Monday, October 31, 2016

The North Face: Ultra MT Gore-Tex Shoes Review

I’m confident that you’ve heard The North Face brand many times, but have you heard much about their shoes? …trail shoes to be exact? TNF brands started many years ago but they’re still not that big (yet) when it comes to trail shoes. It seems that they are being overshadowed by some other brands like Salomon and Altra. Not sure what the reasons are, is it the price? Or is it because runners tend to stick to their “favorite” shoes. Nothing wrong with the latter, but sometimes we need to venture out and you might be surprise that there is something much better than what you currently have.

I’m a fan of TNF and have reviewed few of their items in the past:
·      The BTN SS Shirt and Long Haul Shorts (read my in-depth review here).
·      The Flight Series SS and BTN 5” Shorts (read my in-depth review here).

I’m really pleased with all the apparels I tested and this is one of the reasons why I love to test their trail shoes.

The Ultra MT Gore-Tex is one of TNF’s trail shoes that utilizes the new Vibram “Megagrip” outsole. It provides a very impressive traction that keeps you close to the ground. The shoe weighs in at 10.80 ounces (men’s size 9). You might think it’s a bit heavy but don’t be quick to judge, you have to feel the shoes in action. The heel to toe drop is 8mm (Heel height: 17mm, Fore foot height: 9mm) which is unnoticeable once you start running on soft ground. It actually helps you to propel forward which is a big thing when going on most inclined surfaces.

·      The ultimate shoes for the hardest trail-running course.
·      Waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX membrane for all weather protection.
·      Durable overlasted ripstop mesh in forefoot for optimal protection.
·      FlashDry collar lining.
·      Two-piece midsole for proper heel and forefoot cushioning and ESS in the forefoot to distribute impact and protect from stone bruising.
·      Exclusive Vibram Megagrip outsole delivers unrivaled traction
·      8mm offset

If you’re new to trail shoes, the upper construction is one of the things that you need to consider:

First is the toe caps: those little piggies will surely thank you if you accidentally hit a rock or brush off on some protruding roots while running. The toe cap of the Ultra MT is very sturdy and provides a superb protection around the perimeter of your toes.

Second is the toe box: It is made of a breathable overlasted ripstop that is reinforced with Gore-Tex liner on the inside making it waterproof and durable. Chances are you’ll be running on some mud or puddles and there’s nothing more annoying than running on wet feet. Though I prefer a wider toe box so that I can splay my toes, the toe box of the Ultra MT is not that wide. But it still offers enough room for my toes to relax and not constricted.

Third is the tongue: It is secured within the shoe so debris won’t come in. It also provides a better foothold so your foot stays in place. It comes with some decent padding for added comfort and a FlashDry technology so sweat coming down from your legs will just dissipates.

Fourth is the heel cap and collar: Similar with padded tongue, the collar has a FlashDry technology to keep you dry and comfy. The built of the heel cap is solid, you can definitely feel that your heel is secured, preventing it from coming out especially when you start to toe off and start grinding on a steep portion.

Last but not the least is the shoe lace: There’s nothing fancy about the shoe lace, it’s actually thin and a little rough to the feel. But it works well in securing my feet from slipping and sliding.

This is the where all the action is. It is the only layer that separates you from the ground. In trail running terms, “the sole keeps you upright so your face is not on the ground” (sorry, no offense though). As I mentioned on the above, the outsole is made of Vibram technology that provides superior grip on all types of surfaces. The sole of the Ultra MT has little to no flex at all and is bonded as a one piece under the shoe. The Vibram’s bottom is rock solid, you don’t have to worry about sharp rocky terrain or any pointed objects if you accidentally step on it. The V-shaped lugs are well spaced to give you the aggressive traction regardless of the surface condition. The heel and midsole area offers a decent amount of cushion that helps absorb the impact when landing. It has an 8mm heel to toe offset which is unnoticeable once you step on softer ground.

The Ride
I tested and raced the Ultra MT straight out of the box at the Granite Head Trails and Ales held in Granite Bay, Ca few weeks ago. The course in my opinion is in mid-range of difficulty and it offers a variety of ground surfaces like sand, mud, loose soil, stones and granite. I got to be honest, I was really concerned with the lack of flexibility of the shoes and thought that it was a bad idea. All my worries disappeared when I started running, it didn’t impede with my forefoot flex. The shoes felt light, natural and aggressive.

What really makes this shoe great is the outstanding grip it provided during the race especially on steep downhill where majority of the runners were slowing down and finding their balance. I was like a kid with my arms outstretched like an airplane ripping on the downhill sections. The grip was even more noticeable when we hit the steep uphill made of granite. That section was a little bit slippery because it rained the night before the race.

There’s nothing more annoying than running on wet feet, the Gore-Tex liner provided the shield from water going thru the inside. The condition of the course was wet and muddy but my feet felt dry after the race.

The only issue I had was the hot spot that I felt nearing the finish line. It was on the bottom of my big toe that felt a bit sensitive, but that was no fault of the shoe. It happened because I didn’t pull the bottom portion of the lace tight enough to hold my feet even better. Regarding the plushness of the ride, well I have to say that I wish the race is even longer, it felt that the shoe was asking for more grounds to tackle. The heel and midsole cushioning were just absolutely great and it resonated even more on softer ground, but not on the paved sections where we have to crossed. The shoes were definitely made for trails…no doubt about that!

My Verdict
The North Face is definitely a contender when it comes to trail shoes and don’t just take my word for it. I have to say that after testing and putting the shoes on some challenging trails, the shoes were built to endure tough and rough conditions. The traction of the shoe is what makes it so great, it provided an outstanding traction and it simply grip on any surfaces. The protection is second to none in my opinion, it definitely made my trail run more memorable.

Overall, the Ultra MT Gore-Tex is an excellent shoes designed the tackle any rugged terrains. You can purchase the Ultra MT Gore-Tex directly on their website for a decent price of $150 or at retail stores near you. Their footwear holds a limited one-year warranty so you’re pretty much cover from any manufacture defects.

Give it a try and enjoy the trails.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ultimate Direction: Marathon Shell Jacket Review

Fall season definitely brings a lot of excitement to runners and outdoor enthusiasts. But this season poses some challenges as well, especially if you do your run or other activities in a higher elevation where temperature can suddenly drop without notice, you don’t want to be caught unprepared as help might never come as quickly as you’d like. I don’t live in a high elevation like some of you but weather here in Northern California could sometimes be unpredictable too.

One of the best ways to keep you safe and enjoy the run (whether you’re in a high elevation or not) is to make sure you have the proper gear. I found this gear from Ultimate Direction, the Marathon Shell Jacket that doesn’t weigh as much and performs like a champ.

Ultimate Direction is based in Boulder, CO and founded by Bryce Thatcher. UD (as known by most) is in business since 1985 and has established a very good reputation because of their high quality. Hydration system is their “bread and butter” and Ultra Marathoners around the world have tested and proven that UD equipment are top notch. What makes their products great is their direct relationship with athletes…UD gears and apparels are designed by athletes for athletes.

This is my second time reviewing UD products. I have reviewed the Groove Stereo with Bottles back in Spring and you can read my in-depth review by clicking here.

So let’s dive in with the Marathon Shell Jacket.

·      36gsm 20D HexNylon
·      Weight: 3.3 ounces / 94 grams

·   Half-zip for men and full-zip for women
·   Back vent provides optimal airflow and cooling
·   Packs into its chest pocket and can be attached to a waist pack or belt when not being worn
·   Ergonomic shoulder construction enhances range of motion
·   Self-bound seams give superior durability

Fit and Functionality
The Marathon Shell Jacket is a true lightweight wind breaker / water resistant jacket that basically weighs nothing. I’m 5’- 6” with a 40” chest size and a broad shoulder. Similar to the rest of the jackets I have tested, the medium size that I requested is true to the industry size standard and this jacket fits me well.

It is made of 20D HexNylon which is an ultra-light material that literally weighs 94 grams. 94 grams! It almost feels like you’re not wearing it. I thought cyclists are only the weight weenies when it comes to gears…I was wrong. No, it doesn’t tear like a paper if that’s what you’re thinking, the 20D HexNylon is similar to a ripstop material that is super durable and flexible at the same time.

The Marathon Shell is packed with lots of features that will help you make your run, hiking, trekking or even a walk a lot more fun and safe. So let’s tackle the features from top to bottom:

Almost 2" of collar 

1.)   One thing that stands out on this jacket is the length of the collar when it is fully zipped. It’s about 2” in length that pretty much covers and protects my entire neck and nape from the cold wind.
2.)   Most of the jackets I have tested were full zip, but not this one. I’m not sure what’s the reasoning behind it since the women version is a full zip. That being said, you have to pull it up from the back collar if you want to take it off, something that I’m not used to when it comes to jacket, but this is not really a big deal.
Inside mesh panel
3.)   Going on the inside, there is a mesh panel on the shoulder and back areas that serves a dual purpose, for proper ventilation and to avoid the flap at the back side from sticking to the body.
4.)   At the back side of the jacket, there is a flap to cover the interior mesh panel that provides a vent for fresh air to come in.
Front and back reflective materials
5.)   Written on flap is the brand name “Ultimate Direction” that serves as a reflective material.
6.)    Down at the front bottom is the “UD” logo that serves as a reflective material. 
Large chest pocket and turns into a very compact size 
7.)   There is a breast pocket on the left side that serves a dual purpose. It can fit even the big phones like Samsung Galaxy and iPhones. This also serves a sack where you can stuff the entire jacket into it, making it super compact. It's about the same size of a 10 oz flask.
8.)   There is an elastic material sewn inside the cuff to keep it in place. The stretch is not overly tight but enough to go over on top of the gloves and hold it on place.
Back side is a bit longer
9.)   The back side of the hem was intentionally made a bit longer to protect your butt from dirt, mud or from water spray when use in cycling.

My Verdict
I have used the Marathon Shell Jacket on some cold mornings with just a light shirt underneath and it kept me warm without the feel of overheating. I tend to sweat a lot on my runs but the materials let my body to breath and kept my core temperature at bay. The jacket performs well and this is no surprise from a brand like UD. The Marathon Shell Jacket is an excellent option if you’re needing some lightweight protection, to shield you from wind and some light precipitation. It is breathable and has a soft feel over the skin.

There’s one thing that you really have to appreciate with this jacket, it is ultra-light and portable. It has a built in pocket where you can pack the entire jacket into it and it has a strap that you can attach it to your hydration system or just stuff it in your running shorts.

With all the features this jacket has to offer, it comes with a decent price of $99.95. The Marathon Shell Jacket is worth a serious look and guaranteed it will not disappoint.

Thanks again for reading and make sure you have the proper gears when going for a run on this kind of weather.