Performance Review: Under Armour Micro G Black Ice
Like Black Ice, You Never Saw It Coming
I have to start this review by telling everyone I have been less than moved by Under Armour over the past few years. When it first hit the scene, I was sold on both Cool and Heat Gear, and that was all they had on the market. Eventually (and inevitably), they branched into shoes, bringing the first round of cross-trainers to the market for football. Who can forget the “Click-clack, I think you hear us coming” commercials? I admit I looked at this move like I did Nike making golf clubs: focus on what you know and do it well, and leave the others to those guys over there. However, contrary to popular opinion, I actually loved the Under Armour running shoes when they arrived. Admittedly maybe not as technical as Asics or NB, they still had something about them that I liked, and the Fit-Sleeve I thought really helped in comfort and fit.
Now, after a year and a half of waiting, I have in my hands the first round of Under Armour Basketball shoes and Brandon Jennings’ first signature shoe to hit retail: the Micro G Black Ice. And I have to say, Under Armour, I had no idea you would come out like this. Continue reading for the full Under Armour Micro G Black Ice performance review…
First, like most anyone, is the appearance when the box was opened. My first thought was “Jordan XIII”, and not without warrant. The side panels are made up of the same dimpled mesh as that model Air Jordan, only for the dimples being less pronounced and more numerous. I know the white colorways have leather sides, so I am not sure of any performance differences, but I love the mesh. I normally hate when people on message boards immediately begin comparing every shoe that comes out to Jordans, as if there are no more original ideas out there and every designer copies the Jumpman, but I could not help think also of the Air Jordan 2010 when I saw the ankle collar. The cut is extremely asymmetrical and draws the eyes immediately. Matter of fact, everything about this shoe makes you want to look twice. It is just a beautiful blend of textures and materials that come together nicely. The forefoot strap is a brushed rubber and has an almost aluminum look to it (like the primer black on test cars). The sole, while it looks black in the pictures, is really “black ice”, a dark transparent with the black midsole behind it.
Black Ice “shattered glass” solid rubber traction outsole.
The strap comes over from the medial side right along the ball joint, but it has to be pulled very hard and the shoe laced tight to notice any difference.
Another detail that reminded me of a Jordan was the white stitching and exposed heel counter, a’ la the Air Jordan XXII.
The most surprising thing about the shoe, having so much mesh and a relatively thin midsole, was the weight. I am no stickler for lightweight shoes, and I really think the whole lighter shoe = better performance is greatly exaggerated. Granted, boots don’t help, but really, the difference in a couple ounces to most people is overblown. That said, I thought the shoe would be closer to the Kobe IV, but it actually weighed in at just over 15 ounces in a size 10.5, not heavy by any real standards. I am sure some of this was due to the forefoot strap, since it is made of a rubber compound, and if you have to have lighter I guess you could cut it off, but I wouldn’t go that far just to say it was lighter. Now, for the real question, “Where can I go play, NOW!!!”
The shoe is very straight-forward in lacing, just six simple metal eyelets straight up the shoe. The laces do stop before the strap so across the forefoot is lacking in lace support. This is not a problem, however, because the inner of the shoe is lined with a tongue/half-foot bootie thick with mesh and padding to keep the lockdown strong. The mesh side panels contributed highly to the fit as well, showing an ability to flex and move with the foot without losing shape. The patent leather rand/Cobec toe cap keep form very well and stop any additional movement while playing, leading to a very responsive feel on court. I felt no lace pressure ANYWHERE in the shoe, which is unusual to me for a mid. I usually get a little pressure on the front of the ankle at times, but none in these after a 4-day-straight playing binge. Anybody who has read my past reviews knows I lace as tight as possible, but in these there was no need. The ankle is very thickly padded with what seems like a memory foam, but not as dense as in most shoes. The ankle cut prevents any slipping, and the solid, exposed heel counter kept my foot right over the foot bed at all times. There was no movement, EVER, in my week of playing. Breathability was about average. I figured the mesh side panels and Under Armour reputation for moisture absorption would keep breathability to a premium, but the fit sleeve and thick ankle padding kept some heat in, but no more than usual. Nothing really to worry about in my mind. One thing, however: I am partial to no-shows, and the stiff ankle/mesh makeup makes it very hard to play in them, especially along the Achilles. Wear a short quarter or higher (I went to size 6-8 Nike Elites after the first wearing) and you will be good to go.
Even in no-shows, the ankle is still cut low.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped on the gym floor was the bounce from the Micro G. I immediately thought of the Kobe IV; it felt like full-length Lunar Foam. I really can’t say enough about it. The cushioning felt exactly right for my foot. Very low-profile, very responsive, and so far has shown no signs of deterioration (I know it has only been a week, but how many of us saw a difference in the Kobe IV after a week?). After talking to Ryan Drew, Basketball Category Leader at Under Armour, I found out that:
“Micro G is a high-rebound, low compression-set foam compound that allows us to reduce the thickness of the foam by approx 25% to 30% versus standard EVA foams, resulting in a lighter weight midsole part with great performance properties. The high-rebound (or high energy return) provides a bouncier, livelier feel than you would get from standard EVA, and the lower compression set means that the foam will retain it’s cushioning properties over a longer period of time. In the Black Ice there are 3 separate layers of Micro G. The external Micro G midsole that you see on the outside of the shoe…an internal Micro G midsole that is overlasted or “feathered”, and a molded 6mm Micro G sockliner that provides an incredible ride. Given that the sockliner is the closest part to the foot, we wanted to make sure that we put almost 3 times more cost into our sockliner than most brands, even at higher pricepoints. A quality sockliner is usually the first thing that is eliminated to save costs…we wanted to make sure it was the first thing that stayed.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Proponents of full-length Zoom Air need to check these out, as this is the closest I can find to that feel. The shoe feels like it is sitting right on the floor, but has a springiness I haven’t felt in any another brand but Nike. The insole is a definite revelation, as one of my pet peeves lately has been companies putting in less-than-performance sockliners. My last review, the Hops Ol’Skool, was also a pleasant surprise in this regard, and I have never understood why we spend $100+ on a shoe then have to put in aftermarket accessories. In application, the step in comfort is top-notch; I can’t think of a shoe with a better sockliner in my closet (except the LeBron IV Zoom-liner). The forefoot also visually looks to be thicker than the heel, giving the shoe a toe-up feel, screaming “I NEED TO RUN!!”
The Black Ice insole before wearing.
As noted above, the external heel counter does a great job of keeping the heel stable and aligned over the footbed. It has the look of being cut extremely high but is outlined in the patterned leather rand. It is actually about as high as a running shoe would be, which makes sense with the ankle cut. The forefoot is outfitted with an outrigger that is very subtle in appearance as it gradually grows in width the farther back it goes, not just stuck on the side of the shoe as an afterthought. When I removed the sockliner, the first thing I did was feel for cushioning consistency throughout the midsole. I was surprised by the feel under the arch, as a hidden midfoot shank was felt. Learning from others’ mistakes, however, UA didn’t use a full-length, stiff plate. Again, according to Ryan Drew:
“The Black Ice uses a 2mm thick, 30mm wide midfoot nylon shank that runs from just in front of the heel up to the forefoot. It’s molded into the topside of the internal Micro G foam midsole part, and sits under a 2mm thick foam strobel. The shank allows for proper midfoot flex, torsional rigidity, and lateral stability…it’s the structure that you’re feeling under your arch. It’s also important to note that our “last” shape has slightly more arch and an anatomical heel shape that gives the ballplayer more support in the midfoot and better heel lock than a lot of shoes on the market. Most brands have gone away from any type of arch shape in an effort to make sure they cover a broader range of foot types and arch shapes (primarily flat arches).”
I found this kept the shoe from ever feeling stiff from too much support and allows the forefoot to flex naturally with the shoe while providing excellent support through the arch and midfoot.
After 6 days, four in a row, of multi-hour, full-court runs, I can say this shoe is still impressive every time I lace them up. The midsole is reminiscent of the Huarache 2K5 with the way it deflects at angles and did take some adjustment. Being a bigger guard, I was worried about the minimal midsole, but I still have not experienced any jarring landings or numbness or shin splints from lack of forefoot cushioning. Traction was above par, but not biting like I have found in the Air Jordan XXI and Reebok Answer IX. I think this may have to do with the translucent outsole grabbing the dust from all over the floor, and some that was still outside, but a couple of quick wipes every few minutes and I was good to go. The ankle cut, probably the most visual element of the shoe, really did help with mobility and a feeling of quickness. We all know if you are quick, you just are, but any little bit helps. Brandon Jennings’ stitched-in signature adds a personal element to the shoe, just so you know he has next.
So far, I have noticed no busted stitches, very little midsole compression, and only slight scuffs and scratches on the toe cap. Of course there are the requisite wrinkles in the mesh and toe cap, but people, WEAR YOUR SHOES and deal with it. Until they rip apart from it, I think it gives character.
The above three pictures are after a solid 6 wearings of full court. VERY little wear and tear.
Well, that about wraps it up. I have run out of compliments to give to what I think will be the underrated shoe of the year. The only thing I can even pick at is the traction, and even that was good. I rank this shoe right up there with the Nike Zoom Kobe IV, adidas Supernatural Creator (my favorite from last year), and above another favorite last year, the Jordan XVI.5. I dare say I like it more than the Kobe V, but don’t shoot me yet. As I sit here finishing this up, I am waiting for the chance to lace them back up and get back on the court.
This shoe is greatness in a black box. And like the black ice I see here in Texas every winter, I never saw it coming.
-Review by Bryan Hinkle, aka Duke4005