Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Craft CTM Carbon Ultra Multi Tester Review

Article by John Tribbia and Sam Winebaum

Craft CTM Carbon Ultra ($250)


Introduction

John: When I worked at University Bikes in Boulder, Colorado (note: this is where I met fellow RTR contributor Jeff V!), Craft Sportswear was emerging as one of the leading cycling apparel brands because of the high quality and attention to detail in each item. I remember on one occasion the merchandising manager put out a new line up on the floor, only to find employees had used their generous discount to clear the shelves that same morning before the store opened. Nothing stayed in backstock for very long when it was Craft! Fast forward to what seems many many years later, Craft is taking on the running shoe game by creating similarly high quality and attention to detail trail/road running shoes with the same head-turning coveted appeal as the bib shorts at University Bikes. 

Enter the Craft CTM Carbon Ultra where the emphasis in design is performance and efficiency. It is a shoe that is like no other in the long distance trail/road category that maximizes energy return with hyper-lightweight midsole foam and a tuned carbon plate to provide ultimate propulsion for the long haul. It was developed with great assistance from marathon and ultra-runner Tommy Rivs. The shoe boasts a large heel to toe drop, with substantial stack height for overall cushioning. Coming in at approximately 9.88 oz (280 grams) in a 9 Men’s US size, the shoe is intended for fast long distance efforts both on and off road.


Sam: I came to Craft of Sweden via nordic ski apparel where they are one of the top brands outfitting many national teams including of course Sweden’s! They also make more run focused apparel which I have tested and enjoyed over the years, particularly their winter focused pieces. 


With the CTM “Craft Tailored Motion” Carbon Ultra the brand completes the competitive endurance athlete’s kit with a state of the art carbon plated ultra racer and all around trainer that reflects the brand’s top level highly technical heritage and commitment to practical and versatile gear.


Craft’s Product & Marketing Director Daniel Högling says in the launch press release:

“After having spent the last years in the lab, obsessing over beyond-maximum energy return and the fastest and most aggressive heel-to-toe drop, I am proud to say that we have finally gained the minutes and seconds as well as the durability and versatility we were looking for. Whether you are training for a marathon or competing at extreme distances” this is your shoe.”  




The construction is illustrated above. Note in particular the tuned Ultra Carbon Plate situated below a layer of Craft’s Vault Foam (chemically modified EVA) and above that an unusual footbed with embedded TPU beads, similar to the Inov-8 Terraultra G 270’s.

Having run just about every plated road shoe and max cushion shoe  but never a trail flavor I was curious to see how Craft’s implementation of a high drop (it is at least if not more than 10mm based on my measurements), massively cushioned, plated ride translated to both road and trail. Given my location in coastal New Hampshire my runs in them were mostly road ( and even along the beach) with some easier non technical trails in the mix as such my review will be from that view point. 

I then sent our sole pair, one of only 30 created for the initial run, to John. 


The pair was provided at no charge for testing and RTR and contributors received no other compensation from Craft for this review.


Pros:

John/Sam: energy return, stable platform, lightweight, built for long rollers

Sam: Flexible carbon plate leading to a smooth never harsh ride and some agility on trail

Cons:

John: cumbersome lacing system, upper fit and security, not optimized for technical terrain

Sam: Wish the midsole had a touch more squish and bounce to it

          Upper is a bit rough in feel


Tester Profiles

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.


Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 48 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs.


Stats

Weight: 9.88 oz / 280g  (US9)  

  Sample: men’s 9.88 oz / 280g  (US9) 

Approx. Stack Height: 40mm heel / 30mm forefoot

Available at Craft limited release 1/28/21 HERE. Broader release late Feb. 2021


First Impressions and Fit

John: I have positive first impressions. I have yet to test any carbon plated “super shoe”, so I’m approaching the Carbon Ultra with no expectations, but with hopeful anticipation! Based on the look of the shoe, I had suspected the Carbon Ultra to have a soft midsole because of the larger stack height, but once I laced them up I noticed a firm foot bedding. In fact, I found the Carbon Ultra to feel fairly stiff and rigid, more so than most technically oriented mountain shoes I have tried recently. 


My US9 fits perfectly, but almost on the edge of slightly snug in the front toe box. Other than the aesthetic craziness, the upper is very practical and light feeling. I find the lacing and upper fit to be challenging to get right. Although the lacing system comes with various security options, it is cumbersome to tighten and loosen and, as a result, I couldn’t find an option where my heel felt snugly fit on my first outing. 

Sam: My test pair (shared with John as that is what we do at RTR when pairs are limited) was a US9. Half size up from my normal. I would go with my true to size in a next pair for trail purposes and likely stay half size up for road. The fit and feel is purposeful and frills free. The mesh is thin, very well ventilated  and not particularly pliable or soft but well suited to the purpose of long racing and training. 


Of course the wild car prototype style camo look is distinctive and let’s say “effective” in masking details. 

It took me a couple runs to realize that the very customizable very secure lacing and quite frankly the chore to get them on an laced up was due to a unique double adjacent lacing pattern which prevents the lace arrangement from moving once secure and allows customization of snugness lace hole by lace hole. Effective but maybe a bit overdone,



Upper

John: Craft uses what they call Anatomic Racing Fit for their upper construction. Basically, the Carbon Ultra is intended to fit snug around the foot with, with what the developers call, an anatomic toe box that envelopes the foot like a glove but allows the toes to spread out with the flexible upper material. It is quite comfortable and works effectively to hug the foot through the toe box and midfoot. 

It is a one-piece engineered mesh material with overlays cupping the heel for structure and along the lacing eyelets for lacing security. 

The lacing system comes with a unique layout of eyelets that seemingly offer a customizable fit, which I found important with the stiffer footbed almost pushing my foot up and out of the shoe. I struggled to find the right fit on my first run and couldn’t get my heel snug enough, so I came away with blisters. On my second attempt, I re-laced in a different configuration that gave more heel security and no heel friction. 


Sam: By no means a soft mesh the Ultra Upper’s engineered mesh does exactly what John describes it “envelopes the foot” but this is not a cocoon like feel more a direct connection to the underlying platform. Scratching the upper with my fingers I note that it is “noisy” indicating to me abrasion resistance should be very good. Nothing to catch and rip from what I can see.

Patience is required lacing them up due to the double holed arrangement but once laced rock solid every run with no blister or other issues.

Given its thin if dense nature and single layer up front it should prove highly breathable and non moisture absorbing. 

The toe box is relatively broad and well held if non stretch and I was pleased that given the relatively rigid if thin mesh I had no issues with it creasing and bothering the top of my foot when on the foot something that can happen in such uppers and if what the case I kind doubt as with the lacing I would have even been able to see it given the camo!


The gusset tongue has a grid-like pattern of foam with open mesh on the outside reminding of the construction of many hydration vests.



Midsole

John: The midsole or “Ultra Platform” consists of two main features -- “Vault Foam” and an “Ultra Carbon Plate”. The Platform is designed to have the most efficient combination of stack height, drop, and foot angle to capitalize on a runner’s biomechanics when leveraging the Carbon Ultra’s unique combination of foam and carbon plate midsole materials. The Vault Foam is EVA-based. It yields a firm, yet soft and vibration dampening rebound effect. If you’ve ever tried bouncing on a Tempur-Pedic mattress, that’s what it feels like to me. The Ultra Carbon Plate is what provides the turbo-boosters in energy return. Since this was my first time wearing a technologically advanced distance shoe, I can attest that the feeling of midsole rebound is much different than any other shoe I’ve worn. The Carbon Ultra rebounds quickly throughout my footstep, feeling like a spring or trampoline. What’s more, it seems to work well at all speeds and cadence. Simply put, the midsole of the Carbon Ultra is firm and soft at the same time (reference to my mattress analogy above) and rebounds quickly with excellent energy return thanks to the carbon plate.


Sam: John describes the Vault Foam midsole well. The chemically modified EVA foam is relatively firm, a touch firmer than say Saucony PWRUN (an EVA TPU blend) with a touch of bounce in the mix. Given the giant stack height of around 40mm heel, 30mm forefoot I found the foam and platform notably stable and consistent on road and smoother trails I tested them on.


The heel landing is stable and well cushioned with very little vibration transmitted, if a bit firm and not extremely bouncy,  The “aggressive” drop easily moves you forward. I found all paces from slow and easy to uptempo had a consistent feel during the gait cycle reminding of the similarly firm Endorphin Shift 


The tuned forked carbon plate delivers a long gradual rocker with some noted vertical spring in the mix due to its geometry and in a first for a carbon plated shoe I have run some flex. 



The plate is forked to allow the lateral side of the foot to torque to the medial side big toe and this is sensed as less of a sharp “roll” to toe off as in the Saucony Endorphin shoes and more as a gradual motion, with noted midfoot spring and then with a final spring like toe off impulse that is more moderate. The plate itself is well “padded” by Vault Foam above being located closer to the foot than a bottom loaded plate such as in the Vaporfly.

Harshness from the plate is also cushioned by an unusual thick sockiner with embedded TPU beads, something I first saw in the excellent  Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 trail shoe. This sockliner is also clearly part of the light bounce felt as well as vibration and shock reduction of  the shoe given its relatively firm midsole.


Outsole

John: Although the outsole isn’t the feature that draws attention to the Carbon Ultra, it complements the shoe really well for its intended purposes. The “Ultra Trac Outsole” is a 3-piece lugged traction rubber that works well on road and groomed trail. The lug shape varies depending on where it is on the shoe, which provides stability in the rear landing surface and efficiency in the toe-off. I was able to run in the Carbon Ultra in colder temperatures on road, gravel, dirt road, and technical rocky terrain. The outsole provides sufficient traction in all of these conditions. The rubber compound feels durable, akin to the Goodyear outsole found on the Skechers trail lineup. 


Sam: Indeed a very versatile outsole to go with a very versatile shoe! I estimate the lugs to be about 3mm. Grip on road and dirt/gravel road and paths is excellent and the outsole and shoe is notably silent on road and indication of an excellent geometry with the slight shoe flex in the mix.

Such an outsole may contribute to the shoe’s weight and I wonder what a lower profile road shoe outsole would lead to in that department. 


Ride

John: The ride is really smooth with a natural feeling of forward propulsion. I was worried about the lateral stability, especially in the heel, but I couldn't even force an ankle roll in them. As I mentioned above, when I first put on the Carbon Ultra I discovered that it is not a very soft shoe. No doubt that it is cushioned and very comfortable, but it feels firm and spring loaded underfoot. I’m glad it isn’t squishy soft because it yields a very predictable and controllable ride. 


While I also mentioned that the reactivity of the carbon plate and midsole was noticeable at slow and faster paces, let’s not kid ourselves the shoe is meant to go fast. And when the cadence is high, you can feel the technology spring load and retract, making this shoe an absolute blast to go fast and far. Admittedly, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in technical terrain in the Carbon Ultra, but my limited ventures into steep and rocky trails gave me a general idea of how the shoe performs. With a large stack height, I found the Carbon Ultra to be a little clunky with very little ground feel in that kind of terrain. 


Sam: I agree with John that the ride is on the firmer side on road but with a very noticeable forward sense of propulsion from the aggressive drop and the plate. Interestingly you will feel that propulsion at any pace even slower and easy but it shines when you step on the gas! Any concern about firmness goes away on hard dirt or gravel type roads where the ride really shines. The ride is suitable for both road and smoother trail at really any distance or pace for me.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam:  My first trail or really road to trail focused carbon plated “super shoe” did not disappoint.  Carbon Ultra is a state of the art purposeful running ultra distance shoe It focuses on road and light trail with an aggressive geometry of high stack, big drop, firmer (but not punishingly so) foam and a pretty much seamlessly integrated flexible carbon plate  that comes together smoothly and with decisive energy while not punishing the legs. 


It can serve as both an everyday road and smoother trails trainer and a long distance racer on both with for me with key strengths smoother single tracks, jeep type roads, country dirt roads, and pavement those courses that included just about anything except super rocky and rough. In their element they roll along very well indeed. The small amount of more techncial rocky and rooty trails I ran them on had me feeling they were a bit too unstable not as terrain conforming up front as I prefer I think due to stability and surface of the front plate and the stack height. 


I do wish for a slightly softer upper with a less finicky (although once dialed in super effective) lacing system and yet more flexibility or segmentation of the front of the plate to improve their more technical terrain capabilities. I wonder what swapping carbon for a more flexible softer propulsion plate / rock guard would do for the shoe with carbon reserved for a somewhat lower stack more trail focused model. I also would like a slighter softer bouncier midsole if this did not compromise the stability of the big stack.


They are priced as carbon plated super shoes often are, we think around $200 with final price not yet communicated. They are a decent value due to their energetic ride, expected durability and versatility in a state of the art hybrid type run shoe that can tackle most anything at speed and with a dynamic ride experience. 

Sam’s Score:9.5 (as a road to trail hybrid): 

Ride:9.7(30%) Fit:9.3(30%) Value:8.5 (10%) Style:10 (5%) Traction:10(15%) Rock Protection: 9.5 (10%)


John: For me, the super shoe hype was something new and after an unadulterated experience into the new world of shoe technology, I can attest that the hype is legitimate. For faster, long distance races that travel from pavement to dirt, the Carbon Ultra is an amazing option. The only drawback of this shoe is the lacing and difficulty finding the right snug fit, though those would be easy fixes for Craft to attack in the next iteration. I’m sure we will see these atop a few podiums in the Ultra world when race events eventually start up again. Without a doubt, you’ll see me cruising with the Carbon Ultra on long or hard days, since most of my runs are a mix of rolling hills on the trails and road.

John’s Score: 9.55 /10

Ride: 10 (it’s like nothing I have ever experienced)

Fit: 9 (custom feeling once you nail down the lacing for your foot)

Value: 9.5 (best performance shoe that goes road/trail I have ever tried)

Style: 10 (Zebra striping is unique, enigmatic, and absolutely awesome) 

Traction: 10 (not intended for technical terrain, but the rubber and tread design worked well in cold weather)

Rock Protection: 9

Watch Sam's Initial Craft CTM Carbon Ultra Video Review



Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Brooks Catamount (RTR Review)

John: Both are top rated (by me!) road + trail shoes with an orientation toward long distance efforts. The Craft CTM Carbon Ultra has more cushion and has more energy return than the Catamount. The Catamount has a more comfortable fit that is easier to adjust out of the box. I think I would use the Carbon Ultra for long distance efforts that had an objective to shave as many seconds as possible from the clock and the Catamount for everything else. 


Sam: Catamount has a lower stack height and drop at 31mm heel, 25mm forefoot vs at least 40mm/30mm here. It has a nitrogen infused midsole foam, rock plate which also serves somewhat of a propulsion plate and has a similar lower profile all surfaces outsole. Catamount’s upper is softer and also breathable and light but not quite as secure. About 0.3 oz lighter the Catamount is not as copiously cushioned but is somewhat more stable due to its lower stack height and is a bit more agile. It is more a shorter fast efforts trail shoe on smoother trails for me and while fine on the road it is neither as fast feeling, dynamic  or as well cushioned as the Carbon Ultra there.


Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)

Sam: As discussed above many parallels in midsole feel here: lots of firmer cushion with some bounce. The road focused Shift is close to an ounce heavier, has a touch less heel stack at 38mm but as a 4 mm drop shoe has more forefoot stack. No plates on board but a similar rocker feel with a more abrupt final toe off feel than Carbon Ultra which due to geometry of its plate has a longer rocker feel, more propulsive spring from the palte and a more noticeable and biased towards the big toe final toe off feel. 


The Shift is more stable at the heel and while neutral has for sure a stability component and has a heavier less breathable upper. For pure road training Shift at $140 is a better choice and better value but for terrain versatility, lighter weight, speed, and ride experience the Carbon Ulta wins out.


Nike Pegasus Trail 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: The Peg Trail 2 is Nike’s door to trail focused shoe and while softer in cushion it is not nearly as dynamic in ride or fast as the Craft on the smoother terrain both are designed for. At close to an ounce heavier but considerably less expensive at $130 it is a fine mellow cruiser but really that’s it.


New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail (RTR Review)

Sam: Very plush and soft for a “trail” shoe the premium $165 More is all about comfort from its soft quite unstructured toe box and upper to its smooth softer midsole. Out for a mellow cruise it is a great choice. As with the Peg Trail 2 if speed (road or smooth trail)  is the name of the game at pretty much any distance the more dialed, taut, and aggressive moving Carbon Ultra is a better choice 


Saucony Canyon TR  (RTR Review)

Sam: Very reasonably priced at $120, the big stack Canyon is 1.2 oz heavier and while it has a woven rock plate (probably not needed) is not nearly as dynamic as it has not much rocker comparatively for its rigid profile and is not more stable than Carbon Ultra. It has a fabulous upper to help keep you locked to the big platform but is a slow poke on the road or smooth trail in comparison to the Carbon Ultra.


Salomon Sense Ride 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: 0.7 oz heavier call the Sense Ride 3 a pure trail runner: highly protective, cushioned and supportive. On rough technical terrain, at long distances, it is a better choice for me but hit the smooth and its duller, dense ride will bog you down in comparison. 


John: The Carbon Ultra has the Sense Ride beat when it comes to long distances with even paces on groomer trails and roads. By contrast, the Sense Ride is better on technical terrain and unpredictable surfaces like mud, snow, and ice. 


Nike ACG Mountain Fly GTX (RTR Initial Review)

Sam: This considerably heavier carbon plated React foam hiker/ runner with a Gore-Tex upper has a more aggressively felt rocker, a lowish toe box due to a rubber outsole wrap up and while a good choice for snow and wet at slow paces its geometry and weight are not at the level of the Carbon Ultra 


Inov-8 Terraultra G 270 (RTR Review)

Sam: Why is this zero drop relatively low stack lighter shoe in the comparisons up against the plated, high drop, high stack Carbon Ultra? Well they both are superb door to trail shoes with the G 270 leaning more trail than the Carbon Ultra and having less stack but more traction for sure and a yet superior very light, breathable and supportive upper. It was my and many of our contributors trail shoe of the year.


The G 270 is notable for sharing a TPU beads sockliner with the Carbon which takes the edge off but goes further with a bouncier yet still stable midsole. It is a speedster on most any trail and while zero drop excellent on road as well. Ultra shoe maybe not for most, as Carbon Ultra is intended to be, but for shorter faster efforts on all kinds of terrain and while not rockered and carbon propulsive it is a more versatile choice. Even makes a superb technical trails hiker not something I see doing in the Carbon Ultra.


Hoka Challenger ATR 6 (RTR Review)

John: Both have an orientation toward longer distances on a combination of road and trail, but the Challenger ATR 6 is best suited for more casual paces while the Carbon Ultra is engineered to go fast. I like the comfort and cusion of the Challenger ATR for days when my legs are tired. The firmness of the Carbon Ultra feels only appropriate when my legs and body want to go hard at a fast cadence. 


The North Face Flight Vectiv (RTR Review)

Sam: Neither John nor I have tested the just released Flight Vectiv which also features carbon plate. It is a few tenths of an ounce heavier, has a lower stack at 25/19 and a lower drop at 6mm. It relies more on its rear and front rocker and is likely a more suitable shoe for shorter and faster runs on somewhat more technical terrain while the Craft is more oriented to longer runs and road to trail.

Available at Craft limited release 1/28/21 HERE. Broader release late Feb. 2021

Tested samples were provided at no charge for testing purposes. No other compensation was received for the review of Carbon Ultra. The opinions herein are entirely the authors.

RTR Team's Best of 2020 Articles

Road Running Shoes HERE
Trail Running Shoes HERE
RTR Contributors Best of Run 2020, Year in Review Articles

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