The North Face began life as a hardcore mountaineering and outdoor manufacturer/retailer, but in recent years has focused more heavily on the lifestyle and streetwear market Even so, and despite in some quarters losing its hardcore mountaineering cred, TNF has in recent years bolstered its trail running credentials through sponsorship of both events and athletes, including the celebrity face of trail ultra-runners Dean Karnazes and New Zealander Lisa Tamati.
After some less than stellar offerings like the gadgetey North Face Boa and its dial lacing system, the Single Track is a genuine trail shoe built for purpose. In addition to offering reasonably good looks (I trialled the black and ‘North Face’ red edition of the shoe which does not look entirely tragic when combined with casual pants), these shoes are manufactured to face up to serious trail conditions. One of the most noticeable outings was North Face-sponsored athlete Jez Bragg’s Winter West Highland Way record run, his blog (www.jezbraggblogspot.com) detailing some seriously tough conditions that were well handled by the shoe (“Trail conditions in the valley were awful. Ice, ice, ice, it was everywhere…”).
The Single Track offers less cushioning than the Double Track reviewed last issue, especially in the forefoot. The heel features the same ‘Dome Cradle’ as the Double Track, but is noticeably lower, and the Single Track is a neutral offering aimed at competent runners with good mechanics. Despite the lower sole, downhill heel striking is pain-free, with good cushioning and plenty of bounce delivering a smooth ride.
Forefoot protection is excellent, with a ‘Snake Plate’ providing protection without sacrificing flexibility. Rather than a solid plate, the Snake Plate slithers down the sole in a continuous ‘S’ pattern – an interesting innovation that does well on delivering the conflicting design goals of flexibility and protection.
The toe bumper is adequate, offering sufficient protection for most trail conditions, and a scree-cover below the tongue does a good job at limiting debris entry. On pavement, the Single Track offers a smooth ride, and could be used as a full-blown hybrid without imparting undue stress on the legs. The outer sole tread is quite passive, and while this will bring some slippage in muddy conditions, the pavement ride is greatly improved, and distances up to half-marathon length on the road feel fine.
In wet conditions, the light mesh upper allows fast drainage and drying, and while the Dome Cradle of the heel is very sturdy and built-up, small gaps allow water to escape well, and squishiness doesn’t linger long after a creek crossing. The laces that shipped with the Single Track could definitely be improved – no matter how tight and sturdy the initial bow was, extended water crossings combined with drying resulted in the laces working lose and requiring on-going re-tying. While not a big issue on a training run, after-market laces would be a must for race conditions.
Reception for the Single Track has been quite positive, capped by a “Best Debut” award by Runner’s World (USA). While it’s hard to see the Single Track taking huge market share in the trail community, it makes plenty of sense having this shoe as part of the kit accompanying a well-heeled urban adventurer who chooses to be outfitted at a North Face retail outlet, and this seems to be the market segment targeted by this offering. The generalist, hybrid trail-trainer-come-racer handles most conditions very well and would be a sound investment for a casual runner planning to have a single pair of trail shoes in the rack.
Great for > Most trail and pavement conditions. Competent crossover shoe, with good foot protection on rocky trails. Fast drying, and with good upper protection from trail debris.
Not so great for > Muddy conditions – the grip patterns on the sole are quite shallow and tend to fill up quickly, so muddy / claying conditions will not suit the shoe.
Test conditions > Road, mixed trail and road, fire-trail, technical trail with mud and slippery rock conditions, ~400km
Tester > Nick Wienholt – ultra-trail runner based in Sydney’s southern suburbs, Nick recently completed three of Australia’s toughest trail ultras (Bogong to Hotham, Cradle Mountain and The North Face 100), highlighted by a finish in the top 5 per cent of the field at The North Face 100, earning a silver buckle. He plans to dedicate the spring to short-distance events like the marathon.
Tester mechanics > Mid-weight (73kg) experienced trail runner with neutral pronation and forefoot strike.
Stockists > The North Face stores and selected outdoor retailers
RRP > AU$199.00 / NZ$249.95
Web > www.thenorthface.com.au