Need for Speed: Football boot edition
After years of simply conceding the title of “Best Speed Boot” to Nike, their competitor brands seemingly felt the need for speed in 2020. Where they had previously gone for a light enough boot that was more well-rounded, both adidas and Puma brought their A game to the table this year, releasing super lightweight speed boots that were sub 200g with unique features to help players become the fastest version of themselves on the pitch.
Not only was there a clear nod towards the weight of the boots, we also saw the return of razor thin, barefoot uppers – a throwback to the 2010 era of speed boots where the adizero, Nike Mercurial Vapor and Puma evoSPEED all competed for the crown.
We flag off the 2020 speed race by putting the three premier speed boots to the test – the Nike Mercurial Vapor 13 Elite, adidas X Ghosted .1 and the Puma Ultra 1.1.
Speed boot concepts – Infused knit vs traditional synthetics
Since its ground-breaking appearance at the 2014 World Cup, knit has come a long way. Today, it’s become a near necessity for every brand to have at least one knit silo, partly for performance, and partly to appeal to modern trends.
It should come as no surprise that the Nike, the pioneers of knit, have built their marquee speed boot around knit, focusing on giving maximum lockdown and responsiveness for bursting out of the blocks. Nike have infused their knit with what they call high tenacity yarns, which further tightens and locks when it comes under intense forces from players twisting and turning. The anatomical soleplate further enhances this locked in sensation as it wraps around your sole.
Puma have gone with a similar concept, utilising an exciting mix of carbon and aramid fibers which are extremely durable, strong and light to construct its MATRYXEVO upper. Puma are confident enough in the durability of the MATRYXEVO upper to only cover the toe area of the boot with a light layer of silicon for protection, leaving the raw knit fibres to stand up to the rigours of the game. The Nanogrip enhanced insole prevents slippage inside the boot, while the super light soleplate gives you that barefoot run feel.
adidas surprised everyone this year, eschewing knit altogether for an old school synthetic upper that’s reminiscent of the old speed king – the adizero. Called Fluroskin, the translucent upper is made up of several pressed layers reinforced by a small number of fibres throughout the boot. The new Speedframe has also been enhanced with bladed studs for better bite when pushing off, and of course – that CARBITEX spine, which gives the boot and extra responsive feel as it forces your feet back into the optimum sprinting position as you land.
A wide range of comfort and fit
If you’ve tried speed boots from years ago, you’d assume these boots were made for athletes blessed with narrow feet. That’s no longer a universal truth, and all three boots have their own quirks when it comes to fit.
If you’ve steadfastly avoided the Mercurial after hearing horror stories about its extensive break in period, this is the perfect time to experience a Mercurial as this Mercurial Vapor breaks the mould as a boot that is more accommodating. The fit of the Mercurial Vapor is near perfect for most players, fitting snugly in the right areas, while the knit allows for the boot to expand and accommodate for most foot shapes. Go true to size, or even half a size down for a very true one-to-one fit.
The X Ghosted on the other hand fits much narrower than the other boots on this list. The X Ghosted gave me some blisters on my last toe, something that never happened with its wider predecessor, the X19.1. What the Fluroskin does provide, is that futuristic vacuum-like fit. Narrow-footed friends, go half size down, while wider footed friends should go true to size or…
… They should look at the Puma Ultra instead. The Puma Ultra is a surprisingly high volume speed boot despite its weight, which means that players with wide feet will absolutely love how this fits on them. As a wide footed player, I loved how perfectly the Ultra fit me, with near zero break in time required. Sizing wise, the Ultra fits long, so go down at least half a size, while narrow-footed friends should go a full size down.
Thin margins on the uppers
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that all three boots give you that razor thin, one-to-one barefoot sensation. Even then, they all feel different thanks to their construction.
Surprisingly, the Mercurial Vapor has the thickest upper of all three boots, though not by much. That’s because Nike have gone with a much thicker weave and coating for added durability.
While the Mercurial Vapor doesn’t feel as barefoot as the rest, it’s my favourite among the three, as it hits that sweet spot of having just the right amount of thinness. There’s just enough knit to take away the sting when you’re arrowing your shots into the top corner, yet thin enough to give you that satisfying foot to ball energy transfer for that nice pingy sensation. Top marks and my personal contender for G.O.A.T.
Conversely, the X Ghosted has the most minimal upper among the speed boots we’re comparing. The Fluroskin is an incredible engineering marvel. Despite being super thin, it’s still very responsive. On feet, you feel every touch, every shot as well as every tackle that you make with it. One small criticism I have of the boot is that the upper feels slightly plasticky and slick, which becomes a bit of an issue in wet weather as the ball has a tendency to slip away.
Apart from that, the X Ghosted will definitely please those of you who’ve been clamouring for a return to the super thin adizero.
The Ultra comes in between both the X Ghosted.1 and Mercurial Vapor in terms of thickness thanks to Puma adding in a very thin layer of foam into the upper. As you would expect from the thin upper, you also get a very barefoot touch on the ball, but with the added benefit of the foam ever so slightly helping with your touch and offering just the tiniest bit more protection.
As the lightest boot among the three, you do forget that the Ultra is on your feet from time to time.
Soleplate and traction
The soleplate is one category that Nike have dominated for some time, but adidas and Puma have also stepped up their game in 2020 to deliver strong contenders.
Thanks to its futuristic anatomical soleplate and the super aggressive chevron studs that give you the ultimate traction when pushing off for those sprints, the Superfly 7 remains king when it comes to straight line sprints. The addition of the Aerowtrac stiffener in the forefoot only adds to that springy sensation when taking off.
For those of you who play on AG, do go for the AG-Pro soleplate because the FG studs are just too aggressive for the harsher, shallow AG surfaces.
Unfortunately, the X Ghosted no longer has an FG/AG soleplate like the X19.1 did. Instead, it now has a more bladed stud pattern that provides more bite when pushing off.
The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly that claw shaped CARBITEX spine which puts the X Ghosted right up there as the most responsive soleplate in the market. You absolutely feel the energy return from the soleplate propelling you forward once your foot comes back in contact with the ground. Major props to adidas for not only bringing carbon fibre back, but to implement it in an effective way.
The Puma Ultra soleplate has a simple claim to fame, being the lightest soleplate among the three. Apart from that, it’s a very basic soleplate, complete with your usual stiffening elements in the spine as well as chevron studs. Surprisingly though, the chevron studs aren’t as aggressive as I expected though the boot performed well on both FG and AG. It’s nothing special, but it’s light and it works well.
Lionel, Cristiano and Neymar – a tale of three speed boots
An interesting analogy hit me as I thought about the best way to rank the three boots for everyone. Enter Messers Lionel, Cristiano and Neymar.
The Lionel Messi of speed boots
Nike Mercurial Vapor XIII Elite
Like Messi, I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the excellence that is the Mercurial. No boot is or will ever be perfect, but like Messi, the Mercurial Vapor consistently performs at a 9/10 in several areas, be it fit, traction, touch and even comfort. A true masterpiece from Nike.
The Cristiano Ronaldo of speed boots
adidas X Ghosted .1 FG
Like Cristiano Ronaldo, whose single-minded focus on goal scoring has put him in the conversation for G.O.A.T, the X Ghosted.1 emphasis on giving the most responsive sprint possible puts it into the conversation of best speed boot. The outstanding CARBITEX Speedframe and super thin Fluroskin upper come together to form an incredibly explosive and powerful package, much like the Portuguese superstar himself.
The Neymar of speed boots
PUMA Ultra 1.1
Much like Neymar and his polarising effect on football fans, the Ultra 1.1’s fit means that you either love it or hate it. Narrow-footed friends will probably criticise it for not providing sufficient lockdown which in turn impacts the responsiveness of the boot.
On the other hand, wide-footed players will likely find the Ultra 1.1 to be not just the best speed boot, but one of the best boots available in the market thanks to how thin, light and well-fitting it is.