The Inov-8 X-Talon 230 is a rugged, go fast in the worst possible conditions kind of shoe. Hands down the best grip in this group thanks to its 8mm deep lugs. But also, one of the least comfortable. This is your shoe for mountain running, OCR, fell or snowshoeing. When grip and speed are at a premium, you can’t go wrong with the X-Talon 230.
The Inov-8 X-Talon 230 is an interesting shoe. It is a very fast shoe, one of the fastest we tested. And would probably be most comparable to other race oriented shoes this season. It has a narrow footbed, but also a high volume upper which makes the fit tricky. Like other race shoes, comfort is pretty low on the priority list. The upper is very stiff (but VERY durable), the laces are too thin, it is too narrow and runs long. After a handful of runs the upper does break in a bit and get a little bit more comfortable but this is a rugged shoe and will never be considered comfortable.
The Inov-8 X-Talon 230 is a very niche shoe and is purpose built to handle the most extreme conditions. This is not for your everyday buffed single track. Inov-8 recommends this shoe for fell and mountain running. Fell running is a type of running in the UK where you basically run straight up mountain or “fell”, typically off trail through thick mud, grass, scree and whatever happens to be on the hill. They tend to be shorter in distance but with maximum elevation gain. Both climbing and descending grip is at a premium and that is what this shoe has. With Inov-8’s “Stickygrip” rubber compound this shoe sticks to almost everything. It excels on wet, soft surfaces but is also great on hard packed and sandy trails.
As alluded to before the upper is very durable. Part of that durability is how thick the upper is. Unfortunately that thickness makes the shoe very hot. The material is not waterproof, but does not absorb water so it works well in wet conditions. This thick upper also bunches up around the toes and creases at the metatarsal head.
As with the other race orientated shoes, comfort is not a priority here. It is a rugged shoe built for durability and getting up and down gnarly terrain as quickly as possible. That being said, it may not exactly be comfortable doing so. The midsole is very thin, similar to the Trail Talon 235, at 7 mm and let’s pretty much every bump and rock through. You would think with 8mm studs on the bottom it would provide some extra protection but it seems not too. The midsole is fairly smooth and responsive but due to the very stiff upper the shoe does not flex smoothly.
The X-Talon 230 is a fast shoe. What stopped it from having a higher score was the fact that the upper was so uncomfortable. The shoe is lightweight and very responsive which helps it with a quick turn over. With a 6mm drop, it puts you in just the right position to lean forward and get going fast. If you are looking for a shoe to run fast on steep technical terrain you couldn’t really do better than the X-Talon.
Security of Fit
Generally the fit is decent, but can be tricky depending on your foot shape. This is a very straight lasted shoe, with a narrow foot bed but high volume upper. There are a higher than average number of lace eye holes so adjustability is high and they help dissipates pressure against the top of the foot. The heel fit is, again, decent. It was is a little wide and very firm so some heel slipping can occur. The very stiff upper securely held our feet on the sharpest of cuts and steepest of descents.
With 8mm lugs, it is no surprise that the Inov-8 X-Talon 230 is a very agile shoe. The lugs dig and bite extremely well, combined with a low drop and low profile design agility is one of this shoes best qualities. With the upper allowing very little lateral movement, it is easy to grip and turn quickly. You do still have to be cautious of where you plant since there is such little underfoot protection
The midsole is one of the best features of the Inov-8 X-Talon 230. It is essentially the same as the Trail Talon 235 in energy return and turnover and that shoe was one of the highest rated in this test. Inov-8 has definitely figured how to make a very fast shoe and if they can get their fit dialed like they have their midsole/outsoles, they will be crushing.
Looking at and handling the Inov-8 X-Talon 230 you would think this thing is built like a tank and nothing is going to get through it. For the upper that is mainly true. With a thick rubber toe bumper that extends pretty much around the entire bottom half of the upper. The mesh material is extremely thick and durable and will hold up to the toughest of terrain. No debris will get in through the upper. The tongue is gusseted but sits really far below the upper due to its thickness and it seems that muck could get stuck in there. The ankle is really low slung and will allow debris in unless you are using the built in gaiter hooks. Underfoot protection is surprisingly poor. There is a rock plate though you would never know it by how easy rocks can poke through. The deep lugs do help but the midsole is too thin and the outsole rubber too soft. This is definitely designed for a run/race on very soft terrain without sharp rocks
*Your purchase helps to support the work of Gear Institute.
HOW WE TESTED
Out testing spans the course of several months. Our testers spend a few weeks running at least 50 miles (typically much more) in each shoe. They live all over the country so each shoe can be put through our testing protocol in a variety of terrains and conditions. Each tester is encouraged—to the best of their ability—to test the shoes in as many different terrain environments as possible: in the mountains, on dirt roads, buffed single track, technical terrain, etc. In addition to varying terrain, our testers have to test each shoe at different efforts including a long run, easy running and fast running. As mentioned above we test for six different criteria: comfort, speed, security of fit, agility, responsiveness and protection.