The North Face Ultra Guide ReviewMarch 28, 2013
- Widely spread, low-profile lugs provide excellent traction on most surfaces, including mud and wet conditions; shed mud quickly
- Surprising stability over varied terrain, despite light weight and soft, supple upper
- Light and nimble enough with a natural “rolling” feel, it would work well for racing without sacrificing ample support for longer training runs
- Low heel cup allowed some slippage and rear-foot instability
- Midsole cups foot nicely but caused some discomfort on sides around ball of foot and impeded foots natural “splay”
- Tongue is too short and slipped around allowing laces to irritate upper instep of foot
The Ultra Guide excels at fast training runs or racing over varied terrain and conditions that require quick transitions and a nimble feel. It offers surprising stability and outstanding comfort in the upper for a thin shoe, although I felt some mild pressure where the midsole wraps up around metatarsals. Widely spaced, sticky lugs provide great traction even in the wet, and the midsole rolls as smoothly as any we’ve tested. Not designed for heel strikers.
Fast, light, flexible and nimble, this is a new generation of North Face running shoe. Aside from a few minor shortcomings, TNF has developed a great counterpart for its Hyper Guide, with all the speed of that minimalist racer, plus the added rock protection, lateral support and cushioning necessary for serious trail running.
A narrow strip of thin yet effective webbing wraps around the shoe, between the midsole and upper, plus well-placed overlays combine to provide surprising stability and protection for this ultralight shoe, even on side hills and loose rocks. Unfortunately the heel cup is short and a bit wide, so while the forefoot stays put, I did notice some vertical and lateral slippage in the heel.
One look at the profile and you can see the smooth curve from heel to toe. And the ride lives up to expectation: From a mid-foot strike, the foot rolls naturally up and off the toe for super quick transitions. A heavy heel strike tends to reduce the roll, however, as the soft cushioning compresses flat. But when bounding downhill or hammering a rolling trail, the shoe springs forward with minimal resistance.
With a soft, flexible upper, smooth interior and cushioned tongue, the Ultra had a wonderful feel on the foot. The toe box is ample, although really wide feet will feel the sides, and the low-profile 8mm forefoot flexes like a minimalist shoe over obstacles, for great trail feel. The thin, highly flexible TPU rock plate provided just enough protection to avoid pain/bruising even on the sharp stuff. Unfortunately, even with the laces on the lower of two upper eyelets, they would still rub on the instep because the tongue is a bit too short. And after a longer run, when the foot is a bit swollen and the shoe stretched, the upward wrap on the sides of the midsole put pressure on the outer ball of the foot.
Sticky rubber underfoot combined with widely spaced lugs resulted in great traction over varied terrain – wet or dry. Even wet Northwest roots couldn’t escape their grip (well, mostly anyway!). The wide spacing provided efficient mud clearance, although some stuck to an insert under the heel. While a bit squirrely on pavement, the medium-height lugs were stiff, tight and responsive on all but the firmest trails.