NOTE: This is not a sponsored review. I bought these shoes with my own hard earned dollars.
Proper footwear is incredibly important for any sport out there, and agility is no exception. You will see all sorts of adorable agility or dog themed shirts, flashy leggings, or some of those nice OMD branded running pants, but I would trade any of those for the right pair of shoes. Unfortunately, the sneakers you wear for running around the neighbourhood or going to the gym are not going to be appropriate for agility, not unless you are mostly doing distance handling and not running much at all. Many competitors wear soccer cleats, but I have never liked the thought of wearing hard cleats when there’s a possibility that I could step on my dog’s foot. Fortunately, trail runners (shoes designed for running through trails, steep inclines, water, etc) seem to be a good compromise.
I had switched to barefoot shoes a while ago, but my road-runners just weren’t cutting it on (usually wet) grass or loose sand. I’d seen the flashy green shoes that my agility hero Silvia Trkman always seemed to be running in so I looked them up and found out they were made by Inov-8. The crappy part was that they are incredibly hard to find in Canada, but after a lot of research, I manage to find one local place that sold them. Unfortunately, they only had one pair of trail runners in my size, and they were trimmed in pink (my least favourite colour in the universe), and I was told it would probably take about six months to get a new set in. So I sucked it up, reminded myself that function was more important than fashion when it comes to sports gear, and bought them (the sales guy was nice enough to give me a discount since he could tell I didn’t like the colour, which was pretty nice too). Those shoes probably lasted me a year and a half, which is a record for me (I am not kind to footwear), but by the beginning of this year it was painfully obvious that those shoes would need replacing. I didn’t want to have to put up with buying a pair in colours I didn’t like again (I actually took a sharpie to the pink parts. Did I mention I hate pink?) so I spent probably three months searching for an online retailer that wouldn’t charge an arm and a leg. Eventually I bit the bullet and ordered from a company in the UK (and a month later regretted not waiting for the Brexit vote) and got a set of Inov-8 X-Talon 200 Trail Runners.
I liked that they had deep treads, and all the reviews seemed to indicate that they had super good grip. Having run two trials in them so far (one on grass, one on loose sand that myself and many other competitors have found slippery for handlers) I can safely say that they live up to the hype. I have never taken a step in these that felt unsecured. The only exception is when I walk on a hard surface. The treads are so deep (8mm!) and rubbery that when you stand on a solid surface you actually wiggle a little bit. So if you trial on one of those hard rubber surfaces these won’t be a good choice. Personally it’s a nonissue for me as a) there’s no facilities like that anywhere near me and b) it’s highly unlikely that I would run my dog on that anyway as they seem far too hard to be jumping on and I have seen way too many videos of dogs slipping on it. I have also practised agility at a facility with the Comfort King matting (same footing used at the Clean Run facility), and it was soft enough that the shoes could dig in and grip just fine. Also, while the treads are deep, they are soft, which is good for gripping but also good if a paw gets caught underneath. Much less chance of an injury!
These runners are low drop (3mm) so good for barefoot running, and the toe box is plenty wide. However, it’s got a hard rubber toe bumper, and I don’t feel that the shoe itself is as flexible as my last pair, so you’re not necessarily going to get that super close to the ground feel that true barefoot lovers might be looking for. I haven’t felt it change my own running style, though, so it might not be that big a deal for most. That being said, given the very real possibility that you might accidentally crack your foot against an agility obstacle (especially when you are running super hard and are as occasionally clumsy as I am), the toe bumper isn’t such a bad thing.
They are “water resistant” so don’t expect your feet to stay perfectly dry. They do drain well, though, so even though I ran a full day during on again, off again raining they never felt uncomfortable. However, you need to wear socks with these. My last pair I almost never wore socks (which is one of my primary life goals: “no socks if you can help it”), so I assumed I’d be able to do the same for these. I wore knee socks to the first trial I used these at, but it quickly got too hot for them so I took them off. After a few hours I ended up having to walk around with the shoelaces loose as the upper pressed painfully into the top of my foot. It wasn’t something I noticed when I was running courses, but it definitely got uncomfortable as the day progressed. The following day I wore more appropriate socks and the problem went away. It’s a bummer, but not the end of the world. If you put the shoes on just to run a course and then took them off in between, it might not even be a problem (but I’m usually too lazy for that).
I need to upgrade the shoelaces that came with them (they are stupid long. I am wondering if there’s some “Fell Running” shoelace tying trick I’m not aware of), but that’s an easy fix. I’ll probably pick up some locking laces, as with the deep treads I found they would catch in the loops from the laces, even when I double-knotted them. They do stay snug in all the right places once they’re laced up, which means no slipping and I haven’t gotten a single blister even after wearing them all day for two days straight. I am also beyond thrilled that they are in no way pink. Most of Inov-8’s shoes are available as “unisex”, which makes sense because why the hell do our shoes need to be gendered, amirite? These are still fun and bright, but look like they’ll still look good once they’re fully broken in.
So here’s video of our last two trials. Happily, Raafi has continued on his awesome streak that he started at Regionals and is going faster and faster, which incidentally allowed me to really give these shoes a good workout. Here we are on grass (both dry and wet conditions):
And here we are just the other day running on loose sand. This is one of my least favourite surfaces of the local venues as I’ve nearly faceplanted here a few times. Somehow it has always been super dry when I’ve run there, and I’ve always wondered why they don’t wet it down a bit (which is common practice with sand rings for horses). The dogs seem to deal with it much better than the people, though I saw at least one or two little dogs get a bit stuck trying to jump out of it. That being said I felt perfectly secure running on it this time, which is good because Raafi was flying for his first course (now if I could just get my crossed done in time to keep up with him, we’ll be laughing).
So the final verdict? I would absolutely recommend these shoes. They have great reviews and any problems I’ve had with them have been easily remedied so far. I’ve only been running in them for a month, though, so I’ll update once I’ve put a few more miles on them.