The North Face Ampezzo Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
Representing the upper end of The North Face's newly released trail running shoe line, the Ampezzo is a bit disappointing in its exceedingly simple design and execution. While we can't argue with its comfort, we can't help noticing that the upper is very simple mesh with a few TPU-film overlays, the midsole is a simple single layer of fat EVA foam, and the outsole offers among the least aggressive traction for multiple surfaces of any that we tested for this review.
Perhaps it reveals an inherent bias, but the $130 price tag (other shoes in the same line retail for $120 and $90) sets us up to expect a bit more. More rugged traction, a more comprehensive lacing system for locking our foot in place, and more protection from the midsole. Frankly, this shoe provides none of the things the other $130 shoes in this review do, and so it simply feels like a poor value. With a $90 price tag, we would be writing in all CAPS about how comfortable it is, but instead, we feel slightly short-changed.
The Ampezzo feels slightly more protective underfoot than the very sensitive Saucony Peregrine ISO. The midsole is a single density EVA foam that tends toward the squishy side, rather than the firmer dual-density EVA compounds that provide more rock protection, like what is found in the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 or the Nike Terra Kiger 5. With a 6mm heel-toe drop, there is quite a bit more cushioning under the heel than the forefoot.
The trade-off between underfoot protection and sensitivity feels well balanced with this shoe, but neither is very exceptional; adequate protection and also sufficient sensitivity. In terms of the upper, there is little to no toe bumper except for an extra layer of film overlaid, and similarly, thin film overlays much of the mesh for a slight bump in durability, but no structure that will work to protect the foot itself.
The outsole of this shoe uses a TNF proprietary rubber compound that they call EXTS, which we found to be reasonably sticky on dry and wet rock. The lugs cover the entire bottom of the shoe and are star-shaped, but are among the shortest in this review, around 2-3mm deep. While the shortness of these lugs should prevent them from being ripped off too easily, it also prevents them from digging into slippery and loose surfaces as well as the most aggressively lugged shoes such as the Salomon Speedcross 5 or the Hoka Speedgoat 3.
The Ampezzo is a reasonably stable shoe. It feels slightly high off the ground, despite the advertised 20mm heel / 14mm toes stack height, which is on the lower end compared to the competition. We suspect that companies measure and report these stack height numbers differently because this doesn't represent our experience accurately. The heel feels noticeably higher off the ground than the toes. This shoe feels a bit loose and doesn't lock down the arch and midfoot area as well as a shoe like the La Sportiva Kaptiva. The net effect is that we didn't feel likely to roll an ankle or slip because of the fit, but at the same time would feel more comfortable in this shoe on smoother, more predictable trails, rather than on steep technical descents.
Straight out of the box and onto the foot, the most noticeably positive attribute of this shoe is how comfortable it is. The construction of the inside of the upper is top-notch, and there are no seams or loose pieces of fabric to rub or chafe. It is well cushioned, but not overly so, around the ankle opening, over the heel, and on the tongue. We feel that the shoe fits true to size, and while there are complaints online about it fitting too narrow, we would simply call it low volume rather than narrow. It is less narrow than the Sportiva Kaptiva, Hoka Challenger ATR 5, or Speedgoat 3, with a similarly low volume fit to the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2. The largely mesh upper is soft and pliable and doesn't squeeze the foot in any way. Truly, this is among the most comfortable shoes we have worn this year, which says a lot.
Our pair of men's size 11 US shoes weighed 23.5 ounces on our independent scale; this puts them among the heaviest shoes in this review, which is a bit puzzling considering they don't have a rockplate, higher density midsole foam, oversized outsole, or protective plastic overlays on the upper. Some of the shoes that weigh around the same amount, like the Scarpa Spin Ultra, have all of these added features. Others have all these features and are lighter, like the Nike Wildhorse 5.
The trail feel of this shoe is about what you would expect from a squishy EVA foam midsole. While the foam does a good job of dampening the repetitive impacts from running, it also allows a lot of the sensation from the trail, and especially rocks, to penetrate to the foot. In this way, it provides a nice balance with foot protection but is also a bit under-protective if running on rocks is one of your common pastimes.
We enjoy these shoes best for mellower trails, and they also make a good choice for crossover runs that take place partially on trails and partially on roads. We think they are a good dirt road running shoe, and while they can hold their own on rougher trails or off trail, they wouldn't be our first choice for these purposes.
The Ampezzo retail for $130, which we don't think is an outstanding value. We simply don't see the material choices or designs, let alone performance, that warrants this shoe retailing for top dollar. For us, it feels like a good value for a $90 shoe, so keep an eye out for sales or closeouts.
The North Face seems to be fazing out their Ultra series of trail running shoes which have been around for several years and, at least according to us, were quite solid trail running shoes. They have replaced them with a new line led by the flagship Ampezzo, which underwhelms. While it is comfortable, this shoe seems far more similar to what we would expect of a road running shoe and doesn't compare favorably to the performance of the top trail running shoes on the market.
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