Stiff midsole maintains energy return and responsiveness on soft ground
Ample protection from rocks and other trail hazards
Ride feels harsh on smooth, firm surfaces and during long runs
Somewhat narrow fit
The heavy duty outsole reduces ground feel
The North Face Ultra MT is a rugged trail shoe designed for difficult conditions. The aggressive outsole and stiff midsole facilitate fast running on loose surfaces, but can feel harsh when the trail smooths out and firms up.
The North Face Ultra MT is a rugged trail shoe that is clearly designed for difficult conditions. The stand-out feature of the shoe is the aggressive Vibram outsole. The lugs are large and highly effective on anything soft or loose, such as sand and mud. The outsole material is also quite sticky, so that traction is maintained on harder surfaces such as rock. The overall ride of the Ultra MT is definitely on the stiff side. This helps maintain energy efficiency on both soft ground and steep climbs. Protection is excellent and includes a padded heel cup as well as an effective but low-profile toe bumper.
The Ultra MT is definitely not a comfort shoe, nor is it really designed for fast turnover on hard-packed surfaces. In testing, it felt out of its element during faster running on dirt roads. While this was certainly tolerable for short durations, there are plenty of better choices for this type of running on the market. And a consequence of the heavy duty outsole is that ground feel is nearly nonexistent.
The Ultra MT is probably best suited as a specialty shoe for shorter runs and races on demanding terrain. Lighter runners used to a stiff ride may also find the Ultra MT to be a viable long run shoe. The Ultra MT is probably not the best choice for runners looking for a plush cushioned ride, or enhanced ground feel.
Comfort The upper of the Ultra MT has a slight padding which makes for a very comfortable feel. However the hard outsole lugs and overall stiffness of the shoe felt harsh on surfaces such as hard-packed dirt roads and bare rock, particularly on runs longer than an hour or so. The cushioning is definitely firm, and the amount of it is less than what is typically found in shoes in this weight class.
Speed The low forefoot height and 8mm drop of the Ultra MT are definitely conducive to faster running, and on soft trails and loose surfaces, the shoe really screams. On hard surfaces however, the large outsole lugs become cumbersome and inhibit turnover. The responsiveness of the shoe does somewhat compensate for this.
Security of Fit Security of fit was generally excellent. The only real concern is that the fit is somewhat narrow and straight, which makes a consistently secure fit from heel to toe a bit more challenging to achieve. However, the low forefoot height really helps to reduce unwanted foot motion, even when the lacing is not perfect.
Responsiveness The responsiveness of the Ultra MT is definitely above average, and really helps to maintain energy efficiency on soft surfaces such as sand. The energy return is also excellent when climbing hard up hill, particularly when the grade is steep enough that the heel does not come into full contact with the ground when pushing off.
Stability The low and narrow forefoot make for an extremely agile shoe that can easily handle precise foot placement at speed. One might think that the large outsole lugs would have a tendency to catch on trail obstacles, but this was not found to be the case. Similarly, the heel stays out of the way despite the 8mm drop—because of the low overall stack height.