Friday, October 19, 2018

Under Armour UA Horizon BPF "Bullet Proof Feather" Review: Unusual, Well Balanced, Confounding Expectations, Big Time!

Article by Sam Winebaum, Dom Layfield, & Dave Ames
UA Horizon BPF ($130)
The UA Horizon BPF is a relatively lightweight (approx, 10.1 oz/286 g) trail runner with a molded monocoque supportive upper, and a relatively firm, responsive but forgiving and protective 7mm drop ride which has very good stability over uneven terrain. They are shod with what proved to be a very versatile all terrain Michelin rubber outsole. The BPF in the product name stands for "Bullet Proof Feather" we think a product code name or theme turned into part of the model name. So are they are Bullet Proof Feather. We tested in Southern California and Vermont to find out.

Sam: I took a pair straight of the box, if a bit broken in to run, well more like mostly hike, at the Under Armour Mountain Series 25K at the Killington Resort in Vermont.
They did not disappoint as I clambered up and down 4500 vertical feet of very steep grassy ski slopes navigating lots of mud, rocky jeep roads, and single track. I was stable secure and they were relatively agile. While my pair was not the waterproof breathable Gore-Tex version no debris snuck in and they drained well.
I can say after my out of the box torture test that the Horizon BPF puts UA on the trail running map with an innovative and effective all purpose shoe.
Above the women’s version all fresh, clean and ready to get muddy!
UA Horizon BPF
MSRP $130.00
Anatomically molded one-piece monocoque upper with cast PU support
Lightweight, quick drying, air mesh upper Molded collar foam package for comfort
Highly breathable air mesh tongue to promote air
ChargedTM foam pucks in heel and forefoot
Lightweight EVA midsole 
Michelin® Oc Outsole Compound
Michelin® Wild Dig Decent'R Outsole Lug Pattern for shedding mud and debri
18mm/11mm midsole plus approx. 5 mm lugs, 7mm Drop  
Approx. Weight US M9:10.1 oz/286 g
Sample pair US M8.5  weighed 9.8 oz (278 g) per shoe
Sample pair US M10 weighed 10.3 oz (293 g) per shoe

First impressions
Dom: Once I’d got past the unusual external appearance of the shoe, my first impression was that the Horizon BPF was shaped, and felt similar to the Nike Terra Kiger.  From my perspective, this is a very good thing, as I’ve long favored this shoe as my “daily driver” for trail running. On the foot, this same feeling of similarity was reinforced.  Something about the shape of the shoe, height of the heel, and underfoot feel is distinctly Kigeresque.

Dom: I would have expected that adding a layer of (albeit ventilated) plastic on top of the base fabric of the upper would lead to a heavy, cumbersome shoe.  

But apparently I’m dead wrong.  
My sample pair size 10 weighed 586 g per pair, or 10.3 oz (293) per shoe.  While not exactly “featherweight”, that is exactly the same weight as the Terra Kiger 3/4, Hoka Speed Instinct 2, Brooks Mazama 2.

Dave:  I’m not the most experienced with the UA run line and trail line, other than selling it in run shops years ago when they made their push, and trying a few on here and there in run shops.  So I was excited to get my hands on a pair and hit the mountain trails here in SoCal. As Dom states above, it may not be the most "appealing looking" shoe to the trail or Ultra runners eye, and it looks kind of funny from above when laced up, but I got over that.

Fit and Upper
Sam: UA did not have my size for in “demo  fleet” but loaned me a pair a half size up which I paired with a thicker sock for the race. My subsequent true to size pair fits more snuggly and required more break in as they were stiffer out of the box than the lightly used demo shoe at a half size up. On balance if using thicker socks I would size up half a size and with thin socks stay true to size.

Dave:  My size 9 is spot on with all types of socks.  I rock a lot of Stance in all types of thickness now a days, as well as some Smartwool, Drymax and Feetures.  The upper was a bit concerning when I first laced the Horizon up, due to its Monocoque upper. It is definitely and interesting to feel on the foot.  Kind of reminds me of the trail shoes of the mid 2000’s. But once laced up, that all went away and I felt pretty secure, at least walking around. Note: See Dom’s photo below.  I caught a medial fold as well, which I thought might cause an issue for some by rubbing along your arch like you get from a sock liner in some Hokas such as the Clayton.

Dom: The pair of US M10 that I was sent fit me perfectly and felt absolutely true to size.  I was initially a little disappointed that the forefoot was narrow, but found that the upper had a reasonable amount of stretch to it, and the forefoot -- though never roomy -- quickly felt less cramped after a few minutes of running.

Dom: The new “BPF” upper is visually striking, and also seems to work well in practice.  As Sam says, durability is to be determined. I’ve got about five hours of running in my test pair, and so far, so good, but it’s too soon to draw any conclusions.  If I had to guess where a problem might occur, it would likely be on the medial side of the toe crease (see photo below just in front of the lace loops), where the plastic reinforced fabric forms a prominent fold, creating a region of high mechanical strain.

Dom: Generally, I was struck by how “normal” the Horizon BPF felt, despite its unusual and innovative construction.  Almost everything seemed well thought out and functioned well. The one exception I found was in midfoot retention. As far as I can tell, there are no reinforcements connecting the lacing web to the sole of the shoe.  The connection between the two is via the same upper fabric and grid overlay used throughout the upper. This composite has enough stretch to allow it to flex and conform around feet, making for a comfortable shoe, but this same flex provides just a little too much ‘give’ to properly restrain the foot under heavy loads.  On steep descents I found my foot was sliding forward and my toes getting jammed into the front of the shoe. My hope for a revision of this shoe would be a reorganization of the cast PU elastomer layer to provide greater stiffness in this area.
Dom: I was slightly disappointed at the narrowish forefoot shape, and would have liked a few extra millimeters of width.  But those with slightly narrower feet (who like Salomon or Hoka shoes, for example) will probably prefer this last.
Dom:  One area in which I found the Horizon BPF upper excelled unexpectedly was in keeping dirt out.  In the dry, dusty trails around LA, many shoes allow ingress of fine dust. I’ll often take my shoes off after a run and find my toes nearly black with dirt.  The Horizon BPF was unusually good at keeping this stuff out and my feet clean.

Sam: The Fit was fine, a bit voluminous just in front of the last laces. I re-tied once as the new upper stretched.
The upper itself is very soft and accommodating on the foot yet totally secure. The sensation is unique as usually either the mid foot and toe box in a trail shoe has a distinct sense of secure and sometimes uncomfortable grip on the foot.

Here the fit is all of a piece and very smooth and easy. Yet, secure with plenty of toe box room in my half size up with thicker socks.
The reason for this unique fit is the unusual upper construction. Essentially a thin soft and dense mesh is molded in one piece in an anatomical shape to an outer grid of cast PU. The upper was very breathable and drained very fast.
The entire outer upper including mid foot support and toe bumper is one piece. The outer grid which is soft and slightly stretchy provides a highly customizable fit and I assume some protection to the upper while the inner mesh is essentially a sock. Attached to the well padded tongue is an inner light bootie which quite usually I almost missed as it attached lower down than usual with the tongue wrapping further down on both sides of the foot.
Despite the larger than normal size, my feet were extremely comfortable and well held even on very steep, slippery descents. I had zero blisters and no pressures anywhere. The tongue is relatively thickly padded as are the ankle and achilles collar. Heel and overall foot hold was impeccable no matter the twisting on downhill terrain or while climbing. My only comment would be concerning top of the foot fit just ahead of the last lace up front as it so soft and unstructured that it has a touch to much volume, reminding me of the soft extra material there in the Skechers Max Trail. Unlike the Skechers the stretch and this volume and lack of structure did not affect foot hold up front significantly so no twisting in the upper there when pushing it harder.
Of particular note as as noted by Dom for dry dust as well, despite much wet mud plowed through no debris made it in my shoe at all. The thin soft inner mesh is dense and the tongue and collars wrap the foot.  A Gore-Tex version is also available.

The midsole combines UA’s EVA with two Charged Foam pucks in the heel and forefoot. The Charged Foam (green with branding above)  is slightly softer than the EVA below and provides some bounce and also takes the edge of the firmer stable EVA carrier foam. There is no rock plate but there is an unseen second Charged Foam insert up front.
Dom:  While the upper of the Horizon BPF may be the flashy star of the show, the sole is the unsung hero.  I was surprised at the excellent underfoot feel, and how smoothly the shoe ran. In these reviews, I find it difficult to separate review midsole and outsole, as they are experienced as a combination.  In the Horizon BPF, the combination is outstanding. The ride, ground feel, and rock protection are well-balanced. Again, reminiscent of the Nike Terra Kiger, but with none of the break-in period I’ve learned to associate with that shoe.

Dave:  Quite the pleasant experience on the trails!  I took the BPF on some local stuff for an initial run, just to get an early idea of what we were working with here.  It was smooth as buttah! That gave me the opportunity to really open it up in the mountains above Laguna Beach, CA with some wide open cruisers dumping down to some of my favorite cross trails like “Mach One” and up the other side of the canyon with then a gnarly climb over “Elevator.”  Uphill, downhill, pushing the flats, I really think the BPF can be a sleeper trail shoe as UA isn’t getting much street cred in the run game anymore. The CHARGED foam is placed nicely in the heel, allowing a smooth touchdown, then almost rockered well though the midfoot and pushed nicely to the front CHARGED puck for a surprising toe off, which sometimes is tough to find in trail shoes that are more upper focused.  I’ve run upwards of 4 hours in them and did not catch a single blister or feel the shoe couldn’t handle more or bottomed out. Well done!

Outsole and Rock Protection
Sam: This was my first time running with a Michelin outsole and it was outstanding. The compund is Michelin® Oc Outsole Compound  with the lug pattern elaborately named Michelin® Wild Dig Decent'R Outsole Lug Pattern.

I had zero slipping even on wet grass and mud, up or down, and great grip if a bit firm underfoot on smoother jeep roads.  Last year I ran the same race in only slightly wetter conditions in a Nike Kiger 4 and the hold and security this year in the Horizon was really far more confidence inspiring and effective, and I am a very timid descender. Last year with the Kiger’s more dense, less profiled lugs I had not as much confidence in grip for sure and I stretched around and even off the edge of the upper once they got wet. Not so this year for either.
I did run with poles this year which was a big help but after the first few of many descents and ascents traction was not something I worried about and some of the descents were “black diamond” grassy inclines, a tribute to the rear lug arrangement of wide cross the sole blocks.
The front lug arrangement, slightly less aggressive in lug surface area and more spread out made for superb climbing grip and very decent, but you know you have a trail shoe outsole for big grip, on the smoother harder packed sections. There is no rock plate here and none was required. The midsole is dense enough and the outsole firm and with full enough coverage so I had no issues with rock bite.
Dom: I have only tested the Horizon BPF on dry, Los Angeles trails.  In these conditions, the is outsole traction is very good. Rock protection is also excellent: while less than, e.g. the Hoka Speedgoat 2, it is good for a lower-stack shoe with much more ground feel.  There is no distinct rock-plate in the Horizon BPF, but the outsole spreads the load enough that the shoe doesn’t need one. The balance that Under Armour/Michelin have struck between ground feel and between cushioning and responsiveness is, in my opinion, close to perfect for daily trail running.  Bravo!

Dave:  The Michelin outsole is all good!  We don’t get the rocks and stuff like some of the team from RTR may see on the “Beast” (east) coast, but things can get quite slippery with loose dirt here in SoCal.  Uphills are awesome with the Michelin outsole. I feel 100% confident doing some Fartlek work in the trails and love making surges uphill in the BPF. Downhills are a breeze and it grips well as the Hoka Torrent does, which I am a huge fan of as well.  I think Horizon grips even better. When you see aggressive “grippy” outsoles like this, you think it’s firm underfoot, or even kind of “brick” like. UA really found the perfect blend between nasty grip, yet did not kill the fluid forward motion of the shoe, especially in the forefoot.  Sometimes in a trail shoe, in the forefoot, you’ll feel grip before “pop.” UA meshed these so well, you get it at the same time. This is very important to me in a trail cruiser.
I couldn’t be more delighted with the Horizon BPF Bullet Proof Feather. The star features here are the comfortable yet supportive and uniquely designed upper along with the all terrain, truly, Michelin outsole. The solid, steady ride can be characterized as having full contact with the ground at all times across the entire sole, on all types of terrain and on all grades if a bit more firmly than I prefer for daily training but just fine for racing as I found out. Horizon feels lower and more stable than the 7mm drop and relatively narrow on the ground platform would indicate. I never felt unstable or off balance and the shoe provided plenty of protection along with agility, a difficult combination to pull off.
Sam’s Score 9.7/10
-0.1 for somewhat snug fit at true to size up front and need for thicker socks at a more comfortable half size up to fill the front medial mid foot.
-0.2 at 10.1 oz the ride could be a bit more cushioned for longer treks on firm ground. A slightly softer midsole or rear Charged Foam inserts given the full coverage outsole might be in order.

Well done by the team at UA!  I find myself pulling for this more and more each weekend.  I wish I could test it back home in the wet and muddy trails of my roots in Central NY, but SoCal is all good for now.  This may also be a very nice pull for those snowy mornings when the roads and sidewalks aren’t clear. I can see the Michelin gripping tremendously, especially on that sticky wet snow back East. I’ll be using this shoe to run Mt. Baldy (SoCal) (10,700ft) in the next month or so, when it begins to get some snowpack up there above the "clouds" of LA. It’s in serious running for a 50K I’m racing in the Santa Monica Mountains Nov 10 as well.  It’s that good. Definitely recommended for any type of trail runner, whether newbie or veteran and don’t sleep on this shoe for your winter training ! Put a nice merino wool sock on and that the upper will keep you pretty solid.
Dave’s Score 9.8/10
-.01 for being about a 50K shoe max.  Feel like I’d need more underfoot for 50 miles.
-.01 for harder heel counter.  Prefer it a bit more soft.

The Horizon BPF is a really great shoe, and confounded my expectations.   I was expecting heavy and clunky, and the Horizon BPF felt light and fast, with excellent ground feel and grip.  My only critique would be that the midfoot retention was merely okay: the upper needs a little more (and more directional) reinforcement to connect the laces securely to the sole.  I would also like a little more width in the forefoot, but that is more a matter of taste and foot shape. The Horizon BPF makes an excellent shoe for daily trail running for those looking for a lighter, less structured, and nimble shoe that still provides decent rock protection.  I have been using the Horizon BPF for a daily training shoe, and would happily select it for trail races up to 50 km.
Dom’s Score: 9.7/10  
-0.2 for so-so midfoot retention: there is a little too much stretch in the upper around the midfoot, and I found my foot sliding forward on steep descents.  -0.1 for forefoot that is slightly too narrow for my taste.

Nike Terra Kiger 4 (RTR review)
An obvious comparison as last year I raced the same terrain in the Kiger. The Kiger upper, even at true to size was just not as secure especially when wet. Traction was clearly inferior. This said for easier dry terrain the Kiger ride while similar in firmness is smoother and faster due to its outsole design.

Dom:  An obvious comparison because the shoes feel very similar.  I find that the Kiger (like many Nike shoes) runs a little small, so typically move up ½ size.  The Nike is a slightly better match for my foot shape, and has better midfoot retention. Both have outstanding ground feel.  In terms of rock protection, Kiger 4 is superior. Durability for Horizon BPF is TBD. For Kiger series, the upper has historically been very resilient; though outsole lugs tend to wear down fairly quickly.  Horizon has slightly more height in toe box, and a little more toe protection for when you accidentally kick rocks, roots etc.

Hoka One One Torrent (RTR review)
Sam: I ran my last 25K at the SpeedGoat up and down Snowbird in the Torrent. It weighs about 0.81 oz/ 23 g less than Horizon and provides a slightly wider, softer more cushioned platform and equivalent traction. It’s upper is also roomy achieving its comfort with volume rather than the stretch grid of the Horizon. I find the Torrent upper slightly less secure.

Dave:  Tough call here.  I’ve done a ton of miles in the Torrent and am going to snag another pair.  It’s just that good, raced some good races in it and it works so well on my speed days when off the roads, doing them in the trails.  I think I gotta give the nod here to the Torrent, because of its reduced weight, but the Horizon BPF is quite the shoe! Easy way to do this!?  Own both!
Dom:  These are both excellent trail shoes.  The Torrent has a slightly roomier fit and a little more rock protection underfoot.  For racing, I’d favor the Torrent over the Horizon BPF because of its lighter weight.  For daily use, I prefer the feel of the Horizon. Despite being slightly heavier, the Horizon actually feels lighter and more nimble, and has better ground feel.

Topo Runventure 2 (RTR review)
Dom: The Under Armor Horizon BPF has a similar character to the Topo Runventure 2.  Both are light and low to the ground, with similarly great ground feel. The Horizon upper is a little more supportive, but also a little more constricting, being noticeably narrower in the forefoot.  The other big difference is that the Runventure 2 is zero drop and somewhat lacking in heel cushioning, making the Horizon a better choice for heel strikers. The Topo MT-2 (RTR review) shares a lot of the same characteristics as the Runventure 2, but is friendlier to heel strikers with 3 mm drop and 4 mm more cushion in the heel.

New Balance Summit Unknown (RTR review)
Sam: Very similar rides here with slightly less aggressive traction on the Summit. The slightly lighter Summit would have been an excellent choice at Killington, except likely in the muddier and wet grass sections given its lower less aggressive outsole.. The Summit Unknown upper is clearly a more “race fit” but not sure it provides much more support than the Horizon when combined with its narrow midfoot on the ground platform.  It also has a really fine ride on flatter terrain making it somewhat more of a road trail race hybrid than Horizon.

Salomon Sense Pro 3 (RTR review)
Sam: Very similar shoes here although the Sense Pro comes in a touch more than an ounce lighter. It is firmer overall, especially in the forefoot. It’s upper is very secure but has less up front “stretch” and volume than Horizon. As with the Summit Unknown, it has a narrower mid foot on the ground platform than Horizon and is not nearly as stable.

Dominick Layfield
Dom Layfield  lives in Southern California after several years in Park City, UT.  He is an avid trail runner who likes to race.  He holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT, and has worked as a researcher in orthopedic biomechanics. 
I His 2017 achievements include first place in the dead of winter 2017 108-mile Spine Challenger race in the UK, breaking the course record by an hour, first place in the Quicksilver 100K in California, and 14th at the Western States Endurance Run. In 2018 he ran 2:46 at the Los Angeles Marathon and then coming back from foot surgery finished 50th at UTMB
Dave Ames is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business, training athletes of all ability levels from 5K to Marathon.  A formally competitive runner in High School and College, Dave focuses the majority of his time now on his athletes, but maintains the love for running and racing by keeping sub 3 Marathon, fit. 
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running and shoe geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half and as he turned 61 a 3:40 marathon to qualify for Boston. Sam runs his roads and trails in coastal New Hampshire and Park City, Utah.

The product reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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1 comment:

Xavier said...

Interesting shoe, thanks for the in depth review. And while it looks very narrow up front, while also being very rigid. I can't help but feel claustrophobic? Haha

And I'm kind of surprised that heel striking is "enabled" with the comparison with the runventure 2. Less heel cushioning is good imo, and will discourage heel striking. Shoes like the horizon at 7mm are a bit high and will be noticeable for those of us who typically run at zero drop or as close to it as possible.