Friday, April 09, 2021

Puma Running Deviate Nitro Elite Review: The Fastest and Lightest Cat!

Article by Michael Ellenberger and Joost de Raeymaeker

Editor's Note: Puma has advised us that new stock will be available August 27. The Deviate Elite Nitro with SP upper took Molly Seidel to a stunning bronze at the Olympic Marathon The SP upper differs from the first upper in having colored 3D printing which also provides some support. Joost de Raeymaeker RTR's fastest marathoner (2:26), and almost oldest at 53 joins Michael's review testing the SP version.

Puma Deviate Nitro Elite  ($200)


  • Light and fast - undoubtedly a racing shoe Michael/Joost

  • Nitro foam continues to be one of the best midsole compounds Michael/Joost

  • Soft and bouncy, without the harsh edge of carbon fiber Michael/Joost
  • Nice reflective elements - Joost


  • More middle-stack than high-stack may limit usability for some marathoners Michael/Joost

  • Upper, while light, is slightly plasticy
  • Toe box might be a little roomier - Joost


Tester Profile

Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon. 

Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He’s on a mission to win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and has completed half of his project, with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results.


Approximate Weight: men's 6.74 oz  / 191g (US9)

Stack Height: 36mm heel / 28mm forefoot, 8 mm drop

New stock will be available August 27, 2021.  $200

First Impressions and Fit

I won’t lie - the appearance of the Puma Deviate Nitro Elite (PDNE) isn’t something that really resonates with me; I think it looks more like a lightweight trainer than a racer. But after seeing Sam’s First Impressions video-and reviewing the Elite’s little brother, the Puma Deviate Nitro) , I was sure Puma was onto something - and I had to try it. Though my test pair is a size 9 (about a half up from my usual), I found the fit to be comfortable and snug enough. Bulkier socks helped, but I think runners who are in-between sizes will want to go up, anyway.

Joost: Contrary to Michael, I was really looking forward to getting my feet into a pair of the Deviate Nitro Elite. I seem to be one of the few lucky ones, given the very limited availability of the shoe. The model that arrived on my doorstep is the beautiful SP used by Molly Seidel for her third spot in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics marathon.

After a few initial niggles with the heel fit of the Deviate Nitro, it soon turned out to be a great all-round shoe with one of the greatest outsoles out there. It’s very grippy and will easily outlast the rest of the shoe.

Fit is a true to size race-fit. The toe box is not the widest and the upper has hardly any stretch to it, so you might want to go up half a size if you like to have more space in the forefoot.

Walking around with the Deviate Nitro Elite SP on one foot and the Deviate Nitro on the other, it’s easy to spot some differences, apart from the much roomier fit of the latter. The Elite feels softer and sinks in a little more in the heel, probably due to the fact that the Deviate has a plastic wedge there, adding stability. On the Elite, the grey is foam in a different color and doesn’t seem to have any function, apart from aesthetics.


Michael:“Minimal” is probably the most apt word here. Puma’s translucent mono-mesh upper is barely there, and while the weight-savings are ultimately worth it (this is a top-end racer, after all), I was a little put off by the plastic, synthetic feel at first. A knit upper would have been more comfortable, but undoubtedly cost some ounces.

Moving front to back, the toebox here is wide - as I mentioned with the overall appearance of the shoe, there isn’t much material holding you in place, but it didn’t feel sloppy, even in a half-size up. 

The lacing is nice and tight (I used an extra eyelet just to ensure lockdown and I didn’t encounter any heel-slippage or rubbing whatsoever. 

Especially in consideration of the slightly large fit (being a 9.0), and not having issues, I think the upper here is terrific. Yes, the look is a little subdued for a 2021 racing flat (check the colors coming out of the new Endorphin Pro or Adios Pro!), but there’s really nothing material-wise to disagree with here.

Joost: The SP version’s upper is a little less transparent than the version Michael got, due to the dotted colored lines going front to back. This probably changes the plasticky feel he mentioned, since the lines feel like they’re glued on top of the mono mesh. Breathability doesn’t seem to be affected by this.

There’s a very minimal transparent toe bumper about the thickness of tape. It just adds a little bit of structure, without adding any unneeded stiffness. The lacing area is nicely reinforced and there are 2 strips of fabric going from the middle down to the midsole on both sides, providing a good midfoot fit and lockdown. The tongue is attached to that piece of fabric on the medial side and free floating on the lateral side, facilitating instep and keeping it in place when running. It is also made of mono mesh, with an overlay in the middle and towards the sides on top and softer fabric on the bottom with some cushioning in the middle. This construction makes a substantial area of the tongue very breathable. I didn’t feel any tongue bite.

No real heel counter is present, except for a knit on vertical fabric strip in the back and plastic overlays on the sides that go up to about halfway. 

The position of the 2 pillows on the medial and lateral side of the heel of the Deviate Nitro Elite seems to be a little higher than on the Deviate Nitro, correcting one of the niggles I had with that shoe. I didn’t have any heel slippage issues and my foot was nicely held down.

A nice touch of the upper are the reflective areas. Basically the whole eyestay, the white strip going around the heel and both heel reinforcements are reflective. Great choice by Puma!

Editor Note: Puma tells us the sockliner and collars now have a new CoolAdapt finish. "CoolAdapt is a finish to the sockliner and collar and upper material, that keeps the material moving moisture more efficiently so you can feel the “cooling” of evaporation keeping your feet cooler in hot summer months."


Michael: Our stellar reviewers have covered the Nitro material extremely well in both the Elite’s introductory video and compilation of modern Puma options (not to mention our full review of the Elite’s little brother, the Deviate Nitro) but… I’ll retread it here (pun intended). Puma’s Nitro Elite midsole is extremely, extremely good. 

Nitro Foam in the Elite is a PEBA based foam (such as the Next% has), with added nitrogen in the manufacturing process. We’ve extensively covered other “supercritical” (or perhaps just “super”) foams, such as Skechers Hyperburst (CO2), Brooks DNA Flash (also nitrogen infused), and Brandblack’s Jetlon. And, as covered before, each of these approaches infuse or use gasses into the mix, which results in a more consistent, resilient foams through the shape and characteristics of the internal bubbles.

What does it mean running? Well, it’s a smooth and stable material - soft and bouncy, without the feeling of the harsh edge that a carbon fiber plate can sometimes bring (I’m thinking of Skechers’s Speed Elite, for example!). The softness doesn’t make it feel slow, by any means (I think we’ve definitively proven that hard shoes are no longer necessarily fast shoes), nor does it fully “hide” the carbon plate - but it helps the whole midsole “blend” into a desirable and genuinely sweet mix.

But - the worst thing about the midsole here is that there isn’t all that much of it. I’ll cover this again in the Ride section, but compared to the Nike Vaporfly or Adidas Adios Pro , you’re much closer to the road (and you’ll feel it).

Joost: There’s not much to add about the foam itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the Deviate Nitro and the Elite is very similar, but obviously more tuned for racing. The Elite is a little less stable for heel strikers, due to the absence of the plastic wedge and also has a less wide platform, making the forefoot potentially less stable. It’s more than stable enough while running, though.

The overall responsiveness of the shoe is a combination of the softness and bounciness of the foam which is nicely complemented by the carbon Innoplate. The plate itself is winged at the front of the shoe, making it slightly less stiff across the shoe.

Puma opted for less stack height than some of the - on the verge of breaking the World Athletics rules - maxed out competitors. More foam would probably have required additional stability elements or a slightly firmer - and heavier - foam. They deliberately opted for a more traditional stack height shoe, while still using new technologies. While this might not be to everyone's liking, I can definitely imagine a market for runners who don’t want to go all out, but also don’t want to miss out on the advantages of carbon plates and supercritical foams. The Deviate Nitro Elite might be just the shoe for them.


Michael: We gushed over the outsole on the Deviate Nitro and, once again, Puma has really done well here. What they call PumaGrip LT is really just a fully-complete rubber outsole that will lend both superior durability, genuinely solid grip in tricky conditions, and some stability to the soft foam above. I’m not a huge outsole guy - usually it’s a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from me - and this a definite success. 

Joost: I’m a big fan of the Deviate Nitro outsole and its durability. The outsole here is basically the same, but just a tad thinner in order to shave off some extra weight. There’s still more than enough of the very grippy stuff to outlast the rest of the shoe.


Michael: I’ve been very positive on the Deviate Nitro Elite (deservedly so), so I’ll start with the only significant drawback I see here - there’s a great midsole, and not enough of it. Even though the stack height is nearing the IAAF limit - at 36mm in the heel and 28mm forefoot, this isn’t a minimal racer - it still felt like I was nearly bottoming out, and I’m a relatively light and efficient runner. Part of that sensation, I think, is just from the more traditional profile of the shoe - it looks and feels like an old-school racer, until you really push it - but it would make me think twice before running a full marathon in it. Over 13.1 and under, though, I think the superb upper and lockdown made the Deviate Elite Nitro a great call. See my comparisons for more, but - this is a real contender (and unexpectedly so!).

Joost: I disagree with Michael here. There was no feeling of bottoming out. The Deviate Nitro Elite feels fast and is most effective when you pick up the pace. It does look and feel more like a traditional racing flat. For runners with good running dynamics, the Elite will easily carry them through a marathon. Others might prefer to not go further than a half marathon in them. You don’t get all the leg-saving of more stack, but it is light and plenty fast. The ride is lively and light . Everything you’d expect from a plated superfoam shoe, just a little closer to the ground, than let’s say the FuelCell RC2.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Puma Deviate Nitro Elite is a mouthful, but it’s a legitimately good racer. At 6.74 oz in a size 9.0, the Puma comes in well under its carbon-plated peers - and just slightly over the Nike Zoom Next%. On-foot, it feels even lighter (I would have bet this was the lightest of all plated racers - shows how much I know!). 

With a supremely good midsole, paper-thin upper, gentle (if slightly under-cushioned) ride, and a snappy carbon fiber plate, the Deviate Nitro Elite is, well, elite. There’s a lot of competition now - you’ll see that played out in the Comparison section - but those who choose the Puma won’t be disappointed - especially if you’re racing a half-marathon or less.

Michael’s Score: 9.4/10

Joost: The Puma Deviate Nitro Elite is a great racing shoe (it gets hard to call them flats these days). Puma opted to make a non super maxed out shoe to complete the Nitro line. As the name suggests, this is the perfect companion to the Deviate Nitro.

A great upper and fit, a great midsole and ride, light and on the right feet a fantastic marathon shoe. Now that Molly Seidel put them on the map with her third place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games marathon, even more people will want to get their hands on a pair and that seems to be the only negative: they are extremely hard to get but Puma tells us they will be restocked August 27.

Joost’s Score: 9.23/10

Ride: 9.5 (50%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 8.5 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)

7 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2   (RTR Review)

Michael:The New Balance is the better marathon shoe, without question - it’s one of the softest, most cushioned carbon-plated racers around and it’s been souped up since an (already stellar) version 1. I would even take the bouncy RC Elite 2 at 13.1, but anything under that is probably Puma territory for most. If you’re on a track (and not following IAAF restrictions), I think the Puma is a no-brainer. For 5k and 10k, it’ll come down to preference - I think the Nitro Elite is a little sharp feeling, with that low-slung approach - but really, you can’t go wrong. 

Joost: (M9.5 in both) I really love the RC Elite 2 for the simple reason that it seems to be the only one of the supershoes that was built to accommodate wide feet. It is also very soft and leg-saving over long distances, but it doesn’t feel as fast as the Nitro Elite to me. For shorter distances and on the track, there’s no contest: it’s the Puma. For anything half marathon and over, it will depend on your personal preferences.

Nike Next% 

Michael: Nike has long held the crown of best racing “flat” (that word gets less and less proper every day that we have these plated beasts), but I do think it’s probably a faster and better option for most distances - the smoothness of the toe-off in the Nike is just superb. The only race where I’d seriously consider the Puma is the 5K, where the chunk of the Nike can sometimes feel a little obtrusive. Otherwise - stick with the classic.

Joost: (M9.5 in both) The Next% is still the king of the roads, but from what we can see from races, the advantage it once held has been all but eliminated. I would probably go with the Next% for a half marathon or a marathon, simply because I’ve worn it for my PB and feel confident it will carry me over the distance and I won’t feel too beat up afterwards. Now that it’s been used successfully by Molly Seidel to win an olympic bronze, the Deviate Elite will probably start to show up more, providing people can actually buy it.

adidas Adios Pro (RTR Review)

Michael:The Adios Pro is, for my money, probably the best marathon and half-marathon racer there is (even having gushed, as I just did, over the Next%). There is no better shoe for ripping a 20-mile marathon workout than the adidas , because your legs seemingly just don’t fatigue. The Puma is absolutely and without question a sharper shoe, and will probably feel more in control for anything under 10K (and for any given training run, where the Adios Pro is basically a non-starter in my book), but if you’re looking for a 13.1 or 26.2 PR, it’s hard to say no to the Adidas.

Joost: (M9.5 in both) I also love the Adios Pro and wouldn’t hesitate to take it with me for a major race. That being said, it’s a very different approach to super-shoes compared to the Puma. It’s heavier and less stable. Adidas still has to find that great new foam. I don’t think Lightstrike (Pro or normal) has the right performance/weight ratio for the ultimate racing shoe. The Puma is also the more accommodating shoe to run in. I would probably use the Puma for anything up to around 15k and the Adidas for longer races.

Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 (RTR Review)

Michael:Very close call here, but I think the Puma wins in almost all categories (the lone Brooks win being for the full marathon distance). While they both have great uppers and midsoles, the cushion of the Brooks makes it a slightly more competitive choice for long time-on-legs runs. However, the outsole of the Brooks is a glaring flaw - I found it slick even on a treadmill - and for any reasonably tough conditions, I’d pick the Puma. Pack both, if your marathon has rain in the forecast.

Saucony Endorphin Pro (RTR Review)

Michael:The firm midsole of the Saucony makes the Puma a more appealing choice for any long runs or marathon-specific workouts. For racing (when leg preservation takes a back seat to PRs), I think the Saucony gets a really slight edge over 26.2, but this is probably the closest marathon comparison of all the top-flight racers.

Joost: (M9.5 in both) The Endorphin is the more aggressive shoe of the two. My personal preference goes to the Puma.

Saucony Endorphin Speed (RTR Review)

Michael:I am seemingly the only person on Earth who didn’t overwhelmingly love the Endorphin Speed, but I will use this opportunity to say that the Nitro Elite is actually a pretty awesome “door-to-track” trainer - that is, a shoe that is fast enough to run really tough workouts in that can also be worn for the warmups and cooldowns. The more traditional feel of it helps in that regard (and, let’s be clear - the Endo Speed is also really solid in this category!) and I think it’ll come down to preference. I certainly preferred the Puma’s nearly-nothing upper.

Skechers Razor Elite (RTR Review)

Michael:Both are interesting, next-generation, low-slung racers (that I would hesitate to choose for a full marathon). I like the fit and finish of the Puma better, but I will say - as good as Nitro foam is, there really is nothing quite like Hyperburst. These are similar in a lot of ways - and will probably come down to what fits your foot best - but as far as I’m concerned, Hyperburst is still class-leading.

Joost: (M9.5 in both) The upper of the Razor Elite really lets it down. In spite of being a real Hyperburst fanboy, my choice goes to the Puma. The Razor Elite also has a very different feel to it, with just a forefoot plate to add a little bit of stability to the normal Razor: 3.

Skechers Speed Freek (RTR Review)

Joost: (M9.5 in both): The Speed Freek is a lot closer to the Deviate Nitro Elite in stack height. Hyperburst is my personal favorite. It feels a bit firmer, but is incredibly bouncy. Just like the Razor Elite, what lets a great midsole down is a far from stellar upper. The Puma is the better overall shoe.

Watch RTR Editor Sam's Initial Video Review

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