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I’m always on the quest to find the next best minimalist sneaker. It’s not an easy category to compete in and not every brand can do it well. After hearing Under Armour was releasing a new minimalist sneaker – the Charge RC – I needed to get my hands on a pair. From what I gathered, the shoe had all the bells and whistles, and was positioned as the brand’s most innovative sneaker to-date. A few weeks back, I got the opportunity to test them out and as you can imagine, I jumped at the chance.
As one of the latest companies to offer their version of a minimalist sneaker, not to be confused with barefoot (a la Vibram Five Fingers), this shoe is the cream of the crop. When I started looking at the list of all the technologies that went into making this shoe, I assumed there was no way this shoe could deliver what it claims … I was wrong. At first glance, the Charge RC is a unique shoe, almost that of a hybrid when compared to most of its competitors on the market.
Let me start off by saying this shoe is not for someone with a wide foot. Once on and laced up, the Charge RC provides a sock-like feel, and seemingly molds to your feet. Although the sneaker has a laundry list of features (that I will get into later), the design team at UA somehow kept the sneaker weighing in at just 9.95 ounces for a men’s size 9. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
The shoe upper is made up of two parts, allowing it to articulate the way that your foot would flex and bend naturally. The front half part of the upper is made of a single layer compression foot sleeve with UA HeatGear® built in. MPZ® (Modular Protection Zone) on key points of the sleeve provides protection from the laces and anything else that might come into contact with the surface of the foot upper, including the toe bumper. The back part of the upper is made of synthetic and leather materials along with 4D FOAM™ in the heel counter and sock-liner and MPZ in the heel counter.
When I began my wear test on the Charge RC I wasn’t sure how it would feel having the upper constructed of compression material, I thought perhaps it would be too constricting. Somehow UA was able to make the shoe have a close-to-your foot compression feel and yet still allow the material to expand as your foot spreads on every impact of your stride, a big kudos to them for that. I have tested other shoes in the past and the toe box is on the wider side to allow a more natural feel but at times your foot just begins to swim around and it can become very uncomfortable.
Some of the issues I did come across in my testing period were nothing too extreme but became more of an annoyance on longer runs. First, the sock-liner (insole) they use that is made up of 4D FOAM™ has a texture of divots and on several occasions my foot would begin to start getting irritated by the texture, perhaps if it had a smooth fit this could be avoided. The other issue that I had was some of the seams on the upper, although there was a protective layer of material between it and the foot they could be felt and at times would begin to dig in to my foot. As you can imagine, this would become uncomfortable and not allow me to run for long distances at times.
Technology and Function
The UA Charge RC has so many features in such a lightweight shoe, it’s actually hard to decides where to start. OK – let’s go top to bottom.
As I mentioned, the upper of the shoe has a single layer compression foot sleeve with UA HeatGear®, UA’s signature technology used to wick away moisture and maintain a comfortable temperature. Found in the heel counter and also the removable sock-liner is 4D FOAM™, this material conforms to your foot and gives the user a more custom feel, also helping to keep the foot and heel stabilized for less movement. In key locations of the upper, toe bumper, heel counter, and tongue where the laces are, sits another material that UA has decided to apply called MPZ® (Modular Protection Zone). This material is soft and flexible giving the foot protection in key areas without any added bulkiness or hard materials that would cause irritation.
The mid-sole of the shoe is made up of UA’s latest cushioning system, MICRO G®. It allows the shoe to have its weight reduced but in return still provides excellent cushioning and energy return. This particular sneaker has a heel-to-toe transition of 15mm to 9mm, giving it a 6mm offset which in essence gives the runner a relatively lower stance and more minimalist feel than a traditional running sneaker. At a 6mm differential, there are other more minimalist options but for those who are in transitional stages, this could be a good option. There is also a carbon fiber spring plate running the whole length of the midsole which helps the user get back energy and a spring like feel with every step. A great added feature in my opinion knowing that carbon fiber is one of the lightest and strongest materials out on the market. Lastly, the midsole boasts vents that allow air flow to go through the sneaker, another way to keep the foot cool and dry during an intense run.
Now, onto the outsole of the Charge RC. The sole contains several notched out areas in specific areas to allow the shoe to have more flexibility as well as reduce the weight. The outsole is then divided in to two parts, the forefoot to toe, and the mid-foot to heel. The forefoot to toe of the outsole has several blown rubber pods placed in key contact areas. Blown rubber is a softer rubber material that in addition to improved traction gives a softer more cushy feel to the runner. The mid-foot to heel material used in the Charge RC also has pods placed in specific contact points only these are carbon rubber, a more durable harder feeling rubber that has a longer life span and does not wear as quickly.
With the Charge RC, I will say UA delivers everything it promises. From form to function, this shoe has it all. Some might argue the shoe leaves a little to be desired in the design department (some online comments even saying it looks like two shoes in one), I actually like the unique aesthetics of the shoe. When I wore it on my daily runs, people couldn’t help but ask questions about it. Perhaps, this was simply some good strategy on UA’s part.
The other feature that I really thought was an added bonus to the Charge RC was it had really good arch support. When most people think of a minimalist shoe the one thing that naturally doesn’t come to mind is arch support. Generally in order to add some support to a shoe in certain areas more materials are involved or denser material is used to stiffen certain parts of the midsole in order to provide the extra support needed. Not this shoe, it has support, cushion, and a great low to the ground feel all without any added bulkiness or weight.
This shoe is meant to be a fast and comfortable minimalist running shoe. I won’t say I’m an elite athlete by any means, but when I laced this bad boy on my feet I just wanted to run, and run fast. This sneaker gives me a good feeling about UA and the direction their team is heading in for future footwear collections. First they took the apparel space by storm and it looks like footwear isn’t that far behind.
I would recommend the Charge RC for anyone that is looking for a lightweight, minimalist shoe with plenty of cushioning in all the right areas. There is enough protection to allow running on different surfaces, yet still allow the user to maintain the low profile and feel runners going the minimalist route want. At around $120, I think the cost is a small price to pay for all the technology you get. Try them for yourself and you’ll become a believer.
Photography: Tucker Friend/HYPEBEAST