Craft Nordlite Ultra Trail Running Shoes Review

An all-new road-to-trail shoe, the Craft Nordlite Ultra hits the sweet spot for fast-paced trail running with the option of a road approach. During my break-in period, everyone complimented me on how cool these shoes look and after many miles on the trail, I can confirm that the beauty is more than skin-deep. But, as with many things from Sweden, I found some some quirks that came along for the ride.

Craft Nordlite Ultra Features:

  • One-piece mesh upper
  • Cr Foam™ midsole
  • Ultra-Rebound™ insole for maximum energy
  • Three-piece lugged traction rubber outsole
  • Made for road and trail use
  • Extra forefoot room
  • Stack: 40mm rear, 34mm front (6mm drop)
  • Weight: 12 oz. each (11.5, actual)
  • MSRP: $159.99
Craft Nordlite Ultra Trail Running Shoes Review - Side View
Light and airy mesh uppers.

Lightweight, cushiony road/trail runner

While I try to run 100% of the time on the great trails we have around our home, occasionally either a short road run or a road approach is necessary. And, with regular, long walks on the myriad of bike paths around our city, there’s always room for some pavement time. That mixture of road and trail running is exactly what the new Craft Nordlite Ultra is made for. And, frankly, it’s a spectacular trail-only shoe if that’s what you use it for.

Obviously, the biggest story here is the huge stack height. On the heels of the Craft Endurance Trail, the new Nordlite Ultra has even more stack height. And, during my break-in period I’ve felt almost like a giant as I’ve soared to new heights. All that stack isn’t clunky or awkward at all and the overall feel of the Nordlite Ultra is smooth and natural, with a natural forward step that rolls to the next one.

Craft Nordlite Ultra Outsoles
A good look at the low-profile road/trail outsoles.

Up top, Craft has delivered a one-piece mesh design. With all that breathability, these are a great shoe for the warmest days, but all that mesh does fall short when it comes to support (more on that later). Cushioning is metered and natural and the lower-profile lugs are made to transition smoothly from road-to-trail.

One thing I can’t ignore is how high-volume both the Nordlite Ultra and Endurance Trail are. Definitely, the fit is more streamlined with the Nordlite Ultra, but, as you can see, I pretty much have to max out the lacing to cinch them down far enough with my low arches and normal-width feet. As you might imagine, getting them on/off then becomes more effort than with other brands as I then have to unlace several eyelets to make that happen.

Craft Nordlite Ultra Lacing Pattern
I actually ended up cinching them down even a little more than this.

All that unstructured material in the uppers is amazing for airflow and overall temperature regulation, but does highlight the lack of mid foot and instep support. Additionally, the heel cup lacks any structure as well, which adds to comfort, but does squish down when putting them on. A pull tab would be helpful, but the curved heel does aid in entry. I’ve worn a few different pairs of socks, but have found the CEP The Run Compression 4.0 to be absolute perfection. They provide added thickness and comfort without adding warmth. To take up the extra volume, an even thicker pair of socks may be necessary, but I’m not a fan of thick socks for trail running.

Before I got aggressive on the local trails, I brought the Nordlite Ultra’s along on an Alaskan cruise. Breaking them in on the ship and during excursions was a delightful experience. And, my body appreciated all that comfort with long days walking around the port cities. I can comfortably say these will go from box-to-trail without any extensive break-in. In short, there’s a lot of great stuff going on here and I really liked these shoes ahead of getting out on the local trails.

Craft Nordlite Ultra Trail Running Shoes Review - Morning Trail Run
A great morning run in the Nordlite Ultras.

Hitting the trails…

My test trails are a mixture of gravel road approaches then singletrack with some technical and loose sections. Many areas have off-camber switchbacks and interspersed rock gardens just to keep me on my toes. With all that terrain, I’ve loved how smooth and comfortable these feel on flat and rolling terrain. Each step is smooth and well-cushioned, with a nice toe-off to propel me forward. My natural stride can get into a rhythm and crank out the miles.

When the trails tilt upward, that goodness continues as the Nordlite Ultra’s slice their way up just about any incline. Of course, the low-profile lugs can lose traction on the loosest sections, but I’m impressed with just how well they dig into it all. The combination of the insole and midsole cushioning is great and provides a smooth compression and rebound at both slow and fast paces. I love how refreshed I feel — even after the longest runs. 

Craft Nordlite Ultra Trail Running Shoes Review - Alpine Trail Running
So smooth and comfortable on rolling terrain.

Yes, the cushioning is excellent, but initially, the heel and forefoot felt taller inside the shoe than the midfoot. I’m sure I had full foot contact with the insole, but it initially felt like a chasm under my arches, which became less pronounced as the miles have added up and materials have settled in. Of course, with such flexible, airy uppers, these do lack lateral support. If you need pronation support, look elsewhere as I did find myself wishing for just a little more structure on the instep.

Craft Nordlite Ultra Review - Laces All The Way Tight
Laces up! I can’t get them any tighter.

As mentioned, the interior volume of these shoes remains quite high. So much that I had to abandon the tongue lace guide to achieve the proper fit. As you can see, I’ve about maxed out the tongue lacing to cinch down my feet and still, I never was able to get the proper foot wrap I desired. This lack of foot-to-upper connection was amplified on descents or off-camber sections, where my feet either slid forward in the shoe or twisted laterally. The length is spot-on, but volume remains high. Due to the interior movement on descents, I had to just take it easy on the downhills and meter every step. I appreciated the extra toebox space, but somehow there’s got to be a way to cinch these down more for a more cohesive fit.

And, keep in mind that while mesh uppers and minimal toe rand are outstanding for breathability, there’s not much protection for trail debris. As such, unintentional rock kicks can be downright painful. Again, it comes with the territory, but it’s worth mentioning if you regularly run in technical or rocky terrain. The overall trail feel is great, in spite of the tall stack. I didn’t feel numb to the trail at all.

Fit: I typically wear size 11.5 in most brands and the length is good for me. However, the volume is still pretty high, so keep that in mind if you have low arches like me. 

The Good:

  • Superb cushioning
  • Excellent trail feel
  • Airy uppers allow supreme breathability
  • A great travel shoe
  • Look awesome and garner lots of praise
  • Low-profile lugs punch above their weight
  • Allows for slow or fast-paced stride
  • Feels lightweight
  • Versatile for road-to-trail

The Bad:

  • High-volume uppers require extreme lace cinching
  • Couldn’t achieve a good foot-to-uppers connection
  • Feet slip inside on downhill and off-camber corners
  • Abandoned the lace guide, so the tongues didn’t stay put as well

The Bottom Line: Craft Nordlite Ultra Road/Trail Shoes

Craft has a lot of great things going on with the Nordlite Ultra and I really wanted to LOVE them. In the end, I do enjoy running in them and really dig them for flat or rolling terrain. However, descents and off-camber trails showcase the challenges I had with the high-volume uppers on these shoes. They breathe like champs and can tick off the miles in comfort. For the right foot shape, these could be a slam-dunk.

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