Adidas Ultraboost 21 “Parley”: Out of the Box
- Price: $180 [Limited Sizing]
- Pros: Comfortable, Eco-friendly
- Cons: Style is more 2015 than 2021
Creating a classic sneaker is hard. Every year, a dozen models or more come out of the big sneaker brands only to fade into obscurity once the next Jordan collab comes out. Even harder than that is trying to improve and build on a classic sneaker. This is the trap that Adidas has been in with their Ultraboost line. While the Ultraboost 19 and 20 were not the commercial success Adidas wanted, they have another try with the Adidas Ultraboost 21. Is this another classic, or is this more Jordan 33 than Jordan 3?
The specific colorway we have here is the Parley non-dye. This is among the latest efforts in Adidas’ new eco-friendly pathway. Humans make more than 300 tons of plastic every year. Around 91% of that will be buried or dumped into the ocean. Sneakers are particularly harmful, with the materials used often taking 1,000 years or more to break down.
By teaming up with Parley, Adidas’ has started to push materials the other direction. Instead of the shoe going into the ocean, the plastic in the ocean is going into the shoe. This particular model takes it even further, removing all dyes from the show in order to prevent dye run off.
Being made of entirely non-dyed materials, at first glance this is a fairly basic upper. From the pictures online you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is just another all white Ultraboost. However, as you get closer you start to notice the differences.
The Primeknit itself, or Primeblue due to the ocean plastic inside, on the Adidas Ultraboost 21 Parley is actually a mixture of bright white and slightly cream-colored strands. This color mix gives us enough variation that the shoe doesn’t look quite so stark. It should provide a bit of protection against the inevitable dirt that sticks to any knit white shoe.
Almost the entire design of the shoe comes from how this knit upper is woven or heat pressed. Up at the toe, the upper takes a classic Ultraboost design and features holes for breathability knit directly into the fabric. These holes are stabilized by heat pressed lines that run along the toe and back to the throat of the shoe. In fact, the entire structure of the shoe is based on these compressed areas.
Moving back to the midfoot, the Ultraboost “cage” is stitched directly to the upper. On this model, it comes in an extremely light mint-green with a significant texture to it. This is the most in-your-face eco material on the shoe, and, while I don’t hate it, I could see how this might be too much for some. The heel counter area managed to be both smooth and non-dyed, so this was obviously a stylistic choice.
Speaking of the heel counter, it comes in a white, smooth plastic with “ULTRABOOST” text.
Each shoe features a cream-colored plastic panel at the top of the throat, with “Adidas” on the right shoe and “Parley” on the left. Cream laces finish off the look.
Mid- and Outsole:
Here is where the shoe gets it’s name, with a thick midsole made entirely of boost. The pebbled appeared here is pure white. In my personal opinion, this is how boost is meant to be. I don’t hate painted boost, but if you’re going to have this style show it should be in it’s pure form.
Adidas did make the boost a bit more stylized on this shoe. The material actually comes up and wraps around the heel of the shoe. You’re only standing on about 2/3rds the height of the material on the side.
They also changed the boost midsole to include a significant sweep up design, similar to what they introduced in the Yeezy 380 last year.
Moving to the outsole, Adidas took a big step away from the Ultraboosts of previous years that were all fairly plain patterns on the bottom. On the Ultraboost 21 they chose to use multiple different rubber panels as part of their “L.E.P” or Linear Energy Push system, but more on that later. From a looks perspective, the various rubbers on the bottom leave plenty of space for the boost to expand.
It’s clear that Adidas wanted to lean hard on the sporty design with this shoe, further leaving the lifestyle look in the past. This is really a shoe that needs an athleisure style to work.
Fit & Comfort:
With the Adidas Ultraboost 21, Adidas changed the fit just a bit from previous Ultraboosts. In particular, this shoe is a wider, particularly at the forefoot. Since the upper is entirely primeknit, the extra width means the fit is sloppy compared to previous Ultraboosts. For casual wear, I’d suggest your typical Ultraboost size. If you plan on running, consider going down a half size. Thankfully, it should be easy to find a pair of these in store to try on before you buy.
I take these in a size 13 for casual wear, though this isn’t the best fit in the world. For reference, I wear a size 13 in Jordan 1s and a size 12.5 in Stan Smiths. For a full list of my sizing in all the shoes we have reviewed, click here.
When it comes to comfort, this shoe might not be what you are expecting. When Adidas adds more boost that can mean two things. It could be that there is a thicker slab of boost between your foot and the ground, but it could also mean that more pellets were added in the same space. In the Ultraboost 21, it feels like they went with the later.
The Ultraboost 21 boost actually feels a bit firmer than previous iterations of the Ultraboost. The upswing is that it is going to be bouncier and hopefully take a bit longer to bottom out. Exactly what iteration of boost is best for you will be entirely personal preference, but if you’re in it for the cloud-like feel you might be disappointed.
As always, the upper is more like a sock than a traditional shoe. This gives your foot complete freedom of movement, but also provides no structure at all. I find that for short periods of time this is great, but would rather not spend 12 hours in a pair.
Adidas is trying hard to improve the environmental impact of their products. The Ultraboost 21 is at the forefront of this effort. All of the models are made with an upper of Primeblue. This is a variation on the classic Primeknit pattern that is made up of at least 92% recycled ocean plastic – though overall only 17% of the shoe is recycled material. It feels just as stretchy as classic Primeknit, though it is a bit scratchier to the hand.
The only other materials on the upper are the plastic midfoot cage, plastic heel counter, and the plastic tag on the tongue.
The vast majority of the weight of the shoe is Boost, also known as thermoplastic polyurethane or TPU. To actually construct the midsole, a frame is created and pellets of TPU are poured in, heated up, and expand to the size and shape of frame. This expanded material is called eTPU.
At the bottom of the shoe, the Adidas Ultraboost 21 uses Continental rubber. Many think this rubber is designed to last a long time, but that actually isn’t true. The compound of rubber chosen was picked because of it’s increased grip in rainy conditions. That being said, the rubber doesn’t seem to wear down particularly fast.
Above that rubber is the LEP system, a small evolution of the Torsion system the brand has been using for decades. It has an X shaped plastic plate that is designed to provide a bit of snap for runners.
Ease of Care:
If you’re the type of person who wants their shoes to always look fresh, this is not the colorway for you. Period, move on.
Just about every material and color choice on this shoe will get dirty quickly and be hard to clean. Boost is infamous for yellowing over time, and not coming clean even with washing. If you do want to get your Boost back to the white color, the best option is using a white oil marker to effectively paint it white again.
For the upper, there are numerous options for knit shoe cleaners but ultimately, you’re fighting a losing battle. The one saving grace for this colorway is the cream-colored strands woven into the Primeknit. These already create a slightly brown tone to the shoe and this will give you a few extra months of wear before the upper starts to change color.
Pricing & Value:
The Adidas Ultraboost 21 comes in at $180 MSRP. While not the most expensive pair of sneakers out there, it’s definitely on the higher end.
Thankfully, it’s very easy to find these on sale. At time of writing multiple colorways are available for $126, and I was able to pick up this pair for just $65 dollars by combining that price with a site-wide sale and the cash back from Rakuten.
By the way, if you’ve never used Rakuten before, you can get $30 off your first order by signing up with this link.
If you are deal hunting, the best deals can often be found on Adidas’ eBay page. Often, Adidas will run eBay-only sales so it’s always worth checking before you click buy on their website.
When it comes to value, these shoes have a lot going for them. Five years ago, an Ultraboost in a somewhat limited colorway would have been reselling for hundreds of dollars, with the boost crew saying they are comfy-boy certified and worth the price.
Today, for less than the price of a family dinner at Olive Garden, you’ll have a shoe that is making a positive impact on the environment and should last you as long as any other running-style shoe. Finding them on sale is a great value.
The Adidas Ultraboost 21 Parley is a modern take on a classic design. While, from a purely lifestyle fashion viewpoint, it probably leans too heavily into the sock-like runner style from several years ago, all the benefits that made people crazy over the original Ultraboost are still here.
It’s extremely comfortable, easy to slip on and off, and is just as at home running on the treadmill as running to the store. Further, Adidas has taken steps to have this shoe be a positive impact on the environment, rather than negative.
With this shoe being easily found on sale, the Ultraboost 21 is a great option for someone looking for maximum comfort without breaking the bank.