Article by Bryan Lim, Mike Postaski, and Peter Stuart
Craft CTM Ultra 3 ($165)
Bryan: The CTM (Craft Tailored Motion) Ultra 3 is my first pair of Craft so it’s a pretty exciting moment and review for me, especially as it’s not available in Oceania. Witnessing the journey of Tommy Rivs, and the evolution of the brand from being mostly a nordic ski (and cycling) brand to a power in the running scene has been nothing short of awesome. Just like Volvo, Saab (back in the day), Ikea and Swedish brands and craftsmanship in general, Craft has been and continues to be known for the same.
The Ultra 3 is a super shoe in a non-plated way. It’s a max versatility kind of shoe – a mix use road and trail trainer. Is it a jack of all trades sort of shoe, a master of some or master none? Let’s find out what this CX bike equivalent of a shoe is capable of.
Mike P: This is my first time actually running in a shoe from Craft. I’ve been following their models for a few years and knew they seemed to be oriented towards faster running on smoother terrain. To me, at least from afar, their models have more of a “super shoe” look, even the ones that are not carbon plated. I received the CTM Ultra 3 along with the similar Endurance Trail (RTR Review) for testing. With a 24H dirt/level looped course event coming up, I was intrigued to see if either of the shoes would wow me and be an option for the race.
Stable – Bryan, Peter
Lightweight (for the specs) – Bryan / Mike P/ Peter
Responsive – Bryan/Mike P,/ Peter
Breathable and sleek upper – Bryan, Mike P/Peter
Encourages very fast turnover – Mike P/Peter
Great fit – Bryan
Aesthetics – Bryan/Peter
Ideal for fast running on rail trails/paths/smooth trails – Mike P
Too high stacked for a trail shoe – Bryan
Too much volume in the upper, hard to lock down – Mike P/Peter
Had to re-do lace eyelets to tighten properly – Mike P
Upper needs more structure – Mike P/Peter
Needs a pull tab! Peter
Official Weight: men’s 9.34 oz / 265 g (US9) / women’s oz / 230g (US8)
Sample: men’s 9.9 oz / 282 g (US 10)
Stack Height: men’s 40 mm heel / 30 mm forefoot (10 drop spec) ::
women’s 38 mm heel / 28 mm forefoot
$165. Available now
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Bryan: The Ultra 3 exudes a “Euro design” vibe. It reminds me of ON’s level of craftsmanship and dedication to design excellence – like a Red Dot Design Award product. The upper features a see through single layered engineered upper which is possibly the most breathable upper I’ve worn to date. The heel collar is similarly thin and has a narrow entry to ensure a good fit. The rear and toe cup are over-layed for support.
Then comes the asymmetric laces. I’m a big fan of them in football / soccer boots but have never seen its utilization in running shoes before! I personally did not notice any benefits of this, but also found no issue with it. I had no issues with lace hold and I found it easy to find a lock down fit. This is one of the best and most minimal uppers I’ve worn. Just enough room in all the right areas whilst maintaining a secure fit.
The Ultra Rebound insole is as its name suggests, a responsive high energy return Pebax based insert, and complements the midsole foam well. More on this later.
Fit wise, it was perfect in US9 my usual size, but I note Craft’s Euro size conversion was 42 which for a US9 is usually 42.5 or 42 ⅔ depending on the brand.
Mike P: I requested a US 10, as I had ordered a prior version of the CTM Ultra a few years ago in a 9.5 – and they were way too small. At the time, they weren’t really what I was looking for, so I ended up just returning them and never ran in them. The CTM Ultra 3 definitely runs short. I would recommend sizing up by ½ from your regular size.
I was most surprised by how wide they are. Based on the super shoe type look, I was expecting more of a race-type snug upper, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. Even though the shoe rounds very sharply at the front of the toe box (to the point of needing to size up), the shoe is very broad across the forefoot. I find a forefoot just as wide as some Topo models, and even some narrower Altra models.
[So much upper material – yet I’d still want to tighten them more. No way I could fit my Stryd pod either]
The entire upper is a very thin mesh with essentially no structure or overlays. There’s also A LOT of material – to the point where the left and right sides of the upper were touching when I fully lace up – and even then the shoe still felt loose. I had to use my thickest socks, which I typically never run in – to get even a passable amount of foothold. Even then, I still would like to tighten them even more if I could.
I consider my foot size to be medium volume – I’ve never had this issue before. A few times with loose uppers, I’ve had to tighten the laces more than I’d like, but never to the point where I physically couldn’t tighten them enough.
To solve this issue – and make the shoe runnable for me – I punched new wider-spaced eyelets. I then trimmed down the inner edges along the original lace eyelets (see pic above). This allowed me to get decent lace tension (although still with thick socks).
[This is my finalized/modified setup – I can just barely squeeze my Stryd pod in]
Peter:The Craft CTM Ultra 3 looks fantastic. Simple, clean lines, Black with red laces and red on the heel, an excellent design. Fit is true-to-size for me, though I do have some issues with the upper, 1st order of business. The unstructured heel of the shoe makes for a harder time getting the CTM Ultra 3 on. It’s the first shoe I’ve ever wished had a pull tab on the back. Once on, I feel mostly locked down, but have some friction issues with the outside of pinky toe and a couple of blisters as well. I’m not sure if my foot is moving in the shoe, or if the shape/size of the toebox is creating the friction. But friction there is. It’s a shame because I really like the ride of the shoe, but find it a bit painful to run in.
Bryan: The midsole features a slab of Craft’s UD foam, which is essentially EVA based so notwithstanding the mentioned Pebax insert, the ride is responsive but still firm. Don’t expect a Hoka Clifton or Asics Novablast here! The result is a high stacked but ultra stable ride. Whilst the midsole is dense, the shoe is definitely not bottom heavy with the weight evenly distributed.
The foot strike begins with a brief bouncy rebound feel offered by the Ultra Rebound PEBA insole which is then stabilized and grounded by the EVA midsole. Energetic is the word I would use to summarize the ride sensation provided here.
The 10mm drop and flex offered by the Ultra 3 is appreciated and makes for a very runnable shoe.
Oh, and the sculpted midsole looks amazing too!
Mike P: The Ultra 3 has a notable 10mm drop. Surprisingly I don’t find this to be an issue – it actually feels lower than that, or at least it isn’t too prominent. This is likely due to the geometry of the shoe, with the very steep front rocker. I found that they have a very quick transition and very limited ground contact time.
Craft’s Ud foam is dense & very responsive. I’d say it for sure leans firm – there’s not much noticeable compression or bounce. But it does seem tuned well to match the geometry of the shoe (see Ride section below).
The insole is a beaded TPU style – similar if not the same as Inov-8’s Boomerang insole. This is a great pairing as it does give a bit more cushy feeling underfoot and lessens any harshness from the firmer foam. For all of you insole swappers out there, the Craft insole offers a bit more contouring around the arch and in the midfoot area. It might be a better fit to swap into certain shoes (see pic below).
[Inov-8s Boomerang insole on top of Craft’s similar/same TPU beaded insole]
Peter: Firm but somewhat forgiving, the Ud foam is really efficient feeling. The firmness helps deliver a quick turnover and ease of running. Could they be just a hair softer? Yeah. If there was just a little more give on the landing it would be nice. That said, the midsole feels like it will last for many miles (and possibly soften up a little over time?).
Bryan: We’ve got a few non technical trails within Melbourne where the three piece and multi textured outsole of the Ultra 3 has shone. The tall stack and narrow heel base makes the shoe less suitable for anything technical. In contrast, the ASICS Fuji Lite 3 (RTR Review) which is also a hybrid trail shoe, is more suited for trails with a more aggressive lug pattern and less so for road, whereas I feel the Ultra 3 is more suitable for road with some trails.
The outsole is durable, grippy and quiet, and appears to be a winning formula as it has not been updated since version 1.
Mike P: The outsole is very interesting. The Ultra 3 seems to be positioned more as a road shoe, but the outsole is clearly “dirt” ready. I’m careful not to go so far as saying it is “trail” ready – but clearly the outsole can handle smooth dirt, park trails, rail trails, crushed gravel, and the like.
[CTM Ultra 3 (top) vs. Endurance Trail (bottom). Both outsoles are ready to handle light trails, gravel paths, rail trails, parks, etc.]
With a 24 hour race upcoming on flat, mostly dirt, with some mud and uneven sections – I’ve been taking a long look at the Ultra 3 for that event. Just looking at the outsole alone, it’s a perfect fit. If you’re looking for a road-style, fast shoe that can handle those types of surfaces – I can’t think of a better option.
Peter: Perhaps my favorite part of the CTM Ultra 3. The outsole is super grippy and feels like it grabs the road and tosses it behind you. Totally dirt ready, but enjoyable on pavement–and terrific in wet conditions.
Bryan: As it’s sometimes unavoidable to describe the ride in the midsole section of the review, I’ll say it again that the ride is firm but energetic. Transitions are smooth and it’s so easy to run in the Ultra 3. The ride is very stable for the 40mm stack height.
Mike P: I was absolutely blown away by how fast the Ultra 3 felt on my first run. It was a regular, easy run, nothing fast, but the turnover the shoe encourages felt so quick and effortless. Even though I was still struggling with the fit of the upper – I could tell the ride was very dynamic and that I’d have to figure out a way to “make” the upper work for me.
As I described in the midsole section – the foam feels firm, yet firmness is essentially a non-factor since the turnover is so quick. Even more so the faster the pace you are running. I’d say the ride feels oriented towards longer distances, but at faster paces. I wouldn’t go with these for slower running as a) They may encourage you to go faster than you want to on an easy day, and b) The firmness would be more evident at slower paces.
I’ve now run them on roads, dirt, light gravel, and soft trails. They’re now my top pick for those types of mixed terrain. They’re surely a race option for terrain that’s mellow enough for a road shoe, but where a slick road outsole wouldn’t be quite enough.
Peter: Yes, they’re firm. Yes, they turn over quickly. No, they don’t feel great at slower paces. And not my choice for easy runs. Tempo runs yes! The ride reminds me a bit of the Kinvara 14 in that it is firm, but the Craft has a far superior outsole. Ultimately the ride is enjoyable and returns some of the energy you put into it.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Bryan: Coming in with no context when reviewing this shoe not having worn Craft before, the experience was definitely unique. The craftsmanship is bespoke and the design is aesthetically pleasing. The Ultra 3 has done no wrong, but it’s also not eyebrow raising in terms of performance. But that’s expected. It’s a versatile road/trail hybrid shoe with some limitations on the (technical) trail side of things.
Fit wise, it has been superb for me and it would appear that this may be an improvement over its predecessor. A bit of me wishes it was slightly softer, but I appreciate the deviation from the market’s focus on soft and bouncy maximal shoes. The Ultra 3 is an easy shoe to run in, and is perfect for everyday running.
Bryan’s Score: 9.35 / 10
Ride: 9 Fit: 10 Value: 9 Style: 10
Bryan’s Smiles score: 😊😊😊😊
Peter: Ultimately the fit of the upper and the friction it causes offsets the joy of the ride. It’s a great riding shoe with, for me, a problematic upper. Hard to get on and causes some irritation for me. I’d like it to be hair softer and not to shred my feet
Mike P: Craft is definitely a brand I will start paying more attention to. The CTM Ultra 3 does have some issues with the upper for me – but perhaps, depending on your foot size & shape, they’ll be a better fit or no issues at all. Generally speaking, they do run short (length wise) and wide (across the forefoot). Also, the amount of upper material is best suited for a high volume foot. I’ve made it work for me with some upper mods, but ideally I’d also like to see a bit more structure to the upper and definitely more space when laced across the lace throat.
But the shoe does fill a niche – essentially it’s the “gravel bike” of running shoes. The near-ideal tool for that environment, yet also somewhat versatile for very light trails and also road.
Mike P’s Score: 8.9/10
Ride: 10 – Dynamic, smooth, quick turnover, fast – great!
Fit: 7 – Too much volume, not enough structure. Difficult to lock down
Value: 9 – Value in filling a specific niche – and doing it very well (and fast)
Style: 9 – Very sleek “super shoe” type look
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Craft Endurance Trail (RTR Review)
Mike P (10.0): Both shoes suffer from poor uppers – too much material, looseness, lack of security, unstructured. Both uppers would fit better for higher volume feet – narrow foot runners beware. Size-wise the Endurance Trail is TTS, and I’d go ½ size up in the Ultra 3. Both are wide across the forefoot, but the Ultra 3 runs a bit short length wise. Endur Trail’s TPE foam is softer and more cushioned, having a somewhat livelier feel, but slower. It’s made more for cruising for long durations. The Ultra 3’s firmer Ud foam is faster, not bouncy, yet more responsive. It’s built for going fast for long distances. I find the Ultra 3 to be a unique shoe, whereas there are other, better options that do what the Endur Trail does.
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Asics Fuji Lite 3 (RTR Review)
Bryan: The Fuji Lite 3 is in a similar class as the Ultra 3 being a road/trail hybrid shoe of sorts. As mentioned in my review, the Fuji Lite 3 has more aggressive trail specific lugs as compared to the more road friendly outsole of the Ultra 3, making it more trail friendly and less road friendly. The Fuji Lite 3 is also lower stacked, but offers a softer and bouncier ride. For shorter road segments leading to a longer trail segments (a run that’s majority trail), I would pick the Fuji Lite 3 but for the reverse, the Ultra 3 wins hands down.
Mike P (9.5): Clearly different shoes, the Asics is more trail oriented, but the foam is much softer and squishier. The Ultra 3’s firmer foam and dynamic rocker blows away the Fuji Lite – but you have to stick to smoother, flatter stuff. Ultra 3 is also better and faster on the road. I didn’t get along with the Fuji Lite 2 – it was too soft for me. The Ultra 3 fills a spot and stays in my quiver.
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Asics Novablast 3 (and TR) (RTR Review)
Bryan: Whilst I’ve not worn the TR version of the Novablast 3, I have worn the standard version on easy trails and it has worked a treat. The Novablast is also a high stacked shoe that’s fast, protective and bouncier than the Ultra 3. The TR version is the same but for an outsole suitable for non technical trails. So, the Novablast TR comes into the same class as the Ultra 3. Both are capable of long runs, trail runs and all sorts of runs generally. The Novablast 3 has what I think is a market leading ride, which sets it apart from the Ultra 3. The Ultra 3 has a more ventilated and breathable upper.
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Saucony Ride 16 (RTR Review)
Bryan: A shoe in a somewhat different class as a pure daily road trainer, I’ve included a comparison here as the Ride 16 is similarly firm and rides quite similarly as both are also very stable. The Ride 16 offers a more snug fit but the Ultra 3 offers sufficient lockdown but in a very breathable package. Both are almost identical in weight too. The Ultra 3 takes the edge though, as it is more protective and the Pebax insole provides an added level of propulsion and liveliness.
Mike P (9.5): Agree with Bryan, similar in firmness, but a totally different shoe. The Ride is your easy, daily cruiser, and the Ultra 3 is built for going faster. The Ride 16’s upper is perfect for my foot – wide but not overly wide forefoot, easy to lock down, and so comfortable with no fit issues at all. The Ultra 3’s upper doesn’t have any of the structure and security of the Ride’s upper, but it is lighter weight and more breathable. The Ride’s upper on the Ultra 3’s midsole/outsole would be amazing!
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Saucony Kinvara 14 (RTR Review)
Peter: The ride of these two shoes is pretty similar for me. The upper of the Kinvara doesn’t give me any trouble, so I’d grab it first, but would miss the awesome outsole of the Craft.
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Salomon Aero Blaze (RTR Review)
Peter: Similarly firm, the Craft is way more enjoyable to run in. The Aero Blaze feels firm but clunky and the Craft feels firm and efficient.
Craft CTM Ultra 3 vs. Hoka Mach 5 (RTR Review)
Peter: The Mach 5 is a bit softer and, for me, more fun to run in. I keep going back to the Craft hoping it won’t irritate my toe and being disappointed. Mach 5 feels fast and light.
Scott Ultra Carbon RC
Mike P (10.0): Another long-distance oriented, race-type shoe. The Ultra Carbon RC has some upper issues – very stiff and high ankle/Achilles collar. But the midfoot through the toebox is great and gives all the foot hold and security that you don’t get with the CTM Ultra 3. The Scott offers more range in terms of actual trail running, and despite its weight, is still an efficient ride on smoother stuff. The CTM Ultra 3 feels faster though, and I’d choose it if I wanted to go out for a shorter blast on runnable terrain. But for any extensive distance or duration, the Ultra Carbon RC’s better security and foot comfort would ultimately win out.
Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro 2 (RTR Review soon)
Mike P (9.5): Currently in test for me – also a similar, fast feeling trail shoe. Like the Ultra Carbon RC, the Salomon definitely offers more range for real trail running. But it’s lighter than the Scott, and has a similar rockered propulsive feel and geometry as the CTM Ultra 3. It feels a bit stiffer around the midfoot though in comparison to the Craft – the effect of the Energy Blade. The Salomon’s upper is far superior – great toebox, and snugs down perfectly with the quicklace. Craft should take note of the shape and fit of the Salomon upper – it would work perfectly on the CTM Ultra 3. Stay tuned for the upcoming full review.
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Bryan is a road and trail runner living in Melbourne, Australia. He picked up running as a stressed out law student back in 2016 and has never looked back since. He runs and coaches a social track club, Glasshouse Run Club. His most recent race times include a 1:22 half marathon. Parkrun is his thing, and Bryan tries to run a sub-20 minute tempo effort every Saturday, and maintains a 50-70 km base mileage when not training specifically for a race. He is presently chasing a sub 3-hour marathon. He is 176cm tall and weighs about 68kg / 150lbs.
Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras – anywhere from 50K up to his favorite – 100M. 5’10”, 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker – he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to nearly 100 mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 – 9:00/mi. In 2022 Mike won both the Standhope 100M and IMTUF 100 mile trail ultras within a 7 week period – both extremely rugged Idaho mountain races. Mike’s shoe preferences lean towards firmer dense cushioning, and shoes with narrower profiles. He prefers extra forefoot space, especially for long ultras, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.
Peter lives in Austin, Texas and has been a sub 3 hour marathoner as well as a 1:21 half marathoner in recent years.
Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’.
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