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Gear Review: Highlight Cleats by Under Armour

Product: Under ArmourProduct: Highlight CleatPrice: $129.99

So I’ve been wanting to review these cleats BADLY since 2011 when I wrote this post. I figured if Cam Newton is wearing these new super high top cleats and so are Div 1 lacrosse players, it needs reviewing. Plus the Loyola guys tipped me off that these are the best cleats they’ve ever worn, and since they won a National Championship in them, I listened.

We’re talking about a cleat attempting to revolutionize an industry, here. Under Armour is literally trying to redesign the way football players (and lacrosse players) choose their cleats, both aesthetically and functionally. That makes this an important cleat.

In order to enter the conversation on this shift in cleat design, I finally succumbed and bought myself a pair before the 2012 Berlin Lacrosse Open. I used these cleats in all of our 4 games on the grass (we had 3 more on astroturf).

I tested the UA Highlight cleats at the 2012 Berlin Lacrosse Open
The boys from Loyola after winning the D1 National Championship

Appearance… +1.5

At first glance I was sort of unimpressed. This was over 6 months ago, without having worn them. Yeah they’re loud–and I’m a fan of loud–but  they seemed gimicky and I didn’t think much of them other than they probably looked as good as they could have given they look like a confused wrestling shoe.

Time to throw these bad boys through the meat grinder…

The obvious difference between this cleat and others is UA’s Compfit Technology, “a compression sleeve with a padded tongue for custom fit, superior range of motion, and the ultimate in compressive ankle support.” The system that makes this cleat a super high top is also what makes it controversial aesthetically. So, as with anything aesthetic in this game, we put it to the test functionally.

UA has released the highlight in only limited colors, and even those colors are next to impossible to find in a retailer so you’ll likely have to order these online. If you poke around though, you’ll see all the wild color combinations they haven’t yet released, which bodes well for this product’s future. Like Apple, UA will release more colors after this product gains some traction. Gotta keep the people coming back for more.

Comfort/Weight… +2

These shoes felt right from the very start, like magic space booties. There was literally zero break in time and I finally rid myself of cleating my own ankles. My socks have looked like Curt Schilling’s for most of my lacrosse career. Google it.

They’re extremely light, clocking in at 10.3 ounces, while the Nike Zoom Vapor Carbons I have clock in at 10.2. It seems Under Amour has figured out how to make a super high top cleat weigh in at the same weight as its low-top counterparts. This means more support with less material. From an R&D standpoint, even if these cleats don’t withstand the test of time, at least they accomplished something new and innovative in a field where functional design hasn’t changed so much recently.

Unfortunately I just started doing this whole two-socks or 2-layer Nike Elite socks thing with my Zoom Vapor Carbons recently. You CANNOT wear two pairs of socks with these cleats. They tie too tight and the insole has little bubbles that hang onto your socks as you put them on which is great when wearing one pair but makes even getting the shoes on with two pairs almost impossible. These are a one-pair cleat right here, as far as socks go, so if you’re that two-pair kid, think about changing up your game.

Although the CompFit is sort of stretchy and pliable, this is not a two-sock cleat.

Stability/Traction… +2

I’m going to say it just like the Loyola guys said it to me. As far as stability and traction go, these are the best cleats I’ve ever worn. It really is that simple.

I used to wear ASO Ankle Braces under my low-top cleats because mid cleats never gave me the support I was looking for. The Highlight cleat gives you similar ankle support only more comfortable and more pliable, and the support interacts directly with the shoe it’s installed in, instead of acting as a proxy between your ankle and your shoe. Under Armour is cutting out the middle man.

When I dodged from X and turned the corner or inside rolled or question marked, I felt like they weren’t just supporting my motion but propelling me forward into it. Unlike my old ASO braces, the material in the CompFit sleeve is almost like Neoprene, it has stretchy properties. So when you really dig in, it’s both supporting you into your motion and assisting you out of it. These cleats make turning the corner effortless and because that’s an area of my game I’ve been working to improve, I don’t think I’ll switch back any time soon.

From STX’s Sam Bradman 1…

That takes care of the stability department. As far as traction goes, I’m still loving these. They come in a molded cleat and the blades are LONG. Under Armour claims that these “lightweight, bladed cleats provide superior traction for quick cuts and explosive acceleration,” which I’d have to agree with. It’s a bit difficult to separate the traction from the stability in this shoe because they work hand and hand, but it never took me more than two steps to dig in and change directions on a roll dodge at full speed, and that’s pretty much my litmus test for game cleats.

If you need to get off the line quickly, keep your footing on the face off, or change directions on a dime, I believe these cleats will improve your game. And I don’t make that claim lightly.

Straight talons. Run like a Velociraptor or your money back!

Durability… +1.5

My biggest concern for this shoe is durability. Will these cleats last you the whole season, or even multiple seasons? My concern is purely conjecture at this point because so far I’ve experienced no actual structural problems, but I’ll share my concerns. If mine actually deteriorate this way, I can say I told you so and we can reevaluate:

a) The loops that hold the laces seem to have limited stitching. Given how much pressure must be applied to them to make these cleats perform as advertised, I’d be willing to bet one of these loops is the first thing to go.

b) The plastic bladed cleats seem soft. After walking through a parking lot only once, there was noticeable deterioration and I decided not to walk on anything but grass and turf from now on.

c) As with any cleat that uses an adhesive to bridge the gap between boot and cleat, there’s the obvious concern of it pulling off. I’ve seen this happen with Huraches after a few seasons, and it wouldn’t surprise me if these were susceptible as well. This claim is purely speculation and wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. Really, I just felt like my list needed to get to c).

Limited stitching for lace loops concerns me a bit…

Value… +2

At $129.99, this is not the most expensive cleat I’ve ever purchased. My Mercurial Vapors cost me $260 on eBay, and the new ones sell for $300-400 today.

While I don’t think that the $129.99 price tag is exactly a barrier to entry, I still don’t believe the value is quite there for this product yet because of the nature of the cleat market’s demographics. Let me explain.

This is a high performance shoe. This is a piece of equipment designed to improve the game of players who perform at the highest level of their sport (or something close to it). You put this cleat on even the best 6th grader out there and I don’t believe these cleats would yield any results in terms of improving performance. Because I imagine the majority of the retail football cleat market is between the ages of 12 to 18, I think they’re going to have a hard time selling this product over the similarly priced Nike low tops that have been pretty universally accepted by this demographic. I’d love to be wrong about this.

This is a grown man’s cleat. And since my I.D. and my vocabulary are the only things that make me a grown man (because my size sure doesn’t), I’m barely even qualified to wear them.

If you are, however, a grown man looking to improve your already stellar performance on the field, you’re getting a lot for your money here. This is the first in what I imagine will be a completely rethought design concept for Under Armour’s football department, and in this business the first steps are always the most expensive. I’m sure it cost UA an arm and a leg to create these things, so I’m glad they didn’t mark them up closer to $200.

Overall Score: 9/10

And I’m confident that if you appreciate ankle support in your footwear you’ll agree with me. There are people who don’t. I know this. I’ve talked to them about this cleat. The arguments for why the Highlight doesn’t work for some people functionally are totally valid. From my subjective seat behind this computer, a rethought design concept is the next step in the functional evolution of football and lacrosse footwear.

This cleat is that next step. It is not only worth trying, but worth buying, maintaining, and using for as long as you can get out of them. Under Armour made me a fan, even after scouring the Bay Area for a retailer that actually carried them.

Just wait until the other color combos come out. I’d buy UA stock.