The North Face have always had a mixed response in the ultra and trail world with it’s running shoes. Some people love them, others are indifferent. The original Single Track model had many features of merit and had a strong following (I was a fan). However, runners like Tsuyoshi Kaburaki and Seb Chaigneau wanted a lighter shoe. The Single Track Hayasa was born (Review here).
The new Hyper-Track Guide in many respects combines aspects of both shoes in what is arguably, The North Faces’s best shoe yet. Read on.
The Hyper-Track Guide are lightweight and like other manufactures the shoe appeals to the market of door-to-trail. In addition, these shoes may very well fit a gap in the market in terms of ‘drop’. The Hyper-Track Guide with an 8mm drop nicely fills a space in the market between other models such as the Salomon Sense Ultra (4mm) and Sense Mantra (6mm) but other manufacturers such as Scott, are still producing shoes with a conventional drop. I have to say, Scott currently have the T2 Kinabalu for trail and some road running and it is setting the bar by how I judge other shoes it performs so well.
As the above image shows, a lower drop promotes a forefoot run style.
The ‘Cradle Guide*‘ helps cushion the impact and canters the heel. The forefoot facilitates the natural supination phase and provides cushion through the force peak.
*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.
Many conventional trail and road shoes have a drop of 11mm or 12mm and the current trend for improved ‘forefoot’ running is pushing manufacturers to address the need in the market for lower drop shoes. However, a lower drop isn’t for anybody and if you are a definite ‘heel strker’ you will want to ease your way into using any shoe with a lower drop. The Hyper-Track Guide may very well make that transition easier if that is what you require. At 8mm it offers a ‘middle ground’.
The sole of the shoe certainly offers more grip in comparison to previous models. Is it enough? Well, if you are heading out in the mud; no!. When a shoe has a selling point as ‘road and trail’ use a compromise is going to be made. The Hyper-Track Guide will work perfectly on hard pack trail or rocks and of course, should you wish to run on the road, it can handle that too. But as soon as you get to mud, the sole has nothing to grip with and you slide. The sole has strategically positioned rubber pods in the outsole to give excellent grip on slick terrain and resistance to abrasion. Certainly on wet road or rocks it does the job well.
The upper is extremely breathable like other models in the The North Face range, on a cold or wet day the shoe can feel a little chilly. But that also means that should you be running in the heat, these shoes will be exceptionally cool. They are also great if you run through any water, they drain very quickly. Lightweight is a key feature and this has been maximised by having a ‘sandwich mesh’ upper. The shoes have no sewing or seams. That has to be a good thing as this reduces any potential rubbing. The upper also has TPU welded support overlays to hold the foot in place when in the shoe. This does provide added security to the foot and for such a minimal approach you can feel it work.
The sole has the key Cradle Guide feature as mentioned above. This helps or should I say ‘guides’ the foot through the three phases of the foot strike; impact, mid foot and toe off. Cushioning, stability and protection for ‘any’ foot on any terrain is what The North Face say but ultimately this shoe suits a neutral runner that is already a mid to forefoot striker OR it suits a neutral runner who wishes to progress from heel striking to mid foot striking. In use the shoe feels a little ‘stiff’ in comparison to other shoes and I put that down to the ‘Cradle’ working but also firm cushioning. IF you need that guidance the Cradle Guide may well be a good thing. If you are mechanically efficient, this may well be a little irritating at first. However, the longer you run and the more you feel the benefit of the cradle. So, ultra runners may find that as fatigue hits, the Cradle Guide may very well be a nice addition to help maintain good form. Cushioning is 16mm at the rear and 8mm at the front.
The shoe sizes a little large in my opinion. All my previous TNF shoes have been UK9.5 and the Hyper-Track Guide definitely has more room. The toe box has adequate room. But on a first run I did feel my foot move, particularly in the heel area. Laces are superb. They have an elastic stretchy feel and really do hold the foot in place and don’t come loose. The upper with no seams is spot on and breathability is excellent. Weight is 287g for a UK9.5 and this compares well to other comparable shoes.
On the road the shoes felt a little uninspiring. They lacked zip. However, if I started to lift the pace the feel and response certainly became far more pleasurable and responsive. But ultimately they felt hard and at slower speeds I felt as though I ‘slapped’ the ground. What it did encourage was light contact with the ground, so, I thought about my technique all the time while using them. On hard trail the feel was better providing the trail was hard, rocky or sandy. If I went to into mud then the sole offered next to no grip. But, the shoe is not designed for that type of trail. I am merely pointing out that this shoe has restrictions and if you are looking for one shoe to do all then this may well not be it.
So, my impressions are very much around this shoe being used for racing or faster sessions. Of course the term ‘racing’ is relative if we are looking at ultra running, so, if you plan to use this shoe for longer events, you may want to make sure that it will provide the comfort you need over extended periods. The Cradle Guide will certainly help with this.
Jez Bragg used this shoe extensively over the Te Araroa trail, so it does show that you can really run some long distances in them.
The upper is form-fitting and flexible which made for a snug and comfortable fit in the fore and mid foot areas. The heel felt a little loose but it is possible to adjust the feel by adjusting the lace configuration. Laces are superb.
The Hyper Track is a stiff shoe. The stiffness of the sole almost makes this shoe uninspiring at times, particularly on pavement at lower speeds. Running fast in this shoe is when I felt most comfortable. The 8mm drop gets you on your mid to forefoot and you really think about technique.
The upper is light, breathable and holds the foot well. It has no seams and therefore reduces the possibility of rubbing.
In my opinion it sizes a little large so I would recommend trying the shoe on.
Weight is light at 287g for a UK9.5
Best use – Faster running on hard pack trail
The North Face HERE