Let’s face it, as a runner we all love a new pair of run shoes. However, a new pair of TNF (The North Face) shoes has not always been greeted with joy. To be honest, as a brand, TNF have struggled to get a foothold (excuse the pun) in the running shoe market. The dominance of Salomon, inov-8 and other similar brands have always meant that TNF would need to come up with a product so darn good that runners would move away from a well known and established brand to speculate on a ‘newbie’ to the market place. In addition to being a newbie, unfortunately, TNF shoes have always lacked that little extra to tempt many to spend hard earned money on one of the options available particularly when they already have a favourite shoe. Previous shoe incarnations have showed moments have greatness but have been let down with one or two aspects.
The original ‘Single Track‘ shoe, remember, the red/white/black one was a stunning shoe to look at and it was also a shoe with many merits but it ultimately was a little heavy and didn’t quite have enough grip. The ‘Hayasa‘ addressed the weight issue but not the grip.
Roll on 2012/2013 and TNF launch two new shoes; Hyper Track Guide (reviewed HERE) and then most recently, the Ultra Guide.
The Hyper Track Guide moved the TNF shoe brand on a level but for me it still lacked that extra ooompf. The sure fitted well, was extremely breathable BUT and this was the big but, it had no real grip to handle muddy/technical trail and it lacked ‘life’. The shoe felt a little flat unless one run fast and on the toes!
I am pleased to say that with the Ultra Guide, TNF have come up with a winner! The shoe is a revelation.
I have worn, tested and reviewed many shoes by many brands in the last few years and rarely do I put a shoe on and go wow! I did this with the Scott T2 Kinabalu, I also did it with the Salomon Sense Ultra… I can now add The North Face Ultra Guide to that list.
I have a UK9.5 which fits true to size (US10.5 and EU44) and it weighs 10.5 oz/ 304g that is approximately 30g heavier than the T2 Kinabalu by Scott and approximately 60g heavier than the Salomon Sense Ultra. However, don’t despair, weight is not everything.
What you have with the Ultra Guide is a cushioned shoe that not only provides superior comfort but also great grip. The sole is made from Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole with spaced out nodules that not only shed mud but provide great grip on all surfaces, be that muddy trail or wet rock. Of course, mud grip is limited and certainly if you are planning a run in deep thick mud then another shoe would be preferable, however, the Ultra Guide is the perfect all round trail shoe. It transitions from to road to trail seamlessly and the cushioning actually makes road sections enjoyable instead of ‘bearable’. My local 10-12 mile test loop for shoes includes 2-miles of road; at the start and at the end. The last mile of my run always feels as good as the first mile in these shoes. A real sign, for me anyway, that this shoe performs exceptionally well. My trail loop includes hard (off road) bridleway, rutted farm fields, wet mud, three climbs and descents and then technical, twisty and rocky trail. Along with the T2 Kinabalu, the Ultra Guide are currently my favourite shoes.
Another key element is the shoe ‘drop’. At 8mm, for me it fulfils the sweet spot in the trail/ultra market. By comparison, the Sense Ultra is 4mm and the T2 Kinabalu is 11mm (with a rocker sole). It’s all very well talking about toe/forefoot running but as the miles accumulate and time extends, run technique becomes tired and lazy. The 8mm drop in the Ultra Guide allows a relaxed foot strike which was sustainable over longer periods. For sure, if you are looking to progress from a 12mm drop shoe then this would be an ideal starting point. Equally, if you are a runner who naturally runs fore to mid foot but would like a shoe with more cushioning/grip for longer runs, this is also for you!
I have mentioned the cushioning and these boys really do provide a plush, comfortable and relaxed ride. The 8mm drop (8mm cushioning at the front/ 16mm at the rear) keeps you low to the ground, provides no rolling and makes you feel 100% confident with each foot strike. In addition, the Snake Plate™ provides protection but in a way that differs to other shoe brands. Instead of adding a plate that runs the length of the shoe, TNF have added the plate that weaves within the foot plate. The added benefit of this is that it allows the foot to move with a natural range of movement. It works really well and protection to hard, sharp or gnarly terrain is excellent.
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. Taken from the TNF website ©thenorthface
Sitting within the shoe ones foot is held tight and secure, in particular the heel box is reassuringly snug but by contrast, the toe box is wide and roomy.
The Ultra Guide has a Northotic footbed and a matartasal fit system which sounds very high-tec and fancy but in real terms it means comfort and security. Support comes from Cradle Guide™ (hence the shoes name) which is a TNF first. It works by providing a natural movement of the foot, stride-by-stride. This is a difficult one to pin point when offering an analysis. All I can say is that shoe performs exceptionally well. I have a neutral gait and therefore arguably the shoe has less work to do. However, should you need some additional support or guidance then this may be a great shoe to try. TNF describe the Cradle Guide working in the following way:
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. Taken from TNF website ©the north face
The lacing system offers excellent adjustment options and it is therefore very easy to tighten or loosen as appropriate. The tongue scree collar also adds a nice touch and adds to the overall snug feel of the shoe. Unlike other shoes on the market, TNF have not provided a ‘storage’ option for loose laces. It’s a minor omission but on tough, technical and gnarly trail it’s nice to get loose laces out of the way of hazards.
The upper of the shoe is durable and a tight weave mesh which offers excellent breathability and drainage should you run through wet or boggy terrain. After a month of use, the upper has held up exceptionally well and shows no signs of damage. The toe box area has a large black protection area which is extremely welcome on rocky terrain. It really does protect from impact but maybe not to the extent of some of the competition, this however has caused me no problem. Flexibility was excellent.
The North Face describe the shoe as follows, ‘A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.’
I wouldn’t disagree with them! For sure, the 8mm drop suits an efficient mid to forefoot runner but as mentioned previously, if you are looking to reduce drop in a gradual way but not loose cushioning, this is without doubt a shoe to consider.
The Ultra Guide has provided me with many a pleasurable run and now, along with the T2 Knabalu is my current shoe of choice when hitting the trails.
Specs from TNF: ©thenorthface
- Tongue scree collar
- Abrasion-resistant, tight-weave mesh
- TPU-welded midfoot support
- C-Delta metatarsal fit system
- Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed BOTTOM
- Dual-injection, EVA CRADLE GUIDE™ midsole platform
- 16 mm rear cushion
- 8 mm front cushion
- TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection
- Tenacious™ Grip sticky rubber outsole
The mission of NorthFit™ is to achieve the best, most precise fit between the human foot and footwear or the form on which a shoe is constructed. To achieve this we’ve partnered with English shoemakers with great experience, collaborated with The North Face® athletes and consulted with labs and think tanks to ensure that the most reliable, quantifiable data and recent studies are taken into account. Mountains of data go into each NorthFit™ implementation. For example, based on research, our shoemakers have adjusted for a larger toe box in our endurance running shoes to accommodate swelling. A study of almost 900 men and women revealed significant differences in ball and heel width, instep height, and width. As a result, The North Face® women’s footwear has a proportionately unique build from that for men. In this way, the outdoor athlete can trust that the most up-to-date scientific data and experience have been factored into the comfort and performance they can enjoy with NorthFit™.
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.
UltraTAC™ Rubber Outsole Compound
UltrATAC™ is an all terrain, all condition rubber outsole for excellent wet/dry traction for running on roads, scrambling over scree, or for everyday use.
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.
Current colour options are TNF Red/Black and Nautical Blue
Shoes available HERE
Disclosure: I have tested and reviewed multiple product for The North Face. I have also attended certain events such as TNFUTMB at the invite of TNF. However, this pair of Ultra Guide were not provided as test samples. They were purchased by myself to test and compare against the Hyper Track Guide and also to offer an alternative review against a current favourite, the T2 Kinabalu by Scott.