique color combinations, but this was really red. My running friends referred to it as “clown red”. The color alone was a turn-off.
Then I picked them up.
Wow. Not only was the shoe lighter than I expected, but the sole was extremely flexible. I didn’t expect this shoe to be this minimal. Suddenly the color didn’t matter. I removed the insole and laced them up.
I was even more impressed once they were on my feet. The reported 3mm heel-to-toe drop was not noticeable. It was strange walking across my linoleum floor as the rubber cleats bent from side-to-side. The shoe itself was very comfortable. The overall fit was similar to a wider XC flat. The shoe was slightly long, I could have went one half size smaller. The toe box was not unnecessarily wide, though runners with wide feet may feel cramped. There was enough room to allow my toes to splay. The shoe seems to have been built around a last that is not quite anatomically correct, as is the case with almost all shoes. As such, the fit feels less like Vibrams and EVOs and more like other traditional shoes.
I was eager to test the shoes on trails. My schedule was busy at the time, so I had to settle for some short runs on soft gravel. The shoes performed well on these short runs, but I felt like I was driving a Hummer on the freeway. This is not the terrain this shoe was built for.
Eventually I managed to find time for a short trail run. This shoe was absolutely amazing! The trail consisted of loose dirt, hard-packed dirt, lots of rocks and other debris, and some mud. The traction over the varied terrain was fabulous. I had become accustomed to the slipping and sliding of my KSOs. The Inov-8s allowed me to run fast.
After a few more shorter runs, I was getting a feel for the shoe. The thin, flexible heel allowed pretty good natural foot movement, which did not dramatically alter my gait. I did have a tendency to overstride slightly, as it took some time to adapt from being barefoot.
I did experience a problem when running sockless. The interior of the shoe has several exposed seams which led to some hot spots. I did a few runs in both traditional socks and Injinji toe socks. Both socks felt comfortable. With the insole removed, there was ample room inside the shoe.
The true test came while pacing Jesse Scott for 12 of the last 16 miles of his 50 mile win at the Woodstock Trail Running Festival. My typical trail pace is usually around 9-11 minute pace. Jesse was regularly hitting 7:30 miles. This would require me to maintain near-perfect form over fairly technical trails. The Inov-8s performed almost flawlessly. When bombing down a particularly long downhill section, the skin on the top of the big toe on my right foot was torn off. The problem could have been avoided with socks or even lube, but I foolishly did not consider either option.
The toe aside, the X-Talons performed marvelously. I was leading Jesse most of the way over the last eight miles, which required me to divide my focus between him and the trail. Having the superior traction of the cleated sole completely removed the worry of finding the best footing. The rubber cleats easily dug into the steepest of hills, even on loose sand and gravel.
Note: This shoe is designed for off-road use. As such, it should not be used on asphalt roads. I have not tried the Inov-8 F-Lite 195s, but this should be a good shoe for light-duty trails or roads.
I am excited to try this shoe in the snow. Prior to this shoe, the options for winder minimalist shoes were horrible. The sole should be a perfect match for the hard-packed snowy trails of West Michigan.
The combination of light weight, nearly-flat, flexible sole, and gnarly traction really elevated this shoe to higher level. It is not perfect, but it is my current preferred trail running shoe. There will be a few other minimalist shoes hitting the market that will compete heavily with the X-Talon. If shoes are thought of as tools, and each minimalist shoe runner chooses the proper tools for any particular job (run), the X-Talon should be your choice for any condition requiring superior traction.
It is clear that Inov-8 is listening to the barefoot/minimalist shoe runners. This shoe is very close to what many of us have been asking for over the last few years. I am eagerly awaiting the release of Inov-8′s BareGrip 200 shoes. The design is supposed to take into account even more elements that will allow for a natural running gait.
In regards to the X-Talon 190s, I give these shoes my highest recommendation.