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.

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