Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Unpause Atlas Review: PEBA powered, carbon shank, high performing Thai trainer for less than $100!

Article by Derek Li and Michael Ellenberger (2023)

Unpause Atlas (~$90 US)

Derek: Recently I was approached to try out a new brand of shoes from Thailand. Most people would not have heard of this brand. They are called Unpause, and they only have one model of shoe at the moment, the Unpause Atlas, albeit in several colorways. 

My usual size is US9.5 but it seems their sizing is a bit on the roomy side. To make sure I got to test the right size for me, they very generously sent me the shoe in 2 sizes: US9.0 and US9.5 to try. Prior to testing the shoes, I was told by another reviewer that the shoes fit a bit like the ASICS Novablast, which tends to run somewhat long. 

Things moved along really quickly, and within 2-3 days, the shoes had arrived, sent via FedEx courier no less. 

I received a pink pair in US9.0, and a white pair in US9.5

Michael: After reading Derek’s review and expressing my sincere interest in what seems to be a terrific value trainer, I was fortunate enough to receive a pair of the Atlas for my review in the super-cool white color (US8.5). Unlike Derek, shipping to the US took several weeks, but they arrived in great condition, with a box included.


Manual Measurements (including sockliner) for US9.0:

Heel – 36mm

Forefoot – 26mm

Drop 10mm

Weight 8.04oz / 229g

Initial Impressions:

Derek: Initial step in feel was good. They upper is quite minimal and very well ventilated, but there is enough padding around the ankle to give you a plush snug wrap. The nylon mesh in the forefoot is not very stretchy, and tends to crease up into your toes as you flex at the toebox. This brings me to my next point. The design of the shoe is such that the carbon plate is quite short, and mainly stabilizes the midfoot, so there is no stiffening of the forefoot here. There are pros and cons to this, which I’ll get into below. For now, the underfoot feel is very soft and bouncy. I tried both sizes, and I can run in both sizes, depending on the thickness of the socks I use. The ankle and heel hold in this shoe is incredibly good, so that really helps you get away with a slightly larger size. 

Michael: I agree with Derek that the sizing here runs slightly large, but not enough that I’d likely stray from my default 8.5, unless I intended on racing in them, or going sockless. It’s close, but I imagine an 8.0 would have been too small. 


Derek: Unpause has done a really good job here with the upper, and you can see from the design elements that they were very careful with their choices. Let’s start at the front. 

The entire front is this supremely thin perforated nylon mesh, and they used an external overlay to serve as a stiffener to prop up the toe box and it does a pretty good job. 

Moving towards the midfoot, there are very minimal overlays used for branding, to keep the looks very simple and clean. 

The tongue itself is thin and seems to use a suede base with a smoother synthetic overlay facing the laces. 

It is gusseted with broad rubberized bands on either side. This creates a very good lockdown for the shoe despite having a relatively unstructured forefoot and midfoot. 

At the heel, they went with a now popular elf ear design (presumably to prevent Achilles rub), and a relatively flexible internal heel cup to add structure and support to the heel.  The laces are particularly good. They are marginally on the long side, but they went with fat, flat cotton type laces, and the branding printing of “unpause” adds some tacky grip to the surface. 

These laces bite incredibly well, and there’s a good chance I will borrow them for my marathon race shoes. It is because of how well the laces hold tension that the heel hold is superb in this shoe. We are talking Saucony Endorphin Speed 1, ASICS Metaspeed Sky, Adidas Adios 6 type of heel hold. Very, very solid. Underfoot, the sockliner has the Unpause branding, but the material is the spongy stuff that comes from Ortholite sock liners, so you sort of know what to expect there. I personally prefer EVA sock liners, but I can see how the Ortholite stuff gives you some extra cushioning. 

Michael: Aesthetically, I love the look of the all-white Atlas, and I actually didn’t notice the subtly-branded “Unpause” wordmark on the laces until I re-read Derek’s review. Nice! 

The upper here is thin - Derek had warned me that I’d be cold for Midwest USA winter running, and he’d be right (except that I took these outside only on abnormally warm days, and otherwise confined them to the treadmill) - the upper is quite thin, which is a definite benefit for a performance trainer, but would get frigid if you’re running in snow or even cold rain.

I found the upper material - a thin, nylon mesh - to be adequate enough, except I experienced a fair bit of bunching (as you can see in Derek’s photos, above). This is assuredly partially due to the slightly-too-large sizing, but it happens even when the shoe isn’t being worn (again, see above!), and I think is just a product of the material itself. It didn’t cause any issues on the go, but it’s (a) a bit silly looking and (b) potentially a spot for blistering. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the laces - I haven’t always had good luck with the thick, flat laces that Unpause uses here, but I came away really impressed with the foothold and lockdown. Sizing quirks aside, this is a shoe with adequate enough lockdown for curvy workouts or races.


Derek: The midsole uses a PEBA foam that is very soft and bouncy, and feels a lot closer to Nike’s ZoomX than Saucony’s PWRRUN PB. It doesn’t have the dense feeling that other types of foam tend to have. Sitting under the strobel board and on top of the midsole is a relatively short carbon plate at mid-foot. 

This presumably serves to add some midfoot stability . You can just about make out the shape and outline of the plate when the sockliner is removed. In practical terms, it does not contribute to any rocker effect in the shoe, but give the shoe a little bit more stability when running. What I liked was that as soft as the shoe is, it really doesn’t bottom out on you even when you stomp hard on it going down a hill. 

I think a lot of it comes down to the plate somehow spreading out the pressure at midfoot. What you get is a bouncy and soft underfoot feel that does not bottom out, and yet still retains a soft heel and a relatively flexible forefoot. There are now a lot of soft shoes on the market, but soft shoes that don’t make you feel like they are draining the pop out of your toe-off are still quite hard to come by. The Unpause Atlas seems to be in the minority that solves that puzzle. 

Michael: Derek covered the technology well; I’ll just add that this is not a shoe I’d “buy for the plate” - that is, while there is a really comfortable ride and performance here (more on that later!), the carbon fiber plate or shank is a minor addition, at best, and does not noticeably give any rocker or propulsive feeling. 

Much more of the benefit of the Atlas is found in the midsole foam, which is a lovely PEBA foam. It’s squishy - I agree, much more ZoomX than PWRRUN PB, but even potentially softer than Nike’s blend - and gives the shoes a very smooth feel underfoot. I would not say that, if a blind try-on, I’d peg them as a racing or workout shoe - but that’s okay, too. They’re more of a performance trainer, and plated or not, there’s a lot to like here.


The outsole uses what seems to be blown rubber on the outsole, and with the relatively smooth surface and lack of deep grooves, I was initially concerned that outsole grip might be poor. 

Fortunately, grip has proven to be more than adequate for wet roads and light trails for me. I don’t have a lot of mileage on the shoes yet (I’ve been rotating both US9 and US9.5 with different socks, and don’t really see a big difference of performance between the 2), but there is very little scuffing on the red pair, which has a little more mileage at 108km so far.

Michael: I have little to add, since the majority of my miles here were confined to the treadmill , but I did do one post-winter-warm-up run where nearly everything outside was wet, and I was plenty happy with the traction. The outsole does seem to wear slightly quickly, but I haven’t noticed a detraction in grip as a result of that.

Ride and Conclusions

Derek: This shoe has a very natural and smooth ride, and I like that it handles moderate paces and easy runs equally well. The soft and bouncy underfoot feel make it very forgiving for those days when you have heavy legs from a hard workout or high mileage the day before (or in my case, earlier that same day). I like that the lockdown at the heel of the shoe is very good, so even if things a little more sloppy at the front (since I don’t like very tight lacing for easy days) I still feel very well connected and locked in with the shoe. I would not recommend it for racing or hard workouts, as I think shoes with a more rockered forefoot tend to be better for fast running, but for easy runs and medium distance/pace runs, I think this is a very good option, and especially so if you run in warm conditions. Retailing at Thai Baht 2890 (or ~US$90), it is incredibly good value, even when you throw in some added shipping costs. 

My Score 9.25 / 10

Ride 9.2 (50%) Fit 9.5 (30%) Value 9 (15%) Style 9 (5%)

Michael: Derek and I often align on reviews, and to cut to the chase here, I think he’s nailed it - this is a great shoe for easy and medium runs, but not one I’d go to for racing or interval work (nor does Unpause necessarily suggest that). For the price, I don’t think there are many better options (though I’ll draw some key comparisons below) - that PEBA midsole is just so good that it’s hard to go wrong, and even if the plate is perhaps a “throwaway” element here, the Atlas is no worse for having it. I’m going to keep these in the loop for treadmill miles to come, but will definitely pull them out once we get warmer weather here, since they’ll make a terrific long run or midweek (medium) long run shoe, and can comfortably handle easy miles as well.

Michael’s Score: 9.3/10

8 Comparisons

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run (RTR Review)

Derek: The biggest difference is in the upper here. The Invincible has a much thicker and less ventilated upper, and is an overall lower volume shoe. The Invincible is still the higher stack shoe with more bounce to its ride, but the Atlas comes pretty darn close. I think the Atlas feels a little easier to do moderate paces in while the Invincible tends to feel quite ponderous in transition when you are tired. Overall, I prefer the Atlas for its more versatile use and more breathable upper. 

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run 2 (RTR Review)

Michael: I’m updating this review in very late 2022, and have put more than 150 miles on the Invincible Run 2. While the Nike is a more cushioned - and ultimately more tired-leg-friendly shoe - the bounce on the Atlas is definitely not dissimilar, and considering its weight and more responsive profile, I think they make terrific training companions: Invincible 2 for the true easy days, and Unpause Atlas for runs with a little more quality. 

ASICS Novablast v1 (RTR Review)

Derek: The sizing of the Unpause Atlas is indeed quite close to Novablast, but the lacing of the Atlas is such that even though the length is similar, the lockdown of the Atlas is much better than Novablast with zero heel slippage even without resorting to additional lacing techniques. The Atlas feels softer and livelier underfoot, and seems to be more stable as well for me. Overall, I cannot think of any reason why one would go with the Novablast over the Atlas. 

ASICS NovaBlast v3 (RTR Review)

Michael: Like the Atlas, the Novablast 3 is a do-it-all (or at least, do-most) type trainer. Where the Novablast excels - even without a plate - is how well it can transition from slow to fast without issue. Even with that stabilizing midfoot shank, I did find the Atlas a little harder to push (perhaps the PEBA is just slightly too soft?) to half-marathon pace and faster. The outsole of the NovaBlast is also a bit more durable. Honestly, calling the Unpause Atlas a “budget Novablast” should be taken as a compliment, and cost-conscious runners (with a little patience) will be happy with the Atlas.

New Balance Fuelcell Rebel v2 (RTR Review)

Derek: The Rebel has a more performance-oriented fit, and with its lower stack, seems to perform better for faster paced running. Both are equally soft, but the plated Atlas has less tendency to bottom out, and is clearly more cushioned once you get past the 6-8 mile mark. It would also appear from initial testing that outsole durability is much better with the Atlas than the Rebel 2. I would go with Rebel for maybe tempo runs and short intervals, and Atlas for moderate pace-easy runs. 

New Balance FuelCell Rebel v3 (RTR Review)

Michael: I agree with Derek’s assessment of the v2 (in my opinion, the best entry in the Rebel lineup thus far); the v3 is a bit firmer and more traditional than the springy NB v2. I actually prefer (slightly!) the Unpause here; it’s just a bit more fun to run, and while I don’t think you can really go wrong, I’d give the Atlas a serious look if you’re between these two.

New Balance FuelCell TC (RTR Review)

Derek: Although it’s a 2020 shoe, the TC is still one of the best all-round trainers for me, with it’s very soft and bouncy foam and a less obviously plated ride. Both fit relatively long and I can get away with both shoes at true to size or half size down. The Atlas seems to be more secure in terms of upper lockdown, and is the slightly softer feeling shoe. The TC’s plate starts to shine at faster paces and I think here, you start to see some benefits of a well-executed shorter slightly flexible plate and ride, where the TC seems to keep you rolling through even on tired legs. There is a huge price difference here (TC retails at US$200) and you can rightly expect the TC to perform better. Whether it performs twice as well, is up for debate.

Skechers MaxRoad 5 (RTR Review)

Derek: The Skechers MaxRoad 5 saw an upgrade from version 4 with the addition of a H plate to the mid-foot to improve its responsiveness through toe-off. It is a very fun shoe, and the underfoot ride is a somewhat denser type of springiness compared to what you can expect from the Atlas. For people who don’t really want a super soft underfoot ride, I think the MaxRoad 5 is a better option, but for people who like the Nike Invincible but want something that is a little lower stack, and maybe breathes a bit better, then the Atlas is the better choice. 

Shop for the Atlas at Unpause's Facebook Shop HERE

Tester Profiles

Derek is in his 40’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:39 marathon PR from the 2022 Zurich Marathon. In his free time, he likes to review running shoes and related products at his blog Running Commentary.

Michael is a patent attorney and graduate of Northwestern University Law School. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). Michael’s PRs include a 67:43 half-marathon (Chicago Half-Marathon) and 2:22:18 marathon from the 2022 Chicago Marathon. Michael continues to race on the roads, and is chasing a sub-2:20 marathon and potential OTQ in the future.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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harris said...

Ok how do you get these?

吳孟澤醫師 Meng-Tse Wu, M.D.,Ph.D. said...

Very interesting ..thanks a lot...would love to see more reviews for other Asian brands like QiaoDan Feiying PB or Bmai

My Perfect Fit said...

Very well written article. It was an awesome article to read. Complete rich content and fully informative. I totally Loved it. Read more info about Mens Party Wear Shoes

Anonymous said...

where can i order these? it does not make any sense to market internationally cos they dont even ship anywhere :)