Let’s start with the good stuff…I think this is the best trail running shoe The North Face has made to date. That being said, they still haven’t caught up to their competitors yet. Though I suspect that it will only be a matter of time until The North Face is a major player in the trail running universe.
One might ask how or why I believe that TNF is headed towards greatness, in regards to their trail shoes. After all, there is no real evidence to support it. So far it seems like they only pared down light hikers. Their Ultra 109 is a perfect example of that. The Ultra 109 is a fantastic shoe, but I don’t know of a single person who would run in it. So part of my review has to consider where TNF is coming from and they have made leaps and bounds over the past few years. My real confidence in them really flows from their ultrarunning team of ambassadors. No outdoor vendor has a deeper, more talented team. Hal Koerner, Rob Krar, Mike Wolfe, Tim Olson, Rory Bosio, Kami Semick, and Diane VanDeren to name just a few. Their list of victories and accomplishments is amazing and inspiring, and I can’t believe that they are going to sit there and watch what New Balance and Patagonia have achieved by letting their athletes help design shoes. Look at their Better Than Naked products and their new Mountain Athletics line. I believe that some great things are coming.
But let’s get back to the Ultra Guide. I have put in about 20-30 miles in them on a variety of surfaces and conditions, and I need to make one thing very clear…these are not hybrid shoes. You do not want to run on the pavement in these. If that is your thing then you need to look at the Ultra Smooth. The Ultra Guide performed best on the trails handling uneven terrain. The best part of the shoes was the responsive feel, the great traction, and that they were fairly lightweight. At no time did I ever feel unstable or unbalanced while running. Up hill, downhill, or on a side hill, I always felt sure footed and fast. The trails here in Michigan can get icy at points in the winter and the traction on these performed wonderfully through icy stretches. Even tonight, when I used on a gravel run road, I ended the run with the same thought I had after every run in them: I feel like they are heavy trail racing flats. The tech specs (8mm heel-toe drop , and 10+ ounce weight) sort of support that feeling. The worst apart of these shoes: they feel like heavy trail racing flats. I know…I just said the same exact thing and used it as a positive. I did that because it may be a positive to some and a negative to others. When we talk about a racing flat there are some general traits that can be safely assumed. Two of those traits are present here. Unfortunately, there are also some traits that run opposite to those potentially great aspects.
First, the fit is often narrow/tight resulting in a slightly “pointy” toe box. In the case of this shoe though, TNF swings and misses. While I am sure that they were aiming for a great fit, the midfoot section of the shoe felt too sloppy to truly be a performance shoe. I imagined TNF designers sitting around a table with this good shoe, that wasn’t quite great. They knew that is was too heavy to be a true performance shoe, so they decided to add more material to the arch to produce a more universal fit. They could have chosen to shave some weight, but that would have predictably narrowed their potential buyers. While we’re talking about the upper, the fabric isn’t awesome. It isn’t bad, but there are better, more flexible uppers on the market. It’s never a good thing if you are left wondering about any part of a new shoe.
Second, the cushioning is more responsive (firm) than soft. In other words, I feel like this shoe is too roomy for someone looking for something to race in, and too firm for someone looking for their new all-conditions trail shoe.
Again, there is nothing inherently good or bad in any of these comments. It is just my opinion. Some of you might be thinking that you have just found your new shoe. Others just crossed another possibility off of your list. What I can say is that the TNF Ultra Guide did not make the cut and will not be taking up residence in the trunk of my car. I would still rather run in the Saucony Peregrine or the New Balance Leadville 1210. Are there worse shoes out there? Absolutely! In fact, if you are presently a TNF trail shoe fan I would guess that you are going to LOVE these shoes. For me though, I will continue to anxiously await what’s next from The North Face because I think it’s going to be awesome!
Upper: 6/10 – Not great yet. Too roomy through the midfoot and pointy at the toe
Cushion: 7/10 – Not bad. They were good on a variety of surfaces
Traction: 10/10 – Great. They handled ice, snow, gravel, pavement, and everything in between