First Impressions of The North Face Ultra Endurance
Unboxing the North Face Ultra Endurance, my first thought was that this shoe definitely had the look of serious trail shoe. It sported a Vibram outsole, a gusseted tongue to keep out debris, and a toe guard to protect the foot when kicking a rock or root. About the only thing missing was an attachment for gaiters on the rear of the shoe. I gave the shoe a couple bends and twists with my hands and immediately noticed how stiff the shoe was. Slipping on the shoes, they felt comfortably snug without being too tight. The cushioning felt sufficient for big miles, but still needed to be put to the test.
North Face states the Ultra Endurance weighs in at 11 ounces per shoe (size 9). My size 12s tipped the scale at 13.3 ounces. With the weight and the 8 mm offset (17mm rear, 9mm front), this shoe seemed to be built to compete with Brooks Cascadia.
The maiden voyage for the shoes was an easy run on a fairly non-technical trail. I immediately noticed how stiff the shoes were, almost to the point of altering my gait. The cushioning felt great, but I continually clipped my toe on rocks and roots. The positive was that I got to test that toe guard, which worked rather well. After a few runs, the shoes loosened up, and I was no longer clipping the shoes on every little hazard, even on much more technical trails. I would highly suggest getting a couple shorter runs on the road to break these shoes in before hitting the trails.
Terrain Testing the Ultra Endurance
Due to holiday travel and a wide variance of weather conditions, I was able to test these shoes in a multitude of conditions and a several surfaces.
I was able to get in several runs on snow and ice during the holidays, which is not a surface that this Texas boy encounters often. The Vibram outsole impressed. Other than a couple small slips on some exceptionally smooth ice, the rubber lugs gripped quite well on both the snow and ice, even when going uphill. The shoe performed beyond expectations, without aid from yak traks or screws placed in the sole.
The Ultra Endurance sports what North Face calls a “snake plate” for rock protection. The plate seemed to strike a great balance between foot protection from the rocks and providing great feel of the ground under foot. I experienced good traction on rough rocks, smooth rocks, and even on wet rock. The shoe did a fantastic job of normalizing the difference in feel when transitioning from dirt to rock or roots and back to dirt.
The Ultras performed as well as could be expected through mud. Traction was ok, but not solid, however, I’ve really not found any shoe that excels in mud. One drawback with the Ultra is that the larger lugs seemed to pick up and carry a lot of the thicker mud, which weighed the shoes down. I’ve experienced this with other trail shoes as well, so it’s tough to fault the shoe for this. I’d say that the Ultra is on par with other trail shoes when encountering mud.
The one place the shoe did not stack up as well as other trail shoes was through water. Although the shoe provides great grip on wet surfaces, it didn’t provide the greatest experience going through water. I went through shin-deep water multiple times on a run, and after getting back on the trail, I felt like I was running on a wet sponge, including a sloshing, squishing sound. It took a half mile before the shoes truly shed the water. I much prefer a trail shoe to shed excess water within a few steps.
Who should avoid this shoe?
A runner looking for a low-drop or minimalist option. A runner who excels at short distance trail races and wants a light-weight option. A runner who is looking for Hoka-type cushion.
Who should buy this shoe?
A runner who prefers a more traditional trail shoe, who might like or liked previous versions of the Cascadia or the Leadville. The runner most likely is looking to do long-distance runs/races over varying terrain who wants a balance between comfort and feeling the ground.
Overall Thoughts of the North Face Ultra Endurance
Overall, I was impressed with the Ultra Endurance. It did a fantastic job on multiple surfaces, while somehow helping keep my feet warm in the cold and cool in warmer weather.
More Information or Interested in Purchasing?
Click here for more info on the North Face site.
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Meet Your Reviewer: Scott Towle from Austin, TX
I run for Spectrum Trail Racing and I’m the RD for Saddle Blazer Trail Run (100K, 26.2, 13.1, 10K). I run on roads only when necessary, otherwise you’ll find me hammering out miles on the gnarly technical trails of central Texas. Post-run recovery drink tends to be big, malty beers. Bonus points if they are of Belgian descent.