I've had a long-standing fascination with Inov-8 as a brand and company.
Well, "long-standing" is relative given the company's short history of less than 15 years. I first purchased an Inov-8 product – a 12-liter back-pack – in 2010 when I was contemplating run-commuting.
The back-pack was well designed, keenly priced, and remains a favorite kit item to this day. It was then a couple of years after that I first came across their running shoes and then another couple of years after that that I mustered up the courage to try them.
You see, their shoes looked so damn intimidating, with their aggressive grip, slim and low profile, and overall "ready for business" look about them, not to mention their focus on off-road running (at a time when I was happy to just run around neighborhood blocks).
As I later learned, the numbers simply denominated the weight of the shoe (in grams) and I wasn't wrong to feel intimidated, since the bulk of their range had minimal cushioning and low drops of 3-6mm, thereby catering to the more experienced, efficient and nimble-footed runners.
All suited, of course, for rugged, technical and inhospitable terrain that these shoes were designed for.
You see, the British-founded company is based in Cumbria, near the Lake District with its glacier-carved hills and valleys that is also the home of British fell-running (extreme hill running, often in mist, horizontal rain, and freezing temperatures).
Serious opening message inside the box
Although now owned by Japan's Descente since 2015, little seems changed. The shoes still have names like Mudclaw, Trailtalon and X-claw and still feature 3-digit suffixes.
The only discernible change is that the shoes now seem to cater to dry and rocky trails (read: America) more so than the traditional soft terrain in Britain, evidence of the company's more global outlook.
Paving new paths
The Parkclaw 275 GTX (which denominates the Gore-tex version) may also be a result of this new approach to open up a new audience, in this case, the part-time, casual, novice, or urban trail runner looking to mix-up tarmac and gentle trails.
When offered the chance to choose an Inov-8 shoe to test, I went for the Parkclaw (GTX) because I saw its potential to fulfill a few of my needs:
I was looking for a shoe for running predominantly in the British winter, which is cold and often wet, and suited for my typical long-slow distance route, which is a 50-50 mix of road and groomed trail, frequently along the Thames River.
An ideal shoe would provide some protection against the elements, with enough cushioning for the road sections, and sufficient grip and traction for both wet tarmac and muddy (but not sloppy) trails.
On paper, Parkclaw 275 GTX fulfilled my needs perfectly.
Robust, roomy, and Gore-tex
Go up half size and watch the heel.
In the intervening days before taking delivery of the shoes, however, I wondered if I chose wisely.
According to Inov-8's fit scale which runs from 1 to 5, the forefoot volume of the Parkclaw is classified 5, which is equivalent to a 2E fitting. Being a D (standard, or 3 on the Inov-8 scale), I worried that 5 may be too wide. I also worried that I may have ordered the wrong size.
I'm normally US 10.5 (which usually translate to UK 10.0 and EUR 44.5) but under Inov-8 sizing UK 10/EUR 44.5 is US11.0, so I went with that, wary that the shoes may come up big.
But, once the shoes arrived, I was relieved to find that both forefoot volume and overall length were spot on thanks mainly to the great fit at mid-foot. In fact, I doubt that these are roomy enough for true 2E feet. And sizing-up by half on the US scale proved sound.
The only problem was at the heel, particularly on the right foot where some slippage was noted. I wasn’t too concerned, however; my right heel is particularly narrow, making this a personal issue with some shoes.
Quite often, the problem disappears after a few runs, once the shoe is "broken in" and becomes more flexible. And with Inov-8 having supplied an extra "heel loop" hole for the lace, a feature you see more typically on dedicated road shoes, the issue became a non-issue, but be wary if you have particularly narrow heels.
Heel-lock may be necessary if narrow-heeled
The shoes, in a departure from previous models of Inov-8 I had come across, actually appeared "beefy" and robust. Imagine if you will a supportive high mileage daily trainer but with more "down to business" outsole, in this case with 4mm deep treads.
On paper, the midsole stack is not that clunky at 12mm forefoot and 20mm rear, but they sure appear more "built" than any other Inov-8 shoe I've seen.
The upper material is definitely more trail-orientated, with none of the airy mesh of road runners in sight, although this could simply be a function of the Gore-tex lining.
4mm lugs mean business
Liberal labelling on the shoe made no secret of the fact that the shoe is laden with proprietary technology.
It includes Powerflow+ midsole material (enhanced shock absorption and energy return), EHC (Enhanced Heel Cup), Tri-C outsole (made of 3 different compounds for optimizing grip versus durability), and Dynamic Fascia Band, which enhances the "windlass effect" (basically, promotes a more efficient gait).
Add to this Gore-tex in the GTX model which, according to website blurb, is applied using Invisible-Fit, although how exactly this made the shoes feel or perform differently was lost on me, like much of the technology – the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.
At any rate, on the feet, the shoes were comfortable enough that I didn’t think twice about spending a few hours in them for their maiden run.
Road (to trail) test
I set off on a favorite 16-mile route of mine, which takes in a stretch of the hard-packed tow-path on the Thames Path National Trail, then a section of the undulating and groomed dirt trail on Richmond Park, and on the home stretch the much hillier and muddier Wimbledon Common.
The route requires almost 3 miles of running on sidewalk and road past the shops and residences of Putney to reach the Thames tow-path, and the same distance on way back, so this is an ideal test route for any door-to-trail shoe.
Thames Path on unusually sunny January day
The shoes performed as expected and as hoped.
On tarmac, they were firm and responsive with the cushioning and rebound from Powerflow+ midsole much in evidence, although definitely on the firmer side compared to dedicated road shoes.
On groomed trails the Parkclaw performed like a dream, providing just the right amount of grip and assuredness required. Even on moderately technical trails, the shoes – contrary to earlier fears, given the stack height – provided decent foot-feel, in fact rivaling many other moderately cushioned trail shoes.
While running on the Thames Path stretch, I remembered back to the 100-mile ultra I completed in May 2017 (Centurion Thames Path 100) and thought these would be the ideal choice should I decide to take the challenge on again (in the non-Gore-tex version probably since the race is in May).
Well-suited to a variety of terrain
More trail shoes than road
Having put more than 100 miles on them since that initial long run, over varying distances in various weather conditions but always on mixed terrain, I concluded that the shoes are not at their best on tarmac, despite their purported versatility (the shoes can be found under both Road and Trail on Inov-8 website) – I found them firm but not responsive enough, possibly due to the 4mm lugs?
But, despite that, or perhaps because of that, they are awesome on trails.
To be fair, on tarmac I reckon they are still better than pretty much all my other trail shoes, with the exception of On Cloudventure. Once out on the trail, they are no doubt better than 100% of all my road shoes, and often better than many of my other trail shoes.
While I wouldn’t necessarily wear these for running exclusively on the tarmac, I wouldn’t hesitate to wear them for any runs on trails, as long as they aren't too technical or quagmire muddy, and for any mixed routes which are 30% or more trail.
As the term "door to trail" implies, these are what you would wear to go running primarily on trails.
Feet kept warm and dry
And I would always go with these if there is any remotest chance of rain/snow or moisture underfoot.
While the thought of feet overheating due to the Gore-tex membrane did occur to me, in practice this never became an issue. Sure, this could be due to the colder temperatures, but I had chosen this model specifically for winter use.
And the waterproofing worked so well that I found myself looking for wet grass to run through just so I could test their limits. (Besides, as every trail-runner knows, this is the best way of ridding the shoes of mud!) It's a wonderfully liberating feeling to run through wet grass and puddles knowing your feet will stay warm and dry.
Oh, and don't expect the shoes to weigh exactly 275 grams (or equivalent in your size).
In fact, due to the Gore-tex membrane, the shoes are going to come in about 10-15 grams heavier. In the case of my size 11, the Parkclaw came in at 323 grams versus the non-Gore-tex Trailroc 285, which weighed less at 315 grams.
And as mentioned my advice regarding sizing would be to go up a half for US scales while sticking to your usual in the UK and EUR.
A final minor point: given the intended nature of their use, at least for me, for darker winter months, it would have been good to have more reflective features on the shoe, which currently is limited to just the foot logo in the heels.
But as said, it's a minor point and just underscores the fact I struggle to find anything really negative about Parkclaw.
Trail shoes at heart
In conclusion, the Parkclaw 275 GTX is a versatile shoe well-suited for handling both road and moderate trail in wintry conditions, albeit with a definite bias towards the trail.
It is an ideal door-to-trail shoe and has become my go-to shoe for my mixed-terrain long-slow runs for the next few months, at least until late Spring.
The shoes excel in longer distances at a slower pace and are well-suited for a fall/winter ultra in moderate trails. Ultimately, these are trail shoes, designed and made by a company firmly rooted in the off-road.
The initial pair arrived with a couple of minor cosmetic faults. I was however unsure whether I should raise the flag on this – not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth etc – but in the end, decided to alert Inov-8 since that would be the fair thing to do.
To my surprise, unsolicited, a replacement pair arrived the very next day, along with this explanation from Inov-8 Head of Production Control: "We take product quality very seriously and we do strenuous tests on all our products. The industry average for product failure is 1.5%, our failure rate is 0.93% for 2017. However, making shoes is a technical process because there are so many different components. We have produced over twenty thousand pairs of the new PARKCLAW GTX, unfortunately, one or two will slip through which don’t meet the standard that we expect."
Needless to say, the replacement pair was immaculate.
Kudos to Inov-8. It clearly is a company which cares about product standards and is willing to stand by its products.