The North Face Ultra Cardiac II Review

Overview of The North Face Ultra Cardiac II

The North Face Ultra Cardiac II is an updated model from The North Face that feels and acts quite differently than the original Ultra Cardiac. While I found the original model to be stiff and narrow the Ultra Cardiac II is a fairly simple and flexible door-to-trail shoe. Overall, the Cardiac II is a good value door-to-trail option for folks who don’t need a lot of protection and like a consistent ride.

Specs:

  • Weight: 311g / 11.2oz (US men’s 9.0); 258g / 9.7oz (US women’s 8.0)
  • Category: neutral
  • Drop: 6mm (30mm / 24mm)
  • Fit: true to size (i.e., your normal running shoe size)
  • Upper: mesh upper with TPU overlays
  • Midsole: single-density, compressed EVA foam
  • Outsole: Vibram® Megagrip (non-lugged version of Megagrip yet semi-sticky and durable)

Presenting The North Face Ultra Cardiac II

Now for more details. In this review, we’ll break things down in to six areas:

  1. What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the shoe.
  2. What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the shoe better.
  3. When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the shoe excels.
  4. How it compares: my current go-to shoes and how this shoe compares.
  5. Should you purchase? My overall recommendation on whether to purchase this shoe or not.
  6. Purchasing Information: where to go to purchase this shoe.

I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!

What’s good?

  • The consistent ride. With a single density piece of EVA foam used for the midsole the Ultra Cardiac II has a predictable and consistent ride. I’ve always liked the feel of single density EVA foam midsoles even though they are not nearly as durable as the trendy TPU-based midsoles. I do worry the midsole will flatten out prematurely as most pure EVA foam midsoles do but so far, the midsole feels good.

Medial side view of The North Face Ultra Cardiac II

  • The fit. The original Ultra Cardiac II had a narrow and tapered fit that I simply did not like. The Ultra Cardiac II has a fit that is more forgiving. The heel hold is solid and despite a unique lacing system the midfoot and forefoot fit is spot on as well.

While the shape appears quite pointy in this picture it feels like a traditional semi-round shape on the foot

The heel collar is moderately padded and once broken holds the heel down just fine

  • The lacing system. When I first saw the lacing system and then felt the laces I thought there is no way these stretchy laces are going to hold my foot in the shoe on uneven terrain. I was wrong. The laces are smooth and stretchy and do a nice job of keeping the foot locked in.

Close-up view of the unique laces and lacing system

  • The value. At $110 this shoe is a decent value when compared to its closest competitors on the market.

What could be improved?

  • Some lugs. While I actually like the road-like outsole it will probably scare away many people who won’t see it as a true trail running shoe.

No lugs on the sticky, Vibram® Megagrip outsole

  • More protection. There is no rockplate and as a result it further limits the terrain this shoe can handle. I’d love to see either an Altra-like removable rockplate insole or a minimal built-in rockplate in the design.
  • Shed some weight. The mesh upper is fairly thick and substantial. As a result, the upper bunches ever so slightly at the forefoot flex point. You can see it in the pictures above. While this hasn’t been an issue yet I’d love to see North Face streamline this in future versions of the shoe. This would help cut down on the weight as a result. While the shoe rides lighter than its official weight I would still like to see it shed an ounce or so.
  • Additional color options. I kind of like the ‘moon shoe’ color option, and the sole women’s colorway is even better, but with only one colorway for each the men’s and women’s shoe many folks may be turned away.

When to use it?

  • Door-to-trail on moderate terrain, gravel roads, etc.
  • It probably has just enough cushion for most folks up to 50k but beyond that I would look to a more cushioned shoe.

Similar shoes to compare with

  • Nike Terra Kiger 3 or 4: While both are great door-to-trail options the Nike shoes are better in nearly every way. Nike wins easily here.
  • Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 (review here). Just like the Kigers the Speed Instinct 2 is a great door-to-trail option as well. No contest as the Hokas win this head-to-head battle as well.
  • Hoka One One Mach (review here). The Mach is a much better shoe in this category of door-to-trail options as well.

Should you purchase?

So, the $110 question – should you purchase the North Face Ultra Cardiac II?

In a word, no. While the ride, fit, and lacing system are solid I think there are better and more versatile door-to-trail options available today. (PSA for The North Face – you have an unbelievable team of sponsored ultrarunners available to you – use them and bring their ideas to life faster! This team combined with the VF Corporation resources behind you could produce amazing trail running shoes I believe. Your trail running apparel is great and we would love to see the trail running shoes reach this same level of design and execution.)

Questions, comments, or feedback on this shoe? Please share! And thanks for reading!

Purchasing Information

If you’re interested in purchasing this shoe, please check availability at your local, independently owned running specialty store. They need your business and are a great resource for the community.

If that is not an option please use this link (women’s) or this link (men’s) to purchase from Amazon. It will drop a few nickels in to the URP bucket.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support!

Meet Your Reviewer: Ben Zuehlsdorf

I am an avid running gear junkie. When I’m not smelling new shoes I’m usually running or racing around the local trails in Marin County, California or talking shop with the San Francisco Running Company community of friends. I was once a road marathoner but now have transitioned almost exclusively to the trails and racing ultras the last few years.


Disclaimer: This shoe was provided to URP/Ben for testing purposes. All words and thoughts are ours and no compensation was offered or received.

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