I’ve had the pleasure of running in a variety of these new trail super shoes, and while I’ve enjoyed the plush feel of their cushioning and sensation of forward propulsion, I’ve never felt truly agile or stable in previously released trail super shoes — until the Nike Ultrafly ($260). This shoe provides a completely different take on the trail super shoe concept, and its fit, performance, and feel are something that I think most trail runners can appreciate.
When it comes to the concept of “super shoes” — highly cushioned, lightweight, carbon plated road racing shoes — Nike was first on the market. The original super shoe, the Nike Vaporfly, released in 2017, has completely recalibrated the running shoe market, for better or for worse, depending on your opinion.
Road racing record books were re-written, and the market was stirred by a well-selling $250 racing shoe which permitted every other major shoe manufacturer to raise their prices. If you’re wondering why the average running shoe price is now around $160, you could trace the origin back to the release of the Vaporfly.
Besides the addition of carbon plates and high price tags, super shoes brought us amazing new Pebax midsole foams, which allowed stack heights to balloon to 40 millimeters or more, and when stiffened by aforementioned carbon plates, provide a glorious amount of rebound and propulsion. As plated Pebax-based super shoes showed up in every brand’s lineup, it was only a matter of time before trail super shoes were brought to the market.
The Nike Ultrafly is a specialist trail running shoe with all the virtues of a super shoe, and crosses over well to use on the road also. It has an actual weight of 10.12 ounces (287 grams) for a U.S. men’s size 9, with a claimed stack height of of 38.5 millimeters in the heel and 30 millimeters in the toe for an 8.5-millimeter drop.
Nike Ultrafly Upper
While the Nike Ultrafly has a racey looking upper, the fit is all comfort — Nike trail shoes over the last half decade have continued to get more accommodating in the toebox than a lot of companies’ offerings. The Vaporweave upper material is extremely lightweight, durable, and breathable, to the point of letting in some trail dirt on very dry and dusty trails.
The upper has a road shoe feel that is minimal, form-fitting without being restrictive, and very comfortable. The heel collar is padded, but not overly so, and the lightweight tongue features a welded on layer of cushioning that reduces pressure on the top of the foot.
Nike Ultrafly Midsole
The Nike Ultrafly midsole uses the brand’s tried and tested ZoomX midsole foam. While other shoe companies have caught up with their own amazing Pebax-based midsole foams (notably Saucony and New Balance, in my opinion) Nike’s ZoomX continues to be the OG. It seems to strike the perfect balance between feeling unexpectedly soft, while somehow firming up at faster cadences.
As is typical for super shoes, the Pebax-based foams are able to be engineered to ridiculous thickness due to the carbon plates that add some level of structure and rigidity. Nike uses a carbon Flyplate, which also acts as a rock plate for some protection.
As far as stack height, Nike claims the Ultrafly midsole is 38.5 millimeters in the heel and 30 millimeters in the forefoot for an 8.5-millimeter drop, which isn’t nearly as dramatic as it sounds for those of you who prefer lower drops.
The shape of the midsole/outsole base on the Ultrafly is slightly flared, giving the shoe a lot more stability at this stack height. I didn’t experience any issues with near rolled ankles or soreness from running on cambered trails.
Nike Ultrafly Outsole
Nike has been criticized in the past for crafting trail outsoles that perform abysmally in wet conditions, and they were smart to employ Vibram Megagrip Litebase for the outsole on the Nike Ultrafly.
Vibram Litebase is a sticky rubber minimal outsole that Vibram claims is 30% lighter and 50% slimmer than anything they’ve crafted in the past. I love that this sticky outsole is unobtrusive while providing a great amount of traction. I’ve enjoyed testing this outsole on wet rock, clay dirt (which it sheds fairly easily), and wet roots, and it performed very well.
Also, the unexpected benefit of using such a low profile outsole is that the Ultrafly can double as a road shoe with fantastic durability.
Nike Ultrafly Overall Impressions
The Nike Ultrafly is currently the best carbon plated trail shoe on the market, in my opinion. It fits incredibly well, feels like a road shoe, and provides more stability to stack height on techy trails than every other plated trail shoe currently on the market. This shoe’s ability to double as a road trainer decreases the sticker shock, as does the durability of the outsole and resiliency of the ZoomX midsole.
I completely understand the ire expressed around the entrance of super shoes to the market. They’ve led to a deluge of somewhat skeptical world records, an increase in base running shoe prices, and to some, the loss of that sense of minimal purity that running provides over many other sports.
Super shoes have also led to increased protection and longevity in older runners, a space race-esque push in shoe technology for shoe companies, and for many, the feeling of ending a road marathon with less foot and quadriceps destruction than in the past.
It’s also of note that some runners are “super responders” to carbon plates, while others experience little benefit.
If you haven’t tried a carbon plated trail shoe before and are curious about giving this new technology a try, the Nike Ultrafly is a great place to start.
Call for Comments
- Have you tried the Nike Ultrafly? What were your thoughts?
- Have you tried other carbon-plated trail shoes, and what’s your opinion of them generally?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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Check out our Best Trail Running Shoes article to learn about our current favorite trail running shoes!