Monday, August 03, 2015

Review: Inov-8 TerraClaw 250-A Home Run; Race Ultra 290v2-Oh So Close

The Inov-8 Terraclaw 250 and Race Ultra 290v2 are capable multi surface shoes with stable outsole midsole packages and similar overall fits. I have run and hiked them on smooth UT single track, rougher mountain trails, and roads. All models available in women's styles and sizes. For my non US readers the number after the model names corresponds to weight in grams.

The Terraclaw 250 $150 according to Running Warehouse is a 24mm (Heel), 16mm (Forefoot) stack, 8.8oz. I am calling it an all terrain speedster. 
Inov-8 Terraclaw 250

The  Race Ultra 290 v2 has a touch more cushioning  and weight with according to Running Warehouse 26mm (Heel), 17mm (Forefoot) stack and weight of 10.2 oz.  The 290 is well described as an Ultra shoe and at a light weight for the protection provided.
Inov-8 Race Ultra 290v2

I find the 250 to be an outstanding road and smooth trail shoe, likely in the running for my road and hybrid shoe of the year and certainly a candidate for a road marathon or half shoe for me. The 290 is very good in terms of its underfoot feel and responsiveness on rougher trails and even road but... suffers from a somewhat loose lateral heel hold when the trail gets off camber.

The Terraclaw 220 $120 is identical to the 250 except instead of 24mm heel and 8mm drop it has a 20mm heel and 4mm drop. My wife is trying the Terraclaw 220 and coming from Hoka Cliftons finds them quite minimal, taking some getting used to. She loves the colors and is now looking for matching socks.
Inov-8 Terraclaw 220
For those not familiar with Inov-8 they are a UK based company. Going back 9 years or so ago when I started this site I found them to be the first company solely focused on designing trail and mountain running shoes and not as other brands did the re purposing road shoes with beefy outsoles or toning down of low cut "hikers". More minimal than what was available at the time, and with a focus on different outsoles for different terrains, they were and are a true innovator in run shoe design. Well they were... but for a while they drifted into super minimal road and trail shoes and Cross Fit where they remain very popular. I am thrilled they are back in the game with practical high performance offerings. 

Uppers and Fit
Both shoes have a roomy toe box, similar in fit there to the adidas Response Trail Boost or XT Boost for me. 
Inov-8 Race Ultra 290v2

inov-8 Terraclaw 250
They differ, beyond weight, cushioning,and forefoot rock protection in their heel fit.  The more minimal upper of the 250, while not a shoe for the roughest trails has a well secured heel while the beefier 290v2 which is fantastic in the forefoot on all surfaces due to its added 5 fingered Meta-Shank has a somewhat sloppy fitting while still stable heel. Strange,and I think I know why, and will try to explain. While roomy they are both secure, no rotating of the forefoot on rough terrain. The 250 while  minimal and unstructured in construction has an innovative (in my view) X-Lock bands across the top of the foot. The 290 has a long soft toe bumper with higher up another overlay running all the way to the heel. Equally effective. 

Both fit me true to size with thicker trail socks so some might size down half a size.

The 290 suffers from a somewhat looser heel fit than the construction, full decent heel counter would indicate. I think the culprit is the tongue, the lack of a last lace lock hole, also potentially the generous sizing. Soft, quite thin and slippery the tongue tends to slide to the  side making the side to side hold in the heel upper loose when on rougher terrain.  The laces are thin and I will next try some more substantial laces to see if that makes a difference. The midfoot and forefoot is well held at all times. 

inov-8 Terraclaw 250

I was surprised at how well the 250 upper held me on rougher terrain given it minimal upper and heel counter. The X-Lock blue bands work incredibly well.  The medial side mid foot overlays are wider than the lateral sides. Also helping support.

Not many will mistake the 250 shoe for a heavy duty super rocky trail shoe but for mixed terrain with a focus on smoother and fast the foot is well held without ever feeling like it is bound up and constrained. Even though the tongue is thin it works just fine I think due to the lace loop being offset to the medial side to pull the upper towards the lateral side, neat.  The 250 has a lace lock last hole. I have not had the need to use it but wish I had it on the 290 where there is none. 

Midsole and Outsole
Inov-8 has always had outstanding midsole outsole construction and the 250 and 290 are no exception.The midsole is injected EVA, nothing really special there but relatively soft so nicely cushioned. inov-8's secret sauce are the incorporated Fascia Band and Meta-Shank as well as the outsoles which when combined provide a smooth stable cushioned ride on all surfaces, including road.

The 250 and 290 incorporate inov-8 Fasica Band technology: "Inov-8's patented fascia band™ technology replicates the anatomical position of the plantar fascia ligament, and duplicates the function of the human foot's ability to utilize the "windlass effect". I am not sure I am seeing it. "Mimic(ing) the 'Windlass Effect' delivering a kick of energy with each step, helping the athlete to run faster and more efficiently. The fascia band™ is positioned on the outsole."
This said I have always felt Inov-8 underfoot forward tracking has been outstanding and these shoes are no exception.
Inov-8 Fascia Band Technology

The 290 includes Inov-8's Meta-Shank the 250 does not. The Meta-Shank is clearly felt on rougher terrain. The rock protection is outstanding, yet no feeling of a stiff firm rock plate. Meta-Shank is part of the secret sauce which makes the 290 feel as good underfoot on the road as rough trails. Do I miss the Meta-Shank in the 250? A bit when trails get rough as rocks are more noticeable but with it included weight would be increased and smoother terrain speed impacted. 
inov-8 Meta Shank

The outsole on both these shoes are absolute gems. 
inov-8 Race Ultra 290v2

Multiple densities of rubber are used on the 290 from the hard blue heel plug to the somewhat softer black and yellow, the yellow outbound of the Meta-Shank conforming to terrain variations very nicely. The lugs are fairly low I am guessing 3mm so just about right for all terrain except the deepest mud. 
inov-8 Terraclaw 250 Outsole

The 250 appears to have the same density of outsole rubber throughout. The lugs are 4mm.  The outsole wraps up the sides at the mid foot providing some stability without being in any way an overly motion controlled shoe. I really like a touch of stability midfoot and it reminded me of the adidas Energy Boost and Adios as well as the Montrail Fluid Flex ST in that respect. 

Ride, Comparisons,  Recommendations
Both the 250 and 290 have a smooth stable ride on all terrains including roads. They are more than adequately cushioned yet stable, with the exception of the heel hold issue of the 290 on rougher terrain.

Strange as it seems I compare the TerraClaw 250 most closely to... 2 road shoes and 3 trail shoes 

On the road I might compare to 
  • the adidas Adios Boost, also 8.8 oz and Nike Lunar Tempo far lighter at 6.8oz but for sure not a trail shoe! The ride of the 250 is somewhat more cushioned in the forefoot than the Adios Boost and a touch firmer in the heel. The forefoot fit is roomy and open as with the Lunar Tempo but with more toe box height. The Lunar Tempo is softer overall in ride and I would never take them on trail but in many ways the fit is similar. 
On the trail one could compare the Terraclaw 250 to:
  • Salomon S-Lab X Series, a road trail hybrid. The 250 weighs an ounce more but has a far more comfortable upper, less front rock protection, deeper lugs and a more cushioned ride, particularly in the forefoot. 
  • Montrail Fluid Flex ST, about half an ounce heavier has a burlier more supportive upper, great mid foot midsole support, a  substantial and somewhat noticeable rock plate as it covers the width of the forefoot, and is somewhat firmer and less pleasant on the road, so more a trail focused shoe.
  • addias XT Boost, a firmer particularly in the heel, ounce heavier well lugged trail runner with a decently roomy minimal upper with some fore foot Boost. Mighty fine on the road but firm.
The Race Ultra 290 can be compared to:
  • the Hoka Speedgoat as they both share an outstanding all terrain outsole and great cushioning. The Speedgoat is "bouncier" with a higher softer midsole over a relatively firm outsole. I tend to prefer the smoother transition between outsole and midsole firmness of the 290 as well as its roomier well held upper, except of course for that loose heel on the 290 and overly thin tongue and somewhat minimal mid foot hold of the Speedgoat
The inov-8 Terraclaw 250 is a versatile lightweight road trail hybrid, focused towards smoother terrain and road.  I would not hesitate to run a road half or full marathon in them for their adequate cushioning and supportive and roomy upper. A home run!  More agile runners may find it a great all around fast trail shoe being aware it does not have a traditional rock plate and the minimal upper may see wear on rockier terrain. 
The inov-8 Race Ultra 290v2 is well named for its great midsole and outsole package suitable for any terrain. On rougher terrain its loose heel hold, likely due to the tongue construction, is a flaw in what is otherwise a great shoe. 

To see our reviews of the Nike Lunar Tempo, adidas Adios Boost, adidas Response Trail Boost, Montrail Fluid Flex ST, and Hoka SpeedGoat please click over to the summary page here for links to these and may other reviews.

The Terraclaw and Race Ultra 290 were provided free of charge. The opinions herein are entirely my own.

Running Warehouse EU and USA have the Inov-8 250 TrailClaw and 290 Race Ultra available. Purchases help support Road Trail Run.
USA Men here  Women here            EU Men here  Women here


Bruce said...

hi sam--very interesting review! did you continue to like the 250 as much for road and smoother trail? several review seemed to feel they were (much) better suited to mud and loose trails (contrary to inov-8's advertising); didn't like them on firm surfaces. did you feel the lugs on the road? also, did you think they could hold a narrow foot well?


Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Bruce,most of my running in them was on smoother trails and road and they were great on those surfaces. Some sense of lugs and as I often find decently lugged shoes often feel good on the road as they add some cushion. All the adidas boost trail shoes are heavily lugged and feel best on road and smooth trails and...looser stuff but are a bit grabby on in between dry rocky trails. The Inov8 toe box is not super wide but is not narrow eithe but is quite unstructured. If for smoother trails not to much off camber roots rocks they should be fine for a narrower foot. What are your trail surfaces? What shoes work for you?