11 best The North Face running shoes

Updated May 2018

Based on 989 reviews

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The North Face history

Mountaineers and hikers would undoubtedly be familiar with The North Face, a brand that started out in the 1960s as a retailer of climbing equipment. Founded by the husband-and-wife tandem of Douglas and Susie Tompkins – both hiking enthusiasts – The North Face has its roots in San Francisco, California, where it was thought strange to be located alongside bookshops and espresso bars.

The inspiration for the company’s name came from the highlands: It is generally believed that the side of a mountain facing the northern hemisphere – or its “north face” – is the coldest, and therefore the most challenging route to take. The North Face forms a name that is related to the mountains since the company began with offering equipment for mountain climbers and backpackers. Meanwhile, the quarter-circle logo was designed in 1971 by David Alcorn. It gathered inspiration from the Half Dome of the Yosemite Valley in California, which is considered to be one of the most magnificent, most challenging walls in the world.

It was only in the 1980s when The North Face started to add skiwear and camping essentials, thus gaining the opportunity to expand their market. When the Tompkins began another clothing line, they sold their share of The North Face to Kenneth Klopp, who would then run the company for the next 20 years.

Today, based in San Leandro, California, The North Face have come so far from their humble beginnings, but their fundamental mission stays the same: “To provide the best gear for athletes and modern-day explorers, support the preservation of the outdoors, and inspire a global movement of exploration.”

The North Face presently offers various athletic categories in their product range, including equipment for hiking, climbing, training, skiing, snowboarding, camping, and running. The running shoes from The North Face aim to push limits with their dynamic and efficient features, while also introducing iconic and meaningful designs that are versatile and functional.

Technologies in The North Face running shoes

The construction of a running shoe would be incomplete if not for the technologies that ultimately aim to make the runner’s experience pleasant, convenient, and efficient. As such, The North Face running shoes have their unique features. Indeed, there would be something that will accommodate all foot types. Here are some of The North Face’s notable technologies present in their running gear, as well as some shoes that feature them.

FlashDry™

The FlashDry™ is a unique fabric present in several of The North Face’s products, with a primary goal of repelling and resisting water and evaporating moisture, therefore keeping the foot cool and dry. This technology is engineered to provide a second-skin sensation with its comfort level. The North Face running shoes with FlashDry™ have a quick-drying capability to keep the foot moisture-free before, during, and after running.

The FlashDry™ is made up of fibers that have microporous particles, which in turn yields a larger surface area. With such a construction, the evaporation process is quick. The fabric is also durable, and it guarantees that the technology will not wear out or degrade over time.

In the Ultra Endurance GTX, wearers receive twice as much protection from wetness and moisture, as the Gore-Tex® upper and FlashDry™ internal lining work together to wick away water from both the skin and the shoe. This waterproof shoe garnered positive reviews from those who used it during snowy days.

Meanwhile, the Ultra Cardiac is a The North Face running shoe that lets you run efficiently in both long and short distances. As its various features enable you to log many miles, the FlashDry™ comes in handy to ensure your foot and the internal environment remain dry and free from distractions.

CRADLE™

At first glance, it may look like basic ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), but the CRADLE™ is essentially a dual-density foam that naturally absorbs shock, stabilizes the foot, and promotes an anatomically-correct stride. The CRADLE™ is present in some of The North Face’s running shoes because of its effectiveness in acting as a smooth, supportive unit during the gait cycle.

The creation of CRADLE™ was stimulated by the thought that the force of foot strike causes excessive stress on joints and muscles. Taking the idea, The North Face develops a midsole technology that aims to cushion the foot, especially during the strike and encourage normal pronation for a natural stride. The result is a running shoe from The North Face that balances protection, comfort, and control.

The Ultra Endurance gives a superior performance not only on the trails but also on mountain runs. The CRADLE™ technology in the heel efficiently absorbs impact to promote a smooth transition. The Ultra Endurance is a shoe that is comfortable enough to be used as an everyday runner.

Snake Plate™

To provide additional underfoot protection, some of The North Face running shoes have a Snake Plate™, which the brand’s interpretation of a rock plate. This technology works by safeguarding the foot against rocks, debris, and other trail elements that may be harmful. What sets the Snake Plate™ apart from the usual rock plate is its letter S shape – like a snake, hence the name.

The Snake Plate™ is installed in between the midsole and outsole and located in the forefoot area where it goes back and forth (letter S) the lateral and medial sides. This layout allows the Snake Plate™ to be flexible and adaptable to changing terrain.

The Ultra 109 GTX is a running shoe built for overpronators. It is popularly regarded as a trail runner that combines toughness and flexibility competently. With the Snake Plate™ bringing in additional underfoot protection, the shoe stands out in performing on trails both rugged and mushed.

On the other hand, the Ultra Vertical is for neutral pronators. Runners who are looking for a heavy-duty outsole minus the bulky weight will enjoy wearing this shoe. It also has a modernized appearance that makes it suitable for casual wear.

UltrATAC™

An outsole technology, the UltrATAC™ is the contribution of The North Face for running shoes that have exceptional traction on any surface. The ATAC stands for “all-terrain, all-condition,” as the outsole strives to give an outstanding performance no matter the running environment.

The UltrATAC™ outsoles of The North Face running shoes are made of carbon rubber, which guarantees durability. It features a three-layer structure that delivers shock absorption and reduces fatigue, promotes high energy return, and ensures all-around traction for a total outsole package that is versatile.

The Litewave TR II aims to bring a lightweight package to make trail running effortless and convenient. In this shoe, the UltrATAC™ outsole is supported by flex grooves to enable quick and easy movements.

For wearers who want a reliable and supportive shoe, the Litewave Ampere II delivers. It also proves its versatility as with its usefulness in dynamic workouts and climbing. Its UltrATAC™ outer sole gives an outstanding performance every single time, thus qualifying the shoe as a capable daily runner.

Gore-Tex®

Like many other running shoe brands, The North Face also partners with Gore-Tex® to equip running shoes with a waterproof quality that almost every runner is familiar with. The particular structure of Gore-Tex® guarantees its effectiveness in preventing water from contacting the upper, thus making it a trusted product from The North Face running shoes.

The Ultra 110 GTX brings double the protection with not only the Gore-Tex® upper but also with additional mudguards, capably shielding the foot from water and mud. Many runners have admired the shoe’s performance on technical trails and snowy days.

Meanwhile, the Ultra MT GTX is another The North Face running shoe for the trails; it is durable and comfortable enough for daily wear. Purchasers of the Ultra MT GTX were satisfied with its waterproof property and performance on rugged terrains.

Features of The North Face running shoes

Because The North Face running shoes have focused primarily on trail performance, it is important to note that the elements and constructions of these running gear are inclined to cater to such terrains. Here are a few characteristics that make them stand out from the running shoes of other brands:

  • Quality. The North Face running shoes take pride in possessing this quality. It may be brought upon by the Vibram® outsoles, the welded tongues or overlays, or the dual-density midsoles; runners are sure that their pair is strong and sturdy enough to withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors.
  • Flexibility. Because of the brand’s unique Snake Plate™ technology, The North Face running shoes guarantee flexibility to the runner. No matter how aggressive the trails may be, the runner’s stride will be able to adapt thanks to this distinctive feature.
  • Superior protection. Aside from the Gore-Tex® waterproof membrane that is present in some of The North Face running shoes, there are other protective elements employed by the brand in their other products. Some of these are the toe cap, mudguard, reflective prints, and the gusseted tongue, both of which sufficiently guard the runner while running on the trails.
  • Freedom of movement. Because of the unique derby-style construction, The North Face running shoes assure the wearer an adaptive fit that encourages a natural motion and an anatomically-correct stride. Another factor that affects this feature is the multidirectional lugs that could be seen in the outsoles of the some of the shoes.
  • Simultaneous comfort and energy return. The North Face running shoes are usually constructed with a dual-density midsole, and this is done so that the foot receives an adequate amount of both rebound and comfort while running. Each layer of cushioning is focused on its job, successfully delivering its benefits without interference.

Factors to consider in choosing your ideal The North Face running shoe

There is a wide selection of The North Face running shoes in the market, and to reduce the overwhelming number of options, here are some aspects to ponder:

Pronation

Regardless of the brand, it is always a smart idea to purchase a running shoe based on your foot pronation, as it helps support and correct them as you run. There are The North Face running shoes available for both neutral and stability running, catering to runners with high arches and overpronation, respectively.

For neutral pronators, you may consider The North Face Ultra Cardiac or the Ultra Endurance, among others. Meanwhile, overpronators have the Ultra 109 GTX or the Litewave Ampere II as some of their choices.

Tread

It is automatic that trail running shoes are constructed with more aggressive tread compared to road running shoes. However, it is worth noting that a shoe’s lug size and pattern also have a significance to the running experience, and therefore something that a runner might want to think about.

For hard-packed terrains and rocky or uneven grounds, the short or shallow lugs are ideal. Such a structure is also useful when transitioning from roads to trails. These could be found in the Litewave TR and the Ultra 109 GTX. In contrast, if you run in wet surfaces, look for The North Face running shoes with an outsole made of sticky rubber and has deep lugs. Some examples are the Ultra Vertical and the Ultra MT GTX.

Benefit

Aside from being a running gear, you can select a pair of The North Face running shoes regarding the additional advantage they bring. These may be a waterproof shoe, a breathable shoe, or a shoe using exclusive technology, such a Vibram® outsole. Deliberate the aspect that would be most beneficial for you.

If you like to run no matter the weather, a waterproof shoe will help you get by during rainy days. The North Face Ultra Endurance GTX, or the Ultra Vertical GTX are some of your options, both of which are equipped with the Gore-Tex® waterproofing membrane to keep water away. On the other hand, if you want superior comfort and ventilation with your shoe, the Ultra Cardiac is an ideal choice.

Another thing some runners might want to consider is the rock plate. If you are the kind of runner who frequents rocky or technical trails, the rock plate or shank is an excellent feature to have in a shoe. Some of The North Face running shoes with this kind of element are the Ultra 109 GTX and the Ultra Endurance.

Cushioning

Choosing the level of cushioning of your trail running shoes should depend not only on your preference, but also the type of terrain you would be undertaking the most. Some runners want a less cushioned or a minimalist shoe for more ground feel and less bulk; you should opt for this if the trails you frequent are smooth, soft, or even. The North Face running shoes with this kind of feature are the Litewave Ampere II and the Ultra Cardiac. Conversely, a shoe with more cushioning would be suitable for technical trails. It would also be more beneficial for running long distances as it gives the sufficient comfort and reduces the impact of the strike. The North Face running shoes Ultra Vertical GTX, Ultra TR III, and the Flight RKT all possess this feature.

Heel-to-toe drop

In connection with the previous aspect, the heel-to-toe drop of your preferred The North Face running shoe is also important to ponder. This factor comes into play when you think about what type of runner you are.

Heel strikers benefit the most from a traditional 10-12 mm drop, which could be found in the Ultra 109 GTX, among others. Meanwhile, runners who are looking to promote a midfoot strike would want a shoe with a 5-9 mm drop, such as the Litewave TR II. A low-drop running shoe, usually 0-4 mm, has a less-controlling structure. A low-drop enables a more efficient stride and reduces the pain from impact traditionally caused by heel strike. The North Face Litewave Ampere II delivers these benefits with its 4 mm drop.

Comparison of The North Face to other running shoe brands

  • The most noticeable aspect of The North Face running shoes is that they are all made for the trails. While they have casual shoes that may be compatible with pavements, as some purchasers claim, the brand has yet to release a shoe that is primarily designed for running on the roads or indoors.
  • Most brands that release their trail running shoes rely on Gore-Tex® for waterproofing qualities, and The North Face is one of them. However, what makes the brand unique is that they have the proprietary technology that they use as the internal lining of their running shoes, and this is the FlashDry™. The FlashDry™, as an exclusive feature, works extraordinarily to prevent moisture and wetness from sticking to the skin – and this is something that other brands do not have.
  • While some of The North Face running shoes use Vibram® technology in the outsole, the brand also has their exclusive material, which is the UltrATAC™. This rubber compound boasts of an all-terrain and all-condition capability that other brands shy away from. The North Face running shoes with an UltrATAC™ outsole deliver an exceptional performance on both summer and snowy days, on either rocky or mushy ground.
  • Most, if not all, of The North Face running shoes have overlays and quarter panels that are installed via a welding process. This construction method eliminates the use of excess threads or fibers that may rub against the skin and cause irritation. As The North Face focuses on trail running shoes, they aim for the most comfortable running experience possible, and the welded structures permit that.
  • Some of The North Face running shoes have a cable technology that is uniquely housed in a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) casing. This element works similarly to Nike’s Flywire, wherein they provide additional foothold by gripping the shoelaces. The result is a more supportive structure towards the midfoot area, versus a running shoe that has only the laces and overlays.

Influential people using running shoes from The North Face 

The North Face has partnered with a roster of high-performing athletes who have used their products while engaging in their respective sport. Here are some influential runners who are endorsing The North Face running shoes:

Fernanda Maciel

A Brazilian athlete, Maciel is known as a specialist in ultra-trail running, which is a competitive sport that involves trail running at distances that are greater than a marathon’s 42 kilometers. In 2009, Maciel left her lawyer occupation and had her first foray into ultra-trail was through the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, where she was the first place in the female category.

She has mentioned the water-repellent Ultra Cardiac as her The North Face running shoe essential because it is “light, fast, and comfortable,” as well as possessing a good water drainage system and excellent outsole grip.

Hillary Allen

The Colorado-native has not always been a runner; she was initially into tennis prior to getting involved with endurance running in 2013. While she takes pride in her degrees in Organic Chemistry and Neuroscience by teaching in a community college, Allen also displays her running abilities by ranking high in events such as the World Sky Running Ultra (2nd place, 2017) and the Ultra Skyrunning World Series (3rd place, 2016).

Allen claims The North Face Ultra MT as one of her favorite The North Face running shoes because it is perfect for the mountains of Colorado; she has praised the ultra-sticky lugs of the shoe and the breathable upper that makes the shoe versatile for running under any weather.

Rory Bosio

In 10 years, Bosio has already run in 16 events, most of which she has placed in ranks not lower than fifth place. However, that’s not to say that she has only recently discovered her interest in running, because she has already started at the age of 8. When she is not participating in ultra-trail running events, Bosio works as a pediatric nurse in California.

Bosio’s go-to The North Face running shoes are the Ultra Vertical and the new Flight RKT.

Dylan Bowman

Initially focusing on lacrosse, Bowman discovered running as a form of exercise, in his desire to keep his mind and body occupied. He ran his first marathon in 2009, and he has since found himself doing one run after another. In a span of 3 years, Bowman has participated in numerous running events, all of which he has ranked no lower than seventh place.

In various interviews, Bowman has repeatedly stated his preference for the Ultra Cardiac, among others, a The North Face running shoe. What most people don’t know is that Bowman helped developed the Ultra Cardiac shoe series, based on his experiences as a professional trail runner.

Dean Karnazes

Considered a veteran in the running scene, Karnazes has started early on as a child, participating in school events since he was in the third grade. He ran his first endurance event in 1976 and was able to finish it in under 6 hours. In 2006, he participated in Endurance 50, a public occasion of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. Aside from running, Karnazes has ventured into retail, having opened his own businesses, and writing and publishing books about his life as a professional runner.

Karnazes’ current favorite The North Face running shoe is the Endurus TR. The shoe has a solid build that simultaneously provides a stable and cushioned ride.

Rob Krar

An endurance athlete and a health coach, Rob Krar hasn’t always been focused on running. He had an on-and-off relationship with the sport because he was juggling school and work. By 2007, Krar thought he would separate from running for good because of Haglund’s deformity on both his heels. Little did he know that in 2011, he would be regaining the drive and passion for it – and it has only gone up since then.

Krar’s deep involvement in the running industry is visible in one of The North Face running shoes – the newly-released Flight RKT, which he helped develop (the name of the shoe is from a wordplay of his initials and the running term FKT, “Fastest Known Time”).

Frequently asked questions

What are other products offered by The North Face?

Before venturing into a wide range of sports and activewear, The North Face began with retailing equipment for climbing, and they continue to do so at present. Aside from running shoes, The North Face also makes footwear for other activities, such as hiking shoes, training shoes, sandals, casual boots, and sneakers.  Available as well are weather-specific clothing items, like insulated jackets and vests, fleece jackets, softshell jackets, windbreakers, skiwear, and snow pants. They also sell accessories, such as hats, and casual clothing items.

In terms of non-clothing articles, The North Face offers bags and other carrying equipment that are specific to a type of activity: casual backpacks, luggage and duffels, technical packs, sleeping bags, and tents.

Aside from physical resources, you can also avail from The North Face a chance to participate in the event series that they organize, called the Endurance Challenge. The set includes races and endurance runs at specific locations in the United States, which would appeal to trail runners.

Does The North Face offer road-running shoes?

Currently, The North Face sells running shoes that are specific only for the trails. The brand also carries casual shoes, which can be used for a variety of purposes, but these are not overtly advertised for road running. Although purchasers and reviewers have had a pleasant experience using their pair on the pavement, The North Face do not market the shoes particularly for road running.

Does The North Face offer racing shoes?

Yes, although these shoes are not outrightly stated as “racing shoes.” Some of The North Face running shoes are described to perform excellently during race days or endurance races. Some examples of this are the Ultra Endurance II, Ultra TR III, and the Flight RKT.

Can The North Face running shoes be used for hiking?

Although The North Face running shoes excel on the trails, their features and technology are designed to handle only running activities. For hiking, camping, or climbing, The North Face have a separate line of products that are better suited for these events.

How can I extend the life of my The North Face running shoes?

Like many other trail-running shoes, your pair from The North Face entails care and maintenance so that they will last longer. Because trail running shoes are constructed differently from road running shoes or hiking shoes, they also have diverse needs for upkeep.

Although trail running shoes are able to withstand wear and tear, they still require attention to keep them at their best. Here are some tips to prolong the lifespan of your The North Face running shoes:

  • Avoid the washing machine. Many trail-running shoes have unique features and materials that are usually made from synthetic and thus would deteriorate when subjected to the intense pressure of a washing machine and
  • Remove dirt as soon as possible. Mud is challenging to separate from the shoe once it dries and sets in between the shoe’s fibers or outsole treads. Dried mud could potentially damage your running shoe; thus, wash it off using water from a hose. Use a soft brush for hard-to-reach areas, such as around and in between shoelaces.
  • Dry immediately. But not by putting your shoes close to heat. The most recommended method of drying your trail running shoes is the natural way – air-drying. Simply remove the sock liner and shoelaces (if permissible), open up the tongue and let the air flow inside the shoe. Conversely, if your shoes are soaking wet, stuff the inside with newspapers to absorb wetness and moisture quickly.
  • Maintain waterproofing membrane. If your The North Face running shoe has a Gore-Tex® upper, you are guaranteed its durability and effectiveness no matter how you wash them. Besides that, you might want to preserve its waterproof quality by applying a waterproofing treatment periodically. Such products could also help with preventing dirt and mud from sticking to the shoe. Using this product is not a necessity, and it’s always best to check if your shoe’s construction would be able to withstand the chemicals in the waterproofing compounds you wish to use.
  • Choose the right storage spot. Like most shoes, your trail running shoes would need to be stored in a dry place with adequate airflow. As mentioned previously, make sure they are not in direct contact with any heat source. If you are looking to preserve the shoe’s shape and structure, you can place some newspapers inside the shoe when you are not using them.
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