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adidas Ultraboost 21 vs 20 - what's new?

It's a battle for the ages: adidas Ultraboost 21 vs Ultraboost 20. We're here to give you the lowdown on what's new and whether it's better.

adidas ultraboost 21 v adidas ultraboost 20 title with white yellow and black white trainer

The latest adidas flagship, it’s always a biggie. The release date for the adidas Ultraboost 21 has been firmly lodged in our diaries, taking forever to roll round. Well, it’s dragging its feet no more. That’s both literally and metaphorically speaking. The most Ultra-est-boost of all time has arrived and it claims to deliver its smoothest ride ever.

There’s no mistaking that adidas’ Ultraboost 20 was a massive worldwide success in running and lifestyle markets for men, women and kids alike. How do you build on a product which is that good? We all know adidas has a history of doing that very thing, and they’re not about to stop now.

We’re here to break down every detail of the Ultraboost 21, comparing changes from its predecessor as we go. There’s plenty to get through, so ready, set, aaand GO...

Ultraboost 21: looks

Image from adidas.

We’re not Derren Brown and we can’t tell you what your eyes are seeing. You can subjectively weigh up the Ultraboost 21 yourself, as we’ve done. We’re simply here to offer our opinion, and if we’re honest, it looks even better when you get the sleek silhouette in your hands. It’s incredibly easy on the eye, low-profile and certainly less clunky than the UB20.

The Ultraboost 21’s most notable change comes in the form of a bulkier Boost heel section, giving the whole shoe an exaggerated, curved look. Don’t worry about that raised heel tab either, it’s neoprene and it's not going to slowly remove your Achilles tendon. The overall aesthetic is called-out in adidas’ product marketing, which has been aimed more directly toward the premium running shoe market this time around.

Image from adidas.

The upper is made of stretchy Primeblue fabric which is a slightly thicker, eco-friendly material produced in collaboration with Parley and will now be known for all eternity as Primeknit+. This is a welcome first on their flagship releases. The blended material is made from at least 50% of recycled ocean plastics, something which will help us gloat that we’re being ‘less selfish’.

The TPU ‘cage’ that sits on the upper hosts lace eyelets and the iconic Three Stripes, isn’t joined to the midsole as on previous models, it’s instead sewn onto the upper. Opposite changes have been made to the Ultraboost branded heel cup, which is filled out rather than outlined this time around.

A perforated toe box gives a smart look, running up the sides of the upper in a classy, understated way. As you’d expect, the Ultraboost 21 also comes in an array of colourways, with many more to be added as time goes on. For now, there is a solid offering of lights, darks and neons to keep every citizen of Earth happy.

Have looks improved from the Ultraboost 20?

Image from adidas.

If you’re into the bulkier Boost heel and low-profile visual, then absolutely yes. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to running shoes, you may prefer the Ultraboost 20. We have to say, we love the new design with its modern shaping, recycled materials and breathable Primeknit+ upper. These shoes are going to look good, whether it’s lifestyle wear or running gear you’re after.

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Ultraboost 21: midsole

Image from adidas.

The most important upgrade from the UB20 comes in this area. Brand new LEP technology forms the basis for the Ultraboost 21 and as you’re probably wondering, LEP stands for ‘Linear Energy Push’. This innovation replaces the original Torsion system, offering ‘bouncebackability’ (our words) on every stride, lending 15% extra spring for a more responsive ride. And it really works.

There are claims of +6% Boost in the midsole on this model, that improved 6% extra feeling is arguable though. Only if you’re coming from a low-quality or worn shoe will you feel any notable difference. Boost levels had already risen +20% (adidas claim) from the UB19 to the UB20, so that makes a grand total of +26% Boost *checks workings in margin* over two releases. Pretty good.

Has the midsole improved from the Ultraboost 20?

Image from adidas.

Yes, but not much in terms of Boost levels. More has come in terms of the replacement of Torsion with new LEP technology. The UB20 and UB21 are both comfortable trainers, that’s a fact. LEP changes the game for runners and joggers though, offering the potential for extra energy where before there was little help. They’ve endured some seriously rigorous adidas R&D testing, and it’s paid off.

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Ultraboost 21: outsole

Image from adidas.

Continental tyres continue their long affair with adidas on the Ultraboost 21, providing high levels of traction for lifestyle and runners. And we’re not ignoring the incredible durability that their rubber offers too. Continental outsoles are renowned for strong grip in most weather conditions, which can never be a bad thing. If you like staying upright, that is.

The LEP sits within a re-engineered ‘stretch web’ outsole and offers more of that joyful ‘springback’ action, propelling and supporting the wearer in each step. The extra rigidity lends itself perfectly to running performance, even though wearing the Ultraboost 21 all day wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

Has the outsole improved from the Ultraboost 20?

Image from adidas.

It has to be another resounding yes. It looks nicer for one, then add the embedded LEP tech delivering positive results and the Continental rubber continuing to be a big plus for durability and performance. OK, so the Continental rubber is the same as before but we have to give major props for improved look and feel from the UB20.

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Ultraboost 21: performance

Image from adidas.

The Ultraboost 21 is marketed as a premium running shoe, and it definitely performs like one. We’d say it’s built for the likes of mid-distance or short distance runners, which means they’re perfectly suitable for lifestyle and everyday wear too. A size 9 comes in at around 340g, meaning they are a little on the heavy side and less suited to long-distance or race running.

Wider feet should be OK as we found the fit true to size, so if you’re after a snug fit you’ll need to go down half a size. We’d only recommend doing that for lifestyle wear though, as the reinforced edges of the toe box can catch a little if the fit is too close. The stretchy mesh Primeknit+ upper holds up well in all conditions, adding breathability in the heat and protecting from the cold in those chilly times.

Has performance improved from the Ultraboost 20?

Image from adidas.

When it comes to lifestyle wear, all Ultraboost trainers are extremely good. The difference shows in running performance from the UB20 to the UB21, and it’s mostly down to the innovative LEP tech we mentioned earlier. It adds energy where you need it most, helping you spring forward and smash through your PB. A big improvement from the Ultraboost 20.

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So, is the adidas Ultraboost 21 better than the Ultraboost 20?

In our honest opinion, it’s a yes. The adidas Ultraboost 21 is a step up from the Ultraboost 20. There are many improvements to enjoy, including new shaping (which may not be for everyone), Primeblue / Primeknit+ eco-friendly upper, plus an athletic-led LEP outsole which offers superb feedback. All of that comes at a price, with RRP set at £160 (FOOTY can find you the best deal, but you knew that anyway).

The Boost increase of 6% isn’t as noticeable as we’d hoped but don’t be fooled, this is still an incredibly high-quality running shoe from adidas. We’d like to end by saying, if your current pair of trainers is knackered and you’re in the hunt for something new, the Ultraboost 21 won’t disappoint and they are most definitely worth a chunk of your hard-earned cash.

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Kevan Thorpe

Quintessential grassroots journeyman. I've had more "you look like Gareth Barry" comments than I have career goals.