Light, Fast & Free: 2014 Summer Trail Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide

The North Face Ultra Trail

The North Face Ultra Trail, $110

8.9 oz. (men’s), 7.1 oz. (women’s)

21 mm (heel), 14 mm forefoot

Category: LIGHTWEIGHT MINIMALIST/MOUNTAIN MARAUDER

Fit: This shoe fits fairly spaciously and barren, a sensation that is accentuated by the fact that it doesn’t have a padded interior. Several of our wear-testers remarked how they needed to torque down on the laces to get a snug fit.

Feel: The shoe is super light and flexible, but it’s really geared toward more rugged terrain for nimble runners. It’s not a great road-to-trail crossover shoe as it has too little cushioning and a bit of an awkward “slappy” ride on hard surfaces. It’s not quite a “barely there” shoe, but it definitely lacks a plush sensation.

Ride: An energetic minimalist model for the technical terrain, the Ultra Trail is short on cushioning but long on agility (assuming the fit can get dialed in). For the seasoned trail runner with nimble running skills, it’s an ideal shoe for delicate dancing through rocky, rooty and undulating terrain but less of a model for striding out long miles on smoother, softer terrain (unless you’re OK with the bare-bones feeling). The low-profile durable rubber outsole got high marks from our testers, both because it offers sufficient protection and great traction (on everything except snow) and also because its very flexible. A sufficiently reinforced toe box and a full-length protection plate offer up additional trail-specific protection. “These might not be cushy enough for a long haul, but they are great for medium-length and medium-terrain trail runs,” one wear-tester said.

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