If you cycle, you’ll know that there’s a good reason bicycle tyres look and handle differently.
Mountain bikes usually have fat, knobbly tyres, while road bikes use thin, slick ones.
It’s similar when you compare trail running shoes with road shoes. Trail shoes usually have more knobbly treads, with bigger gaps between them, while road shoes have less pronounced studs, but the spaces between them are much smaller.
A mountain bike ridden on tar with knobbly tyres will create a pronounced humming sound as you pick up speed, compared with a road bike with slick tyres, which will be almost silent.
The same happens with trail shoes with deep studs and less contact area: they will sound rather noisy on tar and other hard surfaces. That’s because you’re putting pressure on only a small percentage of the shoe’s outsole, and the studs are being subjected to all the friction.
But take them offroad, and I can’t hear the difference between a road or trail shoe. Perhaps that’s because the trail shoe’s studs sink into the trail substrate, and this allows the non-stud parts of the outsole to make contact too, dissipating some of the force, and supporting the entire shoe.
The PUMA Fast-Trac Nitro is a shoe that sounds quiet on the road, while providing better grip on trails than if you tried using a road shoe.
In short, it’s a perfect shoe to own if you want to run some trails and some road without breaking your footwear budget.
So, how good is PUMA’s promise to let you run where you want to, in one shoe?
I had to find out.
Let the test begin.
I walked and did short runs in the PUMA Fast-Trac for several weeks, then wore them while following the action at the 99th edition of the 15km Harrismith Mountain Race in October 2022. My experience was that the shoe was capable on all parts of the run, which included climbing the 2,400m-high Platberg through dense vegetation, on a sometimes extremely steep gravel and mud track. While it handled this technical challenge, it did best on the open, hard-surfaced trail sections in the latter stages of the event.
What do other people think of the Fast-Trac Nitro? I looked for reviews online to link to other articles, but there is a dearth of reviews on the shoe at the time of writing, perhaps because it’s so new.
What I liked
- The shoe fitted my fairly broad foot without feeling constricted around the toes.
- Its ample midsole prevented foot bruising on sharp rocky terrain on the trails.
- And it felt plush when running at speed on tar.
- The minimalist lace-stow band situated on the second lace loop works beautifully to keep laces secure, yet contributes minimal weight. Why don’t all shoe brands use this?
What I didn’t like
- The sock liner is taped down in the shoe. Sure, it can be forcibly removed, but why secure it in the first place? A glued sock liner makes sense in shoes that might be used in extremely wet and steep conditions (which prevents the sockliner bunching up. I’ve had that happen with other shoes, and trust me, it’s not fun). But I feel that this isn’t necessary in a crossover shoe like the Fast-Trac that mostly will be used on less demanding trails. I’d prefer a loose sockliner and the choice of taping it in if I wanted to.
- The slightly flared heel, while providing a broader base, and ostensibly better stability, also means that the shoe is better suited for less constricted running. It may be a challenge using it in narrow cattle tracks and in rocky terrain with narrow footholds. This makes sense, given its road before trail heritage.
You may not want to stalk other animals in your PUMA Fast-Tracs but you’ll be impressed by their lightness (men’s shoe 268g, and women’s shoe just 222g). You may also appreciate the Fast-Trac Nitro’s value for money and understated good looks.
The shoe is part of PUMA’s new outdoor footwear and apparel collection called SEASONS, a line of performance pieces made with technical materials and innovative, stay-dry features for all seasons.
The upper sports PUMA’s eye for detail and breathable rip-stop mesh for strength. Its integrated eyestay pulls snug to the foot for a secure fit. It’s not a good feeling realising that your laces have become untied during your run, and this totally eliminates that frustration. A padded tongue and collar provide comfort, while the toe box offers a unique drainage port and protection from rocks and roots.
A full-length of NITRO material provides the top layer for excellent fit, responsiveness, and impressive cushioning. It sits on top of a bottom layer of PROFOAMLITE which PUMA says provides durability and lightest-in-class performance. I’ve tested around 40 shoes in the past decade, and have concluded that my feet and calves prefer a 4mm drop shoe when running trails, and a zero drop (0mm) for casual use and walking on hard surfaces. Your physiology may be quite different to mine, but I’ll wager that 8mm is a good middle line for most people wanting to run on the road and trail in the same shoe. This front/back differential makes sense for fast running on hard surfaces, preventing unnecessary calf and Achilles tendon stress.
The midsole flares more than the average trail shoe, resulting in a wider than normal tread area, which you may find delivers good stability across all running styles. Keep in mind that having running shoes properly fitted makes all the difference to your enjoyment of them. Read our article on choosing the right run shoe for you to avoid the most common pitfalls. Your feet will thank you.
Where the rubber meets the ground, PUMAGRIP ATR rubber is a more durable version of PUMAGRIP for superior grip in mud and on rock.
Its flat-shaped lug system is built for durability – and speed – and is what enables the Fast-Trac to achieve its road and trail adaptability. PUMA says the shoe is also ideal for the high demands of cross-country racing, where grip, balance, lightness, and foot protection are all important considerations.
The all-new PUMA Fast-Trac Nitro does indeed let you run wherever you want, whether on trails or tar.
It’s a noticeably lightweight shoe because of PUMA’s Nitro advanced foam technology that’s infused with nitrogen gas through an innovative process. This allows Nitro shoes to be more responsive and have better cushioning while still feeling light on your feet.
At first glance, the upper and midsole does have a slight road shoe design bias, but it’s the outsole where the magic happens. The shoe did well on the average trails I ran. I suspect it will handle all but the most demanding trails (rocky, extremely steep, wet) that might require a more specialised trail shoe.
This road/trail sweet spot seems to be achieved with its NITRO plus PROFOAMLITE midsole on top of its more durable PUMAGRIP ATR outsole made especially for PUMA’s trail shoes.
The Fast-Trac handles really well on the road, and feels like a normal road shoe on tar runs. Despite the remarkable lightness of the shoe overall, the upper material doesn’t feel perceptibly thinner than other trail shoes.
The build is top class – a quality you’d expect from PUMA if you own any of their shoes. I still have PUMA road shoes from nearly a decade ago, and none of them have any signs of glues unbinding or uppers tearing. Keep in mind though that only time will tell regarding durability: it’s well-known in running circles that updates of shoes can be very different from their predecessors, never mind different models.
The Fast-Trac NITRO is available in both men’s and women’s sizes, for R2,599 each.
Shop in store and online at PUMA.com.