The North Face ultra-running team is a veritable who’s who of endurance running, including Jez Bragg, Sébastien Chaigneau, Lizzy Hawker, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Dean Karnazes, Nikki Kimball, Hal Koerner, Kami Semick, Diane Van Deren, Michael Wardian, Mike Wolfe and, as of January 2013, man of the moment Timothy Olson, who again won the Western States 100 (15:17:27), his second consecutive Western States 100 win and even more impressive when you consider that he won in temperatures of around 102F/28.9C!
Given the aforementioned roster of athletes, the huge foothold that The North Face has in the outdoor clothing and accessories market, and their continued support of high profile events like UTMB, UTMF and the San Fran 50 (to name a few), you don’t actually see that many pairs of The North Face running shoes on the start line of events. However, given the latest TNF product, this may all be about to change.
Despite The North Face accounting for around 50% of the gear in my wardrobe, I have to admit that this was my first pair of TNF running shoes. I doubt, however, that it will be my last.
I’ve been fortunate to review some excellent shoes of late and The North Face Ultra Guide easily falls into this category. The Ultra Guide can best be described as a luxurious, well cushioned running shoe, with ample room in a toebox that has been constructed to accommodate potential feet swell, making them perfect of ultramarathons and other endurance events.
After just a couple of 10 mile runs to break the shoes in, I put them to the test in a 33 mile event on a wet and miserable day. Despite the inclement weather, I finished blister free and with my feet in good condition, all the more surprising given the lack of training in the build up to the event thanks to a new addition to the family!
Considering the weight of the shoe (544 g for a pair of mens size 9), they pack a considerable amount of cushioning. I had to laugh at the comment from the ultra168.com review of The North Face Ultra Guide:
“I immediately felt the huge amount of cushioning North Face have crammed into this shoe. If I was blindfolded I would have sworn I was in a pair of Hoka’s. The expected rocky feel under foot was totally lacking, all I had to remind me I was on trail was the slight roll I felt when I got a little out of shape on loose rocks at speed.” (ultra168.com)
The cushioning certainly makes for a comfortable run and provides more than adequate protection from the terrain underfoot. What’s more, you never actually feel like you are being artificially ‘sprung’. Instead, I can only describe it as a feeling of comfort.
“For comfort and support on the trail, lace up The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide off-road running shoe. This hard-working, hard-wearing shoe is built to give athletes the sturdy protection they require on tough runs and races. Incorporates abrasion-resistant mesh uppers and Snake Plate™ technology to protect the forefoot. Tenacious™ Grip rubber outsoles deliver a sticky grip on slick or uneven terrain. Support comes from the advanced Cradle Guide™ system that cushions the forefoot on impact and promotes natural movement from stride to stride, plus Northotic footbed and metatarsal fit systems. Engineered in a lightweight, streamlined package that belies its sturdy construction, The North Face® Men’s Ultra Guide shoe keeps athletes moving on the trail.”
The Ultra Guide handle the crossover from road to trail well, providing a perfect shoe for multi terrain events, as was the case with my 33 mile ultra, and/or for those of us who need to pound the pavement before reaching the confines of the forest. The well spaced, multi-directional lugs provide excellent grip which would best be described as ‘aggressive’, allowing the shoe to deal with rocky, rooty terrain with ease, and yet they are not as protruding as to be obvious once back on tarmac.
Aesthetically, the shoe has been described as having a ‘retro’ feel by some reviewers. I would certainly agree that the red colour scheme that I was testing had a fairly traditional look to it but, if anything, this is the kind of look that I have come to expect from TNF product. The blue/yellow colour scheme does have a slighty more modern look to it.
Despite throwing everything at the shoe over the past few months, the robust uppers look as fresh as the day they left the box. The sole is finally showing signs of wear around the gel box area in the heel but, certainly at this point, this appears to be cosmetic more than anything.
The Ultra Guides are staying firmly in my running shoe rotation. Having tested them in all conditions, I have yet to find a situation where they do not perform.
I will be really surprised if this year’s offerings don’t do something to increase the number of ultra runners wearing TNF running shoes and, from the sneak peak of what’s to come in 2014, as revealed at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer trade show that took place recently in Salt Lake City, Utah, The North Face are continuing their efforts to further increase their presence in this growing market.
On show were:
- ‘The North Face Ultra Trail’, a lightweight, flexible trail runner with 8mm heel-toe offset, a full-length, low profile Vibram outsole, and a wider forefoot geometry to accommodate foot splay and swelling.
- The North Face Ultra Smooth, a hybrid shoe built for running on roads and smooth trails, with 8mm heel-toe offset, and a combination Vibram/EVA outsole. Perfect for those of us who are not in a position to step straight on to the trail.
Expect to see a far greater presence from The North Face on a start line near you!
The North Face Ultra Guide, RRP £110.00
Cradle Guide: Midsole technology engineered to naturally absorb impact, stabilize the foot and promote a biomechanically correct stride to achieve the perfect balance of stability, cushioning and comfort.
“The patent-pending Snake Plate™ consists of a forefoot plate that winds back and forth between the medial and lateral sides of the foot. Because it is not one solid element, it is not as uncompromisingly rigid from side to side and front to back. The result is a forefoot plate that allows the foot to do what it is physiologically designed to do: flex, bend, and contort to changing terrain. At the same time, the Snake Plate™ delivers rigidity where and when it is still needed. The thickness, composition and size of the Snake Plate™ vary from style to style as appropriate. For example, a thicker, more rigid Snake Plate™ addresses the technical, ever-changing demands of a mountain run. A thinner, more flexible Snake Plate™ reconciles flexibility with a decreased demand for protection while on smoother dirt paths.”
“Tenacious ™ Grip: a high-abrasion sticky rubber designed for maximum off-trail traction, that will also withstand the rigors of rough off-trail surfaces.”
“A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.”
“The North Face Cradle Guide™ technology offers full Phase Impact Control, a system that guides the foot through all 3 stances of the gait cycle, impact, mid foot and Toe-off. This system is engineered to provide the perfect combination of cushioning, stability and protection for any foot on any terrain, letting the hiker or runner move swiftly and lightly over backcountry trails.”
(Information from http://uk.thenorthface.com/tnf-uk-en/men-s-ultra-guide-shoes-2.html)
- Neutral design ideal for mechanically sound runners
- Tongue scree collar
- Abrasion-resistant, tight-weave mesh
- TPU-welded midfoot support
- C-Delta metatarsal fit system
- Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed
- Dual-compression, EVA CRADLE GUIDE™ midsole platform
- 16mm/8mm heel/forefoot EVA heights from center line
- TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection
- Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole
- Style: A4UM
- Approx Weight: (based on Men’s 9)
- ½ pair: 9.6 oz (272 g)
- pair: 1 lb 3 oz (544 g)