Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gear Closet: The North Face Ultra MT Running Shoe

Have you ever found yourself really wanting to love a product, but for some reason you just couldn't? That happened to be the case for me with the new Ultra MT running shoes from The North Face, a pair of trail runners that have all of the features you could possibly want out of your footwear, including comfort, durability, and traction. But unfortunately for me, they simply weren't compatible with my feet, which resulted in problems I rarely face when testing a shoe.

Designed to be the ultimate trail running shoe, the Ultra MT is lightweight, highly breathable, and quite durable. It comes with equipped with a Vibram Megagrip outsole and a ripstop upper that includes quick-drying collar linings and fabrics that are meant to keep your foot comfortable, dry, and cool on longer outings. In other words, this is a shoe that has been engineered to take on tough trails, and keep you moving at high speeds.

When I took my pair of Ultra MT's out of the box I was immediately drawn to their clean, minimalist design. These shoes look good, and the Vibram outsole gives them an aggressive edge that fits nicely with their overall ascetic. Putting them on my feet only reinforced the fact that these lightweight shoes were also very comfortable, providing plenty of support, with a snug fit that I prefer out of footwear. It wasn't until I started to run in them that I actually began to encounter any problems.

Eager to put my new running shoes to the test, I wore them to my weekly running group here in Nashville. That night's run was a mere 3.5 miles (5.6 km), which is well below my average daily distances. I figured that was a good way to start to break the shoes in, and see how they actually felt out on the course. It was a hot, steamy night that was eventually broken up by a steady rainfall, which soaked us all throughly. It also provided some solid conditions in which to test these shoes.


In terms of traction, the Ultra MT's performed as well as could be expected, providing sure footing, even in slick, wet conditions. The Vibram outsole kept a firm grip on the ground as I traversed mud, rocks, and pavement along the way. The shoes even did their best to keep my feet dry, although that proved futile considering how much rain was coming down. Still, I was impressed with how well the shoes shrugged off moisture, and allowed me to continue running despite the conditions.

About half-way through the run I first started to get an indication that the Ultra MT's might not be the shoe for me however. At about the two mile mark I began to feel a hotspot on the top of my foot that would eventually become quite painful. It started as an irritant, but by the time I reached the finish line it grown well beyond that. When I got home, and took the shoes off I discovered a small blister had started to appear on the knuckle of my big toe on my right foot. If I had gone much further, it probably would have turned into a significant problem, although at the time I chalked it up to be not only breaking in a new pair of shoes, but unusual conditions due to the rain. I would come to learn that wasn't the case however, and the lesson would be an even more painful one.

My second run in these shoes proved to be even more difficult. I took them out on a 7 mile jog in perfect weather conditions, and true to form I started to feel hotspots on both feet a few miles in. Those hotspots turned painful on the last few miles, and by the time I reached home the skin had been rubbed raw in the exact same spot on both feet. I would end up having nasty blisters that would last for several days, and left me limping around in pain. It was then that I decided that as much as I wanted to love the Ultra Mt shoes, they simply weren't meant to work on my feet.

Selecting the proper running shoe is a very personal thing, and in this case these clearly weren't meant for me. That doesn't mean that these shoes won't work for you however, as every foot is different. I found a lot to like in these trail runners, as they not only felt great on my feet, but provided plenty of traction too. Unfortunately, wearing them resulted in the kind of problems that all runners dread. You might not see the same issues with these shoes that I did, and in fact it is probably unlikely that you will. After all, The North Face does extensive testing on their gear, and if this were a common problem it probably would have shown up long before they ever shipped to retailers. I'm very disappointed however, as I had hoped to put some significant miles into these babies, which just isn't possible with wear and tear they put on my feet.

The Ultra MT running shoe from The North Face has all of the hallmarks of a good trail runner. They are very comfortable, lightweight – yet supportive – and provide plenty of traction. While it is unfortunate that they are incompatible with my feet, perhaps they will work fine for you. Competitively priced at $130 they are even very affordable considering everything they bring to the table. Give them a go if you're in the market for new trail running shoes. Hopefully you'll have more success with them than I did.

1 comment:

Paul Rowland said...

I felt exactly as you did at first. After about 30 miles in the shoe, They broken nicely and became might go to Mountain running shoe. They are not my favorites for buffed out trail cruising, but for mountainous techie climbs and descents they are my go to