I’m not usually one to get really excited about shoes. Really, I swear. As long as they don’t fall off my feet or give me horrible blisters, I’m pretty even-keeled about shoes. I rarely love ’em and I rarely hate ’em. For the most part I just use the things. So I’ve been surprised to discover how much I love the Inov-8 Mudclaw 330. There are conditions in which running in Mudclaws is joyful and running in any other shoe I’ve ever tried (with the possible exception of screwshoes) is a pain in the a**.
Many of the trails around here are, in the months of March and April, a mix of mud, hard ice, soft ice, and snow. Just what mix you get on any given day is pretty tough to predict – in March I see a lot of rock-hard ice in northfacing pine/hemlock forests, snow in the deciduous forests, mud in the meadows, and some mix of the three elsewhere. Trails that were uniform packed snow a week ago will soon reach their usual spring status: a hard ridge of snow perched on top of mud, with little streamlets on the sides. Most years I either abandon the trails for a spell in March or strap on the screwshoes and grit my teeth as I run roads to get to the woods.
But no more. The Mudclaw absolutely kills it in these conditions. The main reason is that all this shoe tries to do is give you maximum traction. No Gore-Tex, no gaiter, no iPod+ doodads. Just laces, a pretty minimalist upper, and treads. Or maybe these are really more like lugs. The sole of the Mudclaw is basically just a single sheet of huge rubber pyramids. They extend all the way to the edge of the shoe in every direction. Climbing a steep hill in mud or slush and need the very toe of your shoe to dig in like a bearpaw? Check. Descending steep hills and need to know that planting your heel won’t lead to planting your butt? Check. Trying to run with one foot on either side of the dreaded snow-ridge I mentioned earlier? The Mudclaw is the ticket. If any part of the sole is touching the ground, then at least one big ol’ lug is digging in and keeping you moving.
Like the sole of the Roclite 312, which I reviewed in February, the Mudclaw’s sole features widely spaced lugs that don’t collect mud or rocks, as the more closely bunched treads on some other trail shoes can. This is a big plus in the conditions that the Mudclaw is designed for. If you’re running ahead of someone, though, you will hit them with a big rooster-tail of mud/snow…
I’ve also come to appreciate another aspect of the Mudclaw: it’s made of mesh. No attempt to be waterproof here. The approach, instead, is to dry quickly and not absorb too much water. Even stepping in a deep puddle doesn’t result in the shoe feeling very sodden for long – there just isn’t enough material here to absorb much. I’ve never been a huge fan of running with gaiters, so I tend to prefer this approach over the waterproof shoe + gaiter alternative.
As Kevin Tilton wrote in a review�[broken link to US Inov-8 team blogpost entitle “Product Review MudClaw 340 O” removed] of the now-discontinued MudClaw 340 O+ (which was identical to the 330 but had metal “dobs” on some of the lugs), the MudClaw (either version) is tons of fun on packed snowmobile trails. Tons. Of. Fun. I didn’t miss the metal at all – it seems like the lugs come to enough of a point that they can dig at least a little bit into anything but the hardest ice.
Having said all that, this shoe is not for everyone or for all conditions. If you spend any appreciable time on roads, the lugs on these babies will not make friends with your feet. If you need any kind of arch support or motion control, the Mudclaw doesn’t have it. If you prefer a shoe that is waterproof (or even water-resistant), the Mudclaw ain’t it.
But if what you want to do is romp through the woods in conditions that used to leave you flailing, give the Mudclaw a go. It’s been a gamechanger for me in sloppy spring conditions. It’s like putting a Ripsawon your feet.
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