The North Face Ultra 109 GTX Review Facts
After defining themselves as one of the premier winter apparel designers over the past ten years, The North Face has attempted to replicate this same success when it comes to their footwear. And it seems that among their entire catalog of products, their trail running and hiking shoes are their most impressive products with the greatest possibility of achieving higher popularity. Their Ultra 109 GTX shoes in particular are extremely impressive due to their excellent weather protection, comfort, and versatility in handling terrain. These shoes also show elements of The North Face’s appealing sense of style, although it’s not to the same degree as other fashion footwear titans. Additionally, a few comments from customers regarding their durability may be cause for concern.
The North Face has an outsole made with their proprietary UltrATAC material. This is a hard rubber material that provides all of the important features that are expected from a trail running shoe. This includes traction, with their aggressive lug design, and stability
, with their impressively balanced weight distribution. Durability is also guaranteed thanks to the extremely sturdy and abrasion-resistant properties of UltrATAC; although the same can’t be said for other areas of these shoes, runners can rest assured that the undersides of their feet won’t be exposed to danger.
The EVA material used to form this trail running shoe’s midsole is compression molded. This is a form of EVA manufacturing that improves its durability by increasing its durability: a design decision that comes with benefits and drawbacks. The major benefit to this style of midsole construction is that it makes this portion of the Ultra 109 GTX more durable, which is extremely important for a competent trail runner. The drawback to this, however, is a decreased level of comfort and flexibility which can prevent some wearers from feeling as comfortable
wearing this product as they would with other trail running shoe models, either from The North Face or from other designers.
The middle and lower portions of this shoe from The North Face stress high durability
and stability as primary design principles, and its upper portion exhibits a similar focus. Thanks to the Gore-Tex membrane used for its construction, the entirety of the Ultra 109 GTX’s upper is resistant to water damage or penetration. This material is also where these shoes, as well as all other shoes in The North Face’s GTX line, derive their namesake. Polyurethane-coated leather also comprises large portions of this area, further bolstering its moisture protection while also providing a rigidly stable fit. Other protective features added to this shoe’s upper include a toe cap and midfoot shank.
The one negative design aspect for the vast majority of trail running shoes is that they are much heavier than any other form of athletic footwear. The reason why this is so commonly seen in trail running shoes is that they often incorporate more padding and treading in their construction, resulting in a greater burden to the wearer’s feet
. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX weighs nearly an entire pound per shoe on average, placing them firmly in the same category of heavy trail runners. For most individuals who engage in activities such as hiking, spelunking, and trail running, this extra weight is a welcome tradeoff for the excellent protection and comfort these heavier shoes provide. However, it is ultimately going to vary from person to person whether or not this is a worthwhile compromise.
While it isn’t as important as durability or protection, breathability can play a large role in whether or not an individual feels comfortable in their trail running shoes. Unfortunately, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is not a very well-ventilated shoe for a few reasons. First, the thick padding that covers the upper and lower portions of these shoes prevents air from being able to enter and exit the insides of these shoes without tremendous resistance
. When coupled with the heavier weight, the Ultra 109 GTX’s internal temperature tends to get uncomfortably high as a result. The Gore-Tex membrane on this shoe’s upper provides a modicum of breathability, but it still isn’t enough to make these shoes viable for use in warm weather.
Considerable effort from The North Face went into making the Ultra 109 GTX as comfortable as possible. The many layers of cushioning that comprise the upper portion of these shoes is the primary reason for so many customers stating that these shoes are comfortable, although the underfoot padding is another major reason for this phenomenon. However, some of the design aspects that make this trail running shoe so comfortable also cause discomfort for other individuals. One example of this is the aforementioned compression-molded EVA foam used for the Ultra 109 GTX’s midsole, which feels much stiffer than other forms of EVA material. Another comfort problem commonly encountered by wearers of these shoes is excessive heat retention. Still, the general consensus for these trail runners is that they are indeed very comfortable.
Although this is essentially the least important design aspect of a high-quality trail runner, the stylistic properties of a shoe can have a significant impact on the likelihood of a potential customer purchasing it. The North Face opts for a utilitarian aesthetic in the design of their Ultra 109 GTX, but some stylistic additions have been made to improve its fashionability. The leather trappings found on its upper are one example, as are the intricate grooves and stripes found on each shoe’s heel. Color options are limited to block, brown, and dark red, with the last two options looking very similar to each other. It isn’t as visually appealing as many popular casual running shoes, and it doesn’t offer the same flair as Salomon’s trail runners, but they are certainly appealing enough to avoid looking outright ugly.
Possibly the most important feature to any good trail running shoe is durability. In order to justify the increased weight and price that commonly accompanies this form of footwear, customers have grown to expect trail runners to provide superior longevity as a long-term investment. In the case of The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, customers should be very satisfied with this aspect of their design. Due in large part to its UltrATAC outsole and dense EVA midsole, these shoes will be able to withstand some of the harshest possible running environments for hundreds of miles and several seasons.
In addition to providing a fantastic degree of durability, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX offers excellent protective capabilities for the wearer. This is something that is also very important for a reputable trail running shoe to provide since the act of trail running is extremely dangerous and can expose the runner to a variety of hazards and threatening situations. For starters, the wearer’s feet are protected from slipping on unstable terrain through large lugs added to the undersides of these shoes. The highly compressed foam midsole further protects the wearer by offering additional stability in order to prevent them from losing their balance. While this shoe’s upper isn’t as defensive as its lower half, its Gore-Tex membrane is protective when it comes to water, making them effective for use in the rain.
Because these shoes weigh so much, wearers shouldn’t expect them to be as responsive as casual running shoes. The lack of flexibility around the midsole and outsole further inhibits its responsiveness, although it isn’t to the point where it should severely affect the typical running session. The North Face Ultra 109 GTX still manages to offer a decent response time to the individual’s foot movements thanks to the way in which its upper conforms to the shape of their foot and maintains high stability. Still, those who are used to lightweight running shoes will want to take some time in order to better acclimate to the change in feeling.
The North Face went to great lengths in order to ensure that their Ultra 109 GTX trail runners offer fantastic support for the wearer. Starting at the bottom, the compression-molded EVA foam used to construct its midsole ensure that the underside of the wearer’s foot is supported at every stage of their stride, from the initial impact to the placement of their next step. Additional supportive amenities were added to the upper portion, with a midfoot shank providing greater dependability around the forefoot and middle of the shoe. The leather accents around the middle and rear of these shoes also adds support for the runner’s midfoot, making these some of the best trail running shoes for people with a proclivity towards foot injuries and pronation issues.
The North Face Ultra 109 GTX is a trail running shoe first and foremost. Because of this, it makes sense that they would function best in trail running environments. Individuals who regularly engage in trail runs will commonly encounter terrain that is uneven and fraught with debris. Fortunately, the UltrATAC outsole is designed to take these elements in stride, allowing the wearer to navigate them without losing their footing or sustaining damage to their feet. The large lugs that comprise its tread pattern also contribute to this aspect of their design, although it has the unfortunate downside of limiting these shoes’ effectiveness on other forms of running terrain such as a sidewalk or asphalt road. If an individual decides to wear these shoes in these environments, these same features that provide an easier ride on a trail will instead inhibit their ability to properly run on more casual running surfaces such as these.
Individuals who are familiar with trail running shoes have come to expect a substantial difference in price between them and other types of running shoes. Thanks to the extra material and design work that go into constructing competent trail runners, it’s a given that they will cost more as a result. However, even when compensating for the price increase that comes with this form of footwear, The North Face sells the Ultra 109 GTX at a very reasonable cost. This price tag is even more appealing when considering the fact that these shoes are a long-term investment and will last for a long time without needing to be replaced. For these reasons, many trail runners would consider these shoes to be a bargain pick, despite costing over $100.
In order to properly navigate the harsh terrain commonly encountered during a trail run, any pair of trail runners worth their weight will need to provide adequate grip on the ground beneath their feet. Fortunately, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX passes this performance test with flying colors. The tread pattern added to their UltrATAC outsoles provide a tooth-like grip on the trail, ensuring that the wearer is able to run at their full capacity without having to be as concerned about their footing. Something that is worth noting, however, is the fact that these treads are designed to only provide adequate traction in one direction; this is unlike hiking shoes, which are similarly designed but will usually offer a tread pattern that emphasizes traction in many different directions.
When accounting for the substantial weight for these shoes that is caused by the many layers of protective padding, foam, and rubber, it should come as no surprise that these shoes aren’t very flexible. This sacrifice in design seems to have been made on the part of The North Face in order to ensure greater protection and stability for the wearer. While many trail runners will see this as an acceptable tradeoff, casual runners who are transitioning into trail running may find this to be some cause for concern.
Although these shoes may disappoint some in terms of their flexibility, something which they are guaranteed to provide a satisfactory degree of is stability. Stability has been baked into virtually every facet of the Ultra 109 GTX’s design, from its sturdy outsole to its rigid midsole and multiple protective upper accessories. Because of this, The North Face advertises this product as one of their premiere stability shoes, and they are in the right for doing so. Anyone who is interested in trail running that struggles with stability issues will appreciate this aspect of these shoes’ design.
In a move that is uncommon for shoes of this kind, The North Face designed their Ultra 109 GTX trail runners with a significant difference in elevation between its heel and forefoot. This is a common design choice for more casual running shoes since they often require the extra midsole material to absorb the shock from frequent heel strikes. However, these trail running shoes already provide ample midsole cushioning without the heel drop, so its inclusion is difficult to justify. Still, this should come as a pleasant feature for those who are used to casual road and track runners.
- UltrATAC outsole material with large treading
- Compression-molded EVA foam midsole
- Water-resistant Gore-Tex membrane on the upper
- Toe guard for preventing forefoot injuries
- Midfoot shank for added stability and protection
- 12mm heel drop for heel strike compensation
The North Face has created yet another impressive and highly competent trail running shoe with their Ultra 109 GTX. It isn’t without its drawbacks, since breathability and flexibility are diminished due to its substantial weight. However, these shoes manage to make up for these shortcomings by being some of the most stable, durable, and protective articles of footwear of its type and in its price range. Runners interested in running safely on some of the most unsafe running surfaces can greatly benefit from adding these shoes to their wardrobe.