The North Face Ultra Endurance Review
Cons: A bit heavy, not very sensitive
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Ultra Endurance shoe is designed to be very durable for running ultra distances, and we believe it fully accomplishes this goal. While we loved the Ultra Trail shoes from The North Face that we tested in the past, we found them to be flimsy, not very durable, and so un-protective that we didn't think many people would be able to run longer distances in them. In contrast, the Ultra Endurance is built on the same comfortable last, but includes much more cushioning and ideal protection both underfoot and on the upper, and is very comfortable. It also includes a single-piece Vibram Megagrip outsole that is simultaneously grippy on all the mediums we tested and is highly durable. In short, if you want a shoe that you can put a ton of miles into or for very long runs, this is a shoe for you.
This shoe was among the most protective in our review, and thus we awarded it 8 out of a possible 10 points. While it doesn't feature the mega cushioning of the Hoka Challenger ATR 4, it does have a very solid rock plate. The rock plate, termed the "snake plate", takes the abuse from the rocks and roots of the trail without letting them damage the feet. It also has 26mm of stack height in the heel, which is no small amount and gives these shoes a very comfortable ride.
This shoe also shines when it comes to upper protection. We found its molded-TPU toe bumper to be the most reliable, durable, and protective bumper of the entire crop of shoes, a feature we appreciated since we often bash our toes while running over rocks. Its suede and plastic TPU reinforcements to the upper also help to protect the sides of the feet while ensuring that the lightweight mesh doesn't prematurely rip, as often happens in lighter weight trail running shoes. All of these features worked together to make this one of the most durable shoes that we tested.
The single piece Vibram Megagrip outsole on this shoe features relatively sticky rubber with arrow-shaped lugs that are multi-directional for grip going up or downhill. Impressive to us was the fact that this outsole gripped equally well on all different types of surfaces, whether that was steep grass or dirt, mud, or dry and wet rocks. It was on par with the traction found on the similarly burly feeling Vasque Constant Velocity and the shoe with the same Vibram outsole material, the New Balance Leadville v3.
It seems that the patterning of the lugs is modeled after the very best outsole, that of the Salomon Speedcross, although we have to admit that the rubber isn't as sticky as the Speedcross. We had no complaints when it came to the traction on this shoe, although it wasn't the best one in the test, so we gave it 7 out of 10 points.
We awarded this shoe 7 out of a possible 10 points for stability, which may come as a bit of a surprise for a shoe that has an 8mm heel-toe drop. In general, shoes with low drop and low stack heights tend to be the most stable, but when it came to the Ultra Endurance, that wasn't the case. In our side hilling and steep downhills tests meant to test the stability of trail running shoes, we found that that the upper of this shoe held the foot in place quite well, although there was a bit of forwarding slippage on steep downhills. In the end, we didn't feel nearly so connected to the ground as when we were wearing the Altra Superior 3.5 shoes, which were among the most stable we have tested.
This shoe has one of the coziest uppers of any shoe in this test. Sometimes our feet felt like they were gently rocked to bed in a pair of slippers rather than bombing down a steep trail. The single piece, unsewn Flashdry liner on the inside of the upper, combined with a perfect amount of heel and ankle padding, and the gusseted tongue, makes it a candidate for comfortable sockless running. That said, we had a slight issue with the location of the highest laces, as they sometimes bit into the top of our foot, often inspiring us to run with the laces only laced through the second highest grommet, a problem easily fixed for us.
These shoes were also among the bottom third of all the shoes in all aspects of the water test. They retained a relatively high amount of water and were slower to shed that water than most of the shoes. Those small complaints aside, we thought these were very comfortable shoes and were happy running in them all day. For us, they were about average when accounting for all of the considerations that go into assessing comfort. In fact, they were on par with the higher overall scoring Saucony Peregrine 7, as well as the Altra Lone Peak 3.5, a shoe with lots of comfortable padding but a slightly problematic fit.
At 24.5 ounces for a pair of size Men's 11 shoes, these were not what you could call light and fast shoes. We could only award them 3 out of a possible 10 points for weight. They were roughly the same weight as the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4, but over seven ounces heavier than our lightest offering, the La Sportiva Helios 2.0. It seems that all the extra reinforcement on the upper cost these shoes a bit when it came to weight, but they didn't feel excessively heavy while out on the trail, and a couple of extra ounces, in this case, is enough to prejudice a person away from buying and loving them.
With the firm rock plate underfoot, these shoes didn't offer very much in the way of sensitivity. They were much less sensitive than the Saucony Peregrine 7 but were slightly better than the firm feeling Vasque Constant Velocity. To be fair, they were also more protective than those shoes, so a person needs to decide how they want their shoe to feel and what aspect is more important to them when considering what to buy. We could still feel a lot more of the trail when running in them than when we wore the conceptually similar New Balance Leadville v3, so they weren't at the very bottom end of the spectrum either.
As their name suggests, these shoes are designed for ultra running, and they will best suit that application. We also feel that they will have the endurance to live up to many hundreds of miles of abuse, making them a good trainer as well. We can't think of an application where they wouldn't work well, although they are best suited for someone who values foot protection over sensitivity.
It seems like pretty much all quality trail running shoes these days are roughly the same price, and unfortunately, that price has been creeping upward. These one's retail for $120, which is really about average for a high-end trail running shoe these days. Since they are a quality shoe and are also highly durable, we think you will get good value from your purchase.
The Ultra Endurance is a traditional shoe with 8mm of heel-toe drop but rides low to the ground. This is a shoe that is good for nearly every application and all types of runners, and should easily have a much wider following than the Ultra Trail shoe that we reviewed in the past. Overall, you can't go wrong by buying this shoe, which is why we are happy to recommend it.
— Andy Wellman