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Off-trail running/Inov-8 Mudclaw

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For a moment, forget about Nike and New Balance. Take pavement and trail out of the picture. Imagine running on rocks, jumping stumps, stomping in mud, and bushwhacking at high speed.

In the wide world of running sports, the subgenre of off-trail racing requires its own type of footwear. Indeed, the esoteric pursuits of fell running, adventure racing, orienteering and speed-mountaineering necessitate shoes that bend common conception.

Mudclaw 340 O +

Take the Inov-8 Mudclaw 340 O + as an example. This odd animal, made for orienteering and off-piste mountain running, comes with one of the industry’s most aggressive outsoles. More than 50 quarter-inch rubber knobs poke off the bottom of the shoe, ten of them tipped with metal spikes for extra grip on snow, ice and dead fallen leaves.

I’ve run off-trail in various sports for years. Companies like Montrail, Salmon, La Sportiva and Ice Bug have kept my feet happy and fast moving through the forest. But Inov-8, a U.K.-based company (www.inov-8.com) with 13 unique shoe models, has been under my microscope as of late.

The subject of this week’s dissection — the aforementioned Mudclaw 340 O + — is not my favorite Inov-8 shoe. The company’s Terroc 330, which I reviewed last year, is lighter weight and more comfortable. It fit me better than the Mudclaw, too. The Inov-8 F-Lite 250, a featherweight sprinter, is my pick for pedal-down, heat-of-the-race type scenarios.

But the Mudclaw 340 O +, which costs $90, is the most interesting shoe in the company’s line. It’s not perfect, but the shoe concept has a lot of potential.

The Mudclaw’s build mixes a trail-running aesthetic with hints of a hiking boot. The toothy sole will crush most everything in its path. But this crushing can be done at unusually high speeds because the shoes are relatively lightweight at about 12 ounces apiece.

On the trail — and especially on pavement — the Mudclaw feels stiff and slightly flat-footed. But on variable terrain the shoe excels.

The big teeth under your toes dig in deep and provide tremendous traction. For grassy hill climbs, bush-crashing forest runs, and mud, the spiky tread makes a noticeable difference. Though the shoes are too airy and breathable for winter running, the metal spikes will dig into snow and ice if needed.

In most scenarios, though, the extra grip is simple overkill.

Fit on the foot, I found, was fine overall, though the heel cup area was a smidge too shallow for my feet. Be sure to try these on for size before purchase if possible.

Overall, the Mudclaw is a highly-specialized shoe I’ll use in rare situations. Muddy and wet hilly terrain would be one such scenario. It may come out on warm winter days, too. It’s not going to be a workhorse in my stable of footwear. But it’s a good steed to have ready to go just in case.

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