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Trail Running Shoes • June 21, 2023

Craft Nordlite Ultra Review: Road-to-Trail Rager

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What You Need To Know


9.3 oz. (265 g) for a US M8.5

8.1 oz. (230 g) for a US W7

Stack Height / Drop

Men: 40 mm in heel, 34 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)

Women: 38 mm in heel, 32 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)

Best For

Road-to-trail miles and non-technical terrain

Key Features

Cr Foam midsole, engineered mesh upper, three-piece rubber outsole

On The Run
Plenty of comfy Cr Foam cushion Flexible lug setup Still some questionable sizing


The Intro

MATT: Over the past couple of years of reviewing shoes, I’ve probably rooted harder for Craft than for any other brand. No, it’s not because I own a ton of stock in the company or that my Mom works there (although both seem like cool ideas); it’s because of the cool factor that the brand portrays. Let’s start with them having one of my idols, Tommy Rivs, as their poster boy, along with his brother Jacob. If you aren’t familiar with the Puzey brothers and Tommy’s story, fire up the ole Google machine and join the fan club.

Craft also has produced some of my favorite pieces of training apparel over the years, especially cold-weather gear. Their clothing has this perfect blend of style and function.

That eye for design is why I’ve become focused on their shoe models. When Craft entered the shoe market a few years back with the CTM Ultra, I was on board the hype train. Unfortunately, those early iterations fell really flat. The midsoles were super firm, and the ride wasn’t comfortable for me. Despite the poor performance, I would still admire the design and aesthetics of their shoes and retain an appreciation for them; I just really wished they would perform up to par with their competitors so I could justify running in them more.

As we got to preview their 2023 lineup, I started catching word that Craft had totally reworked its midsole foams and that things could look very different in the coming year. Once again, at first look, Craft was killing it in the cool category. The designs and colorways across the 2023 line looked amazing.

I practically begged Robbe to ensure that a pair of Nordlite Ultras made its way to my porch in Baltimore, and like the mustachioed genie that he is, he granted my wish.

Why the Nordlite Ultra? Well, another thing that Craft does that intrigues me is embracing Hybrid models that can work on a variety of surfaces, which really opens up the versatility of a shoe. Like the CTM Ultra, the Nordlite Ultra is a road-to-trail shoe. Where things get interesting is the Nordlite is also a max cushion model, reaching 40 mm of foam in the heel, and the midsole is a newly developed supercritical foam that claims to be soft, cushioned, and responsive.

To me, it sounded almost like a gravel version of the New Balance Super Comp Trainer, minus the carbon plate. That would be a lofty comparison if true, as the SC Trainer was probably my favorite all-around shoe of 2022.

It was time to lace up and find out.

The Good

MATT: So, as I mentioned above, I didn’t have a great track record with Craft shoes, and as much as I wanted to love the Nordlite Ultra, I was pretty cautious with my expectations. It only took me a few strides to let my guard down and get excited that this shoe was different, in a good way.

I talked about the cool factor with Craft shoes, and the Nordlite Ultra backs that up with what I would call a very clean and crisp design that uses the large surface space of the white midsole to serve as an accent to the orange upper. The two colors play really well off each other and are only interrupted by the simple Craft logo on the side. It finds a way to look very simple and clean while also having a distinct look that made a few runners ask me what was on my feet.

Craft has been producing some really nice and light uppers on their shoes, and that trend continues here with a one-piece engineered mesh. The fit is very comfortable, but to ensure the necessary security and lock-in, there is a microfiber arch across the midfoot, as well as extra padding in the heel collar. These are subtle features, but they add a ton of value without over-engineering the design and adding a bunch of weight.

The toe box has plenty of room, and I did not have to crank down or mess with the laces in order to get a really snug and secure fit.

Where the Nordlite Ultra really shines is in the midsole. This had been the downfall of Craft’s past models, but the newly developed Cr Foam is a thing of beauty. The new foam is a nitrogen-infused supercritical EVA foam that promises high performance with a green approach.

The foam (and we get a beefy 40 mm pile in the heel) is lightweight and combines a soft and cushioned ride while still providing an energy rebound through your stride. Personally, this is close to the ideal blend of midsole performance right now. The durometer is not quite as soft as the New Balance Fuel Cell in the SC Trainer, but it’s probably closest compared to that or the FlyteFoam Blast+ found in the Asics Trabuco Max.

This is all topped (or rather, bottomed) off with Craft’s proprietary 3-piece lugged outsole rubber. The lugs on the shoe are pretty minimal, but there’s enough grip and traction there to make the Nordlite Ultra capable of handling groomed singletrack, gravel roads, or dirt paths with no issues. The lug depth is comparable to what you would find on shoes like the Norda 001 or the Hoka Tecton X 2, which are both really, really top-notch hybrid trail models.

I took the Nordlite Ultra out on a variety of runs that include a road-to-trail, mixed terrain long run, a trail run on mostly singletrack, and a couple of pure road runs. What was really nice was that in none of those settings did I feel as if the shoe held me back. The grip and stability were enough to keep me rolling and upright through the woods, and it was also peppy enough on black top to make me feel like I could push the pace if I wanted to. At 10.5 oz, it’s not a road race shoe or speed work choice, but you could totally do your long road run on Saturday in it and then hit the trailhead on Sunday.

The Nordlite Ultra would be a great travel shoe for that reason.

Shop Craft Running Shoes - Men Shop Craft Running Shoes - Women

The Bad

MATT: While I was overwhelmingly impressed with the Nordlite Ultra, the shoe has some flaws. First, and this is more about expectations meeting reality; this is a gravel shoe. Craft pro runner David Laney best described the Nordlite as the Subaru Outback of shoes, which I found a pretty accurate description. You wouldn’t take your Outback 4-wheeling through extreme off-road conditions, but if Waze directs you through a rough unpaved road, you wouldn’t hesitate. Nor would you stress when all the parking spaces are filled at your kid’s soccer game; you’d throw that thing into AWD and hop the curb and make a spot on the grass next to the Range Rover.

Now, David Laney also used a prototype of the Nordlite Ultra to race UTMB last year, but I wouldn’t recommend that for the rest of us. Technical or rocky and rooty trails could pose problems for this shoe, as the lug depth is not enough to handle soft or muddy conditions, and there is little in the way of protection so that first rock you boot is going to have you coming home down a toenail or two.

The other gripe I had, and this has been universally the case with Craft shoes, is that the sizing always feels a bit long, to the point that it’s tough to decide if you should stay true to size or size down a half-size, it’s kind of in this no man’s land in between.

Shop Craft Running Shoes - Men Shop Craft Running Shoes - Women

Craft Nordlite Ultra Conclusion

MATT: Overall, Craft really won me over with the Nordlite Ultra. I’m really excited to see if this progression in design and midsole foam will continue to mature and extend across their other models.

The road-to-trail concept has been a popular theme over the past two years, and for me, it’s a really practical concept. I think the Nordlite nails it and can hang with other great shoes in that space, like the Norda 001. The main driver behind getting value out of this shoe is understanding what it’s designed to do and not getting upset when it can’t do things outside of that box.

This is NOT a true trail shoe. You shouldn’t be buying this as a trail workhorse to rack up the miles and protect you through technical terrain. If placed on a road-to-trail scale, the shoe would fall much closer to the road end of the spectrum. The Nordlite Ultra is a Swiss army knife, or, as David Laney said, a Subaru Outback. This is the perfect shoe to pack when traveling, as you’ll be able to cover a variety of terrains with just one pair of shoes.

I really enjoyed the ride, and thanks to its versatility, I predict I’ll be racking up a lot more miles on the Nordlite Ultra over the summer.

You can pick up the Craft Nordlite Ultra for $159 this summer at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

Shop Craft Running Shoes - Men Shop Craft Running Shoes - Women

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Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Mark David Buley says:

    Matt, you spelled wanted incorrectly in “the good” section

  2. steffe says:

    Anyone who says the first versions of CTM Ultra were “super firm” has completely lost his sense of perspective. That´s a ridiculous statement. Sure, they are firmer than many of todays´horrible, marshmallow shoes like invincible Run.

  3. Ricky Simo says:

    Agreed, they were moderate/moderate+ cushioned. Also I don’t really agree with the sizing thing though my sample size is small. I’ve owned four different Craft models and never once entertained sizing down. In the Tommy Rivas model I loved the way the tooling felt, so quick, but my toes banged against the edge. I had to go up half a size, which resolved the issue but gave me a slightly sloppier fit. But had I go down half a size? Severe pain

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Matt Kucharski
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
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Matt is a recovering triathlete who fell in love with running and left the dark side behind. Trail and ultra running are where he is most in his element, but he can still be found routinely running the streets in and around Baltimore with the Faster Bastards. Aside from running, he is a lover of coffee, mezcal, beer, and 90s country music.

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