Test: Nike Ultra Fly Trail
Test: Nike Ultra Fly Trail
By Filippo Caon
I still remember the first pictures of those mystery shoes on Tyler Green’s feet during Western States 2022. The first time I saw them live, however, was on the Vallorcine climb during UTMB, as I was going up the route in reverse, I met Tyler chipping away on the first rocks of the hard ramp leading to Tete Aux Vents. Over the next few months more and more photos began to turn up, until the wait began to become nerve-wracking. Finally, after a couple of adjustments, Ultra Fly was finally launched on July 25, and we went to try it out.
We’ll do this: objective description of the shoe and a little gear geek, and then a roundup of comments and impressions from testers and friends present that day, equally gear geek. Let’s start.
Model: Ultra Fly Trail
Launch: July 25, 2023
Usage: Trail running
Weight: 278gr m – 245gr w
Technologies: Carbon plate
Outsole Vibram Megagrip compound
Ultra Fly is the union of a road super shoe (that’s what the shoes dedicated to racing and equipped with a carbon plate are called) and a lightweight trail shoe intended for competition on terrain where its properties can be exploited.
It was developed by Nike developers with the help, primarily, of Tyler Green, an ultrarunner from Portland, Oreogn, who is used to running mostly on the fast trails of the Pacific Northwest, which for those unfamiliar with American geography, means: coniferous forests, humidity, lots of rain, and wide, soft trails. If we have to look for a location for the Ultra Fly, then, we imagine them at the foot of Mount Rainier, on the Wonderland or the Timberland Trail, which, as we said, are made of: woods, humidity, rain and so on.
Plate and sole: let it grip?
The two main innovations of the Ultra Fly are the presence of a full carbon plate, never before used by Nike on a trail shoe, and the introduction of a Vibram Megagrip compound outsole, which improves the historically weakest point of the Eugene-based company’s shoes, grip. It is a full sole, with relatively low and even tread, making it not an extremely technical shoe, but grippy enough to be safe and decisive off-road, where Nike’s previous compounds tended to suffer.
To these two materials, Nike coupled a ZoomX foam midsole, already used in many road models and in Zegama, in trail shoes. The ZoomX gives a fun and cheerful feel to the run, extremely springy and in some respects similar in springiness to that of a Nike Invincible, but in a more stable and responsive version.
To protect the ZoomX from debris, Nike has wrapped the foam with an outer fabric that limits wear and tear: it actually works, although, on a sore note, once stained, it won’t wash out.
The upper is made from a ripstop material called Vaporweave, which is durable and lightweight, and which is coupled with a thin, comfortable (and even a little warm) inner lining. The fit is wide across the forefoot and very comfortable, as opposed to Nike’s typical trail fit, which tends to be drier. Overall, the outer fabric, being non-stretchy, gives a protective feel to the foot while not being structured with protectors and appliqués, thus remaining light and essential.
Sensation to running
The overall feeling is of an extremely springy and responsive ride, combined with the feel of the plate, which, if you like the genre, is a fun effect. This is not an extremely sensitive shoe because of the overall construction given by the combination of plate and an otherwise very soft foam. Overall, it is more enjoyable on dirt roads, forest roads, single track on falsopiano, hilly and trails alternating with long stretches on asphalt. In short, it is a running shoe, designed for running – ‘power-hiking’ is not its own.
As for more personal and in-depth considerations, coming after a few days of use, we leave you to the comments of other testers.
Davide Grazielli, Destination Unknown
“The first question was ‘will I be up to the task of enjoying the plus of the carbon plate?’ I’ve never been an explosive runner, and over time my speed at a fast pace also slowly dropped – and it worried me. As I slipped the shoe on my feet, my first impression was of great comfort, both of the fit and also of the upper, which is comfortable and leaves ample room for the foot. The second thing that jumps out at you is that the sole is finally up to European trails: let’s just say that Vibram’s hand is felt, and not a little. The Ultra Fly still remains an easy shoe, so much so that after a few minutes it reminds me of a shoe with an insert where the plate feels less: which is not a bad thing, but then where is the plus? I find out when I get involved in a little train of death with Tommy, Filo, Diego and Manuel on the Speedcrossing segment that Francis has devilishly laid out. Heart in my throat and chasing the youth in front of me. Leaving aside the pleasant sensation of blood in my throat that I haven’t felt in a long time now, and the memories it triggers, I can now feel the shoe responding: on smooth terrain the return of energy can be felt, and in dry turns the shoe responds fast but never nervous. Finally in its environment and put under stress, the Ultra Fly reveals its B side, the less glamorous and definitely naughtier one. When the segment is over, I sit, breathe, curse my youth and realize that it is a decidedly successful shoe: and no, it is not reserved for the elite, it is a shoe that can be enjoyed by everyone, anyway. And the moment you ask for something more-it will be given to you. COACH D
Paolo Comparin, Dirt
First impressions after the first 50 kilometers run in the new Nike Ultrafly Trail are definitely positive. We approve of the Vibram sole with flying colors on all types of terrain; it amazed us with the control it has on all surfaces, even the most ‘rocky’ and wet. We really liked the ZoomX midsole because of the kind of response it was able to convey to us, soft and comfortable. But it is the pairing with the carbon fiber plate that is the highlight. Plate never intrusive at slow pace, but can give the right boost when you decide to pick up the pace. The upper is perhaps the missing piece that could still be worked on to get to the point where we can say we are looking at the perfect shoe. Although the foot remains snugly wrapped and protected, we found ourselves too many times tightening the laces a bit more to prevent the foot from escaping into the shoe. The laces are totally to be revised, less elastic and more rugged. That said, it remains a shoe that is absolutely worth trying and one that you can really run a lot of miles in.
Luca Podetti, Runaway
The first thing I did, even before I looked at it, was to put it on my foot. From my first step in the store, I definitely found it very comfortable and with plenty of room, not exaggerated, in the forefoot. You feel right away a different cushioning than, for example, other shoes: it’s not just soft cushioning, it’s at the same time responsive – springy perhaps is the word I would use. One feature that I immediately noticed and did not like was the lacing: starting with the lace, which is a bit cheap for a 250€ shoe, and also the lacing system itself is very simple and not very technical; from memory it reminds a bit of the old Nike Free. Running in it and pushing through the easy, flat or slightly uphill dirt sections, I immediately felt the shoe working, both with the ZoomX foam and the carbon plate. On the more technical stretches, where boulders and rocks move, Ultra Fly, on the other hand, is quite unstable: it is not a shoe I would recommend to a beginner who wants to use it for trail riding, while it is certainly better suited on runnable trails, gravel and dirt roads. The fabric lining of the midsole is very nice to look at, a bit vintage, but it then makes the shoe difficult to clean and, once dirty, it will never go back to white.
Alessandro Locatelli, Buckled
There are so many debuts in this shoe, but for me it is mostly the welcome return of the ZoomX. Pegasus Turbo is a shoe I loved, and this Ultra Fly is so reminiscent of it, but it obviously does it in a trail key and on steroids, because of the plate. It may not be built for all terrains, but when you find yours, it is a delight. I would be a fan of low, dry shoes and need to feel the terrain, but on a downhill dirt road, where for example I tend to pull back because of poor control (perhaps where there are slightly larger stones), these gave me stability, confidence and speed. They have also not given me any physical discomfort, where I tend to suffer from pubalgia if the shoe is poorly supported on the midfoot. So also promoted for support and stability.