The North Face Ultra Vertical Review
- Flexible midsole
- Fits large
- Lack of cushioning
- Poor ground protection
- Eyelet placement
The new Ultra Vertical trail shoe from The North Face is an aggressive shoe for technical terrain that feels much faster and livelier on the trail than its specs would indicate. Our wear-testers praised its quick turnover, terrific traction, and effective ventilation. It runs somewhere between a half and full size large, however, so runners will need to choose sizes carefully.
There’s a lot to like about the new Ultra Vertical from The North Face. Technology is packed in, and our wear-testers appreciated how well the shoes outshined their expectations. At 10.7oz (for men’s size 9), the Ultra Vertical is one of the lightest shoes in this category for this round of testing, but our testers said it still felt like a bombproof shoe for technical trails, not like a featherweight, fragile race-day option. The outsole has aggressive lugs placed for excellent traction going uphill and down, and the Vibram rubber is ultra durable. The uppers are comfortable and secure, thanks to tension cables built into the lacing system (similar to Nike’s Flywire technology). Overall, this is a trail runner that can handle both long, hot days on the trail and shorter, intense efforts when you want to pick up the pace.
Far and away the biggest issue our wear-testers ran into was with fit. Everyone on the wear-test team reported that the Ultra Vertical fits at least a half-size big, with one reporting that it felt as much as a full size larger than other models. Runners who want to get into this shoe should plan to go down a half size from their normal running shoe, and perhaps even a full size.
Although not a true bootie construction, the Ultra Vertical’s tongue is attached with a stretchy, wraparound piece that cradles the midfoot comfortably in the uppers and connects seamlessly to the padding inside the heel. The effect is a comfortable, irritation free fit. As one wear-tester put it, “the upper material did a great job conforming to my foot without any hotspots or irritation points.” Another described the upper as airy with exceptional breathability, but had concerns that it might not offer enough padding for ultra distance racing. In his words, “the mesh upper had an airy feel, but it almost seemed as if they were more focused on cutting weight in the upper than making it comfortable.” Although the heel has a moderate amount of padding, the tongue is two-ply mesh without any additional padding.
Of all the shoes in this category, the Ultra Vertical felt the speediest. They were the lightest shoe in their category, and one wear-tester was even surprised they weighed 10.7 oz since, “they felt and ran so much lighter.” The Ultra Vertical responds well to an uptempo pace. As one tester reported, “it was easy to open up and get moving in these. The modest 6mm drop assured my heel wouldn’t get in the way, and getting up on my toes was easy. They almost felt like a road shoe.” Our wear-testers also praised the quick turnover and easy transition through the footstrike, which makes them a good choice for trail running and racing where speed is a priority over cushioning.
Security of Fit
The biggest issue our testers encountered is the fit of the Ultra Vertical, which is between a half and full size larger than other models. One wear-tester said he was “swimming in this shoe” and another said to take all of his feedback with a grain of salt because they fit so differently than his regular size. As he put it, “if the size were right, I might have had a completely different experience.” Our wear-testers liked the Ultra Vertical’s midfoot overlays and lacing cables, which gave the uppers a secure fit without having to ratchet down the laces. One wear-tester noted that he “didn’t notice any movement inside the shoe on technical terrain.” However, another member of the team disliked how high the top eyelets sat on the foot. Combined with the thin tongue, he pointed out some discomfort at the top of the lacing.
The Ultra Verticals really shined here. One wear-tester applauded the Vibram Megagrip outsole, saying, “the awesome traction and light feel will give runners the confidence to bomb down gnarly descents and cruise through rock gardens.” Others praised the flexible midsole, which gave the Ultra Verticals the edge over aggressive trail shoes that feel stiffer, like the new La Sportiva Akyra.
The Ultra Vertical has a relatively low profile at 25mm rear stack height and 19mm forefoot stack height, which gives it a responsive feel on the trail without the drawbacks of a minimalist shoe. One wear-tester called the Ultra Vertical “fast, fun, and snappy during a rolling outing in Portland’s Forest Park.” Overall, the Ultra Vertical is a solid choice for runners who are looking for a balance between lively, responsive trail feel and protection.
While the Vibram outsole has great traction and exceptional durability, our testers felt like the rock plate didn’t offer enough protection from rocks and trail protrusions. As one put it, “I found very little protection from the ESS Snake Plate. I was much more confident and comfortable landing in dirt or grass than having to land on rocks.” The mesh upper is airy and breathable, but our wear-testers reported that the tradeoff was that the mesh didn’t keep out dust and trail debris as well as they would have liked.
How We Tested It
Over the course of several weeks, our wear-test team conducted multiple runs in each pair of shoes. They aimed for a variety of runs (easy recovery runs, long training runs, harder race-pace efforts) across as many different types of trails as they could manage. Additionally, the team is spread out across the country, so they were able to test under a variety of different conditions, terrains, and types of trail. We tested them on gently rolling singletrack, in the mountains, in the muck, over trees, powering up technical climbs, and flying down steep descents. We tested them on easy training days and through ultramarathons.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.
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- Heel Height: 25mm
- Heel Drop: 6mm
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