Words by James Holt
When seeing the distinctive silhouette of the Ultraboost, it has always meant you were in for a comfy ride.
Since the shoe’s inception, adidas has continually brought new manufacturing technology and design principles to the running world, setting it apart from the visually clunky, over-engineered shoes worn by runners new and old. In their latest model, the Ultraboost 20, adidas has kept this winning formula, with a sleek, modern shoe which offers performance backed with a healthy dose of style.
Whilst the shoe has seen strong adoption with runners, it is equally likely you’ll see it on the feet of a fashionista paired with some skinny jeans. I however, will be giving my thoughts as a short-wearing runner.
In February 2021 adidas released the all new UB21- read our adidas Ultraboost 21 review.
ADIDAS ULTRABOOST 20 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
From the moment you unclasp the unique, diagonally hinging box, to slipping them on, the Ultraboost 20’s deliver a great experience. They ooze quality - well made, with clean lines and no loose threads or misaligned graphics. A desirable product; which is what you come to expect from adidas.
The shoes fit well, true to size with no break-in period required - comfort right out of the box. This is an underappreciated benefit as I’m sure we’ve all experienced that pang of emotion when buyer’s remorse creeps into your head 10 minutes into your first run in a new pair of shoes... The constricting laces, the rub on your toe… none of that applied to the Ultraboost 20.
The Primeknit upper provides a snug, sock-like fit, removing any pressure points and allowing your foot to expand as your running heats up. This, coupled with Primeblue fabric - made from recycled plastic waste, provides your green credentials. Change from the Ultraboost 19, the ‘20 has reinforced knit round the edge of the forefoot which should brush off scuffs and keep the shoes looking fresher for longer.
HOW IS THE ULTRABOOST 20 FIT?
Whilst the heel of a shoe isn’t the easiest thing to market - I cannot stress how fantastic this heel counter is! Typically the heel is a line of stitching where the two halves of the shoe come together, but in the Ultraboost 20, it is made from a single piece of fabric which snuggles around your sensitive achilles to provide a perfect fit, without having to lock the laces tight.
On to the technicalities of the shoe, it has a 10mm drop (the height difference between the heel and the toe) which encourages you to push off quickly with each step and develop a strong forward lean as you pick up the pace. This midsole material is, as the shoe’s name suggests, made from Boost foam. The drop is exactly the same as the Ultraboost 19 but they’ve shaved off some of the Boost resulting in a more responsive ride.
IS THE ULTRABOOST GOOD FOR RUNNING?
My first run in the Ultraboost was 35 minutes easy. Typically when you run, your mind looks for distractions, mine often wanders to the shoes I’m wearing - analysing, nitpicking. Half way through my run I realised I hadn’t thought about what was on my feet. No issues, just a smooth ride. That’s what you want from a shoe.
After several more outings, my initial impressions were upheld. I mixed things up to really test the capabilities of the shoe - throwing in some grass, dirt tracks and tight turns. With the exception of some specialist trail running shoes these have to be some of the grippiest shoes I’ve worn - the Continental rubber outsole having no problem with the varied terrain. The way the outsole is constructed means adidas can offer all the benefits of hard rubber, without the weight penalty. The rubber is machined into a web, with empty areas, showing right through to the midsole. This advanced technique results in more flexibility, and less weight compared to an uninterrupted piece of rubber. This shoe will last hundreds of miles for sure.
Tight turns were handled with ease and the shoe provided a reassuring, stable platform which is a welcome break from the trend of thinner racing shoes which can only deal with straight lines. I cannot comment on wet weather performance yet as we are in the middle of a heatwave right now with blue skies and not a cloud in sight!
IS THE ADIDAS UB20 BREATHABLE?
That brings me on to my next point and main criticism of the shoe - heat. If your body is working hard, or it is 25 degrees outside the shoe struggles with breathability. Whilst the upper is incredibly flexible, it is too thick to allow air to cool your foot. This is a trade off between durability as I have run in shoes with thin knit uppers which offered more breathability, but were susceptible to cuts or fraying from a stone, twig, or sharp toenail! I have found this to be an issue with other adidas models, including the aptly named Solar Boost.
During later testing I donned my singlet and mixed in some faster paced intervals. The shoe coped well and the boost midsole was responsive, without sacrificing too much cushioning. (Leave that unforgiving ride for old-school racers, you only endure when going for a new PB). The comfort does come at the expense of weight. At 340g for a UK 9.5, lean it is not. I felt that extra weight at the end of longer intervals as my legs tired. Although there is less Boost in the ‘20 compared to the ‘19, the weights are almost identical, this is due to the more durable upper.
ADIDAS UB20 VERDICT
To summarise, when adidas struck their balance between speed, comfort, durability and weight - comfort and durability came out on top. From a running perspective I’d say it’s great for easy and recovery runs. Look elsewhere if you’re in the market for a tempo run or race shoe. However, taking an even broader perspective, this shoe is definitely an all rounder. A solid runner, clean aesthetic for casual wear, and with the grippy outsole - a perfect gym and HIIT shoe.
If you are new to running and want a forgiving shoe that will take you from your first 5K up to half marathons and beyond, I think the Ultraboost 20 will work well for you. For established runners, consider a pair for those easy or long runs where you want to prioritise comfort.
NEW ULTRABOOST 21 NOW LAUNCHED
In February 2021 adidas launched the Ultraboost 21. It represents a welcome return to form, with lots of performance improvements, with 6% more Boost, greater responsiveness and an updated upper. But the biggest difference is in the design; it is visually so much better than the UB20. We think it is the best Ultraboost update in years; runners will be happy with the tech updates, whilst those who wear them casually will be delighted with the new aesthetic. Read our adidas Ultraboost 21 review.