Tuesday, April 15, 2014

North Face Ultra Trail Running Shoe


North Face Ultra Trail Running Shoe

Overview:
After much frustration with AT ski boots, the expense, fit issues, I've been in desperate need of a cardiac-intensive sport. I injured my knee running on pavement few years back and have been hesitant to return to running. Desperate times call for desperate measures, especially seeing friends in much better shape than you! I figured I should return to running, but not back to the concrete, to the mountains.

Trail-running is addictive. Coming from a background of hiking, climbing, skiing - trail-running has liberated me. Compared to skiing or climbing, which are gear intensive sports, trail-running is simplistic. All you need is a good pair of trail runners and you are pretty much set. To be honest, my first choice for trail runners would have been from La Sportive due to prior positive experiences with their footwear. Just like most consumers, pricing is a factor and I was able to get these trail runners at a better price. So with that out there in the open, let's get right to business.

Fit and Performance:
The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on The North Face Ultra Trail running shoe is how lightweight the shoes were. My 10.5 size shoes weigh in at 1 lb and 3 oz. Compared to most other trail runners ( Wildcat, Ultra Raptor, XA Pro 3D, etc...) the Ultra Trail has them beat in weight. La Sportiva does have a one trail runner with similar weight called the Helios(average weight per pair, 1lb). Due to how lightweight the Ultra Trail is, I would be inclined to view it more as a minimalist style trail runner.

Ultra Trail Front View

I wasn't sure how I would like this "minimalist" style of trail runner compared to my Salomon XA Pro 3D ultra's which are quite a stout shoe. My first run with the Ultra Trail  changed my mind completely as to advantages of a minimalist trail runner. The main advantage is the lack of weight on your feet. The Ultra Trail shoes feel so lightweight that they make those long uphill sections or jumping overs logs on the trail ever so easy because there simply is less shoe weighing you down.

I wasn't expecting very much from North Face with their Ultra Trail besides being a generic trail runner, but I couldn't be more mistaken. The Ultra Trail provides adequate cushioning in the midsole without any unnecessary weight. The lacing system and sole on the shoe provides great support on the downhill. The interior that North Face calls "FlashDry™" wicks extremely well and keeps the foot dry and blister free. From 5 miles trail runs or 20 miles, the Ultra Trail is one comfortable shoe.

The shoe was designed for runners with a natural stride and has enough volume to support a custom orthotic (I use a half length orthotic and cut away the stock insole where my orthotic is). I also liked how forgiving the upper mesh fabric is because my right foot is quite wide around the metatarsus region.

The Vibram trail running sole provides great traction on slippery rocks and trees but I found it less than optimal in muddy conditions where I would have liked a more aggressive tread. The Ultra Trail is fantastic for well maintained trails but because it's so lightweight it doesn't quite maintain the torsional rigidity of heavier trail runners for really rocky and rough terrain. I think that the majority of customers, including myself, are willing to sacrifice that stability for weight because most of the time we aren't running under those type of adverse trail conditions(besides there are dedicated trail runners meant for those type of gnarly trails).
Ultra Trail Sole pattern
Summary: Those looking for neutral, lightweight, and supportive trail runner need to take North Face serious with the Ultra Trail running shoe. Wicked traction for most terrain and a great retail price means a lot of bang for your buck!

Pros:
  • Great value at the MSRP $110
  • Wickedly lightweight
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Great traction on variable terrain
Cons:
  • Poor tracking in Mud
  • Not quite as supportive compared to heavier trail runners
Video:

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