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(The Gear Loop) - Inov-8 has a fearsome reputation for building trail running shoes, and a strong pedigree in hikers and road too, so the idea of a crossover/hybrid shoe comes as no surprise. 

Indeed, the Parkclaw shoe already exists, in the shape of the PARKCLAW 275 GTX, but what's new for this, the Inov-8 PARKCLAW G 280, is that the British company has pumped it full of Graphene, which promises better everything, from energy return to grip, for much longer than other materials.

But does it stand up to the test and can it topple the mighty Hoka Zinal as one of our favourite trail running shoes? We laced up a box fresh pair and headed out for several road runs, as well as venturing a little further to test both the grip and comfort across varied terrain.

Inov-8Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 10
Our quick take

We liked the Inov-8 PARKCLAW G 280, not just because it’s a comfortable running shoe without faff or fuss, but as a hybrid it’s an interesting proposition. The number of runners out there combining hard and soft surfaces is legion, especially in towns and cities, and we found the levels of grip on both surfaces to be excellent. The Graphene outsole is essentially as new so far after many test miles, so the durability claims look well-founded too. 

The energy return is solid, certainly up to the standards of some road-specific competitors we’ve tested, and much more dexterous. Some 'energy return' road shoes end up being very large and bulky indeed, which is the last thing you want off-road, as Inov-8 knows well. 

As an interesting hybrid option, these are well worthy of your attention and if, like us, you like to mix your running between standard road stuff and the odd slippery trail, we're yet to find something that handles a plethora of surfaces quite like the G 280.

Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review: a formidable running shoe, both on-road and off the beaten path

Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280

5 stars - The Gear Loop editors choice
For
  • Good energy return
  • Excellent hybrid grip
  • Solid looks
Against
  • No waterproof membrane
  • Snug sizing

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In the Loop

  • 80g per shoe
  • 8mm drop (heel to toe differential)
  • Fairly wide fit (a 4 on the Inov-8 1-5 scale, with 5 being the widest)
  • A 4mm lug depth
  • Stack height (midsole only): 18mm at rear, 10mm at forefoot
  • Stack height (including outsole and footbed): 29mm at rear, 21mm at forefoot
  • Patent-pending technologies: G-GRIP, G-FLY

Features

As mentioned, the Inov-8 PARKCLAW G 280 draws heavily on the heritage of the Inov-8 PARKCLAW 275 GTX, losing the Gore-Tex membrane, but adding in Graphene. 

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 5

Elsewhere, you've gained a few grams (5g per shoe), and lost a touch of stack height - 2mm at the forefoot and 2mm at the rear. Drop (8mm) and lug depth (4mm) are unchanged. 

Of course, the big news here is the wonder-material Graphene, present in two different iterations - as foam within the midsole, and baked into the outsole. 

The latter delivers what Inov-8 describes as the 'world's toughest grip', which sounds promising in itself, and offers a sole material that is apparently 50 per cent stronger, 50 per cent more elastic and 50 per cent harder wearing. That G-GRIP rubber outsole features 98 4mm cleats per shoe, designed to grip trails and roads alike. 

Inov-8Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 1

Graphene is stronger and stiffer than diamond, yet can be stretched by a quarter of its length, like rubber. This makes it ideal for adding enormous resilience and strength to flexible materials, a fact that has meant it is starting to appear in a variety of technical clothing and footwear. 

The Inov-8 PARKCLAW G 280 midsole, meanwhile, also has Inov-8's latest Graphene trickery - G-FLY foam - sandwiched into it. The foam is enhanced with Graphene, which retains its thickness and optimum levels of snappy energy return thanks to the substance. 

According to Inov-8, G-FLY gives 25 per cent more energy return than comparable foams, and also ages better. So, good news all round, then.

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 2

Elsewhere, the footbed is also engineered with energy return in mind, containing hundreds of expanded TPU beads that compress and spring back for 40 per cent more energy return than standard footbeds. 

The upper is a plain open mesh, augmented with a heel counter and a toe bumper, and a gusseted tongue finishes off the package. Overall it's both a relatively understated and low-key aggressive look, which suits the ‘go anywhere' road and off-road ethos of the shoe. 

Performance

The first thing you’ll notice upon slipping your toes into the PARKCLAW G 280’s is that the  external heel loop is very much needed to squish them on. 

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 3

Sizing is on the snug side, despite Inov-8 claiming these fall at the wider end of the spectrum, so be prepared to go up a size, unless you have particularly narrow feet. 

Aside from this, the plush tongue and wider toe box combine to give a comfortable fit, and the generous but robust laces tighten down nicely and stay that way. 

The Inov-8 PARKCLAW G 280 has an 8mm drop, which is intended to help people transitioning from traditional road running shoes. It gives a good sense of purpose and forward momentum, helping the heel-striker forward onto the toes more. 

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 7

That sense of nimbleness is also helped by the light weight of the shoe, and Inov-8 has also increased the flex points in the outsole to boost this further. 

Starting out on tarmac and paved surfaces, it’s immediately apparent that the claims of high energy return are true, whether to the exact figures it’s impossible to say, but there’s plenty of bounce in these. 

Indeed, it’s very easy to forget you’re not wearing normal road shoes, which is exactly the brief - nothing to complain about on the hard stuff. 

Inov-8Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 8

The fun actually begins off-road, with the perfectly decent road grip seeming to increase dramatically on grassy surfaces, like running on velcro. We’ve used variations on the G-GRIP outsole in the past, and these feel just as grippy on the flat. 

Rocky terrain is no barrier either, and dry, sandy descents are dispatched with ease thanks to those 4mm lugs, which bite into loose material energetically. 

It’s a bit of a revelation after being forced to choose between bouncy road shoes with terrible off-road grip, or rigid trail shoes that dislike road surfaces.   

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 6

Interestingly, although there’s no waterproof membrane here, we did find it easy to get warm feet in the G 280s, which given the mesh upper, these should really be as breathable as wearing flip flops. 

The lack of waterproof membrane is always going to be a polarising topic between ardent trail runners, and the fact we found these not to be hugely breathable will only throw more fuel on the fire. 

For shorter runs it’s rarely an issue, but on longer off-road forays a membrane does help, as damp grass transfers water astonishingly well. That said, breathability is probably more important here, and even the best membranes won’t work when clogged with mud anyway. 

Mark MayneInov-8 Parkclaw G 280 review photo 4
To recap

If your runs ever veer off the street, through the odd field or park (and hopefully for your sake they do), then the Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280 are well worth a look. Especially in the variable seasons, having endless grip in all conditions is an asset worth having, and with good energy return on the hard stuff thrown into the bargain, these are rapidly becoming our new favourite runners.

Writing by Mark Mayne. Editing by Leon Poultney.