The Race Ultra when first released by inov-8 turned heads. It was certainly a departure for the brand who had built a history and reputation for out-and-out fell running shoes. For the brand to release a shoe that appealed specifically to the ‘ultra’ market was an interesting move.
I have to say, the first incarnation of the shoe was pleasing to look at and although it gained rave reviews, I didn’t like it. It felt sloppy, lacked feel and in all honesty, it was a shoe I didn’t want to use.
The second incarnation was a huge improvement and it has become a regular shoe for me when running long on flat, relatively un-technical and non-muddy trail. It was a shoe that proved hugely popular at races such as Marathon des Sables for example and the combination of two options, 4mm and 8mm drop; the Race Ultra suddenly became a really popular shoe.
I was therefore somewhat surprised when inov-8 told me that the Race Ultra 270 (4mm drop) and 290 (8mm drop) are no longer in the range as of AW16. Really?
I have had many emails from runners in the community expressing a concern about this. Yes, the Race Ultra really has become ‘that’ popular and as such, many are asking, but what shoe an I know going to wear?
Take a breath, take out your credit card and go and order yourself a pair of TRAIL TALON 275 (8mm drop) or TRAIL TALON 250 (4mm drop).
Yes, folks, stop worrying, the new TRAIL TALON is all that the Race Ultra was and so much more.
I could actually stop the review there as I have very little negatives to say about the shoes. Yes, both really are that good. But I know you have a need for more information so here goes.
In brief, the TRAIL TALON offering in either 275 or 250 versions directly relates to the 270 or 290 versions of the RACE ULTRA. So first off, think about if you need or prefer 4mm or 8mm drop shoes (or both). The plus side from the off, is the two new TRAIL TALONS are offering weight savings over the previous models: 15g +/- for the 8mm drop and 20g +/- for the 4mm drop. For reference, inov-8 always refers to the weight of the shoe in the name, so, a TRAIL TALON 250 will weight 250g+/- in a standard UK8.
Both the TRAIL TALON 275 and 250 shoes use the same standard fit last as the RACE ULTRA but they both offer improved grip with deeper cleats and better cleat configuration. It’s a marginal improvement and don’t start to think that the new shoe will now handle more mud – they won’t. The TRAIL TALON is very much a dry trail/ mountain shoe that can handle a little sloppy stuff if required.
Tthe TRAIL TALON has a wide ‘standard fit’ toe boxbut I don’t think it is as wide as the RACE ULTRA?. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of room and it allows the toes to move and splay just as in the previous model. When running long your toes have room to move and should you be prone to swelling, they have room to expand. This ‘standard fit’ is something that inov-8 have worked on and by contrast, some shoes in the inov-8 range can be purchased in ‘precision’ fit which offers a tighter and narrower toe box. For me, this can be where some compromise comes in with the TRAIL TALON, when running on long, flat and consistent terrain the shoes excel but if the terrain becomes technical and inconsistent, I find my foot moves a little within the shoe due to the wider fit. This is not a criticism of the shoe, what I am saying is (as I always say) is that it is rare that one shoe can do all things well. For technical running I prefer a precision fit.
A notable difference is the new POWERFLOW midsole for a more cushioned ride. Both the 250 and 275 feel more cushioned. In particular, the 275 feels super cushioned, almost a little ‘too’ cushioned at times and I think this is where the most notable difference will come for RACE ULTRA fans. You will either prefer the additional cushioning or not. On my first runs in the 275 I noticed the cushioning over the RACE ULTRA. To confirm my thoughts, I went back out for a run in the RACE ULTRA and yes, the new shoe has more cushioning and it feels that way too. This only adds to the thoughts of inov-8 that the TRAIL TALON is a long distance shoe. Of course it’s all relative, the 4mm drop 250 has less cushioning than the 8mm drop 275. For many of you this will not be an issue as you will either run in 4mm or 8mm drop shoes. This is not the case for me, I often and regularly switch between 4mm and 8mm drop shoes. If I am running for 30mins, 60mins or even 2-3 hours I can happily run in 4mm drop and still retain good form. However, if I am going out for a long session or a day in the mountains, I will always go 8mm drop. The higher drop allows more leeway and flexibility and I must add that the TRAIL TALON is a superb shoe to walk in. This is really important for those who are running long or doing multi-day races. Often, shoes are tested just running with no consideration of how the shoe transitions to a change of gait when walking. For me, the TRAIL TALON 275 is one of the best run shoes I have used when walking, the transition is seamless and comfortable no doubt attributable to the ADAPTERFIT met-cradle for better mid-foot comfort.
I am always wary of buzz words like ‘Powerflow’ and ‘Adapterfit’ as in real terms they can mean nothing. Breaking the words down, the TRAIL TALON has more cushioning and better mid-foot comfort.
When running, the feel of the shoe and the comfort level is high. In the 275 I had less ‘feel’ for the ground due to the additional cushioning but this proved a real bonus for longer sessions and when the ground became more irregular. The 250 version with lower drop and less cushioning in comparison to the 8mm drop version felt really sweet on all runs.
Both shoes, 4mm or 8mm drop definitely provided more feel, better cushioning and more ‘return’ when running than the RACE ULTRA.
Like the 290 and 270 RACE ULTRA’s the TRAIL TALON will also incorporate the unique on-the-shoe gaiter attachment so that should you require a Gaiter you can purchase the item separately and attach/ de-attach with ease.
Two huge improvements for me come with the lacing system on the 275 and a gusseted tongue on both the 250 and 275. I have been saying this for ages, but a gusseted tongue just makes sense. I don’t know why it isn’t standard on all run shoes. It helps hold the foot in place, it stops the tongue moving and sliding to the left or right as you run and maybe most importantly it adds an additional protection to stop debris entering the shoe.
The lacing on the TRAIL TALON is added ‘on to’ the shoe by what effectively is a folded plastic layer. This works so well as it allows the shoes to be laced tightly or loosely as required but it also allows the font to swell within the shoe. In the past, I have had issues with inov-8 lacing and I have had to use a ‘lock lacing’ technique to feel secure in the shoe. Not know, this lacing method works.
Toe protection on the shoe is good but not ridiculous. Keeping in mind the intended use of the shoe, it’s fit for purpose. The heel box is snug, cushioned, holds the foot well and caused no rubbing on long sessions, even when walking.
Grip is compromised on any muddy trails but then again, the TRAIL TALON is not intended for this type of terrain. The 4mm deep studs work great on all dry trail, rocks and yes road. When wet, the grip is also good. Ultimately, the TRAIL TALON would be a great ‘all-rounder’ for most runs. If you are heading to the fells, a muddy trail run, or mountains with mixed/wet trail then choose a different shoe.
Finally, RACE ULTRA fans are going to be really happy with the TRAIL TALON. I have found it difficult to really find any negatives. The only negative (and it’s not really a negative) is that some of you may find the new incarnation a little ‘too’ cushioned. Sizing is true to size and relates directly to the Race Ultra.
As per usual, inov-8 have created two ‘visually’ appealing shoes with great colours and styling.
Drop is personal and for me, 8mm drop is the sweet spot in run shoes and is my ‘go to’ drop for any run. If you prefer a lower drop, then you will be happy with the 250 and 4mm version. If you can afford two pairs of shoes, I really recommend the 250 for shorter and/ or faster runs.
This TRAIL TALON is a winner and is now one of three shoes that I choose on a daily basis, the other two shoes for comparison are The North Face Ultra Endurance and the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac.
Specs from inov-8
The patented Dynamic Fascia Band™ (DFB) mimics the ‘Windlass Effect’ delivering a kick of energy with each step, helping the athlete to move faster and more efficiently
Our standard fit offers a close-fitting heel that locks the shoe in position, while a wider toe box allows the toes to splay when running naturally or lifting weights. Standard fit suits those with wider feet and athletes using the product for long sessions.
Arrows refer to drop, 1 arrow = 4mm, 2 arrow – 8mm