The North Face #TNF Ultra Endurance Shoe Review

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraEndurance-3919A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the TNF Ultra TRII, I said then that TNF are really getting their act together with run shoes. The recent products from the brand have continued to impress and the addition of the ULTRA ENDURANCE adds another quality shoe that offers runners another option to tackle the trails. The current TNF line up is as follows:

ULTRA TRII read my review HERE

ULTRA CARDIAC read my review HERE

ULTRA MT read my review HERE

and the ULTRA ENDURANCE

In a review toward the end of 2015, when I compared many leading shoes against each other (not all shoes I must stress) the Ultra Cardiac very nearly took top honours, it was just pipped by the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac. (Read the review HERE).

If I did that review now, I strongly feel that the battle between the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac and the TNF Ultra Endurance may well be even closer but the Supertrac would still get the nod from me due to the outsole which is extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces, overall comfort and flexibility.

To provide some clarification, we need to look at the current TNF line up and see how (in simple terms) the shoes are to be used so that you can decide which shoe is for you:

ULTRA TRII – Is a dry trail, light and fast shoe for a runner who like a more minimalist feel. Cushioning is 8mm/ 16mm and It has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA CARDIAC – Is a cushioned trail/ mountain shoe that feels plush, fits snugly and works well and on dry trail, wet rock and very moderate mud. Cushioning is 12mm/ 20mm and it has an 8mm drop.

ULTRA MT – Has an aggressive outsole and is designed for off-road use in mud, mountains and demanding terrain. Cushioning is 9mm/ 17mm and it has an 8mm drop.

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Enter the ULTRA ENDURANCE – 9mm/17mm with 8mm drop.

This new shoe from the TNF brand sits somewhere between the CARDIAC and MT and as you would expect, has an 8mm drop. I like this! But then again I would… I am a real fan of 8mm drop shoes and as I have said many times before, this drop sits in the perfect middle ground that can work for most people. TNF have obviously thought about this and hence the continuity between the ‘ULTRA’ range. It’s also fair to say that as the name suggests, the ‘ULTRA’ shoes are designed for running longer and therefore 8mm will be more forgiving.

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Slipping the shoe on, it does feel different to the CARDIAC but more similar to the MT. This primarily due to the gusseted tongue which is secured within the shoe – this holds the foot firmer and in addition reduces the chance of debris getting in the shoe. It’s a winning combination that I love.

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The front (toe box) is wider than both the CARDIAC and MT and therefore allows the toes to splay a little more. Protection at the front is excellent with a very reinforced toe box bumper that will definitely protect against all those unplanned collisions with rocks, stones or other debris.

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Heel box is plush, padded and holds the foot secure and has FlashDry technology.

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Key features of many TNF shoes is ‘Snake Plate’ and the ‘Cradle,’ these two elements are present here in the Ultra Endurance and add to the overall benefits of the shoe.

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Snake Plate adds protection to the forefoot of the shoe and protects against rocks/ impact and so on, TNF vary the plates from one shoe to the next depending on what they consider to be necessary. In other shoes this would be called a rock plate.

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The cradle is designed to hold the rear of the foot more secure and stable.

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The upper is breathable and most importantly seamless, therefore reducing the chance of rubbing, hot spots or the chance of blisters. The upper is welded TPU with suede overlays.

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The outsole is Vibram Megagrip which is making an appearance on countless shoes in the trail world. I need to clarify here that Vibram don’t only make one Megagrip outsole (see here). They do many variations, so, please check! A classic example is the outsole on say the TNF ULTRA CARDIAC and TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE – they use Megagrip but they each have three different variations of the product. The Ultra Cardiac having a more subtle version, the Ultra Endurance a more aggressive outsole for mixed terrain and to draw comparisons, the Scott Kinabalu Supertrace (has a special Scott outsole) that is basically just aggressive, extreme and made from a superior wet traction rubber compound that works really well on a multitude of surfaces.

For example:

Ultra Cardiac outsole:

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Ultra Endurance outsole:

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Scott Kinabalu Supertrac outsole:

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Cushioning in the Ultra Endurance is single-density compression folded EVA which does a great job of allowing you to feel the ground but provide enough cushioning for a long day out.

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IN USE

The upper is seamless and snug and the gusseted tongue is a real pleasure which holds the foot firm. The toe box feels noticeably more roomy in comparison to say the Cardiac or MT.  The shoe feels relatively light but not super light. You really feel as though you are wearing a shoe that will take a battering. This in many respects is reflected in the shoes name, Ultra Endurance.

8mm drop for me is perfect, it provides a drop that allows me to run longer and when I can’t keep my form, the extra height allows for some compensation. As I mentioned above, this is obviously something that TNF have really thought about and the whole ‘Ultra’ range of shoes has an 8mm drop. This is also great as it means I can seamlessly move from one who to the other shoe without having a shock. A clear example of this is that I have been doing road runs in the Ultra TRII and I have been out in the really muddy stuff in the MT.

The shoe works well in mud but it’s not an out-and-out shoe for muddy trails, better get the MT if that is what you need. The Ultra Endurance is a great trail/ mountain shoe that works well and transitions from a multitude of surfaces. As I mentioned above, I believe it would give the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac a run for it’s money as a potential best ‘all rounder!’

To emphasise a point, if you were looking to but just one shoe that could handle many terrains and provide you with happy and many days out on the trail, then the Ultra Endurance would be a good place to start. It’s not a great road shoe, but it will gladly provide a cushioned and responsive ride for road sections between trail. It’s not an excellent performer in very muddy conditions but it does provide some grip that will allow you to progress. Where the shoe excels is when all these elements combine, say on a long training run, long hike or a race when you may well be mixing from road to trail, to rocks, to mud, to scree and so on, here the Ultra Endurance works so well.

It’s a shoe that excels of dry trail, rocky trail (wet or dry) and some road. It has actually become a real favourite when travelling when space is limited and I need a ‘one shoe does all’ scenario. Feel for the ground is good and has improved the more I have run. The first few runs felt a little hard and flat but the shoe bedded in nicely. The Vibram® Megragrip sole is as mentioned, almost becoming a standard feature on trail shoes. the version applied to the Ultra Endurance compliments the shoe perfectly.

Grip in mud is compromised, it always is in a shoe that is designed for trail. That is not a criticism as the shoe is definitely designed to be an all rounder. If you need out-and-out grip and a shoe that will just be used for soft-ground, mud, fells or other messy terrain, you’d be better looking at the TNF Ultra MT or a fell shoe from say inov-8 – the Mudclaw 300 for example is a great off-road shoe.

The heel box holds the foot secure with no slipping. It’s snug and reassuring.

The relatively seamless upper and sewn in tongue really holds the foot secure and has given me no hot spots. It’s a real bonus and it’s great to see that TNF are incorporating this more. For anyone who has used a Salomon S-Lab shoe with ‘endofit,’ a gusseted tongue really is just so much more comfortable. Although the TNF version is different to the Salomon version, similarities can be drawn.

The shoe has a neutral fit as does all the TNF ‘Ultra’ range and so therefore you could add an insert or orthotic if required. Drop is 8mm. Sizing is true to size, I take a UK9.5 in most shoes and my Ultra Endurance is UK9.5. However, due to the wider toe box the shoe does feel different to the Cardiac or MT so you may want to just make sure by trying in-store.

This is not the lightest shoe on the market but I don’t think that is really an issue. It’s not trying to be the lightest. What it does, is offer cushioning, protection and longevity in an attractive package that will last for many days, weeks and months. The colour-way of blue and yellow also looks pretty swish.

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Conclusion

This shoe is a great all-rounder and may well be a perfect ‘one shoe’ purchase for anyone who is looking for something that can do many things well. It excels on dry trails and loose surfaces such as scree, stones, sand etc. Grip from the Vibram sole is good on wet rocks and the shoes transition from trail to road well and the cushioning allows for plenty of happy miles.

The Ultra Endurance can handle mud as part of a mixed terrain trail run but if you wanted an out-and-out shoe for muddy trail, this is not it. It’s a really solid shoe with some serious toe protection, a plus for anyone heading out into mountainous terrain.

I have been working with and running myself in harsh, rocky, desert like terrain in Lanzarote, La Palma and so on and I think the Ultra Endurance would potentially make a great shoe for someone participating in a multi-day race like the Marathon des Sables. The combination of features sits well, the slightly wider toe box, protection, grip and cushioning all combine to make it a great shoe for such an adventure. I will feedback on this after the 2016 Marathon des Sables where I will test the shoe daily.

To draw a comparison, I think those runners who have enjoyed the inov-8 Race Ultra 290 will find the TNF Ultra Endurance very appealing. The plus side being the TNF who has more grip.

The TNF ULTRA ENDURANCE alternative colour-way

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The inov-8 RACE ULTRA 290

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The downsides are minimal for me. It’s a slightly heavier shoe and I have touched on the reasons why above. Longevity in TNF shoes has been an issue in the past so I will hold judgement on this and feedback. Currently after 100+ miles of mixed terrain, the shoes are holding up well with no issues.

The North Face say: With its Vibram® Megagrip outsole, Snake Plate™ forefoot protection and Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ stability, the Ultra Endurance will keep you tearing up the trail without tearing up your feet. CRADLE™ technology provides extra heel stability on uneven terrain, a gusseted tongue keeps loose trail debris out, while the rigid-yet-flexible ESS Snake Plate™ delivers on lightweight, heavy duty forefoot protection.

▪Welded TPU and suede mid-foot support overlays

▪Molded-TPU toe cap for protection

▪Gusseted tongue for protection from trail debris

▪Ultra Protect™ CRADLE™ heel-stability technology

▪Single-density, compression-molded EVA midsole

▪Vibram® Megagrip outsole for durable sticky traction in all conditions

▪ESS Snake Plate™ forefoot protection

▪Cushioning 9mm front/ 17mm rear

▪8 mm offset

▪Weight per shoe 260g+/- for a UK8

▪Approximate Weight Pair: 510 g

TNF Technologies explained:

Snake Plate™

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.

Vibram® Outsole Technologies

The North Face® collaborated with Vibram, long respected for quality and durability, to create various outsoles (Vibram® Humbolt Outsole, Vibram® Mikeno Outsole, Vibram® Walsh Outsole, and Vibram® Rubber Outsole Compound) with superior traction, stability and protection.

Ultra Protect™

A shank plate for torsional rigidity and consistent underfoot feel.

Scott Kinabalu ENDURO – First Impressions

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Since 2012 I have been using Scott shoes, yes, Scott make run shoes in addition to bikes. I say that, because that is what I get when other runners look at my shoes and say, ‘Scott, oh, thought they made bikes?’

Since the original T2 Kinabalu, I have been a fan. I remember the original incarnation in 2012 which I used to run all over the Transvulcania course (Review HERE). Since the original model, the T2 Kinabalu has had a few tweaks and the current incarnation is the 3.0 HERE.

Scott launched the Kinabalu Supertrac (original look HERE) and this shoe went on to be my favourite shoe of 2015. I even went through many other shoes I had been testing to work out which shoe (for me) was the best. The ‘Supertrac’ won, see HERE.

As 2015 came to a close, Scott informed me of several new shoes, one being the Enduro.

Well, the Scott Kinabalu Enduro has arrived and here are our first impressions and look.

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One thing is for sure, there is no hiding in the male version. Bright yellow, these shoes from the off say that they mean business. The ladies version is also bright but considering that many women wear bright apparel, I’m sure the colours will appeal. Certainly the original reaction from Niandi (who will test the ladies shoe) was wow, I LOVE the colours.

The shoes are not light. In all honesty, they were both noticeably heavy when removed from the boxes. The ladies a UK 8 weighs 380g and the mens UK9.5 weighs 418g. That is heavy; no doubt about it and I have to say initially disappointing.

Looking at the shoe closely, you soon realise why. The whole upper of the shoe has a plastic coating on top of the mesh below.

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I have to say, I asked why? Why is it necessary to add some much structure and protection to the upper of the shoe? Scott call this: Protective-High-Abrasion-Casing.

I took a look at Scott’s website and the description is as follows:

The brand new SCOTT Kinabalu Enduro is the latest addition to the range. The seemless one piece upper offers protection and comfort for all day adventures while the eRide tuned midsole and VIBRAM outsole provide performance and stability during your run.

Seamless upper – perfect

Protection – great

Comfort – brilliant

eRide – works, so great.

Vibram – tried and tested, so great

I still have to question though, why so heavy? My only point of question on the excellent Kinabalu Supertrac was the weight. Here Scott have beefed up the Kinabalu and made it bullet proof, it’s obviously way to early to tell but on first impressions, if you want a shoe to last and get value for money from, this may be the one!

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Cushioning as you would expect from Scott is good with 28mm at the rear and 17mm in the forefoot. However, these two figures cause me a little confusion, why for 2016 are Scott releasing a shoe with an 11mm drop? They dropped the ‘Supertrac’ from the Kinabalu’s original 11mm drop to 8mm drop and this for me made perfect sense. 8mm is a perfect sweet spot that appeals to many a runner and when running long it’s not too low to cause any issues. Having said that though, after just 2 runs in the ‘Enduro’ they do feel comfortable and offer a great feel. I have said this before, the ‘rocker’ system that Scott uses does give the shoes a feeling of lower drop due to the rolling action. I must point out too that I do fore foot strike so that will also help.

eRide – “Dynamic stability is the body’s own way to run efficiently and safely over uneven terrain. The eRIDE TUNED midsole has strategic flex zones to provide asymmetric flexibility and enhance ground adaptation while a EVA foam provides cushioning.”

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The outsole sits somewhere between the T2 Kinabalu and the Supertrac and therefore it will be a great all rounder for those who may well be looking for a ‘one shoe does all’ scenario. Made by Vibram, the outsole uses ‘MEGAGRIP’ as witnessed on the Supertrac but this version is less aggressive. From repeated year long use of the Supertrac I can confirm that this outsole is tried and tested and a favourite. This version does feels stiffer and less supple than the Supertrac version, we shall see?

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Lacing is standard and incorporates the ‘lace bungee’ for storing excess lace after you have tied your shoes. It’s a very simple and effective way for removing something that may catch on branches or trail obstacles.

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Heel box is very plush and secure. Always a key feature of Scott shoes and it really does add a secure and confident feel to the shoes.

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Sizing feels a little larger than normal. I always take a UK9.5 and the ‘Enduro’ does feel just a little more spacious, so, if you are new to Scott or if you have used Scott in the past, you may just want to check on sizing. The toe box is a little narrower than the T2 Kinabalu 3.0 and Kinabalu Supertrac and this may be why they size a little larger? If you like a wide roomy toe box, this may not be the shoe for you?

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Technologies:

  • Lace Bungee
  • Protective-High-Abrasion-Casing
  • Seamless-One-Piece-Upper
  • Rock-Protection-Plate
  • Vibram-Megagrip

Initial Conclusion

Our initial reaction to the ‘Enduro’ was shock. We were surprised at how ‘protected’ this shoe is. But having run in them on just 2 occasions and reflected on what Scott are trying to do, I completely understand the the addition of this shoe to the Kinabalu range. This is not a shoe to replace the T2 Kinabalu or the Kinabalu Supertrac it’s a shoe to be used in addition. So, if you like the other 2 models you will like this.

I’m still perturbed that the shoe is 11mm drop and not 8mm but it runs well; so why worry?

What’s the shoe for?

Well I guess you can use the shoe for any running, from groomed trail, fire trail to mountains. But considering the protection that has been added to the ‘Enduro,’ one has to think that this is intended for the rough stuff; rocks, snow, ice, gravel, slate and so; anything that can really batter a shoe and reduce its life.

For perspective, I recently ran for 1-month in La Palma on the Transvulcania course, I used a brand new pair of Supertrac and I used them every day, at the end of the month I threw them away. I am not saying the ‘Supertrac’ was no good, on the contrary, I love the Supertrac but the trails out in La Palma are harsh and abrasive; it eats shoes. The Enduro may well be a good shoe for a course like that due to the key elements of:

  • Protective-High-Abrasion-Casing
  • Seamless-One-Piece-Upper
  • Rock-Protection-Plate
  • Vibram-Megagrip

We will be reporting back in a couple of months after long term testing and only then will we really know how the Scott Kinabalu Enduro stacks up.

Scott shoes are available HERE