The North Face Ultra Trail II


The North Face Ultra Trail II (also abbreviated The Ultra TR II) is an update to the award-winning Ultra Trail, its accolades include the 2014 Runner’s World Magazine Best Debut Award Winner and the Outside Magazine’s 2014 Gear of the Year Award. The North Face Ultra II is also part of the Ultra Series line of products.

The trail running shoe industry has vastly changed over the last 4-5 years. In 2011/2012 I began trail running in modest, running with a pair of The North Face Single Track, a large, clunky shoe (by today’s standards) that looked decent and was affordable to me at that time. I had been drawn to the Single Track after watching Hal Koerner wear it in this YouTube video. To my knowledge, the Single Track was one of the first generation trail running shoes made by The North Face.

The North Face Single Track

The North Face Single Track

The shoe was instrumental in my early stages of trail running. However the Single Track proved to be a short-lived shoe as I eventually gave into buying the ridiculously expensive Salomon Sense (I blame Kilian Jornet), which became my first choice trail running shoe for that year. Not having a use for the Single Track then, I gave it to a friend of mine to which its fate remains unknown.

After 3 years of using Salomon shoes, I decided to be frugal with my purchases and began looking at other trail shoes as there were plenty to choose from in the market. In an interesting turn of events, Vlad Ixel introduced the Ultra Trail II to participants who attended his training clinics in Singapore and not long after it was made available at the Running Lab outlets in Singapore.

The Ultra Trail II comes in two color options, Black/Dayglo Yellow as well as Power Orange/Jasper Green.

Power Orange/Jasper Green

Power Orange/Jasper Green

 Black/Dayglo Yellow

Black/Dayglo Yellow

Although Running Lab brings in both colorways, the Power Orange color is available in limited quantities at the Running Lab outlet at Novena Square, while the Black/Dayglo Yellow will continue to readily available at all Running Lab outlets. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kim Meng from Running Lab for helping me to secure a pair of the Power Orange Ultra II’s despite the low stock count and some mishaps with regards to my reservation.

First Impressions

The shoe reminded me a lot of the Salomon Sense line of shoes that I had previously worn. It fits ‘like a glove’ to say the least and was surprisingly light and nimble. Here is a comparison table of the Ultra TR II and a few other shoes that I have worn which are similar to it. The 8 mm heel drop was a good trade-off between comfort, feel to the ground and speed.

A comparison of similar trail running shoes that I've used before.

A comparison of similar trail running shoes that I’ve used before.

Upper Material

The material selection of the upper, a ripstop-tent-fabric was lightweight and probably added to the overall reduced weight of the shoe.

The upper is quite reflective on the Black/Dayglo Yellow shoe, as opposed to the Power Orange.

The upper is quite reflective on the Black/Dayglo Yellow shoe, as opposed to the Power Orange.

Outsole

I was unimpressed with the outsole design on my first hands on with the shoe. While I understood that the Ultra II was marketed as a road-to-trail shoe, its outsole design was generic in comparison to the Ultra Cardiac which looked to have better traction. It has also been reported that the Vibram outsole did not last very long, although I cannot verify this yet as both pairs are still under 100 km in mileage.

An educated guess as to which has better traction?

An educated guess as to which has better traction?

Sizing Up

Although not a hard and fast rule, I’ve learnt over past few years that when buying a trail shoe, a runner should up the size by half to accommodate feet swelling during hot conditions as well as to give room for the toes during descents.

Unfortunately, that rule slipped my mind when I bought the first pair of Ultra II.

Thinking that the shoe was a perfect fit, I bought the Power Orange (my first pair) in my usual shoe size of US 8.5. The shoe was snug a fit. But within just a few runs, I began to notice that my 2nd toe (right foot) was hitting the front of the shoe during descents and that could be problematic on longer runs.

Half a size up does make a big difference in comfort.

Half a size up does make a big difference in comfort.

But I quite liked the shoe and with an extra Running Lab voucher that was due to expire, I bought myself another pair half-sized up, although in Black/Dayglo Yellow. With this second pair, I was able to run more comfortably, although now the sore spot has moved from my 2nd toe to the pinky toe, but that was less of an issue. I still run in both pairs; the Power Orange for races and the Black/Dayglo for training.

Race performance

The Ultra II was my shoe of choice at the recent The Great Relay Singapore race, where it logged about 27 km across varied terrain at Dairy Farm Road. The Ultra II held up well across the technical ascents and descents, on both rocky and dirt single track, as well as on the tarmac sections of the race.

During a heavy downpour in the late afternoon of the race, the shoe did well to drain water from rain and puddles, but I was careful on the descents as the traction seemed lacking. On the hilly ascents on the tarmac road, I felt that as if I was sliding forward up-hill instead of running upwards.

I wore my Black ‘half-sized-up’ Ultra II’s while Ian wore his Power Orange for the race.

On the last lap after the downpour - Photo by RecoveringAddict Runner

On the last lap after the downpour – Photo by RecoveringAddict Runner

My team-mate Ian, taking on the trail single tracks. Photo by Second Wind Magazine

My team-mate Ian, taking on the trail single tracks. Photo by Second Wind Magazine

Summary

Despite a few small issues, the Ultra Trail II is a shoe I would highly recommend to beginner trail runners or seasoned trail runners who prefer to train or race in a lighter shoe. At $186 MSRP, I think it’s quite affordable.  I’m more excited to see if the Ultra MT, a fell-running inspired trail shoe for muddy and wet conditions will make its way down to Asia. Click here to see that review by Ian Corless.

Pros

  • Lightweight and responsive shoe.
  • Affordably priced.
  • Works well on dry single track trail and occasional technical trails (caveat below).

Cons

  • Comes in only two colors. The more vibrant Power Orange is difficult to get hold of.
  • Outsole design doesn’t offer much grip in more technical (mud/wet) conditions.

Noteworthy Specifications

  • Approx Weight (1/2 pair): 8.1 oz (230 g) based on Men’s 9
  • Bottom: 16 mm/8 mm heel/forefoot EVA (8 mm offset)
  • Upper: Cross-country spike inspired, ripstop-tent-fabric upper
  • Midsole: Dual-injection-molded, EVA CRADLE™ GUIDE platform
  • Outsole: Vibram® full-length road-to-trail
  • Pebax® heel CRADLE™
  • Retails for $189 at Running Lab

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