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By Mike Joubert 4 November 2022

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Full Disclosure: Shoes were received from Puma South Africa to test and were not returned.

Not too long ago, gravel bikes were introduced into the mountain biking community. It soon found a foothold among those looking for a bike that can roll with the punches when going off-road, but still performs well on tar over longer distance. Puma’s new Fast-Track Nitro can be seen as the gravel bike of trail running shoes. On the one hand it’s got the grip and design associated with your typical trail shoe, while on the other the Fast-Track Nitros also feel as comfortable on the road.

Puma introduced the Fast-Track Nitro as part of their Seasons apparel line-up, which takes aim at the booming trail running scene. It’s a far different shoe from last year’s Puma Voyage Nitro (review), which was the company’s first attempt at adding their Nitro midsole solution to their trail range (the new Voyage Nitro 2 is on schedule to release in South Africa in January 2023).

I liked the Voyage, which with its wide outsole real-estate and aggressive look was ideal for whatever the off-road brings. Retrospectively, it was a big and chunky shoe, with its 344g weight perhaps too much for some. The Fast-Track on the other hand is positively rakish, toning down to a neat 299g (UK10). This brings it closer to the weight of the Puma’s Velocity Nitro 2 (287g) trainer and actually below the 325g of the Magnify Nitro and UA’s Machina 3’s hefty 354g. For the most part, the Fast-Track does so by trimming the amount of mid and outsole underfoot. 

Uppers

The Fast-Track Nitro has a great style to it, with the pair sent by Puma coming with an orange/black colourway and a sweet transition from black to orange on the midsole. The material used has an interesting shiny tint to it which unfortunately gets lost as you hit some dirt.

Puma notes the Fast-Track Nitro’s uppers are made from ripstop mesh, which should keep any tears/rips localised without spreading. The tongue forms a type of sockliner around the foot, which means there is a space that ‘catches’ possible debris slipping through the lacing. It does so very effectively and during a long review period I had minimal hassle from tiny rocks.

You’ll also find a thin layer of added rubber around the edges of the forefoot upper area that helps with scuffing/water repellency but perhaps less so with actually protecting the foot. Overall it’s a comfortable fit that is true to size and adds a fair amount of width. There is one concern though - the upper around the back of the heel goes up quite high and can be a bit stiff; personally, there was no chafing but I can imagine this being a concern for some.

Puma added a pull tab on the heel, which can help in slipping in your feet, but it feels a bit flimsy and I’m not sure how long these bands will last. I had to through them in the wash after a particularly gunky puddle of mud, and they tidy up really well. However, the insole seems to be glued fast, which is a bit of pain when drying them out.

Finally, and this is more a bit of a design choice, but I did not like the overt “Puma Seasons” branding on the side of the shoes.

Midsole, outsole and feel

Now for the most important part: how well do the Fast-Track Nitros run? The easy answer is great, on both the trail as well as the road. One of my running routes consists of road leading to a trail in a park, and on the road the Fast-Track Nitros are comfortable, neither too stiff (like the UA Machina 3) or too soft. That said, there is more rigidity felt underneath the front foot while transitioning, something not present on Puma’s road shoes. This stiffness helps on trails, being able to deal with rocks and unstable surfaces more than adequately, luckily with enough comfort and bounce coming from the double-layered midsole.

The midsole consists of a full layer of Puma’s nitro-infused Nitro foam, plus another of ProFoamLite EVA foam, with an 8mm drop. It’s protected on the bottom by the Pumagrip ATR outsole. This is made from a thicker, more durable rubber compound than the regular (and I must say great) Pumagrip outsole and works well all around. However, there are exposed areas in the middle of the foot that are not covered with rubber, exposing a matchbox-sized gap of midsole vulnerability. I also thought Puma could have provided more toe protection, with the outsole curving up at the front of the foot, but perhaps not enough to protect from trail knocks.

I caught the start of Gauteng’s rainy season with the off-road side becoming muddier and the Fast-Track Nitros did well to keep traction initially. But there’s a big difference between mud after one day of rain and that after four. And here perhaps is where the Fast-Track Nitros are exposed, losing more traction as it got wetter.

Understandably, no trail shoe is immune to slipping in really wet circumstances, but the Fast-Track’s outsole lugs (in the range of 1.5 mm in depth) and are not as deep or aggressive in nature as those found on, for example, the Voyage Nitro. If heavy mud is your destiny, you might want to consider the Voyage Nitro 2 above the Fast-Track Nitro, but for the most part the latter will keep you going through slightly muddy and wet conditions.

Talking of which, the uppers are not waterproof, meaning puddles or streams are going to get your feet wet. Luckily there are decent drainage ports on the forefoot so you don’t end up with a shoe filled with water, but the uppers will remain wet to add weight to your run.

To buy or not to buy?

I really enjoyed my month-long review of the Puma Fast-Track Nitros, fitting my mix of trail and road perfectly. The midsole is comfortable thanks to a layer of both Nitro foam and ProFoamLite, with this off-setting the thicker, stiffer outsole needed for trail. They are light enough to kick up a gear when speed is needed, while stable enough to handle trickier surfaces.

When the rain started the Puma Fast-Track Nitros dealt with mud and slippery conditions well, but less so as it continued and the mud became thicker and heavier. Much like a mountain bike is preferable to a gravel bike in tough conditions, a more trail-specific shoe would be needed, especially in wet and muddy conditions, also because the uppers are not water resistance.  

However, the appeal of the Puma Fast-Track Nitro truly lies in the fact that they work on both the road and trail, and do so well, as long as you don’t start focussing too much on either one.

The Puma Fast-Track Nitro trail shoes retail for R2 600 online and in certain stores.

PROS
Really comfortable feel on both the road and trail; decent weight at 299g; great design; keeps debris out
CONS
Not waterproof, more aggressive outsole needed for wet trails, not much protection around the toe area
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