I tested, and liked, the original Ultra Trail. So, when The North Face updated to the Ultra TR II, the bar was already set fairly high, but the new version steps things up even more by delivering a fantastic all-around trail runner.
The North Face Ultra TR II Features:
- Lightweight, breathable ripstop uppers
- Eliminates excess while still providing critical impact and element protection
- A neutral shoe with minimal structure in the uppers
- FlashDry™ lining with Ultra Airmesh for maximum breathability
- Low-profile design inspired by cross-country spikes
- Standard toebox
- Vibrate road-to-trail low-profile outsole
- 16mm heel height and 8mm forefoot height (8mm drop)
- Dual-injection-molded, EVA CRADLE™ GUIDE midsole
- Strategically-placed suede lining inserts in heel and cuffs
- Pebax® heel CRADLE™ for support and energy return
- Weight: 10 oz. each (size 11.5, actual)
- MSRP: $110
A great update to a solid shoe
At the outset, the handful of issues I had with the original were addressed. The uppers are more refined with less structure and a more strategically-placed exoskeleton. With that, you get a lighter-feeling shoe that really conforms to the foot. I’ve tried minimally-structured uppers before, but these are the best version of that design I’ve tested to date.
As is usual, I ordered my typical size 11 shoe. With nearly every manufacturer, I’m fine with that, but these run small. After getting an 11.5, I was golden with just the right amount of wiggle room for comfort on long trail runs. They come with two types of shoe laces: a round, ribbed pair and a flat, smooth pair. While that’s nice, the ribbed laces are always the best choice for worry-free knots knots. I’m also a fan of standard eyelets and am glad The North Face designers stuck with that tried-and-true philosophy — it just plain works.
The tongue is a minimalistic design made from thin, perforated suede. There’s no padding or anything, but it is gusseted to keep large scree from entering the shoe, but small stuff will get through the vent holes. While I’m a huge fan of squared toeboxes, these are excellent. I’ve got good wiggle-room and haven’t missed my Altra or Topo’s at all. So, if you’re thinking I’m liking these shoes, you’re right.
I’ve had many, many great miles in these shoes already and I look forward to many more. The Vibram outsole is low-profile, but extra grippy. I mean, just walk around on carpet with these and you’ll feel as if you’ve got Velcro on your feet. That translates into nearly-heroic trail grip for all conditions except loose, gravelly trails. Admittedly, that gives nearly all shoes traction fits, so it was expected. On every other terrain, I’ve simply loved how smooth the Ultra TR II’s run and the consistent traction they provide. Both uphill and down, traction is predictable and solid.
Since they are a fairly low-profile design, support is excellent. Part of that is certainly due to the Pebax heel cradle, but overall these just feel “planted” with no stability issues whatsoever. Trail protection toes the line between protective and sensitive quite well. I’ll call it perfectly-balanced with the right amount of feedback without allowing trail intrusions to ruin your stride.
Since every good trail run has some sort of stream crossing, let me tell you how these perform after repeated stream crossings. I’ll step back here… Utah has had an excellent snow year and a cool, moist spring. As a result, once the runoff began, it overwhelmed one of my staple running trails. I’m talking going from 2-3 stream crossings to 30 or more with the water running down the trail for about a quarter-mile.
I didn’t shy away from all that water and ended up having a blast. The Ultra TR II’s drained well and stayed put quite well too. They do retain some water and I had to do a thorough cleaning afterwards from all the sand inside, but they performed better than expected under the circumstances.
- Love the minimally-structured uppers — they cradle my feet well
- Vibram outsole is super-grippy
- Low-profile design delivers stability in spades
- Excellent breathability
- Love the standard laces with minimalist tongue
- Perfect balance of trail feel and protection
- Runs a half size small — get a half size larger
- If you like “no show” socks, the tongue will dig into your foot
- Vent holes in tongue allow small scree entry
The Bottom Line: The North Face Ultra TR II
Honestly, I didn’t think these shoes would be as awesome as they turned out to be. I’ll call them my early pick for sleeper shoe of the year due to their excellent traction, smooth stride, lightweight design and overall comfort. Nicely-done.
Buy Now: Visit TheNorthFace.com
As I mentioned, these have become an instant favorite of mine. Quite honestly, saying that is quite surprising because they aren't at all like the other shoes on my short list. The North Face has done well with this update and if you can find these in your size, snatch them up for a comfortable and lightweight trail crusher.