Friday, April 09, 2021

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

Article by Michael Ellenberger

Puma Deviate Nitro Elite  ($200)


  • Light and fast - undoubtedly a racing shoe

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

  • Soft and bouncy, without the harsh edge of carbon fiber


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

  • Upper, while light, is slightly plasticy


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. 


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

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

Available April 2020. $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.


“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.


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).


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. 


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!).

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

7 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite 2  (RTR Review)

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. 

Nike Next% 

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.

adidas Adios Pro (RTR Review)

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.

Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 (RTR Review)

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)

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.

Saucony Endorphin Speed (RTR Review)

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)

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.

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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