The shoe I’ve been waiting for! Its been around for sometime, but it’s finally made its way down under ‘officially’ and here at Ultra168 yours truly has put this shoe through its paces over the last month.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love Inov8 trail shoes, and while most of my trail running buddies will stay in the mainstream with the heavyweights of Brooks and Salomon, I stick with my trusty British company from the Lakes. For me, they’re spot on in that they have aggressive soles for great traction, are lightweight yet durable enough for the gnarly tracks we put them on and have a low profile to allow you to really feel what it is you’re running on.
However my first bit of advice if you’re considering an Inov8 shoe is to go to a store that stocks Inov8 to try them on before you buy as there are some pretty big discrepancies between models in terms of their sizing. This was the issue I suffered with the Talon 212s. I’m a UK10.5 in most Inov8 shoes. I put a pair of UK10.5 Talon 212s straight on out of the box for a trail run, and they tore my feet to pieces. So back to the shop they went and this time I went a whole size up and hey presto, everything is now fine and dandy. However be careful and make sure you get the sizing right. Personally I think it’s a little frustrating that the Inov8 range is like this and that it’s not consistent – but I think I have the answer.
On the Talon 212s (and the Roclite 285s) is a band of rubber around the toe box that goes across the top of the shoe and along the outside to where the little toe is. My theory is that this band of rubber makes the shoe narrower and therefore tighter than other models like the Talon 190s and F-lite 195s, which fit me in my regular size. But then again the Roclite 295s have the same rubber band, yet they fit me in my normal UK 10.5 – so I’m a little at odds as to why sizing is inconsistent.
Now I have the right size I’m a happy camper and love the Talon 212s, so here’s the review, the great, the good and the not so good.
The Out and Mid Sole
The first thing you notice about the 212s is the very aggressive sole with the lugs, or ‘Talons’ as they’re known on the bottom. Having owned a pair of Talon 190s for sometime now, I know just how grippy and aggressively you can run with these on, especially downhill. I have complete confidence in their ability to grip on most terrain. The only time I’ve ever found myself sliding around is on rather wet logs and stones in the Blue Mountains, but then again, I’m yet to come across any shoe that would cope with that. A small and very minor point as I’m not in the habit of running on wet logs too much.
These shoes sit right in the zone for me in terms of heel to toe drop. Inov8 has a very easy system for understanding the drop on its shoes and uses arrow markers on the heel to distinguish between 3mm, 6mm, 9mm and 12mm drop. An arrow for each level i.e. one arrow for 3mm, two arrows for 6mm and so on, shows you what you’re buying. Once again however my warning to you all. Don’t just go straight for a 3mm drop if you’ve been used to 9-12mm drop all your life. If you do, your achilles is suddenly going to have to get used to dropping down anything between 6-9mm at the drop of a hat. Build into these lower profile shoes gradually.
The Talon 212s sit on the 6mm range, which is perfect for me, but is pretty low compared to most shoes out there. The entire outsole and shoe is extremely flexible and it can be scrunched up into a ball if you so desire – this is another tester for me with the shoes I buy, can I roll these up with no resistance? And for the Talon 212s, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Overall though, what I love about the sole of the 212s is the ever so slightly more protection that it offers underfoot compared to the Talon 190s. For me, it puts the 212s firmly in the bracket of a 100km racing shoe, whereas the 190s would be about a 40-50km racing shoe at best. In short, it’s the shoe I’ve been waiting for. Not sure if I would use it over a 100 miler yet, I think this is the domain of its beefier cousin, the Roclite 285 or 295, which I ran GNW in.
The one noticeable addition to the upper of the 212 is the protective boot cap which I described above, which allows for it to be taken over much gnarlier terrain. The mesh is very lightweight too, and you would think drain pretty well. But after taking these through a couple of creek crossings in the Blue Mountains, they’re not overly great at draining. A friend of mine noticed this with the Roclite 285s as well. To be quite frank, this doesn’t bother me that much as they’ll drain eventually, but it takes some time compared to the Talon 190s.
This leads me though to the one major design flaw that I can see with the 212s. For some unknown reason, (and I’d love to understand why this is and we’re on the case) the tongue of the 212 is not stitched to the inside of the shoe!!!! I’m sure there is a reason for this, but for me, all this does is allow debris from the trail to get into the shoe. The first time I took these out of a 45km run, I had to empty my shoes 3 times to get cr@p out. Now, I wouldn’t even consider stopping to do this in a race, but why oh why is the tongue not stitched? I can’t think of any rationale as to why it wouldn’t be. I know they’re a lightweight shoe, but surely a few grams of stitching material can be added to ensure that the shoes remain free of trail matter? To not stitch the tongue to the shoe, is either a massive oversight or some serious genius that has yet to be explained.
On the upper, you’ll also find a suede lining all the way around the bottom, which again adds further protection and increased stability as far as I can see. As with many Inov-8 shoes, the Talon 212 includes a ‘Met Cradle’, webbing on the upper that locks down the foot behind the metatarsal heads. As many people have said to me previously, the fit is narrow through the toe, and I do think (for these types of model in particular) this is because of the rubber band that fits across the top of the shoe. However, the tall toe box provides your toes with ample space and is very secure. What I also love about Inov8 shoes is that there is no heel counter and no plastic to build up the back of the shoe. The heel is fully collapsible, and for me, this is now a vital feature of any shoe I buy.
The verdict – 4.5 out of 5
Bar a few little flaws, this is a bloody good trail racing shoe. If what you want from a shoe is something that is lightweight and feels like you’re not wearing a shoe, yet can give your foot enough protection against the elements underfoot, this is the one. I like minimal shoes, but I’m not keen on going all hippie to want to feel all the rocks and sticks that smash into your feet 90kms into a 100km race.
The Talon 212s offer that underfoot protection that the 190s lack after around 50kms. The upper is strong and secure, but as a result you need to watch the sizing with the narrow fit. But best of all, when you’re faced with a gnarly downhill, you can smash your way across country with no fear of losing that grip – that is as long as the unstitched tongue doesn’t fill you shoe with little stones and dirt. For that my Inov8 friends, you lose half a star for what I can only see as a moment of utter craziness in what is an awesome shoe.
*Big thanks to Footpoint Shoe Clinic who supplied the Inov8s and allowed me to test them. You can buy them here if you’re keen, but I’d advise paying them a visit to make sure you get the sizing right.