By Brian Metzler
Puma, a brand mostly known among runners for its sponsorship of legendary sprinter Usain Bolt, has come back strong in the distance running world over the past several years. Puma has started to reclaim the respect and popularity it had in the original running boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s been making shoes for distance running and trail running all along, but its crop of shoes during the Bolt era didn’t get the same high-level reviews as its elite racing spikes for sprinters.
That was then, this is now. With a deep commitment to elite distance runners like Molly Seidel, Aisha Praught-Leer, Sara Vaughn, Annie Frisbie, and Dakotah Lindwurm – plus an emerging professional training group led by Alistair and Amy Cragg in North Carolina – Puma is back to being a top-tier distance running brand with great shoes and gear to prove it.
Puma’s Deviate Nitro 2 is a terrific example of how far the brand has evolved from just two years ago when it reasserted its presence with authority by signing Seidel and helped her take home a bronze medal from the Tokyo Olympics. Its original line of shoes, focused on a proprietary Nitro midsole foam, has been updated and the Deviate Nitro 2 has become a best-in-class versatile trainer full of comfortable features and energetic pop. Combined with the successful launch of its Fast-R Nitro Elite carbon-plated racing shoe, it’s pretty clear the Big Cat (that’s what Puma calls itself) is back and ready to roar!
What’s New: The first edition of this shoe was pretty good, but it had some flaws – most notably an ill-fitting heel that allowed slippage for a lot of runners. Not only did Puma fix that (with more padding and a better heel shape), but it also improved several other areas of this shoe. The Deviate Nitro 2 retains the carbon composite propulsion PWRPLATE, but now it is sandwiched by a full-length layer of soft and hyper-responsive Nitro Elite foam and a layer of firmer standard Nitro foam in the heel for increased shock absorption. On top of that, Puma enhanced the fit with an engineered mesh upper that is both exquisitely comfortable and extremely secure.
Fit/Fee/Ride: The Deviate Nitro 2 fits true to size with a narrow interior volume in the heel and midfoot and a modest amount of wiggle room in the toe box. The step-in feeling is divine, especially with the way the thin but softly-padded gusseted tongue, premium sockliner and subtle support strap embedded in the medial side of the upper combine to wrap the foot and secure it to the midsole. The ride is a flowy combination of soft, bouncy, firm and energetic, and it’s that unique mix that gives it such a wide range of versatility. The Deviate Nitro 2 is also impressively stable. It’s definitely one of those shoes that inspires speed every time you lace it up. You’ll feel a spring in your step every time you put it on, but you’ll be more than content with the coziness it provides on slow recovery runs. It’s soft and smooth enough for long runs, lively and agile enough for tempo runs and longer interval sessions, and even responsive enough for race-pace efforts. (But probably not the ultimate choice for all-out racing. More on that below.)
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it does everything very, very well, which is helpful if you’re a one-shoe quiver kind of runner or traveling and only want to pack one pair of shoes. It compares favorably in that way to the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 as a shoe that can do anything you ask of it. I’ve worn it for more than a dozen runs since mid-February, ranging from a moderately paced 10-miler to a 5x1-mile session on the track to numerous easy recovery runs, and, honestly, I’ve liked it for all of them. It’s one of my favorite models among the crop of Spring 2023 shoes.
Puma Deviate Nitro 2
Weights: 7.8 oz. (women’s size 8), 9.2 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm (38.5mm in the heel, 30.5mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: If you’re looking for a shoe that can be a workhorse trainer, the Deviate Nitro 2 is a good once to consider. It covers the range of all types of training runs, it’s amazingly comfortable and it’s extremely durable too. I fully expect to continue running in this shoe beyond the 500-mile mark without retiring it to a lawn-mowing shoe. The combination of dynamic Nitro foams in the midsole seem like they could be infinitely vibrant with a much longer shelf life than the EVA-based foams in so many other shoes.
Pro: The PUMAGRIP ATR outsole rubber —which is segmented over about 70 percent of the bottom of the shoe—offers exceptional traction on wet and dry pavement and, so far, my wear-test pair has shown very little wear and tear on the rubber or exposed foam.
Con: Although it’s lighter than most daily trainers, it’s a tad heavier than some other performance trainers. That’s the downside of being a do-everything shoe. While it’s energetic for tempo runs and long intervals during training, it’s going to feel like too much shoe for all-out racing (especially compared to modern racing shoes that are 2 ounces lighter). But the good news is that you can rev it up when you need to, and it will definitely respond.