There are few brands that fire up the imagination like PUMA. Delivering on lightweight madness with precision while holding onto the last bastion of power with vigor... it’s all in day’s work for the big cat. Still, despite the evoSPEED 17.SL series leading the lightweight game on the scales, durability questions still plague one of the decade’s most landmark releases. A new year... a new chance to see if PUMA can take lightweight records one step further.

Pushing the speed barrier isn’t without its risks. A sticker and disclaimer that PUMA placed on the first two SL releases told us that we shouldn’t expect the boot to last longer than ten games. Warning us that we should keep these boots in the box until big matches. That obviously caused quite a reaction and prevented the SL from becoming an easy purchase. We wanted to dream and float in the clouds with the SL, but the durability kept us firmly on the ground and kept the first two SL’s from becoming a favourite. It’s tough to justify emptying your wallet for something that won’t last a full season, so what can PUMA do to fix this?

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The evoSPEED 17.SL hopes to be the answer to our problems. PUMA hasn’t made any changes to turn away fans of the SL series, but they made the changes that had to be made in order for this boot to challenge its competitors and the public’s perception.

Not for the faint of heart, there’s no hiding when wearing this boot, especially in the "Safety Yellow" launch colourway. The first thing you think is that this boot looks really fast. It stands out against almost anything and continues to remind us that PUMA has never, and will never be afraid to go loud. If you want to avoid the wrath of your league’s resident Nigel De Jong, probably best to give these a miss. However, if you’re wanting to make a statement from the second you slip off your slides and into your boots, there’s not a better option on the market

You will still see a sticker on the soleplate of the boot when you take them out of the box telling you to choose these boots for your “best days,” but the 10 day verbiage that PUMA used previously is notably absent. We’ll discuss later if there’s a reason for that.

The soleplate still has an incredible look to it with the juxtaposition of the blades and conical studs throughout the boot.  As we mentioned before, it’s unchanged from previous versions, but still something that we catch ourselves staring at because of how different it remains from other options on the market. PUMA provide you with an extra set of comfort insoles with your purchase. The insole in the SL is crafted to shave off excess weight, so some players will welcome a slightly more padded option within the box.

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Comfort and lightweight often seem to be ideas that can’t coexist... can PUMA change that?

With the soleplate staying the same and the upper looking similar, we were curious to see if this boot was still able to hold onto something we’d been impressed with on earlier versions. The first two versions of the SL provided comfort simply by having the most pliable upper on the market (come on, how could it not be pliable being that thin?) and avoiding stud hotspots on the soleplate. Will the PUMA evoSPEED 17.SL follow suit, or stumble at the gates before we even get to the hot-button issue of durability? We won’t keep you in suspense, because this boot definitely holds serve in this arena.

The upper, much like the previous versions, has zero stiffness to it and folds/forms to your foot the instant you tighten the laces. It could be the first boot that actually sees the comfort benefit from its lightweight nature, because there’s absolutely nothing for this boot that needs to soften up during wear. PUMA has merely added lining inside the thin upper to give some structure and help the boot hold its shape, meaning that the extremely thin upper has a freedom that most uppers may never reach, even after a break-in period. If you get the right size, there’s no reason to encounter discomfort from the upper.

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The tongue on the SL is extremely thin, and gives us the only area of the boot where some players might experience a small bit of an issue from lace-bite. This didn’t seem to be the case during testing for us, but it is something that could occur if you prefer to wear extremely thin socks and lace your boots as tightly as possible right out of the box (we like to start a bit loose during initial wear and then tighten them up after about 20 minutes or so).

Our biggest worry for this boot has to come in the form of the soleplate, when it comes to comfort. We found that the boot was very accommodating for wide feet and that it definitely fit true to size, but wide footed players do have a slight capability of their foot bleeding over the edge of the soleplate a bit. It would take a very wide foot, but it’s definitely something to be aware of when shopping in PUMA’s SL section. The soleplate has very little stiffness, but, since it isn’t as ridiculously thin as the upper, will take a portion of a session before the responsiveness matches up with the comfort it can provide. Even with the three studs in the back of the soleplate, we think that very few players will find any issues with stud pressure while using the PUMA 17.SL.

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Out the box, on the ball. What's it like?

The evoSPEED SL has never shied away from being a top performer once the time comes to step out on the pitch. The boot’s build and feel means that it’s almost destined to be a winner for anyone that gives it a proper run-out, but that’s never been the issue that’s plagued this boot since its inception. What we really wanted to know is whether this boot can stand up to the rigors of modern football and still be standing for longer than just a few short weeks. It’s never been a question of pace, it’s always been a question of durability.

It should come as no surprise, and this is our third SL that we’ve felt this with, that the upper provides an elite level of feel on the ball. There’s practically nothing between your foot and the ball, meaning that you feel every dimple and nearly every blade of grass as you turn. Delicate touches at pace feel as crisp as a boot could ever allow, and there’s not a boot that’s been produced that embodies “barefoot feel” like the SL series continues to do. It’s a boot that every player should experience at least once... there’s really nothing else like it once the ball gets put into play.

As you’d expect with an upper like what’s on the 17.SL, shooting and passing feels totally unhindered by the boot. The upper’s incredi-thin nature means every ping off your laces is fully felt by your foot. It also means that your technique in killing momentum off a pace or bringing a ball out of the air has to be ready for anything coming your way.

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The soleplate is unchanged. Conical studs in the forefoot help you dig in and get going while still allowing you to cut with ease, while blades in the midfoot and heel help you dig in whenever you need that extra bit of traction. Add in one last conical stud in the heel, and you get a soleplate that, three evoSPEED SL generations in, we still don’t quite understand, but a soleplate that we still enjoy.

The biggest strike against the PUMA evoSPEED 17.SL in the past is players worrying that the paper thin upper will only last them for ½ of a season. PUMA has addressed it in two very smart ways on the newest version, and we spent a large portion of time focused on how they changed the biggest flaw in the boot. Wrapping around the toebox and connecting to the soleplate, PUMA added a thin layer of material to help prevent ripping in areas where we generally see most of soleplate separation. It does make the boot sturdier in this area while not taking anything away from the touch and flexibility of the upper. Then, PUMA added another bit of material near the heel to make sure that the back of the boot gets the same level of durability as the front. Having tested dozens of evoSPEED SL and SL-S style boots since its inception, we’ve never seen a durability issue from this portion of the boot, but it is something that is welcomed if it lengthens the life of the 17.SL.

The simple question after all those technical specs is whether it works, and we found that it definitely does. The upper that is uncovered is still susceptible to someone wearing metal studs if they decide to stick one on you, but it’s going to take a lot more general wear and tear to see the evoSPEED 17.SL break down like its previous counterparts. We aren’t ready to proclaim this as a boot that you could hand down to your children in pristine condition, but it finally feels like PUMA has given us an SL with the level of durability that our wallet’s require from a release like this.

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The evoSPEED SL has been a fascinating boot from its original form. The lightweight upper and ability to surprise anyone and everyone when they get the boot in hand and on feet is something few other boots have ever, or will ever be able to claim. It was a 10 game warning and a sticker that placed this boot outside the biggest contenders and made sure that it was never anything more than a party trick during its first two versions. However, PUMA decided to address the biggest concern and it seems to have given us something that can finally let us float away without worrying that we might need to order 3 or 4 back-up pairs just to get through the season. If you’ve been waiting to be blown away by the SL, then PUMA just took away your last excuse with with the evoSPEED 17.SL. PUMA aren’t just winning the lightweight race, they’re dictating it.

Want a pair? Get them here.