for those who love the outdoors

4 October, 2023


Built for speed – A look at the latest carbon-plated racing shoes

Here we take a look at some of the latest carbon-plated racing shoes for both the road and trails.

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Puma – Fast FWD NITRO Elite - £210.00

Described by the Puma themselves as the ‘next generation of innovation’, the Fast FWD Nitro Elite is a road racing shoe aimed at shorter distances. I’d probably limit that ‘shorter distance’ to 5k such is the aggressive nature and styling of the shoe. That said, although the design does look radical it does feel a little more like a traditional shoe when running, maybe more like a track spike.

While first impressions of the shoe feel a little radical, once you get into your stride you begin to appreciate the toe-off design and it feels great, albeit you need to be closer to race speed to appreciate it!

The aggressive cutaway of the heel is similar to one or two other super-shoes, it’s the forefoot rocker and cutaway of the cushioning that disappears to almost nothing that makes this model stand out.

Cushioning comes from the NITRO foam, a nitrogen injection process that creates a soft, bouncy feel and of course, it wouldn’t be a super shoe without a carbon plate.

The minimalist upper is a single-layer mesh with supportive inner straps that are present simply to hold the foot in place while keeping weight to a minimum.

Ultimately the Fast FWD is built for going fast, just as its name suggests and it’s great to see Puma thinking outside the usual styling of footwear to create unusual designs such as this.

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ON – Cloudboom Echo 3 - £260.00

On’s carbon-plated racer, the Cloudboom Echo 3 has been highly anticipated, but worth the wait. The latest version of On’s race day model brings it right up to pace with the leaders in the carbon-plated shoe race.

The new model now uses a softer, PEBA-type foam, Helion HF (Hyper Foam), the shoe has the softer feel athletes have been hoping for along with a full-length carbon plate.

Once on the feet, the fit is typical ON and that means a sleek, wrap-around feel that hugs the foot and has a great build quality and finish. It’s a close fit, similar to that of a track spike.

It’s light too at just 215g and the usual attention to detail is present. Silicon print on the insole prevents any in-shoe slipping and the upper tailoring is superb.

The softer cushioning on impact is welcome and essentially the shoe feels like a road-going spike with a little additional cushioning. For me, it’s perfect over 5 and 10k distances where you can keep on the forefoot and attack the distance. It has a firmer feel than many competitor racing shoes, but at shorter distances, it excels.

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Nike Vaporfly 3 - £234.95

Since its launch at the Vaporfly Next%, this is the shoe that essentially started the carbon running revolution. What is now unquestionably the leader in terms of super shoes, the Vaporfly is back, here in this third-generation model.

The shoe is ever so slightly lighter and slightly re-modelled, but ultimately it provides pretty much the same ride and performance as the previous version.

While the overall stack of the shoe remains around that of the World Athletics limit at 40mm, the amount of ZoomX cushioning has been increased by a couple of millimetres by reducing the thickness of the outsole to accommodate it. That outer sole is now only perhaps 1mm thick, so watch out in terms of durability.

The ride is slightly softer thanks to the increase in ZoomX and the perforated design of the forefoot rubber.

It provides a familiar, super quick feel, that soft, springy ride is ever-present and when you put your foot down the shoe delivers with a surprisingly high level of energy return.

The new upper uses a very open construction to the mesh with lots of space to provide what must be the most breathable upper on a racing shoe right now. The neat heel collar remains as do the stay-tied laces.

While the rest of the pack is closing in, for now at least, the Vaporfly remains the ultimate race-day performer.

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HOKA – Rocket X 2 - £220.00

Much anticipated, Hoka has delivered a shoe that combines a full-length carbon plate with a modern, high-performance super-foam. The dual-density PEBA-based foam is similar to that found in many of the competitors and gives the shoe a high-energy return feel that puts the brand on an equal footing.

It’s the first HOKA to feature a foam other than a compression moulded EVA or rubber material and as such takes the performance of the shoe to the next level!

It’s certainly the best racing shoe ever from the brand and instantly feels faster and more responsive than previous efforts.

The relatively low 5mm drop in the heel combined with the soft feel of the foam does make it a little unstable at slower speeds but remember this is a race shoe so when used in context feels much better. At a faster pace, you’ll naturally land a little more forward on the foot and so negate this rearfoot instability somewhat.

The upper is a lightweight, translucent synthetic mesh with a relatively slim fit and with midfoot straps incorporated into the tongue, it provides a snug hold on the foot and has a racing feel about it, snug, secure and ready to go.

There’s enough coverage on the sole from the rubber to provide good traction and ensure durability without adding weight, which brings the shoe in at 236g.

With an existing large customer base from their current racing shoes, the Rocket X2 will be a welcome update and should prove very popular.

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Nike – Ultrafly Trail - £229.95

While the Vaporfly is the King of the roads, many were hoping the Ultrafly would be a direct off-road version. Images of the shoe appeared across social media, almost teasing the shoes launch and the talk was of a ZoomX cushioned trail shoe with a carbon plate and Vibram outsole.

While the shoe has taken styling references from the popular road racing shoe, this shoe feels an entirely different beast.

The clue is in the ‘ultra’ part of its name and rather than a shoe built for out-and-out speed, it is ultimately built for long-distance off-road and therefore more comfort-focused.

In some ways, the shoe does resemble the Vaporfly, the highly responsive feel is instantly familiar but the shoe isn’t simply a carbon copy with a grippy sole.

The ZoomX foam is wrapped in a fabric shroud for protection and durability and the Flyplate has a flat bottom to add more stability on uneven terrain. Perhaps the most important feature is the Vibram outsole. Again, aimed at ultra-distance adventures so it’s not overly aggressive but suitable on the intended trails of the Ultrafly.

The Vaporweave upper is lightweight and durable as well as breathable and although the lacing felt a little stiff at first, the fit and feel were great once on the move.

The Ultrafly is a little different to many trail shoes in that it feels the closest to a road shoe that’s ‘trail-capable’ and if I were to be tackling an ultra-distance, off-road event, it would most likely be my first choice.

It’s a trail cruiser, a Range Rover rather than a Land Rover, primarily built for comfort, with good off-road capabilities.

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ASICS – Fujispeed 2 – £160.00

As we begin to see carbon plates creeping into trail shoes, ASICS enter the race with a shoe that feels a little inspired by its road-going cousin, the Fujispeed 2.

Where this shoe differs from the competition and indeed its road-going equivalent is the price, being around £60 less expensive and on reflection, it does make me question why some carbon shoes can be quite so expensive at over £200!

Considering the features and price, the shoe offers good value given what it offers.

The FF Blast plus midsole is a light and responsive foam and combined with the carbon plate makes a great combination which is particularly noticeable on firmer trails, injecting a touch of ‘energy return’.

The traction is superb, with well-placed lugs that bite into gravel paths as well as dealing with a little mud with ease. I had no issues covering a wide range of both wet and dry surfaces from gravel to mud.

Although the upper features plenty of rubberised sections to add protection and increase durability, the fit is very soft, neatly padded and very much feels like that of one of the brand's road models, making for a great fit and feel around the foot.

Given its features, performance and relatively competitive price, I’d say the Fujispeed 2 is one of the best all-around trail shoes on the market right now, carbon-plated or not.

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