Adidas Ultra Boost 21 | $180 | Adidas
5% isn’t all that much. Maybe it’s enough to get you to print out a coupon that hits your inbox but it’s probably not the sort of number that’s going to get you rushing to a brick-and-mortar retail location if it’s for a storewide 5% markdown. Gym rats aren’t going to be all that impressed by a pre-workout supplement deemed 5% more effective than competitors by studies and a 5% grading curve in the right direction won’t do all that much to salvage a test you forgot to study for.
No, 5% isn’t much to write home about—unless you’re talking about the Adidas Ultra Boost 21.
The first Adidas Ultra Boost was perfect right out the gate. How could you improve it? Each year the brand seems to find a way, often tweaking the shoe slightly rather than rebuilding it from the ground up. Recent editions like the 19 and 20 have proven slightly starker departures from the original model but the latest refresh is the hardest swerve the line has taken yet.
The most notable upgrade is in the eponymous Boost material that has made the shoe such a revelation for all these years. The Ultra Boost 2021 features 5% more Boost material than any other edition in the line. It’s the rare instance in which a small percentage makes a big difference.
Boost is a cushy, bouncy sole material that also happens to be ultra-lightweight. These days it’s available in a wide variety of Adidas silhouettes and there’s a good chance you’ve had a chance to check out a shoe that features it. It’s in everything from basketball sneakers to Kanye West’s signature Yeezy line. But its origins remain in the running space—faint as that memory might be given the shoe’s legacy, but the Boost was originally developed as a next-generation tech for runners.
In that respect, the 2021 Ultra Boost might seem like a hard pivot from the shoe’s more recent explosion in the lifestyle space. These days you’re not nearly as likely to see classic Ultra Boost silhouettes on the feet of runners as you are paired with a big fit. The 21 looks to change that. That extra five percent of Boost foam comes in the shoe’s heel, which now has a maxed-out, almost bloated look. For mid- and heel-strikers, it provides a hefty boost (sorry) to your strikes and strides, cushioning your foot like a cloud. The upper is sturdy and breathable, making for a perfect all-around running shoe for those with a neutral stride.
You’d think that differentiation in size might lead to a shoe with an uneven track but that isn’t the case at all. The sole remains stable throughout the stride and keeps your foot locked in, giving runners balance and control in addition to that added boost. As an added bonus, the shoe is incredibly eco-friendly, with both the upper and lower made from recycled materials.
It might not work for everyone. If you tend to need a shoe with slightly firmer support the Ultra Boost 21 might not cut it for you. It’s cushy and bouncy as hell but definitely works best if you have a bit more of a neutral stride—pronators and supinators might want to take note here.
If there’s another point where the 21 falters it’s in the silhouette at large. One of the strongest points of the Ultra Boost line for years has been its ability to seamlessly transition between the running and lifestyle spaces. The 21 is a good-looking shoe, sure, but it’s not quite the versatile sneaker so many other installments in the line are. The Ultra Boost 21 is very much a running shoe. If you’re looking for something that works as well in the lifestyle space you may want to go back an incarnation or two.
It’s always exciting to see where Adidas takes the Ultra Boost line. While this year’s silhouette definitely sees the now-classic staple venture further into running territory than ever before, it’s far from a bad thing. If anything, the shoe is now a greater testament to Boost tech as it’s ever been—after all, if just 5% more Boost foam makes this much of a difference, the possibilities that the material presents in the sneaker world have only begun to be uncovered.