As I’m testing various tough-as-old-boots trail shoes at the moment, I was fairly thrilled when a pair of UK Gear’s PT-03 NCs landed on the doormat here at Jelly Baby Towers. Well, thrilled, but also deeply skeptical, as they claimed to be not just highly-cushioned, high mileage road shoes, but also, at the same time, they expect you to believe that they’re competent trail shoes too.
That’s surely an impossible feat, even for shoes that are developed in conjunction with the British Army’s Physical Training Corps…
However, despite my credulity feeling almost as strained as my left hamstring, I strapped a pair on anyway, with a view to heading out to see what they could do on my favourite trail shoe test course, a fearsome (for me anyway) 12 miler comprising 4 miles of pavement, 3 miles of soft sand dunes and 5 miles of beach which alternates between soft sand, hard-packed sand, tide-ridged sand and also, crucially, a long section of mud flat.
How do these things feel on your feet?
I’d been warned by the chaps at UK Gear that while the PT-03s are cushioned, they’re designed to be highly durable, and so take a little bit of time to bed in properly and offer up their full measure of cushioning. Well, you could have fooled me, as despite their chunky and slightly frumpy appearance, these are light and very comfortable shoes, with plenty of springy cushioning evident in the forefoot as well as the heel.
In fact, the only questionable area when I first put them on was that they ride higher up around the ankle than most cushioned road shoes, making me wonder if they’d start to rub once I’d gone a few miles. I also noted the high level of protection around the toe box and heels, and wondered a little if these were more trail shoes than road shoes.
How do they feel on the road?
Having borrowed my son’s camouflage pattern Buff and added an appropriate selection of music to my iPod (with ‘In the Army Now’ and ‘Eton Rifles’ featuring prominently) I headed out to see what the PT-03s could do. And I have to say, they were a massive surprise from mile one onwards.
If you’ve ever assumed that squaddies are a tough bunch, and been taken in by the overt machismo of the army’s TV commercials, I’ve got some news for you: the running shoes these guys wear are as comfortable as carpet slippers. So perhaps our military aren’t quite as hard as they make out…
No, really, on the initial 3 miles to the beach, the PT-03s were an absolute revelation. Certainly they felt slightly firmer than my usual Gel Cumulus road shoes, but also springy and entirely comfortable; and crucially, they also felt 100% neutral, fully justifying the NC (Neutral Cushioning) acronym in their slightly wordy full title.
‘Goodness me’, I thought. But surely, if they’re this good on the road, they must be rubbish on a trail…
How do they perform on the trail?
Well, before I hit the dunes, I have to tell you that I really wasn’t expecting much, because these things are so good on the road. But hell’s teeth, once I hit the beach, they dug in like a Challenger Tank going over an Iraqi sand dune, with a combination of forefoot flex and whole foot support that beat any other trail shoe I’ve tried into a cocked hat.
They weren’t quite as competent on the mud of the Velvet Trail as some other shoes I’ve tried lately, but they still had more grip than quite a few dedicated trail shoes I’ve worn.
Most importantly, they felt poised and comfortable as I dragged my ageing bones along the varying sand and mud surfaces on my way back home, leaving my feet and legs feeling ridiculously good, even after I’d completed the full 12 miles.
Pros v Cons
Erm. I don’t know quite how to say this. But these things really are quite astonishing. Sure, they’re not the prettiest shoes, nor the sleekest, nor the lightest, but I absolutely loved the performance and the feel of them, off road and on.
I’d be enormously happy with them just as road shoes. I’d be pretty chuffed with them just as trail shoes. But the fact that they perform so well in both arenas really has blown me away.
I’ve been aware of the UK Gear brand for ages, but never felt too tempted by them, as the ‘Tested by the Army’ sales pitch seemed like it was trying a bit too hard to be butch. They’ve just never seemed quite as desirable as brands like ASICS and Salomon somehow.
But while I’ve desperately tried to think of some ‘cons’ for this section, it’s been a real struggle. I had planned this review out in my head to ring with easy clichés like ‘square bashing’ and ‘excused boots’, but I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.
My favourite Asics Gel Cumulus shoes may be 5% better than these on the road. And I’d have to say that my favourite Salomon XTs are a smidge lighter and possibly 5% more competent on mud. But the Asics can’t hack it on any kind of trail, and the Salomons just aren’t cushioned enough for the road.
I’m as surprised as anyone to be saying this: but the PT-03 NCs, despite their ponderous name and slightly utilitarian looks, are simply the best all-round running shoes I’ve ever tried.
Frankly, I was expecting these things to be Not Very Good, and I’m now carb-loading with humble pie, as they’ve turned out to be Very Good Indeed.
For roughly £75, the PT-03 NCs are an awful lot of running shoe for the money. In fact, they’re actually two pairs of running shoes. Go figure…
– Anti-microbial treatment
– All round reflectivity
– Skeletal support struts
– Fitted tongue lace loops
– Solite EVA sockliner
– Woven heel pull (for faster ‘donn and doff’)
– Rhinoflex heel counter
– Solite EVa midsole
– Strategic panelling for side foot support and additional 3M reflectivity
– Durable carbon runner sole
– Structured landing area
– NRG Impact pads
– Bio flex technology
– NRG reactor pads