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Craft CTM Ultra 2: A Top-Tier Crossover “Gravel Running” Shoe

By Brian Metzler

Craft only came to market with its running shoes a year ago, but it’s already making waves in the hybrid, door-to-trail category. The newly updated CTM Ultra 2 is an extremely versatile do-everything shoe with the lightweight, cushy flow of a road runner and the reliable traction of a moderate trail runner.

“It’s kind of like a gravel bike hybrid of a running shoe,” says David Laney, a member of the Craft Elite Run Team and the brand’s footwear development team. “Every run I do starts out with about a mile on the road. Then I’m on a dirt road and then I’m on a trail. And I think that’s the norm for most people. Unless you’re living in the middle of a big city like Chicago, you’re probably running a little bit of everything.”

Proving it’s a shoe that’s capable of almost any surface, Laney wore the CTM Ultra 2 en route to winning the Gorge Waterfalls 100K race on April 2 near Hood River, Oregon. That’s a course that included about 10 miles of pavement, 20 miles of technical trail and about 30 miles of smooth, dirt singletrack, along with plenty of sloppy, muddy sections, too.

I’m not an elite runner like Laney, but I run on a variety of surfaces on the majority of my runs and have found it deliciously vibrant on roads, but also surprisingly stable and secure on trails. (Note: Craft’s CTM Ultra Carbon 2 is a similar but slightly less versatile model with a carbon-fiber propulsion plate embedded in the midsole and a $250 price tag.)

Why It’s Great: The CTM Ultra 2 is a light, cushy, energetic and agile performance trainer that combines features of both high-end road running shoes and durable race-ready trail runners. Craft combined a moderately soft, responsive and robust midsole and a durable, three-piece rubber outsole to make this adaptable marvel. The traction from the low-profile lugs is adept for both moderately rocky and dirt routes, but it doesn’t produce a clunky feeling on roads or smooth trails. (It’s better on dry surfaces than it is on wet, slippery terrain.) It’s topped off with a featherweight, one-piece engineered mesh upper that’s thin, supple, breathable and moderately supportive.

Fit-Feel-Ride: The CTM Ultra 2 has a generous, medium-volume fit, with a locked-down heel (despite a very pliable heel cup that lacks any support) and a slightly roomy midfoot and toe box. The ride is smooth and secure on harder surfaces with a mild bouncy sensation as the foot rolls toward the toe-off phase of a stride. A thick, high-rebound TPU insole creates a comfortable platform and adds to the responsive sensation in every stride, while the ride is also enhanced by a beveled heel and moderate rocker geometry.

What’s New: The biggest change from last year’s original edition of the CTM Ultra is a slightly softer, more responsive and flexible midsole composed of Craft’s Ud Foam Pro ultralight EVA-based material. It feels neither mushy nor hyper-responsive, but instead it has an ideal mix of softness, sturdiness and energy return. It also has a slightly wider footprint than the original, which adds to the stability on both roads and trails.

Why You’ll Love It: The versatility of the CTM Ultra 2 is nearly unparalleled. If you’re a trail runner who often starts a long run with a section of paved roads or bike paths before transitioning to the trails, this is a great tool of choice. If you’re a marathoner who likes to combine pavement, concrete bike paths, gravel roads and dirt trails during a 20-mile long run, this is an ideal shoe to consider. It’s well-equipped for speedy trail running on smooth to moderately technical terrain and exceptionally capable for hill repeats, fartlek workouts and tempo runs on any surface.

Weights: 10mm heel-toe drop (40mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot);

Weights: 6.8 oz. (women’s 8), 9.3 oz. (men’s 9)

Pro: If you want only one training shoe in your quiver, this can certainly be it. It’s a shoe you can lace up and not have to worry about what kind of terrain you’ll encounter. In addition to being light and versatile, it doesn’t inhibit the natural movements of your feet.

Con: As with most hybrid road-to-trail shoes, the CTM Ultra 2 isn’t built for especially rugged routes or all-out road running. In other words, it can’t compare to a carbon-plated road running shoe or a burly mountain runner. (On extremely technical, rocky routes, the CTM Ultra 2 lacks sufficient sidewall and toe box protection and it doesn’t offer exceptional lateral stability because of the absence of supportive structure in the upper.) But the beauty of this shoe is that it runs very well on most surfaces and it can hold its own on short sections of rocky trail or cruise at marathon pace for a few miles along a bike path if you really need it to.


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