One award gets you noticed, more awards gets you credibility and The North Face Ultra Trail’s have quickly garnered some serious kudos in mag land winning gongs the likes of Outside Magazine’s 2014 Gear of the Year Award in the trail running category and Runner’s World Magazine Best Debut Award Winner. That’s not a bad looking trophy cabinet for under half a season of being on the playing field. You can see the marketing bods – chuffed at the accolade ammunition they’ll tout in the next campaign – clinking champers flutes with the lab design boffins. Great work old chaps, nailed it.
TRM has to date avoided the plaudit game, but if we did enter that fray, this model would get an award for ‘most consistent’ in terms of here we have a pair of trail shoes that doesn’t lairize. It just gets the job done, dependably across the middle ground of the trail scene.
A shoe made for neutral runners, it is well suited to an average shaped foot – despite looking on the narrow side it has good room on the interior so long as you haven’t got whacking slabs.
The ride is dependable, so long as you’re on medium grade dirt. It displays good trail feel until you get to seriously steep or loose, gravely stuff. Then it loses its composure a little, the demure pattern Vibram sole grippy on most surfaces but tending to lose its mojo on gravel or mud where the close knit, low profile lugs let it slide.
Where the Ultra Trail’s shine is in comfort and ride, so long as you aren’t looking to be molly-coddled. The Cradle mid-sole technology that has well-served previous models in The North Face trail range, is re-employed, giving an extremely stable ride and promoting a biomechanically correct stride. The energy return is on the dull side with a firmer disposition – those looking for spring may be disappointed but those looking for trail feel will be happy trail campers.
For this tester, the moderate drop is in a sweet spot of 8mm (16mm-8mm), which delivers a good balance between low profile connection to the ground, giving immediate response and a mid range rise that doesn’t overly stress the calf as you fatigue.
The action on trail feels fast and agile – nearly like a road racing flat – you feel like you want to dance on dirt in these.
The upper is where more noticeable changes have been employed; a nearly seamless lightweight mesh construction featuring super wicking ‘Flashdry’ fabric on the inner matched to a breathable exterior mesh. These shoes are perfect for those runs where getting wet feet is inevitable. The material (including the overlays) is highly flexible, the fit consistent. The toe protection is good with rubberized protection the vanguard up front. The interior is essentially seam-free allowing for sockless wear, as well. Where the upper may fault is in longevity, however the shoe was not in hand (ermm, on foot) for long enough to assess either upper wear or sole degradation. Being a black Vibram sole, however, and on the firmer side, we suspect the grip will last longer than the fabric up top and indeed a quick web search revealed other testers who had minor issues with fabric wear and the odd tear.
Overall this would be a great shoe for fast, short- to mid-distance trails that feature consistency of mild terrain underfoot, rather than extremes. It would also be a good regular training shoe, especially for door to trail given the ride on road isn’t too bad. Not a daring entry on the market, but a solid performer worthy of an ‘approach shoe’ award in that it is ‘approaching awesome’.
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TAKE OUTS The North Face Ultra Trail
Great for: consistent terrain, racing, mid-distance, weight-watchers , trail feel, wet weather, hot weather
No so great for: loose terrain, mud, sensitive souls, very cold conditions
Test conditions: coastal trails, soft ground to gravel firm, rock sections, fire trails. 170km tested.
Tester: Chris Ord, Editor, Trail Run Mag
Tester mechanics: slight pronator, mid foot striker unless really tired and getting lazy to the heel, stiff hip flexors (not enough training, no fault of the shoe)
RRP AU$180.00/ NZ$240.00