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inov-8 - X-Talon 212

posted Sep 1, 2014, 12:30 PM by GoOut Project   [ updated Jan 17, 2015, 1:07 PM ]

Without any doubt the inov-8 X-Talon 212 are among the most successful "off trail" running shoes. These ultimate off-road running shoes were awarded numerous prestigious prices and they won several mountain running world championships! How could they still be missing among our tests??

Technical Description

The X-Talon 212 are trail running shoes (or "off-trail" running shoes, as inov-8 defines them) designed for "natural" running on loose ground and rough terrains. Sticking out of the sole there are 43, almost 1 cm long "claws", that sink deeply into any kind of soft and loose terrain. The upper is made of a durable and thick fabric coated with water repellent treatment (DWR). Additional support is offered by two slender rubber panels that connects the sole to the eyelets.
Along the entire perimeter of the upper a layer of a robust synthetic, leather-like material protects from impacts and abrasion.

META-FLEX: more flexible front area of the sole to allow a more natural movement 
FASCIA BAND: technology that replicates the function of the plantar ligaments
ROPETECH: plastic inserts on the central part of the sole that provide better grip in rope climbing 

Upper: synthetic Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) mesh with Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment. 
Type of fit: "Precision Fit" - the width of the shoe is reduced by a few mm compared to the standard, for a more precise fit of the foot and reduced internal movements. 
Foot bed: 6 mm 
Drop: 6 mm 
Sole: Sticky rubber X-Talon

Weight: 212 g per shoe (UK size 8)

Our Test

We used the X-Talon 212 for trail running for approximately 150 km during three months between spring and summer. We ran for about 90% of the time on soft and loose terrains (mud, grass, sand, gravel) and for the remaining 10% on more compact ones (rock or dry and compact ground). We used them mainly in sunny conditions or during light rainfalls with temperatures between 5 and  25° C. We have also tested them for a few short hikes.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Hey runner, if you expect to experience with the X-Talon the same feelings you get when wearing any other trail running shoes, sorry, but you're on the wrong track! If you've never heard about inov-8 and their philosophy in designing shoes for natural running, you may want to read their "Guide to transition" in order to fully understand the fundamental concepts behind these shoes and our test (see also our tests of the Trailroc).

First Impressions
At first sight the X-Talon 212 seem pretty "massive" and super protective, but when you actually hold them in your hand you discover that that they are a featherweight! When you put them on they wrap perfectly around your feet and they are quite soft and comfortable. Under your feet you can clearly feel the very aggressive claws attached under the sole, although these are relatively soft and flexible.

With 212 g per shoe they can be considered extremely light trail running shoes! They are the ultimate racing shoes for the most slippery and steep terrains. Despite they provide a high degree of protection, their weight is hardly noticeable on your feet while running. They definitely represent an optimal balance between weight and protection.

The tread of the sole leaves no doubt: the X-Talon stick to the ground
like the claws of a hawk in the flesh of the prey! The spikes sink in any soft or loose ground and consequently the traction is amazing on those terrains. On dirt, mud, sand, gravel, and grass you couldn't wish for a better sole. Both uphill and downhill they provide a grip that's beyond any expectations, thanks also to a rubber compound that is very well chosen. At first, since you cannot imagine such a response, you tend to be cautious, but when you discover to which extent they actually grip, you release the brake and you start running up and down the slopes without any worries! Only on some of the smoother, wet rocks sometimes we noticed some loss of grip.

The X-Talon 212 fit quite well, particularly on the central part of the foot, thanks to the excellent lacing system, which also guarantees a good overall control. They are quite soft and comfortable shoes with which you can devour kilometres without major hassles. The protection offered by the synthetic material that covers the entire perimeter of the shoe is also very good. This is actually an essential feature on rough terrains to protect against sharp objects (stones,
branches, etc.).

Flexibility & Responsiveness
The sole of the X-Talon is soft and flexible over its entire length and the META-FLEX system adds even more freedom to flex the toes. In addition, thanks to the quite thin, minimalistic upper free of thick support structures, the sole is also free to flex almost without constraints. Only around the central area the sole is slightly stiffer, probably a technical solution to better support the arch. Overall the flexure of the foot inside the shoe is quite natural. The sole doesn't have a very high degree of responsiveness and much of the work will have to be done by your tendons and muscles.

If you think that a 9mm-sole is not enough, well... maybe it's better ifyou look for another pair of shoes! If you are experienced with natural running you'll find that the degree of cushioning is in general more than enough. You must also consider that you will mostly use these shoes on soft terrains and that the rubber compound that
makes up the sole and cleats is very soft.

The lack of strong support structures hamper a bit the lateral stability, as it's often the case on minimalistic running shoesHowever, the combined action of the tapered upper and the good lacing system that wraps the foot very well and keeps it week bound to the sole, therefore compensating, at least in part, the lack of support.

Protection from the Elements
Despite their very low weight the X-Talon 212 offer a high degree of protection. The secret is in the synthetic fabric that makes up the upper, which is very solid and coated with durable water repellent (DWR), combined with the synthetic leather which covers the lower edge along the entire perimeter of the upper. The degree of protection from impacts is excellent. However, sand and debris can penetrate from both the shoe collar and from the sides of the tongue, which, is detached from the upper, unlike most footwear of this type. For this reason it is advisable to use some appropriate gathers (e.g. 
inov-8 gaiters). Protection against water is more than enough for a run under light rain, but they are not Gore-Tex shoes, so if you sink your feet in the water, inevitably you'll get wet. Finally, given the thickness of the upper, they are quite "warm" shoes.

Let's be honest... the X-Talon 212 are not the most breathable shoes we tried! They are better suited for use in low to medium temperatures when the need for breathability is less strong. In summer or, in general, for temperatures higher than 20 °C, the lighter version of the X-Talon (X-Talon 190) is definitely preferable. Despite the quickly drying lining placed on the most critical parts of the footbed, the thick outer fabric that makes up the upper precludes the air exchange with the outside. Therefore when running with the X-Talon 212 your feet tend to sweat more than in other more breathable shoes. On the other hand, though, they offer a high degree of protection.

The compound of the sole is very soft, which makes it more comfortable, but less resistant to abrasion. However, the X-Talon are designed for use on soft ground, where abrasion is generally minimal. So, if they are used properly, they last more than what you would expect. The upper, is well protected from impacts and tearing, thanks to the robust material that covers the upper all around the perimeter of the shoe. The X-Talon 212 won't give up very easily... they are hard to die!

Obviously they are not the most suitable shoes to run the New York Marathon! Not because they wouldn't be comfortable on the road (the cleats are very soft and flexible and do not press under your feet), but because the cleats, although very durable, would wear out quickly. To get the maximum performance and life from the X-Talon is advisable to use them, as much as possible, on soft terrains. We have found them excellent for workouts on the beach, for example! We tried them also for some hiking and for a light and fast use on the trails they offer the advantage of being very comfortable and always well anchored to the ground, allowing you to be faster even on steep and wet terrains. Again, also for hiking the only limit is the wear of the
cleats on harder terrains (especially on rocks). Finally, when it's warmer you suffer a bit the lack of ventilation.

Our Verdict

The X-Talon 212 are the perfect racing shoes on the most rough terrains. They offer a high degree of protection despite being amazingly light. You have to have some experience with "natural" running to really appreciate them fully. On mud, sand, grass, and any soft terrain they deliver the best performances, especially up and downhill. They are the perfect choice for a Sky Running race where coming in second is not an option. If you're looking for traction where you wouldn't even think you could walk, the X-Talon are the right shoes for you!

+ Lightweight and flexibility
+ Excellent traction on soft and loose grounds
+ Good protection

- Limited breathability
- Restricted range of usability

 Lightness    9/10
 Grip    9/10
 Comfort    8/10
 Protection from the Elements    8/10
 Breathability    6/10
 Flexibility and Responsiveness     7/10
 Cushioning    7/10
 Stability    7/10
 Versatility    5/10
 Durability    8/10
 Total Score  7.4/10