Having a review site dedicated to trail and fell running gear without including the Walsh PB range of shoes is a bit like writing a book about popular music in the 20th century without mentioning the Beatles. Named after well-known fell runner Pete Bland who helped design and develop them, variants of the PB have been a constant presence on the feet of UK runners since the 1970’s and they have more fell-race wins and records to their name than any other shoe.
Based in Bolton, Walsh are the very definition of a traditional company and it’s wonderful to see the all-too-rare ‘Made in England’ logo on the box and breath in the ‘shoe shop’ smell which evokes childhood memories of my father working as a cobbler. I found it hard not to let this sense of nostalgia get the better of my objectivity when I first received the PB’s but in truth, they need no favours from the likes of me as their heritage and longevity speaks for itself.
Walsh offer numerous variants of the PB and it took me a while to decide which one to try but I eventually opted for the Ultra as it offers a slightly wider version of the brands’ well-known snug fit and I suspected this would provide the best match to my normal preferences.
The styling of the Walsh PB Ultra is probably going to divide opinion amongst those who haven’t seen them before. I suspect that some people will consider them dated but others will judge them to be quite cool in a retro sort of way. I have to say that I find myself sitting firmly in the latter camp and I think that they make a nice change from some of the more garish designs that we’ve seen exhibited by their competitors on occasion in recent years. The design itself is pretty simple; a grippy and sticky outsole, a no-nonsense synthetic upper and some foam sandwiched between the two with no marketing hype or superfluous bells and whistles which I again find quite refreshing.
As I mentioned above, I went for the Ultra version of the PB as I was a little wary of the narrow fit of the standard ‘Elite’ version of the shoe and as soon as I put them on my feet, I knew that this was the right call. The toe box felt pretty snug and pointy on my D-width feet and whilst this shape is clearly aimed at promoting security whilst descending etc, I wouldn’t personally want to be wearing them longer than a couple of hours as I think I’d find them a little uncomfortable after that. The fit around the midfoot and heel is nicely snug but not too tight and worked perfectly fine for me, holding my foot comfortably and securely.
Essentially, I found the fit pretty good in comparison to something like and Inov-8 Performance last shoe but….. and I’m going to sound like a broken record here….. not up there with the Salomon Fellcross which is far and away the best fitting Fell racing shoe out there in my view (albeit at twice the price of the PB Ultra!).
Moving onto sizing, I found that I had to go up half a size in comparison with Inov-8’s to a 10, which is the same as I would usually take in a Salomon.
One of the things that struck be about the PB Ultra when I first took them out for a run was that they are noticeably less flexible than typical offerings from the likes of Salomon and Inov-8 and this took me a short while to get used to. I wouldn’t say that it caused me a problem but I do tend to prefer a slightly more pliable shoe on my feet as I think it helps them do a better job of adapting to uneven surfaces and changes in gradient. In spite of this, one of the things I do like about the flexibility of the Walsh’s is that it increases in a completely linear fashion from back to front so it feels natural. This is in contrast to something like the La Sportiva Anakonda which is stiff through the heel and midfoot but then has a definite hinge around the metatarsal flex point which I found a bit weird.
Security of fit when running is pretty good and I felt minimal-no movement on descents although I was vaguely aware of my foot rotating inside the shoe a little when contouring steep slopes. Underfoot protection from pointy objects is pretty good and sufficient to withstand all but the sharpest of rocks. Proprioception levels aren’t spectacular but ground-feel is usually inversely proportional to protection so that isn’t especially surprising.
The outsole compound is nice and sticky which means it adheres quite well to hard, slick surfaces in spite of the pointy lugs and resultant low surface area. Grip in deep mud is good a probably comparable to something like Inov-8 X-Talon’s but not quite up there with Mudclaws. The area where they really excel is on steep, wet grass where they inspire a lot of confidence and offer velcro-like grip. The pyramid shaped lugs offer decent levels of mud clearance around the forefoot but I noticed that they seemed to struggle to shake it off around the midfoot and heel and I think this is due to the relative lack of flexibility which prevents them from ‘opening and closing’ and shrugging it away. The PB Ultra’s are a touch on the heavy side and this is exacerbated when you get them wet as the upper seems to hang on to moisture a bit more than some of their competitors, not massively so but it is noticeable.
The 8mm drop and moderate stack height (including lugs) is a little more than I would usually prefer in a fell shoe but that’s obviously a personal thing. Stability can be a little bit of an issue on harder, uneven surfaces when the lugs do not sink into the ground as they create quite a narrow, tall-ish platform and they can feel a bit prone to tipping over, not unlike the Salomon Fellcross.
A big plus-point with the PB line of shoes is that it’s possible to get them resoled when the lugs wear down so you can potentially get a lot of life out of them so long as the uppers hold up. Lancashire Sports Repairs offer a mail-order resoling service at pretty reasonable prices and are definitely worth a look.
So are the PB Ultra’s a modern-day classic or an anachronism? Well, looking at them purely from a performance perspective, I would say that they are very capable (just look at the heritage) but unspectacular in comparison to equivalents from Inov-8 and Salomon. This doesn’t paint the full picture though because they offer something different which will probably work well for a lot of people and has done for many years. The other major consideration is the fact that they are available for under £60 at some retailers which is astonishing value for money and makes them a bit of no-brainer if you are on a budget.
On the other hand, I can’t help but think that moving forward, they are going to need to utilise new designs, materials and manufacturing methods to remain competitive. I have an awful lot of good will towards companies like Walsh and whilst the PB Ultra is a pretty good shoe, it makes me a little sad to cite the low price as the major selling point. I want to be able to rave about product that is designed and made in Britain using the latest technology and taking on the world, perhaps sat alongside the existing PB. There has been a real upsurge in interest in off-road running over the last few years and I’d love to see Walsh capitalise on this growing market.
In the meantime though, I would reiterate that performance-wise, the PB Ultra’s are probably 85% as good as their flashier, more modern competitors but at less than half the price of some of them and therefore certainly worthy of consideration.
This product was provided as a test sample by the manufacturer, please refer to my gear review and advertising policy for more information.
Walsh PB Running Shoes are available to mail order from Amazon, or if you want to really get an authentic experience of purchasing them, you should take a look at the excellent Pete Bland Sports in Kendal which is now run by Pete’s son.
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Let me know what you think about the PB Ultra or ask me a question in the comments section below.