This review first appeared in Edition #17 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.
A Runner’s World ‘Best Debut’ shoe, the North Face Ultra Cardiac seems to be a culmination of all the best characteristics drawn from all the trail shoes that have gone before it under this brand’s banner over the past few years. That’s saying a lot, too, as I am a big believer that The North Face trail shoes are sorely underappreciated by the trail fraternity, especially the bulk of the mid pack, where runners aren’t needing super specialised terrain-specific beasts – they just want a shoe that does the job all round in most conditions.
This is that shoe. It hits the sweet spot on so many levels.
An 8mm drop is neither too much heel, nor too slim on the padding. Indeed, the midsole gives quite a lot of cushion compared to many go-fasts on market today (but this is of course still not Hoka One One territory, either). To begin with I actually found it a little too mushy, having been running in more minimalist shoes, including The North face’s Ultra Trail 2, which is more attuned to trail feedback and twitchy n the rough stuff. But then I quickly grew to love the plushness. The Cardiac keeps the ride mellow with a layer of foam in the midsole providing neutral cushioning that flexes well over uneven terrain, while the plastic cradle around the back of the shoe cups your heel in place.
The ride loses a little trail feel in the transition, but realistically still allows plenty feedback enough for good proprioception (the process by which the body can vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces, by utilising stretch receptors in the muscles to keep track of the joint position in the body. Essentially, how quickly your foot and extended skeletomuscular system reacts to what is happening underfoot, and thus how well it keeps you upright!)
The padding may soften the step on general terrain, but on super sharp and rocky singletrack that flexibility in the sole means a bigger hammering, something a rockplate, which this shoe lacks, would abate some.
Up top, the padding continues in a lush vibe, yet it doesn’t annoy as some can around the back of the ankle. The mesh upper breathes extremely well while the rubber toe guard is minimal but does the job all the same.
The wider last keeps stability at a premium, and grip underfoot is for the most part excellent. The skids come on when you hit wet and soft, specifically mud, long The North Face trail shoes’ arch-enemy. But if you’re looking at a mud fest for long stretches of any run, well, you’ve accidentally entered an Obstacle Course race, not a trail run. So that particular grip issue is one of specificity.
What I most like about this shoe is that it is no-frills. No big gimmick shouts at you, ‘pick me, pick me’. Rather it just hums ‘reliability’.
Maybe that’s why sometimes a shoe like this from The North Face will fly under the radar – because it’s not flashy, rather it is a workhorse that applies to pretty much most trail scenarios. And what it works hardest at is keeping your foot comfortable. And isn’t that the point, along with performance, which in most situations, the shoe also delivers in spades.
“…it is a workhorse that applies to pretty much most trail scenarios.”
All in all, the Cardiac offers perhaps the most versatile comfort for all but the meanest of meaty trails, and even then, it’ll handle them, at a slight cost of grip if wet and muddy.
As judged on iRunFar, by Kristin Zoesel “perhaps the most prolific shoe tester in trail land, “The North Face Ultra Cardiac is the shoe you pack when you only want to take one pair of trail shoes on a carry-on-only airplane trip to locations with moderate terrain.”
I’d adjust that to a broader range of underfoot conditions and note that it is an ideal choice for, as it’s full name suggests, ultra distances, the added chassis (at no extra weight, mind you being a skinny 274g, Men’s Size 9) proving good for the long run.
In a nod to its moniker, this one shoe with a lot of heart: and we suggest it would be a perfect match for most lovers of trail.
Great for: being an all rounder
Not-so-great for: grip
Test Conditions: trail mix of fire, technical trail, beach
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running routes, mostly 15-30km range outings.
RRP: AUD $180