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:

©iancorless.com_TNFUltraCardiac-7017

Ultra Endurance outsole:

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Scott Kinabalu Supertrac outsole:

©iancorless.com_ScottSupertrac-5061

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

The-North-Face-Ultra-Endurance-Shoes-SS16-Offroad-Running-Shoes-Silver-Grey-Pompeian-SS16-2

The inov-8 RACE ULTRA 290

Inov-8-Race-Ultra-290-Shoes-SS16-Offroad-Running-Shoes-Grey-Red-Black-SS16-5054167431

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.

The North Face Ultra Guide Review

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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.

The shoe

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.

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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!

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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

The North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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 North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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 North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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 North Face Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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 Ultra Guide ©iancorless.com

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

NorthFit™

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™.

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.

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.

Unleashed Performance™

A neutral design construction that allows a natural stride turnover, Unleashed Performance™ category footwear is geared toward the more mechanically sound runner.

Cradle™ Guide

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.