Friday, March 19, 2021

361° Flame Review: No Compromises Supershoe On A Shoestring!

Article by Bryan Lim

361° Flame ($160 US)

Introduction

Bryan: Prior to receiving the Flame, I only knew of 361° as the apparel sponsor for the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics. Fast forward to 2021, the 18 year old Chinese brand has made a bold move by creating the Flame, their flagship high stacked carbon shoe highlighting brand’s entrance into the super run race shoe market, and poised to challenge local competitors X-Step and Li Ning, who have released the 160X and, Shadow and Ningfei shoes respectively. 

Priced at $160, the Flame immediately caught my attention as the most reasonably priced “supershoe” in the market, coming in at $40 less than the Saucony Endorphin Pro and $115 cheaper than the Nike Alphafly. Unlike any other shoe I have tested, I had the pleasure of taking the Flame through an unsanctioned race that involved weaving through crowds and multiple start-stops,  Melbourne’s franchise of Take The Bridge.


Pros: Exciting, responsive and smooth ride, stable, excellent traction (dry)

Cons: Poor fit with issues with lockdown in the heel and tongue slippage, no trampoline effect (not necessarily a con), ride not as cushioned as competitors 


Tester Profile

Bryan is a road and trail runner living in Melbourne, Australia. He is a consistent sub 1:25 half marathoner and is presently chasing a sub 3-hour marathon. He is 176cm/ 5'9" tall and weighs about 65kg / 143lbs.


Stats


Approx. Weight: men's 7.83 oz /223g (US9)  /  women's / (US8)

  Official: 7.69 oz / 213g (size not specified in spec sheet)    

  Samples: 7.83 oz / 223g (M US9)

Stack Height: 24/32, 8mm drop

Available March 2021, $160 US.



First Impressions and Fit

Bryan: Comically I say, the chemical smell upon unboxing really caught me off guard. It was akin to the smell of the Nike Vaporfly Next% but more pungent and more lingering. I aired the shoe for about a week but to no avail. However, the smell dissipated through multiple uses. Now onto other non-olfactory impressions. My first visual impression was that it looked like a copy of the Vaporfly Next%, with an upper incorporating a reiteration of Nike’s Vaporweave technology and a relatively similar midsole shape. The expanded pellets QU!CKFLAME midsole material is where the Flame diverges from the Vaporfly and begins to mirror Adidas’ Boost and Saucony’s PWRRUN PB midsoles. Note however that QU!CKFLAME is constructed from Polyurethane (PU) as opposed to Boost’s Thermo Polyurethane (TPU) and PWRRUN PB’s polyether block amide (PEBA) makeup. 

Shoe in hand, the Flame felt relatively lightweight and balanced in weight. Upon putting them on, it felt lively and in an aptly “super orange” colourway screamed for me to take it out for a quick spin. However, there were some immediately apparent issues with the fit caused by the construction of the upper which I will elaborate on below. The Flame fits true to size in a size M9.

Upper


The upper features a traditional reinforced toe box, providing structure to the extensive use of  mono-mesh material 

Bryan: Partly featuring a mono mesh upper similar to Nike’s Vaporweave, it appears 361 is seeking to go as lightweight and breathable as possible with the Flame. 

Comparing the two, Vaporweave is seems thinner and consequently, malleable to one’s feet as it has fewer overlays. The Flame incorporates plastic and printed overlays to provide structure to the upper which does inspire confidence in providing a locked down fit. The tox-box was neither too roomy nor restrictive and I found there to be no issues with the mono mesh upper utilised throughout. There are, however, three points up for discussion below.

The first is the heel collar, which is lined with heel foam designed to provide a secure and lock down fit. While this was a welcome feature, the combination of a relatively roomy heel cup and buckling heel collar was a concern. With certain static movements of the ankle, I noticed significant buckling of the heel collar. Despite the concerns, I found no issues with heel slippage even under race conditions and I had no issues with the height of the collar. 

While the heel collar has a tendency to bulge, it still provided sufficient lock down

Similar to the Vaporfly Next%, the tongue includes two, as opposed to one, side panels of its mono-mesh upper material for breathability and weight reduction.

The remainder of the tongue is constructed with a very thin suede like material. Whilst appearing to be innovative in design, the form and function of the tongue falls short in performance. I found the tongue difficult to adjust andalso had a tendency to fold. It was also rather long, featuring a “twin peaks” shape up the top that was slightly intrusive (but not in function due to its anatomical construct) into my ankle. It is clearly higher and more intrusive than say the Next% similar tongue.

The next issue with the upper is the lacing, which although was satisfactory in creating a locked-down feel, was unnecessarily long. (Note the long laces may be due to the fact this was an early sample, often an issue RTR Editor Sam tells me, as he saw the same with his test pair of Flame).  Even when tying a double knot, it was concerning to have laces coming down the side of the shoes so close to the ground. There were no issues with lace slippage.

The Flame utilises a thin nondescript removable sockliner

Last but not least, a quick note on the Flame’s sockliner. Removable, un-contoured and very thin, this is likely a cost and weight saving measure taken by 361. There were no immediately apparent performance issues but its durability may be a concern here.


Midsole


Midsole construct; 8mm thick carbon plate sandwiched between two layers of pelletized PU.


Probably the most discussed aspect of any super shoe, the Flame utilises two layers of high rebound pelletized Polyurethane (PU) QuikFlame foam sandwiching a 8mm thick QuikBone carbon plate. 

The use of PU is a deviation from PEBA used by Nike and Saucony, and the EVA/TPU blend used by New Balance (autoclaved in the RC Elite and Rebel v2). PU has been used by Brooks in their Levitate where it is injected and heavy but not so here in its pelletized form. 

The result is a less bouncy ride which lacks the trampoline effect now common in other supershoes. While PEBA foams are now widely accepted as the gold standard in providing energy return, this PU midsole does not sit far behind.


The midsole foam feels relatively hard to the touch, especially when comparing to ZoomX, PWRRUN PB and Fuel Cell midsoles such as in the TC and RC. It has a moderately high (32/24mm) stack but not as high as shoes such as the Alphafly, Next%, adios Pro, or upcoming RC Elite 2 which all approach 40mm at the heel and on foot it is firm in feel. The carbon plate makes the midsole rigid and stable. 361 advises of a 26.2mm toe spring angle. There is a pronounced forefoot rocker to the design but more subtle in magnitude compared to the Vaporfly. Compared to the other mentioned midsoles, there was minimal compression, especially in the heel. Although firm and relatively stiff, the QU!CKFLAME midsole is very lively and quick to rebound, and provides protection through its stack height.


It could be a bit softer for general comfort and appeal to the wider market but I found it more suitable to my palate as someone who traditionally appreciates racing flats.

Interestingly, 361 chose to utilise PU beads in the QU!CKFLAME’s construction. Where Saucony chose to pelletize PEBA to prolong its lifespan, PU is known to be a long lasting midsole. Regardless of 361’s intentions, the result is a confidence inspiring midsole.



Pelletized PU (361) v Pelletized PEBA (Saucony)



Dirt highlighted PU pellets!


Outsole


The outsole is composed of an extensive and moderately thick high-tack rubber piece at the forefoot with two pieces of the same rubber sitting more flush against the midsole in the rear.


Racing outsoles have minimal rubber. While some inspire confidence, others fall short by making trade-offs.  This outsole falls closer to the former, with slight concerns with the rear outsole rubber which as mentioned is more or less flush against the midsole. This is very similar to that in the Vaporfly, as in the image below. A potential reason is that since most runners supinate or pronate, ground contact would first be made with the outsole, unless the runner is a mid to forefoot striker, where there will be less of a concern of heel wear. 


Note also  the length of the Flame laces in the picture above..

The compound has superb grip on dusty streets and sleek bluestone pavers even when cornering at high speeds. This can be potentially attributed to the unique triangle tread, and one that seems like a budget version of New Balance’s Fuelcell RC Elite’s raised small nubs injected into a plate forefoot. 

I found that performance was not compromised, with the Flame exceeding expectations when start-stopping and cornering through Melbourne’s obsession with slippy bluestone tiles. Note that the shoe was only tested in dry conditions. Durability does not seem to be an immediate issue.


Ride

PC: Matt Delaney, IG: @mattdelaney.jpeg


This is where I could almost close an eye to the fit issues.  The midfoot transition is stiff and energetic, and the rocker encourages purposeful propulsion. The Flame is fast, although not  quite as aggressive as the Vaporfly. I am a big fan of the ride; it is smooth, energetic and stable, and provides enough protection for workouts where one might be a little more protective of his/her legs. Whilst providing a unique ride, I do not think the Flame lacks in this department when compared to the other more expensive super shoes.


The ride is clean. With the firm midsole consisting of a plate working in tandem with two layers of PU, there is a distinctive pop in each step taken. For those concerned about running in a rockered shoe as I am, the effect is a rather efficient yet subtle gait cycle from the toe-off. 


Conclusions and Recommendations

The Flame takes a worthy spot in a swath of high stacked carbon supershoes as a capable and modern racer with a consistent and responsive ride. My test runs and race have proven that the Flame is a contender in my rotation to be a top choice racer over all distances from a 5k to the marathon. However, with lighter options out there and issues with fit, I have slight reservations in picking the Flame over other top-tier racers. 


If the teething issues with the upper are addressed, and with the attractive price point, the Flame could possibly be my top-rated shoe for the year.


Even where races are now as rare as firmer super shoes on the market, bar the Hyperion Elite, the Flame is a good buy for quicker training sessions. I certainly wouldn’t be calculating the $ per km spent as I do when running in the Vaporfly and Alphafly. For runners who enjoy a firmer more responsive ride, the Flame could be for you.

Score 9.08/10

Ride: 9.5 (50%) Fit: 8 (30%) Value: 10 (15%) Style: 8.5 (5%)


Comparisons

Nike Vaporfly Next% vs 361 Flame

The Vaporfly provides better traction, weighs less, locks down better and has an equally responsive albeit softer ride than the Flame. Price aside, I would pick the Vaporfly Next% over the Flame in almost every race or training circumstance.

Nike Vaporfly 4% FK vs 361 Flame  

With a slightly narrower base, I found the Flame to run more stable than the Vaporfly 4%. Whilst the ZoomX midsole is exciting, I found that the Flame has better traction and is as responsive but with a firmer ride. Although the upper in the Flame is far from perfect, it offers superior lockdown and confidence to the Flyknit upper in the Nike with the latter presenting with heel slippage and poor responsiveness to surges in pace.

Adidas Adizero Pro vs 361 Flame (RTR Review)

Largely out shadowed by the Adizero Adios Pro, the Adizero Pro is still a worthy comparison here. Adidas’ Celermesh upper is still unmatched so far in terms of breathability and fit. However, the ride of the Flame is more responsive and lively as compared to the now outdated Boost TPU midsole in the Pro. On race day, I would pick the Flame over the Adizero Pro.

Saucony Endorphin Speed v 361 Flame (RTR Review)

Saucony’s PWRRUN PB midsole is the closest comparison to the Flame’s, albeit being constructed from PEBA pellets as opposed to PU pellets. The Flame’s midsole is noticeably denser and firmer but offers an equally exciting and responsive ride. I found that the Endorphin Speed’s upper is second only to Adidas’ Celermesh and offered a far better fit and lockdown than the Flame’s. Despite that the Speed only has a nylon plate, I would still pick it over the Flame on race day and in training. Both the Speed and Flame are almost identical in weight.

Please Watch RTR Editor Sam's Initial 361 Flame Video Review with more Comparisons including Next%, Saucony Endorphins, New Balance RC Elite, and adios Pro.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received by RTR or the authors for this review from 361. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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1 comment:

Jesse Davis 26.2 said...

Nice breakdown! I have a pair of Flames and absolutely love them. I disagree with there being upper fit issues, but everyone’s foot is different. I always put a Currex insole in my shoes anyway which helps a lot with the fit. Agree the laces are bit long, but I re-laced them and that made them more comfortable and helped with the tongue. Thanks for putting this together.