words // Zac Dubasik
On paper, the Air Max 360 BB Low didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I get that low-tops are in favor right now, and still gaining momentum. I reasoned though that players who want maximum protection, want maximum protection. Which means that if you want a shoe with full-length Air Max, you’d probably want a fully padded upper and collar to complement it. While there are exceptions, Max Air has traditionally been more of a technology for big men – as is a high-cut collar. Times are changing though, and today’s big men are more concerned than ever with mobility, and the sight of a 5 on an NBA court in a low-top is no longer taboo.
The cut of the Air Max 360 Low is that of a true low-top, and offers excellent range of motion. The collar doesn’t have the refined padding like that found in the Zoom Kobe line, but it is molded enough that lockdown isn’t a problem. The upper is made up of a first-generation Flywire, which means it’s much less pliable and breathable than what’s currently being used on shoes like the Hyperdunk 2011. It’s a comfortable shoe, but the shape is a step or two behind the more advanced iterations we’ve seen on most recent shoes utilizing Flywire. When tightly laced though, the upper of the 360 BB is stable, relatively light, and help to keep my foot over the footbed.
If you’ve played in the Air Max LeBron VII, LeBron 8, or last year’s Max Hyperdunk, you’re familiar with Nike’s latest full-length Max bag. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the extra-premium sockliner like that found in the LeBron 8 – which is where the majority of that shoe’s comfort came from.) My favorite aspect of the bag is the impressive radius of the heel, which is not normally a strong suit for heel Max. The squared off base of most Max Air shoes can often lead to a slappy transition, but this evolved unit makes major strides in the right direction in that department. But even with that heel radius, transition is merely decent. The giant Air bag just doesn’t flex as much as a shoe with a traditional midsole, which also leads directly to not-so-great court feel. Impact protection, not surprisingly, is exceptional in the heel. Like I’ve found on all of the previous shoes using this bag though, the forefoot is just too firm.
Unlike the other shoes I’ve played in featuring full-length Air, the shoe, overall, felt a bit more nimble thanks to the low cut. Traction however is just OK. I always say that if you do nothing more than throw lots of rubber herringbone on an outsole, at the very least you’ll end up with 4/5 on our traction scoring scale. And that’s exactly what happens here. It’s disappointing for a shoe with this much herringbone, which is not actually bad – just not as good as it could have been. You’ll need to swipe more often than you like on a dusty court, but will find reliable footing as long as you keep the shoe’s outsole relatively clean.
At 16 ounces, the weight of the Air Max 360 BB Low isn’t anything to brag about when compared to today’s standards, but it plays noticeably lighter than the other shoes to use this Air unit – even the LeBron 8 V2, which only weighs 15.6 ounces. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a better shoe – the aforementioned sockliner, along with the shape and design of the 8’s upper are much more advanced – but I did enjoy playing in the 360 BB Low just as much. Overall, it’s less protective, but I found it to be a much more mobile shoe.
That said, I think the Air Max 360 BB Low is ideally more suited to a big that likes a low-top, rather than a guard who wants extra impact protection. Zoom Air and even simple EVA can provide a totally adequate level of cushioning for most smaller players, without compromising the court feel and transition like the 360 BB Low does. If you’re looking for a casual shoe that you can also play in, or for the low-top loving big man, it’s a shoe worth checking out.
best for: Players who like Nike’s Air Max 360 bag, but prefer a low-top.
key tech: Full-length Max Air, Flywire incorporated into upper
pros: impact protection, better range of motion than high-tops utilizing this Air unit
cons: lack of court feel inherent with full-length Max Air
improvements: utilize more advanced Flywire uppers which are already available
buying advice: It may have just been my low expectations, but the Air Max 360 BB Low turned out to be a pleasant surprise. While I wouldn’t choose it as my first option, if you are looking for a casual shoe that you can also play in, or love full-length Max but prefer a low-top, this is a shoe worth checking out.
Available now: Nike Air Max 360 BB Low
words // Sara Accettura
photography // Zac Dubasik
Merrell’s new line of barefoot running shoes combines the best of both a minimalist shoe and a heavy-duty outsole that can hold its own on both street and trail running. As someone who has enjoyed minimalist running shoes for a few years now, I have been lucky enough to try out a handful of these types of shoes, and Merrell is definitely one of my favorites. Not only was it super light, but it was extremely flexible and durable. Whenever I had these shoes on, I forgot that I had anything on at all, but at the same time, I felt like my feet were protected while running in a variety of environments. It was an overall great experience.
The first time I saw the Pace Gloves in the box, my thought was: They’re really cute. When I picked them up, I was in shock. Even with a heavy-duty Vibram outsole, these shoes were light, extremely light, weighing in at a mere 4.7 ounces. But, I’d have to say, looks are deceiving, because they really do appear to look like any regular shoe. Only, they’re not. After interviewing Hy Rosario, Vice President of Men’s Product Development, I learned that everything was a deliberate choice all pushing towards the end goal of making these shoes as minimal as possible. So far, I think they’ve done an amazing job.
Rosario summed up the inspiration behind all of the barefoot line by saying that it’s, “a manifestation of that idea of less is more.” And in the technology of the shoe, that is the guiding force you will notice. There isn’t a whole lot to these shoes, but what is there is deliberate and has a functional purpose. A good example of that is the toe bumper, which is fused onto the extremely breathable, ultra-light microfiber and air mesh upper. The toe bumper is actually one of my favorite parts of this shoe, because it almost looks like a styling element, but it’s really there to give a little bit more protection, and I found that it also serves to generally keep some small stuff out of the shoes (such as dust and small debris). Another of my favorite parts of the Pace Glove was the Omni-Fit lacing system secured with welded TPU. Not only do you have your heavy-duty laces, but the top two eyelets are connected via horizontal strips that are stitched to the tongue. These strips then extend out of the first two eyelets, where the laces are threaded through them. This allows you to tighten your laces for a secure fit, but it also serves the purpose of holding the tongue in place as well. The heel is as minimal as it gets as there is no heel counter, only a synthetic leather foot sling with an elastic band at the top to also insure a secure fit. This setup offers a very close, almost a glove-like fit around the heel and midfoot as nothing is shifting around, which means there’s no chafing. For the outsole, Merrell teamed up with Vibram, which has yielded a flexible, durable, custom outsole. While you can see traces of similarities to Vibram’s FiveFingers in this outsole, the toes are fused, which is one major distinction between the shoes.
Inside of the shoe is just as impressive; the footbed is non-removable (and thankfully treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution that resists odor) and there is no insole/sockliner. While there is no insole, there is a 4mm compression molded EVA midsole and 1 mm forefoot shock absorption plate to help protect the foot by distributing pressure. But, these shoes still maintain a zero drop, which basically means that there is no difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot. So, while you can feel a very, very tiny bit of cushion in the midsole, it is extremely thin and doesn’t disturb how in-tune to the ground you will feel. I know people interested in the barefoot experience might not be thrilled to hear about this cushioning, but truth be told, when I have the shoes on, I can’t really detect cushioning. So, I put a Vibram FiveFingers on my left foot and the Pace Glove on my right and ran around a little bit to see if I could tell a difference, and while running, if I concentrated really hard, I could feel a slight cushioning in the Pace Glove. But, let me emphasize slight, because it isn’t the springy, pillowy feel of a traditional shoe or even of lightweight shoes. This is such a small difference that I had to really pay attention to even feel it.
I think part of the reason I love barefoot running so much is because I like to be barefoot as much as possible in my normal day. I go without shoes as often as I can, and if I have to have shoes, I hope I don’t need to wear socks. I also don’t want running to be something I have to prepare for. With two very busy kids, I don’t have a lot of time to myself, so when I have the time to squeeze in a run, I’m out. If I have to take time to get ready, I run the risk of hearing a kid yell, “Mom!” I’ve got to get out of the house before that happens. Or if I’m traveling, I want to be able to pack a pair of shoes that doesn’t take up as much space as my clothing. These shoes are amazing because they are so flexible, they can be packed into small pockets in my luggage, but they have everything I need: they protect my feet, and they fit well sans socks. So, I did wear socks the first time I ran in the Pace Gloves, and all went great. They felt wonderful, and I decided to ditch the socks and see how things went then. Thankfully, I had no problems; I didn’t come across any hot spots or areas of rubbing. The inside of the shoe has a thin layer covering all stitching that could cause irritation. I think the fact that I didn’t experience any chafing also had a lot to do with the secure fit around my heel and midfoot, because the toe box had ample room, even for my wide feet. So while the lacing system kept the shoe in place, my forefoot had enough room to spread out and provide maximum contact with the ground. I’ve read some reference to rubbing in the heel portion, but I did not have any issues whatsoever there. I have a more narrow heel, and that could be part of the reason. But, the materials overall are very soft and breathable.
These shoes not only look durable, but they have held up extremely well for messy trail runs and runs in the rain. Merrell is a trusted name in outdoor shoes, so I really didn’t expect anything less, and partnering with Vibram, a trusted name in outsoles, only solidifies my confidence that I will be wearing these shoes for a long time to come. During the many miles I ran in this shoe, other than getting dirty, these shoes did not show any other visible signs of wear. I know these shoes were mainly created for trail running, but I tested them on a variety of surfaces, and I was amazed to see how well they held up. So, aside from getting a little dirty (my own doing), the shoes look just like new. And the best part is they can even be washed and air dried.
I would strongly recommend these shoes to anyone who is interested in trying out minimalist shoes or anyone who is a minimalist shoe enthusiast. In fact, I was gushing about these shoes to my neighbor who had no experience with minimalist shoes, and she ended up purchasing a pair in pink (they are absolutely adorable), and she loves them. (Although, if you’re new to barefoot running, be sure to take it slowly; check out more information on barefoot running in the Athletic Resource Center.) I would give this shoe an A overall. What would I change? I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while now, and I can’t think of anything major. All I can think of is lose the laces, but I don’t want that to compromise the amazing fit of the shoe. I love these shoes and strongly recommend them for runners or active people looking for a more minimalist shoe.
Heel foot sling with elastic.
words // Matt Krueger
After playing soccer for 13 years, I must say I’ve gone through a fair amount of cleats – from my first pair of cheap, off-brand, all-black boots that my parents chose, to my first pair of super lightweight adidas F50 adiZero firm grounds, the newest era of soccer design and play. But, as long as the fit is right, I’ve learned to adapt to play in anything that is thrown my way. Does that mean I don’t have favorites? Definitely not, but given the chance to try some new boots is always exciting, especially the new design of a cleat I’ve worn in the past. So when asked to test out the newest Nike Total 90 Strike III FG after having already worn the initially made Nike Air Zoom Total 90 II and III FGs, I couldn’t wait to get on the field and check out the new features.
After opening the box, my first thought was, “This is a great-looking cleat!” Its sleek design in the metallic Grey/Volt colorway definitely set the shoe off. I took specific interest in the Shot Shield technology, which reminded me of the past adidas Predator(s) and the power swerve technology. However, the Shot Shield seemed to emphasize power rather than ball curve. The studs looked very aggressive, as if Nike put much thought into minimizing slippage. I had two initial concerns: weight at 11.4 ounces (which doesn’t count added weight from when they’re wet) and breathability due to the thickness of the performance-grade leather.
Before I make this statement, I want to make known that I rarely ever get blisters from new boots, which is something I know many players have a huge problem with. However, talk about a shoe that is ready to go immediately right out of the box with minimal break-in necessary. This may change if you are a player that buys a half size smaller and then needs the break in to stretch the leather for maximum comfort and touch on ball. I felt no discomfort or rubbing in the main areas (balls of feet, Achilles, or heel) where blisters usually occur thanks to the snug fit of the molded EVA sockliner throughout the boot. I will say the toe box was a bit narrow, but still comfortable for my liking.
As I mentioned earlier, breathability was a main concern for me. I normally stick to thinner premium-grade (Total 90 Laser) or Kangaroo leather compared to the performance-grade (Total 90 Strike). For me, the cleats were quite warm and didn’t breath as well as I would have liked, which I attributed to the thickness of the performance-grade leather.
As far as first touch and ball control, I’m one that likes to be able to feel the ball with my toes as if there is no barrier between foot and ball. Although I was able to feel the ball fairly well, the thicker leather still restricted me from full touch.
Outsole and Studs
The structure of the cleat box is built extremely well and designed for maximum traction in all weather conditions. Two central, perpendicular cleats in the forefoot allow for quick stop and start at any turns. With a cleat system structured similarly to a soft ground cleat along with the comfort of wearing firm grounds, Nike did great work with the TPU outsole in minimizing slippage and maximizing grip.
Power Swerve & Shot Shield
The idea behind this design is to create a natural spin on the ball without much effort while creating more power through the addition of the rubber “pads” located on the instep. Some say myth, some say fact on the idea. I, for one, believe both designs do have some effect, especially since I am not a strong shooter. The elite athlete can bend and shoot the ball well in any shoe. So, is the design necessary? Maybe not, but it definitely doesn’t hurt and certainly only adds to this already great looking boot.
“Nike just isn’t soccer . . .” – This was the previous consensus of the soccer world. I believe the opinion has changed as Nike is determined to appeal to the minds of the growing United States soccer audience and global soccer markets in general. Overall, I rate the Nike Total 90 Strike III FG a B. This boot is structurally sound, well built, and has a creative design that turns heads. For the decent price of $99.99, the Total 90 Strike will not fail those wanting to play their game through a full 90 minutes, and if need be, finish their opponent in extra stoppage time.
Available now: Nike Total 90 Strike III FG
words // Taylor Scharfenberg
I started playing soccer at the age of five. We’re talking 1993: the age of orange cones for a little goal, reversible YMCA jerseys and a choice in cleat color consisting of black or black. Fast forward to 2006 and I’m into my last season of varsity soccer, wearing the original Nike Mercurial Vapors like I did all through high school. That’s right, four years in the same boot. The heels are torn out, the studs are worn down by over half and the upper is pulling away from the outsole. But I was so attached to them (and superstitious) that I just couldn’t imagine playing in anything else.
Now in the new age of soccer, I work with some of the most surprising colors and technical advancements every single day. It’s incredible to me how much has changed in the five years since I left high school. Now it’s a waste to not check out the new styles (and colors), even if it means uncharted territory. For me, that’s adidas.
My indoor shoes are adidas, but my firm ground cleats have always been Nike. So welcome to my first experience. adidas has held a solid portion of the soccer cleat market for quite a while. I haven’t seen a match this year in which I couldn’t pick out at least one player in the new F50. But for the non-professionals out there who operate on a budget, I gave the F30 a go around the field.
Opening the box was an immediate thrill. Soccer fans love to talk about the look of cleats and these do not disappoint. After much consideration, I finally settled on the women’s Deepest Purple/White/Fresh Splash colorway. The white on the tongue and heel has an iridescent sheen to it that I can’t get enough of. They were glossy and smooth and just calling to be worn.
From the beginning, you notice the lack of weight. Lightweight is a big word for soccer these days, and adidas is right along with the other top brands. The F50 model weighs in at about 5.8 ounces. The F30 is marked at 9.4 ounces, but the way it fits your foot keeps you from feeling any weight at all. The best part, and what every player loves to hear, is that break-in time was essentially non-existent. I put them on, laced them up and was ready to go. I didn’t have any problems with blisters or discomfort.
Probably the most obvious design feature is the asymmetrical laces, which leave a pretty large kicking surface on the inner forefoot. I thought it had a great touch, and I felt like I had the freedom I needed to really aim. That extra space made it easier to get a little curve on my shots. There’s a little less protection over the top than I would have expected, but I didn’t miss it. At least for my preference, it was just the right amount of protection without eliminating my feel for the ball. Plus, the glossy synthetic actually has a little texture built into it, so it’s less slick than it looks.
I’m slightly concerned about the possibility of the upper peeling away from the outsole plate, maybe because I can see some of the glue around the seam. Nothing dramatic yet, just a concern. The synthetic is very easy to clean, however. I was glad I was able to keep this pair looking nice a little longer. Call it delaying the inevitable, but I’m just not ready to loose that pearly white yet.
The synthetic by nature doesn’t breathe very well, which becomes a little hot during the summer. But on the flip side, spring seasons for girls are often freezing, and that insulation would have been welcome during the games where there was actually snow on the ground. While the material doesn’t let much air in, it also keeps moisture out. I played in some damp grass and didn’t have any problem with feeling like my socks were absorbing moisture, so that was a big plus.
All the linings of the F30 are treated with AgION® to prevent any bacteria growth and to keep them from developing odors. Cleats not stinking up my bag? Priceless.
The sockliner is über comfortable, tempting me to wear them barefoot on more than one occasion. For me, though, I had trouble with the sockliner allowing the cleat to slip off my heel a little. This may be a combination of outside issues like my particular foot shape or the socks I chose for these particular days, but it was distracting to say the least.
Outsole and Studs
The TPU plate had just the right amount of stiffness. I’m prone to ankle injuries and sore arches, so I don’t want a whole lot of movement or instability under me. There’s not much flex even getting up toward the toe, but I didn’t mind that.
The F30 has the same cleat configuration as the F50: four in the heel, three down each side of the forefoot and one in the middle just above the arch. From what I’ve seen, the number of studs is similar to, if not more than, most boots out there. But my biggest complaint with this shoe is it not having a stud in the middle of the forefoot. Getting that extra support right underneath the balls of the feet is necessary for me. I felt a little unstable, even while just running, and my plant foot really missed it during shots on goal.
On a positive note, the studs on the F30 are all a triangular bladed shape, which I loved. They made for great traction, even on damp grass. They’re designed to allow quick changes in direction without slipping. Mission accomplished on that point.
This is a pretty narrow shoe. Interesting for me since I inherited my mother’s feet that are so wide, they’re known in our family as “flippers.” But I’ll take the ostracism to give you this piece of information: Even with wide feet, I had very little problem with the fit, so don’t be scared off by how narrow they look. adidas recommends that you buy them a half-size larger than normal shoes. I ignored that advice (only after trying them on!) because I like a boot to fit like a sock. I wanted it to be tight and not leave much room above my toes. I ended up a half-size smaller than my normal shoe, and I think the narrowness actually helped give me the tight fit I prefer.
The negative here, and I’ll admit it may have been caused by my aforementioned flippers, was that I could not keep the laces tied. They’re a flat style, which is usually great, but they do have a slightly slick finish. My kicking foot needed to be retied every few minutes, which was frustrating. I ended up having to knot them pretty tightly, which was even more frustrating later when I tried to take them off.
As a step down from the F50, the weight is really the biggest difference, other than price. For a competitive player, the F30 should do just fine. I didn’t notice the extra weight, and the shoe felt great. I’m a forward and like many of adidas’ shoes lately, this is a great speed and striking shoe.
Overall, the athlete endorsements speak for themselves. It’s a great competitive shoe that’s hanging in my grade-school-nemesis-range: B+ to A-. The pros are the great feel and touch, which in this instance is not just a soccer cliché. They look great and are comfortable inside. You’re getting great traction with the cleat shape and solid support underneath. The lack of required break-in time makes this a great choice. The cons, though present, are mostly in the minor details. I found a little slip on the inside and had trouble keeping the laces tied. Mostly, I just really missed the middle forefoot cleat. It’ll take some getting used to.
Available now: adidas F30 TRX FG
words // Zac Dubasik
images // Nick DePaula
The Air Jordan 2011 was both luxurious and ambitious, offering perhaps the finest leather ever found on a hoops shoe, along with its interchangeable midsole system. It was also a solid performer, excelling in the cushioning, finishing and materials departments. But while it was very capable on court, it was expensive, and made a few sacrifices to performance to enhance its high-end feel. The Q Flight strips down much of that luxury, and brings pure performance based materials to the upper. “When you look at what the 2011 does,” begins the shoe’s designer, Tom Luedecke, “in terms of blending some leathers that are really, really high end, along with comfort and performance and a really hand-crafted construction, there’s a price point attached to that. Now, we know the shoe performed well, in terms of cutting, traction and there was a modularity system there too, but now, it’s about, ‘How do we take some of the good stuff out of that shoe, and bring a product to market that more kids can have access to?’
So, out went the plush leather, and in came Jordan Brand’s first use of a fused upper. If you are familiar with the Hyperfuse, then the multi-layered upper of the Q Flight is nothing new. “It’s the same composite as the Hyperfuse, just laid out in a different way with the windows and beams,” explains Luedecke. “I just wanted to look at a fast and sleek way to pull those windows in there. That was a challenge for me, and I did maybe fifty or sixty sketches on just the windows to see how they’d end up being shaped.” Performance wise, the hard worked paid off. The upper of the Q Flight is both flexible and secure. It doesn’t have the refined last shape of the Hyperdunk 2011, but its pliability allows it to conform closely to the foot, and hold the foot securely over the footbed. The upper’s construction also allows for a better-than-average level of breathability.
While the fused construction of the upper is in stark contrast to the premium leather of the Air Jordan 2011, some things that you can’t immediately see are identical on the Q Flight. “We have the exact same comfortable bootie from the game shoe. At $120, you’re getting this ultra-high comfort bootie that we’ve proven out on the 2011,” says Luedecke. And comfortable it is. It envelops the foot in a padded, yet non-bulky liner that effectively protects the foot from the footbed-to-eyelet lacing system. My only complaint about this upper and liner is that it doesn’t offer heel lockdown on par with the best out there. The dog bone-shaped collar molding that Jordan Brand has been expertly using for the past couple years isn’t present here. The heel lockdown isn’t bad, and to my feet, even felt just a bit better than on the AJ2011 (probably just due to the non-modular cushioning system), but for a shoe that does everything else so well, it’s one of my few criticisms.
Cushioning-wise, the Q Flight is outstanding. The heel and forefoot Zoom bags feel similar to those found in the “Quick” setup of the Air Jordan 2011, although not quite as close to the foot. What differs greatly from the AJ2011 though is the shoe’s transition. The fact that the modular cushioning system actually worked, didn’t shift around, and felt just like any other shoe was quite an accomplishment, and gave wearers an unprecedented level of cushioning options in a single shoe. But it also made the transition decent, but less than perfect. The Q Flight on the other hand is about as smooth as it gets. The Zoom KD II serves as my current benchmark to compare heel-to-toe transitions to, and this is probably the best example I’ve felt since. While its 14 ounce weight isn’t anything to write home about by today’s standards, the shoe plays very light thanks to the extra-smooth transition.
I criticized the Air Jordan 2011’s traction for focusing too much on the graphics side of its performance graphic-based outsole. It wasn’t bad, but when such better traction can be had through herringbone, I’ll always criticize a shoe when the aesthetics of an outsole prevent it from performing its best. That said, I was disappointed when I realized that the outsole of the Q Flight is identical to that of the AJ2011. Surprisingly though, I found that the solid white rubber used here was noticeably superior to the clear outsole of the 2011. It still doesn’t quite match up to the very best available, but I have no complaints.
While the AJ2011 may have been a great shoe, its high-end materials didn’t necessarily make for the most performance-orientated experience. The shoe was so nice in terms of quality, that they may have been hard to actually go hoop in. “We wanted to build a shoe that kids are not hesitating to beat up, and hesitating to take to the court, where they might worry if someone is going to step on their beautiful leather Js and mess them up,” explains Luedecke. “And really, our entire brand is shifting towards more and more performance, and better and better performance, so every chance we get, we’re going to try and take a step towards that.” The Q Flight is an easy recommendation, and for a shoe offering both elite cushioning and next-generation construction, is an impressive value at $120.
best for: Most players other than those favoring higher cuts
colorway tested: Black/High Voltage
key tech: heel and forefoot Zoom Air, fused upper construction, full-length inner bootie, performance graphics outsole
pros: transition, cut, cushioning, traction
cons: fit less refined than the best of the competition
improvements: return to molded collar of AJ2010 for better heel stability, refine last shape
buying advice: If you liked the Air Jordan 2011, you’ll love the Q Flight. It doesn’t have the modular cushioning system, so you are stuck (which is NOT a bad thing) with Zoom Air, but it improves on the transition, weight and traction (same pattern, different material) of the flagship Game shoe.