Nike Ultrafly Trail Introduction
Shoe technology has certainly progressed over the years especially with the evolution of the super shoe.
It goes without saying that the road shoe market has been the primary benefactor of this progression, but is starting to extended its reach more into the trail running world.
Super trail racing shoes aren’t an entirely new thing as Saucony, The North Face, and Hoka have had models out for some time but the company known for its super racers has been has been no where to be found until now.
The Nike UltraFly trail is the company’s first entry in to the Ultramarathon trail super shoe category. It features a full Zoom X midsole but unlike its road racers is wrapped in a tight outer fabric that helps to stabilize and protect it.
A full Carbon fiber FlyPlate sits inside for propulsion and protection. Perhaps the most welcomed change is the addition of a Vibram MegaGrip outsole that aims to provide consistent dependable traction.
This is a huge step forward for Nike as they for years have refused to use anything but their in-house rubber which anyone who has ever owned a Nike trail runner can likely attest to pretty much sucking in the outsole department.
The biggest question is how will all of this translate onto the trails? Let’s dive in and find out.
Nike Ultrafly Trail Impressions
As with every trail shoe I test I run on every possible trail and varying terrain I can, and very quickly I found the limits of the UltraFly trail.
Let me make one thing clear before going forward, this is a race day shoe that is designed for lighter non-technical surfaces like rolling hard pack, fire roads, and groomed buffed trails which is why runners had so much success in the shoe at Western States.
This is most definitely not a shoe for technical terrain or off camber trails.
I really really wanted to run fast over this type of terrain but just couldn’t. Read on my friends as I lay out the good and bad.
Nike Ultrafly Trail Protection
With a full length carbon plate underneath your feet I don’t think you can get any more protection than that.
The full length Vibram outsole helps to protect the midsole foam but the strength and resiliency of it also provided an additional layer of armor to the base of my foot.
The upper on the other hand is a whole other story.
The Vaporweave mesh is soft, thin, and pliable which makes it airy and comfortable but not that protective when sliding across rock or debris that would take stabs at my foot from the sides.
There is a bumper overlay across the toe of the shoe, but I’m guessing is there more to protect the Vaporweave as it provided just slightly more toe protection than a flip flop.
Nike Ultrafly Trail Durability
Time will tell when it comes to durability. Nike has taken a very creative approach applying a dense fiber wrap to its ZoomX foam protecting it from abrasions and punctures that would certainly lead to its premature failure.
However, ZoomX is still ZoomX and as many know breaks down and scuffs faster than typical foams, but with around 70 miles on my test pair so far are holding up great .
The VaporWeave upper, despite its thin construction, is also holding up well with no rips tears or snags, but many of these miles have been primarily on milder trail so please keep that in mind.
The one thing that I can give a durability stamp of approval to is the Vibram Litebase outsole which has proven its durability over and over, and is why its so widely used.
Finally! a Nike shoe where grip and outsole durability aren’t a concern.
Nike Ultrafly Trail Responsiveness & speed
Nike has done a great job taking an energetic soft low density foam and making it trail worthy(ish).
They have done this by compressing the ZoomX along the sidewalls with that dense fabric that I touched on earlier. This keeps the sidewalls firm and the center resilient, responsive, and soft.
Meanwhile the Flyplate provides structure and propulsion. What this creates is a fairly stable platform with deep reactive cushioning that allows for a smooth transition forward that is being levered by the plate.
The shoe has a smooth and energetic ride but not as dynamic as I would have expected. All of that said what I found was that the Ultrafly is a great shoe shoe for smoother non technical trails, dirt roads, and especially door to trail.
They without a doubt are at their best at quicker paces, think more uptempo and steady vs. fast sustained, especially on the flats and rolling terrain, but found they do well at just about any pace with no harshness from the plate at all.
So that was the good and here is the bad. This shoe is not meant for technical terrain.
The wider fit , softer foam and lateral stiffness make it unstable when trying to scramble, turn sharp, or run on anything off camber and if you don’t roll and ankle, a couple times in my case, will leave them sore as hell after and into the following days.
I really wanted to be able to hammer down on this type of terrain but this is not the shoe for that; actually they led my pace in the opposite direction as I had no confidence in the shoe making me to slow and carefully choose my foot placement.
Finally, on steep ascents I found the that I really didn’t get any added propulsion from the plate and experienced a bit of heal slippage
Nike Ultrafly Trail Comfort and fit
When kept on the ideal terrain as outlined above the UltraFly trail is an amazingly comfortable shoe.
The shoe has a soft energetic ride that is amplified by the plate which in no way is harsh or difficult to activate making them fun at faster paces.
The wider width makes them very stable underfoot and really smooth at a controlled cruising pace. I found that they fit true to size but my toes were closer to the end of the shoe than I would have liked, but this is probably more my issue that Nikes.
The UltraFly inherits the same Vaporweave upper as the Vaporfly which is airy, light, and breathable.
The upper is also more designed for long steady comfort and not locked in security for steep and technical terrain as it gets loose and nearly impossible to lock, and I found myself nearly strangling my feet attempting to do so.
Nike Ultrafly Trail Conclusions
When I first placed the UltraFly Trail on I really wanted to love it especially with the addition of the Vibram outsole.
The shoe is a great option for smoother trails especially dirt roads and door to trail. However, its lack of versatility and $260 price tag make it a hard sell for me.
If money isn’t an option and neither is pure trail running then grab these up as they are super comfortable and you will love the way they run especially on the road.
The UltraFly has some really good qualities but there are a lot of conflicting elements that Nike needs to address to make this a truly great trail racer, which I’m sure they will do, and I’m curious and excited to see the direction they go and how it will further bridge the gap for a super shoe for the trails.