After really liking The North Face Ultra Trail shoes this spring, I’ve stepped into the Ultra Smooth door-to-trail version. Built much the same as the Ultra Trail, but with a more road-friendly outsole and slight tweaks to the midsole for improved performance on the tarmac. Can it really be a do-it-all shoe?
The North Face Ultra Smooth Features:
- Upper: FlashDry™ upper wicks away sweat to keep you dry and reduces risk of blisters
- Lightweight, no-sew upper for superior comfort
- Breathable and protective Ultra Airmesh
- TPU-welded support overlays
- 3M™ reflective tape for visibility
- CRADLE™ technology for proper foot positioning
- Track spike tongue
- 18 mm/10 mm heel/forefoot EVA under foot
- Pebax® plate for superior energy return
- Ground-contact, injection-molded EVA midsole
- Vibram® rubber outsole in high-wear areas
- Designed for runners with a neutral stride
- MSRP: $110
Ultra Smooth is Ready for Door-to-trail Adventures
After a lengthy “around town” break-in period, it was finally time to get on with the review. Truth be told, I liked wearing them around town so much, I didn’t want to soil them. But, soil them I did — for the sake of science.
Over the course of my testing, I’d run extensively on road and all flavors of dirt imaginable. I ran on the loamy, coastal singletrack of Western Washington and on all flavors of trail and road here in Utah. These shoes are most definitely versatile.
My experience this spring with the The North Face Ultra Trail running shoes left me impressed with the changes in the footwear program at The North Face. No question, they were making huge strides and have come up with some very compelling trail runners. The Ultra Smooth uses much of the same construction as the Ultra Trail, but with a 50/50 road/trail slant.
The fit is relatively straightforward with a traditional last and pointy toebox. I sized up to an 11 and while they may have been a teeny bit roomy, I quite liked the extra wiggle room in the toebox. I typically ran in them with mid weight socks and that took up much of the excess volume for an excellent fit.
I’m a fan of rocketed outsoles and these offer just that. The resulting stride is quite natural and smooth — even if you’re a mid foot striker, like myself. I found each step to roll to the next with excellent stability throughout the stride. Surprisingly, the forefoot protection is quite good, but watch out for rock punts on the top of the toebox — yeowch… not much protection there.
Lacing them up provides a great fit and I quite like the traditional lacing system without gimmicks. That results in the ability to pinpoint the fit just right without doing battle with pulleys, dials and such.
Dirt or Road
Several times I opted to leave from the house and run to the trail. These are quite capable runners on the road, but aren’t my first choice. Of all the trail running shoes I have, these are most certainly the best on the road. When it comes to the trail, again, I have better trail-specific shoes, but these held quite well — even better than I had imagined.
I ran in some pretty soggy and wet conditions and the outsole provided consistent traction. The only time where I really felt the lack of traction was on dry, loose trails where the low-profile treads just never got enough bite. In those instances, toe-off was pretty weak and I just ended up stepping gingerly so as not to lose traction.
While they lack any durable water resistant (DWR) coating, the FlashDry fabrics do allow these to dry out pretty quickly. Additionally, they are wearing well so far without any signs of breakdown in the uppers or premature wear on the outsole.
- Lightweight design
- Very breathable
- Standard laces and pattern is easily tailored to fit
- Surprisingly capable in the right terrain
- Nice rockered outsole for a smooth stride
- Smooth transitions from road to trail
- Loose, rocky terrain gets the best of it
- Slight compromise on road and trail, but great for a “do it all” shoe
- Quantity of logos on the uppers is a little excessive
The Bottom Line
This is a great shoe and works well as a do-it-all road/trail trainer. If you spend most of your time on the trail, the Ultra Trail is a bette choice. However, if you like to mix things up and never know when you might feel the need to get some dirt time, the Ultra Smooth is quite capable and versatile.
Buy Now: Available at REI (on sale for $76 at posting)