Puma Liberate Nitro Review
If you need more evidence that we’re in a golden age of running shoes, look no farther than the Puma Liberate Nitro. The lightweight trainer in Puma’s welcome return to performance running offers soft but responsive cushioning, great ground feel and traction, and excellent durability, and it does so for $20 to $40 less than most comparable models.
|Weight||5.2 ounces (women’s size 7.5); 6.3 ounces (men’s size 9)|
|Drop||10 mm (including removable sock liner)|
|Midsole||Hydrogen-infused Nitro foam|
The Good Stuff
As of this writing, I’ve put 180 miles on the Liberate. Not once did I find myself a few miles into a run wishing I’d chosen otherwise. For those of us who gravitate toward lightweight trainers, the Liberate is an exemplar of the form. It’s light and low enough that you feel the ground, and the next-gen midsole foam has good pop.
But that midsole also provides plenty of bouncy cushion. This isn’t a shoe that asks you to trade protection for performance. The midsole foam is soft to the touch, and nicely accommodates heel landings at any pace. The ride firms up as you transition to toe-off. One result is that the 10-millimeter heel-to-toe drop isn’t as noticeable as is the case in many other models with a similar construction.
Despite lacking a traditional heel counter, the Liberate is acceptably stable. There’s a small, unobtrusive TPU bar that juts out parallel to the ground from the back bottom of the heel; Puma says this is for added stability. The low-to-the-ground construction, nearly full-length outsole, and lack of a rocker also contribute to stability throughout the gait cycle without introducing rigidity.
The monomesh upper is pretty far along the performance end of the spectrum (read “snug”) — this is definitely not an Altra or Topo foot-shaped construction. That said, my wide forefeet never found the fit constraining or pinching. The taper at the front of the shoe happens after where most people’s metatarsals will sit inside the shoe. I was always able to get a good lockdown with my normal runner’s-knot lacing.
The upper also deserves praise for performing well in a wide range of conditions, from humid and 90°F to unseasonably cool and damp to hard rain. It neither trapped heat nor retained moisture, whether that moisture came from my feet, the sky, or puddles on trails.
Puma presents the Liberate as best for tempos, races, and short runs. I think they’re underselling. I’ve worn the Liberate pleasurably on two-hour runs, track workouts, short recovery jogs, road tempos, and workaday hour outings. I took only the Liberate on a long weekend getaway that featured consecutive days of 10 miles on asphalt with 40 minutes of tempo intervals, 90 minutes easy on forest trails, and 10 miles steady on a crushed-gravel rail-trail. The shoes were equally effective and enjoyable at these different efforts on varying terrain.
If you prefer to wear slightly more sturdy shoes on your easy days and long runs, the Liberate can still handle everything else. They’re a great example of a shoe that can be worn for the warm-ups and cooldowns that sandwich harder efforts. At 6.3 ounces in a men’s size 9, they’re as light as many racing flats, while still providing protection and an outsole that corners exceptionally.
The photo above shows the Liberate’s outsole after 180 miles. There’s slight wear on the lateral heel where I make contact, and even slighter wear up front where I toe off. Otherwise, the outsole, midsole, and upper look and feel exactly as they did on my first run in the shoes. The Liberate appears to have well-above-average durability, making them that much more of a deal for the relatively modest $110 price tag.
Room For Improvement
I can think of little negative to say about the Liberate (not counting the love-it-or-hate-it fire truck red of the ones I tested). For runners who are used to lightweight trainers, perhaps the biggest drawback is that some will want a little more heel/ankle stability. Because of the flexibility of the materials in the area, the Liberate is going to have some looseness around the top of the heel/ankle collar, no matter how tightly you tie the laces. This wasn’t really a problem for me, but could be if you have a fair amount of heel pronation and/or exceptionally thin ankles.
The biggest issue with the Liberate could have nothing to do with the shoe itself. Puma has entered and left the performance running market a few times in the past 30 years. The Liberate and the rest of the Nitro line-up are as good as any other brand’s current offerings. Here’s hoping Puma keeps them around long enough for the shoes to gain the following they deserve — they’ve said they are back in with both feet, and if the quality of their product is any indication, we believe them.