The North Face Ultra 109 WP Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Great traction, versatile enough for trail running, great waterproofing, affordable
Cons: Not as durable
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
TNF Ultra 109 WP is one of our favorite all-around hiking shoes. It feels light on the foot like a running shoe, but offers way more in terms of stability, traction, versatility, and especially in waterproofness. We tested this shoe in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the deserts of Death Valley, and in all of the varied terrain in between. We were so impressed with the performance of this shoe, and our wallets were equally as impressed with its price, that we recognize the Ultra 109 as our Best Buy for Waterproof Hiking Shoe.
Slipping into the Ultra 109 shoe, we immediately realize how comfortable these shoes really are. The upper materials are light and flexible, and it feels like they have already been broken in. Right out of the box they are ready to hit the trail. The lacing system is simple and allows for a range of adjustability, and snugs up just below the ankle for a comfortable fit that is not restrictive.
The toe box is sufficiently wide that we have no problem wearing thicker wool hiking socks, though it is a bit narrower in the midfoot so those with wide feet may have more constriction here than we do. The insole is quality and promotes foot comfort over the course of a long day on the trail. Underfoot, the EVA midsole gives good protection from the impacts of sharp rocks when on uneven and rough terrain, and the ESS shank adds some structure to the shoe so that foot fatigue is minimized, a benefit over some of the very lightweight models that require a stronger foot.
We put the Ultra 109 shoes on the scale and verified them at 2.04 pounds in a size 11 US. These are not the lightest shoes in our review, but don't let that dissuade you from checking them out. For the solid performance that they provide, we feel that they are worth their weight, and they give better comfort, traction, and versatility than several lighter weight models that we featured in this review.
Speaking to versatility, we have no issue lacing up these shoes and going for a run on mixed terrain that includes trail and hard surfaces like pavement, and do not feel like we are hampered by any extra weight.
As a beefed-up trail running shoe, the Ultra 109 shoes are a bit on the light side when it comes to support, which is to be expected given their weight and their lower-cut stature. These shoes feel more like shoes than some of the models that bridge the gap towards a hiking boot with cuffs that extend up more around the ankles. These are great shoes, however, for day hikes and for trips with moderately sized packs. Folks who don't need a shoe to ride up very high will likely appreciate the ankle freedom.
The platform on which these shoes are built is stable and supportive though, and we feel a lot of confidence when traveling over rough ground thanks to the ESS shank that stiffens up the midsole, as well as the molded EVA midsole that absorbs and deflects a lot of the bracing impacts felt on rocky terrain. The fit of the Ultra 109 is medium, trending towards narrow, and the forefoot width is only 4.25 inches, making them reasonably capable when edging in talus fields and on sidehills.
In designing the Ultra 109, The North Face used a proprietary rubber compound called UltrATAC. This rubber is soft enough to smear on rock slabs and on pavement, while still being firm enough to grip well into looser material like sand and scree. Thanks to the ESS shank, the sole of the Ultra 109 is stiffer than other lightweight hiking shoes and gives decent edging support when traversing, or when scrambling on steeper rocks.
These shoes do quite well in on-trail traction, and off-trail they perform as well as more expensive models that blur that line between trail runner and hiking shoe.
This is a highly versatile shoe, and we think it is a really useful hiking shoe that can do a lot more than just hike on trails. It is light and flexible enough to be used as a trail running shoe, with enough cushion that you can run on harder surfaces like packed gravel or pavement and not get the jarring feeling that stiffer shoes will produce.
As a hiking shoe, it is a great option for day hikes, since it gives great traction and comfort but is not super heavy duty and overkill for the local trails, though if you want to put on a light pack and go for an overnight backpacking trip then there is adequate support to carry a backpack of up to around 30 pounds without feeling the need for additional stability and ankle support.
The Ultra 109 WP has an upper that is made out of Dryvent material as well as a waterproof breathable liner (which is what the WP stands for) called Hydroseal that allows the foot to breathe well enough to use it during trail runs without our foot getting too hot and sweaty, but repels water effectively and resisted soaking through during our 5-minute stream test.
With the upper material made predominantly out of synthetics and mesh, the upper dries out quickly after getting wet, so even during river crossings that you have to wade through, we found that after hiking for 30 minutes our shoes had dried out.
While testing the Ultra 109 shoes we did not personally have any issues concerning long term durability, though with so many seams and synthetic fabrics, especially the mesh, we anticipate that rough terrain will start to beat these shoes up faster than models made from more robust materials.
Many online reviewers complain that seams fail and pull apart on these shoes, so you might not get the longevity out of these shoes that other more expensive models might provide, though anticipating these failure modes and pretreating the seams with Seam Grip might solve this issue.
TNF Ultra 109 hiking shoe is a great shoe for the price. It is the highest performing waterproof shoe at a modest price, earning our Best Buy Award for Waterproof Hiking Shoes.
The North Face Ultra 109 WP is a really good all-around hiking shoe that can do it all well. We especially like it for its comfort and traction, and it is one of our favorite models to toss on for day hiking. We strongly recommend it, as it provides great value as well. If you are looking for an introductory hiking shoe and desire a waterproof liner because you either live in or plan to visit a region with a wetter climate, then these shoes deserve your consideration.
— Ryan Huetter