Face Off: Three Foamy Shoes of The Future
We put some serious miles into three very different, cutting-edge pairs of brand-new, cush-forward running shoes: Hoka’s Bondi X, Saucony’s Endorphin Shift 2, and Craft’s CTM Ultra.
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While there’s no shortage of high-stack, heavily cushioned running shoes available right now, there can sometimes be a lack of guidance on what does what best. My hope by reviewing these three pairs of training-kind-of-sort-of racing shoes is to compare and contrast three similarly marketed shoes that actually feel pretty much nothing like each other.
All three shoes are supposed to target high-mileage runners, and all three shoes are really best for everyday training, but I wouldn’t be opposed to certain types of triathletes (maybe bigger triathletes, triathletes with more “wear and tear” on their multisport bodies, etc.) racing a long-course tri or marathon in these either. But the big up and downside of all of these various foam formulas and carbon contraptions is that two—or three—shoes that look pretty similar on paper actually feel nothing alike on the road. It used to be that many pairs of shoes felt the same as you ran in them, but maybe did some different things to your gait (think: motion control, cushioning, etc.); today we don’t even use those categories, and yet shoes feel more different from one another than they ever have.
It’s with this in mind that we tackle this three-way face off of three pairs of shoes that I have spent well over 100 miles on, and have used in every kind of terrain from flat roads, to steep roads, even on some trails. I’ve used these in super-fast workouts, super long, slow runs, and everything in between.
The Facts, Similarities
These three pairs of shoes are relatively similar, at least on paper. A few stats for comparison:
|Shoe||Stack Height||Drop||Published Weight||Actual Weight (Size: 12 Men's)||Price|
|Craft CTM Ultra||40mm||10mm||8.8 oz (Men's 8.5)||10.5 oz||$175|
|Saucony Endorphin Shift 2||38mm||4mm||10.4 oz (Men's 9)||11.95 oz||$140|
|Hoka Bondi X||35mm||5mm||10.6 oz||12.55 oz||$200|
All are definitely in the high-stack range, while both the Sauconys and the Hokas have a pretty low drop. Their actual comparison weights are all in the same zone as well—none are particularly lightweight, but none are actual beasts. All of this tracks pretty well with other high-stack, moderately lightweight shoes we’re seeing right now. The idea that you can shop for a pair of high-mileage focused shoes in 2021 that are all in that 10-ounce published weight range is actually pretty impressive—even more so when you think about the amount of foam between your foot and the road.
In terms of the upper, both the Craft and the Hoka shoes use a one-piece mesh that triathletes and other long-distance runners should enjoy (the Endorphin Shifts inexplicably have giant seams on the sides). The outsole on the Sauconys and the Hokas are functionally very similar—using that new trend of saving weight by removing rubber and leaving the foam to fend for itself on about 30% of the outsole. Meanwhile, the Craft pair has surprisingly well-treaded lugs that almost look at home on dirt (the CTM Ultras probably shouldn’t be on dirt for other reasons, but we’ll get to that below).Section divider
From there, however, the similarities end and the differences become more striking.
Craft CTM Ultra
Craft is an absolute newcomer to the running footwear world. They’ve been well-known for their excellent running and cycling clothing (and actually their cross-country skiing gear is even more well-known, but this is Triathlete), but this is the first time they’ve dipped their toes into things that cover your feet, not socks. As such, it’s a particularly bold move for them to make such an aggressive shoe as their first try.
The good news is they hit so much right: The upper is crazy lightweight, breathable, and the no-seam feel is great for sockless running. It’s not perfect, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The outsole, as I mentioned is improbably good—particularly after so many years of half-a***ed outsoles from other brands that are starting to be my new pet peeve. The high stack height and high drop is interesting—a good option for those who like that setup—but the midsole itself is a little…weird.
Much like Nike’s React Infinity Run Flyknights, a pair of shoes I have a very frought love/hate relationship with, this is a big drop, big cush shoe with dangerously low levels of support. While Nike’s super squishy midsole and narrow foot shape was likely the culprit, in the CTM Ultras, I found that the foam wasn’t all that cushy, but the midsole platform and shape was scarily unstable. The forefoot was traditional enough, but the heel had a super narrow base that—when combined with the high stack height—made ankle rolls common and caused a lot of mid-to-upper leg correction. For perfect foot strikers this isn’t a big deal, but for those who aren’t, this setup can cause a very uneasy feeling. Oddly enough, the heel in the upper was also a bit of a sore spot, and actually mirrored the React Infinity with an almost paper-thin ankle connection that didn’t feel very secure and caused some minor abrasions with low or no socks.Section divider
In terms of the “squish” factor, the midsole wasn’t particularly cushy—unlike the React Infinity—and there wasn’t actually a ton of bounceback either. I’d suspect the carbon-plated version of this shoe, the CTM Ultra Carbon might have more response, but the CTM Ultra felt very middle-of-the-road in terms of cushioning and power transfer.
Hoka Bondi X
In stark contrast to Craft’s “New Kid On The Block” vibe, the Bondi is an old favorite from way back in 2011. The Bondi B was super-duper cushiony, and some could argue set the stage for the marshmallow softness that was to come in the next decade. For devotees of those pillowy-soft originals, the Bondi X should be a big deal. For those unfamiliar, read on.
In sharp contrast to the Craft pair we just talked about, the Bondi Xs have a massively stable midsole platform, with a wide heel that not only flanks the sides of the foot, but also dips around to the back and flares out. If you need motion control (like, new-school motion control, not like New Balance 1500-series motion control), then this is the cush for you. The midsole is crazy soft, and the shape of the heel helps keep that softness moderately structured. This is a shoe that feels secure and capable on big long descents—even if you’re a heavier runner.
The good news about the “X” upgrade is that the new Bondis now have a carbon plate jammed into that puffy midsole to help with a little bit of energy return. Now, here is where we have a giant caveat, because as far as carbon-plated shoes go, this is one of the least “springy” models I’ve ever tested. When put up against any other carbon-plated shoe, the Bondi X feels less like a spring and more like a down jacket; but when compared with wickedly soft shoes like the regular Bondi line, these have far better energy return.
Elsewhere triathletes should go wild over the soft and seamless heel cup area (and huge heel grab strap), and those who are fans of Hoka’s Mach series should rejoice at the sight of at least some (but not much) outsole to protect their $200 investment.Section divider
Saucony Endorphin Shift 2
While both the Hoka and the Craft models in this face off are pretty in-your-face interesting, the Endorphin Shift 2s are decidedly the most low key of the bunch. Crazy checkered flag graphics aside, this is a very utilitarian shoe—in a good way. In sharp contrast to the CTM Ultra’s complete lack of heel stability and the Bondi X’s wide, but squishy, rear foot platform, the Shift 2s are stacked plenty high, but use an almost old-school plastic heel counter to give guidance to their squish. As such, these were one of the most stable rides (assuming you like that kind of thing) and gave the most support while still feeling plenty “foamy,” as is the trend.
Again, unlike both pairs above, the heel collar is also very different on the Shift 2s—expect a very high heel that’s still soft enough not to irritate your foot on long runs. That said, as I noted above, there is an ample amount of seams on this upper, some of which are so comically large, they almost look like Frankenstein stitches. While these stitches never caused any irritation on even the longest runs with thin socks, I would be more than a little concerned to race sockless in these.Section divider
And for sure, this is where the Endorphin Shift 2 belongs: in your everyday training category. This is an excellent high-mileage shoe with enough foam, cushioning, control, stability, and even intelligently placed outsole to last you a long time. The good news is that Saucony at least agrees on this, and markets the Shift 2 as a “max cushioned shoe for everyday runs, recovery between speed days, and for added comfort and support anytime.” They don’t try to sell it off as a “do-everything shoe,” and for that I give them props. Don’t get it wrong, they do have other shoes for other things that they’d like to sell you (“The Endorphin Speed 2 for [faster] training days or Endorphin Pro 2 for top performing race days.”), but at least this pair does it’s damn job well.
As always with these things, choosing a winner is tough, but we don’t give out participation trophies here at Face Off. Of course, it’s also important to note that people (and their bodies and goals, and etc.) are all very different, so one shoe that works well for me, might not work well for the next person. That said, there are some unifying and important features that are important almost no matter what.
First, it’s worth saying that while it’s not a bad freshman effort, Craft’s CTM Ultras aren’t quite there yet. Much like other brands who went to shoes from clothing or hiking boots or whatever, they do some things very well (in this case parts of the upper and the outsole), while there are struggles elsewhere (here, in the midsole, specifically the rearfoot area). And while they nailed the high stack height, the major drop and the lackluster foam make them a tough $175 pill to swallow. It’s possible the carbon version is better, but I haven’t tried those yet.
For me, if we’re going to be talking about a workhorse shoe that I can wear for super long runs, trails, and tempo workouts and basically forget I’m wearing shoes, the Endorphin Shift 2s are going to be it. They have just enough cushion and motion control to protect my legs, without so much of either that I notice it while I’m running. These shoes get out of the way and let you run. If I had to pick a winner (and I do), this would be it for me.
That said, if I was a bigger runner, I had issues with big impacts on my heels, like on downhills, or I liked giving my foot and legs a little more space to move (without them moving into injury), I’d probably choose the Bondi Xs. I don’t feel as excited to move quickly with these shoes—like on tempo or interval days—but I wouldn’t be worried about them sapping my energy in a marathon distance run/race either. The Bondi Xs are a great, exciting choice for many many triathletes, for the reasons listed above, but if you just want a tool that works more like a hammer, go with the Endorphin Shift 2s.