I have recently got my mitts on the latest incarnation of Inov-8's critically acclaimed X-Talon 190s. Having reviewed their last version only a few months ago, you may worry that this is going to be a near on identical write up, with lots of chat about the colour changing from red to orange. Well, that may have been the case if, in the mean time, I hadn't fallen in love with my pair of Mud Claw 265s. These Talons would have to be pretty darn special to take that number one position, regardless of how shaggy my Mud Claws are starting to look.
Right, I'll get the obvious out of the way. These trainers are orange. Very orange! I had decided to christen them at the Endurer Dash obstacle course in the Peak District, and I felt like I was glowing as I approached the start line. I really like bright gear (hence the yellow Mudstacle vests) so they're right up my street but, after a couple of people commented on them, I was quite looking forward to getting a coating of mud over them so that I could blend back into the crowd again.
As I put them onto my feet for the first time they felt snug. They are slightly tighter than the Mud Claws but not enough to worry about them being miss-sized, they just felt more secure and locked in. It might be worth considering that and trying them before you buy if you have any abnormalities or pressure pains in your feet.
They literally felt as light as a feather though. I just don't know how they do it. It's like you're not carrying any extra weight at all - as if your bare feet have sprouted a hardcore grippy tread. As I made my way through Endurer's Peak District trails, I was certainly in the right place to test them out. Every step of the way was hilly but the ground underfoot varied enormously from grassland, to loose dry topsoil, to shallow slippery mud, to thick glupey mud, and even with the odd lake crossing thrown in. Although I wasn't the fastest runner by a long stretch, I found myself passing people on the most challenging areas of the course. I first noticed it on an insanely steep slope with loose topsoil. It had brought a whole group of runners to a standstill as they appeared to take one step forwards and two steps back. I felt the "Talons" bight through the top soil and gain traction on what lay beneath, allowing me to breeze past... well, I say "breeze", but unfortunately these shoes didn't have the ability to stop my calves from burning!
I won't go into how they behaved on every type of terrain but, rest assured, they appeared to grip a darn site better than the shoes of the runners around me. However, I am spoilt, having grown accustomed to the Mud Claws, I don't expect my feet to slip! I would say that these Talons compared well to the Claws on the grip scale and their weight and shape certainly made them feel like they wanted to fly. They urged me to push myself to my limit and pick up my pace, especially on the flat. However I did miss the security that you feel with the slightly more substantial Mud Claws. On rocky terrain you'll naturally feel slightly more exposed with such a minimal shoe. Also, as stable as these felt underfoot, I don't think they quite hit the astounding levels of the Mud Claw. At a couple of points on the most uneven terrain I felt myself having to react to potential ankle turns. That is by no means a downside of these shoes, in that respect they're probably better than the majority of shoes on the market, I just think it would be impossible to beat the mighty Claw!
When you line the new X-Talon 190 up against the old, the colour isn't the only "improvement". The tough protective skin around the toe box now extends much further back along the sides of the shoe, which will really help to increase the longevity of the shoe, especially with the hell that we put them through on obstacle courses. As you can see in the picture below, there are a few splits in the mesh of my old (red) X-talons, where on the orange shoe the tougher skin extends to prevent that.
My only worry lies with the toe bumpers at the front (the rubber extension of the sole that wraps over the centre of the toes). With my previous pair of Talons, it came unstuck after a while. It's not a big deal, you can still run in them comfortably and it doesn't really affect their performance but you will notice it catching sometimes. With the new model the bumper is much shorter, which I hope will prevent it coming unstuck and, if it doesn't I expect it will be less apparent when it does.
In summary, I really like the X-Talon 190s. They are racing machines and are perfect for those that really want to perform in all off-road conditions. I still rate the Mud Claw 265s as the ultimate obstacle racing shoe because of their durability, comfort and stability but there really isn't much in it and I'm sure that for a lot of people the low-profile Talons would take the number one spot.