The North Face has stepped up their shoe program in a big way with the new Ultra Trail. Awards have been dished out and consumers are validating the new design in droves, but did my testing reveal anything different?
The North Face Ultra Trail Features:
- CRADLE™ technology for proper foot positioning
- Track spike tongue
- 16 mm/8 mm heel/forefoot EVA under foot
- Dual-injection-molded, EVA CRADLE™ GUIDE midsole platform
- Vibram® full-length, trail-specific outsole
- Designed for runners with a neutral stride
- 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
- MSRP: $110
Ultra Trail is Ultra Worthy
My previous experiences with The North Face trail runners has been both good and bad. According to the shoe designers at the most iconic outdoor gear brand on the planet, that just wasn’t good enough. The result has been complete redesigns and a revised philosophy on shoe design and construction. The new Ultra Trail is a great shoe and I’m not the only one saying it.
The design seems simple on the surface, but mixes together some pretty interesting bits of shoe tech to deliver the finished product. I’m told the Ultra Trail has been developed with heavy input from The North Face athletes (perhaps you’ve heard of a guy named Dean Karnazes). Both the Ultra Trail and Ultra Smooth borrow from the same uppers, but differ in midsole and outsole construction. I’ve got both at my disposal and have been able to test them alongside each other.
I’m starting with the Ultra Trail because, frankly, it is an awesome shoe. I don’t care what you’ve thought of The North Face trail running shoes in the past, these are the real deal. The size 11 shoes are generously-sized, but give my toes an extra dose of wiggle room, which is always a good thing. There is plenty of room to wear Injinji toe socks (my preference, if the shoe can accommodate them). Otherwise, the last is fairly narrow, which is a good fit for my feet. But, beware of white socks with the blue shoes — the blue dye will bleed into them.
An Ultra Excellent Source of Traction
The Ultra Trail’s feature a low-profile design that is more akin to a trail flat than some of the chunkier designs on the market. But, don’t let the simple-looking outsole fool you. That Vibram tread means business and can grab terra firma as well as more aggressive treads. They only get overwhelmed in squishy, muddy conditions or very loose and dry trails, but the same can be said for most shoes on the market. Further, the outsoles do feature a slight rocker to them (my personal preference), thus giving the Ultra Trail an excellent stride on the trails.
Again, the outsole is impressive — I can run at low and high cadence with confidence that traction will be there. Stability is also excellent with my entire foot wrapped and held in place under all conditions. Both uphill and downhill traction is predictable and solid overall.
Cushioning is about right — not too squishy and not too harsh. I’ll also say that the foot protection is very solid for such a low-profile shoe. Only the sharpest of pointy rocks are felt through the midsoles, otherwise the trail feel is pretty good and leans more towards the protective end of the spectrum. Toe protection is a little lacking as the inevitable rock punt has left my forefoot with a case of the “ouchies” more than once.
The standard lacing pattern is welcomed and allows me to pinpoint the fit. I haven’t had problems with “lace creep” and feel they stay tight and loose where I want them over the course of a run.
More on the uppers… the material does soak up water like a sponge. Early-morning runs with dew-covered grass yielded soaking wet uppers. That said, the FlashDry-infused materials dries out in a hurry. As far as wear goes, the entire shoe is holding up well with no major wear issues so far.
- Very lightweight design
- Blister and hotspot-free out the gate
- Low-profile treads pack a punch
- Treads shed mud well
- Cradle guide construction offers serious trail protection
- Slight rocker adds to a nice stride
- Dries in a jiffy
- Could do without the extra-large TNF logo on the toebox
- For a low-profile shoe, the trail protection could be tuned down a tad
- White socks beware… you’ll turn them blue
The Bottom Line
The North Face is breaking new ground with the Ultra Trail. These shoes are light, nimble and fun on the trails with a hefty dose of long-distance comfort. Definitely the best trail runner from the iconic brand yet and up there with the best shoes on the market.
Buy Now: Available at REI