Gear Review – Inov8 X-Talon 190s

Inov8 Talon 190s - Pretty damn sexy shoes I'd say

I’ve been wearing these shoes for nearly six months on and off, taking them over a number of different terrains, so feel pretty qualified to pass a few judgements as to what this shoe is like and the type of terrain it’s suited too. Being an Englishman, I naturally feel some allegiance towards a British company, and also one that comes from a fell-running background, where many of these shoes were born and developed. Aesthetically these shoes look good too, so you can see that a fair bit of attention has been paid towards making sure they appeal. So us men of the Australian ultra running world should like them, but the fast-growing ladies market too with the women’s version.

The Top line

As many runners know, we’re in the midst of a ‘barefoot’ style of revolution, and my preference has been towards this type of shoe for the last 2-3 years. The Talon 190 is very much in this mould with a thin layer of protection on the sole, complimented however with a number of ‘spikes’ or grip-like ‘claws’ on the sole. Indeed, the word ‘Talon’ means ‘sharp claw of an animal’ and this is exactly the type of thing that Inov8 has in mind with these spikes. I’ll admit that it took me a fair few weeks to get to grips with this shoe, and there were a few times I did think about abandoning them altogether to go back to the trusted Nike Frees. But stay with them I did, and I certainly do believe that they have their place on the trail, and they’ll continue to remain part of my shoe repertoire.

The Detail

As trail shoes go, this one is extremely light (190g for UK8), but it is tough with it too.  The mesh on the upper is extremely breathable and for the GNW, this means ample of opportunity for the leeches to enter into the shoe with relative ease 🙂 On a more serious note, for the very warm and humid conditions of Australia, this is ideal. But despite the lightweight material, the shoe appears to be very durable, with a coating of rougher mould placed around the toe-cap, and a piece of rubber that extends from the sole of the shoe over the toe area for added protection. I admit, it’s not fool-proof by any means, and if your toe hits a large rock, then you’re going to know about it. However it’s a damn sight more than the Nike Frees offer right now!

The most interesting thing about this shoe however are the ‘talons’ on the bottom of the sole, or rather our ‘spikes’. This is a pretty unusual design as far as running shoes are concerned and I can only think that this is born out of the fell running community, where grip like this is essential for the bogs and wet conditions of the Lake District in the UK. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons I stopped wearing them for a 2 month period over the last 6 months, was that on drier and more compact surfaces here in Australia, the spikes do become a little aggravating after a while on the bottom of the foot. Admittedly this is not a massive issue, but I’d rather not be running as if I’m balanced on columns.

So much grip that Bear Grylls would love them

Around 2 months ago, I did an out and back on the GNW here in Australia between the Basin camping ground and Congewei School. It was a lovely dry and warm day, and for the most part the ground was hard, compact and dry. I noticed on the return journey towards the Basin while out on the high ridges of the Watagan State Forest that the spikes really started to get on my nerves. I’d also experienced this at the North Face 100km race a few weeks prior, running along the Jamieson Valley road towards Kedumba. Again, not a huge issue, but just irritating and I couldn’t wait to get to the softer wet trail that lay ahead.

The short of it is that for dry hard surfaces, these shoes are not great if you like a smooth ride. Where they really do come into their own is on very wet tracks, which allow the ground to absorb the ‘talons’ much better. Only last week, I did an out and back on the six-foot track in the Blue Mountains. The ground was pretty wet, so I thought I’d give a brand new pair (straight out of the box) of 190s a run for their money. I was very impressed with the results. My ability to smash it hard downhill was unsurpassed, and wearing the shoe gave me far more confidence over any other shoe for running downhill, because I trusted the grip so much. They’re also fantastic over rocks and technical terrain, and again this is where they really do come into their own.

I also like the fact that the shoe offers very little in the way of support. The heel to toe drop is something like 3mm, and like the Nike Free, you’re able to mould and manipulate the shoe if you so desire. I’m not a fan of heels that offer support as it seems to make my Achilles pretty sore. I actually bent and moulded the heel of the Talons even further, reducing any kind of support they could offer.

The shoe fits true to size too, but is on the ‘long’ side if you understand what I mean. They also feel fairly narrow when you first try them on, but I’ve found that they tend to push out a little once worn a number of times, so no worries or issues with the fittings on these. The fact that I took a pair straight out of the box and ran a hard 52kms in them should show that very little ‘wearing in’ time is needed here.

The f-lite 195s... chicks dig them

I’ve been after what I would call a more robust version of the Nike Frees for sometime now, and it appears as if this shoe could have some of the answers, but only in wet weather conditions it seems. I’ve noticed also that Inov8 have brought out a version of these shoes minus the ‘spikes’ on the sole called the f-lite 195s. Could this be the perfect trail running shoe for me? Only one way to find out and to buy a pair I feel.

I do like the robust nature of the 190s, however on my first pair the rubber sole toe cap pulled away after just one run. This maybe due to a production error, but I have spoken with another person who wears the Talon 190s and they had a few slight issues with the quality of the build too. On their shoes, the rubber spikes on the sole seemed to come away quite easily. I must admit that I have had no such issues, and I’ve even worn these for some 10km training runs on the road – although I personally wouldn’t recommend doing that often!

The Bottom line

So where do these shoes sit on the mountain scale we’ve devised? Well I’d give them just about a four… they’ve tried very hard and they’re nearly at the Summit, but there are just a few things that let them down slightly. The rubber spikes are a great innovation for a wet course, but I think to choose this shoe for a race, you need to be confident that most of the terrain you’re going to be running over can absorb them. If you’re running on hard compacted trail, I wouldn’t use these shoes.

Would I buy them? Well sure I would as I’ve bought two pairs already, but I’m keen to give the f-lite 195s a real going over on the trails over here in Australia, particularly some of the harder compact ones. One thing’s for sure though, I may even consider wearing them for certain sections of the GNW race later on in the year, and I know exactly which legs too. For now though, they do stay in the stable of Dan running shoes, which is an exclusive club of two. The Merrell Trailgloves are now ‘shopping shoes’.

Review by Dan Bleakman

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

14 thoughts on “Gear Review – Inov8 X-Talon 190s

  1. Good review DB. Interested in the fit. You said they ran a little narrow but ‘stretched’ to fit but how much space is there in the toe box? Also how is the fit around the malleoli? I have had Inov8 rub my ankle bones just walking around the shop.
    And bit sad about your Merrells. I think they still have a place to simulate real barefoot technique with protection for tenderfeet like myself.

    1. Hi Whippet, I have been using these shoes for a similar time, about to move onto my third pair. I think the fit is great for a “normal” foot. The best thing about these shoes is the large toe box as DJB mentioned. It allows your foot/toes to really spread out when your foot makes contact with the trail. What makes the shoe appear narrow is that like a lot of fell shoes they have very narrow lacing. This means that you almost certainly get the eyelets to touch each other if your foot is on the narrow side. Loads has been said about the grip, which is amazing. I dont mind the studs when on short hard pack trail but I was on the same run as Dan on GNW100 and did find the long hard sections were a little tougher to deal with. I also use their show version, the X-233 Road. Exactly the same shoe fit wise but with a slick flat sole. The heal on these shoes is one of the best bits, it is so malleable and if you use a hairdryer you can bend it into the right fit for your foot.

  2. Tim Cochrane, Martin Fryer and I were in Keswick in 2009 and were watching/running in the local Fell running race. The speed that some of these guys were descending was scary, they were putting 100% faith in their footing so naturally we wondered what they had on their feet. A lot were wearing Inov-8. There was a van parked nearby selling them nearby. Martin, Tim and I all went top 10 in 6 foot in 2010 wearing the X-Talon 212s. I have worn them in TNF, 6 Foot, Kokoda and so many other trail events that contain technical or muddy trail or steep descents (where they come into their own). I also have a pair of F-Lites for the smoother, hard packed trail events (seems to be a common theme). Boys, you are giving away all the secrets of the trade!

  3. Thanks for the questions Whippet. There is ample room in the toe box, indeed the first pair I bought of these were half a size up (genuine mistake), and there was buckets of room. Even in my normal size there’s a healthy amount of room, which is something I really look for to allow the feet to move around a little up front, so there’s no bashing of the toes against the end of the shoe at all. I consider myself to have feet that are maybe slightly wider than normal and the narrow nature of the Inov8’s is not an issue for me at all. I like my forefoot to splay around, and these have ample space for that to happen. I’ve even read some reviews of people going half a size down, but I’m not sure that is necessary.

    As for the malleoli, I’ve had no issues there and I know what you’re on about with the rubbing on the ankle. I used to have loads of issues like this when I wore Asics back in my road running days, but the thing with these Inov8’s is the back heel is extremely malleable. I like a shoe that I can collapse completely and that offers no support around heel in the slightly. That’s the beauty of this shoe, somehow the guys at Inov8 have managed to combine extreme lightweight with ruggedness. I think the build is extremely good on this shoe, and the addition of the f-lite 195 to the range is a real bonus. I personally think that the f-lite 195 could be the shoe for the dry trails of Australia in the middle of summer, but again I’m sure we’ll all be wanting the ‘Talons’ for the grip.

    It’s a real tough one, because very rarely will you find a shoe that you can use for all the different types of terrain we encounter in a race like GNW. Depending on conditions, I would seriously consider wearing different shoes for different sections, but I’d have to be 100% confident of the shoe before I did that.

    As for the Merrell’s I jest about them being a shopping shoe. I would still wear them on certain trails, but only the very soft or indeed road too. I think they could be a good road shoe too. However, I think they’re more of a ‘lifestyle’ choice. I cannot seriously see someone winning a race like GNW in them – happy to be proven otherwise though.

  4. Great review Dan. They looked pretty sharp on saturday

    Whose your supplier? As I should probably get a pair to fit in with the crowd

  5. Mr D don’t worry. I don’t think anyone is actually reading Dan’s reviews except us. Those blog stats never move. 🙂
    Cheers, Dan. I agree with the Merrells. I think they are really only suitable as a training tool or a VFF wearer needing more protection on a long trail. But work great in those capacities.
    And yes, there’s always some compromise. I guess it is a great problem to have: so many choices and features that fit different terrains. Heavier shoes like older Montrails offered exceptional grip on a variety of surfaces but hard to get that with a minimalist shoe. I don’t mind saying the latest Cascadia does a pretty good job of covering all surfaces but not a minimalist. I have been hooked on the Pearl Izumis, again not minimalist and far from aggressive tread but I noticed Nick Clark and Darcy Africa wore them at Hardrock. Most comfortable shoe I have ever worn.
    Can you stop introducing me to more options. I have several pairs I haven’t worn yet and given my current lack of running I don’t need anymore!

  6. Oh dear Whippet. Well I’ve got a pair of Saucony Peregines waiting for me in the UK when I get back there next week, a review will be up in the next few weeks to add to your dilemma!

  7. Nice to see you cranking out useful reviews Dan. Chucking in 2 cents’ worth I’d have to say that the Inov8 Roclite 295 has been my go-to trail shoe for ages. Great grip, durable, works across just about anything you throw at it, and it doesn’t mind if you’re big and fat. Also has a high and broad toebox without losing the trademark Inov8 functional fit.
    One thing for anybody buying Inov8s, check with the supplier what insert they come with. Buying from Wiggle and others in the UK, I’ve received them with a 6mm insert, but from Running Warehouse in the US they had a 3mm insert which I’m less fond of.
    Interesting choice as well to use the Merrell Footfist for visits to the supermarket. Personally, the New Balance Empty 101 is hard to go past for any shopping mission of less than 14km.

  8. Nice to see you commenting again Roger, I love reading your 2 cents worth. I’m considering a pair of the Talon 212’s too… they seem to have that little bit more of protection going on which may prevent that feeling of running in the glugs over hard packed terrain… we shall see… I have a serious trail running shoe habit right now that I can ill afford… it’s getting pretty serious. My wife has given me a dedicated cupboard merely for my running shoes… I should see someone about this.

    1. Cheers brett. Sizing should be as per normal. I used to wear Asics when I was a marathon runner and take a uk 10.5 in both. Some say that they think the fit of inov8 is quite narrow, but I’ve never found that to be a problem. The shoes being so malleable fit around your foot and will widen and push out as you need them too.

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