Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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Inov-8 X-Talon 190 Review
Over the past several years, I’ve had several models of Inov-8 trail shoes which were well-engineered, form-fitting, and lightweight, all with adequate protection for the trail. Yet, the cushioning of these models (Roclite 285 and F-lite 300) felt too firm for hard-packed or rocky trails and I would often end runs over 10 miles with sore feet. Understanding Inov-8s philosophy and fell-running background helped me acknowledge that maybe these weren’t the greatest platforms for my usual terrain. That was until I tried the Inov-8 X-Talon 190 ($120).
[If you’re looking for a bit more shoe, check out our Inov-8 X-Talon 212 review.]
When I first received the X-Talon 190s they appeared to be a very minimalist, highly flexible trail shoe with large lugs. The toe box seemed fairly narrow out of the box before trying them on and the low heel cup had me worried about slippage. I had concerns about durability and protection on the trail, as well as how the large lug height would effect me over varied and uneven terrain.
First, let me start by stating that the fit of the X-Talon 190 is not narrow or long in the toe like I’d experienced in the Roclite 285. The toe box is certainly not wide, but is accommodating enough due to the flexibility of the dual-density mesh which makes up most of the upper. The fit is snug throughout and definitely a shoe that warrants thin socks or no socks in my opinion. Welded overlays throughout the midfoot secure the foot well complimenting a simple, yet effective, oval lacing system. I was surprised by the durability of the mesh upper and after post-holing through snow and poking the upper on rocks and cacti it shows no signs of real wear and tear.
My initial thoughts about the low-profile heel cup of the X-Talon 190 were quickly allayed during my first run. The designed of the heel cup allows for full mobility of the ankle and a free unencumbered feeling. I didn’t experience any heel slippage and bare footers will enjoy the largely seam-free upper.
Inov-8 uses a lower durometer EVA foam throughout the midsole of the X-Talon 190 giving it an almost bouncy feel on the trail for such minimal material. The stack height is more reminiscent of a road racing flat and with a mere 3mm heel drop the X-Talon 190 certainly feels low to the ground. One could get very technical and discuss the differences in merit between zero, three, and four millimeter drops, but I honestly could not tell a big difference between the 3mm and 4mm drop.
Inov-8 employs their fascia band running throughout the entire length of the midsole, but it doesn’t seem to decrease flexibility in any way and is, by far, the most flexible fascia band that I have seen in their line of shoes.
The flexibility of the X-Talon 190 combined with very aggressive lug pattern makes it a beast on loose terrain. The 7mm square shaped lugs act like a waffle sole on steroids and they seem to stick well to wet rock, mud, and clay. Inov-8 reports that this rubber compound was developed from climbing shoe technology with the trade off that it wears down faster. I currently have about 80 miles of technical trail on them and I haven’t noticed any wear.
What I like best about the X-Talon 190 outsole is that the lug spacing seems to shed most of what it picks up and clay and mud don’t seem to pack on in giant clods increasing the weight of the shoe exponentially. What I like least is the lack of any sort of rock plate, which led to some painful pokes to my metatarsals on fast downhills.
Who would have predicted three years ago that we would be inundated with minimal trail shoes to pick apart, arguing about heel drop, stack height, and protection vs. weight ratio. The beauty is that a particular shoe can be a specialist on certain terrain, and the X-Talon 190 is simply the best shoe for climbing I’ve ever worn. The sub-8 ounce weight (which feels much lighter) combined with a grippy and flexible sole make this the kind of shoe that I put on to challenge myself up my favorite extended climbs. This shoe excels on technical uphills requiring careful foot placement and mobility, and the sole sheds most anything that sticks to it.
The cushioning of the X-Talon 190 also gets a nod as the shoe feels more like a fast, responsive, flat on smoother trails. Forefoot strikers will appreciate the uniform cushioning underfoot offered by this shoe, which offers nothing in the way of pronation control for the true minimalist lover.
The only avenue I feel the X-Talon 190 is sub-par is the lack of rock plate in the forefoot. Comparing it to other shoes in its weight range the X-Talon does not provide the same level of protection to bomb a rocky downhill and I found myself saving my feet from getting beat up on extended descents. While the outsole does offer full coverage keeping most trail detritus at bay, the occasional sharp rock left me shouting expletives and gingerly high-stepping for the next several minutes of running.
The X-Talon 190 is the type of shoe I would use to run a race with a great deal of climbing without a very technical descent. It performs great on turf with roots and mud, and in wet conditions of any kind. If I’m looking for a go-fast trail shoe for a sub-ultra distance race then this would be a perfect choice. Recently I have seen runners recently wearing the X-talon 190 on non-technical trail ultras as far as 50 miles and report that the cushioning holds up well. But, in my opinion, if you’re looking for a shoe to run a PR on your favorite mountain climb, the X-talon 190 was made for the ascent.
Call from Comments (from Bryon)
If you’ve worn the Inov-8 X-Talon 190, what did you think? What are the upsides and downsides? How does it compare to similar shoes from other manufacturers or other shoes in the Inov-8 line?
[Disclosure: Inov-8 provided the shoes for this review.]