The yellow Inov-8 Mudclaw shoes, were, I think, a de facto benchmark for a running mud shoe. Up here in Scotland, they seemed to be the shoe of choice for many runners, significantly over-represented at any of the local hill races. This is not surprising, mud is the day to day reality in Scottish hills and the yellows provided excellent grip in the worst of conditions, while being fairly hard wearing. If you were to get just one pair of off road shoes, Mudclaw was the shoe to get.
Then Inov-8 decided to update the shoe for the SS 2015 season, producing the red & blue Mudclaw. This is my, undoubtedly somewhat subjective, experience with the new model, having now run some 100 miles in them.
Out of the Box Experience
The yellow was a bit naff looking shoe; in contrast the red & blue looks positively trendy -- had it not been for the lugged sole, you might even wear these casually. This is mostly down to the new, stylish rand. As far as looks are concerned, these get top marks.
When you turn the red & blue over, the thing you cannot fail to notice
immediately is the drastically reduced size of the lugs compared to the
yellows. This varies slightly across the sole, being most pronounced at the heel, but roughly the red & blue lugs are ~30% shorter than those on the yellows (this is not a guesstimate, I have measured the lugs with a vernier caliper against a pair of nearly new yellows!). To put this into perspective, the sole on the red & blues is comparable to that on a pair of yellows that have done 400 miles and are nearly ready for the bin. The red & blue lugs also have a noticeably smaller footprint, while mostly preserving the original layout and number of lugs, so there is much more empty space on the sole.
The reduced height of the lugs makes the shoe feel much more planted on flat or slightly downhill terrain, particularly at faster pace. It makes it also much better at scrambling, where the yellow's aggressive four tooth claw at the front was getting in the way (on the red & blue this claw is so small that it is more or less cosmetic).
Unfortunately, the cost of this more planted feeling is a massive reduction in traction. The sole maintains grip only as long as the ground is tacky, as soon as it becomes muddy, they just slide around.
The reduced size of the lugs also means that the new model will not last very long; based on the state of sole after 100 miles, I expect to get ~300 miles out of them, which makes them far too expensive (I came to expect I can get over 500 miles out of the yellows, and I have had a pair that lasted some 800 miles).
The most noticeable change in the upper has been the new rand. This is made of a kind of synthetic sued-like leather, that runs along to the start of the heel box, with a rubber layer sprayed onto the part directly in front of the toes. This rand is considerably stiffer than the rubber rand on the yellows, and provides much better protection from rocks, while the rubberised section helps a bit when scrambling.
However, the much stiffer toe box means that, unlike the yellows, these shoes need to be carefully broken in. It took about 40 miles before I dared to wear them for more than a couple of hours, and even now they are not as comfortable as the yellows, rubbing slightly where the toes bend. This is made worse by the fact that the rand material does not deal well with water; it is highly absorbent and then tends to turn hard as it dries out -- it seems a positively odd choice for a shoe that is meant for wet conditions.
The next big change is the heel box. The yellows had a reinforcement on the instep of the heel box, providing overall stiffness and excellent, precise, control. In contrast the heel box on the red & blues has no reinforcement to speak of, and provides no lateral support, feeling floppy. This is most tangible on fast descents where the heel tends to move sideways over the sole regardless how firmly the shoe is strapped; this completely undoes the 'better planted' effect produced by the lower profile sole. The heel box has also developed a fold at the back of it about 1/2 inch from the sole after just 40 miles!
The other change on the upper is the tongue being gusseted. This seems bit of a gimmick, gusseted tongue is normally to stop water coming in, which does not make sense on this type of a shoe. The official blob says this is to prevent ingress of debris, though I can't imagine how loose your shoe would have to be for that to be a significant enough issue. It's not a big deal, but you have to take more care putting the shoes on as the gusset has a tendency to fold on itself, creating a pressure point.
Basically, what Inov-8 did was take a specialist, hard core, well loved, mud shoe and turned it into a general purpose off road shoe. As the latter it is not bad, it runs well on loose gravelly ground as well as tacky, football pitch-like surface (though the soft sole wears too fast on the former). But as a mud shoe (and let's be honest, who buys a shoe called 'Mudclaw' as a general purpose shoe?) it is pretty mediocre. This is made worse by the fact that the previous model was so good -- if the yellows represented a notional 10/10, then the red & blues deserve, I think, no better than 6/10.
I have been a great fan of Inov-8 shoes till now, in fact all of my current running shoes are made by Inov-8. But I am not sure what is going on over there. The Mudclaw changes have been regressive to a point of astonishment, and I hear there is a great consternation among the US trail runners about the discontinuation of the hugely popular TrailRoc, which I can only echo, that being my other off road shoe of choice.
I can only ask again,
Dear Inov-8, can we have the yellow mudclaws back, please?