I started running last fall, and when I say I did so cautiously, casually, and, above all, slowly, I mean I could have had a pretty competitive race against Aesop’s tortoise. I never planned to make running my main form of exercise, so I figured I didn’t need a pair of performance-level shoes to do it.

I spent months plodding down the sidewalk in sneakers that lacked adequate cushioning, felt dull instead of springy, and just made my outings a little boring. Then I tested a sample of the Puma’s Deviate Nitro 2 for SELF’s 2023 Sneaker Awards. Not only did this shoe remind me that I can have nice things, it also gave me the footing I needed (heh) to become a more enthusiastic runner.

Who it’s for

The first iteration of the Deviate Nitro impressed runners when it came out a couple years ago, and this newer model takes that design and ups the ante: According to Puma’s site, the Deviate Nitro 2 is more responsive and features an updated platform that makes toeing off more seamless. There’s also more padding around the ankle and traction on the outsole for good measure. With these sort of all-around upgrades, it’s intended for runners looking to increase their speed on everyday runs.

Out of the box

When my Puma package arrived, the box felt nearly empty—to the point that I wondered if they’d forgotten to actually include the shoes. The Deviate Nitro 2 is very lightweight, even though it has a sizable foam sole. The pair I received came in the brand’s Royal Sapphire-Elektro Purple colorway—a pretty inoffensive, if kind of generically sporty, blue and green combination. Colors aside, my first impression of this shoe was akin to that moment in any Batman movie when the Batmobile is revealed for the first time: I couldn’t wait to take it out and see what it could do.

Sara Coughlin

Fit and feel

If I thought the Deviate Nitro 2 was lightweight in my hand, it felt barely there on my foot. It’s easy to pull on, lace up, and move in it—I took some practice steps and hops around my apartment, and it felt springy yet stable. It fits close against my foot, with a slightly curved shape that matches where my foot narrows at the arch and widens at the toes. I ordered the size I normally wear and, though I probably could have gone up a half size for additional toe-wiggling room, I was comfortable with it.

On the run

I wore the Deviate Nitro 2 on several brief runs around my neighborhood and couldn’t believe how good I felt each time. It encourages my steps to roll forward and into the next, and it balances its energy return with a nice level of control. It felt like my strides required far less effort than usual, as if I had tapped into a cruise control setting—but I never felt like my legs were running away from the rest of me.

Comfort-wise, I was immensely impressed. My shins and ankles can ache and fatigue pretty easily, but they felt great—downright sprightly—by the end of my runs in the Deviate Nitro 2. This was my first time wearing a running shoe that truly felt like an extension of my foot (albeit a better cushioned, bouncier version of it). It made me want to just keep going.

Bottom line

I am a big fan of this shoe—it served as a great introduction to performance-level running shoes for me, and I could see it doing the same for others who want to level up their footwear from the beginner’s stage. It is relatively expensive if you only run every so often, but it might be worth it if you find that your occasional outings feel a little blah. I highly recommend the Deviate Nitro 2 to people looking to train and improve their habits as runners, but I also think it’s worth your time if you’re more seasoned, too, because it’s just so fun to wear and put to work.